Archive for International

Feb
09

Wait. I got this.

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McClatchy asks an adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry how the Islamic State justifies its blood lust:

They cherry-pick Quranic verses out of context, apply the most rigid interpretations of jurisprudence and excuse just about any brutality by saying they’re waging a defensive jihad on behalf of aggrieved Muslims worldwide, according to Jocelyne Cesari, a renowned scholar of Islam who’s part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s working group on faith and foreign policy.

Swap out “Quranic” with “Bible,” “jihad” with “preemptive war,” and “Muslims” with “Christians” and this could describe death penalty proponents in Texas or torture apologists across America.

See if this doesn’t sound familiar:

Q: What religious grounding does the Islamic State give for its atrocities?

A: They say they’re in survival mode. They believe that conditions for Muslims today are a danger to your soul as a Muslim. They don’t see their jihad as an attack; they see it as defensive jihad.

Wait. I got this. “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Preemptive jihad. Who’da thunk that strategery would have become so popular?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jan
27

Peek-a-boo, we spy you … again

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Data visualization of Facebook relationships by the third-party app MyFnetwork. (Courtesy Kencf0618 via Wikimedia Commons)

Via a 2011 slide presentation leaked by Edward Snowden, The Intercept provides more details on how spy agencies are “building haystacks to search for needles.” By intercepting unencrypted data relayed from smartphone ads and apps to analytics firms and advertisers, British and Canadian spy agencies can compile detailed profiles of individual smart phone users. Advertisers typically collect this information to answer usage questions:

How often does a particular user open the app, and at what time of day? Where does the user live? Where does the user work? Where is the user right now? What’s the phone’s unique identifier? What version of Android or iOS is the device running? What’s the user’s IP address?

But since the data sent from apps is often unencrypted, it represents “a major privacy threat” exploitable by spy agencies. This particular spy program was/is code-named BADASS:

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Jan
24

The Dickens, you say?

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As Digby said yesterday, they will never quit trying to dismantle the social safety net. Both here and abroad, it seems, we’ve gotta keep those “takers” from taking. They are somehow keeping our “Makers” from making. (Genuflect here.)

It seems the British have set up a system of sanctions to keep the eligible jobless from receiving help. And, boy howdy, you thought Fox News’ obsession over the grocery shopping habits of Americans receiving SNAP benefits was Dickensian. Check out the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the land of Dickens:

“A Ukip parliamentary candidate named Lynton Yates this week suggested banning benefit claimants from driving: “Why do they have the privilege to spend the tax payers [sic] hard earned money on a car, when those in work are struggling to keep their own car on the road?” Ukip’s communications people said that Yates’s suggestions were “not Ukip policies and they will not form part of the Ukip manifesto”, and the media rejoiced in the week’s example of the party’s supposed fruitcakery – though at the time of writing, Mr Yates was still Ukip’s choice for the East Midlands seat of Charnwood.

But the problem isn’t his, or Ukip’s, alone. After all, in the sense that he proposed stripping “benefit claimants” of something most people take for granted, Yates’s plans merely sat on the outer edge of what now passes for mainstream thinking. When the state makes it clear that the poor and unfortunate are not to have spare bedrooms, and embraces the idea of stopping them buying booze and fags and shredding their entitlements if they have more than two kids, is it really such a leap to deny them non-public transport too? For all its inanity, there is a sadism at the heart of the Yates idea that is not a million miles away from the cruelties increasingly built into the benefits system: cruelties most of us would not put up with for a minute, but which are visited on thousands of people every week.

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Jan
23

Are we not Ubermen?

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Those using the Gregorian calendar count the years since the birth of Christ as Anno Domini, A.D. Bullshit is probably a lot older. But given that it’s a new millennium, maybe it’s time we started counting the years in A.B. “One of the most salient features of our culture,” as Aaron Hanlon quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Salon, “is that there is so much bullshit.”

Case in point. In its obsession with turning everything on this planet into the Precious (other planets will come later), the Midas cult has turned its sights on sleep because “sleep is the enemy of capital.” Thus, sleep must be abolished. From caffeine-laced Red Bull to topical sprays to marshmallows, “perky jerky,” and military experiments with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), Newsweek  looks at how we are waging the war on sleep:

For those looking to sleep less without drugs or military tech, there’s the “Uberman” sleep schedule: 20 minute naps taken every four hours. That’s just two hours of sleep in every 24 hours. Uberman is based on the theory that while humans experience two types of sleep, we only need one of those to stay alive. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the stage in which we dream, and it also has been shown in lab tests to be critical to survival: Rodents deprived of REM sleep die after just five weeks. Then there is non-REM sleep, which itself is broken down into four separate stages. One of those is short wave sleep (or SWS). Scientists aren’t really sure what function SWS serves, and Uberman advocates argue that it may not be critical to survival at all.

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Jan
17

Please Don’t Flog The Bloggers

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Why, how Enlightenment of them:

The case of a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes has been referred to the Supreme Court by the king’s office, the BBC has learned.

Blogger Raif Badawi’s wife said the referral, made before he was flogged 50 times last Friday, gave him hope that officials would end his punishment.

A second round of lashings was postponed for medical reasons.

The punishment of Badawi, who was also fined and sentenced to 10 years in prison, caused international outcry.

Badawi established Liberal Saudi Network, a now-closed online forum that sought to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia in 2008.

Ah! Can’t have that. Nope.

(Cross-posted from
Hullabaloo
.)

Categories : International, Media, News
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Jan
15

Did we mention the stonings?

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On a local Facebook political page the other day, a resident conservative was fear mongering about Islam and posted the address of the local Islamic Center as evidence of something somehow threatening. It’s next door to an office where I spend a lot of time. Nice people, I replied, you should drop by sometime. And they are.

Sadly, given the Charlie Hebdo attacks and other recent events, Islam’s fundamentalists are much higher profile. I feel for myth neighbors. It’s like mentioning America and every time having someone bring up Timothy McVeigh or the Westboro Baptist Church. Having lived and worked within a few miles of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, religious fundamentalism is a topic of some interest to explore in detail when there is more time. But right now, Christian fundamentalists are not what’s news. This is:

Al-Qaeda-linked militants have publicly executed a woman accused of adultery in northwestern Syria, a monitoring group said Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in total 14 people had been executed for alleged adultery or homosexuality in the war-torn country since July, half of them women.

It released a video showing fighters from Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, tying up a woman and shooting her in a square in the town of Maaret Masirin in the province of Idlib.

Stonings. Did we mention the stonings? And it’s not just Syria:

Raif Badawi, the Saudi liberal convicted of publishing a blog, has been told he will again be flogged 50 times on Friday – the second part of his 1,000-lash sentence which also includes a 10-year jail term.

The US, Britain and other western governments had all called for the punishment to be dropped but there has been no sign of any diplomatic action against Riyadh. Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the UK government to challenge Saudi Arabia, which has ignored all protests over the case.

Badawi will be given 50 more lashes outside a mosque in his home city of Jeddah unless a Saudi prison doctor determines he is not yet fit to face the punishment owing to injuries sustained last Friday. If nothing changes, he will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director, wonders why British authorities are so vocal about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, yet “tone everything down” when it comes to the Saudis. U.S. authorities, too, we might add.

Why is it that people who talk about faith the most seem to understand it the least?

(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)

Categories : International, Religion
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Jan
14

Teach your cronies well

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The U.S. press dutifully spent the last two days focused on why the White House did not send any high-level officials to join other world leaders at this weekend’s Charlie Hebdo photo-op in Paris. Meanwhile, few registered that 2,000 people died in Nigeria over the weekend at the hands of Boko Haram. Twenty died and many more were injured when a maybe ten year-old suicide bomber attacked a Nigerian market. Matt Schiavenza of the Atlantic notes that the story appeared on page A8 of Saturday’s New York Times. The massacre of civilians made page A6. Schiavenza explains why:

The main difference between France and Nigeria isn’t that the public and the media care about one and not the other. It is, rather, that one country has an effective government and the other does not. The French may not be too fond of President Francois Hollande—his approval ratings last November had plunged to 12 percent—but he responded to his country’s twin terror attacks with decisiveness. Not so Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. Since assuming the presidency in 2010, Jonathan has done little to contain Boko Haram. The group emerged in 2002 and has consolidated control over an area larger than West Virginia. And it’s gaining ground. Perversely, the seemingly routine nature of Nigeria’s violence may have diminished the perception of its newsworthiness.

Jonathan’s failure to confront Boko Haram, of course, is nothing new. Nigeria has long been cursed with a corrupt, ineffective government, one perennially unable to translate the country’s vast oil wealth into broad-based prosperity. During his campaign for re-election—Nigerians go to the polls on February 14—Jonathan has vowed to tackle his country’s problem with graft. …

You know, one way to read that is, Goodluck Jonathan means to tackle his country’s lack of broad-based prosperity with more graft—just as the corrupt, ineffective government the U.S. is cursed with has taught him by example. With the Republican congress and GOP-controlled state legislatures misleading the way, we’ll all be saying “Je suis Nigeria” in no time.

The upside? Maybe the world press will start ignoring our mass killings.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo. h/t Josh Holland)

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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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