31 December 2010

19 December 2010

This all makes sense to me.

Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, weighs in on the stimulus and the recent tax cuts, claiming that . . .

. . .  the trick would be to address several key economic inefficiencies. The first is that the defense budget has ballooned, so that we are spending an enormous amount overseas—where it doesn’t do anything for our economy—and on weapons with little use. The second is that we give subsidies to a wide range of businesses, which makes the market less efficient and is often in violation of our treaty obligations. The third is that we invest too little in the public goods like the infrastructure necessary for our economy to function. And the last inefficiency is that an increasingly large share—more than 20%—of our national income goes to the top 1% of earners, which means less money goes to the middle class—the real engine of economic growth.

So, Stiglitz says, the trick to reducing the deficit in a way that benefits the economy is simple:

• cut wasteful military spending, in part by no longer funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
• eliminate corporate subsidies, particularly to the banking, agricultural, and pharmaceutical sectors
• spend money on high-return public investments, increasing long-term economic growth
• increase the capital gains tax, which effectively allows the rich to pay a lower tax rate than the middle class
• raise taxes slightly on the rich—who can afford to pay more in taxes—effectively transferring more money back to the middle class

Our sicko media

Michael Moore has an intertaining article about how the government put out false information trying to discredit him and the media from across the spectrum all printed it without so much as a Google search to check if it was true.

12 December 2010

Plus c'est la même chose

Bernie Sanders' clarion call

If anyone needed proof that the U.S. has become a one-party plutocracy, the need look no further than the image of a lone Bernie Sanders in the middle of an empty Senate floor, opposing the bipartisan effort to provide tax-cuts to billionaires.

8 December 2010

Reflections on bitter red pills

The sudden cooperation we see among separate corporate entities, governments, and elite players from around the globe in response to Wikileaks should serve as an important lesson on the true structure of power. While it is always difficult to arrive at an accurate analysis of power--an analysis that sheds light on who is truly calling the shots--there are occasional events that provide a glimpse into the machine's interworkings. We can, at the very least, know that when minor rebellions call forth all the forces of empire, some button must have been pushed; some invisible line in the sand, crossed. The visceral response to some leaked documents and film clips that tell us (surprise, surprise) that troops sometimes kill civilians or that the Russian government is corrupt is, to say the least, a bit baffling. Why all the hooplah?

What's at stake isn't facts--the facts are known already. My guess is that the true threat is the destruction of a narrative: the sort of coherent Fox News narrative (or for that matter, liberal, pro-Obama narrative) that sees government actors and diplomats as motivated by the same themes put forth in our high school civics class. Why anybody still believes such bedtime stories speaks volumes about the effectiveness of our disinformation and diseducational system, but then again, people all over the planet still speak of states as if they were football teams working together to win one for the cheering home crowd. The rightwing practitioners of realpolitik must have quite a few laughs over their $100 shots of single-malt scotch when they turn on the news and see the pseudo-debates about freedom, justice, and protection of the "city on the hill."

The officially sanctioned media has little light to shine on the recent events. Little wonder. If the Wikileaks have done anything, it's to show that the traditional media operations are suffering from a gumption deficit. People who take great pride in living in "democracies" rarely fully confront the implications. If the government's power is solely to work for the people, there should ideally be virtually no secrets. And there should certainly be no instances in which the publically stated policy is, in fact, the reverse of the actual policy.

As Jordan Stancil points out:

The classification rules were supposed to induce openness by requiring cable authors to choose from a list of justifications in the controlling executive order before classifying a document, but in reality, as I saw during my own Foreign Service postings, everybody chooses reasons 1.4(b) and (d)—foreign government information, and foreign activities of the United States. In fact, nearly all officers simply had those justifications pre-pasted into a cable-writing template on their computers. As everyone can now see, almost all the WikiLeaks cables released so far were classified based on reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

There is not a national security reason to keep secret, as a general rule and for an extended period, the interactions between representatives of the US government and representatives of foreign governments. We claim a national security imperative by arguing that foreign politicians would not talk to us if we did not hide what they said from their own constituents and domestic opponents and the governments of third countries. To state this argument is to expose its anti-democratic essence. But this is what Hillary Clinton means when she praises secrecy for permitting what she calls “honest, private dialogue.” She means dialogue among the powerful, safe in the knowledge that they will not be held accountable to their own citizens or legislatures. One readily understands the desire of foreign—or American—public figures to control, as much as they possibly can, the flow of information concerning their activities and their images. It is much less clear that it is in the American national interest to enable this type of information control, and to prosecute people who try to get around it.

Galah extraordinaire

I recently read someone describe Obama has haven't successfully exceeded all non-expectations. Who would have ever dreamed that we'd see the extension of the Bush tax-cuts for the super-wealthy years after Obama took office? What a farce!

Katrin Axelsson on the Assange rape charges

Katrin Axelsson talks about the dangers of using rape charges for political ends:

Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations (Report, 8 December). Women in Sweden don't fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape. Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On 23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that "up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported". They endorsed Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.

Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.

There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don't take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.

7 December 2010

Documentary

Journeyman videos has a good documentary on Wikileaks.

4 December 2010

Have the Taliban conquered Sweden?

Evidently, the motivation for this international manhunt is that the condom broke when someone was having consentual sex.

From the Herald Sun's online paper:

APPARENTLY having consensual sex in Sweden without a condom is punishable by a term of imprisonment of a minimum of two years for rape. That was the basis for a recent revival of rape allegations against Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange that is destined to make Sweden and its justice system the laughing stock of the world and dramatically damage its reputation as a model of modernity.

Sweden’s Public Prosecutor’s Office was embarrassed in August this year when they leaked to the media that they were seeking to arrest Assange for rape then on the same day withdrew the arrest warrant because in their own words there was “no evidence.”  The damage to Assange’s reputation is incalculable. Three months on and three prosecutors later the Swedes seemed to be clear on their basis to proceed with a headline grabbing international arrest warrant. If consensual sex that started out with the intention of condom use and actual condom use ended up without condom, that’s rape.

Statements by the two female “victims” Sophia Wilen and Anna Ardin that there was no fear or violence would stop a rape charge in any western country dead in its tracks.  Rape is a crime of violence. Both women boasted of their of their respective celebrity conquests on internet posts and mobile phones texts after the intimacy they would now see him destroyed for. Ardin hosted a party in Assange’s honour at her flat after the ‘crime’ and tweeted to her followers that she was with the “the world's coolest smartest people, it's amazing!” Ardin has sought unsuccessfully to delete these and thereby destroy evidence of Assange’s innocence She has published on the internet a guide on how to get revenge on cheating boyfriends. Their sms texts to each other show a plan to contact the Swedish newspaper Expressen before hand in order to maximise the damage to Assange.  They belong to the same political group and attended a public lecture given by Assange and organised by them.

The exact content of Sophia Wilén’s mobile phone texts is not yet known but their bragging and generally positive content about Assange has been confirmed by Swedish prosecutors. The consent of both women to sex with Assange has been confirmed by prosecutors. Niether Wilén’s nor Ardin’s texts complain of rape. These facts should make any normal prosecutor gravely concerned about whether a false complaint is being made. But then neither Arden nor Wilén complained to the police. They collaboratively ‘sought advice’, a technique in Sweden enabling citizens to avoid being sued for making false complaints. In any normal first world country the prosecutor would know that her case not just a deeply flawed waste of time by a dangerous perversion of the serious objectives of rape laws. The womens’ lawyer Claes Borgström was questioned by the media as to how the women themselves could be contradicting the legal characterisation of Swedish prosecutors; a crime of non-consent by consent. Borgström’s answer is emblematic of how divorced from reality this matter is: “they (the women) are not jurists.”  You need a law degree to know whether you have been raped or not in Sweden.

How the Swedish authorities propose to prosecute for victims who neither saw themselves as such nor acted as such is easily answered: You’re not a Swedish lawyer so you wouldn’t understand anyway. Make no mistake: It is not Julian Assange that is on trial here but Sweden and its reputation as a modern and model country with rules of law.

Boycott PayPal and Amazon

Amazon recently went over to the dark side. And now this:

U.S.-based PayPal said in a statement that WikiLeaks, which this week released thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, had violated its policy. A posting on WikiLeaks' Twitter page tells us: "PayPal bans WikiLeaks after US government pressure."

The PayPal site claims, "PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We've notified the account holder of this action."

There are apparently many PayPal alternatives (avoid Amazon payments). I've cancelled my PayPal accounts and my Amazon account and have told Amazon that they will never have my business again.

3 December 2010

Schneier's call to close the Washington Monument

Schneier becries our irrational fear while trying to put terrorist acts in perspective in his recent article in the NY Daily News. Three excerpts from this excellent piece:

Some of them call terrorism an "existential threat" against our nation. It's not. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't make an existential dent in our nation. Automobile-related fatalities -- at 42,000 per year, more deaths each month, on average, than 9/11 -- aren't, either. It's our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends.
...

Terrorism isn't a crime against people or property. It's a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed -- even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we're indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail -- even if their attacks succeed.
....

The grand reopening of the Washington Monument will not occur when we've won the war on terror, because that will never happen. It won't even occur when we've defeated al Qaeda. . . . We can reopen the Washington Monument when we've defeated our fears, when we've come to accept that placing safety above all other virtues cedes too much power to government and that liberty is worth the risks, and that the price of freedom is accepting the possibility of crime.