Category: Politics

Pic of the week


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Flowers are placed on a monument inside the Athens’ Polytechnic school, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of a 1973 student uprising against the then military ruling junta in Athens. Yes, the junta was supported by the United States government.

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Republican leadership unveils their immigration plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his party’s long-awaited plan on immigration on Wednesday, telling reporters, “We must make America somewhere no one wants to live.”

Appearing with House Speaker John Boehner, McConnell said that, in contrast to President Obama’s “Band-Aid fixes,” the Republican plan would address “the root cause of immigration, which is that the United States is, for the most part, habitable.”

“For years, immigrants have looked to America as a place where their standard of living was bound to improve,” McConnell said. “We’re going to change that.”

Boehner said that the Republicans’ plan would reduce or eliminate “immigration magnets,” such as the social safety net, public education, clean air, and drinkable water…

Attempting, perhaps, to tamp down excitement about the plan, McConnell warned that turning America into a dystopian hellhole that repels immigrants “won’t happen overnight.”

“Our crumbling infrastructure and soaring gun violence are a good start, but much work still needs to be done,” he said. “When Americans start leaving the country, we’ll know that we’re on the right track.”

In closing, the two congressional leaders expressed pride in the immigration plan, noting that Republicans had been working to make it possible for the past thirty years.

I have nothing to add to such a complete description of the goals of Republican politics.

Thanks, Mike

Why should Americans care about protests – and murder – in Mexico?


Click to enlarge

Christy Thornton is earning a doctorate in Latin American history at New York University and is a board member of the North American Congress on Latin America.

In early October, I attended a rally outside the Mexican consulate in New York City to protest the disappearance of a group of students taken by police in the state of Guerrero two weeks earlier. On a busy midtown Manhattan street, a dozen people gathered to call attention to the missing students and demand their return. A passerby, puzzled by the commotion, stopped a protester to ask what they were shouting about. When he was told what had happened, he asked incredulously, “But they were Mexican students? Killed in Mexico? Why should we care here?”

Indeed, why should ordinary Americans care about the rampant corruption, extrajudicial violence and culture of impunity that has overtaken Mexico in the eight years since then-President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels? Why should they care about 100,000 dead and at least 20,000 disappeared, some of whose remains are being uncovered in a quickly metastasizing map of mass graves? Why should they care about the 43 teachers in training, rounded up by police and turned over to a gang of killers who, it is alleged, burned their bodies and dumped what remained in a local river? Why should they care about the surging protests, the tens of thousands marching in the streets of Mexico’s cities and towns, calling for the renunciation of President Enrique Peña Nieto and declaring “Fue el estado” (It was the state)?

Here’s why Americans should care: We are collectively funding this war. Our tax dollars, in the form of security aid, provide the equipment, weapons and training to state security forces responsible for an ever-lengthening rap sheet of human rights abuses. U.S. drug habits, in the form of an insatiable market for narcotics, marijuana and amphetamines, provide the liquid cash that has proved so corrosive when it has come into contact with every level of the Mexican state.

This is our war, on our drugs. We have created the Mexico from which we now distance ourselves — but we can’t afford to turn our backs any longer.

Since 2007, the U.S. government has spent roughly $3 billion on security aid to Mexico, through the George W. Bush–era Mérida Initiative, which was extended indefinitely by President Barack Obama, and through counternarcotics programs run by the Defense and Justice departments. Those funds served to militarize the war on drugs and contributed to the extraordinary increase in violence under Calderón…

The aid provided by the U.S. government pales compared with the estimated $30 billion a year that the sale of drugs in the United States sends to Mexico. And it is that money that is coursing through Mexico’s political veins, infecting everyone from small town mayors and state governors to federal security officials, rotting the Mexican state from within and leaving the protesters without recourse. Small wonder that many in Mexico have taken up the slogan that brought down the Argentine government in 2001: Que se vayan todos (Throw them all out).

The U.S. government’s response to the demands of the Mexican people for respect, answers and justice has been tellingly quiet. No word from Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. So far, we have only the pleas of a State Department spokeswoman for “all parties to remain calm.” This statement was triggered by fears that the protests will turn violent, an outrageous worry, given the scale and brutality of state violence that provoked them.

The White House continues the great American tradition of deciding for the rest of the world whose violence counts and whose doesn’t. If people rise up to strike out against corruption that has nothing to do with the management of official America’s response. As usual, money talks. Policy set in motion decades ago by some of the most useless politicians in our history – are accepted as holy writ.

Thanks, Mike

Republican policy on immigration is — NO! You expected different?


Obama’s advantage is that he has an immigration policy. Republicans don’t.

There’s one way President Obama’s executive action on immigration has been a boon to Republicans. Instead of coming up with their own immigration policy, the’ve been able to just unite against Obama’s. But fury isn’t a policy. And, as is clear, fury isn’t going to stop Obama’s policy.

But there is a simple way out of this immigration mess for Republicans: pass a bill that President Obama can sign.

Not a bill, mind you, that Obama necessarily wants to sign. It doesn’t even have to be a bill Obama does sign. It can be a bill Obama will loathe. Republicans can propose the most militarized border this side of the DMZ. They can erase the Senate bill’s path to citizenship. They can electrify the fence. They can wall unauthorized immigrants off from social services. Hell, they can even pass a bill authorizing funds to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

But one way or another, Republicans need to decide what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country now. They need to take away Obama’s single strongest argument — that this is a crisis, and that congressional Republicans don’t have an answer and won’t let anyone else come up with one.

Republicans aren’t just the opposition party anymore. They are, arguably, the governing party — they will soon control the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures, and more governorships. And the governing party needs to solve — or at least propose solutions — to the nation’s problems. And that means the Republican policy on immigration needs to be something more than opposing Obama’s immigration policies. It needs to be something more than vague noises about border security…

“To those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said on Thursday…

Obama has one solid advantage right now…at least he wants to solve the problem. Republicans remain stuck into their legislative mantra for the last six years – stop Obama from solving the problem. Any problem. That’s not a winning position. 2016 is six years closer and all the Republicans have achieved for these last six years is demonstrating to all Americans how little they care about problem-solving other than earning their paycheck as pimps for Big Oil, Big Coal – and saying “NO” to everything else.

Congressional Republicans reflect their ideology — “Old White Guys”

Old White Guys

The secretive Republican Steering Committee announced its recommendations late Tuesday after an all-day meeting to pick the heads of 17 committees, with all of those slots going to white men. Rep. Candice Miller, who was previously reappointed by Speaker John Boehner to lead the House Administration Committee, will remain the only woman to wield a gavel.

As Rachel explained last night, “This is your Republican Party in Washington in all its glory. It should be noted, this is the cross-section of America they’re offering to the American people now that they’ve taken power.”

RTFA. The blog post goes into some brief detail; but, you know exactly what it’s all about.

I wasn’t kidding when I started this personal blog and noted in “What this blog is all about” that people generally stop learning anything new at the age of 26. Beaucoup scientific studies have confirmed that statement. Google some scientific sources if that gives you a problem.

The point remains – why I joke about having a 26-year-old mindset with a much older brain. I learn new things daily, weekly, every waking moment of my life. Some conclusions haven’t changed; but, knowledge, understanding a broader approach to conclusions is happening all the time.

Then there are people like this crew that Congressional Republicans are placing in charge of committees. Some of them were old farts when they were eighteen years old. We’ve all known people like that. It’s not limited to conservative politics either. Just more prevalent. So, here we are, once again. A useless Congress controlled by clowns less productive than their predecessors.

Too many people, not enough water — now and 2,700 years ago


That may be the US Embassy over on the right — or at least the inspiration for the one in Baghdad

The Assyrian Empire once dominated the ancient Near East. At the start of the 7th century BC, it was a mighty military machine and the largest empire the Old World had yet seen. But then, before the century was out, it had collapsed. Why? An international study now offers two new factors as possible contributors to the empire’s sudden demise – overpopulation and drought…

Adam Schneider of the University of California, San Diego and Selim Adalı of Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, have just published evidence for their novel claim…

The researchers’ work connects recently published climate data to text found on a clay tablet. The text is a letter to the king, written by a court astrologer, reporting (almost incidentally) that “no harvest was reaped” in 657 BC.

Paleoclimatic records back up the courtier’s statement. Further, analysis of the region’s weather patterns, in what is now Northern Iraq and Syria, suggests that the drought was not a one-off event but part of a series of arid years.

Add to that the strain of overpopulation, especially in places like the Assyrian capital of Nineveh (near present-day Mosul) – which had grown unsustainably large during the reign of King Sennacherib – and Assyria was fatally weakened, the researchers argue…

“We’re not saying that the Assyrians suddenly starved to death or were forced to wander off into the desert en masse, abandoning their cities,” Schneider said. “Rather, we’re saying that drought and overpopulation affected the economy and destabilized the political system to a point where the empire couldn’t withstand unrest and the onslaught of other peoples…”

Schneider also sees an eerie similarity between Nineveh and Southern California. Though people weren’t forcibly relocated to Los Angeles or San Diego to help an emperor grow himself a “great city,” still, the populations of these contemporary metropolitan areas are probably also too large for their environments…

“The Assyrians can be ‘excused’ to some extent,” they write, “for focusing on short-term economic or political goals which increased their risk of being negatively impacted by climate change, given their technological capacity and their level of scientific understanding about how the natural world works. We, however, have no such excuses, and we also possess the additional benefit of hindsight, which allows us to piece together from the past what can go wrong if we choose not to enact policies that promote longer-term sustainability.”

Republicans – like their mentors at the US Chamber of Commerce – are tucked neatly into the wallets of legacy fossil fuel corporations. Wealth derived from out-of-date means of profit still sufficient to buy enormous political power is close to being one of the most contemptible uses of power in a capitalist economy.

Nineveh wasn’t this advanced. I’m not certain about Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats either.

Thanks, Mike

Sophisticated commemorative stamps — outside the US

Tom of Finland stamps
Click to enlarge — that may be a poor choice of words :)

Stamps commemorating the art of Tom of Finland were released in that nation in September. Meanwhile, in the United States, there is strong debate among those in authority over the soon-to-be-issued Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer commemorative.

Har.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Okinawa votes once again to kick US military off the island


Messages tied to fence around the US military base by Okinawa citizensToru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images

A politician who wants a U.S. Marine base moved out of Okinawa won election as governor of the southern Japanese island chain…

Takeshi Onaga was set to win a sweeping victory after exit polls late yesterday indicated he had almost twice as many votes as Hirokazu Nakaima, incumbent and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s favored candidate.

Onaga, 64, is seeking to reduce the military burden on Okinawa, which hosts about three quarters of the U.S. bases in Japan, while boasting only 0.6 percent of the nation’s land area. Nakaima, 75, last December agreed to allow the Futenma U.S. Marine base to be shifted to a less densely populated area of the prefecture — a move that appeared to end nearly two decades of wrangling over the issue.

“Based on this victory, I will go to the government, the U.S. government and even the United Nations to tell them the people are against it,” Onaga said yesterday in a televised interview broadcast after the exit polls were published. Nakaima’s decision had “sent the wrong message,” he said…

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Nov. 14 that the government would stick to its policy of trying to close the Futenma base within five years regardless of the election result. Abe has lifted an effective ban on arms exports and reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to defend other countries — including the U.S., its only formal ally…

“Defending other countries” being Washington doublespeak for “Japan remains our leading flunky in Asia”.

Local residents complain of crime, pollution, accidents and noise associated with the U.S. bases and anger peaked in 1995 when a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by three U.S. servicemen. Polls show 80 percent of local people want to move the facility out of the prefecture.

Boasting a unique culture and language, as well as white sand beaches and clear waters, Okinawa has become a tourist hot spot. Visitor numbers from both Taiwan and mainland China doubled in September from a year earlier, while visits totaled 3.72 million people in the six months through September.

…Onaga said in an Oct. 31 interview with Bloomberg that while he doesn’t want all the bases removed, the economic incentive for hosting them has faded. They account for just 5 percent of Okinawa’s economy and about 9,000 jobs, and their removal would free up land for tourist development.

Peaceful commerce with China doesn’t mean much of anything to Japan’s militarists. They may not march at the front of election parades; but, they still pull the same old strings from their comfortable couches within corporate Zaibatsu skyscrapers.

Meanwhile, Uncle Sugar wants to retain Okinawa to be available as a rock-solid launching platform for the next time we decide to invade any part of Asia — the role that the prefecture played during the years we spent trying to return VietNam to Western subjugation.

Oliver Stone film about Edward Snowden vs NSA starts production January

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Edward Snowden in a movie directed by Oliver Stone about the former National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle on the US government’s mass surveillance programs, the film’s backers said on Monday.

Stone, who won best director Oscars for Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, has written the screenplay based on two books – The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.

The still untitled film goes into production in Munich in January, said independent studio Open Road Films and production and financing company Endgame Entertainment.

Producer Moritz Borman said in a statement that he and Stone chose Open Road and Endgame because “this film needs an independent in the true sense, where political pressures will not come into play…”

Snowden leaked tens of thousands of classified intelligence documents to the media in 2013 and sparked a firestorm over the NSA’s gathering of data from the Internet activities and phones of millions of ordinary Americans and dozens of world leaders.

He is wanted by the United States on charges including theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person…and believing in the US Constitution.

Thanks, Mike

Tech giants lobby to curb NSA — before Congress gives away privacy altogther

Trade groups representing Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are pushing the Senate to pass legislation limiting National Security Agency spying before the Republican majority takes control of the chamber.

A coalition of Internet and technology companies, which also include Google and Twitter, support a bill the Senate plans to vote on Nov. 18 to prohibit the NSA from bulk collection of their subscribers’ e-mails and other electronic communications. Many of the companies opposed a Republican-backed bill the House passed in May, saying a “loophole” would allow bulk collection of Internet user data.

Members of the Consumer Electronics Association “have already lost contracts with foreign governments worth millions of dollars,” in response to revelations about U.S. spying, Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the group that represents Apple, Google and Microsoft, wrote in a letter sent to all senators yesterday.

The clock is ticking. If a final bill isn’t reached this year, the process for passing legislation would begin over in January under a new Congress controlled by Republicans, many of whom support government surveillance programs.

U.S. Internet and technology companies are confronting a domestic and international backlash against government spying that may cost them as much as $180 billion in lost business…

The issue emerged in June 2013 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed a program under which the U.S. uses court orders to compel companies to turn over data about their users. Documents divulged by Snowden also uncovered NSA hacking of fiber-optic cables abroad and installation of surveillance tools into routers, servers and other network equipment…

The Senate bill, S. 2685, would end one of the NSA’s most controversial domestic spy programs, through which it collects and stores the phone records of millions of people not suspected of any wrongdoing. In addition to curbing data collection, the legislation would allow companies to publicly reveal the number and types of orders they receive from the government to hand over user data.

RTFA for all the gory economic details. No, you won’t see any participation from tech companies dedicated to skimming the cream off the vat of money tied to the military-industrial complex. And you won’t find a clot of Blue Dog Democrats standing in line to vote for privacy.

Like their peers in today’s Republican Party, conservative Democrats aren’t likely to fight for the personal liberty they all blather about. The concept of “Libertarian” in Congressional politics is thrown around a lot. Mostly by hustlers who read one or two books by Ayn Rand. Perish the thought they stand up to be counted alongside ordinary citizens.