Posted on 14-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Free speech has been in the news a lot lately.  From the blasphemy set up of an underage Pakistani Christian child with Downs syndrome, to a cartoonist who hurt the tender sensibilities of India’s ruling class and in the last few days the Islam bashing cheap production that predictably has drawn mobs out all over the Muslim world.  Two questions are raised by these brouhahas.  First, is violence, particularly mob violence, an appropriate response to speech – however insulting?  Second, what is the culpability of the person uttering the offensive speech?

On the first issue, I cannot think of any justification for the type of rioting taking place in Egypt and now Yemen and other places (Libya may have been a terrorist hit on the anniversary of 9/11).  On a personal level I suppose I can make a case for self defense in the event of imminent bodily harm.  The penalization of fighting words varies across the globe – though typically is a prosecutable offense in certain jurisdictions and not a license to fisticuffs.  But in the final reckoning, the primary blame should fall on the person who responds to words with violence.

A few years ago I had a discussion with a hyper-religious neighbor who was loudly asserting that free speech was not a license to say whatever you wanted.  The comment was ironical given that he did not understand that his previous statement informing me of my ultimate fate in hellfire for my choice of deity was extremely offensive even if it was a core belief for him.

Freedom of speech implies the freedom to offend – otherwise it would not be a freedom that needed codifying.  The obvious question is how far can you offend and what can you make offensive statements about.  On this issue there is wide divergence.  Countries prone to ethnic or religious violence are very sensitive about statements intended to incite, and they prohibit such statements.  Others like some European countries have tried to erase a history of discrimination and prohibit racist of bigoted statements in a surfeit of political correctness.  And then you get countries like Pakistan, where the practitioners of the whose majority religion are so insecure in their faith that they penalize blasphemy with the death penalty.

The problem with these restrictions is that they infantalize public dialogue to the level of the most thin skinned cry baby in the community.  Blasphemy laws are even worse because they can be misused.  For lightening the mood of this discussion Monty Python’s mockery of blasphemy laws in a Life of Brian is posted below:

 

 

In my opinion the American rule of free speech is something that should be a desirable goal.  It requires maturity on the part of society to take to heart the old nursery rhyme on Sticks and Stones.  But while I disagree with criminal liability for the speaker, I do not wish to absolve them of any criticism.  It is one thing to toss out a provocative hypothesis to advance a discussion.  It is another to throw a match on gasoline in the form of taunts, abuses and other offensive statements just to get a rise out of someone.  Most human beings engage in self-censorship from time to time as a basic element of good manners or the understanding that rights do not exist in a vacuum.  They co-exist with responsibility in creating the obligations of citizenship.  The American constitution (in contrast to the Indian constitution) does not explicitly spell them out, but they are implied in the desire to form a more perfect union.  By leaving it to implication they are relying on the judgment of the citizenry in deciding the narrow line between advancing public debate and tossing the match.

In my opinion the producers of the Islam bashing film and for that matter the Islamophobes who infest the right-wing commentariat do the latter.  So while the rest of us protect the rights of these bigots to speak, we should be free to condemn as harshly as possible the content and intent of the speech.

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Posted on 10-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This weekend I posted about the travails of Aseem Trivedi, who is being accused of sedition for mocking venal India politicians who deserve to be mocked.  Trivedi’s alleged offense is mocking national symbols, the constitution etc.  However, a blog article I noticed right now made a very important point.  It notes that all Trivedi did was mock India’s Parliament in cartoon form.  India’s politicians have degraded the entity they shed crocodile tears far more grievously and far more frequently.

The complaint that landed Trivedi in jail was a private complaint.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  So dear Indians, start filing these complaints against these political thugs.  Harass the hooligans who turn Parliament and the legislatures into physical battlegrounds by hauling them in court for sedition, like they did to Aseem Trivedi.  If the police officers refuse to register your complaints, file sedition charges against them too.  But above all act within the strict letter of the law.  Turn these draconian laws on their head.

A few months ago when a hockey stick wielding uniformed apparatchik was harassing Mumbai’s night life I had joked to a friend who was particularly worked up that they should use Section 3 of the Prevention of insults to National Honour Act, 1971 to their advantage.

3.     PREVENTION OF SINGING OF NATIONAL ANTHEM
whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extended to three years, or with fine, or with both.

When the apparatchik interfered with them, make sure to file the proper police complaint under strict letter of the law.  Make sure the judges are aware of the minimum punishments in Section 3A.

3A.        MINIMUM PENALTY ON SECOND OR SUBSEQUENT OFFENCE
Whoever having already been convicted of an offence under section 2 or section 3 is again convicted of any such offence shall be punishable for the second and for every subsequent  offence, with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than one year.

A Google search as I was typing this article discovered that this draconian act was already being used for civil disobedience.  Sadly in that case the high court is shielding the bureaucrat whose reaction to the protest was to basically abuse criminal law.

India’s political and police systems are ridiculously out of control.  In the aftermath of partition and secessionist movements in different parts of the country, India’s politicians realized the utility of Colonial era police laws that remain on the books.  But many of these laws are antiquated and grant a private citizen the right to initiate complaints.  Perhaps it is time for Indians to use them against their tormentors, and bury them with paperwork in strict accordance with the letter of their ridiculous laws.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

India’s politicians are not covering themselves in glory these days.  Widely despised for their venality, they increasingly take shelter behind presumed outrage to national institutions.  Last year communications minister Kapil Sibal drew widespread condemnation for trying to censor social media sites for offensive posts that mocked the government leadership.  Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has dissipated the goodwill from ending more than 30 years of communist rule last year by bizarre displaying a megalomaniacal persecution complex.  First a professor was locked up (after being roughed up by her party goons) for the “cybercrime” of forwarding a fairly innocuous political cartoon.  When asked inconvenient statements at public rallies students and farmers can be labelled maoists and arrested.

Now comes the case of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.  Americans who huff and puff in outrage about flag burning being called protected speech should pay close attention to what happens when a state criminalizes the mockery of national symbols.  Trivedi’s crime was posting the cartoons below on the internet during Anna Hazare’s protests last year.  The cartoons range from pure mockery to over the top.

 

National Toilet

 

 

National Emblem

The hand of Congress on the mouth of the common man

Facebook

National Drink

Gang Rape of Mother India

Cross of Corruption

But that has got Aseem Trivedi his day in court.  Arrested Saturday he now faces jail time for putting into cartoon form something 99% of Indians say, think or feel every day.  Fulfilling Kapil Sibals censorship wet dreams, his website was taken down after a private complaint by a Bombay lawyer.  Samuel Johnson once said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.  India’s scoundrels have added national emblems as an additional refuge.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Fall is here and soon Christmas will be upon us.  That means the Faux News annual crusade to make Americans aware of the non-existent war on Christians and Christmas will soon be upon us.  If the past years are any guide it will be be led by head clown master Bill O’Reilly.  The sufferings of Christians in this country will come as news to people like poor Rimsa Masih in Pakistan.  But why should facts interfere with a Faux News meme?  I would be tempted to laugh at the stupidity of some of these people if they did not hold positions of power.  Example:  Rep. Valerie Hodges of Louisiana

Which is also why I was delighted to see this helpful quiz posted by the Rev. Emily Heath that walks Messers Bill O’Reilly and others through a checklist of what constitutes religious oppression.  Rev. Heath’s quiz is below

“How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” Just pick “A” or “B” for each question.

1. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.
B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

2. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.
B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.
B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

4. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.
B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

5. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.
B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

6. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read or possess religious books or material.
B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies and websites that I do not like.

7. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.
B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

8. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.
B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

9. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.
B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

10. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.
B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

Scoring key:

If you answered “A” to any question, then perhaps your religious liberty is indeed at stake. You and your faith group have every right to now advocate for equal protection under the law. But just remember this one little, constitutional, concept: this means you can fight for your equality — not your superiority.

If you answered “B” to any question, then not only is your religious liberty not at stake, but there is a strong chance that you are oppressing the religious liberties of others. This is the point where I would invite you to refer back to the tenets of your faith, especially the ones about your neighbors.

Thank you for compiling this Rev. Heath.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Tsar Vladimir’s (f/k/a Filaret) latest Jacques Cousteu impersonation is a doozy.  Dressed in white coveralls the Tsar flew a hang glider to help guide cranes into a new migration path (basically to avoid Afghanistan where they are hunted).  The actual details of the event are bit farcical and may have actually killed some birds.  But after tacking mammals on land and on sea in the past it was time to take to the air.  This is the latest feat of strength the Tsar has used to distract from the dismal reality of life in his corporatist petrostate.  Of course his infamous archaeological scuba dive defied credulity and was rapidly exposed as a setup.

But the Tsar still knows his limits.  He laughably refers to his luxurious digs as the life of a galley slave.  And recently he recoiled when a priest tried to pay him obeisance and kiss his ring.

 

 

 

Hopefully this means the sight of the Tsar displaying a healing touch is still far away.

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Posted on 29-06-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

“The only health care mandate they can embrace are transvaginal probes for women.” – Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley referring to Republican outrage on the mandate.

 

It is rare to see a Democrat have the spine to challenge Republicans so directly.  It also shows why O’Malley is starting to draw support from the base for a 2016 run for President.

The Republican outrage on the mandate essentially dates from the time Barack Obama adopted their policy.  Yet it has not stopped them from encouraging far more intrusive mandates, particularly on female reproductive issues.  About time a Democrat grew a pair and challenged the Republicans (take notes Corey Booker and Joe Manchin).

“The only health care mandate they can embrace are transvaginal probes for women,” 

Read more: http://www.capitolcolumn.com/news/martin-omalley-republicans-may-secede-from-u-s-after-health-care-ruling/#ixzz1zD9tqQ2E

 

 

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Posted on 28-06-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Seconds after the court upheld the individual mandate of Obamacare under the taxing power the Republican outrage machine clicked into full gear accusing Obama of taxing the middle class.  Exhibit A is the video below.

 

Turns out that the Romneybot version 2006 made essentially the same argument:

 

 

Hmm…

The real reason is not hard to figure out.  In a country founded on a tax revolt where the masses of citizenry demand services, but are allergic to paying for it defending legislation under the taxing power can be political suicide.  This is why Republicans like Romneybot (in any version) and Tim Pawlenty twist themselves into pretzels asserting that they never raised taxes…they raised fees.

The mandate is the only part of the bill that is unpopular.  But it is necessary to pay for all the goodies in the bill Americans like and many desperately need.  But the allegedly fiscally conservative party would like to pretend that the goodies can be delivered without any cost…but then again this is the party that deludes itself that tax cuts raise revenue, evidence be damned.

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Posted on 28-06-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

LMAO

 

Breaking: Conservatives planning to leave U.S., but can't find wealthy Western democracy without universal health care. #hrc #scotus
@MSignorile
Mike Signorile

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Posted on 28-06-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

President Obama’s tyrannical attempt to ensure that the health care access of Americans is not subject to the vicissitudes of the job market or preexisting health conditions survived today after CNN, Faux News and the Huffington Post re-enacted Dewey v. Truman.

A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts elected to uphold a bill originally drafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation.  You can read the opinion here.   The court embraced the nonsensical activity-inactivity argument and found the mandate (the only part of the bill that is actually unpopular) unconstitutional under the commerce clause but upheld it under the taxing power.  The bill now survives with the decisive vote of a chief justice appointed by George W. Bush, giving conservatives their new Justice Souter or Justice Blackmun to rail against.

Bozell: Roberts "reputation is forever stained in the eyes of conservatives, and there will be no rehabilitating of it” http://t.co/gYZAEPDI
@TimJGraham
Tim Graham

 

 

Meanwhile Mitt Romney offered a passionate defense of the independent mandate that was the most controversial element of Obamacare.

 

 

Oh wait…that was the last election cycle.

#MittRomney denounces US health law as "bad policy" and pledges to repeal if elected president http://t.co/tihYw9Uz #healthcare
@BBCWorld
BBC News (World)

 

 

This is now a socialist attack on our freedom

This is the greatest destruction of individual liberty since Dred Scott. This is the end of America as we know it. No exaggeration.
@benshapiro
benshapiro

Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn't a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.
@SarahPalinUSA
Sarah Palin

Now more than ever: WHAT THE (BLEEP) JUST HAPPENED?
@MonicaCrowley
Monica Crowley

This also means that the Republicans resume their promise to repeal and replace (no idea with what).  It is time for the Democrats to highlight how most of this law is actually popular – once you take Obama’s name off.  Today truly was a pleasant surprise.

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Posted on 28-03-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics) by Rashtrakut

 

Like the fictional King Louis in the video above, it is good to be the CEO of an American public corporation too.

  • Stock price drops 58%
  • Lay off 30,000 employees
  • Your company faces potential liability from a number of lawsuits
  • Compensation package quadruples

Welcome to the life of Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.  Now to be fair (and it is hard for for this blogger when the compensation of public company plutarchs…I mean CEOs is concerned), the bulk of the award is based on is based on performance related stock.  I do not know the terms of the stock award before Mr. Moynihan gets to cash out.  But at this juncture the optics are of another fat cat feeding at the trough at the expense of the working stiff.

A recent column by Steven Rattner points out just how obscene this inequality is becoming.

In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households.

Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent.

The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.

This new data, derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez from American tax returns, also suggests that those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches. That’s not completely surprising: the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers. At the same time, old industries like manufacturing are employing fewer blue-collar workers.

The result? Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32 years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.

It was very easy to mock the Occupy Wall Street movement for its incoherence and share of marxist loons.  But they highlighted the fact that the social contract in this country has gone horribly awry.  The last 30 years have advanced the notion that stock holders are the only stakeholders that matter for a corporation, short term fluctuations in stock price are the key to measuring corporate success and managing this short term fluctuation gives license for the executives of the Corporation (whose compensation is selected not by the shareholders but by cartels) to loot corporate assets with reckless abandon.  And should these bean counters wreck the business they are supposed to manage, they still walk away with millions.  And to reward them further, we will rejigger the tax system to reduce their tax burden and create ridiculous giveaways like the carried interest loophole for private equity managers.

As a result few large companies innovate, engage in long term research which would not boost short term stock price or engage in long term strategic planning.  It is far easier to pay an excessive premium to buy a start-up that actually innovated and pass the strategic planning buck to external consultants rather than in-grown talent.

I highlighted Mr. Moynihan because his pay package triggered this long overdue rant.  But he is hardly the worst CEO offender.  The system is broken and is slowly strangling the middle class.  But right now our CEOs are too happy to be hogs feeding off the corporate asset trough while the rest of us deal with economic uncertainty.

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Posted on 18-12-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Two international figures died this weekend.  Vaclav Havel personified the Czech nation in bringing down communism and remained a moral authority after his presidency.  He will be widely mourned.

The second was the patriarch of possibly the only obese family in North Korea.  Coming to power after the first dynastic succession in a Communist nation, Kim Jong-Il deepened the impoverishment and isolation of his unfortunate country.  Other than the brainwashed minions, few will mourn him.  Kim Jong-Il was widely reputed to be ailing and earlier this year named his inexperienced son Kim Jong-un as the heir to the crumbling hermit kingdom.  The youngest Kim will probably rule with the help of a regency council designated by his father until/if he ever takes over.

Kim Jong-il could to some extent feed off the mystique of his father Kim Il-sung.  However, by the end of his rule it has been difficult for North Korea to hide the extent of its backwardness and impoverishment from its own people.  Too many South Korean movies and television programs displaying their far healthier and prosperous brethren circulate in North Korea.  Too many North Koreans have crossed back and forth across the Yalu River into China for an information blackout to be absolute.  With little moral authority left it could be difficult for the regime to hang on.

And so a delicate diplomatic dance begins.  South Korea has placed its armies on high alert.  Seoul and Washington must evaluate the diplomatic language to use in responding to the news and conduct a cost-benefit analysis of expressing condolences.  The Chinese, the primary prop for this bankrupt regime, must evaluate whether they should play along with the succession or encourage Jong-un’s fatter brother to seize power.  In the short run it appears that a weaker regime in Pyongyang leans closer to becoming a Chinese satellite.

Yet even presumed Chinese satellites are uncomfortable with the close embrace of the dragon.  Fear of Chinese dominance has pushed an equally paranoid Burmese government to ease its isolation.  How far will the weak regime in Pyongyang resist Beijing’s diktats?  And does this regime have the strength to survive a glasnost?  The next few months will be interesting.

2011 has not been kind to dictators.  Long standing regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were toppled.  Syria and Yemen are tottering.  Bahrain has been shaken to its core.  Even the previously secure corporatist regime of Vladimir Putin has seen cracks appear in the foundation.  Even if the death of Kim Jong-il was not as gory as the video below:

 

 

he leaves a shaky regime in the hands of his inexperienced son.  Rot in hell Kim Jong-il.

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Posted on 21-10-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog has been dormant for a while, but the graphic images from Sirte has shaken it out of its stupor.  Perhaps for the first time since Baghdad residents got to vent their anger on the corpse of Nuri as Said in 1958, has a middle eastern mob had a similar opportunity against a despised and hated leader.  A year ago the graphic videos from Libya were unthinkable.  A few months ago with his tanks at the gates of Benghazi it looked like the 41 year rule of the mercurial dictator would survive the Arab Spring.  And then NATO with the fig-leaf of Arab support got involved and the “Northern Alliance” strategy finally bore fruit.

And then the hunt for the deposed tyrant began.  The end was pathetic.  As his hometown of Sirte finally fell to his enemies the wounded Gaddafi was dragged from his hiding place (a drain pipe).  As the fallen dictator pleaded for mercy he met his end soon after in murky circumstances.  Cell phone videos of a bleeding Gaddafi are available for anybody willing to conduct a Google search.

The rest of the Gaddafi clan is either captured, dead or has fled (warning gruesome pictures in link).

Apart from one expected quarter, Gaddafi goes to his grave unmourned.  His legacy is broken, factitious oil rich tribal mish-mash bunched under a new/old national flag.   Libya faces an uncertain future once the euphoria over the lynching in Sirte fades.

Also uncertain is the future of NATO.  The French and the British wanted this operation, but soon discovered that they could not sustain a campaign against a fourth rate military without access to the American arsenal.  Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates departed with a well timed salvo at Europe questioning the worth of an alliance where only one country carries the weight.  The solution from Congressional hawks appears to be to bankrupt the United States by continuing to sustain 40% of global military spending alone.  A reappraisal of American military commitments and spending is long overdue.

With the specter of their crazy leader gone, the people of Libya sleep easier tonight.  So do perhaps diplomats in a land of cheese, chocolates and banks.

 

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Posted on 09-08-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

There are times one despairs at the scum infesting the human race.  Riots provide cover for the vermin in our midst to engage in criminal acts at their leisure.  If the video of the Reginald Denny beating provided the definitive image of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the video below may provide the highlight of the current anarchist rampage in London as David Cameron’s government fiddles in futility.  The video below is disturbing.  It shows some onlookers helping a bloodied riot victim to his feet before deciding to rob the stunned and helpless victim:

 

There are legitimate privacy concerns about a Google Group using facial recognition software to identify the looters.  Hopefully they turn their sights on these scumbags.

And now a word of derision for the bumbling response of Prime Minister David Cameron’s inept government.  The spark for the riot may have been a suspicious police killing.  There is deep unrest in Britain about the depth of cuts imposed by the current government.  But it was clear early enough that the outrage was hijacked by criminals indulging in looting and burning.

Yet incredibly Home Secretary Theresa May responded to calls to crush the rioters with this nonsense:

The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon. The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”

Small wonder that the riots spread beyond London and have tarnished Britain’s reputation around the globe.  It took three days for 16,000 police to descend on London.  I am not a huge fan of scapegoats, but I am willing to make an exception for Ms. May.  There were concerns about Rio’s ability to host a safe Olympics.  It appears that London’s competence must also now be questioned.

 

 

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Posted on 08-07-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

On his crusade to privatize the TSA, Ron Paul appeared on Faux News to make the incredible assertion that banning guns on planes was partly to blame for 9/11.  Gee Ron…can’t you think of any reason why allowing non-law enforcement plane passengers to pack heat or why a shootout at 35,000 feet may not be a good idea.

Not so surprisingly, the Faux News bobble head does not challenge the absurdity of Paul’s position but moves right on to their pet cause of profiling brown people by race or religion.  Of course it may not have not have flagged the Nigerian born underpants bomber or the half white-half Jamaican shoe bomber Richard Reid.  Right-wing conservatives and Faux News keep on parroting how stupid it is to search 95 year old grandmas or young kids.  Unfortunately, this tragic story from Afghanistan demonstrates how the sadistic bastards we are fighting will work around racist profiling of the sort advocated by Paul.  The Taliban thugs in the article linked above tricked an 8 year old girl into becoming a suicide bomber.

Paul also willfully misstates current policy.  Nothing at present prevents the TSA from searching a “suspicious person.”  Also, as brown-skinned passengers will be happy to inform you racial profiling is still alive and going strong, in violation of current rules.   Personally, I am not surprised that a congressman who stated he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act has a cavalier attitude to discrimination against people who don’t look like him.

I will reluctantly give Paul credit for one item in his diatribe.  The pre-9/11 policy of passengers not resisting was in retrospect a mistake.  It was based on the assumption of sane hijackers who would negotiate.  This mistake was first rectified by the brave passengers of UA Flight 93 and helped stop the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber.  It still does not justify the idiocy of guns on planes.

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Posted on 28-04-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The New York Times is the latest paper to point out the free speech crushing scope of English libel law.  The balance between the right of individuals to be let alone and the freedom of the press to do its job is inherently fraught with tension.  American law has reduced the privacy expectations of celebrities and generally prevents defamation and libel actions for expressing opinions (as opposed to the statement of fact).  The freedom to express opinions in England is far weaker and worse the default rule to inflict legal fees on the loser allows larger corporations to crush individuals (in contrast American law does not require a payment of legal fees unless expressly mandated by statute or contractual provisions).

The chilling implications on free speech are obvious (and this is in addition to the recent trend in England and Europe to introduce blasphemy prosecutions).  South Park mocked the libel tourism generated by English libel law a few years ago in its episode “Trapped in the Closet”.  For full episode click here.  Clip below:

In response Congress unanimously passed the SPEECH Act making foreign libel judgments that do not comply with the First Amendment unenforceable in the United States.  California, New York, Illinois and Florida have also enacted such statutes.  While American residents can breathe easier, other less fortunate mortals will have to hope they do not offend deep pocketed plaintiffs who can sue in England.  One wonders what will be the tipping point for the country that first gave individuals the freedom of habeus corpus to clean up this assault on free speech.  Unfortunately with the paparazzi out in full force for the royal wedding, it may take some time.

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Posted on 22-03-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

John Solomon at the Daily Beast has a column discussing the nostalgia for George Herbert Walker Bush in certain circles.  This Blog shares that nostalgia and posted similar emotions about a year and a half ago.

I particularly miss the George H. W. Bush wing of the Republican party when it comes to foreign policy, given the (sometimes scary) blather that emanates from most Republican presidential hopefuls on the subject these days.  When Bob Gates steps down as Defense Secretary, he will probably be the last senior Bush ’41 foreign policy official to hold public office (though who knew Dick Cheney would morph into the Prince of Darkness).  Even though Gates’ performance as CIA Director at the time was forgettable, his second act as Defense Secretary to the 43rd and 44th Presidents has displayed the pragmatism of Bush ’41 and a refusal to be trapped by rigid and unrealistic ideologies.  Unfortunately the George H.W. Bushes and the Dick Lugars of the Republican Party have increasingly given way to the Jim DeMints, Sarah Palins and the Michele Bachmanns.  Of the younger Senators only Lindsey Graham (from time to time) hearkens back to the Bush ’41 tradition on foreign policy.  Mark Kirk could do so as well if his spine was not made of jelly.

As a result this Blog is willing to renew its nostalgia for the 41st President as he proceeds in his twilight years and is proud that his Presidential Library graces the campus of the author’s alma mater.

 

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Posted on 18-03-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute”

(It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder) – Comment by a Napoleonic official on the judicial murder of the Duc d’Enghien.

“What’s being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” – Soon to be sacked State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley.

By sacking P. J. Crowley shortly after he committed the gaffe above (i.e. spoke the truth), Barack Obama has endorsed the sadistic jollies that Bradley Manning’s jailers receive from torturing him.  Previous winks at torture could somewhat be justified by the need to obtain information.  There is no such excuse here.  Bradley Manning is being subjected to a regimen that appears intended to drive him insane, allegedly because he is a suicide risk.  Then there is the ritualized humiliation of forced nudity and sleep deprivation he is being subjected to.   The media outrage at the treatment of a man not yet convicted of passing classified information to WikiLeaks is growing – see here, here, here, here, here, and here – but will probably have no effect on our ruling class.  At some point this should not be surprising.  On human rights, after the decree to close Guantanamo (which is still open), Obama has been a colossal disappointment and has been unwilling to stand up to the excesses of the national security apparatus.  His administration seems to pursue whistle-blowers more aggressively than the abuses they uncover.

Unlike some of my friends I do not condone Bradley Manning’s alleged leaking.  But he has not yet been convicted of his crime.  And even if he were, his treatment would still be unjustified.  The last decade has seen the Executive and Judicial branches wink at the abuse of prisoners.  Congress, which is particularly prone to jingoistic populism, is also useless.  Large sections of the Fourth Estate have also condoned torture because of the unsympathetic nature of people being tortured and the fears of terrorism.  This is a disgrace, as is Obama’s reaction to the news of Manning’s treatment:

“With respect to Private Manning, you know, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are.”

Gee..the alleged abusers have assured him that the treatment is appropriate.  End of inquiry.  How heartwarming.

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Posted on 01-03-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

(Via Andrew Sullivan) Jimmy Kimmel flags the early Oscar front runner for 2012. Video below:

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Posted on 19-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Looking at the protests in Wisconsin (funny how it is fine to kick public employees in the butt for a deficit shortfall, but an allegedly frugal governor can still make the situation worse via tax cuts to the his pet interest groups…oh yeah…evidently tax cuts don’t contribute to deficits), got me thinking about what I felt about unions.

Generally my feelings are largely negative.  Coming from an upper middle class background where almost everybody I know is on the side of management I was not reared in pro-union lore.  Then there is the downside of politically militant trade unions, the frankly crappy record of unions on race and gender issues, the ease by which they were suborned by organized crime and how some unions became sinecures for corrupt fat cats.  Add to that the inefficiency unions can cause, notably in the auto industry.  Friends who have had the misfortune of working with UAW have regaled me with rants about the difficulty of working with the union.

But unions did not arise in a vacuum.  If employers had treated workers fairly and provided safe working conditions, unions may have been cut off at birth (for that matter we would not have needed regulations like OSHA).  Also as public company CEOs have shown in the last decade that there is no limit for their greed, it has become harder for me to begrudge a man for making a middle class wage  based on the objections of a multi-millionaire.

Yet my feelings on the subject are still mixed.  It is in essence the age old problem of worker safety and fair benefits versus efficiency and competitiveness.  How to find the balance will depend on your own personal experiences and prejudices.  Ezra Klein of the Washington Post asked his readers who belonged to a union to post on their experiences.  Since the management perspective dominates the media narrative in recent years, it can be useful to read the other side.  This is obviously not a representative sampling (and there are a few anti-union posts), but still makes an interesting read.  One that stuck out to me is quoted below:

When I was a little younger I had the privilege of working for UPS and Fed Ex at the same time. Fed Ex will fire you if they find out that you work for UPS, but they never did. UPS is of course a union job (Teamsters) and Fed Ex is not. The difference was night and day.

At UPS I got a decent hourly wage, thousands of dollars yearly as a tuition benefit, good health insurance, and a pension. At Fed Ex I got the same hourly wage (a little bit more to be honest) and jack squat for benefits (literally nothing).

At UPS I got treated with a lot of respect, even though I was just a dockworker. If I felt sick or had something else I needed to attend to, I’d give the office a call and they wouldn’t even ask me why I was missing work. They just told me to do what I needed to do. At Fed Ex calling in sick was treated like treachery. They let you know that you were an at-will employee and treated you like it.

And safety? Holy toledo. When I got hired at UPS they put me through a week of classes where they taught me proper lifting practices, how to safely and efficiently perform virtually every task I could possibly be asked to do, how to deal with hazardous materials, etc. When I showed up at Fed Ex they pointed to a trailer and said “empty it”. They didn’t even bother to give me the customary “don’t lift with your back”. UPS performed routine safe practices evaluations where a supervisor would watch you working for a little bit and give advice on how you could be safer and less likely to injure yourself. Fed Ex didn’t bother. I ended up teaching proper lifting mechanics to a lot of guys I worked with there simply because I was worried about their health. Fed Ex didn’t give a rat’s ass if they blew out their backs, but I kind of liked the guys I worked with so I did what I could.

Twice while I was working at Fed Ex I nearly got crushed by heavy equipment due to the incompetence of the supervisors there. Both times I saved myself with a little running dive but it was close. The accidents were easily preventable but nobody cared and so they kept happening. After the second near-miss I didn’t show up for work the next day and didn’t bother to come back.

I don’t work at UPS or Fed Ex anymore. I’ve got a good union job in a different line of work these days (thank the Lord for college!), but I know what difference a good union makes

With rising economic uncertainty, stagnant middle class incomes, exploding salaries for upper management and corporations cutting benefits at a time of rising profits we could face some labor unrest in coming years.  Whether that leads to a revival of labor unions is still an open question.

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Posted on 11-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Now for something lighter and inspirational. Some of you may have already heard of this story. Six sledgehammer wielding robbers hammering away at the window of a Northampton jewelers store got the shock of their lives when an enraged 71 year old pensioner came trotting up and started hitting them with her handbag. This inspired bystanders (like the bloke taking the video) to step in and assist her foiling the robbery. Needless to say Ann Timson is now a national heroine. And the twerps she foiled will have a tough time living this down in the joint. Video below:

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Posted on 11-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Talk about timing…barely 30 minutes after blogging about Mubarak refusing to go, the tired old dictator leaves. An inspiring moment for Egypt and the World. Hopefully this does not signify an attempt to perpetuate the Nasserite military dictatorship. Suleiman can help by keeping his promise to repeal the 30 year emergency law and not running for reelection. May the Ayatollahs be next.

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Posted on 11-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

That was anti-climactic.  With Egypt convulsing from the after-shocks from the Maghreb triggered by the self-immolation of a frustrated Tunisian fruit seller, rumors of Hosni Mubarak’s impending departure spread rapidly.  And then Mubarak doused cold water on those hopes with a vague rambling speech (blaming foreign influences) announcing that he was delegating unspecified powers to his man Friday, new Vice President Omar Suleiman.  The crowd’s displeasure is evident in the video below, particularly at the 12:30 mark where Mubarak tries to identify himself with the young people out in the streets.

Suleiman on whom the Obama administration has placed its wishful hopes for a transition to democracy the proceeded to rile the crowd by asking the protesters to go home.  The Egyptian army which has played a two faced role in this crisis has endorsed Mubarak’s plan, and Mubarak does seem to have handed some powers over to Suleiman.

So what now?  Nobody knows.  The White House was evidently blindsided by Mubarak’s defiance and has limited leverage on the situation.  Ultimately this is a crisis that must be resolved by the Egyptians.  Washington’s efforts should be focussed on preventing the army from initiating the type of bloody crackdown that crushed Iran’s Green Revolution two years ago.

With no obvious opposition candidate in the wings, Egypt faces a period of prolonged uncertainty and probably instability. A big concern in Egypt is a silent military coup, of the type that may have overcome Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.   Suleiman is deeply tied to Mubarak’s repressive regime and in his 70s is unlikely to be a long term solution in any case.

Concerns have been raised that elections could result in the Muslim Brotherhood to power.  If the United States truly believes its pretensions of being the “defender of the free world”, it needs to come to grips with the reality that democracy can result in unfriendly governments.  For too long Washington has supported autocrats like Mubarak who provided “stability” in the form of stagnation and decay of their countries institutions, economies and societies.  After some hesitancy the Obama administration seems to be veering towards support for a democratic transition.  Here’s hoping that the Egyptians can pull it off (and by their example reignite Iran’s Green Revolution).

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Posted on 07-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

It is time to update the world map.  As expected South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to secede from the largely Muslim and Arab northern part of the country.  With Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir promising to respect the results, fears of a North-South civil war have receded.

The extremely impoverished new nation (whose name has not been formalized) faces a daunting task ahead.  It is riven with feuds, has almost no infrastructure and the desire to be free from Khartoum appears to have been the only glue that held its warring factions together.  It is blessed and cursed with an abundance of natural resources (and oil).  Mineral wealth has generally been the bane of developing countries.  Getting it out of the ground creates few jobs but generates a lot of revenue for venal kleptocrats to siphon into Swiss bank accounts.   Revenue sharing arrangements with the North have to still be negotiated and Khartoum will be eager to exploit any rifts that appear.

The creation of South Sudan could provide added impetus to secessionist movements across Africa.  The African Union has avoided opening up the Pandora’s box of redrawing colonial borders.  The sole exception to the rule, Eritrea could claim that it had been a separate Italian colony before being annexed by Ethiopia after World War II.  Now the genie is out of the bottle and secessionist claims in places like (oil rich) Southern Nigeria could re-emerge.

Maybe my pessimism is unjustified.  Having midwifed the creation of the new country (with the active encouragement of right-wing evangelical groups) it is likely that the United States will remain involved in the region and discourage mischief.  Equally or more likely the combination of a weak resource rich state surrounded by unscrupulous resource poor neighbors could result in another Congo.

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Posted on 12-10-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This story is kinda cool.  A 9 year old student wrote a letter to Johnny Depp’s character Captain Jack Sparrow asking for help staging a mutiny against her teachers.  The actor who was nearby shooting the fourth sequel of Pirates Of The Caribbeanshowed up in costume with 10 minutes notice to give a young kid a pleasant surprise she will not forget.  Video below:

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Posted on 08-10-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

It is a rule people would do well to remember.  If you want things to be private (a) don’t commit it to paper, (b) don’t type it up on your computer and (c) never, ever email it to friends relying on their good judgment.

Duke University is in an uproar when a “f**k list” created by a recent grad (who facetiously referred to it as her senior thesis) went viral.  It brings back memories of former congressional staffer Jessica Cutler and it is still unclear whether the author will face similar lawsuits for invasion of privacy.  It has been almost a decade since the first case (that I recall) of a viral email spreading way beyond its intended audience.  There is at least one Chicago large law firm partner whose legal prowess will have a hard time overcoming his association with an unfortunate voice-mail that was not supposed to go viral.  But yet people naively email items that should never be committed to paper.  It will be just a matter of time before the next such embarrassing exchange that was supposed to “just be between friends.”

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