Apr 30th, 2009 by ravi
Torture and religion

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

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Apr 30th, 2009 by ravi
Microsoft as the Detroit of software

Rather, the problem is that Microsoft is the Detroit of software. It makes big, ugly, dangerous, resource-hogging crap, and its “success” is based on…its “success.” Vast sectors of our economy, from enormous enterprises to mom-and-pop shops, desperately depend on its continued dominance; and when it collapses, they—and we—will be screwed.


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Apr 29th, 2009 by ravi
Swine flu and animal welfare

Smithfield’s pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs — anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

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Apr 29th, 2009 by ravi
China’s recovery

BBC’s Stephanie Flanders:


As a share of the US economy, China’s fiscal stimulus measures this year are larger even than America’s. While the loosening of credit conditions is greater than any that O’Neill has ever seen.

All this policy seems to be having an effect. He’s just raised Goldman Sachs’ forecast for Chinese growth this year from 6% to more than 8%, and next year’s from 9% growth to nearly 11%.

This optimism gets support from stories on the ground. Qu Hongbin and Sun Junwei, of HSBC, just returned from a tour of three big cities in inland provinces, which were never as dependent on exports as the coast.

They say that firms there are already benefiting from all the new infrastructure projects that the government is putting on stream. And consumer spending is holding up as well, growing at annual rates of close to 20%.

The national picture is also looking up. The volume of bank loans grew by nearly 30% in the first three months of the year. While the British were obsessing over their finances, China also reported a record month for car sales in March.

[From BBC – Stephanomics: Optimism about China’s economy]

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Apr 26th, 2009 by ravi
Torture value

From an Op-Ed piece by Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent, in the New York Times:


It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics.


[From Op-Ed Contributor – My Tortured Decision – NYTimes.com]

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Apr 21st, 2009 by ravi
Democrat caught looping the loop

Last year, afraid of being seen weak on national security, Democrats authorised George Bush’s illegal wiretapping programme, even granting retroactive immunity to phone companies that participated without a court order in this snooping. Unfortunately you can’t have your weak-kneed cake and eat your AIPAC dollars too… or summit like that:

CQ.com reported Harman was overheard on a National Security Agency wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two AIPAC officials. In exchange for Harman’s help, CQ.com reported, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections.

According to one unnamed official cited by CQ.com, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

Hilarious stuff!

[From Congresswoman calls alleged wiretap ‘abuse of power’ – CNN.com]

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Apr 21st, 2009 by ravi
Noam Chomsky on vegetarianism and animal rights

On a [Western] leftist list that I am on, I have had a devil of a time convincing [some] participants that animals suffer in a manner similar to humans and that this suffering is worthy of our moral considerations. Below is Noam Chomsky on the issue, in an interview with Michael Albert (all emphasis mine):

Q: It’s also true that how people live their lives in their homes, how people regard one another, sets a framework in which even work is affected. All these things mutually interact with each other and affect one another.

And in every one of them that you look at, there are questions about authority and domination that ought to be raised constantly, and that very rarely have satisfactory answers. Sometimes they do, I think, but it has to be shown. As a matter of fact, you can even ask the same about your relation to animals. The questions can be asked there, too, in fact are being asked.

Q: You’re an animal rights activist?

I think it’s a serious question. To what extent do we have a right to torture animals? I think it’s a very good thing that that question …

Q: Torture?

Experiments are torturing animals, let’s say. That’s what they are. So to what extent do we have a right to torture animals for our own good? I think that’s not a trivial question.

Q: What about eating?

Same question.

Q: Are you a vegetarian?

I’m not, but I think it’s a serious question. If you want my guess, my guess would be that …

Q: A hundred years from now everyone will be.

I don’t know if it’s a hundred years, but it seems to me if history continues–that’s not at all obvious, that it will–but if society continues to develop without catastrophe on something like the course that you can sort of see over time, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it moves toward vegetarianism and protection of animal rights. In fact, what we’ve seen over the years–and it’s hard to be optimistic in the twentieth century, which is one of the worst centuries in human history in terms of atrocities and terror and so on–but still, over the years, including the twentieth century, there is a widening of the moral realm, bringing in broader and broader domains of individuals who are regarded as moral agents.

Q: Nothing could be happening to that underlying, wired-in, inate, intrinsic character… That can’t be changing.

No, but it can get more and more realized. You can get a better and better understanding of it. We’re self-conscious beings. We’re not rocks. And we can get more and more understanding of our own nature, not because we read a book about it. The book doesn’t have anything to tell you, because nobody knows anything. But just through experience, including historical experience, which is part of our own personal experience because it’s embedded in our culture, which we enter into.

Q: So then it’s plausible that vegetarians, animal rights advocates and the like are just a couple of steps ahead in discerning something about …

It’s possible. I think I’d certainly keep an open mind on that. You can understand how it could be true. It’s certainly a pretty intelligible idea to us. I think one can see the moral force to it. You don’t have to go back very far to find gratuitous torture of animals. In Cartesian philosophy, for example, where it was assumed … the Cartesians thought they had proven that humans had minds and everything else in the world was a machine. So there’s no difference between a cat and a watch, let’s say. It’s just the cat’s a little more complicated. You go back to the court in the seventeenth century, and big smart guys who studied all that stuff and thought they understood it would as a sport take Lady So-and-So’s favorite dog and kick it and beat it to death and so on and laugh, saying, this silly lady doesn’t understand the latest philosophy, which was that it was just like dropping a rock on the floor. That’s gratuitous torture of animals. It was regarded as if we would ask a question about the torturing of a rock. You can’t do it. There’s no way to torture a rock. The moral sphere has certainly changed in that respect. Gratuitous torture of animals is no longer considered quite legitimate.

[From The Chomsky Tapes Conversations with Michael Albert]

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Apr 20th, 2009 by ravi
Gergentuan analysis
(image from The Guardian)

(image from The Guardian)

At the Summit of the Americas, in a weak human moment, Obama shook hands with and smiled at Hugo Chavez. Needless to say, that has set off the most profound analyses among our news media.

Shake hands with Chavez but hold smiles, analyst says – CNN.com

David Gergen, CNN’s senior political analyst, said Obama is trying to make good on that pledge.

“I think most political advisers would tell the president, you know, it’s fine to shake hands, hold the smiles,” he said, adding that the gesture shows some inexperience on Obama’s part.

“What the real test here is going to be in policies and in the actions. And I think Barack Obama has to somehow make a balance between being open, reaching out and also not surrendering or retreating on basic American principles and on showing some toughness,” Gergen said.

Perhaps Gergen, part time CNN stooge and full-time Harvard professor (yes you read that right), also needs a copy of Open Veins of Latin America, or a full record of US participation in the various anti-Chavez actions.

A bit presumptuous of me to suggest that Harvard professors spend time reading history, but the rest of you might benefit from perusing these:

[ Link ]

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Apr 11th, 2009 by ravi
Israel, Iran and Obama

Perhaps Thomas Friedman has fallen off the flat earth because recently there have been some rather sensible mutterings over at the New York Times. Such as this one:

Op-Ed Columnist – From Tehran to Tel Aviv – NYTimes.com

Still, this much is clear to me: Obama’s new Middle Eastern diplomacy and engagement will involve reining in Israeli bellicosity and a probable cooling of U.S.-Israeli relations. It’s about time. America’s Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy has been disastrous, not least for Israel’s long-term security.

[ Link ]

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