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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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 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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Nov 11th, 2008 by ravi
The Way It Is

In light of the Obama phenomenon, take it as you wish:

Bruce Hornsby |MTV Music

The Way It Is
Bruce Hornsby & The Range

Standing in line marking time–
Waiting for the welfare dime
cause they cant buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old ladies eyes
Just for fun he says get a job

Thats just the way it is
Some things will never change
Thats just the way it is
But dont you believe them

They say hey little boy you cant go
Where the others go
cause you dont look like they do
Said hey old man how can you stand
To think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules
He said, son

Thats just the way it is
Some things will never change
Thats just the way it is
But dont you believe them

Well they passed a law in 64
To give those who aint got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

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Nov 7th, 2008 by ravi
Pankaj Mishra on the Zakaria/Friedman vision of India

Pankaj Mishra writes in The Guardian, about Fareed Zakaria, the latest intellectual empty suit of the talking heads circuit, his latest book, and the vision of India as a neo-liberal capitalist success:

In the past five years bomb attacks claimed by Islamist groups have killed hundreds across the Indian cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. An Indian Muslim was even involved in the failed assault on Glasgow airport in July last year. Yet George Bush reportedly introduced Manmohan Singh to his wife, Laura, as “the prime minister of India, a democracy which does not have a single al-Qaida member in a population of 150 million Muslims”.

To be fair to Bush, he was only repeating a cliche deployed by Indian politicians and American pundits such as Thomas Friedman to promote India as a squeaky-clean ally of the United States. However, Fareed Zakaria, the Indian-born Muslim editor of Newsweek International, ought to know better. In his new book, The Post-American World, he describes India as a “powerful package” and claims it has been “peaceful, stable, and prosperous” since 1997 – a decade in which India and Pakistan came close to nuclear war, tens of thousands of Indian farmers took their own lives, Maoist insurgencies erupted across large parts of the country, and Hindu nationalists in Gujarat murdered more than 2,000 Muslims.

Apparently, no inconvenient truths are allowed to mar what Foreign Affairs, the foreign policy journal of America’s elite, has declared a “roaring capitalist success story”. Add Bollywood’s singing and dancing stars, beauty queens and Booker prize-winning writers to the Tatas, the Mittals and the IT tycoons, and the picture of Indian confidence, vigour and felicity is complete.

The passive consumer of this image, already puzzled by recurring reports of explosions in Indian cities, may be startled to learn from the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) in Washington that the death toll from terrorist attacks in India between January 2004 and March 2007 was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq. (In the same period, 1,000 died as a result of such attacks in Pakistan, the “most dangerous place on earth” according to the Economist, Newsweek and other vendors of geopolitical insight.)

To put it in plain language – which the NCTC is unlikely to use – India is host to some of the fiercest conflicts in the world. Since 1989 more than 80,000 have died in insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeastern states.


The Indian elite’s obsession with the “foreign hand” obscures the fact that the roots of some of the violence lie in the previous two decades of traumatic political and economic change, particularly the rise of Hindu nationalism, and the related growth of ruthlessness towards those left behind by India’s expanding economy.

In 2006 a commission appointed by the government revealed that Muslims in India are worse educated and less likely to find employment than low-caste Hindus. Muslim isolation and despair is compounded by what B Raman, a hawkish security analyst, was moved after the most recent attacks to describe as the “inherent unfairness of the Indian criminal justice system”.

To take one example, the names of the politicians, businessmen, officials and policemen who colluded in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 are widely known. Some of them were caught on video, in a sting carried out last year by the weekly magazine Tehelka, proudly recalling how they murdered and raped Muslims. But, as Amnesty International pointed out in a recent report, justice continues to evade most victims and survivors of the violence. Tens of thousands still languish in refugee camps, too afraid to return to their homes.


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Nov 6th, 2008 by ravi
Suburban delights

Race and the Suburbs – Campaign Stops Blog – NYTimes.com

Take Long Island, the most famous of post-World War II suburbs. About 70 percent of black elementary and secondary school students attend 10 percent of the school districts — most of which are the poorest and worst performing in one of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs, according to research by the Long Island Regional Planning Council.

This situation would not be permitted under federal law if all the students attended the same school district, as in urban systems. But educational segregation on Long Island is immune from legal action because there are an astounding 124 districts. Most are majority white, and residents will tell you they want to keep things exactly the way they are.

Many Long Island towns and villages have property tax systems that punish poor minorities and protect wealthier whites because they don’t adequately recognize the lower property values in minority neighborhoods.

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Oct 1st, 2008 by ravi
Olmert: Israel withdrawal needed

BBC NEWS | Olmert: Israel withdrawal needed

Outgoing PM Ehud Olmert says Israel must withdraw from almost all the land it occupied in 1967 if it wants peace with Syria and the Palestinians.

He said this would include parts of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

Mr Olmert also said any peace deal with Syria would require an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

He gave few further details, but said he was prepared to go beyond previous Israeli leaders to achieve peace.

“We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories,” Mr Olmert said.

“We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace,” he added.
He said the withdrawals would include Jerusalem, the eastern part of which Israel occupied and annexed after the 1967 war, but which it has long proclaimed as its “eternal, undivided capital”.

[ Link ]

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Sep 17th, 2008 by ravi
UN due influence

Without any hint of irony or humour, The Guardian worries that Western influence within the United Nations is waning — worrisome because it wrecks “efforts to entrench human rights, liberties and multilateralism”.

Drop in influence at UN wrecks western attempts to push human rights agenda

The west’s efforts to use the United Nations to promote its values and shape the global agenda are failing, according to a detailed study published yesterday.

A sea change in the balance of power in favour of China, India, Russia and other emerging states is wrecking European and US efforts to entrench human rights, liberties and multilateralism.

This perhaps belongs in the same category of new-found Republican concerns regarding sexism and the Bush administration’s alarm at Russian unilateralism (vis-à-vis Georgia). Dare we remind them that the United Nations came about as a response to the two disastrous wars that these nations inflicted upon the rest of the unenlightened world? Or would that explicit notice have as little effect as the implicit caution offered by a history of colonialism, political mischief and unilateral intrusion (Iran, Iraq, Latin America, Afghanistan, Africa, India, Pakistan,…)?

A recent article in the New York Times presents an altogether different picture than the one The Guardian offers, when it comes to US interest or respect for other values and thought. The article ends with a quote from Northwestern law professor Steven Calabresi:

In “ ‘A Shining City on a Hill’: American Exceptionalism and the Supreme Court’s Practice of Relying on Foreign Law,” a 2006 article in the Boston University Law Review, Professor Calabresi concluded that the Supreme Court should be wary of citing foreign law in most constitutional cases precisely because the United States is exceptional.

“Like it or not,” he wrote, “Americans really are a special people with a special ideology that sets us apart from all the other peoples.”

Discussing the use of international opinion in judicial analysis, the NYT articles draws a telling contrast:

Judges around the world have long looked to the decisions of the United States Supreme Court for guidance, citing and often following them in hundreds of their own rulings since the Second World War.

[…] American constitutional law has been cited and discussed in countless decisions of courts in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere.

But many judges and legal scholars in this country say that consideration of foreign legal precedents in American judicial decisions is illegitimate, and that there can be no transnational dialogue about the meaning of the United States Constitution.


The Constitution should be interpreted according to its original meaning, said John O. McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern, and recent rulings, whether foreign or domestic, cannot aid in that enterprise. Moreover, Professor McGinnis said, decisions applying foreign law to foreign circumstances are not instructive here.

“It may be good in their nation,” he said. “There is no reason to believe necessarily that it’s good in our nation.”


In any event, said Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago, many Americans are deeply suspicious of foreign law.

“We are used to encouraging other countries to adopt American constitutional norms,” he wrote in an essay last month, “but we have never accepted the idea that we should adopt theirs.”

“It’s American exceptionalism,” Professor Posner added in an interview. “The view going back 200 years is that we’ve figured it out and people should follow our lead.”

[emphasis mine]

In contrast, the New York Times describes the attitude elsewhere (including in India, a country that The Guardian laments is gaining influence in the UN, and whose UN soldiers are prominently pictured at the top of The Guardian’s piece):

The openness of some legal systems to foreign law is reflected in their constitutions. The South African Constitution, for instance, says that courts interpreting its bill of rights “must consider international law” and “may consider foreign law.” The constitutions of India and Spain have similar provisions.

and explains why a shift away from US standards and opinion is occurring:

Frederick Schauer, a law professor at the University of Virginia, wrote in a 2000 essay that the Canadian Supreme Court had been particularly influential because “Canada, unlike the United States, is seen as reflecting an emerging international consensus rather than existing as an outlier.”

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Aug 1st, 2008 by ravi
China: not bad enough

Reviewing a collection of China themed books in the NYRofB, Orville Schell unintentionally offers an insight:

China: Humiliation & the Olympics – The New York Review of Books

So, partly in shock, and partly in disappointment, China responded to the demonstrations against its Olympic torch with incensed outrage, rejecting any suggestion that its own actions could have contributed to, much less have ameliorated, Tibetan demands.


Instead, at this penultimate moment, as Xu Guoqi, author of the timely new book Olympic Dreams: China And Sports, 1895–2008, has noted, “Through their coverage and handling of the Beijing torch relay, the West seemed to remind the Chinese they were still not equal and they were still not good enough.”

The real problem China faces in its exclusion from the club is that they are not bad enough — they are vulgar and amateur oppressors! So it is the lack of sophistication, rhetorical and philosophical preparation, that permits and compels European nations, with the blood of Africa and Asia on their hands, our own USA, with an ongoing illegal action in Iraq that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, to lecture China on its deplorable human rights.

[ Link ]

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Jul 31st, 2008 by ravi
Bush on human rights!

This one is rich:

China accuses US of trying to sabotage Olympics | World news | guardian.co.uk:

The White House said Bush had expressed “concerns” to the group about the human rights situation in China. The president also told the Chinese foreign minister that the Olympics were an “opportunity to demonstrate compassion on human rights and freedom”.

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