Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flip a coin

Looks like Al Franken might win his effort to oust incumbent Senator Norm Coleman. It's a squeaker, and Norm isn't going down without a fight. Norm's victory in 2002 was a bit of a fluke to begin with: his opponent, Paul Wellstone, died in an airplane crash shortly before election day, and Wellstone's replacement was Walter Mondale (someone about as inspiring as a Kenny G solo). Add to that the post-9/11 environment, and one had a recipe for a Coleman victory. As victories went, it was hardly convincing, and I would have been surprised if Norm had amounted to anything more than a one-term Senator. Although the idea of comedian Al Franken posing a threat to Norm's re-election seemed far-fetched as recently as the summer, by the time November rolled around, Franken's momentum was no joke - in fact, Franken had turned into a very slight favorite (see the projections Five Thirty Eight had made right on the eve of the election - just scroll down and look at the right-hand sidebar). Whether Al Franken can fill Paul Wellstone's shoes remains to be seen.

Key witness dies in a plane crash

Fancy that.

Autonomy Under Siege

Gloria Muñoz Ramírez first published a series of articles on the Zapatista autonomous communities (also called caracoles) about four years ago in the newspaper La Jornada. Those articles were recently translated into English by Laura Carlsen, and are now available online:

Caracol #1: La Realidad

Caracol #2: Oventic

Caracol #3: La Garrucha

Caracol #4: Morelia

Caracol #5: Roberto Barrios

It's hard to believe that almost fifteen years have passed since the Zapatista uprising of 1994.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Say Hello To

Sock and Awe!

So far my high score is six - someone has been able to score 22. Quite cathartic.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

About that "change" business,

I hope none of y'all were buying it. From the looks of things, as expected, the Pope of Hope is delivering business as usual. Some pwogs might actually show some buyer's remorse, as duly noted by Richard at American Leftist:

I've had my disagreements with firedoglake in the past, but site creater and frequent commentator Jane Hamsher has been courageously on the cutting edge of liberal opposition to the rightward drift of the incoming Obama administration since its inception. Here, she calls out Obama on the selection of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation during his inauguration. She rightly recognizes it for what it is, a cynical effort by Obama to insulate himself against political pressure from the left while using gays and lesbians as a foil to appeal to what they used to call Middle America.

If more liberals possessed Hamsher's candor, liberalism would still retain credibility as an ideological alternative to the bipartisan consensus by which the country is currently governed. She stands in marked contrast to the cynical calculation of the Huffington Post and the worship at the altar of political pragmatism that personifies the Daily Kos community. Does Obama realize that, by selecting Warren, he has stained his inauguration with the bigotry that his election as President was supposed to overcome? Doubtful.

If Obama does have the insight to realize just what sort of signals he's sending by selecting Warren, it's safe to say that he simply doesn't give a flying fuck. Meet the new Decider in all his Clintonesque glory.

Welcome Shakiramedia.com readers!

Apparently, my commentary on Shakira's excellent cover of AC/DC's "Back in Black" managed to attract a new reader or two from the Sakiramedia.com message board. I guess rumors have been afoot that she might be collaborating a bit with AC/DC. I'm pretty skeptical about these sorts of rumors, but I wouldn't put it completely outside the realm of possibility. As I've mentioned before, she can hold her own and then some with one of AC/DC's signature tunes.

A very small step in the right direction

State Department recommends dumping Blackwater.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One issue that I would hope crosses all partisan and ideological lines

Firefox rocks. Practice safe surfing.

Holiday in Cambodia

With finals completely graded, I can once more return offering some follow-up remarks to Christiane Amanpour's CNN special Scream Bloody Murder (see the first to essays in the series here and here). Recall that in my initial comments I noted that:
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.
Amanpour's narrative is fraught with errors, not the least of which are those of omission. In her version of events, one would be led to believe that Pol Pot's regime sort of emerged out of nowhere, while the US was "intervening" (that's a polite way of putting it) in Vietnam, and the disastrous outcome in Vietnam coupled with a growing antiwar sentiment were the stumbling blocks to preventing the atrocities that occurred during Khmer Rouge's reign of terror.

What's left out of the picture? For starters, Amanpour fails to mention that the US was in fact already busily "intervening" in Cambodia long before Pol Pot came to power. US involvement in subverting Cambodia's government paved the way for Pol Pot to sieze power. Not surprisingly, that omission means that the viewer is not made away of the nature of US intervention in Cambodia. US efforts to depose Prince Sihanouk go back to the mid-1950s, finally succeeding by 1970 when Sihanouk was overthrown in a coup.[1] By the time of the 1970 coup, the Cambodians had already suffered through the Nixon regime's decision to carpet bomb the Cambodian countryside that had started the previous year. [2] By the time Sihanouk had been deposed, the Cambodian social and economic infrastructure was in ruins - a fact that Pol Pot would capitalize upon over the next five years, as his Khmer Rouge mobilized a critical mass of people to its side with a relentless campaign of terror and psy-ops. One could say that by April 1975, the Cambodians had already lived through one genocide (Sartre's [3] analysis of the Vietnam war would readily apply to US military action against Cambodians in 1969 and 1970), that had paved the way for the one that would follow from 1975-1979. [4] However else one might characterize the Khmer Rouge leadership, it certainly contained elements of a sort of populism and an anti-Vietnamese racism that composed an intellectual framework for what would unfold in Cambodia. By the time that the Khmer Rouge was deposed by Vietnamese forces, mass killings and famine had left around 2 million dead. [5]

What Amanpour does manage to mention is that the US government found plenty to love about Pol Pot, in particular the Khmer Rouge's anti-Vietnamese chauvinism, making the the US and Cambodia allies of sorts after the US military finally withdrew its troops from the region. In fact the US government would continue to support Pol Pot even after he was deposed, refusing to recognize the new Cambodian government that overthrew the Khmer Rouge, and denouncing the Vietnamese-backed overthrow as "illegal." [6] Some of your tax dollars went to provide aid to Khmer Rouge camped at the Thai border during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The upshot, I think, is that the US didn't bother to intervene to prevent the Cambodian holocaust not because of a bunch of dirty hippie peaceniks holding protest signs, but because: 1) Pol Pot's regime made a convenient ally, and 2) any intevention would risk the potential of facing up to the US government's own genocidal actions in Cambodia during 1969-1970.

Notes:

1. Blum, W. (2005). Rogue State (3rd Ed.). Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

2. Chomsky, N. (1987). Cambodia. The Chomsky Reader (pp. 289-297). New York: Pantheon Books.

3. Sartre, J. (1968). On Genocide. Boston: Beacon Press.

4. Chomsky, N. (1987). The Chomsky Reader.

5. Genocide Watch (2006). Genocides, Politicides and Other Mass Murders Since 1945.

6. See Chomsky, N. (1987), and Blum, W. (2005).

David vs Goliath

Picture taken from Boston Globe (h/t BLCKDGRD). Some brief background:

The killing on the night of December 6 of a 15-year-old schoolboy by an armed special patrol officer on duty in Exarchia, the bohemian district of downtown Athens and a home base of various self-styled anarchist groups, was the spark that produced the spontaneous and unprecedented in scale student mobilizations and the riots that immediately followed and engulfed in flames part of the city of Athens and many other cities throughout Greece, leaving in their wake a rather conservative society in a state of shock and the political establishment in complete disarray.

What really lies behind the demonstrations is the deep-seated frustration on the part of the nation’s youth over a social system structured in a way that caters almost exclusively to the interests of the rich and powerful, unrestrained anguish over the direction of the country in the hands of a most corrupt and incompetent neoliberal government headed by Prime Minister and New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis (the latest government scandal involves illegal public land swapping with a powerful monastery on Mount Athos, with senior ministers having allegedly pocketed money out of this deal) and whose social agenda consists of dismantling public education and social services and privatizing at the same time major and even profitable public enterprises in the name of neoliberal market efficiency, and unaddressed fears about the future. Other elements are also at work, especially when it comes to assessing the riots which bear distinct elements of hooligan-related violence and are in no way linked to the student movement, but they merely reinforce the conditions of social malaise and decomposition that prevail today in Greece.

For starters, Greece has the highest youth unemployment rate in the European Union, hovering between 28-29 percent, with its young people being dependent on their parents way past their adolescent years. To be sure, it is common in Greece, given the state of the job market and that of wage structures (700 euros is considered to be the average monthly salary for the new generation of the labor force), for young people to live at home with their parents even though they are in their late 20s, 30s or even 40s. So much for one’s self-esteem living in a society that carries to great lengths the illusion that it is a developed Western European society.

The high unemployment youth rate occurs against the background of a family culture which views education as a means of social and economic mobility and with parents willing to make great financial sacrifices in order to help their sons and daughters gain a competitive edge in the job market. Thus, the provision of private educational services in Greece is a booming business while the system of public education lays in ruins and constitutes the social site through which generation after generation of students gets initiated into political activism, which frequently involves converting the school and the university campus into occupied territories for symbolic resistance against the system.

Further, Greece has a grim legacy of state administrative authoritarianism and police brutality which not only haven’t been eradicated but, on the contrary, are recreated, manifested and reconstituted whenever the social conditions are unfavourable to the imposition of unpopular economic and social policies. Civil servants in all agencies, lacking training and professional skills, often display arrogance and a form of power that both alienates and angers the citizenry. This is especially the case with the police force which often resorts to brute force against students, immigrants and various other marginalized elements in Greek society. In the eyes of the youth, the police are regarded as the personification of structural state violence even if in pure technocratic terms the Greek police officers tend to be, more than anything else, untrained, unskilled, and underpaid public officers, moonlighting in order to make ends meet, and, like most civil servants in Greece, devoid of a sense of a duty towards the public interest.

In this surrealistic social and cultural environment, provoking the police is a game of sorts for many of the self-styled anarchists who are largely responsible for the fires and the destruction of property that follows whenever public demonstrations take place. Neofascist groups, which often act as a phalanx of the riot police in clashes with leftist groups, also occupy a central if shadowy role in the dramas that unfold in the streets of Athens, making the capital resemble, at times, a civil war zone.

The ongoing student demonstrations and riots in Greece that have captured public imagination around the world reflect the condition of a country in deep political, social, economic and cultural crisis -- a consequence of serious malfunctions in Greek polity and social culture -- -and represent only a small segment of public discontent directed towards a corrupt and incompetent group of neoliberal politicos who use power and state resources for personal gain and against a social system which has extinguished hope for the future and relies increasingly now on state violence in order to suppress civil disobedience.

Of course, the story of neoliberal measures and social discontent is not unique to Greece. In the context of the current global economic crisis, one should not be surprised to see similar developments elsewhere, including other parts of Europe. So to paraphrase the catch title about Greece’s mayhem in a recent issue of The Economist, “beware. . . . of the youth bearing petrol bombs.”

The social conditions described in that article are eerily familiar to anyone living in a nation that is governed according to the dictates of a neoliberal "new world order." It wouldn't hurt to remind ourselves trying to look at the big picture that in the Biblical story of David vs. Goliath, Goliath falls.

Lest we forget

The tale of another genocide that occurred in Franco's Spain, which reads in part:
The Church, for example, was responsible for taking babies and children away from mothers (“red mothers,” as they were called by the fascist forces, including the religious orders) who were jailed, exiled, or assassinated, and giving the children (without parents’ or families’ permission) to ­­­­­­­­families close to the fascist regime who wanted children or to religious institutions as recruits for their orders. All of these children were given new names and did not know their true ancestry. As Dr. Vallejo Najera, the ideologue of the Spanish Army, indicated, this state policy was “necessary to purify the Spanish race,” stopping the contamination of children with the pathological values of their red parents. Many of these parents were in the Army’s concentration camps, where prisoners were the subjects of biological and psychological experiments. These camps were supervised by the German Gestapo, which later developed and expanded such studies in the Nazi concentration camps.
Make sure to look at the rest of the article, which deals with Spanish governmental efforts to suppress efforts to examine that particular chapter in its history. I've occasionally had the opportunity to read some of the oral histories written about the period leading up to Franco's dictatorship, The Spanish Civil War, and in particular found Ronald Fraser's Blood of Spain: The Experience of Civil War 1936-1939 to be a valuable resource. I shared a small portion of that text with perhaps a few of you a handful of years back when comparisons were made between the bombing raids against the residents of Fallujah by the US and the bombing raids perpetrated against the residents of Guernica by Franco's Falangists (with a little help from Hitler's Nazi regime and Mussolini's fascist regime).

Food for thought: Visual edition

Since I already mentioned DK and Jello Biafra, why not go all the way and mention the cat whose work graced all those album covers, Winston Smith?The above illustration, The People Must Believe, dates back to 1980.
Dinner is Served, from 1989 captures an element of Smith's work that I always dug: the juxtaposition of upper-middle-class and upper-class suburban "normalcy" (at least as imagined by those yearning for the "good old days" of 1950s sitcom pabulum) with the carnage and brutality that lays just beneath the surface, and upon which such "normalcy" is based. Add some illustrations laden with totalitarian, sci-fi and apocalyptic imagery (think "1984" and "Godzilla" meets the "Book of Revelation"), and you've got a fair sample of Smith's mind.

For perhaps sentimental reasons, Bedtime For Democracy is my favorite Winston Smith illustration, as it was the cover for DK's last proper album before breaking up in 1986:
The scale of this particular electronic image does not do justice to the sheer amount of detail if one were to view it up close. That image certainly caught the American Zeitgeist of the period. Of course in the intervening decades, that Zeitgeist has changed precious little.

Well, I'll give him credit for trying

As a middle-aged DK fan, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least make note in passing Jello Biafra's "open letter" to the O-Man. I won't say I agree with everything he writes, but if nothing else, Jello's words are more constructive than anything I've encountered from either the Dems or GOP. Of course he's also right about the importance of the movement (however misguided its faith in the next Prez may be) to drive its leaders, rather than the other way around.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What is wrong with Venezuela?

BoRev wants to know:

Venezuelans don't read the Wall Street Journal much, otherwise they'd realize how miserable they're supposed to be.

First there was that "oh hey everything's great" democracy survey, and now there's this new Gallup poll that ranks them at the top of the region for satisfaction with things like employment, health care, education, housing, and that one godless Communist concept, "happiness." Can you believe these assholes?

It must be hell on earth.

That journalist had some nerve

Insulting dogs by likening Baby Doc Bush to one. The picture of Bush's face as the shoes were hurled at him: priceless.

Waterworks in Iraq? A deadly misnomer.

Eli at Left I sez:
An article in the New York Times details the utter waste of $100 billion in "reconstruction money" for Iraq, and the paltry results that have been achieved. Among them: "access to potable water had increased by about 30 percent, although with Iraq’s ruined piping system it was unclear how much reached people’s homes uncontaminated."

But the Times unsurprisingly fails to remind its readers just how Iraq's water system was destroyed in the first place. To remedy that omission, I'll repeat an important post of mine from August, 2003 in its entirety:

A big story in the last 24 hours is that it is going to cost us (and I do mean us - you and me, assuming you're a U.S. taxpayer) $16 billion to fix the problems with the Iraqi water system. Most news stories just leave it at that, but at least one TV report I heard added that this was the results of 13 years of neglect.

But what was it that happened 13 years ago, and what was it that was happening during the last 13 years? You won't find out listening to or reading the U.S. mainstream media, not a word. What happened 13 years ago, in fact, was that a major war crime was committed, on a scale of staggering proportions - the U.S. deliberately and systematically destroyed the Iraqi water system. Article 54 of the Geneva convention states:

"It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive."
And what was it that was happening during the last 13 years of "neglect" of the Iraqi water system? Of course, it was the UN sanctions, kept in place that entire time by the refusal of the US and UK to consider their repeal, and with the US and UK repeatedly vetoing attempts by Iraq to import "dual-use" chemicals which were needed to repair the water filtration system. And the consequences? An estimated half million Iraqi children died because of the lack of clean drinking water.

Was this an accident? A surprise to the U.S.? Any civilized person might like to think so, but, sadly, the answer is absolutely no. In 2000, Professor Thomas Nagy of George Washington University managed to obtain military documents written before the Gulf War. These documents make absolutely clear that the U.S. had studied in detail all aspects of Iraq's water system, had planned a strategy for preventing Iraq from reconstructing that system (via the sanctions), and knew in advance that "this could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics of disease."

What happened in Iraq during the Gulf War was a deliberate war crime, one of the greatest in history, without any question. A half million children died as a result of that war crime, and now the people of the U.S. will end up paying $16 billion to pay for that crime. The war criminals, meanwhile, continue to be "respected" citizens.

This is not only unsurprising to readers of both my blog and Eli's blog, but is can safely be called part of the plan - make some contractors and subcontractors (or at least the CEOs and stockholders thereof) very wealthy on the US taxpayers' dime, while doing absolutely nothing for the Iraqis (who seem to be treated as little more than fauna by our ruling class).