Sept 2, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 141

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: A vital ruling by the National Labor Relations Board; the European refugee crisis; Lebanon’s capital protests lack of trash collection. People: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: August 30th, 2015.

Episode 141 (56 min):
AFD 141

Discussion Points:

– Workers’ rights: Major U.S. corporations will no longer be able to shield themselves on labor issues by subcontracting and franchisees will have to face unions.
– Refugees: Is the European Union doing enough to deal with the refugee crisis? Is the world prepared for mass climate refugee situations?
– Lebanon: The people rise up in Beirut as trash goes uncollected for weeks on end.

Related Links

– Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “NLRB ruling could be boost for contract and franchise employees”
The Guardian: “Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle”
“Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants'”
AFD: “Real world costs when the Left sells out immigrants”
AFD: Beirut’s Garbage Uprising
AFD: “Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down”

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down

As previously explained, Beirut, Lebanon is in the midst of a series of protests against the dysfunctional national government for failing to arrange for trash collection in the capital. The government began panicking and backtracking after riot police violently assaulted protesters. But that didn’t mean they were actually planning to fix anything. They just didn’t want to have another crackdown.

This might be the weirdest possible solution:

The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti.

“State of Shabiha,” one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man’s body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: “The shroud of the state.”

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed.

“They won’t fool us by removing the wall,” said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. “Remove it or not, we don’t care. We want… an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state,” he said.

 
Popping a concrete wall into place — I assume they used pre-fab barriers rather than pouring it on-site — definitely sends a pretty specific message: “We are ‘fraidy-cats.” That’s in line with the rather pathetic, frantic pinwheeling of the Prime Minister after the crackdown.

“I was never in this for a position in government, I am one of you. I am with the people. Do not pit this conflict [as] one camp against the other. Target all the politicians.”

 
Delusional, tone-deaf speechifying to try to placate protesters is usually a pretty good sign of the impending fall of a government.

Also a nice touch, in building the wall, to give everyone at the protests a media-friendly canvas on which to paint their frustrations. Have Lebanon’s leaders never heard of all the political graffiti on the West Bank security barrier or the West Berlin wall?

Beirut’s Garbage Uprising

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Lebanon is a country close to my heart, but (probably for the better) it hasn’t been dominating global news for a few years. Headlines began popping up this weekend, however, along the lines of
“Many injured in Beirut ‘you stink’ protest over rubbish” or
“Thousands protest against Lebanese govt over uncollected rubbish” and simply
“Thousands protest against government in Beirut” — that one from the local paper for their photo gallery.

For comparison, Beirut, Lebanon is about half as populous as Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. This story for those not following it, much like the heaps of garbage in Beirut, has been building up for some time now in the capital city.

Basically, what happened is that the not-very-elected national “unity” government of Lebanon is so dysfunctional at anything other than literally not re-entering a civil war that they failed to act in time to secure a location for a major new landfill capable of taking the capital’s trash, even though they had plenty of advanced warning that the existing site was past capacity and was going to have to close.

So, the trash has just been piling up in the streets, valleys, rivers, and the ocean for the past month, even during the huge heat wave that affected much of the Middle East (and has sparked similar reform protests in Iraq). Some Beirut residents have just burned their trash in the street, but that creates toxic air pollution that lingers in the city. In a small and delicately balanced country like Lebanon, finding a place to put all this trash really is a national-level issue requiring dedicated internal negotiations. Very little of which has happened.

Demonstrations have been escalating. The latest protest — documented at the headlines above — reached at least 4,000 participants, who clashed with riot police outside government buildings. The slogan in Beirut, as in the Arab Spring Revolutions of late 2010 and early 2011, is simply “The people want to topple the regime!” — even for a garbage crisis.

There’s something to be said for the human spirit and temperament that even with everything else falling apart and the security situation in chaos, as is the case in Baghdad and Beirut, the daily dysfunctions and quotidian aggravations still motivate people to mobilize and demand better of their governments instead of just putting up with it. Even in the United States, during the American Civil War, you can read examples of people in both the North and South rioting against their governments and their own forces over unfair policies, food shortages, and so on.

We’ve also, in recent weeks, begun seeing protests in government-held areas of Syria by loyalists demanding better treatment and services from the government they’ve poured their blood, sweat, and tears into propping up since 2011.

All politics — and war — is ultimately local. We often think of the purpose of government in big-picture terms like “national defense” and “providing security” but people still have expectations of their governments even when those points have gone out the window. The longer the big disorder drags on without resolution, the more irritating the little disorders become.

At the end of the day, when the trash stinks, somebody’s got to take it out. The crisis in Beirut might just be the most potent metaphor ever for bad governance and corrupt state failure the world over.

Syria, Lebanon: Small reform, big potential impact

kurdistan-map-ciaSometimes the role of government isn’t about the really big things. Sometimes, it’s just about the little things that affect everything else.

Lebanon and Kurdish Syria (a semi-autonomous region) have been making a key reform in one such area: the establishment of civil, non-religious marriage and relationships. The idea, previously banned, finally allows people from two different religious sects to be legally married without one of them having to convert.

In both Lebanon and Syria, religious affiliation is not a personal choice but rather a legal fact included on documents from birth onward. This has contributed to the perpetuation of intense sectarian conflict and tensions for the past century.

Al Jazeera America:

Syrian Kurds Hmaren Sharif and her groom, Rashou Suleiman, signed the country’s first civil marriage contract over the weekend, under new laws administered by the ruling Kurdish Democratic Union Party.
[…]
In multi-confessional Syria, where about two-thirds of people are Sunni Muslim and the rest mainly Shia, Christian and Druze, civil marriages between members of different faiths have long been forbidden.

It is unclear if Sharif and Suleiman are themselves from different sects, as the new law does not require participants to disclose that information.

The introduction of civil marriage in Qamishli is seen as a measure to uproot rising sectarianism and undercut the authority of religious leaders over social institutions like marriage, 3arabi Online said.
[…]
Saturday’s ceremony, meanwhile, was lauded by civil marriage activists, who have been bolstered by a year of unprecedented progress in a region of the world where sectarian leaders wield much power over personal matters like marriage.

Kholoud Sukkarieh, one half of the first couple to obtain a civil marriage license in neighboring Lebanon, told Al Jazeera she was alerted to news of Syria’s first civil wedding when activist group Civil Marriage in Syria tagged her in posts about it on Facebook. She called the new marriage law “a great step forward.”

“It is so courageous and brave to do such a thing during this sectarian war in Syria,” said Sukkarieh, who had her Sunni sect designation struck from her official identification so that she could marry a Shia in April. She and husband Nidal have since welcomed Lebanon’s first sect-less baby into the world.