Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wherefore the "progressive" blogosphere after November?

That, my friends, is the question Cernig asks over at Newshoggers:
On the Left too, there are going to be changes. Some Dem/Obama forms of Powerline-style mindless sycophancy are almost certain to emerge - and I hope some of us are going to be mindful enough to ridicule them. In the UK, Dale writes that he'll continue to criticize Tory mistakes when he feels the need - but there's going to be less need when a stronger Lefty blogosphere can do the criticising on substantative grounds and more peer pressure to defend his chosen party. The converse is going to be true in the US, where Lefties are more likely to fall into the "defending the administration" pattern we've seen from rightwing blogs during the Bush terms. That's more likely the closer the blogger is to the adminsitration in terms of contacts and possible future largesse. Might we see Kos and MyDD emulate the kind of administration cheerleaders we've until now only seen from the Powerlines of the US blogosphere?
I typed out a very hasty reply in the comments, and will partially repeat that reply here, hopefully expanding on it as I can in the short time I have allotted. In brief, I think we will see much more partisan cheerleading, to the extent that many avowed "lefty" and "progressive" bloggers have tied their fortunes to the Democratic party. We're already witnessing a prelude in the wake of the 2006 mid-term elections, in which the Dems retook control of both Congressional chambers for the first time since 1994. Please note that my impressions are based only on a small sample of what has occurred at the Big Box or Gated Community Blogs, as I have increasingly drifted away from that particular arena in the last couple years.

My impression is that a lot of the really good impassioned blogging that we once saw aimed at the culture of corruption in Congress diminished considerably. Do exposés of pork-barreling get much front-page space these days, now that it's Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who wield the gavels? What about the abysmal failure (as it's portrayed in what passes for a "leftist" blogosphere, which is overly kind - I prefer outright refusal) to end funding of the Iraq War, which was one of the main reasons voters swept the Dems in power? How about the continued decimation of civil liberties, now that the Dems share a greater responsibility with the White House for the attack on constitutional rights? How about holding Pelosi responsible for refusing to impeach Bush and Cheney? Yes, there may be some complaining, but it seems relatively muted, usually couched in terms such as "we need more and better Democrats." Just to test the waters a few weeks back, I posted a pro-Sheehan diary over at Daily Kos (Cindy Sheehan is the most visible challenger to Pelosi in her district). The response was that of, well, cheerleading. I had predicted some time ago that Sheehan would lose her position of esteem at Daily Kos once it became clear that she wasn't going to be a pawn of the Democratic party machine. Her direct challenge of a member of the Dem's establishment sealed her fate last summer.

I'm guessing it was really easy for a lot of these folks to be oppositional when it was Bu$hCo and a GOP Congress that were largely responsible for not only the budgetary fiascoes of the present sorry decade, but also of gross human violations so ghastly that they could only honestly be described as war crimes. I honestly wonder if we find ourselves with an Obama presidency and expanded Democratic majorities in Congress (the former is less of a sure thing than the latter), if we'll be treated to impassioned essays on the evils of torture and extraordinary renditions, of dropping cluster bombs, depleted uranium tipped bombs, and white phosphorous on villages in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and elsewhere; or if instead, those issues will be swept under the rug since the onus will have shifted entirely to their own party. Same when it comes to restoring eroded civil liberties. I know how I'm likely to bet. I'm already expecting to periodically appear at such places as Kos in order to ask pointedly "so, where's the change?" If I haven't already been banned entirely from such places before November, I expect to be so before too long into the next year.

As a side note: one of the points mentioned in Cernig's essay has to do with an observation that bloggers are essentially oppositional in nature. I'm not sure that I would agree necessarily with that assessment. Folks get into political blogging for any of a number of reasons. For a fair number, that may well be a means to express opposition and to advocate visions of possible futures that diverge from the status quo. That is a characterization that I will humbly accept. However, there are also plenty who get into this medium for other purposes, such as launching eventual political careers, securing book deals, or merely a place on news talk shows as pundits. The latter are not necessarily oppositional in their outlooks.

So there you have it. Kudos to Cernig for being willing to address the issue - it's one that will become more and more salient in the upcoming months. To what extent will today's prog bloggers actually hold their party's feet to the fire? To what extent will cognitive dissonance prevent them from doing so? What if your wildest fantasy came true and a genuine leftist government emerged? Could you, would you provide even a sympathetic critique to its shortcomings (and we all know that it would not be perfect)? To take an line from an old Dead Kennedys lyric, "Where do you draw the line? I'm not telling you. I'm asking you."

I don't have any good pat answers on those questions, just the questions themselves. Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy B-Day

Madame's birthday was today. Birthdays for us tend to be quiet family affairs, which is essentially how we prefer it. The usual birthday ritual includes my preparing dinner, and everyone partaking in her favorite desert - cheesecake. Somehow she's still able to find things from her wardrobe from the last decade that still fit her. Me - I can merely look at food any more and put on a few pounds! Heh. So it goes.

Happy b-day Madame, and thanks for just being there.

Speaking of pockets of resistance

See Laura Carlsen's article, NAFTA and the Elephant in the Room: The Tide is Turning.

Said it before and will say it again: Don't be biofooled

So-called "biofuel" has pushed food prices up 75% (h/t Ten Percent). Here's just a taste:
Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.
The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.
The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.
Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.
"It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday.
"Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. "It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."
Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as "the first real economic crisis of globalisation".
President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."
Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.
Since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. The EU has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.
"Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.
It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.
The warning signs were there for a while. I tried to help sound the alarm in the spring of 2007:

Some words of warning on the ethanol boom:
But there is a darker side to this green revolution, which argues for a cautious assessment of how big a role ethanol can play in filling the developed world's fuel tank. The prospect of a sudden surge in demand for ethanol is causing serious concerns even in Brazil.
The ethanol industry has been linked with air and water pollution on an epic scale, along with deforestation in both the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, as well as the wholesale destruction of Brazil's unique savannah land.
Fabio Feldman, a leading Brazilian environmentalist and former member of Congress who helped to pass the law mandating a 23 per cent mix of ethanol to be added to all petroleum supplies in the country, believes that Brazil's trailblazing switch has had serious side effects.
"Some of the cane plantations are the size of European states, these vast monocultures have replaced important eco-systems," he said. "If you see the size of the plantations in the state of Sao Paolo they are oceans of sugar cane. In order to harvest you must burn the plantations which creates a serious air pollution problem in the city."
Despite its leading role in biofuels, Brazil remains the fourth largest producer of carbon emissions in the world due to deforestation. Dr Nastarti rejects any linkage between deforestation and ethanol and argues that cane production accounts for little more than 10 per cent of Brazil's farmland.
However, Dr Nastari is calling for new legislation in Brazil to ensure that mushrooming sugar plantations do not directly or indirectly contribute to the destruction of vital forest preserves.
Sceptics, however, point out that existing legislation is unenforceable and agri-business from banned GM cotton to soy beans has been able to ignore legislation.
"In large areas of Brazil there is a total absence of the state and no respect for environmental legislation," said Mr Feldman.
"Ethanol can be a good alternative in the fight against global warming but at the same time we must make sure we are not creating a worse problem than the one we are trying to solve."
The conditions for a true nightmare scenario are being created not in Brazil, despite its environment concerns, but in the US's own domestic ethanol industry.
While Brazil's tropical climate allows it to source alcohol from its sugar crop, the US has turned to its industrialised corn belt for the raw material to substitute oil. The American economist Lester R Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, is leading the warning voices: "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its two billion poorest people who are simply trying to stay alive is emerging as an epic issue."
Speaking in Sao Paolo, where the ethanol boom is expected to take off with a US-Brazil trade deal this Thursday, Fabio Feldman, said: "We must stop and take a breath and consider the consequences."
Biofuel costs
When Rudolph Diesel unveiled his new engine at the 1900 World's Fair, he made a point of demonstrating that it could be run on peanut oil. "Such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time," he said.
And so it has come to pass that US President George Bush has decreed that America must wean itself off oil with the help of biofuels made from corn, sugar cane and other suitable crops.
At its simplest, the argument for biofuels is this: By growing crops to produce organic compounds that can be burnt in an engine, you are not adding to the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The amount of CO2 that the fuel produces when burnt should balance the amount absorbed during the growth of the plants.
However, many biofuel crops, such as corn, are grown with the help of fossil fuels in the form of fertilisers, pesticides and the petrol for farm equipment.
One estimate is that corn needs 30 per cent more energy than the finished fuel it produces.
Another problem is the land required to produce it. One estimate is that the grain needed to fill the petrol tank of a 4X4 with ethanol is sufficient to feed a person for a year.
Now I hate to be the turd in the punchbowl, but the fact of the matter is that we're going to have a serious lifestyle readjustment ahead of us in the coming years and decades as petroleum gets harder to find and refine. The days of having at least one car per adult are numbered, and these desperate efforts to hang on to that lifestyle are likely doomed. When we get to a point where we're seriously thinking of trading a year's food for a human being for a tank of ethanol, we've crossed some twisted ethical line.
And a month later:

Earthside has also highlighted a couple articles that further suggest that biofuel is not the panacea it is made out to be. Bottom line is that the effects of this much hyped "green" revolution are already being felt in the form of higher prices for grains (primarily corn and wheat), leading to strained budgets for the world's middle classes and desperation for those in poverty. Not only are those loaves of bread and tortillas going up in price (I do the grocery shopping for our family - trust me: I've noticed), but the prices of milk are going up significantly. Milk? Yup. Turns out that dairy cattle are primarily put on a corn diet. Corn costs go up, so do costs for milk or any product using milk as one of its ingredients.

Not only that, but as Monbiot's article points out, the rate of deforestation is increasing with negative effects not only for any living creature relying on those specific habitats (think extinction of species such as orangutans) but also will lead to a more rapid release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Aside from those sufficiently well-to-do who might squeeze out a few more years of happy motoring in their SUVs, the rest of the planet loses.
And last August:
There is certainly enough bleakness to go around, what with wars that are currently costing far too many precious lives, and many millions of others being starved out and enslaved as a consequence of neoliberal economic policies and short-sighted endeavors to maintain unsustainably lavish lifestyles in the Global North (e.g., US, EU). I've occasionally highlighted the nightmare that the push toward replacing oil with so-called biofuel or ethanol is creating - for the time being a nightmare suffered primarily by those most residing in the Global South (aka the Third and Fourth Worlds). In Bio-Fooled? I highlighted an article that made it clear that the ethanol boom was already having devastating environmental effects - including rapid deforestation and increased carbon emissions - as well as putting the well-off in the Global North with the choice between feeding human beings with harvested grain and feeding SUV fuel tanks. In Don't Be Biofooled, I made largely the same point - this time by presenting a graphic I found via the internet and summarizing what I'd read thus far.

Once more I feel the need to highlight the dire effects that the ethanol boom are having. This time, I am recommending one read Raul Zibechi's article, The Dark Side of Agrofuels. The setting this time is in the sugar cane fields in Brazil, which are both leading to further damage to the Amazon rain forest and are fostering slave-labor conditions for those unlucky enough to work in those sugar cane fields. The expansion of this industry is also threatening indigenous agriculture. Zibechi offers no words of hope. Those encouraging the biofuel boom are quite wealthy and politically well-connected, whereas those most immediately victimized are not, and are largely voiceless outside of alternative media sources. As Zibechi notes, the effects on the environment and workers' lives are furthest from these elites' minds (I'll add also the furthest from the minds of an American public more concerned with Britney Spears' latest meltdowns than with the nightmarish world being left in the wake of a neoliberal typhoon). Even among those who try to tune out the bombardment of "reality" shows and entertainment "news" are going to be fed a very sanitized version of the impact of biofuels in the coming decades - I'm sure that we've already been treated multiple times to Anderson Cooper covering the Brazil "miracle" and driving past pristine sugar cane plantations, making the whole thing seem like a wonderful alternative for those desiring a supposedly "greener" form of happy motoring.
In that last essay, I try to highlight some pockets of resistance to the worsening nightmare. This is class warfare - albeit certainly not framed as such. Essentially, it's the fourth world war that Marcos and the EZLN talk about between neoliberalism's oligarchs and the rest of us. Recognize it for what it is.

Happy 4th

Not often you read about a jazz singer in the news,

and especially in anything related to the various political comings and goings here in the U$A. Gotta hand it to Rene Marie - she's even managed to draw the ire of, yes, Barack Obama for daring to sing Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing in place of the National Anthem at Denver's State of the City address. I forget who turned me on to her music, but she's got a great voice and is well worth hearing. In our highly compartmentalized world, it seems that musical performers are expected to keep their values, their opinions, to themselves: "shut up 'n sing" (or to take an old Frank Zappa title, "shut up 'n play yer guitar"). Actually the comments to the article are fascinating in and of themselves. Some of those folks would be quite comfortable over at the Stormfront site.

Tonight's factoid

Since the boycott of AP began a few weeks ago, I've been curious as to how that's affected its traffic. One thing I've done is to follow follow Memorandum's Leaderboard, which monitors presence, the "percentage of headline space" occupied by media sources, over a 30 day period. For the period ending at about this time, July 4, 2008, AP's "presence" was at 3.44%. If one were to look at AP's presence as of June 16, 2008, about the time the boycott was getting started, the figure was 4.34%. Just typing in semi-random dates on the leaderboard indicates that AP's presence seemed to be pretty consistently in the 3.80% - 4.30% range for much of this year.

Correlation, of course, does not imply causation. Still it is an interesting trend in the aftermath of AP's heavy-handed treatment of the blog Drudge Retort, and the recent apparent plagiarism of a Narco News article by AP journalists. I don't know how much traffic AP receives from Memeorandum, but a nearly 1% drop in presence probably has some impact, especially if similar drops are being experienced on other high-traffic websites. I'd be curious to find out if anyone has bothered to analyze the relationship between the beginning of the boycott and AP's readership, and if so, what they've found.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A harbinger of things to come in the wake of Plan Mexico

I'm going to post two videos found over at My Word is My Weapon that depict torture training in Mexico led by US private contractors. My guess is that there will be much more such training on your dime as a taxpayer (thank your Democrat-led Congress as well as President Baby Doc Bush).

As journalist Kristin Bricker states in her introduction of the videos:
Exactly one day after George Bush signed the first year of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico into law--giving Mexican military and police US training, armament, and resources--videos surfaced showing Mexican police undergoing torture training in León, Guanajuato. The torture training is directed by a British man from an unidentified US private security company.

The videos show the English-speaking contractor directing and participating in the torture of members of the Special Tactical Group (GET in its Spanish initials) of the León municipal police force during a 160-hour training over twelve days in April 2006. Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, the Secretary of Public Security in León, says the participants volunteered to be tortured as part of the training.

In one video, the unidentified contractor drags a GET officer through a puddle of his own vomit as punishment for failure to complete a training exercise:

In a second video, GET officers squirt mineral water up the nose of another officer, a torture technique commonly utilized by Mexican police. The man's head is also shoved into a hole which supposedly contains rats and feces:

She goes on to report:
Mexico's national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief's assertions: "Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who 'intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,' faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison."

The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government's adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government's recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón's deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.

This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries. During the 2003-2004 Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq, US soldiers claimed that defense contractors who ran the prison directed them to torture inmates. Four former Abu Ghraib inmates recently filed lawsuits against CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va., and New York-based L-3 Communications Corp., formerly Titan Corp., for torturing them.
More analysis about Plan Mexico (or Merida Initiative) from Laura Carlsen:
Part of the strategy for approving Plan Mexico was to portray it as merely a bilateral counter-narcotics plan. This was never the case. The Plan betrays its much more ambitious aims. Note the words of John Negroponte to the OAS General Assembly: “With full funding, the Merida Initiative will provide substantial support over several years to train and equip Mexican and Central American law enforcement. We are committed to this initiative because no country in the hemisphere can be safe from organized crime, gangs, and narco-terrorism unless we are all safe.”

The use of the phrase “narco-terrorism” is not surprising but it constitutes a bad omen for Mexico. When drug trafficking is considered synonymous with terrorism, it opens the door to suspension of civil liberties, pulls the country into the Bush counterterrorism strategy, and obscures the real nature and roots of the problem. Negroponte’s remarks also reflect the removal of the security locus from the national to the regional realm, where the United States calls the shots. In this context, fears of violation of national sovereignty are not exaggerated.

While accusing the opposition of being insensitive to drug-related violence, proponents of Plan Mexico paved the way for an aid package that will likely increase violence and bring it closer to home as the drug war extends to opposition targets like it did under Plan Colombia. It will also fail, just as other applications of the drug war model have failed.

I would like to be wrong on this, but the signs are already there—human rights violations have increased precipitously since President Calderon launched the militarization of Mexican society in response to the violence of the drug cartels. The Merida Initiative applauds this strategy and explicitly aims to reinforce and broaden security measures. It adds U.S. espionage equipment and firepower while providing no significant funding or role for civil society measures or protection of civil liberties. Violence fought with violence has led to nearly double the drug-related deaths this year alone and multiple attacks on grassroots leaders, unarmed civilians, Zapatista communities and women by security forces.

The media focused all of its attention on the counter-narcotics “shared responsibility” aspect of the plan. Most reporters apparently never bothered to read the entire plan and eagerly accepted the spoon-fed connection between the violence on the border they had been covering and the ostensibly benevolent response of the U.S. government embodied in Plan Mexico.


The task we have before is to monitor impact and stop the plan in the next appropriations round. Not condition it, not tweak it, but end it. There are many constructive ways in which an aid package to Mexico could be designed that would increase security and long-term development and human security. Many people were working on drafting legislation that responds to these needs from a civilian point of view until the process was so tragically detoured by Plan Mexico.

It will be an uphill battle to defeat later stages of Plan Mexico. The plan has no clear benchmarks for evaluation. In the case of Plan Colombia, even though studies demonstrate its failure in decreasing the production and flow of illegal drugs it continues to be funded. In both Mexico and Colombia, support has to do with creating a strong U.S. military presence in these countries—a misguided strategy for increasing U.S. influence in the context of Latin America’s widespread rejection of the Bush national security strategy and free trade agreements. Also, defense companies and information technology companies that benefit handsomely from the allocations will lobby heavily.

Moreover, at the recent meeting of Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP)—supposedly a “development and integration project”--President Calderon praised the Merida Initiative and announced he will work to “build mechanisms that broaden the aid to Central American and Caribbean nations…” Backed up by Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe, Calderon’s inclusion of Plan Mexico and the security agenda as the first point in his statement on the renewed PPP made it clear that the rightwing governments in the hemisphere have every intention of “securitizing” the hemispheric agenda, applying military models to public security problems with the generous help of U.S. taxpayer dollars. This path follows the evolution of NAFTA into a “White House-led” regional security plan under the Security and Prosperity Partnership. In its wake, the root problems facing Mexico—increased drug use, poverty, the fall of real wages, loss of rural livelihoods and emigration, corruption and erosion of the rule of law—have been pushed aside.
This is what neoliberals call "freedom." Expect more torture, raids on indigenous communities (such as those in Chiapas), more disappearances, and so on in the coming years, coupled with more intense grinding poverty. As NAFTA has continued to intensify its death grip both in the US and in Mexico, mechanisms for dealing with the impoverished and displaced people, who tend to understandably get angry at being treated as disposable. Any hints of rebellion will be dealt with by the governments in question by violating human rights and dignity - the intention to deter dissent, rather than to address any legitimate human needs. The only "security" will be that which insures the flow of capital and fortifies the boundaries of the various Green Zones. Prosperity will only go to a relative handful of CEOs. The rest of us are supposed to starve and love it.


Another unhappy anniversary is marked today: that of the US naval shooting of an Iranian passenger plane 20 years ago. The death toll was 290 passengers. As Papa Doc Bush said at the time:
“I will never apologize for the United States of America, I don’t care what the facts are” (ht2 Iran Affairs)
That pretty well sums up the imperial attitude. Follow the rest of RickB's post and you'll get another example of ugly Americanism in action in the form of a hijack of a wikipedia article about the incident.

Yuppie bellicosity

Jay Taber sez:

Two summers ago, Obama was lauding Nixon’s foreign policy. Two weeks ago it was Reagan’s foreign policy he praised. Today he expressed his gratitude to Reagan for curbing the excesses of the 60s and 70s.

To sum up, the Democratic candidate for President of the United States finds merit in murdering 3 million Vietnamese, 1 million Central American Indians and peasants, and in denying the merit of the civil rights, free speech, and anti-war movements.

How can McCain possibly top Obama’s yuppie bellicosity?

Not to worry...I'm sure McCain will somehow manage to at least equal Obama's.

Call this a follow-up of sorts

A couple of quotes found over at Who is IOZ? seem apropos:
Liberal--a power-worshipper without power.

-George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"

Power is given only to those who dare to lower themselves and pick it up. Only one thing matters, one thing; to be able to dare!

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment
Both quotes are appropriate within the context of Obama's recent embrace of that awful FISA legislation that I (among more bloggers than you could shake a stick at) have written about, along with the rather authoritarian turn Obama has taken in word and deed on a number of other issues. IOZ offers a perspective on why Obama would want embrace that unlimited spying power: not because he wishes to keep up appearances, but rather because he is so close to winning the presidency that he can taste it, and desires those powers for himself.

Again, to repeat myself:
I would not be at all surprised if either Obama himself were revealed to be some sort of wild card authoritarian in his own right, and/or numerous of his followers were wild card authoritarians - i.e., those who can pose as "leftists" but once in a position of power begin to crack down on dissent much like the right-wingers we all know and loathe. Obama's own embrace of warmongers, neoliberals, and of course of the awful FISA bill that is likely destined to pass does not bode well for those who wish to continue arguing that he is "progressive" (whatever that is supposed to mean any more). The behavior by groups of Obama fanatics on some of the community blogs (lots of bully tactics as I recall) and the apparent efforts by Obama partisans to shut down individually run anti-Obama blogs is a relatively mild expression of that authoritarianism; we should keep in mind that we're still early in the game.
We'll also keep in mind that Obama, like McCain, is willing to engage in right-wing rhetorical tactics, such as utilizing the Dolchstoßlegende, as he did recently. I would interpret this again, not as an effort to appear "strong" but rather to signal a willingness to crack down on dissent. I realize that some of you will immediately react that I'm being unnecessarily alarmist. I will submit, however, that the worst atrocities that have occurred in the course of human history have been wrapped up in noble intentions, with an air of exceptionalism on the behalf of the perpetrators, and a perception of victims and dissidents as subhuman and traitorous. Do not say you were not warned.

This one says it all

Found here. File under "the nativist mind at work."

The Guys From Area 51 are at it again

The pic is from their blog.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I get mail

Marisacat alerted me that Arcturus was kind enough to address the following poem to me and to Arthur Silber:

from one of La Generacion del 27, for Arthur Silber & anonymous (from yesterday’s post), writing in the 60’s out of his experiences decades earlier:

The Eyes’ deceit

How nobly they throng together
clamoring for justice, those young men
raising high their voices, inciting and
disturbing, so innocent their faces,
proud their steps and bearing,
their eyes seeking a superb,
a shining future, but right now
within their view, on the asphalt
of streets rocked by the calculated
clamor of the adolescent mob,
chorus of throats and arms,
naively faithful and docile
–candorous avalanche–at the bidding of
their elders, superiors in
cruelty and machinations, still
jailers of a prison that encircles
all, without escape to any future:
not even one they long for,
those who, splendid in their youth,
parade at last before the tyrant.

–”El engaño a los ojos,” from Clamor (1957-63), trans by Julian Palley in Affirmation: A Bilingual Anthology 1916-1966 by JJorge Guillén [U of Oklahoma, 1968]

¡Muchas gracias, vato!

Could be a hard sell

The pr campaign to increase tourism to the US didn't work on at least one person:
Dear Discover America,

I find via the Financial Times that the US government has a plan to "launch a tourism charm offensive in the UK, to persuade holidaymakers to take advantage of sterling’s strength against the dollar and make the US their next holiday destination".

I first visited the US in February 1995. I stayed two weeks, visiting friends in Baltimore, California, and Washington, and had a wonderful time. Between 1995 and 2004 I visited the US multiple times, and enjoyed each visit very much. I've been to California, Arizona, Illinois, and New York: I've loved the country and enjoyed meeting Americans.

I haven't visited the country since US-Visit was set up in 2004, and I will not be back. I will not even change planes in a US airport when I make a long-planned visit to Canada next year.

The US government's tourist campaign was especially badly timed: on 30th June a federal Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that no crime was committed when U.S. officials arrested a non-US citizen changing planes in a US airport, locked him up for a fortnight, refused to let him have access to a lawyer and a court, and then sent that non-US citizen to Jordan and then to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured for nearly a year.

If the US government claims the right to arrest any non-US citizen, lock them up, deny them due process, and ship them to another country to be tortured, then the US government must be insane to think that any non-US citizen should take the risk of entering such a country.

I loved visiting the US. I'll never go back.
Seems perfectly understandable to me. It's probably risky enough for US citizens to continue to reside here now that the whole "unitary executive" theory is taken as orthodoxy.

Hat tip, The Sideshow.

Champions of monoculture and genocide

Something of a friendly reminder, if you will. Let's look at John Winthrop (first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony):
That which lies common, and hath never beene replenished or subdued is free to any that possesse and improve it: For God hath given to the sonnes of men a double right to the earth; there is a naturall right, and a Civill Right. The first right was naturall when men held the earth in common every man sowing and feeding where he pleased: then as men and theire Cattekk encreased they appropriated certaine parcells of Grownde by inclosing and peculiar manuerance, and this in time gatte them a Civille right. . . . As for the Natives in New England, they inclose noe Land, neither have any settled habytation, nor any tame Cattell to improve the Land by, and soe have noe other but a Naturall Right to those Countries, soe as if we leave them sufficient for their use, we may lawfully take the rest, there being more than enough for them and us.
John Mason (commander of Connecticut troops during a massacre of a Pequot village):
The Indians ran as Men most dreadfully amazed. . . . And indeed such a dreadful Terror did the Almighty let fall upon their Spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very Flames, where many of them perished. . . . [And] God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven; Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep, and none of their Men could find their Hands: Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the place with dead Bodies!
Here's Theodore Roosevelt from his book, The Winning of the West, Volume 1 (h/t The Try-Works)
After the great Teutonic wanderings were over, there came a long lull, until, with the discovery of America, a new period of even vaster race expansion began. During this lull the nations of Europe took on their present shapes. Indeed, the so-called Latin nations–the French and Spaniards, for instance–may be said to have been born after the first set of migrations ceased. Their national history, as such, does not really begin until about that time, whereas that of the Germanic peoples stretches back unbroken to the days when we first hear of their existence. It would be hard to say which one of half a dozen races that existed in Europe during the early centuries of the present era should be considered as especially the ancestor of the modern Frenchman or Spaniard. When the Romans conquered Gaul and Iberia they did not in any place drive out the ancient owners of the soil; they simply Romanized them, and left them as the base of the population. By the Frankish and Visigothic invasions another strain of blood was added, to be speedily absorbed; while the invaders took the language of the conquered people, and established themselves as the ruling class. Thus the modern nations who sprang from this mixture derive portions of their governmental system and general policy from one race, most of their blood from another, and their language, law, and culture from a third.
. . .
It is of vital importance to remember that the English and Spanish conquests in America differed from each other very much as did the original conquests which gave rise to the English and the Spanish nations. The English had exterminated or assimilated the Celts of Britain, and they substantially repeated the process with the Indians of America; although of course in America there was very little, instead of very much, assimilation. The Germanic strain is dominant in the blood of the average Englishman, exactly as the English strain is dominant in the blood of the average American. Twice a portion of the race has shifted its home, in each case undergoing a marked change, due both to outside influence and to internal development; but in the main retaining, especially in the last instance, the general race characteristics
Adolph Hitler (probably plagiarizing) Roosevelt in Mein Kampf (h/t The Try-Works)
In North America, where the population is prevalently Teutonic, and where those elements intermingled with the inferior race only to a very small degree, we have a quality of mankind and a civilization which are different from those of Central and South America. In these latter countries the immigrants–who mainly belonged to the Latin races–mated with the aborigines, sometimes to a very large extent indeed. In this case we have a clear and decisive example of the effect produced by the mixture of races. But in North America the Teutonic element, which has kept its racial stock pure and did not mix it with any other racial stock, has come to dominate the American Continent and will remain master of it as long as that element does not fall a victim to the habit of adulterating its blood.
Some more insight on Hitler from the book Hitler and His Secret Partners, by James Pool (h/t The Try-Works):
Hitler drew another example of mass murder from American history. Since his youth he had been obsessed with the Wild West stories of Karl May. He viewed the fighting between cowboys and Indians in racial terms. In many of his speeches he referred with admiration to the victory of the white race in settling the American continent and driving out the inferior peoples, the Indians. With great fascination he listened to stories, which some of his associates who had been in America told him about the massacres of the Indians by the U.S. Calvary.
He was very interested in the way the Indian population had rapidly declined due to epidemics and starvation when the United States government forced them to live on the reservations. He thought the American government’s forced migrations of the Indians over great distances to barren reservation land was a deliberate policy of extermination. Just how much Hitler took from the American example of the destruction of the Indian nations is hard to say; however, frightening parallels can be drawn. For some time Hitler considered deporting the Jews to a large ‘reservation’ in the Lubin area where their numbers would be reduced through starvation and disease.
. . .
Always contemptuous of the Russians, Hitler said: “For them the word ‘liberty’ means the right to wash only on feast-days. If we arrive bringing soft soap, we’ll obtain no sympathy…There’s only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins.” Having been a devoted reader of Karl May’s books on the American West as a youth, Hitler frequently referred to the Russians as “Redskins.” He saw a parallel between his effort to conquer and colonize land in Russia with the conquest of the American West by the white man and the subjugation of the Indians or “Redskins.” “I don’t see why,” he said, “a German who eats a piece of bread should torment himself with the idea that the soil that produces this bread has been won by the sword. When we eat from Canada, we don’t think about the despoiled Indians.”
Manifest Destiny (US Version):
The phrase was coined in 1845 by journalist John L. O'Sullivan, then an influential advocate for the Democratic Party. In an essay entitled "Annexation" published in the Democratic Review, O'Sullivan urged the United States to annex the Republic of Texas, not only because Texas desired this, but because it was America's "manifest destiny to overspread the continent". Amid much controversy, Texas was annexed shortly thereafter, but O'Sullivan's first usage of the phrase "Manifest Destiny" attracted little attention.

O'Sullivan's second use of the phrase became extremely influential. On December 27, 1845 in his newspaper the New York Morning News, O'Sullivan addressed the ongoing boundary dispute with Great Britain in the Oregon Country. O'Sullivan argued that the United States had the right to claim "the whole of Oregon":
And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.
That is, O'Sullivan believed that God ("Providence") had given the United States a mission to spread republican democracy ("the great experiment of liberty") throughout North America. Because Great Britain would not use Oregon for the purposes of spreading democracy, thought O'Sullivan, British claims to the territory could be disregarded. O'Sullivan believed that Manifest Destiny was a moral ideal (a "higher law") that superseded other considerations, including international laws and agreements.

Nerdified Link
Prime Minister Olmert's version of Manifest Destiny:
I offer no justification beyond that I KNOW Israel to be the land promised to us by G_d, and that I KNOW her to have awakened and embarked upon a march to glory.

To deny Israel her place is to deny the sun-rise, or the tides or the exquisite forces of gravity. We might idly ruminate on matters of the world, but to so do marks nothing more than the passage of time.

Israel's destiny is concrete, and here people might justly celebrate at such a time.

Professor Larry Portis comparing the monocultural visions of the US and Israel:
How did the historical experience of the United States help shape the image of Palestine? How did the "New Jerusalem" contribute to a change in the vision of the "old Jerusalem"?

A first connection is between an understanding of the Jewish Diaspora and the Protestant-puritan Diaspora of the seventeenth century. Despite deep currents of anti-Semitism, the parallel between John Winthrop leading the brave Puritans to the Promised Land and Moses leading the children of Israel back to the Holy Land has been regularly exploited in (what is today) the United States. For example, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the official seal of the United States could depict the "Children of Israel" following a pillar light sent by God.

The associations envisioned by Jefferson are eloquent: the notion of a chosen people-the Elect-to whom providence has assigned a spiritual mission linked to the conquest of a particular land. All this provides the basis for an affinity that is, in fact, more than elective-it is divine. More specifically, both chosen peoples were, ultimately, "people without a land" called upon to colonize "a land without a people".

When we speak of the colonizers, of America and Palestine, it is logical to forget the indigenous inhabitants of both places, for it was the land that was colonized--not the people living on it. The importance of the American Indians and the Palestinians comes from the fact that they have figured as obstacles to the fulfillment of the missions in question. Both groups have, in different ways, been characterized as lower forms of civilization slowing the march of progress. Both peoples have been described as savage and cruel.


The history of the British colonies in North America, and then the history of the United States throughout the nineteenth century is that of continuous colonization. The religious and economic motives typical of the seventeenth century continued to inspire settlers until the "closing" of the Frontier in the 1890s. What appear as the real novelty of the nineteenth century were the various utopian experiments in communal living. Hundreds of socialistic communities were established throughout the United States during the nineteenth century. To our day, such initiatives continue as part of the social and cultural landscape.

The Zionist settlements in Palestine combined all these same motivations. Not only were the Zionist colonies of different types, they sometimes-as in the case of the Kibbutzim-united in themselves religious Puritanism and secular socialistic modernity. This was a phenomenon appealing to United-Statesians reared on frontier myths, such as the idea of cultural-spiritual regeneration through a confrontation with adversity and violence.
I suspect you can find the common thread: namely a zealous belief by the perpetrators of being a "chosen people" combined with a demonization, a dehumanization of their victims. The reason for the brief history lesson (trust me, this one is truly brief) is simple - several of us have tried to warn you that these patterns do have a tendency to repeat, and that it is not always immediately obvious ahead of time just how truly awful the damage that is done.

In any election, you cast two votes

This is something we usually forget that some blogger tried to remind his readers back in February, when the primaries and caucuses were still going on. Now I realize that the first reaction to the statement "you cast two votes whenever you participate in an election" will be "Now wait: I only got one ballot and cast one vote." That would be correct, as far as it goes. In other words, the first vote you have cast is the one that is immediately visible: i.e., for a particular candidate, or a particular party, or a particular ballot initiative. You have either voted "Yes" or "No" for someone or some initiative.

Now as for that second vote you will have cast, let's break it down:
The second vote is an automatic "yes" vote on the process, on the election itself. By participating in the election you're saying that yes, you find the choices offered are acceptable, that the process has been fair, that the debate leading up to Election Day has covered all the relevant issues, that you consider both parties to be legitimate.
You are communicating to those who run the system that the system and their handling of it are legitimate. The blogger who wrote the paragraph quoted, Stanley Rogouski, goes on to list a number of ways in which the primary in his state was not legitimate - and I believe can be extrapolated on to the general election:
First of all, there’s no guarantee my vote will count. Al Gore was clearly the winner in Florida in 2000 and Gore and the Democratic Party declined to fight against the appointment of George Bush to the White House by the Supreme Court and for the decision that the American voters actually made. Four years later, in spite of the suspect vote count in Ohio, John Kerry declined to spend the millions of dollars he had left over and left it to the under funded Greens and Libertarians to conduct an investigation.

Second, the Republican Party under George Bush and Dick Cheney lied to the American people to manipulate them into destroying a small, impoverished Middle Eastern country, as of now the greatest war crime of the 21st Century. George Bush used the terrorist attack on 9/11 to push unconstitutional and even treasonous legislation through the congress. He’s mounted a relentless attack on American civil liberties for seven years. He’s repealed Habeas corpus, a legal tradition in English speaking nations going back hundreds of years. He’s brought convicted felons like Elliot Abrams and John Negroponte back into the government. He’s legalized torture. George Bush and dozens of his cronies belong in leg irons and behind bars, not free to work the lecture for pay and lobbying circuits after they get out of office in 2009. And yet in spite of this, the Democratic Party has declined to do their constitutional duty and impeach these criminals for the disgustingly selfish reason that they believe pursuing justice might cost them the White House in 2008. Voting in this primary legitimizes Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid “taking impeachment off the table”. It legitimizes their decision to continue to fund the occupation of Iraq in the hopes that it will continue to go bad and hurt the Republicans. Iraqi and American lives for votes? Shred the Constitution in order to get someone with a “D” behind his or her name in the White House? No thanks.

Finally there’s the primary process itself. The all white states of Iowa and New Hampshire are given a ridiculously disproportionate weight in choosing the nominee. Both parties have worked with the corporate media to marginalize real debate about the war and civil liberties. Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were excluded from the process altogether when they asked too many hard questions. There’s little discussion in the media about the role of super delegates and while this is a decision made by the corporate media and not the Democratic or Republican parties, both parties still allow media outlets to sponsor debates instead of moving the process back to a non-partisan organization like the League of Women Voters. While the Republican Party has been slightly more open on debating the issue of the occupation of the war in Iraq, actually demanding that Fox News include anti-war Libertarian Ron Paul when they tried to exclude him, the New Jersey primary is a winner take all primary. A vote for anti-war Republican Ron Paul winds up as a delegate for the fanatical militarist John McCain.
You see in brief the scope of the problem. Not only is there the real question as to if one's vote will be counted at all, but there is also the question of what that vote actually represents if it is counted. If one does indeed question the legitimacy of the process to the extent that the writer appears to, the honest thing to do is to refuse to participate. To do otherwise strikes me as requiring a fair amount of mauvaise foi, although there are certainly plenty of folks out there who seem to go that route, say for instance when one claims as did Josh Marshall back in March:
What I am saying is that no one can run away from the choice every American with the franchise will face in November. The next president will either be John McCain or the Democratic nominee. That's an immovable fact. Not voting or voting for some protest candidate doesn't allow anyone to wash their hands of that choice.
Or, Libby from Newshoggers just a few weeks ago:
The Democrats think they have us over a barrel. They know we're going to vote for the Democratic ticket. There is no other choice.
You can say that in a brief post I knocked out in late June, ¡Vete a la chingada!, I called out a few of the more visible "progressive" bloggers who are having "buyer's remorse" over Obama but who will in all likelihood dutifully cast their vote for him (and for the system that is of questionable legitimacy) in November - contending, in bad faith, that "there is no other choice." Going back to last March, I stated (hopefully in good faith):
Further, I'd strongly suggest reading Arthur Silber's The Tale That Might Be Told. The false choice that Josh Marshall is presenting us is one of selecting which one is "less bad." Continuing to make such "choices" only encourages the rulers to believe they are legitimate. If you try out Silber's gedanken experiment, you can imagine just how tenuous the elites' hold on legitimacy really is: after all, they're only legit to the extent that the people tolerate them, and withholding one's support is not a particularly difficult thing to do really. Psychologically, a small turnout (and by small, let's say less than ten percent of the electorate) would change things considerably. It's hard enough for a president to claim a mandate when less than a quarter of the registered voters support them (although they usually do somehow with a straight face). Once you start talking less than five percent of the registered voters supporting the eventual "victor", any remaining pretense of a "mandate" is taken away. One might also take away from Silber's essay the idea that the elites need us much, much more than we "need" them.

Said it before, and I'll say it again: ideally we'd have not only a mass boycott of the polls in November, but also a general strike to drive the point home that a very large number of Americans are plain and simply fed up with the status quo. I don't hold out much hope for something that organized to happen here as of yet, but perhaps I might one day be pleasantly surprised.

There's no running away involved: Not only am I refusing to vote for either the of the evils (be it in Donkey or Elephant form), but I have stated so publicly on many an occasion and no doubt will continue to do so for as long as I can draw a breath and find anyone who will listen. In other words, I've simply stood up and said "no" to evils, no matter how much "lesser" their supporters claim them to be.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that rather than being passive objects of circumstance, we are active participants in the situations in which we're embedded. In other words, there are other choices and to pretend that there are none is to engage in self-deception. As Mohandas Gandhi once said: "be the change that you want to see in the world." That includes challenging the legitimacy of the status quo, and if one has reason to doubt its legitimacy, of refusing to cop out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Slight change of plans

Madame and I were discussing trip logistics last night, and realized that we'd need to delay just a bit. Just as well, as we were going to have to stay a bit later into the month than planned, and the reality of the costs associated with doing so were more than my wages would permit. I'm not a big fan of driving during the July 4th weekend to begin with, so from my vantage point there are no problems. Also, there is the matter of just how loud our posse can be, especially to those who are accustomed to peace and quiet. The youngest two members of our family are still learning the value of using their "inside voice" when inside a house rather than using their "outside voice." Ten days of that would be a burden that arguably only Madame and I should bear.

Instead, Madame's birthday will be a quiet family affair (yes, that's what July 4th means to me), and then we get to be in town to celebrate the 1st birthday of one of our friends' kids this weekend.

International Statement in Solidarity with the Zapatistas

Saw this over at Zapagringo:
International Statement in Solidarity with the Zapatistas

To the people of Mexico:
To the EZLN:
To the Other Campaign:
To the International Community:
To the media:

As members of diverse collectives and organizations in different corners of the World, we wish to express our outrage and complete repudiation of the renewed military invasion of Zapatista communities on June 4th 2008.

Numerous reports from the International Civil Commission of Human Rights Observation (CCIODH), the Centre for Political Analysis and Socio-Economic Investigations (CAPISE) and Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center have raised concerns regarding the continued and increasing hostility from the Mexican Government towards the Zapatistas. In these investigations it is clear that this dirty war relies upon a system that involves paramilitary organizations, institutions such as the Agrarian Reform Secretary (SRA) and both Federal (PAN) and State (PRD) Governments, as well as the military occupation surrounding Zapatista territory since 1994.

The Mexican Army’s decision to invade La Garrucha, Rancho Alegre (known as Chapuyil), Hermenegildo Galeana and San Alejandro represents more than the violation of the Dialogue, Conciliation and Peace in Chiapas Law (1995), the Mexican Constitution (Article 29), the American Human Rights Declaration (Articles 21 and 29b) and the International Civil and Political Rights Convention (Articles 14 and 27). It also represents a change in the strategy against the Zapatistas. In view of this, we are extremely concerned for the physical and physiological integrity of our indigenous Zapatista brothers and sisters. The Mexican Government is attacking the right of indigenous peoples to freely organize by attempting to use the outrageous accusation that the Zapatistas cultivate marijuana. As the Mexican State looks for mechanisms to legitimize open warfare, it is clear that its real objective is the destruction of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).

We are certain that the Zapatista demands are made peacefully, that these demands are being organized in conjunction with other indigenous peoples, cities and states across the Mexican Republic following the release of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which calls for peaceful civic organization called the Other Campaign. The continued aggression towards Zapatista communities and especially this recent invasion by the Mexican Army demonstrate that that the Mexican Government is unwilling and incapable of resolving popular demands and is reliant on repressive tactics to attempt to extinguish those voices that demand the most basic of rights.

We demand that the Mexican Government, represented by the President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, immediately withdraw the National Armed Forces strategically deployed in the conflict zone in Chiapas.

We demand that the Chiapas State Government, represented by Juan Sabines Guerrero, stop all acts of aggression and threats by State Police to Zapatista communities.

If the Mexican Government continues to attack Zapatista communities we, the undersigned, will do everything we can to act in solidarity with the Zapatistas and in rejection of the violent and repressive Mexican State.
Spread the word!

There are times when I feel like one of the Baudelaire children

Maybe some of you will understand. The Baudelaire children are the protagonists from a series of books (and let's not forget, the movie) entitled Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven't yet read the books - my son recommends them highly - but have seen the film, so my late night musings this particular time around are based strictly on my memories of the movie.

Now, I suppose about now you're wondering why I am making that statement, and perhaps more importantly, why am I wasting time blogging when I should be completing a few more tasks for the upcoming family vacation. As always, I'm glad you asked. I see in the movie (and I'm supposing the same will be true for the books), some social commentary. The basic premise goes something like this: the Baudelaire children, recently orphaned, are targeted by an evil, cruel individual named Count Olaf, who wants to get access to their inheritance. Although the three kids can suss out that Count Olaf is up to no good, and couldn't possibly be a legit relative, those adults who are supposed to be their guardians, their advocates, cannot seem to grasp that basic concept - no matter how often the kids repeat it. Those rare adults who do manage to understand the danger posed by Count Olaf fail to understand just how dangerous he actually is, and manage to meet their untimely demise as a result. Even on occasion when Olaf faces punishment for his crimes, he seems to come out relatively unfazed.

To cut to the chase: there are at least a couple Count Olafs running for President this year. If either one gets his wish, he will be capable of perpetrating catastrophe of potentially epic proportions - certainly on par with the current Count Olaf. Some of your humble bloggers are those Baudelaire children trying desperately to point out the obvious, and find that either the targets of our message fail to understand, don't want to understand, or manage to understand somewhat but underestimate and dismiss the seriousness of the situation. The usual institutions that are supposed to protect fail entirely, much as the agencies that should have looked out for the Baudelaires failed them. If any of the Olafs actually get punished (i.e. they or their party fail to be elected), the punishment is simply not enough to deter further malicious behavior.

So yes, if I seem a bit more curmudgeonly and pessimistic than usual, that will have to serve as an answer.

Certainly, there is a deeper subtext to the story about how we as adults consistently fail our own kids, as well as the kids in our communities, and how those failures are manifested in ruthlessness in some and a sort of myopia in others that becomes self-perpetuating. Thanks to a fellow blogger, I'm getting the distinct impression that the work of psychologist Alice Miller would be quite relevant - which reminds me that aside from poking around and reading what is available on the internet (her website is worth visiting), I'll be wanting to read some of her books. Soon.

Vale. Be well, and I will try to post up a blurb or two between now and the mid-week departure.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ted Rall has been on fire lately


Unintended humor

Here's a good reason to refrain from that auto-replace feature:

Some far-right sites that subscribe to the Associated Press feed, for example, will use auto-correct to change “Democratic Party” to “Democrat Party.” This, of course, is because they have the temperament of children.

But the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow website takes the phenomenon one step further with its AP articles. The far-right fundamentalist group replaces the word “gay” in the articles with the word “homosexual.” I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems to make the AFA happy. The group is, after all, pretty far out there.

The problem, of course, is that “gay” does not always mean what the AFA wants it to mean. My friend Kyle reported this morning that sprinter Tyson Gay won the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials over the weekend. The AFA ran the story, but only after the auto-correct had “fixed” the article.

That means — you guessed it — the track star was renamed “Tyson Homosexual.” The headline on the piece read, “Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials.”

The following images are from Right Wing Watch:

Oops! That did remind me of a jazz BBS that I used to frequent around the turn of the decade that had an auto-replace function for words its mods considered objectionable. There was just one little problem. One of the words that the mods blocked was "cock", which was automatically replaced with "thingie". I found this out when I made reference to legendary jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock in one of that BBS's threads. Instead of "Hancock" the outcome was "Hanthingie". Suffice it to say, any time I wanted to discuss that particular artist's work on that board, I had to misspell his name. I eventually drifted away from there for other reasons, and honestly cannot even remember the name of the board, nor know if it even operates these days. But that bit of stupidity is the one thing I do recall quite well.

Flagging political opponents' blogs as spam? Not cool!

Simon Owens of Bloggasm asks, "Who's responsible for shutting down a number of anti-Obama Blogspot accounts?"

My interest in the story has little to do with this year's political silly season and more to do with a deeper issue about how Blogger works. I've had some experience with my blog being flagged as a spam blog - seems to happen at least once per year. Fortunately, thus far I've only been slightly inconvenienced (i.e., being required to type in some idiotic alphanumeric code each time I posted until the issue was resolved), and haven't had the unpleasant experience of being completely locked out. I'll keep my fingers crossed. Last year I made some mention of what happened to the blogger who runs Whatever It Is, I'm Against It:
I am apparently not the only one to have problems with the dumb fucks at Blogger, although perhaps I should count my blessing as at least Blogger/Google hasn't locked me out of my own blog (at least yet):
An email from WIIIAI:
Blogger has struck again, and decided that I run a spam blog. It may be days before they let me back in. I can't post, but I have limited control over the template, so for the time being I'll post on my archives blog, and leave links to those posts in the right-hand column of WIIIAI. The problem is that RSS users, which amount to at least 10% and for all I know half of our readers, will never see that.

But a pretty high percentage of my readers also read your blog. Could you post a notice asking my RSS readers to check the actual site and follow the links to new posts? Thanks.
At the blog Whatever It Is, I'm Against It, there is the following statement:
They locked me out of my own damn blog! I'll be posting, temporarily I hope, over on my archives blog and I'll put links to those posts right here until this is sorted out
As of today, WIIIAI is in day three of the Blogger-imposed exile. Sad thing is, while Blogger/Google has decided to harass some leftist bloggers, there are probably thousands of spam blogs that go about their sordid business unabated.
I'll stand by that today. Blogger/Google, and other similar blogging hosts (LiveJournal, Wordpress, etc.), need to change from a "guilty until proven innocent" approach to an "innocent until proven guilty" approach with regard to locking bloggers' accounts. This is especially crucial during the heat of an election year cycle where a relative handful of anonymous goons can lie to blogging hosts in an effort to shut down opposition to their particular candidates or causes. What is happening to these anti-Obama bloggers (and I'll say this holding my nose as many of the folks associated with Larry Johnson's fantasy land resemble some crowd at a Klan rally) appears to be nothing short of bullying. If you don't like what's on someone's blog, post a comment, send an email, or gripe about it on your own blog. Once you start acting to shut down blogs you don't like, you cross a line that should not be crossed.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

AP apparently caught plagiarizing Narco News

AP wasn't the only culprit, as the Washington Times, Washington Post, and New York Times appear to have done likewise. Here's the link to the Narco News article (Factual Plagiarism: The AP, NY Times, Washington Post & Washington Times Stole Their Work from Narco News This Week). You decide. I just find the whole thing amazing given how much AP was leaning on bloggers for quoting even small portions of its stories, and was attempting to charge bloggers for the "privilege" of quoting portions of its stories.

Before going on a rampage about "fair use," it might be wise for AP to educate its own writers on the importance of citing sources.

Amazon Tribes Fight to Keep the Xingu Alive

For five days in May, hundreds of tribal people from the far reaches of the Amazon Basin came together to protest plans for huge dams on the Xingu River, the largest tributary of the Amazon.

It was like being at a United Nations of indigenous peoples. Representatives from the Kayapó, Parakanã, Assurini and other indigenous groups arrived ceremonially dressed with genipapo (black) and urucum (red) bodypaint, and feather adornments. Some traveled as far as 1,000 miles to attend the meeting.

The indigenous peoples of the region viewed the meeting with officials in Altamira as a critical moment to present their position on the government's plans to flood their territories, and to describe the importance of the Xingu River system to their ways of life.

The emotionally charged encounter was filled with powerful moments. Every day, the indigenous groups entered and left with a dance and chant. Warriors armed with clubs and bows and arrows carried out rituals not usually seen outside their village ceremonies.

A Kayapó chief told a federal public attorney, "We want you as an authority of the government to tell President Lula that there will be world war in the Amazon if they try to build these dams."

Another Kayapó chief took his young son in his arms saying "We want to protect the Xingu—for our children and grandchildren." Kayapó women bathed newborns in the waters of the Xingu, telling onlookers from the media and government, "This is why we are opposing the dams. We need clean water to drink and to bathe in. We need the Xingu River to have life."
Read more (h/t Green Left Infoasis).

A good illustration of structural violence,

at least within the realm of racism, can be found at Arthur Silber's blog: Enchanted Evenings -- and Days, and Lives, in Hell (II). To get a feel for just how insidious it is, and how harm can be done without so much as laying a finger on the victims, you should read that essay, and of course the first essay in the series. Actually Arthur manages to touch on racism and homophobia quite a bit over numerous essays that he's written over the years, each of which would be in my personal and professional opinion (I'll put on my social psychologist hat for a second) worth studying.

Want an idea of what's happening with the Arctic sea ice?

Andrew Revkin offers an explanation.

Latest Sy Hersh article

Preparing the battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

Time for something completely different

As an election boycotter, this was worth a chuckle. Enjoy! H/t AfterDowningStreet.

More George Carlin

via Freedom Rider:
"There are two ways to think about this existence we have. One of them is that it's Wednesday and it's three fifteen and we're talking here in my home, and at four o'clock I have to leave for another meeting. Now, that's a reality. But there's another reality. We're in the solar system of a second-rate star, three quarters of the way out on a spiral arm of an average galaxy in a thing called the Local Group. And ours is only one of billions of galaxies, each of which has billions of stars. Some star systems are binary, and there could be a planet that revolves around a center of gravity between two binary stars. So you'd have two sunrises and two sunsets every day. One could be a red giant, the other a white dwarf; two different-sized, -shaped, and -colored suns in the sky. And there might be other planets and comets. In other words, fuck Wednesday, fuck three fifteen, fuck four o'clock, fuck the United States, fuck the earth. It's all temporal bullshit. I like thinking about being out there and not thinking about the corporate structure, not worrying about freedom, and not worrying about guns. I chose a life of ideas. That entertains me. That nourishes me."
Some food for thought.

How elites think, part 2

Yet more grist for the mill:

But here's a throwaway line in the article that caught my eye:

And although they never saw eye-to-eye on the war that killed some 58,000 Americans and up to 3 million Vietnamese, ... [McCain] never admitted that the war was a mistake.
This ain't Chomsky or Jon (or me) talking, ladies and gentlemen, this is MSNBC, a partnership of GE and Microsoft, with links to the Times, Newsweek, and the WaPo. We have it on official MSM record: John McCain finds nothing wrong with a war he fought against a nation that never hurt the US
Bernard Chazelle goes on to point a basic truth: rather than hiding out in Paraguay (where Holocaust perps often ended up), US war criminals get to run for president. All that said, if McCain (or Bush, or whomever) were to try escaping to some armed compound in Paraguay, he may face extradition now that Paraguay's government has changed its position about harboring war criminals.

G8 protests

The party's already starting ahead of the next G8 summit, scheduled for July 7 - 9 in Japan. Adrienne Carey Hurley's blog has proven to be a useful resource for those interested.

A footnote of sorts visa vis NAFTA and genocide

Every once in a while, I mention that the Zapatistas had, in their communiques, referred to NAFTA as genocidal. Here is just one, by Subcomandante Marcos, that jumped out at me as I was doing some background reading this evening:
The U.S. government has been wrong more than once in regards to its foreign policy. When this has occurred it is due to the fact it is making a mistake as to the man it ought to be backing up. History is not lacking in this type of examples. In the first half of this decade, the U.S. government made a mistake backing Carlos Salinas de Gortari. It made a mistake signing a NAFTA which lacked a majority support from the North American people and which meant an order of summary execution against the Mexican Indigenous people.

On the dawn of 1994 we rose up in arms. We rose up not seeking power, not responding to a foreign order. We rose up to say "here we are." The Mexican government, our government, had forgotten us and was ready to perpetrate a genocide without bullets or bombs, it was ready to annihilate us with the quiet death of sickness, of misery, of oblivion. The U.S. government became the accomplice of the Mexican government in this genocide.

With the signing of NAFTA, the U.S. government acted as guarantor of and gave its blessing to the murder of millions of Mexicans. Did the people of the U.S. know this? Did it know that its government was signing accords of massive extermination in Mexico? Did the people of the U.S. know that his government was backing a criminal? That man is gone. We remained. Our demands had not been solved and our arms kept saying "here we are" to the new government, to the people of Mexico, to the people and governments of the world. We waited patiently for the new government to listen to us and pay attention to us. But, within the dark circles of U.S. power someone decided that we, the insurgent Indigenous people of the Mexican South East, were the worst threat to the United States of America. From the darkness came the order: Finish them up!

They put a price on our brown skin, on our culture, on our word, because, above all they put a price on our uprising. The U.S. government decided, once more, to back a man, someone who continues with the politics of deceit of his predecessor, someone who denies the people of Mexico democracy, freedom and justice. Millions of dollars were lent to that man and his government. Without the approval of the American people, an enormous loan, without precedent in history, was granted to the Mexican government. Not to improve the living conditions of the people, not for the democratization of the country's political life, not for the economic reactivation promoting factories and productive projects. This money is for speculation, for corruption, for simulation, for the annihilation of a group of rebels, Indians for the most part, poorly armed, poorly nourished, ill equipped, but very dignified, very rebellious, and very human.
I cleaned up a couple glaring spelling errors, and highlighted passages that struck me as deserving emphasis, but otherwise the text is as originally translated. Flag Blackened has a pretty decent section on the Zapatistas, including EZLN communiques archived up through 2005.

Competing visions of $200+ per barrel oil

The LA Times seems to have the relatively happy-talk version. Cernig of Newshoggers has the much more bleak version. I'd like to believe in the happier version, that aside from more carpooling and staycations, all will be rosy. Just to be on the safe side, though, it would be a good idea to prepare for the worst case scenario. Cernig quotes a Newshoggers researcher, Kat, for what would seem sensible preparation for the worst case scenario:

$250 a barrel oil by next year?! Screw the so-called free-market shinola that got us into this mess, and continues to make it worse by the day. If we really don't want to starve during this unfolding economic firestorm, we'd best find a way to force Congress to:

1) immediately start a domestic Marshall Plan to manufacture millions of plug-in hybrids (heavily-subsidized so they'll be cheap-enough for us to actually buy);

2) suck up to Iceland pronto, for their help in getting all that potential geothermal electricity on line pdq; and

3) deliver a resounding whop upside the head to whoever just froze all those solar projects on federal land.

If we can get it through our Congresslizards' thick heads that this is a major economic crisis, and light a bonfire under them to do these 3 things, it might just create enough jobs so that we can not only continue to eat, but also continue paying our mortgages and utility bills.

For starters, we need to convince our Congressmen of a few stark economic and stragegic realities:

1) all the world's deep-sea oil-drilling equipment is already in use, and won't be available for several years, so they can forget that option,

2) by the time they get even one new nuclear power plant built, both the country as a whole and 99% of the populace will already be decimated economically, and

3) the US can't afford to continue spending $15b a month for the Iraq occupation, can't afford for our military to continue consuming 8% of the world's yearly oil supply as fuel in the process, nor can we afford to wait for years as our military vainly tries to impose enough stability in Iraq for Big Oil to develop Iraq's vast oil reserves, especially since, by the time that happens, we won't be able to afford the $250+ per barrel they'll still be asking for it.

That would mean challenging neoliberal orthodoxy, which I imagine is something that our political elites are psychologically unprepared to do. But on the very off chance that our Congresslizards (I just love that term, and think I'll begin using it) decide to do something useful, not only would the above be good, but I'd add a few items courtesy of Dmitry Orlov, whom I've mentioned before:
There are some things that I would like the government to take care of in preparation for collapse. I am particularly concerned about all the radioactive and toxic installations, stockpiles, and dumps. Future generations are unlikely to able to control them, especially if global warming puts them underwater. There is enough of this muck sitting around to kill off most of us. I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas – abandoning one's soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Overseas military bases should be dismantled, and the troops repatriated. I'd like to see the huge prison population whittled away in a controlled manner, ahead of time, instead of in a chaotic general amnesty. Lastly, I think that this farce with debts that will never be repaid, has gone on long enough. Wiping the slate clean will give society time to readjust. So, you see, I am not asking for any miracles. Although, if any of these things do get done, I would consider it a miracle.
By the way, in addition to the subsidized production and distribution of plug-in hybrids, might I also suggest another useful idea: as part of that "Marshall Plan" include a major overhaul of the nation's railroads. There is absolutely no reason for the US to not have a fully-functioning high-speed passenger railroad system. The nation is already heading towards bankruptcy - we might as well have something to show for it, such as a functioning infrastructure rather than only increasingly distant memories of failed wars which only fill the mind with anger and leave the belly empty. I also think it would be useful to remind our Congresslizards that the social unrest caused by a failure to act now in a useful way will not be contained by unleashing the sort of fascist state infrastructure that the government has been putting in place for the last decade or so. If oil stays at the $200 - $250 per barrel range for any significant length of time, the whole infrastructure needed to make that a reality will simply collapse. I wouldn't necessarily count on those Green Zones (in which the elites may hope to cower within) warding off a lot of very pissed of and desperately hungry human beings under such circumstances. Since I feel the need to repeat myself:
What is clear is that there are some huge changes on the horizon for which there is nearly no preparation. I do think that neoliberalism will become little more than a historical artifact of the late 20th & very early 21st century once that black gold becomes too expensive. As I was saying over a year ago:
The world that my generation is leaving behind for our kids and grandkids will in many ways seem much harsher than the one that we inherited. The thought used to drive me to depths of despair. The older I get though, the more stoic I have become - instead I'm realizing that those who've survived previous collapses find opportunities for finding meaningful existences, and even a measure of happiness. With crisis comes opportunity. I have little choice but to hold out hope that my kids' generation will seize that opportunity to create the beginnings of something beautiful out of the ashes of what we gave them. Hopefully a few of us middle-aged gen-x-ers can live long enough to pass on the lessons we learned of the folly of American Exceptionalism, and of the predatory capitalism that myth enabled. Maybe they'll take those lessons to heart.
Food for thought.
If we're smart, we'll place neoliberalism of the present Gilded Age alongside the Social Darwinist capitalism of the previous Gilded Age - in the dustbin of history. If we're smarter, we'll do everything we can to prepare future generations to resist the temptation of repeating the mistakes of the last three decades.