Saturday, December 13, 2008

Even Digby's sense of team spirit is strained

Wow, now that is saying something. For the pwogs it's been all about Team D. Really, as long as you maintain loyalty not only to the Donk, but to the two-party "system", you'll continue to get candidates of the caliber of Tweety.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Well, duh!

Driving is on the decline in the US, which from a green standpoint would be a good thing, except apparently,
"As driving decreases and vehicle fuel efficiency continues to improve, the long term viability of the Highway Trust Fund grows weaker," said Peters. "The way we finance America's transportation network must also change to address this new reality, because banking on the gas tax is no longer a sustainable option."

Federal Highway administrator Tom Madison said in a statement, "This underscores the need to change our policy so American infrastructure is less dependent on the amount of gas American drivers consume."
Ya think? Maybe I seem harsh, but this is precisely the sort of thing that should have already been discussed and acted upon ages ago. I'd also simply remind us all that if the peak oil folks are correct, while we discuss maintaining (or perhaps more to the point, rebuilding) the US infrastructure it would behoove us to radically restructure our rail system. There is no reason why we couldn't have the sort of long distance high-speed electric powered rail lines like those in, say, Western Europe. Granted, that's the sort of thing that the US should have been doing several decades ago rather than under duress - but better under duress now than to have nothing left but undrivable roads and unmaintained and unusable railroads upon which to sustain some sort of society.

Hamster On A Piano (Eating Popcorn)



Some much-needed Friday frivolity. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Lemkin's Law"? Not Really

In my prefatory comments on CNN's recent special, Scream Bloody Murder, I made some mention of how the UN's Genocide Convention ended up being a very watered-down version of what Raphael Lemkin initially proposed. To call it "Lemkin's Law" as Amanpour does is a bit misleading. Rather, for the sake of political expedience, much of what would have made it a force to be reckoned with was removed. In A Little Matter of Genocide, Ward Churchill refers to the final producted as having been gutted1. Or, as Norbert Finzsch says a bit more diplomatically, the original language was "debilitated for political reasons"2. Certainly, one can read the evolution of the Genocide Convention from its initial draft to the final resolution (as an aside, today marks that resolution's 60th anniversary).

It might be helpful to recall Lemkin's own formulation of genocide:
By "genocide" we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homocide, infanticide, etc.(1) Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.

The following illustration will suffice. The confiscation of property of nationals of an occupied area on the ground that they have left the country may be considered simply as a deprivation of their individual property rights. However, if the confiscations are ordered against individuals solely because they are Poles, Jews, or Czechs, then the same confiscations tend in effect to weaken the national entities of which those persons are members.

Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor's own nationals.
As I've noted before,
Genocide could thus be seen to include a wide array of actions that contribute to the annihilation of a target group, including destruction of the target group’s crops (e.g., via fire or chemical agents), destruction of the target group’s infrastructure, the mass murder of women of child-bearing age and children, forced sterilization of members of the group, indoctrination into the dominant group’s cultural practices at the expense of the target group’s own traditions, forbidding the target group from engaging in its traditional religious and cultural practices, etc.
In his article Genocide - A Modern Crime, Lemkin outlined numerous facets of genocide, including physical, biological, social, economic, religious, moral, and cultural. The initial draft of the Genocide Convention (known as the Secretariat Draft), seemed to flow reasonably well from Lemkin's formulation, and goes into a some detail in outlining physical, biological and cultural genocidal acts. By the time the final draft came into being, the document was barely recognizeable - the only surviving prohibition against cultural genocide, for example, had to do with the forced transfer of children3. It was also the case that very specific prohibitions against a variety of forms of had been replaced merely with a prohibition against "direct and public incitement to commit genocide." Much of the restrictions in language arguably had to do with the objections the US and USSR (among other nations) might have had to concerns about being potentially in jeopardy as a consequence of their own policies and actions (e.g., US treatment of First Nations peoples).

Even the considerably less forceful document met with resistance in the US, where the Senate refused to ratify the Genocide Convention, and even then with reservations, until the mid 1980s4. It seems safe to say that when the atrocity in Cambodia unfolded in the 1970s, the US government was nowhere near prepared or willing to take any sort of tangible action in cooperation with the UN. We'll turn to Cambodia next.

1. Churchill, W. (1997). A Little Matter of Genocide. San Francisco: City Lights, pp. 364-368. See also Churchill, W. (2003). On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Oakland, CA: AK Press, p. 110.

2. Finzsch, N. (2008).If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck. Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 10, No. 1. pp. 119-124.

3. See Churchill, W. (1997), A Little Matter of Genocide, p. 367.

4. ibid, pp. 368-387.

What a maroon

FBI: Illinois Governor Sought To "Sell" Obama's Senate Seat: Chicago machine politics at its, erm, "finest".

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some comments on CNN's "Scream Bloody Murder"

Just as a quick preface, I'll merely mention that this is the start of finals week, so consider this commentary merely a brief overview - I'd definitely like to discuss a few elements of Christiane Amanpour's recent CNN special on genocide, Scream Bloody Murder, in greater detail; if sufficient time permits I'll do so over the course of the week. Otherwise, the more detailed version will have to await the end of test administration and grading.

On the one hand, I want to see mainstream media take on the topic of genocide, and share information about its causes and consequences to a mass audience. More folks need to know that although the concept of genocide itself is a relatively recent development in human history, it did not begin and end with the Nazi Holocaust. There were certainly holocausts prior to the Nazi era, and as the last several sorry decades have made too readily apparent, at least a few holocausts since.

On some levels, Amanpour's narrative is okay insofar as it goes. It was certainly interesting to learn about some of the individuals who have tried to alert the rest of humanity to some truly horrifying human rights violations, and their frustrations in terms of inciting action on behalf of the victims. It is also useful to at least get some exposure to the extent that US government regimes have supported various genocidal regimes over the last few decades. However, the narrative manages to contain some inaccuracies, and is spun in such a way as to be a two-hour infomercial plugging "humanitarian" interventionism. Since I know a bit about the individual who coined the term genocide, Raphael Lemkin, I was disappointed in the whitewash of the history of the UN's resolution on genocide. One would get the impression from Anampour's narrative that the UN put Lemkin's ideas into action, when the truth is that the organization actually watered down Lemkin's definition of genocide for the sake of political expedience. Had the UN actually adopted Lemkin's definition verbatim, there was a real risk that the US and Soviet governments, just for the sake of example, would have been in legal hot water for their own genocidal actions.

With regard to the genocide in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime, Amanpour's narrative seems to put the onus of responsibility for the ensuing bloodbath on the "Vietnam Syndrome"; perhaps she does not do so in so many words, but it is pretty clear that those darned antiwar protesters and a war-weary US public are in Anampour's eyes, a major stumbling block to a "humanitarian" intervention. She does manage to make some mention of the US alliance of convenience with Pol Pot's regime as mutual opponents of Vietnam's regime, but it seems more an afterthought.

Throughout the remainder of the show, the impression one gets is that these terrible atrocities could only have been prevented had the US committed a few war planes for bombing raids on the capitals of the perpetrating nations. The Balkans region is used as a case study of one of the few "successes" at getting this particular approach used, albeit belatedly according to Amanpour. Even then, if one digs deeper, it is at best unclear as to whether such an approach was even warranted in the first place. As I said, I'll intend on having a bit more to say about the program over the next several days as time permits.

The fallout continues

Good luck to the laid-off workers occupying the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago:
In an interview following the rally, Armando Robles, President of UE Local 1110, described the anger felt by the workers when they were told, with so little notice, that not only were they losing their jobs but that their insurance policies had been canceled and workers were not to receive vacation earned or severance pay.
Robles said that according to Illinois law, the company is required to give 75 days notice of a shutdown, or pay workers for 75 days. The company blames the Bank of America for not providing a line of credit to the company. But, according to Robles, management has been lying to the workers and the union about the status of company.
[snip]
Another worker, Silvia Magna, described how shocked and angry the workers were when they found out they were losing their jobs. She said they all work hard, and yet she only brings home $328 a week.
Many workers have been cut and lost fingers on the job. Magna said the workers are determined to stay in the plant until “we get what we worked for.” They blame both the owners and the bankers because the owners have not been honest with the workers.
Magna says they are fighting not only for themselves and their families, “but to be an inspiration to other workers to fight like we are. We are making history because people have not seen the workers fight from inside the plants.” She says the workers will do whatever is necessary and requested solidarity from people from the outside.
Over at the NYT, a few more clips:
Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.
“They want the poor person to stay down,” said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter.”

[snip]

“Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?” said Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers. “The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s.”
What we're witnessing is the fallout from the massive redistribution of wealth from those who have so little to those who already have so much. That last quote that I shared of Leah Fried captures just what I was talking about this past fall, when it finally became obvious that the wheels had fallen off, and the CEO class was wanting a "bailout." This blogger will gladly offer whatever solidarity is needed to these fellow workers in their struggle. Hang in there.

A Message to Steve Hildebrand

I'll say whatever I want to say, whenever I want to say it, and I simply don't give a flying fuck about your hand-wringing about what little criticism has been directed at the O-man from what little there actually is of a left-wing in this country.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

If you're going to name names

Make sure to include me. Yes, Carl, I may not be a DC "political actor" per se, but hey, I was one of a number of bloggers who had readers in DC who would fit your description to a T. To this day, I still dig on journalist and all-around agitator John Ross' description of our 2000 and 2004 elections as being very similar to the sort that get held in Mexico. I will go to my grave convinced that the 2000 election was essentially handed to Bush thanks not to the proportion of Americans who vote, but to the whim of five SCOTUS "Justices." When it comes to 2004, something was always a bit strange about the Ohio results - although in the eyes of Iraqis and Afghans it would likely have not made a bit of difference who occupied the White House. So yeah, there was a legitimacy issue from my perspective.

Neoliberalism and its consequences

Here's Ted Rall's take:
I'd call it as good a capsule description in comic form, at least as it applies in a US context, as any.