Thursday, April 30, 2009

brainteasers: Klondike Bar©

Because I'm always trying to improve my happy brain. (I don't know why these guys didn't win the Klondike Bar© video contest.)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Does the US Spend Too Much on Foreign Aid? - Peter Singer

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

the Vasantotsav festival

from their website:Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande Pratisthan organizes a three day festival every year titled – VASANTOTSAV, in Pune, in the memory of Late Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande by inviting respected artists to perform at this event.

And don't they look like they're having fun? The foto above is from the AFP from March of 2008. So, yes, it looks like you missed VASANTOTSAV 09. Well, there's next year.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Janis Karpinski

This is from Tuesday or Wednesday night, I think. (I don't have access to most cable channels, so I haven't actually seen Olberman's show in quite some time. You may recall that Janis Karpinski was the general in command at Abu Gharib, and consequently one of the fall guys for the scandal.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Torture, secret memos and piracy(continued)

1.Last week in the comments for Rob's discussion of the Somali piracy incident, I noted that earlier this year Avedon Carol in The Sideshow discussed the Somali piracy phenomenon, and suggested that it was viewed very differently by the locals--

here's the quote, from Johann Hari, (from January '09):

Johann Hari : "You are being lied to about pirates: "In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas. Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. [...] At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. [...] This is the context in which the "pirates" have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a "tax" on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent 'strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence'."

2. Last week I intended, initially, to write about the recent court ruling in favor of Minnesota's Al Franken(a mere five months after the election!), and the thick-headed participants in the so-called tea party tax protests, discussing the tribalism of the right, while also touching upon the tribalism of the left.

A few months ago I started an essay I never published in which I proposed a unified field theory of the right and the left in American Politics, in which I pictured the graph of the differences between the two as resembling a bowling pin, in which at the top of the pin, the elite left and the right are actually very close to each other in their views, with the richest and most powerful converging at the top of the pin. Then, as we go farther down, in connectedness, general awareness, and power, the body of the pin representing the middle-class starts to widen(appropriately enough, at the point at which the pin is actually struck by the ball), then when we get to the lower blue-collar depths we have another convergence, albeit one that is often obscured by the bar of the automatic pin re-setter. (By the way, did you know the very top of the bowling pin is called the crown? Strangely appropriate, I'd say.)

I'm reminded of this because when I reflect on the rescue of the American captain, the pirates, and the torture memos against the backdrop of the struggle over the Senate seat in Minnesota and the ludicrous tea party rallies, I'm struck by how the the meaningful differences between the left and the right seem to be lessening precisely as the symbolic(and mostly meaningless) differences between the two are becoming more heated and difficult to bridge.

Of course when I say the meaningful differences I'm talking strictly about those among elected democrats and republicans, not about theories of government. It's as if the mainstream US media
, and not just Fox News, is conspiring to make people even stupider, as if the powers that be actually want heightened social conflict, and not just an unsuccessful Obama presidency(which of course is pretty ironic if they do want that, insofar as Obama is essentially a latter-day Rockefeller Republican.)

I say this because even though I don't think most Americans are as dim as the "tea-baggers". I suspect if the release of the torture memos was properly explained to people by the major news outlets, a lot more people would realize the degree to which Obama represents a nearly seamless continuation of US foreign policy from the Bush II administration, that his hand was forced by the ACLU, and finally the ridiculousness of the argument that acknowledging torture, as opposed to the torturing itself, hurts the US. To buy that it helps if you believe that people in other countries have just as doggedly naive and blinkered a view of the US government as most Americans do, and I guess large numbers of
Americans DO believe that.

Initially, when I meant to discuss just the Minnesota Senate race and the Fox News Tea Parties, my working title was "Al Franken and the Myth of Bipartisanship". I reflected on the so-called Brooks Brothers riot in Florida in November of 2000 when republican activists intimidated a group of poll workers into stopping a recount and had to be extricated from the midst of the preppie rioters by local police. As far as I know, we saw no remotely comparable phenomenon on the democratic side, either in Florida in 2000 or in Minnesota in 2008-2009. Democratic tribalism tends to involve more bourgeois pissiness than threats of violence, even though democrats' same yearning for respectability is part the problem when it comes to the mostly exhausted left's squeamishness about resisting empire, especially now that Our President Jesus has the launch codes.

Whether you want to attribute it to republican tendencies towards authoritarianism or the comparative sheepishness of rank and file democrats, or both, or yet other factors, there are still areas in which the differences between the two parties matter, even if they're fewer than one might like. Of course a lot of that sheepishness comes from rank and file democrats being told to be sheepish by part leaders, as well as by the nice people on television who tell us what to think. One of the things that is rarely remarked upon in this context is the influence that democratic capitulation has not just on voters on the left but so-called independents and even conservative voters: every time a big name democratic politician is seen to agree with criticisms from the right it drives the right rightward, and makes potentially reachable independents less reachable.

OK, to some extent I am tripping myself up with my choice of words:they imply that the democratic party leadership are doing this reluctantly. In fact I no longer think this is the case, and they've actually chosen this path and continue to push faux liberalism rightward, a deliberate choice for at least the past 12 to 14 years. It's tempting to blame Bill "the era of big government is over" Clinton for this, but to recall a cliché, nobody held a gun to John Kerry or Harry Reed, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary, Obama, et al.

Back to the events of last week, and how the simple-minded identities the political leaders and media foist on us make it difficult for people to see them clearly.

(parenthetically, I would urge you to read Arthur Silber's four part series on tribalism(
Part I is here.), if you haven't done so already. I don't know precisely how to measure how his arguments have influenced the present discussion, but I don't doubt they have.)

Anyway-- look at these four different things: the trials of Al Franken, the "Tea parties", the rescue of the American captain and the release of the Torture memos. In a way, all four of these events from last week collapse into each other and are about one another, illustrating how prefabricated media-provided identities help us figure out "where to stand" on these as items to fight over rather than as events to understand.

The supposedly liberal New York Times described it as "another setback" for Norm Coleman, when in fact every count and every judicial ruling thus far has gone against him and you don't have to be a democrat or a Franken supporter to see that Coleman never had a case to stay in the race. I say this without any opinion about whether or not Franken will prove to be a good senator and without having read any of his books.

I saw two brief news stories(video, here and here) about the Tea Parties from April 15th. They didn't talk to anyone who wasn't white, and nobody mentioned being out of work or fear of impending job loss, just fear of paying taxes. I note that conservative media darling "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher was at an event in Lansing, Michigan.(Who pays this guy to run around the country? I'm guessing he has an agent.) The story in the Detroit Free Press(here) says the protesters were concerned about high taxes and mounting national debt, but makes no mention of any concern for the fate of auto workers at Chrysler and GM. This suggests to me that not only are they mean, but almost poignantly stupid, as all of Michigan will suffer if one or both of these companies go under.

I'm also guessing none of the tea part protesters complained when George W. Bush decided to squander the budget surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton by slashing taxes on the wealthy and starting two wars. One of the persons in the 2nd video(above, by the UPI) actually said she wanted to see more money spent to fight terrorism and on defense, although it also sounded like she wanted the troops brought home as well.

But there's the rub-- the tea partiers are right to be angered by the bailouts of the major banks, as well as being right to be concerned about a runaway deficit, even if the lightbulbs only come on when the bad, other guys occupy the throne, and their brains are often filled with a lot of other, screwier thoughts as well, like their hatred of Mexicans, and their fondness for creationism and the womb police. Of course the left will in all likelihood give Obama a pass on the Af-Pak war and torture, even among those cleverer lefties who understand the concept of blowback.

That's another way in which the media fails the citizens-- apart from an intuitive understanding some already have, I'm guessing your average tv news viewer has never seen a robust discussion of the concept, one that has to grow increasingly relevant to an empire in its waning days. You could try to explain that to people, and some of them would get it, and would understand why torture matters and how dehumanizing the Somali kidnappers and being indifferent to their deaths is not necessary in order to be glad the captain wasn't killed as well, and to understand why the whole phenomenon of Somali piracy is itself a kind of blowback.

Of course Dubya also got a pass-- on reckless deregulation and spending, because it was defense spending, the kind we can't question, just as nobody on your television-- not the politicians of either stripe, nor the million dollar reporters-- wonder if curbing the empire might help the US get out of the horrible financial shithole we're in. But what do they care, the people at the top of the bowling pin will stay above the sewage the rest of us will soak in.

see also-

: Bernard Chazelle
They've Always Tortured. The Difference Is Now They Write Memos

Nell Lancaster, Torture: It's not about "intelligence gathering"
(Cross-posted at A Tiny Revolution)

BBC: US boycotts UN racism conference

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pepe Escobar discusses the G20, etc

pt 1: Welcome to the new “new world order”

More at The Real News

pt 2:

More at The Real News

is Escobar being histrionic here? I don't know. I do think his view that Obama is consciously choosing policies to favor the super-rich over the middle class is accurate, and I don't think we've turned the corner as far as the economy goes.

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Mustafa Topaloğlu - Obama Video Klip

Maybe unintentional satire is the best, although it's also somewhat touching in its (probably delusional) optimism. Via Abu Muqawama.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Gregorio de la Rosa, and his son

Raymondville, Texas:
Do you remember the Wackenhut corporation? Apparently they've changed their name and are now the GEO group, but they still run private prisons for a profit and they get themselves in hot water due to their employees' wanton or grossly neglectful behavior. They just lost in their attempt to persuade a Texas appeals court to overturn a 42.5 million dollar judgment for wrongful death:

Houston Chronicle, "Appellate court upholds judgment in inmate's death"

A Willacy County jury had ordered Wackenhut Corrections Corp., now known as The GEO Group, and Warden David Forrest to pay the civil judgment to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa Jr."We find that Wackenhut's conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for this state's civil justice system," the Thirteenth Court of Appeals said in last week's ruling affirming the Willacy County civil judgment returned in 2006.

De la Rosa died a few days before his expected 2001 release, when two inmates used padlocks stuffed into socks to beat him to death.

and, from The Brownsville Herald, a PDF of the 114 page opinion. (Raymondville is Deep South Texas, near Brownsville, which is right on the border with Mexico and one of the chronically economically-deprived areas in the state. In the Rio Grande Valley the recession isn't something new but a continuation of the Nixon/Ford era one. ( The Valley is also heavily Democratic, but this is Texas and you know, funding priorities being what they are-- what can you do? )

The Thirteenth Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the case of Wackenhut Corrections Corporation and Warden David Forrest versus Gregorio de la Rosa Sr. His son, Gregorio de la Rosa Jr., was beaten to death with a lock wrapped in a sock while he was an inmate at the Wackenhut private prison in Willacy County on April 26, 2001.

CLICK HERE for the 114 page opinion.

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ian Tomlinson: just passing through, 1 April 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

the old blogroll

A Tiny Revolution*
Abdusalaam al-Hindi
Abu Aardvark
American Samizdat
Art of Peace*
Arthur Silber
Arvin Hill*
Avedon (The Sideshow)
Ayn Clouter*
Aziz: City of Brass
Baghdad Burning
Bill: Thoughts on th' Eve of th'Apocalypse*
Brad DeLong
bride of acheron*
bubba n' company*
Burnt Orange Report*
Chris Albritton: back-to-Iraq
Chris Floyd, Empire Burlesque
david parsons' blog*
Denis DeKat*
Dennis Sanders
Empire Notes
Ethel the blog*
Fiat Blog!*
Follow Me Here
Frans Groenendijk
Gorilla in the Room
Helena Cobban,Just World News
Jack, the Grumpy Forester*
Jim Henley
Joe Bageant
John Caruso
Jon Swift*
Josh Buermann
Juan Cole
Juli,Meanwhile Back at the Ranch*
Khalid Jarrar: Tell Me a Secret
King of Zembla*
Lawrence Lessig
Liberal Oasis*
Mark Kleiman,Same Facts
Martin Wisse*
Mere Islam
Micah Holmquist*
Nielsen Haydens
Paul Goyette, Locussolus*
Polygon, the Dancing Bear*
Rob Payne, Halcyon Days*
Robert Lindsay*
Seeing the Forest*
Silt3 (Vaara)
Siva Vaidhyanathan
Stan Goff, Feral Scholar
th' pime
the open mind*
the Penguin*
Unfair Witness*
Versen 2002
Your Right Hand Thief(aka Oyster)*
Zeyad, Healing Iraq
Zeynep Toufe, Under the Same Sun

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

ex-Innocents Abroad

Hu n Obama motherjones dot com

from Helena Cobban, earlier today:

He[Avigdor Lieberman, who was recently appointed foreign minister-JV] also told Haaretz's Barak Ravid, "You won't get any 'Israbluff' with me."

He said he considered Israel was still bound by the Road Map provisions from 2003-- but stated very clearly that the Palestinians must fulfill their side of the Road Map before Israel needed to do anything.

Regarding Syria, he told Ravid: "we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Peace will only be in exchange for peace."

The positions articulated by Lieberman are very familiar-- they are in line not only with his own previous rhetoric but also with the positions articulated and pursued by B. Netanyahu's earlier government in Israel, 1996-99. No-one should be surprised, therefore, that Netanyahu has done nothing so far to disavow Lieberman's most recent statements.

The foreign ministry statements were made at a ceremony in which Lieberman took over power from Tzipi Livni, who as head of Kadima will now be in opposition to the Netanyahu government. Many senior members of Israel's diplomatic corps were there. Some were reported as visibly shaken when they heard the new line they will have to go out to the world to sell.

I have to say it does clarify matters to have Lieberman speaking with such apparent frankness about what Israel's real policy towards it neighbors will be. In one of the news reports--I forget which-- he was quoted as saying that actually his policy will be the same as that followed on the ground by the preceding government, despite its formal adherence to Annapolis. "How many settlements did they dismantle? How many roadblocks?" he asked.

Very good questions.

So now, what he is promising is a change from the policy of "pursue the colonization and control project on the ground while hiding it by participating in all kinds of meaningless negotiations", by ripping off all the camouflage of the 'negotiations'.

"No more 'Israbluff'", indeed

But on TV it's all Obama and the Missus wowing them at the G20 in Europe, the (chintzy) gift of an Ipod to the Queen, and how Obama supposedly took Hu and Sarkozy aside and made them "listen to reason". On the CBS news Bob Simon and Katie Couric described the G20 as world leaders "setting aside their personal differences"(!?!) and coming together, as if serious policy disputes are just a cover for those churlish Europeans and their unwillingness to quit their fussin' n' feudin'. During a speech Obama compared the G20 meeting of 20 nations to the days of FDR and Churchill getting together and hashing things out, suggesting that it was a lot simpler then, which of course it was, if you look back with US-patented pretendo-vision® and Stalin wasn't part of the picture.

All the same, I couldn't help but think that with his odd metaphor Obama stumbled on another, unintentional meaning-- that when Roosevelt and Churchill met it was the meeting of the superpower on the wane with the new, emerging superpower, and that even though Obama strains mightily to persuade people to compare him to FDR, in this case he's playing, well...let's just say you know Hu's playing him.

cross-posted at Dead Horse.

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