Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Potpourri

Oh, what a lovely week it has been in world events.

Julian Assange is out on bail, albeit under draconian restrictions, and Mark Zuckerberg is named Time's Person Of The Year, in spite of the fact that Assange had nearly 400,000 votes in the reader poll, as opposed to a piddling 18,000 for Zuckerberg. Corporate-controlled media is such an amusing phenomenon. Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has publicly confirmed that Julian Assange and Wikileaks did not break any Australian laws.

The new Conservative government in the Netherlands is trying to pass restrictions on the delightfully famous Dutch Coffee Shops, particularly in the border areas. Let us stop and consider this one, boys and girls. People come to the Netherlands, spend their money in the local economy, then go home again. And this is a bad thing? The thinking of Conservatives is always a puzzlement to me. Or perhaps they don't really think, and that's the problem...




And that fun guy Silvio Berlusconi, who happens to be both Prime Minister of Italy and a huge media mogul, has banned a new Renault commercial from his Italian TV channel. Because it shows two women together. Ahhh, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

Speaking of real fun guys in charge of countries with a tentative grasp of reality, that perennial favorite Robert Mugabe has threatened to completely nationalize US and UK firms in Zimbabwe unless all sanctions against himself, his party, and his cronies are lifted. This is after Mugabe's ZANU-PF party passed a law requiring all foreign firms in Zimbabwe to sell a 51% interest to Zimbabweans, a law that was accompanied by a helpful list of Mugabe's cronies as "suggested buyers". The people of Zimbabwe deserve far better than Bob Mugabe. Their nation was once one of the brightest stars in Africa, and I earnestly hope it may one day be so again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bupkis

"The time has come", the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."

And I believe the time has come to talk seriously about ending US aid to Israel. In terms of human rights, in terms of international law, the US has been backing the wrong horse for 60 years now.

Among the things that the main-stream media doesn't want to talk about -

Hamas recently said, through an official spokesman, that it was willing to accept a 2-state solution based upon the pre-1967 borders. You know, Hamas, that organization that isn't invited to the so-called "peace talks", even though it's the democratically-elected government of Gaza, in which fully half of the Palestinian people are besieged. For the record, the division along pre-1967 borders is also the key to the UN peace plan, as expressed in numerous UN resolutions.

On Tuesday, Israel denied entry to a group of Palestinian firefighters, who were on their way to a ceremony in Israel. What was this ceremony about? It was to thank them for their help battling wildfires in Israel last week.

On a related note, the reason is emerging for last week's Israeli wildfires getting so badly out of control. It seems the Minister of the Interior is a religious fundamentalist who had been funneling all his department's money to the illegal settlements, and ignoring fire preparedness.

But these are relatively small things, simply among the thousand-and-one symptoms of a racist state spinning out of all logical control.

In a much larger symptom of the problem, PM Netanyahu this week rejected utterly any partition of Jerusalem. Given that every halfway-credible peace plan ever advanced has been based upon a partition of Jerusalem, this essentially scuttles any hope for peace.

And so, what is the USA left with? Netanyahu has snubbed and humiliated the US repeatedly in the last two years, his administration is utterly unresponsive to input from our nation, in any form. So why should we continue to support Israel? What's in it for the USA, what do we get for our $12 Billion per year in aid?

Bupkis.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Common Sense Down Under

Leave it to the Oz to be the ones displaying hard-headed common sense while others are in a dither.

Among the many other tidbits revealed in the latest release by Wikileaks, (which we will no doubt be sifting through for years), are a few truly encouraging cables from the US embassy in Canberra, Australia relating that the Australian intelligence community takes a very different view from that of the USA.

How utterly delightful, how like a breath of fresh air, to read that the Australians do not consider Iran a "rogue state", and think the US is making a mistake by dealing with Iran that way. And furthermore, that the ONA, (think Australian CIA), considers Iran's potential nuclear program to be "deterrent" in nature.

On a more sobering note, the Australians are concerned about a possible Israeli attack on Iran, and believe that such an attack could lead to a nuclear exchange. Australia is also concerned about long-term nuclear proliferation in South Asia as a whole.

I will admit that I find this as much surprising as encouraging. The Australians can be appallingly conservative in some ways, a trait they have in common with many former British colonies. What's that you say? The pot calling the kettle black? Who, me?

Story at the Sydney Morning Herald here
Story at AJE here
No doubt, dear reader, you will note the amusingly different headlines at the two publications.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Nobel for Bradley Manning

Mark Levine, who is a professor of history at UC Irvine, has a new entry at AJE entitled Wikileaks:Call of Duty, in which he proposes a Nobel for Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the documents which Wikileaks has released, to such a stir among the DC elite.

"No one outside of the Washington establishment and the myriad foreign leaders shamed by revelations of their penchant for hatred, hubris and pedestrian peccadillos can seriously argue that the release of these classified documents has done anything but good for the cause of peace and political transparency."

Oh, well said, professor!

"At the very least, given what a mockery President Obama has made of the principles for which the prize is supposed to stand - evidence of which, like pressuring Spain to drop criminal investigations into Bush administration torture, have only come to light thanks to the latest WikiLeaks release - the Nobel Committee should demand his medal back and give it to Manning or whoever the leaker is."

Late in the article, he takes some cheap shots at the game Call of Duty. Now, CoD is not something I play; I like my shooters set safely in a fantasy world, thank you very much. But still, as a gamer, I am not really comfortable with seeing such criticism come our way. We get enough crap of that sort from the other side of the aisle.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Saudis and Syrians Broker Lebanon Deal

Saudi Arabia and Syria are again trying to prevent a blow-up in Lebanon, over the results of a tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.

As I have reported here before, the tribunal supposedly investigating the murder of former PM al-Hariri has been at work for years. The outside influence upon that tribunal, from the USA and other nations, has been extreme. The tampering with the records, by Israel and others, has been shameless. The use of secret witnesses, who never appear before the eyes of the tribunal, and whose names are kept secret, has tainted the proceedings irredeemably. And the findings of this tribunal will not be made public for months yet, or perhaps never, depending upon the decisions of a panel of judges.

Yet everyone in the region is in a furor over the tribunal, because of a few complicating factors. Lebanon's current PM is Saad al-Hariri, the son of the man who was assassinated. Most Lebanese, (and many Europeans), suspect Israel was behind the murder. But the tribunal is expected to indict Hezbollah for the killing. The US and Israel would very much like to pin the murder upon Hezbollah, because that would weaken Hezbollah in particular and Lebanon in general. And there are signs that both the US and Israel are tampering with and even fabricating evidence to frame Hezbollah.

But Hezbollah has greater military strength than the Lebanese army, so there can be no question of any Hezbollah members being seized by force.

How, you may ask, did this come to pass? It came about because when Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon in the 1980's, they created a Christian puppet army called the South Lebanon Army, and used that force to murder Muslim Lebanese wholesale. From this grew both the popularity of Hezbollah, and the mistrust of the central Lebanese Army. And by doing this, Israel sowed anew the seeds of mistrust between Christian and Muslim Lebanese.

As I wrote in my initial report on Lebanon, some four months ago -

Lebanon has a sizable Christian population, roughly 40% of the population, as compared to a single-digit percentage in other Arab countries. While 95% of the people are ethnically classified as Arabs, "many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendants of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians" (quoted from the CIA World Factbook). Furthermore, there are 17 officially recognized sects; 5 Muslim and 12 Christian.

As goes Lebanon, so goes the Middle East. And that, dear reader, is why both King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Bashir al-Assad of Syria are doing all they can to prevent a renewed civil war in Lebanon.

Latest related story at AJE here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

OMG, it's a Scary Muslim!

A new article in Foreign Policy magazine caught my eye, and aroused my ire.

Hiding in Plain Sight, is the title, with a subtitle of, "You don't need to get your hands on secret cables to learn that Turkey's foreign minister has a radically different view of the world than American diplomats. Just read his dissertation."

Oh, really? So another nation's Foreign Minister has different ideas from those of our own State Department? News Flash, sweetheart, at least half the population of our own country has very different views from those of the US State Department.

Predictably enough, the article goes downhill from there, offering a breathless expose of the dissertation written by Turkey's FM back in 1990, as though this had somehow been hidden away to conceal sinister intent. Bullshit, the damn thing was written in English and it's been sitting in the library for the last 20 years, available to any fool who cared to read it.

So, what's so sinister in this dissertation? It says that Muslim Society and Western Society have fundamentally different views of the world. It says that Western institutions do not work well when forcibly imposed upon Muslim societies.

Rudyard Kipling, dear reader, told us that over a century ago.

OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!


This was written by Kipling in 1887. In this, the author tells us bluntly that we are different, but we are equal, and we can live together in mutual respect.

But no, we can't have that, that would interfere with Israel's agenda.

And so the author embarks upon a long series of slanders, innuendos, and exaggerations, all designed to portray Davutoglu (the Turkish Foreign Minister who wrote the dissertation) as a sinister Islamist with a dark agenda that inevitably leads to a nuclear Jihad, if they don't just murder us all in our beds and carry off our virgin cheerleader daughters to the harem of some swarthy Arab sheikh.

(and yes, one could question whether the phrase "virgin cheerleader" isn't an oxymoron, but let's stick to the main issue, shall we?)

And so this article becomes one more shell in an ongoing bombardment of propaganda, all designed to turn Western public opinion against Turkey, by appealing to the worst fears of that Western audience, by pandering to the lowest common denominator in society, by invoking the hidden leverage of racism and religious prejudice.

And this has been the agenda since Turkey chose to take a hard stance in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara massacre, what is sometimes called the Gaza Flotilla massacre.

And yet, now that Israel is hard-pressed by huge wildfires, Turkey has sent firefighters to help.

Islam is not our enemy. Muslims are not our enemies. Our enemies are those who would seek to profit through manipulating us into fighting their wars.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks = Zioleaks?

There has for some time been a certain suspicion in the Islamic blogosphere that Wikileaks is a tool of Israel, and the latest batch of documents has fanned the flames of that suspicion.

One example here.

Personally, I'm unconvinced, but wavering. The evidence in favor of this theory is all circumstantial. Basically the argument revolves around the fact that there is nothing damaging to Israel yet to be found in any Wikileaks data dump, and that the overall effect of the leaks would seem to work in Israel's favor.

The other point advanced in favor of this argument is that Julian Assange has allegedly dismissed all suspicion of any 9-11 cover up, and some feel his credibility is fatally wounded by that dismissal.

There are replies one could make to these arguments in favor, but they all seem a bit weak and contrived. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but generally there's some connection, and statistics be damned.

On this issue, I honestly have no idea what to think. But I will observe that it has been a while since anyone accused me of not being sufficiently cynical about the ways of the world.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

PEGI's Paradox

PEGI (see www.pegi.info) is Pan-European Game Information, actually a more detailed rating system than that used by ESRB, (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) which basically only rates for sex and violence. The PEGI system also includes flags for drug abuse, racism, and gambling. Rumor has it PEGI may currently be studying the feasibility of a flag for "sexist attitudes and/or exploitation of women".

To quote from the PEGI website, "The PEGI system was developed and based on existing systems in Europe. In the drafting of the PEGI assessment form and the shaping of the system organisation, society representatives such as consumers, parents and religious groups have been largely involved."

Oh great, religious groups, isn't that a delightful kettle of fish? You can bet that no pagans were invited to sit on that panel, and I severely doubt that much input from Islamic clergy went into the final mix. Can you imagine the nightmare of trying to reconcile computer games with the sharia? (Sharia is traditional Islamic law, essentially unchanged since the time of the Prophet Mohammed, 1400 years ago). With all due respect for Islam, Islamic Women, and the Prophet of God (PBUH), can we pause for a moment to snicker at the thought of World of Warcraft, (or any other popular MMOG), with all the female characters in burqa?

As an aside, how are they going to handle this when Turkey becomes a full member of the EU?

But I digress from the main topic here. PEGI and ESRB are essentially censorship organs. No, they do not nominally have the power to openly prohibit a game from being sold, but they do have that power in fact. They have that power because, while the model is slowly changing, game publishers depend on retail sales to make a profit. And most retailers will not touch an unrated game, or one that has a rating they consider unacceptable. And the few retailers that will handle such games will not display them prominently enough to generate impulse sales.

This means that failing to get an acceptable rating from the relevant rating agency is the kiss of death to a game in most cases. There do exist exceptions. The Grand Theft Auto series became such a phenomenon that the later games in the series generated their own demand, a demand so extreme that retailers could not (or would not) refuse to carry them, in spite of grief and controversy over ratings, so-called "hidden content", etc.

So the bottom line, when we get past all the circumlocutions and look at the final net effect, is censorship. Censorship based in part on religious sensibilities, specifically Judeo-Christian religious sensibilities. Most writers would at this point tell you how you should feel about that. Being a pagan, (and a lazy bastard), I'll let you figure it out for yourselves.

The differences between the two rating agencies, European and US, are not profound, but they are notable. The ESRB, betraying the puritanical origins of our American society, is mostly concerned with sex and nudity. Never mind the fact that most of us get every meal there for the first 6 months of our lives, apparently once we have been weaned the mere sight of a woman's breasts is enough to cause grave and irreparable psychological damage, twisting the All-American Boy from the path of Eagle Scout to that of axe-murder chainsaw rapist. The scary part is that there are people who actually believe this crap, and know in their hearts that all of us who don't agree will burn in hell forever.

PEGI, in accordance with European attitudes, is quite a bit more laissez-faire about nudity or partial nudity, but more concerned with violence than ESRB. And, if the additional ratings offered by PEGI are an indicator, by other issues of political correctness which are not even rated for by ESRB.

Nor is this phenomenon anything new. An amusing example is offered by "Giants", an RTS game from over a decade ago. One race in the game were mermaids. Topless mermaids, oh my, no seashells! Now, ESRB was thoroughly scandalised by this, and threatened a "kiss-of-death" rating unless it was amended, but had no problem with the level of "violence" portrayed in the game. PEGI was upset with the amount of blood and gore, but had absolutely no problem with the topless mermaids. So the game developer patched the mermaids with a bandeau, and made the blood green instead of red. PEGI and ESRB declared young gamers saved from trauma and a life of psych counseling by their vigilance once again. And a few weeks after the game was published, most video game magazines published the tip that if you went into the game directory and renamed or deleted a certain small file, the bandeau disappeared and your cartoon mermaids had boobs again.

Which brings us neatly to the real point here, the true paradox.

Gamers want the boobs. (Male gamers, anyhow. What female gamers want, I am in no way qualified to say.) Yes, that's right. I came right out and said it. Gamers want to see flesh, and lots of it. Artfully concealed and occasionally revealed is my personal preference, but Your Mileage May Vary. Hellaciously politically incorrect to say, but there you have it. And it's true.

Which means that ESRB and PEGI are, for the most part, in the business of preventing the consumers from obtaining what they want.

Having crossed the Rubicon of political correctness with trumpets blaring, I may as well go the rest of the way with this topic. Do I want to see the average video game looking like something from Score.com? HELL NO! The vast majority of current porn is vulgar and tasteless. Not because it's porn, but because it's porn with no artistry. Such things are hellishly difficult to describe precisely, but try digging up some old 70's porn, something classic like Seka. Difficult to find anymore, but not impossible. Watch this carefully for a few minutes, looking not at the T&A but at the filmmaking. Some of the old 70's porn was just as trashy as anything today, but most did display an artistry, a sense that the people behind the cameras had some background in art.

This is a much better idea, I think, of what the results would look like if the reins were loosened a bit on artistic design in video games. Look at video games in Japan, and what they get away with. And Japanese society doesn't seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Then again, Japan has a whole different slant on sex and human interaction in general, (not to mention life, death, and everything else) and comparisons with western society are always tricky.

Am I suggesting that we would or should see characters making the beast with two backs in the next MMORPG? No, absolutely not, or at least not in public, PLEASE. Topless characters, as an option which can be toggled on or off in game options, and occasional full frontal nudity? Yes, why not? And while I personally have no interest in man-sausage, if you think such things cannot be or are not being depicted in graphic art, go to www.jlist.com and search on the word yaoi. Talk about something to really freak out the bible-thumpers...

Trying to predict the results of lifting or relaxing a long-standing prohibition on human behavior is never easy. Even the so-called experts do not exactly have a good track record. And the current situation is by no means intolerable. The average horndog gamer gets enough titillation (gotta love that word) to keep his interest up, so to speak.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Afghanistan Milestone

Today marks a milestone in the US occupation of Afghanistan. Today, US forces have officially been in Afghanistan for the same 3,338 days that it was occupied by the Soviet Union.

Those of you who have been reading my scribbles here for any length of time, know by now that I do not support the Afghanistan War, not even a little bit. So, rather than offer any further commentary on this grim anniversary, I will post these comments by a Russian veteran of the nation that has been called The Graveyard of Empires.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Kids In Kabul

It was one of those statements that takes your breath away, one of those official utterances that hits you in the gut with that feeling of unreality, of "OMFG, George Orwell was right!"

Mark Sedwill, NATO's top civilian envoy in Afghanistan, commented publicly this week to the effect that children in Kabul were safer than children in London, Glasgow, or New York.

Afghanistan has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the world at 151 per 1000. In contrast, the UK has an infant mortality of 4.69 per 1000, and the USA is at an embarrassingly high 6.14 per 1000.

In terms of child mortality, (recorded separately from infant mortality, which is the deaths in the first year), one Afghan child in five dies before his/her 5th birthday.

So tell me, dear reader, where do assholes like Mark Sedwill get statements like that from? Are they written by speechwriters, and pre-scripted? Does the man just pull them out of his ass upon the spur of the moment? Perhaps more importantly, how stupid do they think we are? Do they not realize that we have such information at our (virtual) fingertips?

Or is it simply a case, as I increasingly suspect of late, that our governments are in the control of the criminally incompetent?

Monday, November 22, 2010

US Corporations Threaten Ireland

In a move of breathtaking corporate hubris, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, chaired by senior Hewlett-Packard executive Lionel Alexander, has threatened to move its operations to India or China if Ireland raises its incredibly low corporate tax rate of 12.5%, which is currently the lowest in the EU.

For those who haven't been following the international news, the Irish economy is in desperate straits, (sound familiar?), and has just agreed to accept a multi-billion-euro bailout from the EU and the IMF.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy said, "It's obvious that when confronted with a situation like this, there are two levers to use: spending and revenues. I cannot imagine that our Irish friends, in full sovereignty, [would not use] this because they have a greater margin for manoeuvre than others, their taxes being lower than others."

Consider, if you will, the incredible arrogance of these US corporations. They outsourced our jobs to Ireland in order to avoid paying taxes in the USA, where they sell their products. Now they are threatening to flee to China or India if the Irish do not continue to allow them to rob the public treasury by paying a pathetic pittance of an excuse for their fair share.

My friends, the only solution to corporate behavior like this is a tariff on all imports. The corporations, and the evil rich bastards who control them, have sent millions of our jobs overseas, in order to exploit cheap labor. Then, having produced their goods in some third-world country, under sweat-shop conditions, they import those cheap and shoddy goods into the USA, and sell them to us at an obscene profit.

Only by making those corporations pay a steep tariff, of 50% or more, when importing their foreign-made goods into the USA, only by this measure can we bring those career-worthy jobs back home to the USA once again.

All the empty propaganda about "Free Trade" is so much bullshit. This issue is about exploitation of the working people of this world, by the rich, for the profit of the rich. And it has to stop.

Original story in the UK Telegraph here

Saturday, November 20, 2010

AIPAC In Trouble

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is the most powerful lobbying organization in Washington DC, one that is feared by every politician. AIPAC is also the greatest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. But now, AIPAC is in legal trouble, and embroiled in a $20 million lawsuit brought by Steve Rosen, a former member of its own top staff .

The whole brouhaha started in 2005, when AIPAC was caught red-handed illegally passing classified information to Israel, information which AIPAC had obtained from Congress and/or the Pentagon. Isn't it interesting that when Wikileaks releases classified information, the Pentagon and the White House scream bloody murder, but when the Israel Lobby releases classified information, the politicians, generals, and even the media are very quiet about it?

Two top officers of AIPAC, including Steve Rosen, who was then the number two man in the organization, were charged under the Espionage Act. But AIPAC brought influence to bear behind the scenes, AIPAC's tame congressmen started breathing fire at the Justice Department, and last year the charges against both men were dropped. Back in 2005, apparently as part of some back-room deal, Rosen was fired from his position at AIPAC.

Now AIPAC is fighting back viciously, attempting to deflect criticism from itself by smearing Rosen personally. Their lawyers are going for the usual dirt, "viewing pornography on company computers", etc, (as though that were any rarity in corporate America today).

Ah, but Rosen is fighting back by claiming that "they all did it", another brilliant stroke, sir, and quite an original defense.

The clincher is that Rosen claims to have documents proving that the whole upper management team at AIPAC knew exactly what he was doing when he and Keith Weissman (the other defendant) passed classified information to Israeli intelligence.

There is, my friends, a word for this. The word is schadenfreude, the malicious enjoyment one feels when observing the misfortunes of one's rivals or enemies.

With AIPAC distracted by the dirty consequences of its own slimy misdeeds, perhaps the so-called "Peace Talks" now (sort of) underway might actually have some slim chance of success. Let us earnestly hope and pray that this is so.

Original story at Washington Post here
Original story at AJE here

Friday, November 19, 2010

US Deploys Abrams Tanks to Afghanistan

In what many will perceive as a sign of desperation, the US is deploying a small number of M1-A1 Abrams tanks to Afghanistan, for the first time. The tanks will initially be deployed to the northern part of Helmand province

Of course, the usual talking heads have the usual glib explanations for why, even going so far as to use the phrase "shock and awe", which will bring a cringe from anyone old enough to remember 2003.

According to an article in the Washington Post, this is another great idea from the right-wing loonies at the Rand Corporation, who have somehow imagined that using heavy armor in a counter-insurgency is just a wonderful idea. Somewhere in Russia, a few old former-soviet officers are laughing their asses off.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

99ers Are The New Okies

I have made it a practice to avoid this subject in my scribblings here at The Possumhole, simply because it is an issue which touches me too personally for any semblance of objectivity. But we have come to a crossroads, and it is time to speak.

The 99ers are the new Okies.

Like those refugees from the Oklahoma dustbowl of the late 1920's, the 99ers have become a symbol of a national economy in shambles. And at the same time, the 99ers have become that category of persons upon whom it is acceptable to heap scorn and contempt. You've all heard the things that Glenn Beck has to say about the 99ers, and the oft-quoted slams from various Republican politicians. The 99ers have been called everything from stray animals to drug addicts, and worse.

If such insults were directed at minorities, or at members of the LGBT community, the howls of outrage would be heard from here to Timbuktu. But when politicians direct such outrageous slanders at 99ers, no word of objection is to be heard, from anyone.

Who are the 99ers? They're your neighbors, the people you see at the grocery store, the lady who used to work at that business down the street before they filed Chapter 11 and laid her off. The 99ers are you and the 99ers are me, literally. The 99ers are simply Americans, like any other Americans, who happened to be employed by a business that didn't make it.

There are at least six million 99ers in the USA. Roughly three-quarters of them are 45 or older. Their credit ratings, after 2-years-plus without a job, read something like "shoot on sight". They are too young by decades for retirement. But what employer will touch them?

These are people who have worked all their lives, paid their taxes, voted their conscience, and in general done nothing wrong, done nothing to deserve this nightmare in which they find themselves.

And so, dear readers, I ask you this. What are the 99ers supposed to do? Are they supposed to simply crawl off into the bushes and become homeless? What are they supposed to live on? Where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do in order to put the shattered pieces of their lives back together?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi

As most of you have probably heard by now, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from house arrest today, (though how much that means in real terms remains to be seen).

Al Jazeera English just posted an excellent short summary of who she really is.

When In Doubt, Blame England

Have you ever stopped to think about how many of the worst trouble spots in the world are former British colonies?

A few minutes ago it was reported that Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been released from house arrest in Burma/Myanmar. It is worth mentioning that the woman has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest. So, Burma, aka Myanmar. Former British colony. Blame Louie Mountbatten for leaving things in a mess, such that the nation has been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962.

Right, the war in Afghanistan. Another former British colony.

And it spills over into Pakistan, which is another former British colony. Pakistan has perennial problems over Kashmir which it disputes with with India, another former British Colony.

The endless misery of Palestine, and the lands stolen by Israel? Both former British colonies. In all fairness, Lebanon can be blamed on the French, just for variety.

Remember the long and bloody insurgency in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon? Another former British colony.

Strikes and nasty economic problems in South Africa? Yet another former British Colony.

Election violence in Kenya? And another former British Colony.

Ongoing misery under Evil Dictator Mugabe in Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia? Still another former British Colony.

What's my point? I don't suppose I really have one, other than the general evils of colonialism. Thank goodness "we" don't do that anymore.

Except that we do. Today the US and many European nations practice not military colonialism, but economic colonialism, the evils of which are more subtle, and far less apparent to the public eye.

Federal Employees Pork It Up

In a revelation that is both depressing and unsurprising, the Federal payroll is porking up like mad.

According to a recent study published by USA Today, (I know, but news is news), the number of Federal employees earning over $150,000 per year has increased by a factor of 10 since 2005, and more than doubled since Obama took office. Let's see you blame that on Bush, Mr President.

And the number of Federal employees earning over $180,000 per year, is 20 times what it was 5 years ago.

Speaking as a 99er, I have to say I find that incredibly disheartening.

Change we can believe in, yeah!

Lily Allen has the right message

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unknown Missile Launch Off Southern California Coast

The US Military says they didn't launch it.

NORAD issued a joint statement with Northern Command stating that it wasn't launched by a foreign government, but saying nothing more.

The Pentagon says it "remains a mystery".

So just who the hell launched a missile from 50 km west of Los Angeles and just north of Catalina Island yesterday?

Someone launched something large, that much is apparent from the video shot by the KCBS news helicopter. This was not a Tomahawk cruise missile or anything that small.

The View From Abroad

Do you ever wonder what the rest of the world thinks about the USA?

Political cartoons can be a powerful insight into the answers to that question. Of course, it's axiomatic that humor is the most difficult thing to translate, but political cartoons are often blunt enough to need no translation.

Consider the following offerings from Al Ahram Weekly, an Egyptian publication that has been in continuous operation since 1875.

Here we have a selection of 5 cartoons, arranged vertically. Be patient, please, their server can be slow.

The top cartoon shows Osama bin Laden waiting in line to cast his vote in the US midterm elections. I really don't know what the artist is saying here, perhaps that Osama is us? Or perhaps he's ridiculing our seeming inability to catch him?

The second is Egyptian domestic politics; it's saying that the upcoming election is totally rigged.

The third one down gets interesting. That is a send-up of the flag some of the tea partiers like to use, but with the snake removed and a Klansman's hood in its place.

The 4th cartoon is again obscure. The obvious meaning is clear, but who knows about context?

The 5th cartoon, at the bottom , is the best. This is how the Middle East sees the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Lift the lid on Congress, and you have a crowd of grinning Ku Klux Klansmen with their pointy white hoods on. Ouch. So much for convincing the world that US Conservatives aren't really racists.

Petraeus Exploited Sunni/Shia Divide In Iraq

One of the ugly aspects of the latest release by Wikileaks which is being totally ignored by the mainstream media is the revelation of the manner in which US forces under General Petraeus deliberately used Shia troops to commit atrocities against Sunni civilians.

Prior to 2003, Iraqis had many problems to be sure, but tension between Sunni and Shia was minimal. Today, Iraq cannot even form a government, months after elections, because of strife between Sunni and Shia. And that divide was created by the actions of the US occupying forces under General Petraeus.

Petraeus employed these Shia troops to "combat Sunni insurgency", knowing full well that the Shia were conducting large-scale torture of Sunni "detainees", to use the dry and clinical term for some passing innocent kidnapped off the street.

And this same General Petraeus is now in change in Afghanistan.

Full story at AJE here

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gulf Disaster Part II - The Gulf Stream Is Dying

It has been brought to my attention that the contaminated seafood I wrote about yesterday is not the worst effect of the massive disaster inflicted upon us by BP and the Obama Administration.

It would appear, from satellite data, that the Gulf Stream is dying or has already died.

I confess, I needed a refresher on how the Gulf Stream works. Essentially, a warm water current comes up the NE coast of South America, does a loop in the Gulf of Mexico, and then passes by the tip of Florida before heading diagonally across the Atlantic to pass by the British Isles and Scandinavia. Technically, the part before the tip of Florida has a different name, but it's all one continous current, or it used to be.

The dumping of a billion gallons of crude oil, and two million gallons of toxic dispersant, (brand name Corexit), into the Gulf of Mexico, however, has screwed this up royally. Instead of flowing across the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream is now breaking down in a series of whirlpools in a region that stretches from off the Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic.

Here is a graphic showing how the Gulf Stream is supposed to flow. Apologies for not embedding it, but if I reduced it to fit, you wouldn't be able to see WTF was going on.

Here is a site with weekly-updated satellite data.

Here is an archived graphic from late October of 2009, roughly a year ago, from the same site, showing the same data.

At first glance, the two appear substantially the same. But look at the top right corner. In the graphic from a year ago, the stream continues off the map, toward the UK. In the most recent graphics, nothing makes it off the map. The Gulf Stream is breaking up in mid-Atlantic.

What does this mean? Well, for starts, it's the warmth of the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe from freezing solid in the winter. And it's the Gulf Stream, continuing as the North Atlantic current, that flows over the top of the Asian landmass and determines weather across much of Russia.

Russia, which has had the hottest Summer on record, causing massive wildfires, and devastating their wheat crop to the point where all exports have been banned.

So, dear reader, it would appear that BP, with the help and collusion of our oh-so-dearly-beloved President, has screwed us at least three different ways. The Gulf seafood is not safe to eat, much of the Atlantic seafood will soon be unsafe to eat, and the weather is screwed up to the point that grain production will be curtailed severely, has already been curtailed severely.

Can you say rising food prices, boys and girls? And at the same time, we can look forward to renewed inflation, since Ben Bernanke has just decided to print another 900 billion dollars in paper money, and give it to the bankers.

Because, after all, those poor bankers really need the help...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gulf Seafood Still Toxic; Coverup Underway

Shrimp, crab, and other seafood taken from the Gulf of Mexico still contains toxic levels of dispersant sprayed by BP in the aftermath of the oil spill disaster, and the FDA is doing its best to conceal that fact.

On October 29th, the FDA and NOAA finally issued a press release announcing the beginning of a testing program for dispersant residues in seafood. The devil, as usual, is in the details.

The allowed level of contamination has been set at 100 parts per million for fish, and 500 parts per million for shrimp, crab, and oysters. By contrast, when runoff water from your neighborhood storm drain reaches the sea, the maximum allowed level of chemical residue is 5 parts per million.

Think about this, my friends. When runoff water goes into the sea, the maximum allowed level of chemical residue, is 5 parts per million. But for seafood you are going to eat, they allow 500 parts per million? One hundred times as much, and this is supposed to be "safe"? And at that, they are only testing for the least toxic of the contaminants.

(direct quote from story in Al Jazeera English)
Hugh Kaufman is a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) office of solid waste and emergency response. Kaufman, a leading critic of the US government's decision to use Corexit, told Al Jazeera this about the press release: "They say it perfectly clear: the purpose of the test they developed is to make the public confident, not whether the seafood was safe or not."

"They selected the one compound that doesn’t bio-accumulate, as opposed to testing for the toxic ingredients that have a low safety threshold and do build up in tissue. They are not looking for those."

Kaufman, who has been the EPA's chief investigator on several contamination cases, including Love Canal and Times Beach, said: "They want to be able to tell the public the seafood is safe. But if you are going to test seafood to see if it’s safe or not, you want to test for the ingredients of Corexit that have a low safety threshold and do bio-accumulate in tissue."
(end direct quote from AJE)

And there you have it, dear reader, a direct quote from an experienced EPA specialist. The government is lying to you, coldly and deliberately, in order to cover up the results of their own incompetent failure to regulate BP. And note please, I am being generous in attributing this screw up to incompetence rather than blatant corruption.

Original story at AJE here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Morning After

My friend and colleague Kenstone has posted a rather hyper-critical morning after rant, of the sort we'll be seeing a great deal of in the hours and days to come. And so, with all due respect and affection for Kemstone, my reply is this -

Pfffft!

Spare us the morning-after guilt trip. If you want to flagellate yourself, go for it, but don't go splattering your mea culpa on me, please.

I did my part. I voted, and I voted with a conscience. In California, the Democrats did fairly well, even if Prop 19 didn't pass. Prop 23 was hammered out of existence; voters chose NO by a 2-1 margin, which is a major "fuck you" to the big oil interests that were backing Prop 23.

Furthermore, California voters chose to suspend the 2/3 requirement for passing a state budget, going back to a simple majority, while keeping the 2/3 requirement to raise taxes.

All in all, I did my part. My fellow Californians chose wisely, in the main. And I'm not accepting any attempts to smear me, or us, with anybody's guilt trip.

Non, je ne regrette rien.



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Out On A Limb

Finally, election day is here. Win, lose, or draw, the madness will be over for another 2 years, and I couldn't be happier about that. Faith, but I've had a bellyful of this partisan crap!

Your faithful correspondent went to the polls early this morning, and voted his conscience. Or, more accurately, a compromise therewith.

Dropping the kiplingesque 3rd-person crap, I voted Democrat (hence the compromise) for the higher offices such as Governor and US Senator. I voted Green for all the others that had a political party affiliation listed. Next, I voted carefully on the propositions, which were in truth the issues on which I had done the most careful research. And I voted No for all the judge positions, just to be contrary. After all, most judges are lawyers, and Shakespeare had the right idea about lawyers.

For the remainder of the bubbles, I left them blank or wrote in either Bozo the Clown or Saint Didacus, (the English name of San Diego de Alcala, for whom my beloved city is named).

Now for the out-on-a-limb part.

On no scientific basis whatsoever, based purely upon marsupial intuition, (and bearing firmly in mind that opossums are not exactly regarded as the geniuses of the animal kingdom), I offer the following predictions -

Our beloved Gov Moonbeam will win the governator's chair once again.

Barbara Boxer will be narrowly re-elected, mostly because Carly Fiorina is such an incredibly unappealing old hag, and Boxer herself is a slightly less unappealing old hag.

3rd-party candidates in general will do markedly better than in previous years, thus bolstering by some small increment the credibility of 3rd-party candidates in general.

Nation-wide, the Teapublicans will gain a small majority in the House of Representatives, and the Democrats will narrowly retain their majority in the Senate.

The race between Angle and Reid will be an interesting one to watch. If Sharon Angle actually wins that one, all bets are off, and anything could happen. Watch for major vote fraud in this race, and probably in the elections as a whole.

All of the above assumes, of course, that the elections are not completely rigged. After the events that took place in Florida in 2000, that's not exactly a given anymore.

In conclusion, dear readers, whatever you think, get out and vote today, if you haven't already done so. It is your duty as a citizen, and there's no getting around that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bomb Story Reeks

My first reaction when I heard of this, dear readers, was "bullshit".

The experts on the scene told us clearly that there are no explosives, and then the White House issues a full terror alert, and suddenly claims there are explosives after all. And all this three days before an election in which the President's party is expected to lose heavily. Oh yes, and the supposed bombs were targeted at two synagogues, we are told. How convenient for an administration that is having trouble holding onto the loyalty of the traditionally-Democratic Jewish vote.

As a wise man once said, "In politics, there are no coincidences".

This sounds too much like a desperate President calling a phony alert to try to look "Presidential". Perhaps it's me who is actually full of it; time will tell.

But for the moment, I call bullshit.

Latest story at Al Jazeera English here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Science Fiction Is Dying

I stumbled across this unusually good article at Open Salon. I say unusually good because Open Salon consists in large part of writing on intensely personal issues, issues about which my interest could be measured in micro-giveashits.

I'd suggest you go read the article linked above, then come back and continue here.

I still remember Star Trek well. I was in 1st grade, and the word "trek", meaning a long journey, was not in our vocabulary, so we called it "Star Track", but every episode was the main topic of conversation at first recess the next school day. But that was the 60's, and it was a different world. We lived far slower-paced lives, and the population of San Diego County was 1/10 of what it is today.

Sic Transit Gloria Fuckin' Mundi :)

Part of the problem is that Science Fiction, as a genre, is far better suited to the written word than the video medium. And Americans simply do not read nearly as much as they used to. In a very real sense, Science Fiction is dying. This is in large part because the publishing industry has become so dominated by huge corporations, like everything else in the modern world. And huge corporations are both highly averse to bold risks, and very poor at doing anything original. Yet both boldness and originality are precisely what would be required to save Science Fiction as we know it. What will undoubtedly survive, will be puerile crap like "LOST", which is little more than reality TV with a thin veneer of artificial science fiction flavoring.

The Science Fiction Channel was probably never a viable commercial idea, but they did some excellent work in their younger years. Their production of Children of Dune was truly magnificent, for such a low-budget film. And it was a delight to my Inner Horndog, with more devastatingly-attractive actresses per square meter than any other film I've ever seen in my life. Awoooooooooooooooo! (down, boy, down!).

But when they changed the name to the unbearably cutesy "Sy-Fy", I knew the idea was in serious trouble. Ah well, as I said, it was probably never a commercially viable idea in the first place.

Television is a lost cause anyhow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Toxic Aftermath Of Dispersants Used by BP

A new report by Al Jazeera English documents the ugly toxic aftermath of banned chemical dispersants used by BP in the Gulf Oil Spill.

BP admits to using 1.9 million gallons of the chemicals known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. According to data provided by chemist Bob Naman of the Analytical Chemical Testing Lab, in Mobile Alabama, these compounds are making people dangerously ill. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, bloody urine, and lung disease.

Our government, my friends, allowed BP to use huge quantities of these carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic chemicals in the so called cleanup process, in spite of clear warnings from Alaskan scientists and fishermen about the toxic after-effects of such chemicals when they were used in the Exxon Valdez disaster. Make no mistake, the sole purpose of these chemicals is to cover-up the magnitude of the disaster. They do nothing to make the situation any better, they simply hide the oil long enough for the oil company to declare the "clean up" completed, thus limiting their expenses.

Why did the Obama administration permit this, in the face of clear scientific evidence that it was going to make the ecological disaster far worse in the long run? Why? Because, like everyone in DC, they are totally divorced from reality, and insulated from consequences. The Obama administration was thinking only about "spin".

Now Americans are sick and dying. Now there is a huge dead zone in the Gulf, which was already teetering on the brink of ecological disaster. But the spin has been managed, Robert Gibbs and the other talking heads have glibly declared "problem solved", and the corporate-owned mainstream media have moved along to another news topic.

Thanks, Mr President. Truly, this is "change we can believe in". You lying bastard.

Original article in AJE here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is It Over Before It's Over?

I was considerably disturbed by this story.

It would appear that Obama is conceding ground to the Conservatives before the election has even taken place. It would appear that the GOP is making demands before the election has even taken place. Is it over before it's over?

Is this simply one more case of a President with no balls, and Republicans with no brains, or is there something deeper going on here?

Even without venturing onto the dangerous ground of conspiracy theories, I think I can confidently say that all of us have ample justification for a healthy ration of skepticism regarding the whole election process, especially after the events of 2000. "Hanging chad", my hairy ass.

But there is something very odd about Obama. Birth Certificate issues aside, the man has increasingly seemed to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, a Conservative in Progressive's clothing. One who definitely pulled the wool over our eyes.

Did we get totally conned? Was he nothing more than a cat's paw for the Reactionaries, from the very start, a la Manchurian Candidate?

These are strange days indeed, my friends, strange and scary days indeed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Israeli Rabbi says, "Non-Jews exist only to serve Jews"

As staggeringly difficult as it is to believe that any human being would, in these early years of the 21st Century, say such an incredibly bigoted thing, this story is true.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, said in his Saturday sermon that, "Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world, only to serve the People of Israel."

And this man is not simply some random rabbi on the street. Ovadia Yosef is the spiritual leader of Israel's Shas party, which is one of Benyamin Netanyahu's partners in the current Israeli coalition government.

Rabbi Yosef went on, "Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat."

(Effendi is a title of respect in many countries of the Middle East, though the word itself is originally from Turkish)

As if that wasn't insult enough for one day, Rabbi Yosef also added, "With gentiles, it will be like any person - they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant... That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew."

Donkey, eh?

And this, my friends, from a man whose party is prominent in the government of Israel. The Israel to which we send $6 Billion in aid every year above the table, and reportedly another $6 Billion in covert aid. Do you think perhaps we could find a better use for that money?

The time has come for the USA to take a long, hard look at its relationship with Israel. The time has come to declare AIPAC and it's mouthpiece at WINEP to be the foreign lobbying organizations that they truly are, as was done with AIPAC's predecessor.

The time has come for America to wake up, and stop letting its foreign policy be dictated by a tiny fraction of the population whose wealth and political power are all out of proportion to their numbers.

George Washington, in his retirement speech, had this to say -

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens, the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it.


As usual, old George knew what he was talking about.

Original story at Haaretz here

Monday, October 18, 2010

French Workers Up In Arms

I have always liked the French.

Our nation would never have been born without their assistance, and while we have not always seen eye-to-eye, current events in France fill my heart with admiration. The massive strikes and protests, the extent to which French workers have effectively shut down the petroleum industry in their country, the sheer fury and energy with which French workers have refused to accept their government's plans to make the working people pay for the sins of the rich, I love to see all this happening.

Oh, how I wish my own countrymen could display even half so much ferocity of spirit in defiance of government! And yet, for some reason, we passively accept even the worst abuses, even when inflicted upon us by the administration of a President who has broken every promise he ever made.

Once, long ago, a President by the name of Jimmy Carter offered the opinion that America was suffering from a "lingering malaise" of the spirit. This was in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and I have to wonder if the long years of the war in Afghanistan has not had the same effect upon our hearts. Keep in mind, that the overt involvement of the USA in Vietnam only lasted six years, from 1966 to 1972. The War in Afghanistan is in its eleventh year, almost twice as long, with no end in sight.

And yet, where are the demonstrations against the war? There are none to be seen. Partly this may be the effect of our smaller commitment, (remember, we had over a half-million troops on the ground in Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam war), and far lower casualty totals. But I have to wonder if a big part of the difference is not in our hearts.

We have become a weary and cynical people in many ways. We have become demoralized to a frightening extent. And I have no idea what is to be done about it.

Story at Al Jazeera English here
Video at UK Telegraph here

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Enough To Make You Cry

Republicans are vile and loathsome creatures, even evaluated by the relatively loose and sloppy standards that are all one can reasonably apply to any politician. And yet, even among this morally bankrupt cabal of evil corruption, there are certain individuals whose egregiously insidious behaviour sets them above the common ruck of bribe-taking, boy-buggering minions-of-Satan (i.e. Republicans).

Newt Gengrich was one such individual. Dick Cheney has certainly raised the bar for loathsome behavior. And completing this trifecta of perdition is...none other than Karl Rove.

Which is why this article was enough to make me cry. Apparently, Karl Rove's Republican fund-raising group received an extra $13.3 million dollars in donations....as a result of criticism by Barak Obama.

Nietsche was right; there is no God.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oh, That Pesky Nobel Prize!

As most of you will have noticed by now, the Chinese power establishment is furiously angry over the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiao Bo.

Alice Poon, a respected author and commentator in Hong Kong, has posted in her blog a translation of a letter from a Hong Kong professor to his mainland students. "Mainland", in this context, refers to mainland China, which is very different from Hong Kong in some very important ways. The HK Chinese, after 100 years of British rule, are left with some very stubborn western-style ideas about things like democracy and freedom of expression, ideas which the Chinese Communist Party does not view with any significant degree of favor.

Alice Poon's blog entry is here. This is a rare inside look at what is still, for the most part, a closed society.

And I think, dear friends, that I am simply going to let you read it for yourselves, without any further commentary from your favorite gwai loh.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama Sides With Bankers - Will Not Ban Foreclosures

In another display of just what a shameless corporate lackey he truly is, President Obama has refused to institute a temporary moratorium on foreclosures.

After one million foreclosures last year, the USA is currently on track for 1.2 million foreclosures in 2010. Recently, it came to light that tens of thousands of these foreclosures are not legitimate. Even some banks have instituted a voluntary and temporary moratorium on their own foreclosures.

But our beloved President, the man who promised us "Change You Can Believe In", has refused to do anything about a temporary moratorium while the confusion over legitimacy is investigated.

Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd said last week, "American families should not have to worry about losing their homes to sloppy bureaucratic mismanagement or fraud". This seems like a reasonable statement. But Obama remains unconvinced, offering instead a weak and whining excuse that "there are a number of unintended consequences".

Think about this, my friends. Our President has decided that it is better to have American families fraudulently evicted from their homes, than to have investors temporarily unable to recoup their investment.

Excuse me, but, the last time I checked, the concept of "investment" carried with it the idea of risk. You risk your capital in hopes of earning a profit. The greater the risk, the greater the expected return, if the investment goes well. A mortgage is not like that.

I am hard pressed to say which is more appalling in this action, (or rather refusal to act), by the administration. On the one hand we have the utter craven cowardice of the President's decision. And on the other hand we have the shamelessly brazen pandering to bankers and other corporate interests.

Story at BBC News here

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Divisive Nature of Election Season Discourse

It is an unfortunate truth of the season that Progressives are not of one mind at the moment.

The root of the problem lies with the party loyalists. They strive desperately to justify the actions of the Democrats. They quickly breeze past all the broken promises by Obama. They trumpet the empty accomplishment of the so-called "Health-Care Reform" and "Financial Reform" bills as though they actually reformed something. They refuse to even respond to comments and questions about the uglier issues like death squads, the Patriot Act, Guantonomo, signing statements, and the death of Habeas Corpus.

They say things like "Well, it took Bush 8 years to break things, you don't think the Democrats can fix everything in 2 years, do you?". Of course, this ignores that the Democrats haven't fixed anything in 2 years, or even made more than a half-hard pretense of trying. Mostly because they were too damn busy selling us out to the corporations and pandering to the rich.

And when all else fails, the Party Loyalists trot out that tired old false sympathy ploy. "Possum, I'm not any happier with the Democrats than you are, but golly jeepers, we can't let those nasty old Republicans get back in office!!!!!!111111oneoneone"

I know the Republicans. I was once a Republican myself, back in the dawn of time, though all gods great and small bear witness, I am not proud of the fact.

Though voting for the lesser of two evils is often necessary, I loathe being forced into that position, as my mother loathed it when I was a small boy. This is not a new situation for American voters.

The truth of the matter is, dear friends, that the two-party system is broken, hopelessly and completely broken. And yet the shambling zombie corpse of the system staggers on, driven by precisely the sort of thinking that these Democratic Party Loyalists so blindly adhere to. They are obsessed with the idea that there only two choices.

It's called boolean logic, (though there are other meanings to that phrase). The concept is that there are only two states possible; on or off, zero or one, yes or no, true or false, Democrat or Republican.

"Third party?!?", they shriek in tones of horror, as though you'd just confessed to an unhealthy carnal passion for sheep, "but that's just throwing your vote away!"

And this is if they're being generous. More often you get the line that "a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for the Republicans!", an accusation almost as insulting as it is unjustified.

Perhaps worst of all is the religious zealotry with which these party loyalists attack any Progressive who dares to question the logic of the party line. Logic be damned! Facts be damned! Qualms of conscience and moral considerations be damned! Heil Demokraten! Barak Obama ist Der Sieg! Those who doubt are heretics and must be punished! You're either with us, or you're against us!

Frankly, at least in style, these Democratic Party Loyalists start sounding very much like Republicans.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

China, Japan, and Precedent

For the first time since last month's fishing boat incident in the Japanese Senkaku islands, the Prime Ministers of China and Japan have held a face-to-face meeting. Apparently there was agreement of restoring relations, but little else.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was quoted in Chinese state media as stressing that the islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu, "have been Chinese since ancient times", a claim which neatly ignores reality for the past 100+ years.

Japan's Naoto Kan commented that "It is important to mutually respect shared rules of the international community, including those of transactions of raw materials and trade in order to deepen the mutually interdependent relations between Asia and Europe and to achieve mutual growth. It is imperative for related countries and regions to take responsible actions to strengthen trust and to establish a foundation for peace and stability."

While I could always be mistaken, I think that's a very polite Japanese way of saying, "Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on."

China's aggressive belligerence in the Senkaku Islands of the East China Sea is part of the same strategy demonstrated in the Spratly and Paracel Islands of the South China Sea. Chinese claims in both areas rest entirely upon largely-imaginary "have been Chinese since ancient times" arguments. Chinese claims in both areas are really about extensive gas and oil deposits on the nearby sea floor, not a few marginally-habitable islands. Fishing rights are a consideration, but a secondary one.

Now, on to the business of precedent. In law, international law or any other kind, precedent is worshiped like a tiny god.

It is worth noting that the Chinese claims of "Chinese since ancient times" which are heard in the China Sea disputes, are very similar to the "God gave it to us 3000 years ago" claims which are Israel's only real claim to Occupied Palestine. If one of those claims is agreed to by the international community, this will greatly strengthen the other claim, because it will establish precedent.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Israeli Settlers Burn Another Mosque

For the fourth time this year, Israeli settlers have vandalized and burned a mosque in the Occupied West Bank.

The mosque, in the Palestinian town of Beit Fajjar, was apparently vandalized and set ablaze around 0300 Monday morning. This small Palestinian town, near Bethlehem, is adjacent to a huge illegal Israeli settlement. Graffitti in Hebrew was sprayed upon the walls of the mosque, several copies of the Koran were singled out to be burned or partially burned, and photographs show large smoking pits in the floor, obviously from the use of incendiaries.

The Israeli Army has promised to investigate, saying ""We see this incident in a very severe manner. We will do the utmost to find these lawbreakers and bring them to court".

While this sounds impressive, the other three mosque burnings this year have followed a similar pattern, and produced similar statements from Army and Police. But not one suspect has ever been arrested.

A report by Amnesty International says that "impunity remains the norm" for settlers accused of attacks on Palestinians.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Siege of Jerusalem

Today, October 2nd, marks the anniversary of the end of the siege of Jerusalem in 1187 AD.

On this day, Balian of Ibelin handed over the keys of the Tower of David to a Kurdish general named Salah ad-din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, (but known to most of us as Saladin). This marked the formal surrender of the city, which the Crusaders had themselves taken by siege 80 years before, a siege that ended in bloody sack and pillage.

In that year of 1187, Jerusalem had been doomed since July, when the Crusaders suffered catastrophic defeat at the Horns of Hattin, mostly through grossly inept leadership. Over the next sixty days, Saladin snapped up a handful of smaller cities in the region, including Acre, Beirut, Jaffa, and Sidon. Only Tyre seemed securely in the hands of the Christians.

Balian of Ibelin, the last Christian noble of any reputation left alive and free, asked Saladin for free passage from Tyre to Jerusalem and back, in order to retrieve his wife. Saladin agreed, on condition that Balian not make war against him, and that he remain in Jerusalem only for one day. Balian agreed to these terms, and then when he arrived in Jerusalem broke his word and took charge of the defense of the city.

In two weeks of siege, Saladin breached the walls of the city, somewhere near the Mount of Olives, and placed his flag upon the walls of the city. Not wishing to visit further destruction upon the city, Saladin then opened negotiations with the Crusaders for terms of surrender. After some negotiation, during which Saladin reportedly lowered his demands three times, an agreement was struck and the keys of the Tower of David were handed over, on this day, October 2nd.

This, in turn, would lead to the preaching of the Third Crusade, in an attempt to recover Jerusalem for the Christians, but that is another story for another day. This is, after all, the 21st century and not the 12th.

So, what is the point, other than confirming that Possum is a history geek?

Jerusalem is a very, very old city. The site has been inhabited at least since 4000 BC. In 1800 BC, the Canaanites built the first wall, and called the city Jebus. It was not until around 1000 BC, three millennia after people started living there, that the Hebrews under their King David conquered the city and renamed it Jerusalem. And that was three millennia ago.

Jerusalem has been besieged and fought over again and again. Jerusalem has been sacked again and again. Jerusalem has seen riots and slaughters and bloodshed unimaginable in the modern context.

Viewed against the backdrop of that history, today's struggle between Israelis and Palestinians seems almost inevitable. The idea of "peace negotiations" seems almost laughably ridiculous. The idea of a "One State Solution" seems like a ludicrously naive pipe dream.

Make no mistake, dear reader, my sympathy for the cause of Palestinian statehood remains firm. But my hopes of realistically seeing a peaceful solution to the situation are in pieces on the ground. If anything, the prospects for war in the Middle East seem greater now than they have been at any time in the last 35 years.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Revolutionaries Grow Old

Two hours ago, Al Jazeera English posted a story announcing that Germany has begun the prosecution of a former member of Red Army Faction, what was once called the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Verena Becker is charged with the 1977 murder of Siegfried Buback, a West German prosecutor. Buback was killed along with two others, (his chauffeur and bodyguard). Their car stopped at a traffic light, two people on a motorcycle pulled up, and the passenger on the bike fired at their car, killing all three.

Previous testimony has alleged that the shooter on the back of the motorcycle that day was Stefan Wisniewski. But several witnesses described the shooter as "a petite woman".

If you read the entry on Verena Becker at Wikipedia, it's clear the woman was fairly hard-core, and certainly not just a wannabe revolutionary. She was shot and captured after a gun-battle with police in May of 1977. Having served 12 years from 1977 to 1989, she was then pardoned by the President of Germany, and has been living quietly for the 21 years since.

The new prosecution is the result of DNA, allegedly that of Verena Becker, found by a new analysis of old evidence.

The thing that sets Baader-Meinhof, and indeed many of the radicals of the 70's, apart from what we think of as terrorists today, is the matter of their targets. They did not simply murder random innocents, they attacked specific targets - the military, the politicians, the rich industrialists, the government prosecutors.

I am old enough to remember this era. In May of 1977, when Becker was captured after a shoot-out with the police in Southern Germany, I was living and working in London, England. She is only 7 or 8 years older than I am.

It is impossible to capture with words any valid description of the 70's. What we think we know today about that decade is simply a caricature, a collection of cliches and vignettes that we think of as representing the 1970's. They do not.

But what was she thinking? Assuming for the sake of argument that Verena Becker was the shooter on the back of the motorcycle that day, what was going through her head? When you look at her picture in that AJE story, she looks so ordinary, the sort of an older woman you'd pass in the frozen foods aisle at the grocery store, and never give a second glance.

I have shot a fair number of animals, and I have been shot at by humans a few times, but I have never actually pointed a weapon at a member of my own species. I understand the hunter's mindset; was it like that?

Assuming Becker was the shooter, this wasn't her first operation. She wasn't going to be suffering from buck fever.

But what was she thinking?

Pakistan Closes Supply Route to NATO Convoys

Over the past weekend, NATO helicopter gunships raided across the border into Pakistan, killing 3 Pakistani soldiers and unknown numbers of civilians.

NATO justification for this raid is vague and contradictory. On the one hand, NATO has claimed the doctrine of "hot pursuit". On the other hand, they have said the alleged fighters who were the alleged target of the raid were "preparing" to attack NATO units. As usual, government spokesmen seem untroubled by the internal contradictions of that explanation.

In apparent retaliation for this raid, Pakistan has closed a crucial supply route into Afghanistan. AJE is reporting that the Khyber Pass has been closed completely, with all NATO convoys turned back. The Khyber pass, famous or infamous to those who know the history of the region, is the main supply route through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Far more ominous are the words of Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik in regard to the helicopter raid. Speaking of Pakistan's relationship with the USA, Malik said, "We shall have to see whether we are friends or we are enemies."

It is at moments like these, dear reader, that I question most severely the motives and even the sanity of those who lead our nation. Either they are raving insane, or they are completely out of touch with reality, or they are pursuing an entirely different agenda then the rest of us. A fourth possibility, and perhaps the most disturbing of all, is that our national leaders are just criminally incompetent.

Given Joe Biden's recent admonition that we should just "stop whining", I think I'd put my money on completely out of touch with reality. Though criminally incompetent remains a strong contender.

Story at Al Jazeera English
Story at the UK Telegraph

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Angry Possum Day

My apologies, dear reader. Your faithful correspondent is too consumed with marsupial ire, too far in the grip of beady-eyed passion, to write coherently today.

As poor and partial compensation for depriving you of my usual pungently half-witted observations, allow me to offer you this potpourri of bits and pieces from around the Intarwebz.


Two assholes in suits and three fascists in uniform. From left to right, Neville Chamberlain, Daladier, Santa Claus, Mussolini, and Ciano

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Munich Pact, by which Britain, France, and Italy gave to Germany a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. Incredibly enough, Czechoslovakia was not represented at the conference. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

If I were thrashing around desperately, looking for a modern equivalent, I might be tempted to cite the manner in which US generals, politicians, and analysts openly discuss the fate of Afghanistan, arguing for the partition of the country, or even the removal of quasi-elected President Hamid Karzai.


Recently, our beloved Vice-President Joe Biden told his Democratic party core to "stop whining". This is such a charming comment that I find myself utterly at a lack for a coherent response. Fortunately, there are others far more articulate on such subjects. I do love Donalee King, aka Paladinette. While I cannot claim to love either Cenk Uygur or Dylan Ratigan, I did find this video rather amusing.




Former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde is to face charges of Negligence for failing to prevent the meltdown of Iceland's economy. My, what a thoroughly wonderful idea! Why can't we get some of that here in the USA? There are some questions about the 2008 financial meltdown that urgently need to be answered. For example, Timothy Geithner's role as then-Chairman of the New York Federal Reserve involved any number of shady and quite illegal back-room deals. Not to mention, of course, the star criminals would be Bush and Cheney.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jewish Aid Ship Seized by Israel

In a move that reveals once again its shameless fascist nature, the government of Israel has seized a Gaza-bound aid ship, and arrested its all-Jewish crew.

The Israeli navy intercepted the Irene just a few miles off the Gaza coast, where it was boarded by commandos, and the crew led away to captivity. The organization Independent Jewish Voices is now demanding the release of the crew, according to Rich Cooper, an organizer with that group.

Yesterday Glyn Secker, the captain of the Irene, told a reporter from Al Jazeera English, "In the tradition of the civil rights movement...we assert our right to continue to Gaza under international law". Other groups represented aboard the Irene included the German Jewish Voice, and the UK-based Jews For Justice For Palestinians.

Words, dear reader, cannot possibly express my disappointment with Israel.

Full story at Al Jazeera English
Full story at the UK Telegraph

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jewish Aid Ship Nears Gaza

Sometime early Tuesday morning, an aid ship carrying eight Jewish activists from Israel, Europe, and the USA is set to challenge Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza.

Those of you who read this column on any regular basis know full well that I am often harshly critical of Israel. For that reason, I was genuinely touched to read this story. Bless them all, these eight incredibly brave people are placing themselves willingly in harm's way, knowing what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara, in order to make a statement against the blockade of Gaza.

Actions like this one are of immense value in proving to the world that no matter how abusive Israel's policies may become, anti-Semitism is never justified. To be anti-Zionist is a political opinion. To be anti-Semitic is racism.

Bless every one of these eight brave Jews, and bless every Israeli who has the courage to speak out against the apartheid state which has come to replace the vision of Israel's founders. Bless them all, bless them with great blessings.

Full story at Al Jazeera here

Japan-China Controversy Continues

As a follow-on to previous stories, (see here and here), Japan last week released the skipper of the Chinese fishing boat which had been detained in the Senkaku Islands. This release of the boat's captain was seen as partly in response to the Chinese arrest of several Japanese citizens.

The Chinese are not satisfied. They have demanded that Japan apologize, and pay compensation. Japan has responded by refusing to apologize, saying that there was nothing to apologize for in having detained the boat, which was in Japanese waters illegally.

Now Japan has demanded that China pay reparations for the damage inflicted upon the Japanese Coast Guard vessels when the Chinese fishing boat rammed them.

Full story at Al Jazeera here
Story at the UK Telegraph here

Sunday, September 26, 2010

US Citizen's Nightmare In Yemen

A US citizen living in Yemen, by the name of Sharif Mobley, was sitting at a sidewalk cafe one day, sipping tea. Eight masked men with guns popped out of nearby vans and attempted to abduct him. Understandably terrified, Mobley ran away. The men shot him in the legs, then seized him and bundled him into a van.

So far you're not surprised, right? The problem is that the men who attacked Mobley were apparently Yemeni government security agents, acting at the behest of the USA.

Mobley's problems all started when he decided that Yemen was getting too dangerous, and he wanted to go home to the USA. Reasonably enough, he and his wife went to the US embassy, and asked about paperwork. At the embassy, however, they were subjected to a lengthy interrogation about what they'd been doing in Yemen. Well, OK, this is not entirely unreasonable. Unpleasant and unfortunate, yes; totally unreasonable, no.

But then Mobley was shot, and seized off the street. While in hospital, he was allegedly interrogated by agents of the US government, and then beaten by his Yemeni guards when he refused to answer the Americans' questions.

The next night, his house was raided by armed men. When his wife went to the US Embassy the next day, frantic with worry about her missing husband, she saw the leader of the men who'd raided her house the night before, walking through the Embassy with a security pass around his neck.

Now, we have no evidence that Mobley is guilty of anything, yet most of us would agree that the circumstances are a bit suspicious. But even if Mobley is guilty as original sin, this sort of treatment of a US citizen is grossly unacceptable.

Full story at Al Jazeera English

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Japan-China Dispute Continues to Escalate

The dispute between Japan and China over the ownership of the Senkaku islands continues to escalate.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao earlier today threatened Japan with "further action" if the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that rammed Japanese coast guard vessels last week is not released. Given that China has already canceled all high-level contacts with Japan, and broken off all on-going talks, the phrase "further action" could take on ominous overtones.

The real dispute over the islands has little to do with fishing rights, and a great deal to do with the vast gas and oil deposits which are believed to lie beneath the seabed in the area around the islands. It is becoming clear that China, repeating a pattern of behavior seen in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, sent the fishing boat into Japanese waters specifically to provoke a confrontation, which it is now seeking to exploit. This theory of deliberate provocation is bolstered by the convenient proximity to the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident, which China still makes much of, even 80 years later. There too, much of the "public outrage" in China over this recent incident has a definite flavor of being orchestrated.

The Japanese, however, have their own agenda. In the first place, Japan desperately needs an oil source of its own. Japan requires a half-dozen supertankers full of crude oil per day in order to keep its economy running, oil that it has historically obtained through the Persian Gulf. But with Persian Gulf oil sources, and indeed all Middle East oil sources, fast becoming of ever more uncertain reliability, Japan very much needs a long-term solution.

In the second place, a confrontation with the Chinese now could serve as a casus belli for Japan to amend its post-war constitution and openly re-arm, especially given that any such re-armament would inevitably infuriate the Chinese in any case.

See earlier entry on this incident here
Al Jazeera story on the latest developments here
UK Telegraph story here, but with an odd perspective.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Of Fascists Then, and Fascists Now


Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Karl Wolff, and an unidentified assistant at the Obersalzberg, May 1939
This piece originally started out as a reply to a post in the beta-test forums of a game company called Slitherine Strategies . We, meaning the various beta-testers, were discussing background issues of the Second World War. Somehow the talk turned to music, and what it evoked. Lili Marleen was mentioned. A member named jerseyjohn said he'd recently been listening to...

(quoted from jerseyjohn)

...Schubert's Quintet in C, D.956. At the moment the second movement, Adagio.

For those who have seen the movie, Conspiracy, this is the piece Reinhard Heydrich sees at Wansee after concluding the conference. This blood dripped violin playing murderer (son of a composer / music teacher who wrote an opera) sighs and says, "The adagio will tear your heart out."


After he leaves, his sidekick Adolf Eichmann puts that movement on the record player, looks at one of his assistants, and asks, "Well, does it tear your heart out?"

The man smiles and says, "Oh, yes, sir. Very beautiful."

Eichmann shakes his head. "I've never understood what anyone sees in Schubert's romantic Viennese shit!"

(quote ends here)





Being an amoral murderer does not require one to be entirely devoid of aesthetic appreciation of beauty. The danger of demonising the fascists is this - if we conceive of them as inhuman monsters, we make ourselves more vulnerable to the comforting lies that, "that can never happen again" or, worse yet, "that could never happen here in (insert name of your own country)".

They were not inhuman monsters. Some were men, in the beginning no different from you and I, who somewhere went badly wrong in their assessment of relative moral values. Some were willing dupes, some were truly psychopaths. But if you don't think good and decent people can be taken in, you need to take a long hard look at the life of Leni Riefenstahl. Whether you take the sympathetic view espoused by Das Blaue Licht, or the hard, unforgiving stance evident in Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism", Leni Riefenstahl remains a textbook example.


Understand this clearly - in their own minds, in their own story as they saw it, those people were heroes, doing the hard, dirty, nasty work needed to safeguard the future of their own people. And if you miss this point, you will be less prepared to resist the resurgence of fascism when it rises again. And rise again it will.



This is not only an issue of historical interest. We know that President Bush had alleged terrorists interrogated under torture. We have every reason to believe that this is still occurring under the Obama administration, given that he has continued the policy of "extraordinary rendition", which is a cute way of saying that the torturing is done for us in various third-party nations.

How do we look at this? Well, we could say...

A) Torture is always morally wrong, and never justified. Period, full stop.

or we could say...

B) Terrorists are outside the law, not entitled to protection under the laws of war, thus such interrogation-by-torture is justified. Proponents of this policy are fond of claiming that such interrogations may well prevent further killings by terrorists, thus (allegedly) justifying the torture in the name of saving the (theoretical) victims.

The two arguments are mutually exclusive. One may credibly endorse either, but not both.

The problem with argument (B) lies in the definition of a terrorist. Obviously, if one is going to justify torture, one will be vitally concerned to carefully classify the persons upon whom such outrages may be legitimately practiced. Very well then, for the sake of argument, terrorists only.

So, who is a terrorist?

On July 22, 1946 Irgun, (in cooperation with Haganah, Histadrut, and other organisations), bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was then the base of the British Secratariat in Palestine. The conventional story was that "about 200" british officers were killed. Today, Wikipedia says only 91 people died. The exact numbers are irrelevant.

Clearly this was a terrorist act, at least in the view of the British. Keep carefully in mind that the state of modern Israel did not exist at that time; it was still the "British mandate in Palestine", and would be for two more years. The sticky part is that the attack was ordered by Menachem Begin, (this is accepted fact, not accusation or conjecture), and David ben Gurion was also involved.

If we accept that this was a terrorist act, (and we'd look like major hypocrites denying it), then at that time Menachem Begin was a terrorist.


Menachem Begin in 1940 and in 1978. Top photo is an NKVD mugshot; the arrest was political, not criminal. Bottom is a speech at Andrews AFB, Maryland.

Now, in 1948 the modern state of Israel came into being. David ben Gurion was the first prime minister (henceforth PM) of Israel, and also the third. Menachem Begin was PM twice, starting in 1977. Menachem Begin negotiated the Camp David accords with Anwar Sadat, withdrawing the IDF from the Sinai, and laying an important foundation of peace with Egypt.

So was he still a terrorist then? What about ben Gurion?

If they were not terrorists then, precisely when did they stop being terrorists, and for what reason?

Did Begin and ben Gurion stop being terrorists when the modern state of Israel came into being? This is certainly a temptingly convenient dividing line. I can't think of another point in time one could convincingly rationalise.

But if so, let's think a bit further. Are we saying that if terrorism is successful, if it results in the formation of a new nation-state, then all is retroactively forgiven, and what were once despicable acts of murder are then transformed into patriotic acts of war? Yes, this is what actually happens in the real world in which we actually live. The process is going on before our eyes right now in Northern Ireland, but do we really want to endorse this? Do we wish to claim this as an essential part of our moral justification?

Because, you see, this encourages terrorism. Think about it. It says, "Hey, if you can pull it off, you win!".