Category Archives: Community

Free [for corporations only] trade agreements

Another hard-hitting documentary from Dutch public television network VPRO, this time focusing on the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership now in the final stage of negotiation.

As with other free trade agreements, most notably NAFTA, the “freedom” involved belongs to multinational corporations, and not the citizens of the nations involved, the corporations to take states to secret tribunals to block laws created to protect the public.

From VPRO Backlight:

Documentary: TTIP: Might is Right

Program notes:

The proposed free trade agreement between the US and Europe (TTIP) causes concern about the European right to self-determination. The most controversial part of TTIP is ISDS: investor-state dispute settlement. ISDS will make it possible for companies to sue governments that damage their investments. But is this arbitrage system where a few investment lawyers decide over billions of taxpayers money a protection of our business interests, or a threat to our democracy?

On Saturday, October 10, tens of thousands of European citizens took to the streets, and more than 2.5 million signatures were offered to the European Commission. The source of this concern and protest is the free trade agreement TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) between the United States and the EU, which would create the world’s largest free-trade zone. According to the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade Lilianne Ploumen, TTIP could be realized as soon as 2016; the negotiations are well under way. If the EU ratifies the trade agreement, critics fear that the scales will tilt toward North-American standards and values with regard to (food) safety, workers’ and consumer rights. And that when it comes to important collective achievements and protection of its citizens, Europe will give up its right to self-determination.

The part of the trade agreement that’s questioned the most is ISDS, or investor-state dispute settlement, which can be used by companies to dispute a country’s laws and rules, if a company feels unfairly treated. This will enable multinationals to circumvent democratic decisions and existing national jurisdiction. In order to understand the potential consequences of this, VPRO Backlight traveled to Canada, which became one of the most sued countries in the world after it entered into a trade agreement with the US. American companies now summon the Canadian government to appear before an arbitration tribunal if they feel that Canadian rules aren’t in compliance with the free trade agreement Nafta. Despite democratic decisions against fracking under Canada’s most important river, the Saint Lawrence, the Canadian government was sued for millions of dollars by the oil and shale gas company Lone Pine.

Could this happen in the Netherlands as well? In spite of resistance, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp (VVD) doesn’t rule out the possibility of future fracking in the Netherlands. VPRO Backlight probed the opinions at an information meeting organized by the Dutch Oil and Gas Company in Saaksum, Groningen. The locals there seem more and more convinced that fossil fuels should stay where they are: underground. But then no profit would be made from them anymore. The question is if this could result in ISDS claims in the future. Or should we welcome ISDS? Because it’s also crucial for the position of the Netherlands as a world leader in legal and financial services. It will protect the tens of billions of Dutch foreign investments.

British Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang wonders what free trade really means in this day and age. Because there has long been a largely free movement of goods between the US and EU, with few tariff walls. So whose interest will the controversial TTIP and ISDS serve then? And in the service of whom or what is the law, when it comes to international investment arbitration? Isn’t in the end, might right?

With: Steve Verheul (Canadian negotiator for the trade agreement between Canada and the EU), Gus van Harten (Canadian lawyer and ISDS expert), Nikos Lavranos (former negotiator for the Netherlands, currently ISDS investment consultant) and Ha-Joon

Director: Roland Duong
Research: William de Bruijn
Producers: Jolanda Segers, Bircan Unlu

A Greek tragedy: Selling off the commons

VPRO, Dutch public television, produces excellent documentaries on a wide range of important topics, and the network’s Backlight series is about as good as it gets.

We were delighted to find they’ve just posted a number of new offerings, one of the most important being this a look at the massive sellout of the Greek commons, one that’s certain to continue under the so-called “radical” Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras, who has proved a faithful servant of the Troika of IMF/European Central Bank/European Commission overseeing the austerity mandated in exchange for the post-crash bailouts of the Greek government.

From VPRO International:

Documentary: Greece for sale [VPRO Backlight]

Program notes:

Now that a Grexit seems to have been averted, and the strictest cutbacks ever have been announced, Greece is entering a new chapter. The welfare state is dismantled even further and all state property is weighed and sold. What dangers are lurking, and how will the Greek sellout change the country?

Over six months after taking office, the new Greek political leaders reluctantly have to admit that they have lost the battle with the European creditors. Other ideas become more important. But what are those other ideas? Can the Greek take matters into their own hands, or will they accept more help from abroad? On this crossroads of developments, Backlight elucidates three painful options for Greece.

Captain Fu Chengqiu is in charge of the Chinese-run port of Piraeus, the container transhipment at the gateway to Europe that has been run very successfully by COSCO, a Chinese state-owned company. It is booming with economic activity. Containers are unloaded, lorries are constantly driving to and fro. But there is hardly a Chinese in sight. The Greeks that work here don’t protest. Discipline is key. From his office with a view of the port, Fu explains his business philosophy. It is based on the manual of the new authoritarian capitalist Chinese style: work hard and don’t whine. It seems to be working. While the Chinese piers are buzzing with activity, the Greek piers a little further down look desolate.

The gold and copper mine of Skouries is a paragon of Greek dilemma. The mine isn’t Greek, it’s Canadian. To get to the ore, a large part of the land is excavated. And the gold is not extracted in Greece, but in China. There is a great deal of opposition. Takis Kaltsos and Nina Karina have been involved in a conflict for years. They don’t just have a problem with the widely hated privatizations of Greek interests, but also with the total sellout of their country – to say nothing of the environmental burden. But the mine provides jobs, and they are much needed. That is the only thing that keeps Greece afloat: jobs and investments, says Dimitris Tsiolakis The mine offers hope, he says. One would have to be a fool to object to that in today’s circumstances.

Greek MP Kostas Lapavitsas believes that the Greeks should take matters into their own hands and stop relying on, what he calls, foreign interference, whether it comes from Europe, from China or from Canada. Not only is he a pronounced advocate of a Grexit, he is also highly concerned about the lack of faith and self-esteem among the Greeks. To prove that things can be different, he sends us to Naoussa, his power base, where hundreds of textile workers try to breathe new life into their bankrupt factory themselves. Greece doesn’t need the corrupt elite, the workers say. It is perfectly capable of coping on its own.

The epilogue of this episode is the last euro coin factory in Greece, on the Albanian border. This is where Greece mints its one, two and five eurocent coins – as long as the Central Bank asks for them. And when it doesn’t, there is always the alternative: shell casings for the army. In fact, the options are simple, say the handful of factory workers: it’s either the euro or the bullet.

Charts of the day: Wish you were Danish?

From a set of 17 charts from Demos comparing the two nations:

BLOG Danes

Chart of the day: Driving while black in Berkeley

Yep, if good ol’ “liberal” Berkeley, it’s still a crime to be driving while black, according to data released by the Berkeley Police Department following a California Public Records Act .

From the Daily Californian:


The paper reports:

The data released by BPD contained 2,199 previously unreleased cases of pedestrian and bicycle stops. Within that information, race was recorded for 1,652 individuals.

Of the pedestrian and bicycle stops made between Jan. 26 and Aug. 31 for which demographic data were recorded, approximately 50 percent were of white people, while approximately 32 percent were of black people. According to the city of Berkeley’s Existing Conditions Report, black people made up approximately 8 percent of the population in 2013, while white people made up about 56 percent.

According to George Lippman, a member of the city’s Police Review Commission, this demographic information should be a significant starting point in the conversation about Berkeley policing.

Video: Confronting the AIDS epidemic in Tijuana

And important and troubling documentary about battling the spread of AIDS just south of the California border, via University of California Television:

HIV/SIDA: Epidemic in Tijuana

Program notes from the UC San Diego News Center:

The new documentary “HIV/SIDA: The Epidemic in Tijuana” offers an unflinching look at the challenges facing researchers from the University of California, San Diego as they attempt to identify and treat people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender women and others who are at high risk for HIV infection in Tijuana. The program. . .was shot over two years.

The documentary is split into four episodes, each telling a piece of the HIV/AIDS story in Tijuana. The series starts in El Bordo, a neighborhood of injecting drug users in the Tijuana River Canal, and then moves to Prevencasa where UC San Diego and Mexican medical students offer free care at the Health Frontiers in Tijuana clinic. From there, it turns its focus to a tattoo removal clinic and then a telemedicine program that connects patients with remotely located HIV doctors. The series continues with poignant stories and photos of people living with HIV and concludes with a wrap of what it would take to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tijuana.

“HIV/SIDA” is organized around the research of UC San Diego epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee, who is the chief of UC San Diego’s division of Global Public Health, UCSD psychologist Tom Patterson and their binational team of doctors, nurses and healthcare outreach workers. Their research has shown that Tijuana’s prevalence of HIV is three times higher than in Mexico at large. Strathdee said the documentary is a call to action to address the epidemic in a strategic and coordinated manner.

“It’s possible to end AIDS in Tijuana, but we need to take a broader look. Mexico as a whole should see Tijuana as a window for what could be the HIV epidemic for the rest of the country,” she said. “I also believe it shouldn’t just be Mexico’s responsibility to stop this epidemic because we have a shared population across the border. We need a binational response.”

The binational nature of Tijuana’s epidemic is reflected in the series title as SIDA is the Spanish term for AIDS, the acronym for síndrome de inmunodeficiencia adquirida.

“HIV/SIDA” was made possible through a grant from the Ford Foundation. UCTV Producer Shannon Bradley based the video series on Tomorrow Is a Long Time, a photo essay book with vignettes by photographer Malcolm Linton and Jon Cohen, two long-time collaborators who have travelled to more than 30 countries to document the HIV/AIDS epidemic for Science magazine.

Cohen said there is already a recipe for how to end the AIDS epidemic, which includes:

  • Identifying where high-risk groups congregate and then saturating those locales with rapid HIV testing and distributing educational materials as well as condoms, clean needles and syringes.
  • Testing all pregnant women.
  • Offering circumcision to men.
  • Connecting those who test positive with counselors who can emphasize the importance of treatment and not infecting others.
  • Providing antiretrovirals to all those infected with HIV and having case workers oversee their treatment so they achieve undetectable viral loads, which makes transmission to others less likely.
  • Offer antiretrovirals as preventatives to high-risk groups as a way to reduce transmission.

“We all know the recipe for ending AIDS,” Cohen said, “but it’s not happening aggressively enough in Tijuana. Could we do this? Could we break the back of the epidemic and get to the point where one person isn’t infecting another? Absolutely. The tools exist.”

Nextdoor: A panacea becomes a problem

Back in March, the New York Times offered a glowing report on the remarkable growth of, which had just pulled in $110 million in new venture capital for a company with an estimated worth of more than a billion dollars:

In short, it is all about community. Nextdoor has slowly built a network of more than 53,000 microcommunities across the United States, all based on local neighborhood boundaries. Nextdoor restricts communication to only those people who live close to one another; users are required to verify their identity and home address upon signing up.

Consider Nextdoor a modern, more attractive version of a community email list service or Yahoo Groups, the popular message board. Users can post neighborhood news, offer items for sale, ask for help finding lost pets or organize a block party.

Nextdoor also works with about 650 local government agencies that can send out citywide alerts on things like utility shutdowns in specific areas, crime alerts or emergency-preparedness tips.

But beneath the laudatory coverage, a darker side of the social medium was emerging, according to a report that same month from Fusion, headlined “Nextdoor, the social network for neighbors, is becoming a home for racial profiling.”

The report began with an incident in one neighborhood in Oakland, not so far from Casa esnl:

As Meredith Ahlberg ushered friends into her home in East Oakland’s Ivy Hill neighborhood for a party on a Saturday in early March, she noticed that her phone was lighting up with notifications. There were new messages from agitated neighbors on the localized social network Nextdoor, warning the neighborhood about “sketchy” men—one in a “white hoodie,” the other “a thin, youngish African American guy wearing a black beanie, white t-shirt with dark opened button down shirt over it, dark pants, tan shoes, gold chain.” These men, the poster wrote, were “lingering” and searching for a nonexistent address.

“Scary sketchy,” a poster commented. One neighbor suggested the situation warranted a call to the Oakland Police Department.

But Ahlberg, who is white, recognized the “suspicious” men: they were her friends, looking for her front door. By the time she saw the posts, her friends had found the correct address and Ahlberg was looking right at the ‘thin, young, black man’ with the gold chain. The co-owner of a clothing store in downtown Oakland, he looked “ridiculously handsome and stylish,” she said in an interview. She was horrified at her neighbors’ assumptions.

It was, in short, a case of asking questions while being black in a white neighborhood.

But the Oakland problem is even deeper, according to a report just published in the East Bay Express:, a website that bills itself as the “private social network for neighborhoods,” offers a free web platform on which members can blast a wide variety of messages to people who live in their immediate neighborhood. A San Francisco-based company founded in 2010, Nextdoor’s user-friendly site has exploded in popularity over the last two years in Oakland. As of this fall, a total of 176 Oakland neighborhoods have Nextdoor groups — and 20 percent of all households in the city use the site, according to the company.

On Nextdoor, people give away free furniture or fruit from their backyards. Users reunite lost dogs with their owners. Members organize community meetings and share tips about babysitters and plumbers. But under the “Crime and Safety” section of the site, the tone is much less neighborly. There, residents frequently post unsubstantiated “suspicious activity” warnings that result in calls to the police on Black citizens who have done nothing wrong. In recent months, people from across the city have shared with me Nextdoor posts labeling Black people as suspects simply for walking down the street, driving a car, or knocking on a door. Users have suggested that Black salesmen and mail carriers may be burglars. One Nextdoor member posted a photo of a young Black boy who failed to pick up dog poop and suggested that his neighbors call the police on him.

White residents have also used Nextdoor to complain and organize calls to police about Black residents being too noisy in public parks and bars — raising concerns that the site amplifies the harmful impacts of gentrification. On Nextdoor and other online neighborhood groups — including Facebook pages and Yahoo and Google listservs — residents have called Black and Latino men suspicious for being near bus stops, standing in “shadows,” making U-turns, and hanging around outside coffee shops. Residents frequently warn each other to be on the look out for suspects with little more description than “Black” and “wearing a hoodie.”

Accompanying the article on the alternative weekly’s website is a video we pass along:

Unwelcome at Home: Black Oaklanders on Racial Profiling

Once again, a medium heralded as a way to bring people together has become a conduit for the perpetuation of stereotypes [think “comments”]. But unlike many website comments, Nextdoor posters are identified and their messages seem much more temperate. Nonetheless, prejudices shape the context, assumptions about how a designated group is prone to act in specific situations.

And once again we are presented with proof that, contrary to claims of the Rabid Right, bigotry ain’t dead. And it helps tp recognize that each of us  own peculiarities of thought and action folks in other times and places might deem ignorant, even dangerously so.

But all that means little to those targeted by manifestly wrong-headed bias in a culture which can’t even fully acknowledge the collective and continuing trauma wrought by the institution of chattel slavery.

You’ll find that reality right Nextdoor.

Headline of the day II: You know it’s dry when. . .

From the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on the drought emergency measures in one parched Northern California coastal community:

Fort Bragg orders restaurants to use disposable plates, cups