The People’s Lawyer: In Conversation with Colin Gonsalves

by Saffi Ullah Ahmad

Colin Gonsalves (Photo: Saffi Ullah Ahmad)

Colin Gonsalves is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India and a pioneer of public interest and human rights law. He has won over 200 mostly precedent setting cases against the Indian government and powerful corporations in favour of poor and marginalized groups. Gonsalves has been described as a champion of the exploited.

In 1989 Colin founded the human rights law network (HRLN), known today as a network of hundreds of lawyers and social activists whose aim has been to further the struggle for human rights and equality through making justice accessible to disadvantaged members of Indian society. Funded mainly through grants from various organisations, his growing army of lawyers regularly litigates on issues of women’s and minority rights, environmental damage, child labour, disability law, land confiscation, sexual harassment, prisoner abuse, human trafficking and the right to nutrition. Giants taken on by the HRLN include the likes of Enron. The HRLN now has a presence in over 20 Indian states where its centres provide pro bono legal services, undertake public interest litigation and run campaigns to spread awareness of human rights.  In addition to this organization Gonsalves also heads the Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights (IPT).

In 2001 Gonsalves began work on a case which in the face of ever increasing privitisation and withdrawal of food subsidies, aimed to force the central government to implement several food security schemes across the country. He argued that the Indian constitution’s reference to a ‘right to life’ encompasses the right to food, work and fair wages. Also highlighting that as a result of rampant malnutrition 3-5,000 Indians die every year of starvation, Gonsalves and his team of pro-bono lawyers were able to bring relief to over 300 million people following a series of court orders in their favour. The case won him and the HRLN acclaim from former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, among others.

Gonsalves has received honorary degrees and awards for his services from a plethora of educational institutions as well as legal and charitable organizations including the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award for his ‘extraordinary contribution to the causes of Human Rights rule of law and promotion of Access to Justice’ in 2004.

Gonsalves was recently in London to receive an honorary doctorate in Law from Middlesex University where I interviewed him.

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“Only the mood music has changed”: Tariq Ali on Obama’s presidency

OK… here’s the PULSE exclusive I’ve been working on. Hope you enjoy.

Is president Barack Obama the change America has been waiting for or is he another corporate Democrat representing elite interests?  According to Tariq Ali, very little has chanced between Obama and former president George W. Bush.  In his latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad,” Ali argues that Obama is carrying on the reckless policies of the Bush regime.  If Obama continues down this path, the Democratic Party not only face the prospect of the House & Senate in 2010 but also the presidency in 2012.  This should be a cause for concern.

I caught up with Ali during his American book tour and here’s what he had to say about the Obama presidency.

Where did the idea for this book emanate from? Why did you want to write a book about “The Obama Syndrome” and what does that refer to?

The idea occurred because I speak a lot on the United States. People ask me questions after each talk and increasingly in the past two to three years, the talk has been about Obama.  I thought a short book which essentially provided a balance sheet from the left on the mid-term would be a useful exercise. Given that he’s being attacked nonstop for being a socialist, a leftist, being a Muslim and all this nonsense that comes from the Tea Party-Fox Television alliance, I thought it was better to have a hard-headed realistic account about who the guy really is.  So my book is a critique of him, but it’s also by implication a very sharp critique of people who claim that everything Obama is doing is so radical that they can’t take it anymore.

Continue reading ““Only the mood music has changed”: Tariq Ali on Obama’s presidency”

Hope, and How Not to Visit Palestine

My visit to Nablus coincided with the first Palestinian Human Rights Film Festival at an-Najah University. Even better than the films shown were the panel discussions afterwards, on issues such as refugees, resistance and women’s rights. The first film I saw was “To Shoot an Elephant” (watch it here), a brutal, highly-recommended documentary shot by International Solidarity Movement activists who happened to be in Gaza as the 2008/09 massacre unfolded. After the screening the audience communicated with director Alberto Arce via a video link-up to Spain. (Alberto is permanently banned from entry into Israeli-controlled territory.)

Alberto said this: “It is not my job to tell the Palestinians what to do. It’s my job to support the Palestinians and to witness what’s happening to them. The Palestinians have suffered so much from the actions of foreigners, and foreigners have no right to impose their beliefs on Palestinians.”

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Energy: recognizing how much isn’t there

by Robert Jensen

This article is Part 3 of a 3 part collection of essays by University of Texas at Austin Professor Robert Jensen on important issues that should be highlighted during this year’s US mid-term election campaigns.

Robert Jensen

Will America’s energy crisis be solved by more aggressive pursuit of fossil fuels or by more vigorous development of renewables?

In this campaign season, there are politicians on all sides. Chants of “drill, baby, drill” ring out, while others sing the praises of wind and solar, and some argue we must try everything.

Unfortunately, politicians don’t seem willing to face a more difficult reality: There is no solution, if by “solution” we mean producing enough energy to maintain our current levels of consumption indefinitely.

To deal with the energy crisis we must deal with a consumption crisis, but politicians are reluctant to run a campaign based on a call for “less” — the American Dream, after all, is always “more.” But, whether the public and politicians like it or not, our future is about learning to live with less, starting with a lot less energy.

In the United States, we have been living with the abundance produced by an industrial economy, all made possible by the concentrated energy of fossil fuels. We tell ourselves this is the product of our hard work, but our life of plenty was made possible by the incredible energy stored in coal, oil, and natural gas. How long can that continue?

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New face, same imperialism

by Tariq Ali

After all the hope and hype, Obama’s foreign policy mirrors the ugliness of the Bush years.

The election to the presidency of a mixed-race Democrat, vowing to heal America’s wounds at home and restore its reputation abroad, was greeted with a wave of ideological euphoria not seen since the days of Kennedy. The shameful interlude of Republican swagger and criminality was over. George Bush and Dick Cheney had broken the continuity of a multilateral American leadership that had served the country well throughout the Cold War and after. Barack Obama would now restore it.

Rarely has self-interested mythology – or well-meaning gullibility – been more quickly exposed. There was no fundamental break in foreign policy between the Bush and Obama regimes. The strategic goals and imperatives of the US imperium remain the same, as do its principal theatres and means of operation.

Obama’s line towards Israel would be manifest even before he took office. On December 27, 2008, the Israeli Defence Forces launched an all-out air and ground assault on the population of Gaza. Bombing, burning, killing continued without interruption for 22 days, during which time the president-elect uttered not a syllable of reproof. By pre-arrangement, Tel Aviv called off its blitz a few hours before his inauguration on January 20, 2009, not to spoil the party.

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The Martyrdom of Shaden al-Saleh

This video (over the fold) concerns Israel’s 2002 murder of a Palestinian teacher,cultural activist and neighbourhood organiser, Shaden al-Saleh. Shaden was the mother of Saed Abu Hijleh, who witnessed the murder and gives his own account here. Saed teaches political geography at Nablus’s an-Najah University, writes poetry, blogs, organises, and provides me with wonderful food and information, for which I’m very grateful. He’s a well-educated member of the Nablus middle classes. He’s also been shot in the belly and in the shoulder and has been imprisoned five times. But his suffering is not unusual. Everybody in Nablus has a story to tell. I’ve just returned from the prison, and over the next couple of weeks I aim to convey a few of the stories I heard. An example of Saed’s English-language poetry is over the fold.

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Empire: affluence, violence, and U.S. foreign policy

by Robert Jensen

This article is Part 2 of a 3 part collection of essays by University of Texas at Austin Professor Robert Jensen on important issues that should be highlighted during this year’s US mid-term election campaigns.

Robert Jensen

The United States is the most affluent nation in the history of the world.

The United States has the largest military in the history of the world.

Might those two facts be connected? Might that question be relevant in foreign policy debates?

Don’t hold your breath waiting for such discussion in the campaigns; conventional political wisdom says Americans won’t reduce consumption and politicians can’t challenge the military-industrial complex. Though not everyone shares in that material wealth, the U.S. public seems addicted to affluence or its promise, and discussions of the role of the military are clouded by national mythology about our alleged role as the world’s defender of freedom. Business elites who profit handsomely from this arrangement, and fund election campaigns, are quite happy.

There’s one word that sums this up: empire. Any meaningful discussion of U.S. foreign policy has to start with the recognition that we are an imperial society. We consume more than our fair share of the world’s resources, made possible by global economic dominance backed by our guns.

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John Mearsheimer on the State of the Israel Lobby

John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author, along with Stephen Walt, of ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy ,’ spoke with IPS about the Israel lobby.

Cléa Thouin, Assistant Editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, asked Mearsheimer about the state of the Lobby and the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

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PULSE Joins Blog Action Day 2010… So Should You!

We ask bloggers to take a single day out of their schedule and focus it on an important issue. By doing so on the same day, the blogging community effectively changes the conversation on the web and focuses audiences around the globe on that issue. ~ Blog Action Day Website

For the past 3 years, every October 15th, Blog Action Day has been marked by tens of thousands of bloggers, discussing the same issue. From the environment, to poverty, to this year’s theme of water, Blog Action Day is a perfect fit for PULSE, which never fails to make the connection between these “social issues” and the politics driving them, 365 days of the year.

To all of us at PULSE that follow world events (or rather “the money”, or rather “the power”) it’s very evident that water, being the very essence of basic needs for sustaining life, becomes a cynical tool, leveraged by the powerful, in order to oppress, control and often kill off whole populations of human beings deemed meaningless.

On October the 15th PULSE will dedicate itself to the issue of water, and we invite all our blogging readers to do the same.

Economics: doing business as if people mattered

by Robert Jensen

This article is Part 1 of a 3 part collection of essays by University of Texas at Austin Professor Robert Jensen on important issues that should be highlighted during this year’s US mid-term election campaigns.

Robert Jensen

When politicians talk economics these days, they argue a lot about the budget deficit. That’s crucial to our economic future, but in the contemporary workplace there’s an equally threatening problem — the democracy deficit.

In an economy dominated by corporations, most people spend their work lives in hierarchical settings in which they have no chance to participate in the decisions that most affect their lives. The typical business structure is, in fact, authoritarian — owners and managers give orders, and workers follow them. Those in charge would like us to believe that’s the only way to organize an economy, but the cooperative movement has a different vision.

Cooperative businesses that are owned and operated by workers offer an exciting alternative to the top-down organization of most businesses. In a time of crisis, when we desperately need new ways of thinking about how to organize our economic activity, cooperatives deserve more attention.

First, the many successful cooperatives remind us that we ordinary people are quite capable of running our own lives. While we endorse democracy in the political arena, many assume it’s impossible at work. Cooperatives prove that wrong, not only by producing goods and services but by enriching the lives of the workers through a commitment to shared decision-making and responsibility.

Continue reading “Economics: doing business as if people mattered”

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