Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron

As you may already know, Gil Scott-Heron passed away yesterday. The virtually obligatory video link for bloggers is of course "The revolution will not be televised". Listening to it today it seems by turns both relevant and quaint. Maybe it's the implicit assumption that black Americans can't or wont be co-opted. But it still has power.

Scott-Heron composed and released it at a comparatively young age, and I can't help but wonder if he was ever frustrated that the casual music fan only knew him for "revolution", if they even did. I also wonder if he saw the parallels between Nixon's suppression of dissent and Obama's.

The BBC notes that the album he released last year was his first in 16 years; its existence may be bittersweet to many. Possibly this was in part due to various record companies deciding he was no longer commercially viable, in addition to his health difficulties. Maybe sales of his last album from 2010 will enjoy at least a brief uptick. The revolution will be monetized.

16 years. That doesn't necessarily mean his artistic production lay fallow all that time-- for one thing he kept performing, and the concept that a musician or composer has to put out an album to be deemed to be "creating" is a relatively new one, borne of technology, while people have been making music in some fashion or another for thousands of years, without recording it in the modern sense.

A postscript: No, he was not a stand up comic, but I found this brief riff(below) interesting.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Patriotism

Fred Reed's latest just has to be read:


Saturday, May 14, 2011

The slow(er) boat to hell

[video, above] Tenebroust, The "left" sets up the "right" for takeover, Feb 15, 2010 (1st posted at DH here, "Fascism USA...")

Ian Welsh: "A blast from the past and a reminder about the future", April 24, 2011

Obama is not turning things around, what he is doing is negotiating with Republicans how fast the decline will be, and how much and how fast it is necessary to fuck ordinary Americans in order to keep the rich rich. If Obama wins another term, he will continue to negotiate the decline, then, odds are very high, a Republican will get in, and slam his foot on the accelerator of collapse.

Chris Hedges, "The corporate state wins again", April 25, 2011

The rhetoric of the Democratic Party and the neoliberals sustains the illusion of participatory democracy. The Democrats and their liberal apologists offer minor palliatives and a feel-your-pain language to mask the cruelty and goals of the corporate state. The reconfiguration of American society into a form of neofeudalism will be cemented into place whether it is delivered by Democrats, who are pushing us there at 60 miles an hour, or Republicans, who are barreling toward it at 100 miles an hour.

Xymphora: "Hell or heaven", April 29, 2011

I'm getting sick and tired of these elections fought by the left on the basis of promising to take you on the road to hell, but a little slower than the other guys. This is killing the Liberals in the current campaign, as they have nothing positive to offer but that they are not the utter hopelessness of Harper.

First of all, no, I am not saying that Hedges and Xymphora are just filching from Ian Welsh, nor am I saying that Ian is filching from Tenebroust. (It's highly unlikely the other three have even heard of Tenebroust, who is not, er, conventionally articulate. (although I suspect he could be if he wanted to be, but just doesn't feel like it.))The same idea can spring up roughly simultaneously in many places.(incidentally, I gather that Tenebroust and Welsh are both cautiously pro-nuclear power, while Hedges and Xymphora are both steadfastly anti-nuke.)

At any rate, to me it seems that one of the reasons an idea spontaneously springs forth in divers minds may be because it is increasingly valid. (I was tempted to say 'increasingly resonant' but I'm getting tired about hearing about how ideas and spin 'resonate', and didn't want to contribute to the din.)

If you can recall other instances of having seen this line of argument please email me, or better yet tell me in the comments.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

"the right to be forgotten"

BBC: Wikipedia boss Jimmy Wales criticises injunctions

The online encyclopaedia has fallen foul of UK privacy law in recent weeks, with details about those using super-injunctions appearing on the site.
Mr Wales said his personal view was that privacy laws were "grave injustices and human rights violations". "They should be done away with as quickly as possible. There should be no law constraining people from publishing legally obtained, factual information," he said. Exceptions to this would be information that was life-threatening, such as troop movements.
"But we aren't talking about that. This is embarrassing facts about politicians and celebrities".

I didn't know they were called "super-injunctions" in the UK. Actually, I was meaning to write about this topic a few weeks ago when I saw a dubiously titled Yahoo News/AP item [also here] about "the right to be forgotten" which smelled to me like one of those news items that is spun to make it seem like it was about the rights of 'the little guy' when in fact it was advocacy, via an ostensibly non-editorial, straight news story, regarding the rights of the wealthy and elites generally, and the presumptive rights of the encroaching security state, here and elsewhere.

Internet 'Right to be Forgotten' debate hits Spain:

MADRID – Their ranks include a plastic surgeon, a prison guard and a high school principal. All are Spanish, but have little else in common except this: They want old Internet references about them that pop up in Google searches wiped away. In a case that Google Inc. and privacy experts call a first of its kind, Spain's Data Protection Agency has ordered the search engine giant to remove links to material on about 90 people. The information was published years or even decades ago but is available to anyone via simple searches.

Scores of Spaniards lay claim to a "Right to be Forgotten" because public information once hard to get is now so easy to find on the Internet. Google has decided to challenge the orders and has appealed five cases so far this year to the National Court. Some of the information is embarrassing, some seems downright banal. A few cases involve lawsuits that found life online through news reports, but whose dismissals were ignored by media and never appeared on the Internet. Others concern administrative decisions published in official regional gazettes. In all cases, the plaintiffs petitioned the agency individually to get information about them taken down.

Why, for example, should a surgeon get the law to help him hide the fact that he was sued 18 years before? If one must regulate searches for court decisions, wouldn't a statement that automatically pops up reminding us that they may be subject to appeal be sufficient?

Some people get this and some people don't. Perhaps ironically, traditional, non-whackjob conservatism was supposed to be against this sort of thing. You know, before Freidman and "the Chicago Boys", before Thatcher and Reagan, etc. But that was then, and the expansion of the security state is very much an establishment, bipartisan project most places nowadays.

I remember a few years ago when "COPS" was really popular, before the digital 'blurring" technology was widely available, thinking they wouldn't dare do any of that crap with a camera crew if it was somebody in a nice neighborhood, but they take it for granted that they wont get into trouble with videotaping poor people. This is especially true as their privacy is being violated concurrently with their brush with the law, which for a poor person generally means a major economic hit, because while bail and attorney's fees of a few hundred or a few thousand may be a manageable irritant if you live in a tony suburb, but financially devastating if you're scraping by at eight or nine bucks an hour, and may take years to recover from.

In the early 90s I also saw an article about how threatened and intimidated one semi-anonymous participant felt, feeling she had to co-operate with the COPS people or she would face more grief from the actual cops, especially because of how chummy they seemed. I learned from the article* that they did in fact have the subjects sign waivers, but the narrative painted a picture of very difficult circumstances that suggested the very situation was inevitably coercive. Nowadays of course they blur their faces with digital editing, although there are questions that arise from that too. For example, the blurring of images will make it easy for people to think something is not being hidden from us when it is, and people will be more complacent about it. The edit is quicker than the eye.

More recently I remember hearing of a motorcyclist making the news with his helmet cam video [see video above; the link also includes a longer version of the video] which recorded a plainclothes Maryland state trooper stopping him and pulling a gun on him. He posted it on Youtube and shortly afterward the cops came with a warrant for his computers and camera, per a Md. state law against audibly recording someone without their consent. (It's a felony.)

I'm guessing the Maryland law has been on the books for a while and was originally intended to target surreptitious telephone recording, but clearly it was being utilized in Anthony Graber's case to quash his attempt to embarrass the state troopers. Graber was speeding and riding recklessly, no question, but the idea that it should be so easy for the authorities to be able to confiscate such recordings should sit uneasily with anybody who cares about the law protecting against unlawful police behavior and such.

I don't know what the answer is, and clearly the technologies are developing pretty rapidly. Maybe, for example, shows like "COPS" are a necessary evil in an open society, even as seem to exist to demonize and dehumanize poor people in the eyes of the viewers. I also wonder if the writing is on the wall, and the US may find itself becoming more like Spain and the UK in the future. Whatever happens, it pays to be skeptical when you see an article or program about privacy rights, and the courts and media purporting to be "looking out for the little guy."

more from the BBC article:
Experts warned that the lawyers of celebrities could turn the tables, pressing for ISPs and firms such as Twitter to hand over the details of who is publishing comments on the site.
To do so they would need to obtain what is known as a Norwich Pharmacal order from a judge, the same process used by rights holders to force ISPs to hand over details about alleged illegal file-sharers. "Celebrities could apply for Norwich Pharmacal orders against ISPs, Twitter or other parties holding data that may lead to the identification of a defendant," said solicitor Michael Forrester of law firm Ralli. "The position is much more difficult when dealing with companies based in the US, such as Twitter and Google.

see also Farhad Manjoo, Slate
"Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four: How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future"
Jul 20, 2009

BBC: Facebook smeared Google on privacy

Nikhil Pahwa,,
"India’s CyberCafe Rules Finalized; Foundation For Harassment"

Manan Kakkar, ZDNet,"India's new Internet laws go against fundamental right to freedom of speech"

*I don't remember the title; the article appeared in either Harper's or The Atlantic, I think this was in the latter part of 1993.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism

RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism, via Zunguzungu, "Some Talking Points That Will Be Useful For the Coming Class War"

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Our happy slave future

Keiser Report: Bin Laden Bounce (E144)

This week Max Keiser and co-host, Stacy Herbert, report on talking up Greek debt fears, the short-lived Bin Laden bounce and buying gold if your government is trying to kill you. In the second half of the show, Max talks to Dr. Kiriakos Tobras about his lawsuit against investment banks and derivatives dealers for their crimes against Greece.

our happy slave future, pt 1:, "You're Richer Than You May Realize" (also here)
by Andrea Coombes
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Count your 'human capital' as an asset; watch your net worth skyrocket

You may be a lot wealthier than you think. Most people look at their 401(k) or other retirement plan, add in the value of other assets — their home, other investments, savings, etc. — then subtract their debt to get their net worth. After the housing-market bust and the bear-market rout of recent years, that number may look painfully small.

Human capital "is anything that's going to generate a cash flow that isn't your investments," says Moshe Milevsky, a professor of finance at York University in Toronto. "It's your ability to work, your ability to get a bonus, to get overtime. It's a gold mine and an oil well, but you're producing the gold and the oil," he says.

Doesn't that sound cheery? Don't forget to count your 'human capital' sounds like an argument made on behalf of the ownership class, telling us to keep working hard, and not complain about never being able to retire. Next I suppose I may need to sell a kidney to pay the light bill. Hey, it's an asset!

our happy slave future, pt 2:
Camp: Tax Plan Aims for 25% Cap

Republican Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee:"America needs a tax code that promotes, not prevents, job creation," he said. "Today's code is simply too complex, too costly and too burdensome for families and employers of all sizes to comply with.…We need to set ambitious goals and work toward those, because if we don't try that will be the biggest failure of all."

Mr. Camp's tax overhaul isn't designed to specifically cut the U.S. budget deficit. Overall tax revenues would remain at recent average levels, or about 18% to 19% of gross domestic product, committee aides said..
Many Democrats also have voiced support for lowering tax rates, particularly for corporations. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama expressed support for lowering corporate tax rates while closing loopholes and other special breaks. The president also talked about the need to simplify the individual code. Mr. Obama's budget proposes raising taxes on high-income earners after 2012, however."

There are of course, many other examples.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

8 May 2011 (VE Day)

Russia Today: "Nazism defeated 66 years ago. Or not?"

"Why the dream of microfinance is turning sour"

Small loans were meant to spell the end of Indian poverty. Instead, they reinforce it

By Leo Hornak Sunday, 8 May 2011:

"I remember the day three years ago when I decided I no longer wanted to be a part of the microfinance industry. I was standing in a one-room house in a small town in southern India, meeting a family that had taken out a microfinance loan. The mother and father were tired and nervous – both had the gaunt, prematurely aged look that is the hallmark of rural poverty in India. With them was their daughter Laxmi, a tiny eight-year-old girl, hiding in the folds of her mother's sari.

"For the three days that they took her away, I couldn't touch food," Laxmi's mother told me through a translator, pointing at her daughter. "We are just glad to have her back." A few weeks before, Laxmi had been kidnapped and held hostage by a local moneylender called Mrs Lalitha. Laxmi's parents had failed to keep up with payments on a debt. The debt was not to a loan shark or a mafia boss, however. It was to a registered Indian microfinance company which still claims in its brochures to be dedicated to fighting poverty, with a particular emphasis on women's rights and "empowering the girl child". Loan repayments had been informally outsourced to the moneylender.

What happened to Laxmi would no doubt have horrified the founder of the microfinance movement, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus. For most of the past year, however, a backlash against abusive and exploitative microfinance practices has been growing across Asia. In southern India, microfinance banks have been blamed for an epidemic of suicides among indebted farmers. ..."

I'm not always happy with Slate's frequent pro-establishment slant, but I appreciated these two recent items:

Still Stupid, Still Wrong, Still Immoral
Why the death of Osama Bin Laden shouldn't change our views about torture—or of the people who approved it.
Dahlia Lithwick | May 4, 2011

Is It "Justice"?
The danger of confusing the death of Osama Bin Laden with an act of justice.
Thomas Nachbar | May 5, 2011

Cheerleader who wouldn't root for assailant loses
A Texas high school cheerleader who was kicked off the squad for refusing to chant the name of a basketball player - the same athlete she said had raped her four months earlier - lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal...

Moon of Alabama, "Open questions on the alleged bin Laden Kill"

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Good boys and girls abhor violence, but...

I kid, but I do recognize Pinsky is in an awkward position. I'm not clear what the law student is doing there. Maybe he was there to offer superficially patriotic blather about how children need to transcend or avoid certain distressing emotions and just study hard so they can go to Yale like him, or to kill time before the psychologist was on so she wouldn't have too much screen time in the segment lest she discuss something awkward.

If any CNN staffers were twiddling their thumbs prior to Operation Kill OBL, clearly this isn't the case this week. Kill OBL has been a productivity bonanza for the network:

How bin Laden's body was identified



Obeidallah: Bin Laden, Islamophobia sports
Fans united by patriotism

Why young people cheer this death
Poll: Most Americans say bin Laden in Hell

Pakistan students doubt bin Laden dead [video]

Obama 'death stare' photo draws notice [video]

*Why the onus is on the Taliban to make peace, as opposed to on the US to leave, is not explored. In fact Hillary Clinton saying "you'll never defeat us" sounds like she's saying we'll be there forever.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Killing

David Swanson on the killing of Bin Laden:

"(Regarding)...the morality of cheering for the killing of a human being. A decade ago that would not have seemed as natural...The automatic assumption would not have been that there could be no dissenters to that celebration. A decade ago torture was considered irredeemably evil. A decade ago we believed people should have fair trials before they are declared guilty or killed. A decade ago, if a president had announced his new power to assassinate Americans, at least a few people would have asked where in the world he got the power to assassinate non-Americans..."
He goes on: "As we put bin Laden behind us, can we put the degradation of our civil liberties and our representative government, and our honesty, accountability, and the rule of law behind us too? Can we recover the basic moral decency that we used to at the very least pretend and aspire to?
Not while we're dancing in the street to celebrate death."

It's so intensely disheartening to see the jubilation at the death of another human. It becomes more and more evident, I think, that we are a savage and bloodthirsty people. Those traits are not only noted, but celebrated, as the worship of the military is. I turn away from this unseemly joy and often, I despair of my country. Where are we headed? To oblivion, I think, and sooner rather than later.
A question: Why, why, why, after this deed was done--if it was done--would the body be buried at sea? Will it not foster, now and forever, the belief that he's not really dead, just in hiding? And will not someone rise who purports to be his emissary? And won't he become even more of a prophet and a saint to his followers?
Idiotic decision and I wonder who made it. And why. Maybe to continue the carnage, our way of life, after all, as it has become.
No, I'm not celebrating.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Evidently they meant to kill bin Laden. I suspected as much, but felt I should refrain from saying so because the facts weren't all in.

BBC: Bin Laden 'was unarmed when shot'

Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor has two different essays justifying discussing the killing of bin Laden unarmed in his bedroom, apparently posing no threat to the soldiers:

Was it legal for the US commandos to kill Osama bin Laden?

Were Navy SEALs justified in shooting an unarmed Osama bin Laden?

CNN: Initial White House misstatements questioned

Juan Cole, Bin Laden an Utter Failure:

I argue that to take full advantage of this political moment, the US must withdraw from Iraq and support the declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly in September.

Does Cole believe any of that will happen, or does he just think he should be heard saying that?

a very good essay, by Justin, formerly of Americana:

"An American War Cry"

2 commenters on Facebook from earlier this week:

I think they only killed bin laden because the media was sick of the royal wedding.

Well, he may be dead, but Times Square is right outside my window, and I haven't seen anybody "celebrating," let alone "thousands." I saw one broadcast camera yesterday and I couldn't even tell what they were shooting. The media is so full of shit.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Additional thoughts regarding bin Laden

OBL and Brzezinski

There were several interesting commentaries about the execution of bin Laden in the past 24 hours. For example, here, here and here. But I particularly like these two pieces by Jodi Dean and Helena Cobban:

Jodi Dean, "Post-terrorism":

For a moment, the twenty minutes or so when the intertubes were alive with the news and before the president spoke, I felt something--something like relief, the sense of an end, perhaps even hope. It was, I think, the anticipation of an end to the disaster of the last ten years of ritualized humiliation, electronically stimulated fear, widespread surveillance, and the enjoyment of camps and torture.

The television media quickly made it clear that this sort of anticipation has no place: the war on terrorism is endless, total. It won't stop. We are not the same people. We have been reconfigured in a massive psycho-political experiment in transforming democracy into fascism, or a new barbarous variant of fascism, capitalist anarcho-fascism.

Helena Cobban:

Pres. Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, told reporters that the mission of the team was defined as follows:

If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that. We had discussed that extensively in a number of meetings in the White House and with the president. The concern was that Bin Laden would oppose any type of capture operation. Indeed, he did. It was a firefight. He, therefore, was killed in that firefight and that’s when [his mortal] remains were removed.

But we certainly were planning for the possibility, which we thought was going to be remote, given that he would likely resist arrest, but that we would be able to capture him.

I am glad that Brennan said that. The rhetoric surrounding the operation is important. However, the idea that Bin Laden was killed in "a firefight" doesn't seem to have any evidence to back it up; and it seems to me distinctly possible that the U.S. team went in and simply snuffed him out. This is a modus operandi very frequently used by the U.S. forces using drones or other killing machines, in Pakistan or elsewhere. Such killings are correctly termed extra-judicial executions (EJEs) because they are carried out far outside the normal, and normally transparent, workings of legal systems. The individual reported to be Bin Laden was not, like those numerous other victims of EJE's, killed by a drone operator sitting many hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but by members of a team on the ground, able to look him in the eye as they killed him. Presumably the main intention in using a ground-force team was to obtain irrefutable evidence that the victim was indeed Bin Laden, though that evidence has not yet been presented to the public.

Yesterday when I discussed my initial reaction to the news of the taking of bin Laden's life, I debated whether or not to speculate about whether or not they meant to kill him. Even though a living US prisoner bin Laden would go a long distance towards defusing tensions between America and the Muslim world, as well as defusing the possible threat of retaliation, I somehow doubt that Obama was terribly concerned about that. But I also recognized that unless the government explicitly admits they meant to kill bin Laden, you have to allow for the possibility they meant to capture him alive, because even with the technological and tactical advantages that a special forces unit enjoys, things can go wrong and such a mission is dangerous work, and nothing like the numerous movies and television programs that portray these missions, in which the good guys never accidentally shoot somebody, or screw up, or lose their cool, etc. Still, it sure looked like they meant to kill him.

Helena Cobban gave voice to the same skepticism I had, and said it far better than I could. Discussing the same question I wanted to say that if they had captured bin Laden alive to take him to trial it would have gone a long way towards restoring the legitimacy of federal government behavior to pre 9/11 standards. It's the way a government is supposed to behave. But I felt silly writing that, partly because I doubt many politicians in power care about that. Maybe regular people don't even care about it that much any more; I don't know. At any rate, I don't for a moment believe the president cares about that. He just wants to look powerful and decisive, keep his sponsors happy, and otherwise seems perfectly content with the post-constitutional style that is presently in fashion.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Osama obit

Update below.

You probably know by now that Obama just got on the TV and announced that a US team killed Osama bin Laden earlier today in Pakistan. This was done by a special forces unit and not airstrikes, which were never necessary, apart from being needed to brutalize the Afghan population, as opposed to being necessary for making Americans safer.

For the record, even though I am against the US military campaign in the Af-Pak region, I think they were right to go after bin Laden, assuming he was in fact responsible for the 9/11 plot, as most people believe. But that doesn't change the fact that the rest of the war that has been prosecuted against the populace was terribly wrong. They may have even been more likely to help US forces apprehend him if we'd just asked for their help and didn't engage in a wide-scale campaign to pacify the country. How many thousands of lives, Afghan, and Pakistani, and American, would have been spared! But clearly that wasn't on the agenda, for either the Bush 2 or Obama administrations. (It's easy to forget that in 2001 the Taliban actually offered to turn over bin Laden to a mutually acceptable third party, upon being provided with proof that he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Maybe they didn't mean this, but their offer was rejected and we'll never know.)

If the US had tried a modified form of that strategy after Obama became president, maybe the Taliban would have turned him over if they were allowed into Karzai's government and if they had assurances that bin Laden would not be executed. Taking him alive under such circumstances would have the virtue of giving doubting millions in both the East and the West some assurance that it was really him, and would have been less likely to infuriate the Muslim world. Presumably the soldiers in the operation today did not have the option to safely capture him alive.*

Over at the banner reads, 'U.S. State Department warns of "enhanced potential for anti-American violence" following bin Laden's death.' I wonder if this is true; and if, possibly, many Muslims around the world are anticipating that now the US will leave Afghanistan and Pakistan, and hope to avoid provoking the US, at least for now.

But if such a bated breath effect does exist, it will evaporate quickly upon the inevitable resumption of airstrikes by American forces. A fantasy Obama would declare a short unilateral cease-fire, maybe a week to 10 days, and offer to send Mullen or some other VIP to facilitate negotiations between the Afghan puppet government and the Taliban for a peaceful reconciliation of some sort. But [1] that presumes that Obama is actually concerned about peace in Afghanistan, and [2] that kind of Obama doesn't exist in this world, even if millions of Obama drones believe that, in his heart, Barry is just that kind of guy. (Except maybe they're also secretly glad he isn't.)

*update: from my response to Quin:[yes,] arresting him would have been preferable. If we really believe we're the good guys and a nation of laws, etc., we would have tried to do that.

Did they actually try to capture him without killing anybody? Who knows. I'll admit I'm skeptical - certainly describing the woman as a shield sounds like spin. But I also know that it's easy for us to speculate from our safe remove about how much danger they should have exposed themselves to in order to capture him alive, with no other 'collateral' deaths.

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