Archive for International

Jan
11

Apologies excepted

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News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch tweeted this on Friday about the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Murdoch’s sweeping indictment of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims drew its own round of apologies for Murdoch from other Australian men, conveniently aggregated by the Independent, including this none-too-subtle rebuke:

As Vox observed, a ritual apology is expected of the Muslim world after every incident resembling the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris:

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Categories : International, News, Religion
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Jan
10

Defend our water

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We seem to have created a political environment in which for some reason our communities can no longer afford to maintain public infrastructure. Oh, right. That requires taxes. (That’s 5 letters. Hmmm, I was sure it was a four-letter word.)

Now that We the People have seen fit to ensure we no longer have the revenue to do on a not-for-profit basis the things a Great People once did to create a Great Nation, companies that lobbied long and hard to reduce their taxes (and public revenues) are stepping up, eager to do them for us. For a profit. Go figure.

One of the first public properties that goes into the carts at the Chop ‘N Shop is water. Right now, Portland is fighting to retain control of its water system:

A simmering water war is about to come to a boil over the fate of historic, well-loved public reservoirs in Portland, Oregon. At the heart of the controversy is a breakdown in public trust that reflects the dangers of corporate-led water privatization schemesin the United States and around the world.

A 2006 EPA ruling (called LT2) to protect systems against Cryptosporidium precipitated the fight over modifications to reservoirs on the National Register of Historic Places.

At Truthout, Victoria Collier details alleged cronyism in the water project involving contracts with CH2M Hill. (Full disclosure: I did some engineering for them on a factory some years back.) Furthermore, it seems the firm is involved in a coordinated effort to privatize infrastructure on the west coast (emphasis mine):

The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX)was launched collaboratively by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and CH2M Hill, though the corporation has since recused itself from an official partnership position.

Now comprised of governors and state officials from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the WCX is quietly developing a regional “public-private partnership” (PPP) model to fast-track private financing and development of infrastructure – everything from schools, bridges and highways to energy, waste and fresh water systems.

Citing the crippled tax base of so many US states, the WCX notes with regret that crumbling public infrastructure and future development needs can no longer be met by the public sector.

You bet your assets, they regret it. That “crippled tax base” just happened, of course. It just happened to coincide with the interests of international corporations that want to get their hands on public infrastructure across the planet. They want to buy it for a song from tax-starved cities and then sell it right back at a profit. It makes the payday loan industry look benign. As I observed:

Privatizing water supplies is a growth industry. Whether it’s American Water, Aqua America, Suez, Veolia Water, or Nestle, private water companies are competing to lock up water resources and public water systems. If not for you, for the fracking industry. As with charter schools and vouchers in public education, public-private partnerships are one of business’ favorite tactics for getting this particular camel’s nose under the tent.

This is a theme you see repeated with P3s across the country from Michigan south to Georgia and west to California as corporations lobby hard to gain control of public utilities and infrastructure. From schools to prisons to water and sewer. We have already discussed how that is working out for highways.

When Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder placed Detroit under receivership and appointed Kevyn Orr in March 2013 as emergency manager – effectively negating citizen control of their own city government – the first items considered for privatizing were the water and sewer systems. (Receivership ended in December 2014.)

When the GOP took control of North Carolina’s legislature in 2011, removing airports and water systems from control of the cities was top of the ALEC agenda. Where cities have fought the state takeovers in court, judges have sided with the cities.

But that’s just Round One. Because for the GOP, privatization is a twofer: it lines their corporate donors’ pockets and it weakens cities where the remaining large blocks of blue votes are. It’s the next phase of Defund the Left.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jan
09

Keep Calm and Carry On

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Writing for the Guardian, Nesrine Malik insists that retreating into tribal camps is not the way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo shootings. The attackers, she insists, “belong to no single community or country or mosque.” This is not a clash of civilizations. It is a strategic attack aimed at terrorist recruitment, as Juan Cole explains:

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

Like early Stalinists or Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Cole writes, the Paris attackers hope to provoke a backlash to help radicalize an inconveniently docile population by “sharpening the contradictions” between communities:

“Sharpening the contradictions” is the strategy of sociopaths and totalitarians, aimed at unmooring people from their ordinary insouciance and preying on them, mobilizing their energies and wealth for the perverted purposes of a self-styled great leader.

The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.

Malik concurs in rejecting any us-them framing:

To engage in war talk – about a Muslim threat that needs to be combated by an aggressive reassertion of whatever composite identity of liberal values one believes is under attack – is to give in to the reductionism demanded by terrorists.

Whether it is Islamic State (Isis), al-Qaida or lone actors, they will use religiously focused grievances as a vehicle for political, personal and mental maladies. Don’t buy it. The way to honour the dead and find a way out of what seems like a depressingly inevitable downward spiral would be to resist the polar narrative altogether. It will not only heal painful rifts, it might even save lives.

Shorter Malik: Don’t give them what they want.

In “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell tells a story about the bombing of London in WWII. What the Nazis expected (and British authorities, too) was that panic would sweep London, demoralizing the citizens. Unexpectedly, the opposite happened. Because, as Canadian psychiatrist J. T. MacCurdy deduced, the dead don’t panic and those nearly killed are few; and the far more numerous, those who survived multiple attacks unscathed, felt invincible. Gladwell writes:

So why were Londoners so unfazed by the Blitz? Because forty thousand deaths and forty-six
thousand injuries—spread across a metropolitan area of more than eight million people—means that
there were many more remote misses who were emboldened by the experience of being bombed than
there were near misses who were traumatized by it.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : History, International, News
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Jan
08

Perilous times for free speech

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Perilous times for free speech

by Tom Sullivan

I have long said that loss of the ability to laugh at yourself is the first warning sign of fundamentalism. That applies whether the fundamentalist is a jihadist of the right or from the fringe left. Plus a lot in between. A priest I know once said it was a healthy thing, now and then, to spit on your idols. That is, if you can still recognize when beliefs have become idols.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, even Ross Douthat argues that the right to blaspheme is “essential to the liberal order.” And although shock for shock’s sake adds little to public debate, “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said.” We will see, after the transient outpouring of support for France, how well some of our compatriots (and Douthat) warm to defending that idea when their own sacred cows are gored.

Time‘s Bruce Crumley responded to the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo in 2012:

It’s obvious free societies cannot simply give in to hysterical demands made by members of any beyond-the-pale group. And it’s just as clear that intimidation and violence must be condemned and combated for whatever reason they’re committed — especially if their goal is to undermine freedoms and liberties of open societies. But it’s just evident members of those same free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties—and that isn’t happening when a newspaper decides to mock an entire faith on the logic that it can claim to make a politically noble statement by gratuitously pissing people off.

Perhaps, but Jonathan Chait counters how in the current environment a double-mindedness prevails, even as it did at the White House then. As Chait deconstructs it:

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Categories : International, News
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Jan
01

Gettin’ medieval

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With 2014 gone (and good riddance), perhaps in 2015 America will look itself in the mirror and reflect on what it means to behave as if civilized rules only apply to everyone else. We look somewhat less exceptional from across the pond. Take this op-ed from Christian Christensen, a professor in Stockholm, for example:

… 2014 has been a year in which the mythology of domestic U.S. legal egalitarianism — reinforced by the mantra of blind justice and a near religious reverence of the U.S. Constitution — was exposed as a pretense. As abroad, so at home: Some people are more equal than others.

After the police killings of unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner; after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma; after the SCCI report on a torture program approved by the White House — more brutal than the world already knew, and in violation of domestic and international law; and after a majority of Americans when asked approved the torture; on reflection, exceptionalism looks more like license. There are not two sets of rules in America, Christensen concludes, but three: “one for white killers, one for black killers and one for police officers who killed black suspects.” And a fourth for rich, Wall Street bankers, I might add.

Christensen continues:

One thread ties together all these cases: The willingness of the U.S. to bend the law and condone the barbaric treatment of human beings is grounded in differences of race, ethnicity or religion. Police violence, the death penalty and torture are predominantly applied to nonwhites or non-Christians. How supportive would white Americans and lawmakers be of procedures such as “rectal rehydration” — a gruesome procedure that, according to the torture report, was applied to hunger-striking inmates — if they were performed on white Christians? How long would they would be to willing to tolerate routine police killings of unarmed white citizens?

It all seems, I don’t know, a little medieval:

Perhaps critics are right. Perhaps we’ve been wrong to base interrogation and prisoner treatment on traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe as citizens of a democratic republic we should strive in the 21st century to live up to our lofty, Enlightenment ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Maybe instead of falling prey to jingoism, we should reflect, examine our assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a “scientific method”. Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, law. Perhaps it could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance! … Naaaaaahhh!

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?

Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.

What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?

As I wrote after the Center for Media and Democracy posted online a trove of ALEC documents:

The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.

But first, the “risk takers” must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won’t stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it’s the power it brings.

Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” Giroux writes:

Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.

The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these “dangerous times,” Giroux continues:

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Dec
28

2015: Imagine greater

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“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
— Ursula Le Guin, accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2014 National Book Awards

So much of what bloggers write about is serendipity. Sometimes focusing fiercely on a single topic and searching out components to flesh out an idea, or else grazing the Net at random for articles that spark one, or sometimes just happening upon ideas floating around that connect in ways that say something about the zeitgeist.

This morning I ran across this post on Raw Story featuring Ursula Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards ceremony in November:


I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. …

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

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Dec
11

Becoming them

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A few years back I wrote an op-ed about extraordinary rendition flights and the case of Maher Arar, asking readers whether the Bush administration was fighting terrorists, breeding them, or becoming them. In a case of mistaken identity, Arar had been detained at Kennedy International while changing planes on his way home to Canada. He was taken by police in front of his family and sent to Syria where he was tortured for months. He’s been on Twitter recently for some reason:

Given the release of the SSCI torture report and this news from the Guardian, I guess the answer to my original question was all of the above.

Abu Ahmed (nom de guerre), a jihadist with misgivings about the brutality of the so-called Islamist State, spoke with Martin Chulov about the inner workings of ISIS and the rise of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the Americans’ Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq:

“We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else,” he told me. “It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”

Baghdadi had inside “a darkness that he did not want to show other people,” Abu Ahmed explained. But he hid it well from the Americans.

Baghdadi also seemed to have a way with his captors. According to Abu Ahmed, and two other men who were jailed at Bucca in 2004, the Americans saw him as a fixer who could solve fractious disputes between competing factions and keep the camp quiet.

“But as time went on, every time there was a problem in the camp, he was at the centre of it,” Abu Ahmed recalled. “He wanted to be the head of the prison – and when I look back now, he was using a policy of conquer and divide to get what he wanted, which was status. And it worked.” By December 2004, Baghdadi was deemed by his jailers to pose no further risk and his release was authorised.

“He was respected very much by the US army,” Abu Ahmed said. “If he wanted to visit people in another camp he could, but we couldn’t. And all the while, a new strategy, which he was leading, was rising under their noses, and that was to build the Islamic State. If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”

As Isis has rampaged through the region, it has been led by men who spent time in US detention centres during the American occupation of Iraq – in addition to Bucca, the US also ran Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport, and, for an ill-fated 18 months early in the war, Abu Ghraib prison on the capital’s western outskirts. Many of those released from these prisons – and indeed, several senior American officers who ran detention operations – have admitted that the prisons had an incendiary effect on the insurgency.

Mission accomplished, eh?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, Iraq, News
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Just because you don’t hear the term “free-market fundamentalism” much these days doesn’t mean the faith has gone away. More on that in a minute.

Der Spiegel looks at The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails. The wizards of finance are not the choir boys that prove the moral superiority of capitalism, as analyst Mike Mayo believed when he entered the business. Instead, writes Michael Sauga, Mayo found “the glittering facades of the American financial industry concealed an abyss of lies and corruption.”

Ironically, some the most blessed(?) beneficiaries of the corruption, global financial and political leaders, now say they want to fix capitalism, make it more inclusive:

It isn’t necessary, of course, to attend the London conference on “inclusive capitalism” to realize that industrialized countries have a problem. When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, the West’s liberal economic and social order seemed on the verge of an unstoppable march of triumph. Communism had failed, politicians worldwide were singing the praises of deregulated markets and US political scientist Francis Fukuyama was invoking the “end of history.”

Today, no one talks anymore about the beneficial effects of unimpeded capital movement. Today’s issue is “secular stagnation,” as former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers puts it. The American economy isn’t growing even half as quickly as did in the 1990s. Japan has become the sick man of Asia. And Europe is sinking into a recession that has begun to slow down the German export machine and threaten prosperity.

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Oct
18

Six Degrees of Ebola

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Kevin Bacon
(photo credit David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons)

Is America playing Six Degrees of Ebola yet? Connect yourself to someone on Amber Vinson’s Frontier Airlines flight in six steps or fewer, then run around freaking out? (Something to play on a cruise, maybe?)

Best wishes for a swift recovery, of course, to the two caregivers infected in Texas. Yet Ebola fever (the psychological kind) has so gripped the country that articles are popping up with titles like, Ebola hysteria is going viral. Don’t fall for these 5 myths. Fox News’ Shepard Smith went off script the other day and urged viewers, “Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and television or read the fear provoking words online.” Michael Hiltzik felt it necessary to write 6 ways to avoid being stupid about Ebola in this week’s L.A. Times. His number five is pithy:

5. Listening to Rush Limbaugh may be hazardous to your health. As a one-stop shop of Ebola misinformation, you can’t beat the guy. Limbaugh’s only purpose is to stir up fear, alarm and mistrust of government among his listeners. Inform them, not so much.

But informing listeners was never the point. Fear, mistrust, alarm, and misinformation is right-wing talk’s business model. It’s what listeners tune in for. It’s just not church in some circles — you haven’t been touched by the spirit — unless the preacher works up the congregation with a mind-numbing, shouted cant into a hair-standing-on-end, ecstatic state followed by emotional catharsis.

Perhaps right-wing talk works the same way. A kind of addictive drug, maybe it has begun to lose its zing (along with Limbaugh’s ratings). Perhaps over the years, the ginned-up, faux outrage peddled every day by Rush and his kin has lost its punch. Perhaps the fear-addicted (and fear peddlers) hungering for stronger stuff to give them that old rush again just found it in an ISIS and Ebola cocktail?

That and, as Digby pointed out yesterday, it’s crazy season.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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