Sunday, May 31, 2009

For 99 Cents, We'll Throw In a Free Random Historical Image of the Day!

So...are any of you paying 99 cents to read this?

If so.....Erik, where's my 11 cent share of the split?

2014 World Cup Host Cities Announced

FIFA announced the 12 Brazilian cities that will be hosting the 2012 World Cup. In no big surprise, the final will be in Maracana stadium, which hosted the 2006 Pan-American games and can seat up to 87,000 people, in Rio de Janeiro. Other non-surprise hosts are Sao Paulo, as well as Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul), Curitiba (Parana), Salvador (Bahia), Recife (Pernambuco), Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), Brasilia, and Fortaleza (Ceara). Several other "small" cities from Brazil's underrepresented regions were also in the mix, and the final two sites will be Manaus (whose new stadium design is the best), in Amazonas, and Cuiaba, in Mato Grosso. The South/Southeast and the Northeast are heavily represented, which was to be expected, and those regions offer a great variety in presenting Brazilian culture, history, and geography. But the selection of Manaus and Cuiaba means games will also be in Brazil's interior and in the Amazon, bringing much-needed and well-deserved income into those states and cities, as well, and letting tourists see much more of Brazil than they usually do when they pass through (usually hitting only Rio and/or the Northeastern beaches). The stadium rennovations have already begun and are in variou sphases of completion (Rio is virtually set, and Brasilia was beginning when I was there in July 2007).

It's a shame other little-visited cities like Rio Branco, Campo Grande, Goiania, and Florianopolis were left out (as were Belem), as each has plenty for tourists to see beyond Rio and the Northeast, and those cities could have used the income as well. Still, it's overall a justifiable list, and the inclusion particularly of Manaus and Cuiaba is excellent for Brazil and for those who will travel to the 2014 World Cup.

(And for geography buffs, here's a good map).

Anti-Abortionist Terrorists Strike

George Tiller, RIP.

How many deadly attacks by right-wingers have to happen before we can have an open discussion about right-wing terrorism in this country? Of course, I'm sure the few public places dedicated to terrorism writ large in this country (such as the Oklahoma City Memorial) will continue to downplay these attacks for political reasons and instead talk about hippies burning SUVs as their prime example of domestic "terrorism."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Slaves' religious service, South Carolina, 1863

The Humor in Private Businesses Establishing "News" Sources to "Accurately" Report What's Going On Today

While looking for mor info for the story on the conressional inquiry into Petrobras, I tried to use Google news after getting everything I could from Brazilian media. The pickings were surprisingly slim, so I clicked on a story whose headline was, "In a Hamstrung Oil Industry, Petrobras Will Rule." I was curious where an article like that was headed, so I clicked on it. This is as far as I read:

While the US under President Barack Obama is performing a self-castration in its energy prowess and posture, Brazil, under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a firebrand socialist and not a particular friend of the US, is poised to emerge as an energy superpower.
Obama and many of his core supporters have a mystifying aversion to energy, perhaps the most important commodity in the modern world and arguably the one that closely equates to power.

Well, that certainly was not the tack I thought such a headline might take, and I quit reading right there. I haven't seen a "news" story be so wrong in a long-time. Obama as castrator? Riiiight - if, by "castration," we mean "taking small steps to reduce dependency on oil that are meaningful but not enough." And Lula as a "firebrand socialist?" Only if Obama is a "moderate socialist." And as for the whole "friend" thing, well, Lula has criticized the U.S., yes, but that has not stopped him from working with the U.S. on issues like energy policy, even under Bush. Lula has always been a diplomat, a gentleman, and a "friend" to the U.S. So, to summarize: wrong, wrong, and wrong.

And the best part was, in case you didn't get the message, the image at the top of the story? That's right - Lula and the Petrobras president on their recent trip to Cuba, looking off into the distance while a giant image of Che hovers ominously behind them. Even though they aren't in Cuba now, and I'm fairly sure they could have access to a lot of other photos of either Lula or the Petrobras president. But why bother, when a communist specter who has been dead for over 40 years can be used?

I tried to find out more about exactly who the "Energy Tribune" worked for. A quick google search (and I mean quick) didn't come up with much, but really, I just had to look at the "jobs" link at the ET's own site, where member sites included "Global Oil Watch" and "Pipeline & Gas Journal" (really?) were listed to learn all I needed to know. I was actually grateful, though - no pretending at objectivity, no Orwellianism - the editors and author just laid it all out there in the first two sentences for anyone to see where they stood, saving me (and others) a lot of time of having to read further. Plus, it offered me what ended up being my biggest laugh of the day yesterday.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fun with Constitutional Amendments

As if California had no other problems, a bipartisan group in the state legislature wants to tighten its control on the University of California system by amending the California Constitution. The UC system is rare in the amount of constitutionally-granted freedom it has among public universities; freedom that I think is rather well-justified, given the state's ever-decreasing level of funding. Some legislators are in a snit about pay raises for academic leadership-- probably not an unfair criticism-- but given the state's woeful incompetence with every facet of governing lately, stripping the UC system of the freedom that has allowed it to consistently manage a large network of high quality universities seems like a bad idea.

There are so many other areas that need help and oversight; the UC system is one of the bright spots, even with its current economic troubles. Plus, tuition for the next academic year at UCLA is $8,264; all UC schools come in under $10,0000.

I'm sure there is all sorts of errant douchebaggery going on at the administrative level in the UC system; replacing it with the errant douchebaggery of Sacramento is a non-starter for me.

You Don't Have a Lucky Crack Pipe?

Lyrad discussed the horror of Werner Herzog remaking Bad Lieutenant with Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, and Val Kilmer.

The trailer does not suggest that Lyrad was wrong except that he underestimated the number of unintentionally hilarious lines.

Also, I forgot Nicholas Cage once won an Oscar. Wow. Good decision there.

Historical Image of the Day

World War II propaganda poster

Political Partisanship and the Congressional Inquiry into Petrobras

Last week, Brazil's Senate launched a Congressional inquiry into charges of corruption in Petrobras, the state-owned energy company. Based on the reporting in Brazil and now the Times, though, I suspect there isn't much to these charges, and that it's pure partisan politics and political theater at its worst. To wit:

The vote was sealed by senators who oppose President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers Party, setting up an inquiry that is likely to drag on for months.
The investigation [...] could also be damaging to Dilma Rousseff, Mr. da Silva’s chief of staff and his handpicked candidate to succeed him in next year’s presidential elections, since she is also the chairwoman of the Petrobras board of directors. Ms. Rousseff’s ability to make a competitive run for president has already been questioned by some politicians and analysts because she is undergoing treatment for lymphoma, even though doctors say her chances of a full recovery are very high.
There are two reasons I am fairly confident that this is just partisan politics and theater at its worst. First, this is pretty much how politics works in Brazil (and is often one of the main critiques of the presidential parliamentary system in Brazil from political scientists both in Brazil and the U.S.). I've commented before on the PSDBs and Democratas (ex-PFL)'s sheer hatred of Lula and opposition to any of his policies, even when he seeks to continue policies former PSDB president Fernando Henrique Cardoso put in place with overwhelming support from his party. What is more, the Congressional Inquiry is going to bog down Lula's administration as it relates to Petrobras for quite awhile at a time when the president is trying to increase the revenue the state brings in from oil production. Under Lula's plan, this money would be used "to set up funds for social programs like health and education." And that's the second reason I doubt the legitimacy of this inquiry. The PSDB and Democratas have been against Lula's social programs (such as Bolsa Familia) since he took office in 2002, in no small part because it simultaneously tries to somewhat level a social playing field that they don't want levelled, and it builds further support among the poor for the PT and related parties, cutting into the PSDB's and Democrata's support.

In short, I have little doubt as of right now that this inquiry is not based on any substantive corruption charges in Petrobras, but rather is an effort on the part of the politically conservative opposition to prematurely influence the 2010 presidential elections and to stall the furthering of social programs these politicians hate for ideological and political reasons. This is not to say that the behavior of every employee at Petrobras has been saintly, or that every decision has been made without taking into account personal interests; indeed, Petrobras has "already fired two people and punished three others for their involvement in irregularities" in contract bidding. However, it will take a lot more evidence than has been provided thus far to prove that there is some major problem at Petrobras, and that this isn't what it seems to be now: the worst kind of partisanship politics in Brazil.

A Support Ribbon I Can Support

While I've always been rather ambivalent about the whole "support ribbon" on cars (you're a breast cancer survivor? My deepest respect and congratulations. Support our troops? anybody against our troops? And isn't your yellow ribbon just a display of faux-patriotism wrapped up in a failure to really commit anything more substantial to our troops?).

However, if there's one support ribbon I can fully support, it's this one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Papacy and the Supreme Court

With all the meaningless trivia and objections being thrown around about Sotomayor's nomination, is anybody else as shocked as I am that, if she is appointed, there will be six Catholics on the Supreme Court, along with two Jewish judges and only one protestant (John Paul Stevens).

I don't think there's a lot to take from that fact. I suppose you could perhaps argue that Alito's/Thomas's/Scalia's/Roberts' stance on abortion and Roe v. Wade may have something to do with their religion, but that's not necessarily automatic, and certainly Sotomayor's stance on the issue and her religion are probably not in complete agreement. Still, for a country that's had exactly one Catholic president ever and has a rich anti-Catholic (along w/anti-Irish, anti-Italian, and anti-Spanish/anti-Hispanic) legacy at various periods through its history, that there are six Catholics strikes me as rather remarkable.

(And to be clear about two things: A) I'm not pretending this is any deep analysis or mind-blowing observation; and B) I really don't think this should be used as a platform to say, "oh my God! We need more Protestants/atheists/polytheists/whatever!" That is, not unless we feel the Supreme Court needs more casseroles and jello salads, in which case a Protestant or two are definitely needed).


Knocked off a piece for Global Comment on Sotomayor yesterday. As usual, here's a piece of it and you can read the whole thing there if you'd like.

Sotomayor is 54, from the Bronx, Puerto Rican, a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton and a Yale Law School grad, where she edited the Law Journal. She has also been an adjunct professor of law at New York University and a lecturer at Columbia University. She was the early target of attacks from the right, who called her a bully and implied that she would be an affirmative action choice—because Ivy League schools give out honors designations by gender and choose law review editors because of their skin tone all the time.

Aside from the fact that there’s nothing wrong with going with the one qualified jurist who has a background not currently represented on the Court, Obama’s choice of the judge who had faced the earliest, most pointed racist and sexist critiques from the right and a horrible article in “even the liberal” New Republic is a welcome sign. It shows critics and supporters alike that he’s not afraid of the fight, not afraid to put some political capital behind a judge with a working-class background and impeccable credentials. After the news of recent weeks, with discussions of indefinite detentions and restarting military tribunals, a signal from Obama that he hasn’t forgotten his roots is a move in the right direction.

Of course we can prepare for more racist, sexist Bingo in the upcoming fight. No doubt there will be more hints that Sotomayor isn’t that smart, that she isn’t qualified, that there’s some white guy out there being oppressed by the fact that Obama’s chosen a Latina. Post-Sarah Palin, it could be harder for the GOP to turn around and make the predictable sexist cracks, though, and post-Michael Steele, when at least part of the party seems to realize it has a diversity problem, can they afford to vote against the first Latina nominee to the court?

Roberts: Not a Stealth Hard-Liner

Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker profile of John Roberts is interesting, but bizarre in one key point. He is called "The Supreme Court's stealth hard-liner." Huh? Was there any question that he would be a right-wing ideologue?

Of course, Roberts said in his confirmation hearings that he would seek consensus and such. And since everyone says he's a nice guy, people took him at his word. Why on earth would you do that? Why didn't people look at, oh I don't know, the massive preponderance of evidence about Roberts from the beginning of his career in the Reagan administration until his confirmation hearings. Every since bit of that would show that he was a hard-liner.

The other interesting thing about Roberts, particularly in the context of the unintentionally hilarious right-wing arguments that Sotomayor is a racist, is that he actually clearly is a racist. Toobin emphasizes how much Roberts obsesses about race, looking to turn back any kind of attempts to level the playing field through the law. One might argue that in 2009, we have achieved some semblance of racial equality and such laws are not necessary. You'd be wrong, but rather than argue for that point, I would say go back and look at Roberts' record from the very beginning. Even in the early 80s, when key civil rights legislation has barely taken effect and when open racism is still the norm in much of the country, John Roberts was saying the same thing. I cannot accept any other position other than John Roberts is a racist.

Finally, Roberts has expressed a preference for authoritarian power throughout his career, particularly favoring the executive over the legislative. This seems to be a principle for him. But does anyone really question that when faced with laws created by a Democratic president that his supposed clear thinking about these issues will suddenly change to fit his political preferences? I don't.

All in all, I think a president should more or less get to name the Supreme Court justices they want, at least within reason. It's part of the job. But that anyone would believe anything Roberts said in his confirmation hearings, or for that matter, that anyone would believe anything anyone said in a confirmation hearing, is mindboggling.

Historical Image of the Day

Bombing of U.S. embassy, Nairobi, Kenya, 1998

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Film Review--The Wrestler (2008)

When I first heard that Darren Aronofsky, one of my favorite young directors, was making a movie about wrestling, one of my great loves, starring Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei, two of my favorite actors, I know there was no way I would miss it. Yet, The Wrestler came and went from the theater and I sat at home. Really, I have a hard time justifying an hour drive to see a movie, but this was one I really was looking forward to seeing. For a long time, the only person I knew who actually had seen it was Erik, decidedly not a wrestling fan. He described it as a solid film, yet it took me until very recently to watch it.

I loved it almost entirely. The simplicity of the story allows the characters to breathe and take shape on their own without too much influence from plot contrivances. With only three essential characters, there is time to burn and I think two of these three are over-the-top good with the third standing out as my sole complaint about the film. Rourke is phenomenal, but the surprise at this was ridiculous. Not only had he already "come back" with his role as Marv in Sin City, his performances through the years, at least in those years that he cared, have been consistently solid. I'm not going to sit here and claim that Wild Orchid is great cinema, but he's still good at what he does. Tomei is equally good and possibly better that Rourke. She is given considerably less to work with, but the strength of her performance gives her character much more depth than the script allows. And then there's Evan Rachel Wood, who has even less to do than Tomei, but can't even rise to the level of the character skeleton handed to her, adding absolutely nothing to the role. She doesn't bring the film down too much simply because she doesn't have much screen time, but what time she does spend with Rourke makes for the worst moments of the film.

I don't want to get into a breakdown of the story. There's no point in equating wrestling and sex work; saying that both professionals sell their bodies for an industry that will spit them out as soon as their bodies break is like telling me that water is wet. Unlike Aronofsky's other work, I barely find this story worth discussing. Instead, what makes this film such a great experience is its realism and not its sometimes ham-fisted plotting. After he saw the film, Erik asked me about the really violent stuff, the staple guns and barbed wire, etc., and whether that was the norm in independent wrestling or a marginalized extreme. My response was to describe a match from Sacramento's SPW (Supreme Pro Wrestling) show that I attended in around 2001. The contest was billed as a "death match" and, for wrestling fans, this one's a big seller. At the finale of the match, one of the wrestlers set up a contraption that could only exist in wrestling. A plywood plank covered in barbed wire and attached by small dowels to a sheet of glass was placed on the floor of the theater. The losing wrestler was then laid across this brutal little table while the winning wrestler climbed a ladder inside the ring. He jumped from the ladder to finish the guy off, but his opponent moved, leaving this poor bastard to land face-first through the glass and into the barbed wire. He lost the match, but watching this guy wallow in the wire and glass is one of the truly disturbing things I've seen. The answer to Erik's question, of course, is yes, this kind of hardcore style is extremely common on the independent circuit and thousands of "Randy-the-Rams" are wrestling on cards this week across the country for likely little more than gas money and some dinner.

The real reason, however, that I like The Wrestler so damn much isn't for anything I said above. I laughed during much of the film, a reaction I doubt many non-wrestling fans had. I didn't laugh because it was funny; I laughed because it was correct and I reacted very much as I would to a quality wrestling match. The fact is that The Wrestler is a spectacularly sad film, but not for the performances or the script or the style. It's sadness comes from its truth. I have devoted many hundreds of hours to professional wrestling during my life and you don't have to tell me how the story of Randy the Ram ends. The Wrestler is an elegy for all those dead wrestlers who made the same choices the Ram did. So many of my favorite wrestlers growing up: Brian Pillman, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Rick Rude, Owen Hart, and I could go on forever. I love wrestling as much or more than any form of entertainment and this love is what makes me sad.

My Asshat Governor

As if it hasn't been proven time and again, here is more proof that Governor Schwarzenegger is in way over his head. In light of the special election a few weeks ago that delivered a crushing defeat to all but one of the his ballot initiatives, Schwarzenegger has announced a new series of cuts-- to the state's welfare-to-work program, low income children's health insurance, and higher education. Why are these cuts needed? Because he and his slimy band of reptilian Republican obstructionists refuse to raise taxes.

Especially galling is that the cut to the welfare-to-work program cuts only $1.3 billion from the budget, but cuts the state out of a $4.2 billion matching grant from the federal government. And the children's health care cuts? A savings of $250 million that cuts health care for around 1 million low income children. This looks awfully bad in light of one of Schwarzenegger's first moves as Asshat In Chief: cutting registrations fees for cars (a move that costs California $3.6 billion a year).

I know what the right says-- Californians are over taxed as it is. California's tax burden is second only to 'Taxachutsetts' in grand socialist mythology. As LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik pointed out only a few days ago, California actually has the 18th highest tax burden, and that the wealthiest in California have the lowest effective tax rate of all Californians. The poorest have the highest tax burden, and that divide has increased in the last round of budget cuts and tax hikes-- the recent deal raised the effective rate on the rich to 7.8%. The rate for the poorest Californians is now 11.1% (compare that to the previous rates, 7.4% and 10.2%). Hell, cigarettes are cheaper in California than in Texas. A lot of this has to do with property taxes, which are much lower in California. I owned a home in Texas, and the property taxes were almost twice as high as those I pay now-- and I paid more than double for the home here. The idea that Californians have an excessively high tax burden is one myth that needs to die. Seriously, are cheap car registration fees worth forgoing billions in federal welfare aid and cutting health insurance and college educations for California children?

Well done, gov. Insert slow, sarcastic applause here. Recall, anyone?

From Colony to Superpower: Reflections

A few last words on Herring's From Colony to Superpower.

1. It's really a very strong survey of U.S. foreign policy. But I differentiate this from U.S. foreign relations. Ultimately, the book's biggest weakness is that it too frequently does not consider U.S. interactions with the world outside of the official perspective. For Herring, and for many foreign policy scholars, what really matters are actions between governments. That's obviously very important. But many scholars in the past decade have produced fantastic studies of Americans' interactions with the world from multiple perspectives--popular culture, environmental, religious groups, labor unions, NGOs, etc. I have little doubt that a lot more great work along these lines will be coming out soon. Herring integrates little of this.

2. Nevertheless, were I to teach a class on U.S. foreign relations, as I have considered doing for awhile now, I would use this book as the basis of most of my lectures. It's as solid of an overview as one could reasonably hope for. I do recommend it for anyone interested in these issues.

3. Herring concludes with a few thoughts about American foreign policy in the present, but he seems a bit reticent to take this too far. He mentions the need for Americans to give up exceptionalism and unilateralism, supports free trade and immigration, and notes the nation's decline during the Bush administration. It'd be nice to see him do a bit more with this. Most historians are shy about drawing parallels with the present too closely, but if you are going to write a 1000 page book about, I'd say that more than 3 pages of summary to conclude would be appropriate.

The Shock Doctrine 11: Democracy Born in Chains

(Previous posts here, Matt's posts here, Trend's "How to Overthrow a Government" here.)

I know, it's been a while. I've been busy, and while I still am, I had a moment this weekend to relax and read and I caught up on Shock Doctrine so I could post more for all of you. Look grateful.

This week's chapter is about South Africa, and I don't know enough about South African history to really critique Klein's position. However, I know someone who does, and so I asked Shenid Bhayroo, professor of journalism at Temple University, to tell me what he thought of Klein's take on his country.

Here's some of what he told me:

To the analysis of South Africa: I would argue that Klein's "shock" metaphor does not adequately explain the post-1994 political economy of South Africa. First, her analysis, in the book as a whole and for South Africa, begins circa 1970s. This is curious, in the case of South Africa, since this disregards the significant anti-colonial, anti-apartheid history dating back to the post-WWII years. In particular, the role of the independent trade union movement, the socialist left in South Africa, and individuals such as Steve Biko.

Second, the now-ruling party, the ANC, never capitulated to the policies of the IMF and the World Bank. On the contrary, the former liberation movement never advanced a leftist, let alone a socialist, agenda. The ANC (African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People's Congress) created with popular support in 1955 the "Freedom Charter." This document addressed the many injustices of the Apartheid system and created a set of principles (the Charter) that would form the framework of a "new" South Africa. The Freedom Charter represents a minimum set of demands/principles for a democratic society, with human rights for all citizens. It is a populist document, reflecting the minimal demands/requirements of a "free" society.

More than a "shock doctrine" of SAP's and high interest loans, the current political economics we now have in SA is the consequence of the system of Apartheid, which in turn was a manifestation of rapacious capitalism - as evident by the exploitation of the millions of working class (black) workers. Labor laws, the education system, the health care system, the economics of the system were engineered so as to facilitate the development and entrenchment of a ruling elite--both economic and political. The transition to a post-Apartheid South meant that the ANC could deliver on its promise to build on and expand political power for the "people." This it has done to a large degree. (BTW: In the last two general elections I voted for the ANC). But the government has not done the same for economic freedoms. Hence the scourge of corruption, the emergence of a wealthy black elite, and the lack of real empowerment of the working class.

Thus, I would argue that the shock doctrine thesis oversimplifies the ANC's economic agenda - which from the outset sought to assure foreign investors that a "free market" would prevail in post-Apartheid South Africa. In fact, large scale privatization of public resources took place in the early years of ANC rule in South Africa. The ANC was never substantively critical of the fundamental policies of the "free market," or for that matter critical of the system of capitalism.

As Dr. Bhayroo points out, Klein does stress that apartheid itself was an economic system, but she doesn't make much of an effort to look at the internal critiques of that system. She does mention the boycott strategy, which held corporations accountable for doing business with the apartheid government, but as Rushkoff notes in Life, Inc. this sets up a dichotomy of good corporation/bad corporation, when really the existence of the massive corporations AT ALL is inherently problematic.

In other words, separating corporatism/radical capitalism from human rights violations, as Klein notes in earlier chapters, doesn't work. As long as the post-apartheid government, or the post-Bush government here at home, still believes in "markets" (by which they mean the right of state-subsidized corporations to exist) then the problem will never completely be solved. Corporate capitalism requires an underclass to do the low-paying work it thrives on.

How does this relate to the U.S.? Torture--as in our current discussions of the proper response to Bush Administration torture--is not the main problem. It's a symptom of the sickness. Maybe the most obvious outward one, but a symptom nonetheless. We cannot separate the torture from the rest of the decisions made by the government. It is a symptom of a world in which corporate power is absolute and people don't matter except for what one can get from them. A commission on torture that obsesses over who knew what and when misses the entire point. Of course Pelosi was in some degree complicit--of course Obama is. We still have the same system in control.

"I think when you focus on torture and you don't look at what it was serving, that's when you start to do a revision of the real history."
-Yasmin Sooka, South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, quoted in The Shock Doctrine

Sotomayor--A Yankees Fan?

I might have to reconsider my support of Sotomayor:

Sotomayor, an ardent New York Yankees fan, issued an injunction against baseball team owners in 1995 for alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act. The owners had sought to end the existing free agency and salary arbitration systems and imposed a lock-out against players as negotiations crumbled. The ruling ended the strike, which had begun on Aug. 12, 1994 and ended up cancelling the World Series that season.

Her opposition to baseball owners in the strike is good I guess, but can America afford to have a Yankees fan on the high court?

I say no.

This Is Why I Quit Watching Basketball in the First Place

Shorter NBA: An elbow to the throat or head will always result in an automatic ejection/suspension.

Except when it doesn't.

Fearing the Left? Why?

Since people I respect are happy enough with Sotomayor's selection for the Supreme Court, I'm fine with it too. Certainly Obama didn't give Latinos much in the Cabinet, so this is good politics as well.

But of course there's been much consternation about Obama ignoring truly progressive candidates. The reason is obvious, as Bernard Nussbaum, Bill Clinton's former White House counsel states: “I don’t think that he’s worried about the left. I think he’s doing the same thing [appointing moderate justices] we did."

I'm sure Obama's not worried about the left. What is the left going to do? Since the progressive blogosphere believes he's their president and try to cheer him on when they can (despite frequent disappointments), Obama can basically completely ignore progressives in making these decisions.

Now, you'd think one lesson the Democratic Party took from 2000 was that you can't piss off the left too often or they might lash out. And maybe that's true. But with the possible exception of labor, who should be really angry at Obama right now, none of Obama's main constituencies have shown any inkling of revolting. Without that threat, why wouldn't Obama go toward the center?

Historical Image of the Day

St. George's Castle, slave fort, Ghana

China Turning to Brazil for Naval Training

Rob over at LG&M recently broke down the fascinating report that the Chinese are pushing forward their aircraft carrier program. As his IR/military policy posts always are, this one is outstanding, but this part in particular really grabbed my attention:

The PLAN has apparently arranged to begin training its carrier pilots on board the Sao Paulo, Brazil's full deck aircraft carrier.
[...]Sao Paulo, formerly the French Foch, operates A-4 Skyhawks. It appears from this interview that the PLAN has arranged with the Brazilian Navy to train some of its pilots and crews on board Sao Paulo. It's fair to say that this represents a substantial step forward for Chinese naval aviation. This agreement with Brazil will presumably allow the Chinese access to Brazilian naval aviation experts in addition to the carrier itself. This should accelerate the development of Chinese naval aviation
by quite a bit.

I either didn't know or had forgotten that Brazil had an aircraft carrier, and I was certainly surprised to know that it is ahead of China in this regard. Rob does an excellent job outlining why training is so difficult and important. He also does a fine job quickly explaining why China didn't go to the U.S., France, or Russia for training, but I think he misses something. He basically suggests that Brazil was the default trainer for the Chinese, given the reasons the U.S., French, and Russia have to not train China. While it's true in one sense that Brazil was the default ally for China, there was nothing dictating that Brazil had to agree to help China develop its naval power. This isn't a case where China bullied Brazil (and, though it's a gross simplification of complex issues, I like the idea of a country without aircraft carriers threatening a country with an aircraft carrier); through economic agreements, China needs Brazil as much (if not moreso) for its agricultural imports (especially soy), industry, and (down the road) oil as Brazil needs China's money and investment. I certainly don't believe this was a case of Brazil getting forced into an agreement it otherwise wouldn't have made. Yet Brazil signed on happily, with the Minister of Defense going to China later this year to further work out I think it's also evidence of the strengthening ties between China and Brazil, not just economically, but politically.

Of course, I don't envision some future "Sino-Brazilian" hegemon or anything. However, the agreement is mutually beneficial for both China and Brazil; China gets training, and Brazil strengthens its reputation and power as a global force. These efforts have been primarily economic up to this point, but this latest military agreement fits within a broader pattern of each trying to increase its role in international politics. The agreement on the carrier training was apparently part of the private meetings between China and Brazil during Lula's trip to Beijing last week, itself a noteworthy event as China and Brazil strengthened their trade relations in what they hope is a mutually beneficial agreement that would reduce both countries' dependency on the U.S. economy (and also agreed to jointly send 3 satellites into space by 2013). China will send military leaders to Brazil to train, and Defense Minister Nelson Jobim will be going to China in September, presumably when the details of the arrangement will be worked out.

Although Brazil has little it is materially gaining directly from China in this agreement, I think it could be the biggest "winner" here. That a country as powerful as China is turning to Brazil (and only partly out of necessity) is a real coup in Brazil's efforts to demonstrate its equality with the other major world powers. Nothing is assured down the road, but other countries are certainly taking notice of this. I doubt anybody outside of South America is worried about Brazil's military potential, and they shouldn't be; Brazil isn't gunning (no pun intended) for global military domination, and this is certainly not the first time that Brazil has demonstrated its growing power among the biggest international leaders, be it in economic, diplomatic, or military aspects. However, it does mark another major demonstration that Brazil isn't going away anytime soon, and it's a major feather in Brazil's cap in strengthening its position in the international community.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Brian Grant and Parkinson's Disease

I didn't really follow basketball very closely after it was clear that the Nance-Daugherty-Price-Ferry-Williams-Brandon gang of the Cavs was going to fall to some new star named "Jordan." I wasn't totally ignorant of basketball - I still followed the Cavs, and knew about certain players and their style. For whatever reason, I always liked Brian Grant (and not just because, in ways that remain mysterious and inexplicable to me to this day, he was involved in the three-way trade between the Cavs, Heat, and Trail Blazers, when Cavs GM Wayne Embry somehow convinced Portland to take an overweight, out-of-shape, just-not-good-anymore, overpaid Shawn Kemp). I just like how he played, how he was fairly dominant yet not obnoxious or particularly gloating (though there's room for that, too).

Thus, it saddened me to know Grant has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the young age of 37. I had a great-grandmother who I remember having it, and it devastated her so severely that, by the time she finally died, everybody was sad but ultimately glad she didn't have to suffer anymore. Everytime I see Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, or anybody else who has it, I marvel at their strength and optimism. I'm glad to see Grant seems to be dealing with it well, and add him to my list of people I really, truly, deeply admire and respect and in some (undefined) way would like to emulate. My best wishes for him and his family and friends.

The New York Times Once Again Dazzles Us with Its "Hard-Hitting" Analysis on Brazil

The New York Times had an article up this past weekend about the Brazilian presidential elections looming next year, and specifically, the PT's (Lula's party) candidate, Dilma Roussef. I've already commented on the horrible journalism covering Dilma in Brazil, and I've flogged both journalist Alexei Barrionuevo's and the New York Times' coverage of Brazil for years, but with the latest report, we get the best of both worlds - ridiculous claims and borderline-fear-mongering on the possibility of Dilma's exit and Lula seeking a third term, combined with Barrionuevo's shoddy "reporting" and "analysis." I wanted to break it down bit by bit, but I've been busy writing. Fortunately, I'm able to outsource to Randy on this one (and read his whole post - it's brief but thorough).

In short, Barrionuevo actually offers multiple direct indicators Lula will not and does not want to seek a third term, but then turns around and basically says, "but what if...?" It's the worst kind of pandering, (middle-class) fear-mongering and conterfactual idiocy that I would expect of O Globo and those who irrationally hate Lula in Brazil, and not of the New York Times. But I guess if there's anything to be learned over the past several years, it's that the Times cannot, will not, and/or does not employ decent jounalists in its Brazilian post.

Bad News Coming (sort of)

Tomorrow the California Supreme Court will give a ruling on the case challenging Prop 8-- the talking heads and legal eagles mostly seem to think that it won't turn out well for the forces of marriage equality. The ruling will most likely uphold the voter-approved constitutional amendment banning marriages based on non-privileged configurations of genitals.

I'm not terribly upset, however. At this point in history, I'd rather have a rematch in 2010. If the court struck down the voter approved ban, the wingnuts would have some ammunition in other states and that could hurt the positive momentum we've seen lately. It will be much more meaningful to the marriage equality movement to have the people of California vote for the equality of their gay brethren than for the court to unilaterally correct the bigoted parade of asshattery that is Prop 8 (as gratifying and justified as it would be, assuredly).

I think 2010 will turn out much differently. For one, proponents of marriage equality won't be fooled by a large and early lead in the polls like in 2008. We all know now that right-wing nutjobs and some religious groups (like that "magical underwear" wearing outfit that shall remain nameless) will raise piles of cash. A similar fundraising effort will need to be put in place to fight it. Plus, I think the shock of Prop 8 passing will force many people out of complacency and mount a better offensive.

As a resident of California, there is another reason I would like this on the ballot in 2010: to point out the sheer and utter insanity of ballot initiatives for constitutional amendments. Let me put it this way: we have an budgetary clusterfuck in this state not in the least part because of the two-thirds "Supermajority" required to raise state taxes, but we can vote down previously granted civil rights for a portion of the population with a straight up and down vote and a simple majority.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Interview with Douglas Rushkoff

Is up at Global Comment.

I really enjoyed this conversation--there was much more we could've talked about, but we discussed the problems with environmentalism for its own sake, local economies, politics, how to save journalism, Karl Marx, corporate libertarianism, and centralized currency. His book Life, Inc. covers a lot more ground, and I'm not exaggerating when I say I think it should be required reading. It comes out June 2, and in honor of Rushkoff's premise, you should get it from your local bookstore.

Here's an excerpt from the interview, and the video preview for the book. Check it out.

S: A lot of the things that you mention as solutions, like buying local, are being tossed around now because they’re environmentally friendly, but you talk about them as good in themselves, because they connect you to the place where you live and the people that you know.

DR: Right. Which would I rather do? Hang out with these pretty girls on an organic farm, get some really bright gorgeous chard, or go into the fluorescent-lit A&P and push a cart around with a bunch of bored people? It becomes an easy choice when you think about it from a sensual level, rather than just an intellectual level. I’m trying to show people that I’m not asking them to live an ascetic life of renunciation and denial, but actually a much more abundant life of fun and pleasure.

When people are doing stuff out of guilt, which is what people get from the sort of Al Gore/”Inconvenient Truth” method of environmentalism or the Noam Chomsky approach to politics and economics, you get the feeling that you have to hole up somewhere and not consume anything. There’s this false dichotomy set up between doing it for the world OR having fun.

S: You talk about the connection to work, whether it’s on a farm or whatever you do—when I say it that way it almost sounds like the classic Marxist argument, that people are alienated from their work.

DR: Marx really did get a lot of it. It got used in some really silly ways and was a terrible basis for a movement. That’s why in the book I speak out against movements in general—you join this whole big thing and then the movement itself becomes a distraction from whatever’s really going on.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Off to North Carolina's Outer Banks for the weekend, a place I have never been (the Outer Banks, not NC). Blogging may be light, although I've been taking a semi-break anyway. Need to recharge the ol'brain!

Historical Image of the Day

Jackie Robinson speaking to Kenyan students in the U.S., 1959

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Joseph Jenkins Roberts, president of Liberia, between 1840 and 1860

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Program cover for The American Negro Conference on Africa, Atlanta, 1895

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

While We're Flogging the NY Times for Its Reporting....

The Times has put up a second article on the flooding in Brazil, accompanied on the second page of the report by the map seen here.....

.....too bad it's spelled "Rio de JanEIro, and not Rio de JanIEro.


From Colony to Superpower, Part XX

This is the twentieth and last chapter of Herring's book. Rob's review is here.

Herring covers the 1991-2007 period in this chapter. It's really an excellent chapter overall. I'm much more interested in talking about Clinton than Bush. This blog and a million others have covered Bush foreign policy for years. It was a disaster in every single aspect. He comes across as bad in Herring's book as he does everyplace else.

Both Rob and Herring make an important point about Clinton--he was totally unprepared to deal with foreign policy issues. This isn't too surprising--he was a member of the Democratic Party who came of age during the Vietnam War; for a generation, the Democrats basically lacked a coherent foreign policy. In addition, few Americans had a sense of where American foreign policy should go with the Cold War rug pulled out from under us. I remember being hopeful that the U.S. would use its tremendous power to do good in the world, ending conflicts and improving people's lives. Boy was I naive.

I do think both Rob and Herring underplay the one way Clinton was active in foreign policy--globalization and free trade. Herring discusses a bit, but it gets significantly less play than Somalia, Bosnia, Israel, and Rwanda. This isn't surprising, but is unfortunate. One of Clinton's most important policy decisions in his first year of office was to sign NAFTA. Free trade and neoliberalism became the hallmark of American foreign policy during the Clinton years. From Southeast Asia to South America; from Mexico to Russia, untrammelled capitalism ruled the day. The U.S. decided to use its power to promote its own business interests. It did so with the most vigor in Latin America and the reaction against this in the last 10 years suggests how significantly the U.S. overplayed its hand.

Of course, neoliberalism was not just an economic idea. Politics mattered too. "Our Brand is Crisis," a documentary about James Carville's political firm intervening on the behalf of a neoliberal presidential candidate in Bolivia is a great document of American foreign policy in the Cold War era. Popular will, the betterment of the people, and fighting poverty played secondary roles at best to promoting the interests of multinational corporations.

The inability of Democrats to have a cohesive foreign policy after 1968 was a real problem. Clinton provided little leadership on foreign policy issues during his first term. Even AIDS prevention programs were underfunded. While part of this was a general triumphalist turning of our back on the world by the nation's populace as a whole, no foreign policy platform came out of the White House to direct American foreign policy. A large percentage of the Democratic congressional delegation and progressive leaders around the country had a knee-jerk "no" response to most uses of the American military. The problem with this became clear in the run-up to the Iraq War, when more centrist Democrats didn't want to flatly say no to the president despite reservations about the war, but also had no alternative arguments. John Kerry's inability to articulate an effective response to Bush and to swiftboating in 2004 is emblematic of this problem. The disaster of the Bush administration seems to have changed this and while we may not yet have an "Obama Doctrine," we surely have a Democratic president quite comfortable in the foreign policy world for the first time since Lyndon Johnson.

I'll have more conclusions on the book as a whole in coming days.

Animal Torture v. Human Torture

I personally don't care whether Michael Vick is reinstated to the NFL or not. For one, he's not very good. And second, well, who cares.

But the arguments for keeping Vick out are really interesting. Peter King at Sports Illustrated prints some of the e-mail responses after he said Vick should come back. One of them gets at the heart of a lot of the outrage toward Vick:

"He's a dog torturer. He has no room in our society let alone our favorite sport. He should be banned for life.'

That's interesting because whereas Vick was roundly condemned for torturing dogs, we have an entire political party saying it's OK to torture human beings in secret prisons with no accountability.

Now I think torturing dogs is terrible. Animal rights are important. I had an uncle (now-deceased) who abused animals and I would have had no problem with him serving some time for it. But what does it say about our society when torturing animals is a far bigger deal with far more moral condemnation than torturing people?

Regional Bias in Aiding Brazilian Floods? I'd Like a Little More Evidence, Please

Yesterday, I commented briefly on the flooding in Brazil, but there was something I wanted to go back to, and Randy has already highlighted. In the article, Alexei Barrionuevo and a few of the people quoted in the article blame the federal government, claiming there is a regional bias at play in the lack of aid to the northeast:

Mr. de Sousa Freitas said the town had already provided more than 5,000 subsistence meals for the displaced. He criticized the federal government for not doing more, saying it had sent only 1,051 meals to Trizidela.
Mr. de Sousa Freitas has not been alone in alleging that the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has done less for affected areas of the northeast than it did for wealthier Santa Catarina last fall.
Piauí and Maranhão, two of the states most affected by the floods, are also two of the country’s three poorest in per-capita income, with most residents earning far less than Brazil’s minimum monthly salary of $225.
“The people in the south treat the northeast as a subrace of Brazilians,” said Roberto Quiñiero, who owns a small food market in Pedreiras.

It is true that there is major regional bias and difference in Brazil, and the wealthier South and Southeast (including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and the southernmost states in Brazil) definitely look down on the Northeast. It even takes on racial tones, as the poor (and often seemingly "browner") people and even people who are bad drivers are referred derogatorily to as "Baianos" and "Paraibenses."

Still, there's not a lot of evidence here for the claim Barrionuevo is subtly making that the government is favoring the wealthier part of Brazil. Basically, one guy is quoted as saying the people of the South (which does not equal "the federal government" or "Lula") are biased against the Northeast, which is true enough but neither here nor there; and another is quoted as blaming the federal government.

Now, I'm not saying the federal government hasn't been quicker to help in the South than the Northeast, or that its federal aid has been greater, but there's no way of knowing that based on this article. To know this, we'd actually need to see some solid economic figures and other statistics actually, you know, COMPARING the aid to the South last year vs. the Northeast this year (as well as the damage to both regions). But we don't get that from Barrionuevo; we just get a couple of victims and local government officials saying there has been a bias, and one federal government official saying there hasn't been any bias.

Certainly, the flooding in both parts of Brazil is tragic, and 300,000 dislocated in the Northeast is a somber number, but that doesn't excuse the New York Times (or anybody else) from suggesting the federal government is to blame without at least offering some evidence beyond anecdotal quotations that that is the case. Certainly, no government is faultless; I'd just like to see a little more "concrete" evidence before you make those claims in a major news source.

Shorter George Will--"Portland is the Enemy of All Things American"

Has George Will gotten stupider? Or is his stupidity just more out of touch with the times?

In recent months, he has denied the existence of human-created climate change because he doesn't want to believe it. And then he railed against the greatest threat to human decency since Attila the Hun--blue jeans.

Now he identifies another huge threat to American values--planned cities! Will creates a false historical straw man to make his point:

For many generations—before automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of towns—Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living. And long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America's "automobile culture," many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people's lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this.

Then he whines about how this is taking away our freedoms? And what evidence does he have for this? The phasing out of incandescent light bulbs. As if anyone cares about this. Also, biking, which he claims no one does. Of course, Will's never done a thing for himself in his entire life, so what does he know about biking? For that matter, what does Will know about anything? I suppose at one time, Will was a conservative you were supposed to take seriously. If that was ever true, it ain't now, because in column after column Will shows how out of touch he is with the American people. How out of touch is he? The man he slams in the article is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood--a Republican.

Via Jay Stevens

Fuel Standards

Certainly I'm glad to see Obama embrace the California fuel standards and push to force the auto industry to adhere to them. This will lower emissions by 40% and create 35.5 mpg standards. This is great.

I'm less confident that it really matters in fighting climate change. It's a first step. And an important and necessary one. But what happens when California or some other state pushes the envelope ever further? Do they have that right? It still prioritizes the individual vehicle and until that changes, we can't effectively fight climate change.

Nonetheless, Obama has already done more for environmental issues than any president since Jimmy Carter. Future historians will look at that gap--with Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and W--and see a huge failure in leadership.

Historical Image of the Day

Day's Mission, Liberia, circa 1900

Watch this Movie

Some of you have porobably already seen this, but I was recently reminded of how great this short movie is:
This is something I think about a lot: where stuff comes from. I think this video does a really great job of showing the whole system of production and consumption, especially how we are tricked into buying new things all the time. Annie Leonard divides the "story of stuff" into a few categories: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. In class we did a small activity to see what specific examples we could add to each different stage of the story. Not surprisingly, we had a much harder time finding personal examples to extraction, production, and distribution. However, consumption was not hard for us to talk about at all. It's obvious where we are most involved along this process, and it's exactly where the producers want us to be. The reason it is hard to think about everything that happens before we see the products is because advertising and the media works so that we only see what we want to see and we can ignore everything that went into making our favorite stuff. Thank you. I would like to think that if the extraction and production processes were more visible to us that people would make different consumer choices, but I don't think that would actually happen. Most people only want to see their favorite things in the stores and they don't care how they got there.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tempus Fugit - The Soft Bulletin

Apparently, yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the release of the Flaming Lips' otherworldly-good The Soft Bulletin. I don't know why, but that's kind of alarming to me - I guess it's always been so eternal-sounding, it doesn't seem to have a date. It's impossibly difficult to pick between this and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots for me, but I think if someone put a gun to my head, I'd probably say The Soft Bulletin is my favorite.

Time to go give it another listen, just to revel once again in its sheer greatness.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will concern American-African relations.

Richard and Pat Nixon at Ghana's independence celebration, 1957

Lots Going On Around Latin America

Regular writing on my own work has taken up most of my time lately, leaving me unable to comment in depth on some stories from Latin America lately (though I thank Erik for picking up some of my slack). Still, it seems worthwhile just offering another quick pointing to several stories of interest across Latin America recently, and hopefully, I'll be back to regular blogging soon (though it depends how writing elsewhere goes).

-To follow up on Erik's post, indigenous peoples in Peru have responded to Garcia's sending of the military to extract oil from indigenous lands by saying they will return to "ancestral laws" and interpret any invasion as an act of aggression.

-Things have gotten really ugly really quickly in Guatemala in the wake of the murder of lawyer last week. Rodrigo Rosenberg was killed while riding his bike, and a video of Rosenberg was released that said if he were killed, it was because president Alvaro Colom had ordered the killing. In response, mass protests calling for Colom's resignation and supporting Colom have burst out. The UN and the FBI are getting involved to help solve the case, while an individual who, via Twitter, recommended people withdraw their money from one of the banks (currently of major relevance to the events, as the assassination apparently involves Rosenberg, two of his clients who were also murdered, Colom, and charges of corruption) is under house arrest, charged with trying to spark a panic. Meanwhile, both Colom's supporters and his opponents are claiming the other side is propped up by money from drug cartels. I hope to have more analysis on this later, but right now, I fully agree with Boz: if there is any truth to any of these claims, then it means that the drug cartels have entered national politics in Guatemala, and that is nothing but bad news.

-Massive rains and flooding in the northeastern states of Piauí and Maranhão in Brazil have left 300,000 people homeless, and it appears no sign the waters will go down for at least a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, a recent drought in the Center-South has forced Brazil to increase its importation of gasoline from Bolivia for energy needs, as hydroelectric energy production has dropped.

-Chile marked the 50th anniversary of the Torres del Paine national park by increasing its preservation-and-maintenance funding from $60,000 to $800,000/year, and asked UNESCO to put the park on the wildlife heritage list.

-In more environmental news, Argentina has established quota limits for fishing on three types of fish, in an effort to try to stave off over-fishing and eventual extinction of these species.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Did We Actually Believe This Shit?

Via Ali Frick, GQ has published some of the greatest documents of the Bush Administration: top-secret intelligence reports on Iraq titled with Bible versus. GQ seems to have something that doesn't allow one to copy and paste the images, but please check them out. As a sample, the best one has a tank in Iraq entering a city. The intel report says, "“Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter," Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Did the Bush Administration actually believe that the US was the righteous nation? Of course the answer is yes.

With such a rejection of Bush's policies in 2006 and 2008, these attitudes seem like ancient history. How could Americans (because it certainly wasn't just the Bushies who believed this) actually think this way? But then again, 60% of evangelicals are pro-torture according to a recent poll. What a hypocritical version of Christanity these people lead. And with such disastrous results for the nation and the world.

It'd be great to get to a point when no people thought they were "the righteous nation." The U.S. has always had these messianic tendencies; every few decades it seems they percolate to the top. I don't know what to do about it except be aware and fight these myths before they gain enough popularity to again elect horrible people to power and again damage the world.

Alan Garcia, Racist

Indigenous Peruvians are protesting their government allowing multinational corporations to mine and log their lands without their permission. Not surprisingly, the racist president of Peru, Alan Garcia, could not care less. In fact, Garcia is sending in the military to put down the protests. He claims,

"We have to understand when there are resources like oil, gas and timber, they don't belong only to the people who had the fortune to be born there,"

Uh-huh. That's code for, "we don't care about the rights of Indians. We are taking your resources, you won't see one red cent for it, and you can't do anything about it."

There is a history of western environmental groups stepping in to make a positive difference in these situations. In the early 1990s, Ecuadoran indigenous people protested against oil exploration. They made connections with western environmental organizations who then put international pressure on the oil companies and the government. Interestingly, the big enviro groups made a deal with the oil companies that was then rejected by both their own members and the indigenous groups. The corporations then pulled out. In that case, it wasn't that the indigenous groups weren't interested in developing their resources. But they wanted control over the operations and real assurances that it wouldn't lead to the destruction of their land and society. I suspect it's the same in Peru.

But ultimately, you have to have a president who is willing to listen to international pressure on these issues and I don't know that Alan Garcia would do so. Arguably the worst South American leader not named Alvaro Uribe, Garcia has never shown much willingness to do what is right and to work with the poor people of his nation in any constructive way. It's particularly unlikely he's going to do that here with a $2 billion offer for the oil from the French company Perenco on the table.

Moreover, his stance, his words claiming that all Peruvians own these resources, and his use of the military suggest the worst kind of racism toward indigenous peoples. This racism has long plagued South American nations and often manifests itself over resource extraction. The indigenous people have usually lost these battles. Unless the West steps in here and applies some pressure, it's likely that they will lose again.

Historical Image of the Day

Stamp commemorating 100th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, 1958.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kobe Bryant, White Slaver

Most people who know me well know how much I hate the Los Angeles Lakers. It's real personal. As a Portland Trail Blazers fan as far back as I can remember (the Jim Paxson years), I've seen my dreams crushed by those bastards time and time again. Seeing Nicholson and Cannon and all those other stars courtside makes me sick. Remembering back to 1991 or 2000 makes me angry.

In a related story, has there ever been an NBA store more loathsome than Kobe Bryant? I've disliked many the NBA star, but Kobe, well, is there anything likable about him? No. Take another 50 shots Kobe. Drive Shaq off the team again while you're at it. Jerk.

Anyway, this takes us to those weird commercials playing during the playoffs for Taken. Remember, the Liam Neeson movie where his daughter is kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring. Well, the commercials splice the movie clips together with players taking over the game. It's a bizarre marketing campaign given the nature of the movie.

Well, in at least some of the commercials, the first thing they show after Liam Neeson's daughter being kidnapped is a clip of Kobe Bryant.

And of course my first thought is--Oh My God--on top of everything else, Kobe Bryant also heads up a white slavery ring!

Not that it would surprise me.

Go Rockets!

Indian Elections: A victory for secularism in a land of many gods

This first sentence from The Telegraph, a renowned publication from the eastern Indian city of Calcutta pretty much summed up my own reaction to the Indian election results:

“The idea of India — a vibrant, secular, plural, resurgent nation that can transcend its myriad differences and complexities to reaffirm an essential unity of purpose — received a resounding victory today as the world’s largest electorate shed the politics of extremes and delivered a decisive mandate to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.”

This road to victory wasn’t always clear, however.

As Ananya Vajpeyi explains, over the past few years the world’s largest democracy has become increasingly undemocratic, one where minorities and marginal groups are struggling to survive, and where election campaigns are based on divisiveness along religious lines.

Many candidates from the conservative nationalist party, the BJP, which represents the Hindu and Sikh communities of India, have invoked hate speeches against Muslims in order to further their campaigns. One such contender, who went far enough to say that he would “cut the heads of Muslims;” was jailed for a month before charges against him were dropped.

Of course, this is not entirely new to Indian electoral campaigns. Politics of identity, regionalism and religiosity is but natural in a land where so many different creeds populate what would be the American equivalent of a block in a cosmopolitan city. However, despite the depth of diversity that exists in the subcontinent, India’s national campaigns have been relatively secular in the past, even if not at the communal or individual level, certainly at the political party level.

One of the laudable things about Indian elections – and this was true up until the late nineties – is that campaigns were rarely exclusionist in terms of certain groups of the population, castes or religions, perhaps owing to the myriad number of small – but by no means insignificant – political parties that exist in the country’s political landscape. But in the aftermath of the religious animosity engendered by the Gujarat riots of 2002, the Mumbai blasts, and more recently against Christian groups in the southeastern state of Orissa, this has changed.

People from minority religions have been marginalized, in some states being forced to flee to other regions, and Hinduism, which has historically been celebrated for being exceedingly tolerant of other religions, has been used for political reasons by the BJP, whose acronym literally translates to “party of the people,” but which really is the Hindu nationalist party. In some regions of the country the recent terror attacks and increasing resentment toward Muslims have led to the popularity of pro-Hindu political leaders.

Robert Kaplan raises this very point in last month’s issue of The Atlantic, characterizing Narendra Modi, head of the western Indian state of Gujarat as the possible “new face” of India. Celebrated for his ruthless efficiency and his incorruptible personality (a rarity in a country where every other government official has at the very least a bribery charge against him), Modi’s lesser-touted characteristic is his intense hatred of Muslims. Modi is said to have perpetrated the infamous riots of 2002, where more than a thousand people were killed.

In the midst of religious and political unrest in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, political stability and religious tolerance in India becomes that much more important.

As Kaplan eloquently articulates,

“ the influence of an economically burgeoning India now seeps both westward and eastward, to the Iranian plateau and to the Gulf of Thailand (the borders of viceregal India and its shadow zones a hundred years ago), it can grow only as a force of communal coexistence, a force that rests on India’s strengths as the world’s largest democracy. India, in other words, despite its flashy economic growth, will be nothing but another gravely troubled developing nation if it can’t maintain a minimum of domestic harmony.”

The route to that domestic harmony – at least for now, is the re-election of the pan-Indian, less marginal, more moderate, exceedingly progressive Congress party with Manmohan Singh at its helm. This mandate did not just signal a victory for religious tolerance in India, but was also a referendum on an increasing desire for social equality in a country where slums continue to grow along the feet of towering skyscrapers.

Singh, who is credited with the liberalization of the Indian economy in his role as Finance Minister in the early nineties, and the country’s resultant economic boom, was criticized by aspiring, free-market advocates just a couple years ago for appealing to business leaders to exercise restraint, regulate executive pay, and allow more demographic representation among employees.

A graduate of Cambridge and Oxford, Singh has no doubt been a free-market advocate for much of his life. But as Prime Minister, owing to an alliance with the socialist-leaning Leftist party, but more importantly - pragmatism in a land that houses 456 million people below the global poverty line - he has displayed a strong commitment toward the social and public sectors and insisted on providing economic security, health benefits, and greater representation to the underprivileged.

The task is certainly cut out for Singh and his party if they plan to deliver on their promise of balancing economic growth with social equality, but getting elected is a step in the right direction.

Forgotten American Blogging: Maury Maverick

During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain's use of the term "maverick" to describe himself led to a curious rebuttal. Sarah wrote a post about the Maverick family of San Antonio, long leaders in regional progressive politics, snapping at McCain for adopting the term.

The most famous member of this family is Maury Maverick. Pretty much forgotten about today, Maverick had a really interesting, if short, career. Born in San Antonio in 1895, he lived the life of a member of the Texas elite--education at Virginia Military Institute, Texas Military Institute, and the University of Texas; passed the bar in 1916, served in World War I as a lieutenant earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart, engaged in private business after the war, and a career in local politics. Maverick's liberal reputation began during these years when he took on the Ku Klux Klan in San Antonio.

But in 1934, Maverick suddenly became an important national figure. With the support of San Antonio's Latino population, Maverick was elected to the House of Representatives. There he was an ardent New Dealer from one of the most conservative states in the country. Upon reaching Congress, Maverick rapidly became a leader of the progressive bloc in the House, particularly his "Mavericks," 35 young congressmen who resented the conservative Democratic leadership in Congress. Maverick led fights to create the National Cancer Institute, to clear slums, and for conservation.

Even by the time his first term began in 1935, a lot of Texas Democrats were opposed to most of the New Deal, especially Vice President John Nance Garner. One of the greatest things Lyndon Johnson ever did was sabotaging Garner's attempt to take the 1940 Democratic nomination from Franklin Roosevelt. Garner wanted to turn back much of the New Deal and it's hard to imagine Garner providing the same kind of leadership as Roosevelt through World War II. Anyway, Maverick quickly felt the ire of Garner, Martin Dies, and other conservative Texas Democrats. He managed to get reelected in 1936. But in 1938, running for a 3rd term, the Texas Democratic Party redbaited Maverick out of office, claiming that he wanted to "supplant the American flag with the red flag of Russia." During these years he also mentored the young Lyndon Johnson, an interesting point because Johnson certainly didn't follow Maverick's radical leanings. However, Johnson was excellent at making people believe he was on their side, regardless of the position, so this is not the surprising.

Maverick still was very popular among the Latino poor that made up much of his district and almost immediately upon his return to Texas he was elected mayor of San Antonio. Maverick received federal money to build the famed Riverwalk that now defines downtown San Antonio, an object lesson to Texans of what the federal government can do for you, not that they would ever listen.

Again, the Texas Democratic Party, and especially the San Antonio political machine, worked to redbait him out of office and he was defeated for reelection in 1941. Maverick was a strong believer in free speech. He lent out San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium to a labor union with communist connections. In response, his opponents burned him in effigy and destroyed his political career. Still the ardent New Dealer, Maverick worked for the Roosevelt administration in useful ways during World War II, serving on the War Production Board and the Smaller War Plants Corporation, as well as the Office of Price Administration and Office of Personnel Management.

Following World War II, Maverick went back to the law, dying in 1954 at the age of 58. His son, Maury Maverick, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps, providing a lonely liberal voice to Texas politics until his death in 2003.


A very quiet week in news, interrupted only by Nancy Pelosi's fight with the CIA and Obama's disappointing but entirely expected by me backtracking on publishing torture photos and using military tribunals. The latter is particularly distressing, but without consistent pressure from Congress and the public, presidents are going to do everything they can to centralize power.

Much more interesting to me is the appointment of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China. Huntsman was the Republican I was most scared about in 2012. Although I don't think he could win the nomination because he's only conservative and not crazy, had he won, he would be an intelligent conservative alternative who could attract moderate voters in a way virtually no other Republican can. I wonder what Huntsman's thought process on this was--like Specter, does he see his future as a conservative Democrat? Or does he want to buy time until the crazy in the Republican Party burns itself out like a supernova? Having bipartisan credentials never hurt a politician on the national level, but that's unacceptable in the current Republican Party.

In any case, it's a great selection by Obama to marginalize a potential rival. I'd say this is nearly as a great a loss for the Republicans as Specter.

Historical Image of the Day

Political cartoons from 1860 presidential election, a rematch between Lincoln and Douglas, this time with Lincoln winning.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Brazilian Government Launches Portal for Dictatorship-Era Documents

Well, this is excellent news:

Brazil has shone a light into one of the most troubled periods of its recent past, as the government published documents dating from the country's 20 years of dictatorship.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched a website on Wednesday containing information dating from 1964 to 1985, when the country was under the sway of the military.
The portal, which is part of the national archives, includes documents held by state governments and universities.
Dilma Rousseff, the head of Lula's cabinet and the person tipped to succeed him, said the initiative would help end "the culture of state secrets."

While it's not the military archives, which remain secret (and which some top-brass in the military continue to insist do not exist and never existed), this will really allow even better and broader understanding of some of the policies and actions of Brazil's military dictatorship, especially as it combines in one digital collection documents which had previously been spread all over the country.

Plus, it offers yet another excuse for me to prolong my dissertation even further.

Historical Image of the Day

New York Herald report after 6th Lincoln-Douglas Debate, October 13, 1858

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Treating people as, y'know, people

So I interviewed Douglas Rushkoff today (I'll post a link to the interview soon) about his soon-to-be released book, Life, Inc.

The book is subtitled "How The World Became A Corporation and How To Take It Back." In really, really short form, the way to take it back is by reconnecting to your surroundings, your home, your friends, your food--everything. Rushkoff argues that people have been so shaped by our corporatist world that we behave like mini-corporations in ourselves.

I was transcribing for a while, and then put it away for the evening, still thinking about the things we discussed in the interview, about community, about how Rushkoff's point is actually rather close to Kant's instruction:

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

And then I read this.

I don't have a problem with the post in general--gentrification is something that most young urban folks should think about and many don't. (Rushkoff actually takes on gentrification in the book as well, looking at the cycle and the rise in "property values".)

But what strikes me is that even here I see the corporatist mindset. Consider:

Anybody have ideas of how those of us in gentrifying neighborhoods--both folks who have lived "here" forever and those who are just moving in--can collectively benefit from our assets?

To be fair, Martin uses the term "assets" after it was used in an article that she quotes liberally in the piece. But once again, we're talking about people in business terms. My neighbors are not "assets." They are, as Kant noted, ends in themselves, not means to an end. They are people.

The idea is not to use our "assets," but to get to know the people in your neighborhood, to be part of a community. Community isn't just the place where you live. Community was my neighborhood in New Orleans where my neighbor would barbecue a huge dinner and invite the whole street to join in, where we'd stand outside and chat for a while whenever we ran into one another. Community is the mechanic on the end of my Philly block who drove me to school the day the part for my car didn't come on time, and called me to follow up and make sure the car was still working.

Martin concludes the post by saying:

"But beyond that, I'm hungry to interact with those in my community in a way that feeds us all."

I'd suggest that the first way to do that is to stop thinking about people as assets to be utilized.