Archive for July, 2013

It’s Alive!

July 26, 2013


I recently received an e-mail on Pinterest that said this:

    Trending on Pinterest…
    Is anything related to the newborn British royal baby. Pinners are continuing the baby-fever with party ideas fit for a prince, souvenirs and – our favorites – boards featuring historic baby pictures from years past.

CNN is still covering the birth of the royal baby. MSNBC has devoted enormous coverage to it. (I guess it saves them from having to discuss Snowden and the NSA.) It seems tactless to point out that the US fought a war to separate itself form the British monarchy.

Despite (or perhaps because of?) our theoretically egalitarian society, Americans tend to be suckers for aristocrats, both real and pretend. You may recall that Mark Twain made this point in Huckleberry Finn. When Erich Stroheim, the son of a Viennese hatmaker, arrived at Ellis Island, he gave his name as Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall, which was as shrewd a career move as any man ever made. He had a lucrative film career playing aristocrats (although in an often unflattering manner).

Americans mourned the death of Princess Diana, and they swooned over The King’s Speech, which told us that Britain was saved from the Nazis by Geroge VI and his speech therapist.

We might as well just surrender.

Israel Shamir, Again

July 21, 2013


On July 17, CounterPunch posted an article by Israel Shamir entitled Snowden in Moscow. In it, Shamir writes:

    Snowden was not seeking limelight, quite the opposite! He wished to stop the crimes being committed by No Such Agency in the name of American people, no more, no less. He hoped to become a new Deep Throat, whose identity would never be revealed. His first profound revelations were made by correspondence; he flew to Hong Kong as he was familiar with the place, spoke fluent Chinese, and planned to return home to Hawaii. It appears that the Guardian Newspaper pushed him into revealing his identity.

Shamir cites no sources for this. It should be clear that his claim implicates Glenn Greenwald, since Greenwald was the Guardian‘s contact with Snowden.

Shamir’s article has caused something of a row, as reported in an article in Popular Resistance. The article includes an exchange of e-mails between Kit Flynn, Greenwald, and Shamir, in which Greenwald flatly denies Shamir’s claim. (He also calls Shamir “an idiot”.) In one of the e-mails, Shamir makes the following revealing comment: “As probably you are aware, I am not a friend of the Guardian, a newspaper that smeared me in many possible ways.”

In its July 19-21 issue, CounterPunch posted Shamir’s reply to the Popular Resistance aricle, entitled Snowden in London: A Postscript. In it, Shamir writes:

    Naturally Greenwald (whom I never even mentioned) did not make decisions for Snowden, as far as I know. As for responsibility – yes, I do think that the Guardian was responsible for providing Snowden with a safe route. Remember, Hong Kong was a preferred (by Brits) jurisdiction to arrange for rendition, as Counterpunch reported.

    Journalism is a rough game, but it is still a human occupation. You can’t take a guy, goad him into spilling the beans, and drop him at the gate of police station. Even if he was ready to tell all he knew: still one is responsible for his safety.

    Apparently we have different ideas of responsibility. My idea: “one should protect the source; help the man to reach safety, and only then to release info.” Their idea: “publish and let the guy fry. It is his choice. We are just publishing.”

    I am being guided by compassion to the defector (for Snowden is a defector from the Power to the People side), PopRes and GG are guided by cold-nosed wish to get the stuff and dump the guy.

Isn’t this cute? Shamir starts out by denying that he ever accused Greenwald of pushing Snowden, and he then proceeds to imply that that is just what Greenwald did. (Note that Shamir doesn’t acknowledge that Greenwald has put himself at risk by reporting Snowden’s revelations.)

Shamir then gives us this high-minded sentiment:

    This is the bottom line, and we could reach it without so much of abuse and vehemence. We have different ideas of responsibility. Let us remain – each one – with these ideas. I have no wish to argue these points again.

Don’t you just hate this guy?

The Year of Living Dangerously

July 18, 2013


The 1965 Indonesian military coup was one of the most horrific events of the second half of the twentieth century. It killed over a million Indonesians, and it ushered in the Suharto dictatorship that ruled Indonesia for 31 years. It was an event that has not gotten as much attention in the West as it should.

Peter Weir’s 1982 film, The Year of Living Dangerously is set in Indonesia in the months before the coup. Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is an ambitious young journalist from Australia, who has just been given his first foreign correspondent assignment in Indonesia. He meets a mysterious photographer named Billy Kwan (Helen Hunt). Billy arranges for Guy to interview the head of the PKI, the Indonesian communists, a major scoop that helps Guy’s career. Billy introduces Guy to Jill (Sigourney Weaver), who is an assistant to the military attaché at the British embassy. Guy and Jill have an affair, much to the disapproval of Jill’s boss. One day, Guy learns from that there is a shipment of arms coming from China for the PKI. Over Billy’s objections, Guy decides to write a story about this, even though everyone will know that he learned about this from Jill, which will hurt her standing at the embassy.

The Year of Living Dangerously is an oddly disappointing film, one that seems to promise far more than it actually delivers. There is a sense of foreboding during much of the film, because we know about the disaster that the characters can’t see coming. And some of the scenes seem to hint that more is going on than meets the eye. Yet the Indonesian coup ends up merely serving as the backdrop to a romance between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver. There are depictions of poverty in Jakarta, and there is a scene of communists being executed by the military, but the the film is mainly about a group of wealthy Westerners. It would be interesting to see a film about the coup told from an Indonesian point-of-view.

A Few More Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Case

July 16, 2013

The other night a woman told me she thought the controversy over the George Zimmerman trial was overblown. Mind you, she wasn’t defending what Zimmerman did. Rather, her argument was that with so many injustices in the world, it simply wasn’t right to devote so much attention to a single case.

This is a fair point. It seems to me, however, that this episode has struck a raw nerve with many people, not all of whom are black. Many of us have had that experience – on at least occasion – of being confronted by a hostile stranger. (The enduring popularity of the film, Deliverance, is due to the fact that it touches upon this common experience.) Many of us have had that sudden and unpleasant realization that one has angered, or perhaps simply attracted the suspicions of, someone for reasons that are not at all clear.

Such experiences are now even more disturbing because of the insane “stand your ground” laws that have been passed in many states. Thirty-one states have such laws. A stranger can shoot you for whatever reasons of his own and then tell the police that you “threatened” him. And chances are that he may get away with it. (Florida’s “stand your ground” law was a factor in Zimmerman’s acquittal.)

I love this country, but it’s increasingly becoming an uncomfortable place in which to live.

The System is Broken

July 15, 2013


We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this.
– Barack Obama

One way to prevent future tragedies like this is by putting vigilante nutjobs such as George Zimmerman in prison. However, it should be clear by now that the state of Florida was never really serious about doing that. They only brought charges against Zimmerman because of public pressure, then they blew the case against Zimmermann. The state of Florida is perfectly happy to have deranged people with guns killing innocent teenagers, provided that latter have a certain skin color.

It’s worth noting that the prosecutors in the Zimmerman case are also responsible for this travesty:

    Last Friday, Jacksonville mother Marissa Alexander was sentenced by a Florida judge to 20 years in prison for firing what she says was a “warning shot” into the wall after a physical altercation with her husband, Rico Gray.

    The case has set off yet another controversy involving the state’s “stand your ground” law, which is under intense scrutiny after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in February. Critics, including Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), are crying foul.

    How, they ask, could a 31-year-old woman in a relationship with a man who had a history of domestic violence, and whose actions did not result in any physical injury, be sentenced to two decades in prison while George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin, is out on bail?

A good question.

The system is broken. It is broken beyond repair.

Hotel California

July 8, 2013

California Prisons

California’s prison system is a disgrace. Today, prisoners at the Pelican Bay prison are going on a hunger strike to protest the fact that they have been in solitary confinement for years, and in some cases, for decades. At almost the same time, there have been revelations that between 2006 and 2010, the prison system sterilized almost 150 women:

    Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.

    “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” Nguyen, 28, said. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

Eugenics is alive and well in the Golden State. Ah, but that is not the only problem. Gov. Jerry Brown has indicated that he will not comply with a court order that he reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons, which are currently at 200% of their capacity. The courts have ordered the governor to reduce the prison population so that the prisons are at 137.5% capacity. That is, they are merely asking the state to make the prisons a little less overcrowded. Yet even that is too much for Gov. Brown, who wants to appeal the case to the Supreme Court a second time, even though the high court has already ruled that the state must comply with the lower court’s ruling.

Oh, and California is considered a “liberal” state.

Egypt’s Revolution is Not Over

July 5, 2013

Fireworks over Tahrir Square

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that writers at CounterPunch have taken a gloomy view of the recent events in Egypt. They point out that Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president. True, he did win the election, but he did so in a problematic way. Remember that in the first round Morsi only won 24.78% of the vote. In the second round, in which Morsi’s only opponent was Ahmed Shafik, Morsi won 51.73% of the vote. And many people voted for Morsi simply because they didn’t want Shafik, the military’s candidate, to win. Morsi clearly didn’t have overwhelming support. And once in office, he continued the neoliberal economic policies that provoked the Egyptian people into rising up in the first place. So it should be no surprise that he is now out.

The fact that the military has intervened is worrisome. However, it is clear that the military is not the master of the situation, rather it is trying to contain it. The Egyptian people have come too far to return to the days of Mubarak. A lot depends at this point on what the people on the street choose to do next.

Obama Agonistes

July 4, 2013

Barack Obama and a liberal.

Liberals who talk about what a brilliant political strategist President Obama is are on a par with conservatives who talk about what a great war leader George W. Bush was. Consider the recent incident in which the plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was diverted and forced to land, supposedly because somebody thought Edward Snowden might be on it. What did Obama hope to gain by doing this? (And it’s pretty clear that Obama must have been behind this.) Did he wish to show the whole world that he is willing to trample on international law just to punish a whistleblower? He just made himself look petty and ridiculous.

Or consider Obama’s recent decision to delay until 2015 implementing the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that companies with 50 or more employees supply them with health insurance. One website has hailed this as a brilliant tactical move that will rob the Republicans of a talking point during the 2014 congressional elections. In fact, the decision makes Obama appear weak. Also, it suggests that he lacks confidence in his own much ballyhooed health care bill. And then there’s the obvious fact that this decision is a betrayal of all those people who thought they were going to get employee health insurance in 2014. (I guess they will just have to cross their fingers and hope that they don’t get sick for another year.)

The sequester that Obama foolishly agreed to will likely kill off the weak economic recovery. The president and his party will be blamed for this, and the result will be Republican victories in congressional and local elections. That means more Republican officeholders with their reactionary social views and their anti-labor legislation.

Ah, but nothing can shake the admiration that some liberals have for Obama. Decades from now, liberal historians will be talking about the strategic brilliance of a president who accomplished virtually nothing.