Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Iran: Some blogs and articles worth noting

Scott Horton writes about torture in Iran (h/t Andrew Sullivan). Sullivan continues to compile the chatter on Twitter.

Neo-Resistance continues to share her perspective.

The Angry Arab News Service has an interesting essay on The Ahmadinajad Matter. One of the better reads, actually, with regards to Iran, and actually quite straight-forward: just because Ahmadinajad periodically tweaks US leaders' noses doesn't make him worthy of leftist support.

Richard at American Leftist writes about Ostriches.

Al Giordano lets us know that Chomsky and some others have weighed in on the side of the rights of the Iranian protesters, and that Russia's support of the current regime in Iran is a bit tepid.

Also, Richard Seymour (aka lenin), had a good one up a couple days ago.

I've got to hand it to the people in Iran who have put their lives on the line to protest a situation that they see as unjust. Hopefully, they - the protesters - prevail.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Passings

Although there has been wide coverage of yesterday's deaths of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett, another somewhat lesser known pop-culture figure passed away yesterday as well: The Seeds' Sky Saxon (h/t BLCKDGRD). For those unfamiliar, The Seeds' music from the 1960s was one source of inspiration for late 1970s punk and post-punk.

The following video is of a cover of "No Escape" by Cabaret Voltaire. Apparently the video was shot in 1981, although the tune itself was from the Cabs' 1979 debut LP, Mix-Up. To see a You-Tube video featuring the original Seeds version, check out BLCKDGRD, who'll hook you up.

Interview with Noose Attack Victim, Robert Cantu



Video courtesy of Voto Latino Blog (h/t Manny), which offers the following commentary:
Voto Latino believes that the often hateful rhetoric that surrounds immigration debate has created a climate in which more and more American Latinos are targets of hate crime. In fact, the FBI has reported 40% rise in hate crimes against Latinos since 2003 and 62% of all hate crimes in the U.S. are targeted at Latinos.

Voto Latino has decided to track these hate crimes and document stories from around the country. A story from Mount Vernon, Ohio caught our attention because unlike many hate crimes against Latinos we hear on the news, this one wasn't against an undocumented immigrant and didn't end tragically. Perhaps that's why this story has been getting so little national coverage.

Seventeen-year-old Robert Cantu, who is half Hispanic, shared with us his story about how he was dragged through a parking lot with a noose around his neck before bystanders saved his life. His story is proof that hate crimes are happening to every generation of Latino Americans in even the most seemingly peaceful towns across America.

We wanted you to hear the story directly from Robert, so Voto Latino found Robert through our network of volunteers and asked him to share his story with us via Skype. We also wrote details of the conversation in an article below.

Mount Vernon is a small town of approximately 16,000 people, with little access to WiFi or webcams. We weren’t sure an interview would be possible, but we were able to locate a local resident, Claudia De Leon, to help film Robert’s story. Voto Latino thanks Claudia and Robert’s mother, Marci, for making the interview possible.

Despite his experience, Robert remains positive and says many people in his community are showing him support. Robert is a brave young man with a message: “Take a stand for yourself, be proud of who you are.”

If you have a story relating to hate crimes or prejudice and would like to share it with us, email info@votolatino.org.
About a year ago, I wrote about an incident that turned far more tragic than that of Robert Cantu's, under the title You reap what you sow:
Thanks to my man Arcturus in a comment earlier today on a related post, I wish to pass this story on to y'all about a young man who was beaten to death by half a dozen goons. His crime? Being of Mexican descent. All those years of eliminationist rhetoric have produced their bitter fruit. I've been on this for about as long as I've been blogging, and really if one were to go back long enough, on to this since my teens. The words we say can and do translate into action.

Eliminationism seems to be an almost exclusively right-wing endeavor. The nativist variety has been given quite an airing to the point to where its extremism has become part of the mainstream. It is nothing more or less than raw white supremacism. Always has been; always will be. The perps in this incident, I'd be willing to wager, were fed a diet of lies about how the US is being "invaded" by "illegals" who pose an alleged threat to their futures of happy motoring and consumerism. Nothing can be further from the truth once one actually bothers to look at the data. But nativist hatred is very much faith-based and resistant to reason. The Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanans of the world will not be confused by facts (and don't even get me started with regard to their kindred spirits among the Stormfront crowd).

Naturally in this particular sorry incident, in spite of the fact that there are witnesses stating the perps were shouting racist slurs as they beat Luis Ramirez to death, there are those among the community's elites who simply cannot acknowledge that these kids were racist. Juxtapose this excerpt from an interview with a witness, Arielle Garcia:
He was at our house all day that afternoon. And it was around maybe 11:00, he asked us to take him uptown to drop him off, whatever, he was going to go home. So, we leave him at the Vine Street Park, and we drive away, Victor and I, and about two minutes later he called us and told us to come back, that people were beating him up. So we get back as fast as we could. And when we get there, he was—like the fight was over, like the boys were walking away, but they were still screaming like racial slurs, like “Go back to Mexico!”
with this excerpt:
But [Mayor Thomas O'Niell] said late last week that he would be stunned if the investigation reveals a racially motivated beating.

"I just can't believe that's the case," he said then.

[snip]

Borough Manager Joseph Palubinsky acknowledged that some in town resent Latino immigrants for crowding families into borough homes or taking jobs.

But he said that feeling is not unique to Shenandoah and that it is not shared by most people in town.

"I don't believe there are racial problems in the borough," he said. "Wouldn't they (Latinos) be leaving if that were the case?"

Palubinsky said he knows the families of the young people involved in the event and that none is a bigot.

"These people don't harbor any feelings like that," he said.
In other words, "nothing to see here; move along." The police response, by the way, was underwhelming, as Arcturus was mentioning to me:

AMY GOODMAN: And what did the police say? Did the police show up that night?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yeah, they showed up. First, the ambulance did, and they took our friend to the hospital. And about five minutes later, the police came, and I guess they were looking—I mean, we kept telling them where the kids ran, but they didn’t—they didn’t run towards there. I mean, they kind of stayed where it all happened. And I told them the names and everything.

AMY GOODMAN: And, well, this was more than a week ago. Have they been investigating since?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yeah. And like, still nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did they say—when you showed them the direction that the kids had run, why did they not go after them at the time?

ARIELLE GARCIA: I don’t know. They told me that it wasn’t their priority right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “their priority”?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Where was your friend at this point? Where was Luis Ramirez?

ARIELLE GARCIA: He was gone. He was in the—on his way to be [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: What was their priority? Did they say that to you?

ARIELLE GARCIA: No. They were pretty rude, some of them. Not all of them, but most of them were pretty rude to me.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean they were rude?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Like, I told them where the kids ran, and they wouldn’t go after them, and they told me that “Somebody said there was someone with a gun here, and we have to search your car.” And they searched Victor, like they put his hand behind his back, and like they put him against—

AMY GOODMAN: Victor is your husband?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: The boys ran off. Was it all boys?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yeah.
So much for "protect and serve" eh? I'd like to end with some words I found via The Sanctuary:

This story is important because this family’s tragedy—and the lesser tragedies of the boys who were so motivated by fear and hatred of the “other” that they beat another human being to death—represents the experience of millions of migrants living in this country in today’s poisonous environment.

An environment that has been cultivated over the years by an organized political movement. An environment that results in impunity for killers like Joe Horn—provided the victims are from the underclass still labeled “illegal” as a matter of editorial policy by our so-called liberal media. A climate that permits pregnant mothers to be shackled, forced to give birth in police custody, and then torn from their newborn infants—again all for being present in the U.S. without authorization and, perhaps more importantly, for being Latina.

The racial motivations of the perpetrators/oppressors in each of these scenarios cannot reasonably be disentangled from the immigration status of the victims. The punitive immigration laws that target people like Ramirez and DeLaPaz were enacted largely from racial motives—from fear of the waves of brown political and economic refugees produced by longstanding, short-sighted U.S. intervention in Mexico and Central America. And those same fears—fear of displacement and of unfamiliar cultures—have been fanned for political gain into flames of hatred from the embers of the World Trade Center by the restrictionist movement and the federal government.

As the local Shenandoah paper noted in a recent editorial:

[T]his tragic incident is not so much about who is responsible for America’s failed immigration policy as it is about the right of human beings to — live.

If only this message could be communicated to the rest of the country. The emerging Sanctuarysphere is willing to try.
There should be no doubt that the hateful rhetoric has created the climate in which hate crimes like those mentioned above can occur. As I have been reading, and listening to Robert Cantu's words, I realized it was time to dust off an invaluable book by social psychologist James M. Jones, Prejudice and Racism. In discussing racism, Jones demonstrates that we must consider racism as not merely individual, but also, as he put it, institutional and cultural. As an aside, one can find some overlap between Jones' conceptualization of individual, institutional, and cultural racism and the distinction between interpersonal, organizational, and structural violence. I think a connection between racism and violence is quite apt - it seems quite obvious in the cases we are discussing - since racism in its blatant and more insidious forms is directed toward harming those who happen to belong to another group based on such characteristics as skin color.

We actually can see all three forms of racism discussed by Jones quite active in the above stories. On the individual level, we have the hate crimes themselves - we can gauge the behaviors and attitudes of the participants quite readily, from the racial slurs to the acts of interpersonal violence. However, it is clear that individual racism doesn't occur in a vacuum, but has its foundation in our cultural Zeitgeist - which one can gauge from an underlying philosophy that (mostly) implicitly promotes white supremacy to its various cultural artifacts in the arts, literature, popular media, and so forth. I say mostly implicitly, as some of our cultural leaders in the sciences and humanities can be pretty blatant in their pronouncements. Recently I've been culling through a great deal of material on the origins of our modern conceptualization of race, which has its origin in the concept of "the great chain of being" and will as time permits revisit the words of European and American intellectuals regarding race over the centuries and how those have impacted us today.

In addition to the cultural racism, there is clearly an institutional racism at work in the hate crimes described above. In particular, examine the reactions of local law enforcement when such crimes are reported (to call it underwhelming is perhaps being charitable), in which not only do law enforcement personnel fail to investigate, but will resort to victim blame. Similarly, examine how those cases that actually make their way to the judicial system get handled. The perpetrators of hate crimes inevitably seem to get by with little more than the proverbial slap on the wrist, and in some cases manage to avoid conviction altogether.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

I'm in a bit of a mood to recycle, so here's an old list, that's basically "a mishmash of songs that either hold tremendous meaning and/or are receiving a lot of current play in the cd or mp3 players." Funny thing is, as i was looking over that list from four years ago, there wasn't a thing I'd change. The following are in no particular order:

1. "Ja" by Art Ensemble of Chicago. I first heard this tune on an ECM sampler album (Music for 58 Musicians). The tune was basically my first exposure to free jazz. The piece starts out almost structureless, with these layers of sound created by sax, trumpet, bass, percussion, and a bunch of so-called "little instruments' (things like whistles, bells, and other found objects). Somewhere in the middle of the tune, the musicians go into an almost reggae mode with vocals before returning to the original theme. It might have been a bit much for my then fifteen-year-old ears (I was about a year away from discovering college radio), but the tune left an indelible mark and to this day I'm still an AEC fan.

2. "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed. I first heard that tune while riding with some friends on our way to God knows where in the wastelands of suburban Sacramento. Must have been about 16 at the time. I recall getting the idea that rock lyrics could easily be considered poetry and recall wishing that I could write poetry like that cat. Although this is my fave Lou Reed tune, there's so much that he has penned and performed with The Velvet Underground and in his subsequent solo career that I really dig. If you ever wondered where some of my poetic influences came from, that tune piping through cheap speakers in a beat-up 1960s Chevy is definitely one.

3. "Your Last Affront" by Black Flag. This was a tune off the instrumental e.p. The Process of Weeding Out. I'm an unabashed Henry Rollins fan (another cat who can write poetry), but when the instrumentalists like Greg Ginn and Kira were unleashed in the studio, they could really kick out the jams. Think of punk meets metal meets jazz improv in some dive bar near closing time.

4. "Bubblz" by Antipop Consortium from their 2002 album Arrhythmia. That whole album rocks the house, but that track in particular is a personal fave and one that I look for excuses to play whenever possible. The musical backing is spare - the dj sticks to a basic funk synthesizer & drum line with a conga player added for texture, while the emcees drop raps that flow like some of the best beat-era poetry. There's a lot of great underground rap that I dig, but this tune and this album are the ones that get the nod.

5. "Becalmed" by Brian Eno on the 1975 album Another Green World, was actually the first solo Eno tune that I ever heard (I was familiar with his collaborations with David Bowie, Talking Heads, and U2), and it comes close to the ambient music that Eno of course is quite famous for creating. The tune starts with what sounds like a gentle synthetic breeze over which Eno gradually layers a Rhodes piano and synthesizers creating a soothing and almost otherworldly effect. I can imagine myself on a nearly isolated beach, with the sun slowly setting in the west whenever I hear that tune. The day after I heard that on the radio (I was listening to Michael Benner's late night talk show on some SoCal AOR station - a show a friend turned me onto) I had to find my way to the nearest Tower Records store to find that tune. I've been an Eno fan ever since.

It's been a while since I dropped some Brian Eno here, so...



Mid-1980s interview with Brian Eno on music and media (with some social commentary thrown in for good measure).



"Becalmed" from the 1975 album Another Green World.

The first video h/t Roobin at Through The Scary Door. The second is something that I happened to have bookmarked a while back. Note that it's Eno's music and some other cat's video, but the cat who shot the video captured precisely how I've always "seen" the music of that particular piece.

Musical interlude

Remember D.J. Bonebrake? The former drummer for X is now a jazz drummer and percussionist.

Check it:




That's "dba stomp" by the Skip Heller Trio. How about "Rumble" (an old Link Wray classic, that if nothing else Pulp Fiction fans should recognize immediately)?



He's also appeared on albums by Elliott Caine (who has a great, Lee Morgan-inspired sound) and Chris Murphy, and it's not uncommon for him to be playing the vibes.

Discrete he is not

FBI Arrests White Supremacist Blogger Hal Turner For Threatening To Kill Federal Judges
Today, FBI agents went to the New Jersey home of white supremacist blogger/radio host Hal Turner and arrested him “on a federal complaint filed in Chicago alleging that he made internet postings threatening to assault and murder three federal appeals court judges in Chicago in retaliation for their recent ruling upholding handgun bans in Chicago and a suburb,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department. A summary of Turner’s dangerous tirade against the judges:

Internet postings on June 2 and 3 proclaimed “outrage” over the June 2, 2009, handgun decision by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer, of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, further stating, among other things: “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed.” The postings included photographs, phone numbers, work address and room numbers of these judges, along with a photo of the building in which they work and a map of its location.

Turner’s posts also “referred to the murder of the mother and husband of Chicago-based federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow in February 2005,” saying, “Apparently, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court didn’t get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed.” In the Justice Department statement, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald — who announced the charges — said, “We take threats to federal judges very seriously. Period.”

Turner is already in trouble with the law. Earlier this month, he turned himself in to the Connecticut State Police on charges of “inciting violence” against three state officials. He urged his audience to “take up arms” because he was reportedly “angry over legislation that would have given lay members of Roman Catholic churches in Connecticut more control over their parish’s finances.” Turner’s next court appearance in this case is on July 14.

As the Nation has pointed out, Turner has ties to Fox News’ Sean Hannity. In fact, Hannity has “offered his top-rated radio show as a regular forum for Turner’s occasionally racist, always over-the-top rants.” Hannity would also reportedly offer Turner “encouragement” to overcome his cocaine habit and “homosexual leanings.”

Turner’s arrest comes after two major tragedies put the spotlight on the dangers of right-wing extremism: the Holocaust Museum shooting by white supremacist James von Brunn and the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Speaking of Bukowski

I have a friend from way back named Danielle whom I will always thank for introducing me to Bukowski's poetry.

One of many that I dig on, titled "rain"
a symphony orchestra.
there is a thunderstorm,
they are playing a Wagner overture
and the people leave their seats under the trees
and run inside to the pavilion
the women giggling, the men pretending to be calm,
wet cigarettes being thrown away,
Wagner plays on, and then they are all under the
pavilion. the birds even come in from the trees
and enter the pavilion and then there is the Hungarian
Rhapsody #2 by Lizst, and it still rains, but look,
one man sits alone in the rain
listening, the audience notices him. they turn
and look. the orchestra goes about its
business. the man sits in the night in the rain,
listening.
there is something wrong with him,
isn't there?
he came to hear the
music.

More Mike Watt on video



Banyan, covering Iggy and the Stooges' classic, "Funhouse". Mike Watt, former Minutemen bassist, keeps himself busy with Banyan (a sort of Mid-1970s Miles Davis meets punk/hardcore/alt. rock supergroup led by drummer Stephen Perkins), among other projects.

Bonus: Check out Watt on this video for Chris Murphy, "Blues for Bukowski":


Sidebar: I missed out on the Minutemen era - Dennes Boon died around the time I moved down to the SoCal area. The band that arose out of the ashes, fIREHOSE was one I did get to see quite a bit during the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s. fIREHOSE was pretty hard to classify - the OC Register once billed one of their live gigs as "jazz" - which wasn't very accurate, but not entirely inaccurate either. Watt's been defying easy categorization for an entire career - the music just is. Bassist Mike Watt brings an energy to any band he's with - if you don't catch that cat live at least once, you're really missing out.

Blast from the past



The Minutemen - "This Ain't No Picnic"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An historic victory it surely was

Indigenous groups of Peru stood their ground earlier this month, ending in Peru's PM Yehude Simon backing down and revoking (h/t Green Left Infoasis) two land laws that threatened to further harm the Amazon's fragile ecosystem, and the indigenous peoples who depend upon that ecosystem. Of course there is the massacre of dozens of Indigenous protesters at the hands of Simon's regime to contend with, and the matter of the 60 who are still missing (h/t BoRev.net). BoRev goes on to note:
It's a jungle mystery. A full two and a half weeks after Peruvian cops killed dozens and dozens of "9" protesters in the Amazon, a full sixty of the lucky survivors have not managed to find their way home yet. Maybe they stopped for a beer or got lost??

On the up side, the whole tragic episode has destroyed Alan Garcia's political career forever, which is nice. Also it didn't cost Peru much in the way of money, because the murder tab was largely picked up by U.S. taxpayers. Oh and this charming photo? It's the police beating an "indigenous male nurse who had been in the ambulance," part of a cringe-y photo series the Independent ran over the weekend. Eesh.
About that "free trade" agreement, you should know:

The conflict began on April 9, when Amazon peoples mobilized to block the highways and gas and oil pipelines to protest the implementation of a series of decrees passed to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. But the situation got worse on June 4, when the APRA stopped Congress from debating repeal of some laws questioned by the indigenous peoples that had already been declared unconstitutional by a Constitutions Commission.

The FTA with the United States was negotiated beginning in May of 2004 under the government of Alejandro Toledo (2000-2005). The treaty was slated to replace the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act signed in 2002 and in effect until December of 2006. The FTA eliminated obstacles to trade and facilitated access to goods and services and investment flows. Modeled on the North American free Trade Agreement, it also includes a broad range of issues linked to intellectual property, public contracting and services, and dispute resolution.5

The U.S-Peru FTA was signed on Dec. 8, 2005 in Washington by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Alan Garcia. In June of 2006 it was ratified by Peru and in December of 2007 by the U.S. Congress. On Feb 1, 2009, the agreement went into effect after Bush and Garcia signed it on January 16 of that year.

The signing of the FTA caused huge mobilizations in 2005, especially among peasant farmers who were the most harmed by the elimination of tariffs and trade protections. Although the government said it would provide compensation to producers, these never arrived. On February 18, 2008 they staged a National Agrarian Stoppage with road blocks throughout the country that led to four dead from police repression and the imposition of a state of emergency in eight provinces.

On October 28, 2007, Alan Garcia published a long article in the daily paper El Comercio of Lima under the title "The Syndrome of the Orchard Dog." Garcia described nature as a resource, and maintained that to refuse to exploit it was foolish, ignoring the debate over the conservation of the Amazon region. "The old anti-capitalist communist of the 19th century disguised himself as a protectionist in the 20th century, and donned the label of an environmentalist in the 21st century."

In his opinion, those who oppose the intensive exploitation of the Amazon region are like an orchard dog, that "doesn't eat or let anyone else eat."

"There are millions of hectares that the communities and associations have not cultivated or will cultivate, as well as hundreds of mineral deposits that cannot be worked and millions of hectares of sea that cannot be used for aquaculture and production. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountain range are a fortune that pours into the ocean without producing electric energy," Garcia states in the article.

"The first resource is the Amazon," he maintains. There are 63 million hectares that he proposes be parceled out into large properties of "5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 hectares, since in less land there is no formal investment long term and high technology."

On the land, he notes that one should not "deliver small lots of land to poor families that do not have a penny to invest," and that "this same land sold in large lots will attract technology." He cares little that these lands are the collective property of the communities, since in his opinion they are just "idle lands because the owner does not have the training or the resources economic, that's why their property is feigned."

It's worth looking back at some commentary from just before the US Congress ratified the "free trade" agreement, under the title, NAFTA causes mass human displacement, so why repeat it in Peru?:
Chalk it up to greed. Some executives will undoubtedly make out like bandits. As David Bacon notes, NAFTA boosted the profit margins of some corporations who could cut down labor costs, and yes, Mexico now has more billionaires than ever. Unfortunately, Mexico (and also the US) has merely become even more stratified since NAFTA went into effect. Funny how none of that wealth ever seems to "trickle down." Just a few clips from the article for your consideration:
By November 2002, the US Department of Labor had certified 507,000 workers for extended unemployment benefits because their employers had moved their jobs south of the border. The Department of Labor stopped counting NAFTA job losses, but the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, estimated that NAFTA had eliminated 879,000 jobs. That was five years ago.

But US job loss didn't produce job increases in Mexico - it eliminated them there too. In NAFTA's first year, more than a million jobs disappeared in the economic crisis NAFTA caused.

To attract investment in Mexico, the treaty required privatization of factories, railroads and other large enterprises, leading to more layoffs of Mexican workers.

On the border, Ford, General Electric and other corporations built factories and moved production from the United States to take advantage of low wages. But more than 400,000 maquiladora workers lost their jobs in 2000-2001 when US consumers cut back spending in the last recession, and companies found even lower wages in other countries, such as El Salvador or China.

Before NAFTA, US auto plants in Mexico had to buy parts from Mexican factories, which employed thousands of local workers. But NAFTA let the auto giants bring in cheaper parts from their own subsidiaries, so Mexican auto parts workers lost their jobs, too.

The profits of US grain companies, already subsidized under the US farm bill, went higher when NAFTA allowed them to dump cheap corn on the Mexican market, while at the same time it forced Mexico to cut its agricultural subsidies. As a result, small farmers in Oaxaca and Chiapas couldn't sell corn anymore at a price that would pay the cost of growing it.

When corn farmers couldn't farm, or auto parts and maquiladora workers were laid off, where did they go? They became migrants.

The real, dirty secret of trade agreements is displacement. During the years NAFTA has been in effect, more than six million people from Mexico have come to live in the United States. They didn't abandon their homes, families, farms and jobs willingly. They had no other option for survival.
The same pattern is threatening to repeat in Peru. Apparently, one of the issues that quite a number of Democrats ran on in 2006 was to prevent further passage of these sorts of "free trade" agreements. Flush with success after attaining Congressional majorities, the Democrat party brass then changed their tune. Thus far, the House passed the "free trade" agreement with Peru. Given the leadership (or lack thereof) in the Senate, passage there should be a slam dunk. Miners, factory workers, and family farmers will lose out in Peru. I can imagine that the upcoming decade will be filled with the tragic stories of displaced workers and families making an increasingly treacherous journey northward hoping to simply subsist.
Neoliberalism may be in its twilight, but the poisonous assumptions on which it was founded are alive and well in the Americas as they have been for over five centuries. As journalist John Ross might say, la lucha sigue, y sigue, y sigue, etc.

Feeling The Hate in Jerusalem - The Censored Video

Whenever some busybody tries to censor something, my initial reaction is "what is it that they're afraid of me seeing or hearing?" Case in point: Max Blumenthal uploaded the following video on YouTube, and it ends up getting yanked. Why? One can only speculate. Blumenthal certainly has his thoughts on the matter.

Reaction from Israelis about Obama's Speech in Cairo.


One of the beautiful things about those Internet Toobz is that once something gets published on the web, it tends to spread to other parts of the web, with censorship becoming akin to playing whack-a-mole.

Ain't it purty?

This picture is of the now-stalled Waterview Tower project in Chicago:
The development was halted at 26 stories - the plan was for a 90 story building with a combination of condos and a hotel.

Every CRE bust leaves what Crain's Chicago Business calls the Waterview: "a 26-story concrete monument symbolizing the excesses of the real estate boom" ... here are couple of recent stories on the Waterview.

From Crain's Chicago Business: Waterview Hotel project on the market
CB Richard Ellis Inc. is taking on one of the toughest jobs in today’s languishing downtown real estate market: finding a buyer for the stalled Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel project on Wacker Drive.
...
The developer is tangling in court with the Bank of America, which is trying to collect on a $20-million loan, and construction firms that claim they’re owed a combined $85 million.
And from the Chicago Sun-Times: City wants high-rise crane removed
Impatient about the stillborn construction site on Wacker Drive, city officials are demanding the removal of the high-rise crane at the proposed Waterview Tower. No work has been done on the planned 90-story building since last year, and now it stands as a shell about 27 stories tall at the southwest corner of Wacker and Clark.

A spokesman for the city's Buildings Department said it is worried that an unused crane can pose a safety hazard.
Another CRE eyesore.
Anyone wish to place bets on when/if it will be completed?

Say hello to

News from 1930 (h/t Calculated Risk)

It is rather educational to read through some of the happy talk on WSJ at the time, and compare it to some of today's economic happy talk. Some examples:

June 18:

Dow Industrials have broken below the bottoms of last May and December but remain well above panic bottom of November. Railroads have gotten almost down to the November level; Utilities are in between but closer to the Industrials. The rally ending in April was probably overly optimistic, hoping for a revival of business at midyear; buyers then are probably selling in disgust now. If two or three of the averages break down below the November level, this may be a warning that the bear market begun last fall isn't over, “though it might nevertheless be near its end.” Also remember that major swings in the market usually go further than business conditions justify.

Maurice S. Benjamin of Benjamin, Hill, & Co. predicted two months ago that the market would have to undergo a severe pullback before reaching new highs. He then sailed for Europe. Following that correct call, he now says the decline is over and predicts a quick improvement in business, stock prices much higher by fall, and still higher by next spring.

June 23:
Col. Ayres, VP Cleveland Trust, predicts an abrupt recovery in stock and commodity prices by Labor Day due to current consumption exceeding production. Distinguishes between two types of depression, “V”-shaped and “U”-shaped.

[snip]

Heard on the Street:

“'Things are getting back to normal,' remarked the head of a Broadway house. 'Again the main topic of discussion among our customers is the 18th amendment.'” [Prohibition]

Happy days are here again!

30 years ago today

The US witnessed its first gasoline riot (h/t Leanan of The Oil Drum) in Levittown. Was that event a harbinger? Reading through the comments of that first article, I get the distinct impression that a fair number of folks live in denial. Last summer was awful as far as prices went, but supplies were, for the most part, readily available. There was no rationing, no long lines, nothing to set off some increasingly short tempers. If the peak oil folks are correct in their assessments, it's only a matter of time before shortages and rationing become more the norm in the US rather than the exception.

Frustration (that is, prevention of someone reaching a goal) can lead to some antisocial behaviors, including aggression and violence. The riot that occurred at the intersection called Five Points was but one possible consequence. Many of us counted our blessings that the rioting there did not spread. The waiting in long lines was a tedious enough experience, as it was, on a good day. Of course, there are other potential behaviors, including drive-offs (i.e., filling up and splitting without paying), hording, and siphoning. We may not have seen riots last year, but we can probably count the examples of some of the other behaviors. Gas stations have largely prevented the drive-offs by going to a prepay system (even in the nearby towns in my vicinity, which are so small that practically everyone knows everyone else, prepay has become the rule rather than the exception in the last couple years). Siphoning might be made at least a bit less convenient by using locking gas caps (which I suspect became popular last year, and will be increasingly popular again in years to come). Hording? Good luck. Heck, I was hording some fuel any time there was a threat of a hurricane taking Gulf Coast refineries out of commission.

Of course it's not just the gasoline and diesel that are a problem when their prices spike, like last summer. We got a taste of what happens when a delivery system premised on cheap fuel supplies begins to break down. Independent truckers got priced out of business, and the larger enterprises couldn't pick up the slack - meaning shortages of other supplies, as well as increases in prices. Staples such as milk were pricing at around $4.50 a gallon at grocery stores last summer in my area (about the price convenience stores charged only a year before). My wife will recall my phoning her on numerous occasions to inquire about alternatives to one product or another that was out of stock. We got used to me coming home partially empty-handed from such shopping adventures, and simply doing without of whatever was out of stock for the remainder of the week until I could afford to drive back into town. At the time I was commenting that it could have been (and could get) considerably worse - had oil prices risen to $200-$250 per barrel as some were predicting at the time, the whole system whereby goods are delivered would have been stopped entirely. The relatively minor inconveniences would have been - and I understate things admittedly - major shortages. Under those conditions, we would be looking at potential rioting that would have made the relatively isolated events in Levittown appear tame in comparison.

Unfortunately, although alternative energy research has continued during the intervening decades, the momentum to fund and promote such research was largely broken during the Reagan era, and a serious push to find viable alternatives to fossil fuels has only recently been revived. Same goes for conservation (at this point, we're looking at some major and long-overdue lifestyle adjustments very soon). We basically lost close to three decades. That's a lot of lost time to make up.

Sidebar: check out Green shoots: An alternative view

Monday, June 22, 2009

As the class war continues

Goldman Sachs is back to its habit of giving elaborate bonuses, pretending that the bailout money received last year is now but a distant memory. I'm sure that once that fine institution screws the proverbial pooch once again, we'll find their execs queuing up to the dole. You know, too big to fail and all that nonsense.

Not to worry, we can always find congress critters who would never dare to be so charitable to those who might actually be below the poverty level. Oh yes, let's do bring back workhouses. Orphanages too, while we're at it. Nothing like making sure that we live in some knock-off imitation Dickens novel, but with high-tech gizmos.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Humor in dark times

H/t The Vigilante Journalist

When "privatize or perish" becomes privatize and perish

John Ross:
Words are powerless to describe the unspeakable horror that engulfed the working class "Y" colony in the northern Mexican desert city of Hermosillo June 5th when a grubby industrial warehouse that had been rented out as a day care center burst into flames trapping over 100 toddlers inside.

With the emergency exits blocked, no fire extinguishers on the premises, and defective smoke and fire alarms, neighbors frantically fought to rescue their children. One brave young man repeatedly slammed his pick-up into the front wall to open an escape hatch - he was later cited for inflicting property damage. 57 youngsters were carried out of the ABC Day Care Center alive. 41 were not, most of them burned beyond recognition in their cribs and cots. 26 of the children rescued remain hospitalized in grave condition - five more have since died. In one heartbreaking incident, a surviving child's face was so badly disfigured that her parents did not recognize her and she was given to another family whose own child had burned up in the conflagration.

Preliminary investigation into the tragedy point to gross negligence by the authorities, the collusion of federal and Sonora state government officials, and influence trafficking on the part of the three listed owners, one of whom is a cousin of Margarita Zavala, the wife of Mexican president Felipe Calderon.

The privatization of government day care centers under Calderon and his right-wing predecessor Vicente Fox graphically underscores how neo-liberalism dilutes safety standards and sacrifices children's lives to boost profit margins.

[snip]

The ABC Day Care Center is one of more than 1500 such facilities covering 223,000 children that have been privatized by the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) since 2000 - the IMSS continues to run 142 day care centers on its own. Under the privatization schema, the yearly cost per child was reduced from 3800 pesos to 2100 with a subsequent deterioration in services - food quality, medical attention, and educational programs as well as safety standards all declined, according to Dr. Gustavo Leal, an investigator at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) in Mexico City and columnist for the national daily La Jornada who specializes in the IMSS.

In Sonora, 79 out of 87 government day care centers have been sold off, many to for-profit business interests with ample political clout - at least 13 owners have family ties with Governor Bours revealed an independent probe by the investigative unit of the national daily El Universal. State and federal authorities have yet to disclose a full list of those who hold the concessions.

Bottom line investment in infrastructure may well explain the inappropriateness of the site selected for the ABC Day Care Center - a factory warehouse (the space had previously been occupied by a clothing maquiladora) on the corner of Railroad and Mechanics Avenue in an industrial section of the Sonoran capital. The nursery fronted a gasoline station and was flanked by a tire factory yet inspectors repeatedly certified the building for use as a day care center.

[snip]

Despite the vehement rejection of neo-liberalism by Latin American voters in at least a dozen countries and the installation of social democrat presidents who defend the responsibility of the state in providing social services for their citizens, Mexico continues down the primrose path to neoliberal disaster. The next social institution up for privatization here is the beleaguered prison system, an inferno of violence and corruption that has been hopelessly overcrowded by the incarceration of poor people caught up in Calderon's never-ending War on Drugs.

The construction of 12 new private prisons will be financed by Interacciones Bank, the property of Carlos Hank Rhon, scion of the late Carlos Hank Gonzalez, the boss of all bosses during much of the PRI's seven-decade chokehold on power - as Secretary of Agriculture under Salinas, Hank Gonzalez was the go-to guy for the privatization of the agrarian sector during the run-up to NAFTA.

Once the prisons are built, they reportedly will be operated by the Florida-based GEO Corporation (formerly Wackenhut), the big player in the U.S. private prison industry in which Bush vice-president Dick Cheney's Vanguard Group is said to be heavily invested - arrest orders for Cheney were issued in 2008 by a south Texas Grand Jury because of his alleged involvement in a GEO-run detention facility where Mexicans being held for deportation were brutalized.

Just as the privatization of prisons has earned GEO and Cheney a tidy fortune, the privatization of Mexican day care centers has meant big-time profits for the owners of the now defunct ABC who took in 400,000 pesos a month before their business burnt down, about a half million Yanqui dollars annually.

But the "benefits" of neo-liberalism are not limited to the private sector. Even the parents who gave their children to Gomez del Campo and her partners to be warehoused under such life-threatening conditions at the ABC "day care" have "benefited" by the neo-liberal machinations. Last week, the Calderon government offered them free funerals for their dead children.

Ayers and Churchill, March 2009



Ben Whitmer gets the h/t for this one. The video footage made available mainly focuses on Bill Ayers' keynote speech, with about a third of the footage covering some of the Q & A session w/Ayers and Churchill. The event was just before the wrongful termination suit that Churchill had filed against University of Colorado - a suit that Churchill would win (although we'll be waiting until the beginning of July to figure out how meaningful that victory will be).

Funkadelic - "Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet!"



The track is from the late 1970s pfunk classic One Nation Under a Groove. The title is "Lunchmeataphobia" (George Clinton sure has a way with names). The tune is very fast-moving, befitting of the turbulence of the times (and of course relevant to contemporary times), largely instrumental, with the exception of vocalists chanting "Think! It ain't illegal yet!" at various points more as agitators than as singers. Funkadelic was blessed with some great musicians, who at their peak had just the right chemistry for some intense jams.