Saturday, November 7, 2009

Silver is thinly plated around thick dark clouds

Alexander Cockburn sez:
Increasingly, young Americans are getting too fat to fight, which is just as well – because the antiwar movement is in terrible shape, probably because yesterday’s peace marchers are all too busy on weekends jogging, careening along on their bikes or going to yoga classes.
Alexander Cockburn gets a bit snarky for his own good, but there is little doubt that the state of the antiwar movement has been dire for some time. Still give some credit to yesterday's peace marchers - there are still a number of them who give a damn enough to act. As for obesity in the US - the phenomenon is getting more and more disturbing. Just looking around when I go to my kids' school events, I am struck by what was once an anomaly (the fat kid) has increasingly become the norm.

Friday, November 6, 2009

RIP Art D'Lugoff

The former proprietor of The Village Gate died Wednesday at age 85. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that club's heyday. Many a heavyweight of jazz played there back in the day. Needless to say, I have a few albums that were recorded live by Albert Ayler (Live in Greenwich Village), Alice Coltrane (a track from the album Journey in Satchidananda), etc. A bit from the obituary:
D'Lugoff opened the Greenwich Village club in 1958. He hired blacklisted singers Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger and fired Dustin Hoffman as a waiter. Hoffman, then a struggling actor, later said he was so distracted by the performers that he neglected customers.

Other performers included jazz greats John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
The Village Gate closed in 1994.

A small step in the right direction

Check out Healthy Families Act Would Offer Paid Leave to Workers Hit By Swine Flu. As Susie Madrak notes, the bill's a bit flawed, but the idea is a good one. Although right now I am a salaried employee with more paid sick leave hours than I know what to do with (salary may be crappy, but I am very thankful for this particular benefit!), I've also been an hourly employee, which meant that if I got sick and I stayed home from work, I simply didn't get payed. Plus, there was always that lingering concern that if I was gone for too long, there would be no job to come back to. Although there are plenty of profit purists who would howl at the mere thought of hourly workers taking a few days off for the flu with pay, think of it from a more collective perspective: someone showing up to work sick because they have good reason to believe they have no other choice puts everyone else around him or her of getting sick as well. Do you really want someone with H1N1 sneezing on your hamburger, or a daycare employee with H1N1 sneezing on the toys your kid is going to play with? I know I wouldn't, and I know that I don't appreciate employers who exploit their staffs to the point to where they put the rest of us at risk.

Things to read in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shooting

As I already mentioned previously, Jonathan Schwarz made a valid point with regard to white privilege.

Dennis Perrin tackles religious intolerance, which has become endemic in the US military, in Last God Standing.

Chris Floyd's article Dark Glass: Hateful Echoes and Hidden Costs is an absolute must-read.

All three are worth looking at within the context of the upsurge of paranoia and hatred aimed at those who practice the Muslim religious faith and those of Arab or Central Asian ethnicity (just look at Memeorandum for a hint of what I'm talking about). The US has been at war for practically its entire history. In a book called On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, former professor Ward Churchill outlined in stark relief the wars - great and small - that the US had involved itself in, concluding that there had never been a year in which the nation had been at peace. He's far from the only dissident scholar or activist to ever make such observations (Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and William Blum have offered similar observations from their various perspectives), and it suffices to say that a nation that is in a constant state of siege is going to have some serious problems - not the least of which is a propensity for a paranoid style of politics, and a tendency to go looking for scapegoats every time something goes wrong.

Really, at this point, the only responsible thing that one can say about the Ft. Hood shootings was uttered by the Iraq Veterans Against the War on Thursday (cited in the Christopher Floyd article mentioned above):
The shootings that happened today are a tragic reminder of the hidden costs of war.
Until the dust settles, that's really all that needs to be said. Then, it's long past time for us as a society to take a good long hard look in the mirror.

Saying the obvious

Jonathan Schwarz sez:
There are many great things about being part of the white majority, but one of my favorites is that I don't have to release a statement condemning it every time some white guy somewhere shoots people.
Sad but true.

Who will fare best as the climate continues to warm?

That's the topic in the article Coping With Climate Change. The article is filled with information worth reading, but one point in particular toward the end of the article jumped right out at me: societies that are relatively egalitarian are going to fare better than those in which there are gross inequalities. Here's the quote:
Another key component of climate fitness is the equality and empowerment of women and minority groups. Natalie Curtis, a senior press spokesman at Oxfam, said that sea level rise and an increase in extreme weather events in Bangladesh has been a “double-edged sword.” The impacts have been “horrific”, she said, but they have led to the creation of councils of women in every village “who are leading the efforts for community survival.”

Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans was also a stark example of climate weakness, as social inequality – and poor governance – led to tens of thousands of the city’s poorest residents being stranded for days.
There's a reason why I've tended to advocate here and elsewhere in favor of eliminating social inequalities - in the long run, such societies are ill-suited to handle climate-related catastrophes (and ours is going to have to do it with declining non-renewable resources available). I'd also suggest ditching the hyper-individualism that has characterized Euro-American society for the past generation. The "everyone's an island" approach to life might by merely dysfunctional under ideal circumstances, but won't leave its practitioners capable of pulling together when it's most needed. New Orleans and the surrounding region during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina and the immediate (and long-term) aftermath should have served as the much-needed wake-up call that the status quo in the US is destined to failure, to unnecessary human suffering. To me it's no accident that there has been a resurgence of Marxist and various anarchist-collectivist social models since the 1990s, to the extent that such forms of social organization tend towards egalitarianism and a reduction hyper-individualism.
h/t The Oil Drum.

Signs of the times

Unemployment was at 10.2% for October - the highest since 1983. I'm not really surprised, given the scope of this recession. It does beg the question though of why a stronger stimulus wasn't tried out earlier this year, which could have made a bigger difference. Paul Krugman referred to the stimulus bill passed earlier this year as too little of a good thing, which sounds about right. If nothing else, it kept a lot of educators from winding up unemployed and little else.

Another way to look at it, via Bernard Chazelle:
Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.
"The current recession is likely to generate for children in the United States the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes," Stanford pediatrician Dr. Paul Wise wrote.
The analysis is in line with other recent research suggesting that more than 40 percent of U.S. children will live in poverty or near-poverty by age 17.
Not exactly happy and uplifting news is it? Thirty years of neoliberalism has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for the majority of us, and yet it is quite obvious that in spite of all the tangible pain that has been expressed by constituents to congresional "leaders", they by and large do not listen.

A warning

Sez Justin Raimondo:
There is no democracy in America. Our government is controlled by two "major" parties that have a monopoly on ballot status: try getting on the ballot as a "third party" – especially in New York state! It’s next to impossible. And if you should manage to get on the ballot, in spite of all the legal and logistical obstacles, then you faced the moneyed interests which have bought the Congress and the executive branch, and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – not only when it comes to foreign policy, but when it comes to anything and everything.

Our ruling elite is on a collision course with the citizenry. There is, at present, no way for disenfranchised voters to register their protest, and have their voices heard, and the pressure is building – slowly but surely – as Americans begin to ask where it will all end. We are headed for an era of unprecedented political and social turmoil, as the economy tanks and the wages of intervention are paid in the form of more "blowback" such as we experienced on 9/11. The America we know and love is rapidly sliding down into the abyss of national bankruptcy and international opprobrium – and our "leaders" are not only helpless to stop it, they are actively pushing us toward the edge.
There's a good deal of truth to these words, in more ways than Justin intended. One observation I can make right off the top of my head is that many of those who feel disenfranchised to one degree or another are vulnerable to the siren song of "leaders" who are more than happy to push them toward the edge for their own political gain. The corporate interests behind what has been called the Tea Party movement this past year is certainly one of those forces.

A tad warm in the Arctic this past October

Warm winds slow autumn ice growth:
Sea ice extent grew throughout October, as the temperature dropped and darkness returned to the Arctic. However, a period of relatively slow ice growth early in the month kept the average ice extent low—October 2009 had the second-lowest ice extent for the month over the 1979 to 2009 period.
The rest of the article is worth a read. Certainly, the report and the graphics are sobering (h/t The Oil Drum).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time to break out the torches and pitchforks yet?

Look, I'm already hacked off enough about there being shortages of flu vaccines this year. To get the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines for my daughters, I had to wait in line for the bulk of an afternoon a few weeks ago, and then of course while waiting had to contend with the possibility that we'd be turned away (luckily we weren't). My son had already had H1N1 (thankfully a fairly mild case of it). I'm dealing with H1N1 now - I don't quite fall into any of the priority groups (fortunately my case seems pretty mild as well as flu goes). So now I read that a bunch of privileged execs on Wall Street are, not surprisingly, getting privileged access to the same vaccine that the rest of us have dealt with shortages and unnecessary exposure to the feckin' virus. As one blogger puts it:
It should come as no surprise that those at the top of the food chain get preferential treatment on all levels. But this still stinks to high heaven. Employees of the Goldman, the Fed, Citigroup, and other banks are getting H1N1 vaccine allotments out of proportion to what can be justified from a public health standpoint. In particular, Goldman has gotten more than Lenox HIll hospital, which needs it not just for the sick but more important, for workers (not only does the public need to keep front-line health care workers in as good shape as possible, but if they get the infection, they become disease vectors fast, given the number of people they see).
Then again, banks have become parasitic, so why should we expect anything different?


Yves here. Welcome to the class system in action. If you don’t work for a big, influential company, go to the back of the queue. Why should companies be the nexus of distribution for vaccines? I guarantee no Goldman MD gets much of his routine medical treatment from the GS health workers on staff (emergencies or a fast diagnostic like a strep test are different). But if you work for a less privileged employer or are self-employed or between jobs, tough luck, go to the back of the queue, you have to try to get yours (assuming you can) from vaccination centers in New York City. How easy do you think that will be? The difficulty and queuing are certain to be much worse than for any of the big financial players.

And please, it strains credulity to think that someone on the payroll at these companies won’t bend to pressure to make allotments at the margin according to who is most powerful. Do you think if Lloyd Blankfein or another member of the management committee was in a risk category that he would be denied it, assuming the firm did not have enough to go around? (and that is likely). Now given the brouhaha, Goldman may bend over backwards not to abuse this overmuch now that there is media pushback. But this serves to illustrate how the system has been suborned on just about every front. To wit, Goldman is getting 200 doses of the vaccine, the same number as Lenox Hill Hospital.
As if there weren't enough reasons already to be pissed off at Wall Street.

Here's a birthday worth remembering

Eugene Debs, who was born on this day, 1855. Check the quote:
Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.
Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.

While you're at it, check out the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive (h/t Green Left Global News & Info).

Some late week science

This was cool - Rare whale gathering sighted (h/t naked capitalism). I thought it made a nice change of pace from the usual bad news:
A large group of a rarely sighted, mysterious species of whale has been seen off the coast of Antarctica.

Approximately 60 Arnoux's beaked whales were seen and photographed frolicking on the surface in the Gerlache Strait.

Few sightings of this enigmatic species are made in the wild, and even less in waters near to shore.

The sighting, of the largest group ever recorded, is also the first time this species of whale has been seen socialising at the water surface.
Read the rest.

Still going after "bad apples"

The problem with the recent Italian trial and conviction of CIA operatives on the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy (leading to his being tortured) is that, while holding the low-level CIA workers accountable it fails hold responsible those in DC who made the decisions in the first place. From the first few paragraphs:

One of the 23 Americans convicted today by an Italian court says the United States "broke the law" in the CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

"And we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorized and approved this," said former CIA officer Sabrina DeSousa in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson.
DeSousa says the U.S. "abandoned and betrayed" her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping. She was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.
 It's refreshing to read that De Sousa acknowledges that the US broke the law - something that more bloggers, activists, and advocates than I could ever hope to count have been saying for ages with regard to the practice or rendition and torture. Clearly she bears some responsibility for whatever role she did play (I'm not a big fan of the "we were just following orders" defense). On the other hand, shouldn't it be Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Bybee and Rumsfeld on trial for approving these practices in the first place?

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot."

Rick B at Ten Percent remindeds us that last year that November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day. This year I'll return the favor.

Here's what I wrote last year in 2008. See also, Three Lessons from Guy Fawkes Day. Of course, as tradition warrants, I do at least one subversive thing today (which I suppose really isn't all that remarkably different from the rest of the days of the year, come to think of it!).

And here's a clip from the classic film V for Vendetta that bears repeating:

See also:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Corporatism in action

Leaked ACTA Internet Provisions: Three Strikes and a Global DMCA. It's pretty disturbing:
The internet chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret copyright treaty whose text Obama's administration refused to disclose due to "national security" concerns, has leaked. It's bad. It says:
  • * That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn't infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.
  • * That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet -- and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living -- if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.
  • * That the whole world must adopt US-style "notice-and-takedown" rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused -- again, without evidence or trial -- of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.
  • * Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM)
The ACTA Internet Chapter: Putting the Pieces Together
So much for "transparency" from the Pope of Hope led White House. Seriously, the secrecy with which this monstrosity has been hatched is no different from what Bush II would do. But yeah, the implications for this part of the treaty, if accepted, would be profoundly negative for those of us who rely on the internet for free expression and for information outside of the confines of the pabulum fed to us via corporate sources.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The reality

XicanoPwr paints a very brutal picture of what it is like to live without health insurance in America, and discusses why the current tepid health care reform is less than it appears.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Your tax dollars at work

One beneficiary of the Great American Swindle was Goldman Sachs, who, as it turns out was secretly betting on the crash of the US housing market.See what naked capitalism and The Newshoggers have to say. I noticed that Calculated Risk referenced the article with minimal comment. I'll be curious, given that blogger's background in real estate what he might have to say later (in the meantime, the comments section is both illuminating and entertaining).

I've met radical leftists

In fact, I am one. Now former NY District 23 Congressional candidate Dede Scozzofava, someone who would have been merely labeled conservative a mere couple decades ago, is no radical leftist, no matter how much Michelle Malkin and her legion of zombies make that claim. It doesn't take a radical leftist to realize just how out of touch these wingnuts really are - even the movement conservative blog Little Green Footballs recognizes the insanity of such claims. In the meantime, it appears an opportune moment to dust off Richard Hofstadter's classic essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

Another Musical Interlude: Living Colour

"Cult of Personality" is a classic rock song, with a jammin' video, courtesy of a great rant. I got to see this band perform live back in late 1988 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium - their performance made for a great way to celebrate the end of finals week. They were one of several acts on the bill that were hot at the time: headliners Fishbone, Public Enemy, and opening act Stetsasonic. Aside from the riot that broke out during Public Enemy's performance (Chuck D and crew left in disgust when it became apparent that the rioters weren't going to stop), that was a great show.