Jan 31st, 2010 by ravi
Lewontin on the real function of the Democratic Party

In the United States just after independence from Britain, the farmers of western Massachusetts, led by Daniel Shays and still in possession of their muskets, occupied the general courts to prevent bankers from obtaining judgements to confiscate farmers’ property for debt. The bankers in Boston succeeded in getting Continental troops to put down this rebellion, but all at the cost of considerable social upheaval. It is obviously in the interest of those who have power in society to prevent such violent and destructive conflicts, even if, with the police power of the state, they are sure to win.

As such struggles occur, institutions are created whose function is to forestall violent struggle by convincing people that the society in which they live is just and fair, or if not just and fair then inevitable, and that it is quite useless to resort to violence. There are the institutions of legitimation.

He’s speaking generally about equality, power and revolt, but he might as well have been speaking of the current financial crisis and the real function of Obama and the Democratic Party.

 

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Jan 29th, 2010 by ravi
Haiti and our response

“Command and control” turned out to be the key words. The U.S. military did what the U.S. military does. Like a slow-witted, fearful giant, it built a wall around itself, commandeering the Port-au-Prince airport and constructing a mini-Green Zone. As thousands of tons of desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies piled up behind the airport fences—and thousands of corpses piled up outside them—Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out the possibility of using American aircraft to airdrop supplies: “An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots,” he said. The military’s first priority was to build a “structure for distribution” and “to provide security.” (Four days and many deaths later, the United States began airdropping aid.)

The TV networks and major papers gamely played along. Forget hunger, dehydration, gangrene, septicemia—the real concern was “the security situation,” the possibility of chaos, violence, looting. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground accounts from people who did not have to answer to editors described Haitians taking care of one another, digging through rubble with their bare hands, caring for injured loved ones—and strangers—in the absence of outside help. Even the evidence of “looting” documented something that looked more like mutual aid: The photograph that accompanied a Sunday New York Times article reporting “pockets of violence and anarchy” showed men standing atop the ruins of a store, tossing supplies to the gathered crowd.

The guiding assumption, though, was that Haitian society was on the very edge of dissolving into savagery. Suffering from “progress-resistant cultural influences” (that’s David Brooks finding a polite way to call black people primitive), Haitians were expected to devour one another and, like wounded dogs, to snap at the hands that fed them. As much as any logistical bottleneck, the mania for security slowed the distribution of aid.

Air-traffic control in the Haitian capital was outsourced to an Air Force base in Florida, which, not surprisingly, gave priority to its own pilots. While the military flew in troops and equipment, planes bearing supplies for the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders were rerouted to Santo Domingo in neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid flights from Mexico, Russia, and France were refused permission to land. On Monday, the British Daily Telegraph reported, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid admitted he had been involved in a “scuffle” with a U.S. commander in the airport’s control tower. According to the Telegraph, it took the intervention of the United Nations for the United States to agree to prioritize humanitarian flights over military deliveries.

(I have been meaning to post this for a few days now. It’s a bit old but well worth a read)

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Jan 29th, 2010 by ravi
Going beyond the gene

To find a biological answer to the question “Who are we?” we might look to the human genome. Certainly, when the Human Genome Project first produced a draft of the 3 billion-base-pair sequence, it was touted as a blueprint for human life. Less than a decade later, however, most experts recognize that our genomes capture only a part of who we are. Researchers have become aware, for example, of the influence of epigenetic phenomena — imprinting, maternal effects, and gene silencing, among others — in determining how genetic material is ultimately expressed. Now comes the notion that the genomes of microbes within us must also be considered. Our bodies are, after all, composites of human and bacterial cells, with microbes together contributing at least 1,000 times more genes to the whole.

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Jan 28th, 2010 by ravi
Undermining artificial scarcities
Jaron Lanier defending inflated copyright rents:

> The problem in each case is not that you stole from a specific person but that you undermined the artificial scarcities that allow the economy to function.

Right there in the open: “undermining artificial scarcities”. Which is a bad thing! At least he’s an honest man.

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Jan 26th, 2010 by ravi
BBC | Dutch inquiry says Iraq war had no mandate

An inquiry into the Netherlands’ support for the invasion of Iraq says it was not justified by UN resolutions.

The Dutch Committee of Inquiry on Iraq said UN Security Council resolutions did not “constitute a mandate for… intervention in 2003”.

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Jan 25th, 2010 by ravi
Sign: An Open Letter to David Brooks on Haiti

An Open Letter to David Brooks on Haiti

Dear Mr. Brooks,

In your January 15, 2010 opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Underlying Tragedy,” you present what you seem to believe is a bold assessment of the situation in Haiti and what you certainly know is a provocative recommendation for Haiti’s future. You also offer some advice to President Obama. In order to successfully keep his promise to the people of Haiti that they “will not be forsaken” nor “forgotten” the President, you say, has to “acknowledge a few difficult truths.” What follows, however, is so shockingly ignorant of Haitian history and culture and so saturated with the language and ideology of cultural imperialism that no valuable “truths” remain. Please allow us, therefore, to present you with some more accurate truths.

First, Haiti is not a clear-cut case of the failure of international aid to achieve poverty reduction. For almost its entire existence Haiti has been shouldered with a load of immense international debt. The Haitian people had the audacity to break their chains and declare independence in 1804 but were later forced by France to re-purchase their freedom for 150 million Francs, a burden that the country has had to carry throughout the twentieth century.

What’s more, the “aid” Haiti has received from its powerful neighbor to the North has never been the sort that would help the country reduce poverty or achieve meaningful development. In the early-twentieth century the principle “aid” Haiti received from the United States came in the form of a brutal military occupation that lasted from 1915 to 1934. After “Papa Doc” Duvalier ascended to power “aid” meant assistance to a ruthless (but conveniently anti-communist) dictator. The U.S. gave Duvalier $40.4 million in his first four years in power, briefly suspended military and economic assistance to the dictator in 1963, but resumed shortly thereafter, restoring full military and economic aid to Duvalier by 1969. In the early 1970s and 1980s when “Baby Doc” Duvalier was at the helm, the “aid” the United States and other international agencies contributed failed to reduce poverty but did enrich foreign investors in the newly constructed assembly industry. Economic policies that the U.S. forced upon Haiti decimated its agriculture for the benefit of American farming while driving Haiti’s peasants into Port-au-Prince and other cities where they found few jobs and scarce housing. Four years after Baby Doc’s departure the Haitian people decided to help themselves by democratically electing a new leader, but the United States aided Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s domestic opponents in the coup of 1991 and did so again in 2004. It is no wonder then that that such “aid” from the United States has failed to lift Haiti out of poverty.

Equally unconvincing is your argument about “progress-resistant cultural influences,” which brings us to important truth number two: Haitian culture is not “progress-resistant” as anyone familiar with the examples you yourself provide can attest to. If Vodou or “the voodoo religion” as you put it, “spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile,” how do the majority of Haitians manage to survive on scant resources and less than two dollars-a-day? How do so many Haitians manage to travel abroad, find and maintain difficult jobs, and send money back home if not through careful planning and a fierce defense of precious life? How do the nationwide customers of Fonkoze, the Haitian banking operation that teaches literacy and business practices to curbside marketers to whom it makes small loans, achieve such strong records of loan repayment? In fact, it might be Haitian culture itself (and even Vodou) which allows Haitians to persist. After all, the Vodou spirit Ogou (St. Jacques) is honored as a clever planner and master of skills. So was the champion of Haiti’s war of independence, General Toussaint L’Ouverture, a onetime slave who entered history as a military and diplomatic genius.

The third important truth we have to offer (and we hope President Obama is listening as well) is the opposite of your call for “intrusive paternalism” as the solution to Haiti’s woes: Haiti does not need nor does it want the paternalism of the United States. Haiti is literally dying of cultural imperialism.

Whenever America’s leaders and pundits speak of subordinate peoples, the ideology of imperialism shines through. As it does in your words, Mr. Brooks, so it has done for far too many earlier Americans. President William McKinley, for example, facing the difficult question of how he was to govern the newly-conquered Filipinos worried that left “to themselves they are unfit for self-government-and they would soon have anarchy and misrule . . . [So] there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them.”

Closer to home, those who worried about an earlier form of “progress-resistant cultural influences” decided it was better to remove the children of Native American families than to let them absorb the backwardness of their pagan and uncivilized parents and community. A common refrain by these “reformers” was “kill the Indian, save the man.” And now, Mr. Brooks, you propose to save the Haitians from themselves by replacing Haitian cultural values and institutions with “middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.” Imperialism, whether economic or military, is the primary reason for the conditions that so worsened the impact of the earthquake on January 12. Haitians need less imperialism, not more.

During the Vietnam War an American officer famously stated that “it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” Today Haiti is virtually destroyed. The earthquake having done the hard part, Mr. Brooks, you think “intrusive paternalism” will save it. Lacking a foundational understanding of Haitian history and culture, and bearing the familiar colors of American imperialism you and your ilk will do vastly more harm than good.

Tom F. Driver
Paul Tillich Professor Emeritus of Theology and Culture
Union Theological Seminary

Carl Lindskoog
Doctoral Candidate, Dept. of History
The Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

To see the list of signatories please click here, http://bit.ly/6H39HA

Visit URL to sign the letter (joining Noam Chomsky, and others).

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Jan 22nd, 2010 by ravi
Obama HS Secretary Napolitano to Haitians: Fuck Off our Shores

US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned Haitians not to use the earthquake as an excuse to try to enter the US

Said Napolitano, “this is not an opportunity for migration”. One wonders… if this isn’t, what would be? I wonder if liberal anger will match the response to Barbara Bush’s comments on the presence of displaced New Orleans residents in Houston.

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Jan 21st, 2010 by ravi
Harpers: The Guantánamo “Suicides”

A small bit from a detailed Harper’s piece:

Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.

As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves. Only the prisoners’ families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen rejected the notion.

Two years later, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS documents were carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.

According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

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Jan 13th, 2010 by ravi
In memory of the best “enemy of science”: Happy birthday, Paul Feyerabend

You are still way ahead of your time!

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Jan 12th, 2010 by ravi
Policing the police (and prosecutors)

McGhee and Harrington were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the death of retired police officer John Schweer. The men were released from prison after 25 years.

McGhee and Harrington sued, saying that as prosecutors Richter and Hrvol had them arrested without probable cause, coerced and coached witnesses, fabricated evidence against them and concealed evidence that could have cleared them. They claimed authorities were eager to charge someone and that they were targeted because they are black.

Richter and Hrvol argued, however, that they were immune from lawsuits because they were acting within the scope of their job. Ordinarily, prosecutors are immune from lawsuits based on their work at trial.

The high court was to decide whether that immunity stretched to the prosecutorial work that happens before the trial begins. Lower courts had said that it did not and had rejected the prosecutors’ request to dismiss the lawsuits.

Another small step towards reigning in the power of prosecutors and police.

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