From our Local Interest Department:
In White Hall, Alabama—a rural community near Montgomery in which about one third of folks live below the poverty line–a state task force raided a bingo hall before dawn on Thursday, seizing more than 200 alleged illegal slot machines and “a large amount of cash.”
From the Associated Press via al.com:
A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley says the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling organized the pre-dawn raid Thursday and are seizing machines suspected of being illegal slot machines.
No charges were immediately filed.
Collins Pettaway, an attorney for the charity that operates the bingo hall, says the machines are all legal and he is trying to get an injunction to block the seizure.
Whitehall resident Doris Gresham says she was in the gaming center when state troopers arrived about 5 a.m.
The bingo hall is located on U.S. 80 about 20 miles west of Montgomery.
The thought occurs to me that if the great state of Alabama could just let good folks like Doris yank the lever in peace, perhaps my state university wouldn’t be turning off the air conditioning in shifts and considering a hiring freeze, the roads around here might get serviced regularly and in reasonable time, and maybe the police could divert their valuable resources to fighting some real crime.
On Monday, police in Istanbul dispersed a band of protesters at an international forum on water shortage—by blasting them with water cannons.
The meetings involved policymakers, scientists, and activists from more than 120 countries.
Turkish police, who on Monday fired water canons and tear gas to disperse protesters gathered at the start of the forum, told state-run Anatolian they prefer to use water because it is cheaper than tear gas.
Police officials said they normally use 13 to 14 tonnes (13-14 cubic metres) of water to disperse a crowd at a cost of 400 lira ($235). In similar circumstances, police have to use around 500 teargas bombs at a cost of 12,500 lira ($7,350), they said.
People who know me are aware of my reverence for Brazilian music—from the primal, unfettered samba, to the forward-looking, nationalistic compositions of Heitor Villa-Lobos, to the smooth bossa nova of Gilberto and Jobim. But recently, an even sweeter sound has emerged from South America’s largest and most populous nation: the whoosh of hunger rapidly receding into the past, at least in the city of Belo Horizonte.
Brazil’s third (or fourth) largest city, with a total metropolitan population of about 6 million, is the capital of Minas Gerais state in the country’s densely populated southeast. Portuguese for ‘beautiful horizon,’ Belo Horizonte rose quickly through the 20th Century to become one of Latin America’s major urban centers. The city hosts a wealth of industry and is currently the Latin American headquarters for Google. But in Brazil, a land of stark contrasts between affluence and poverty, many were left behind in the boom.
In 1993, Belo Horizonte enacted a policy of “food as a citizen’s right.” Working to creatively balance the interests of local farmers and consumers, the city administration brought family farmers into prime vending locations throughout town, where they could sell their products to the appreciative impoverished for well under market price. This move saw many farmers dramatically increase their livelihood against the broader national decline in agricultural revenues. The city also opened three large “People’s Restaurants” and a number of smaller eateries where homegrown food vendors could sell their wares to the public for something like 50 cents a meal.
Writing at CommonDreams.org, Frances Moore Lappé says:
What does a democracy look like that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials? Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise here in the United States-one in 10 of us is now turning to food stamps-these questions take on new urgency.
To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens making democracy work for them, real-life stories help-not models to adopt wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons. For me, the story of Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market-you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.
Lappé goes on to remind us that, while the tenets of capitalism may render such concepts strange to our ears, food sharing is actually one of the fundamental social innovations which provided a competitive edge to the human species. When people can work together to solve large problems to the mutual benefit of all involved, we see the human spirit at its finest. Belo Horizonte has lived up to her name in more than one way.
Speaking to the United Kingdom’s 2009 Sustainable Development conference, top government scientist John Beddington projects that by 2030 the world as a whole will face critical shortages in food, water, and energy beyond anything yet experienced on a large scale.
According to Professor Beddington, the world of 2030 will be populated by about 8.3 billion people. Demand for food and energy will have increased by 50%, and fresh water demand will have jumped up 30%.
BBC News reports:
Prof Beddington said the concern now – when prices have dropped once again – was that the issues would slip back down the domestic and international agenda.
“We can’t afford to be complacent. Just because the high prices have dropped doesn’t mean we can relax,” he said.
Improving agricultural productivity globally was one way to tackle the problem, he added.
At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested.
Professor Beddington said: “We have to address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures.
“Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity – a mixture of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding.
Better water storage and cleaner energy supplies are also essential, he added.
Prof Beddington is chairing a subgroup of a new Cabinet Office task force set up to tackle food security.
While unstable geopolitics, environmental issues such as climate change and pollution, and financial mayhem all clamor for the attention of today’s busy technocrat, some scientists point out that this simple, potent mixture of rising demand for resources and an aggressively booming population is perhaps the biggest problem our global society has currently to address.
To those in the U.S. and elsewhere who have remained blissfully unaware of just how retarded certain segments of the American mainstream media have become in recent years, I proudly and yet regrettably present FOX News commentator Glenn Beck and his “912 Project.”
Beck’s power base is his nationally syndicated radio show, The Glenn Beck Program. He was also aired on CNN/Headline News between May 2006 and October 2008, billed as “an unconventional look at the news of the day,” to say the least. But Beck has risen to greater prominence through his prime-time FOX News program, which began airing in January, pretty much concurrently with the beginning of the Obama presidency. It is only from this new soapbox that Beck has begun pulling out all the stops. The headlining guests on Beck’s first FOX show were Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, for starters.
Glenn Beck describes himself as a recovering alcoholic, a man whose early life was liberally peppered with tragedies in the family. Beck says, essentially, that God “stalked” him and forced him to reform. For overcoming personal tragedy and hardship, I heartily salute and warmly empathize with Mr. Beck; but it seems apparent that this recovery has come at a considerable . . . err . . . mental cost. Here’s a small sample of his polemics:
Beck, who once asked America’s first Muslim congressman, on air, to prove that he wasn’t working for “America’s enemies,” who uses his platform to “crush” atheists and to debunk anthropogenic climate change as some sort of leftist hoax, and whose commentary most generally consists of tearful, emotionally charged laments on the deplorable state of American society—though probably not in the sense you or I would mean—is launching “The 912 Project.” We’ll let Beck speak for himself on this one. Here’s an excerpt from the project’s mission statement as displayed on theglennbeck912project.com:
This website is a place for you and other like-minded Americans looking for direction in taking back the control of our country. It is also a place to find information that will assist you in navigating the rough waters we face in the days, weeks and months ahead. . .
. . .This is a non-political movement. The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the greatest nation ever created.
That same feeling – that commitment to country is what we are hoping to foster with this idea. We want to get everyone thinking like it is September 12th, 2001 again.
Glenn Beck is proud to invoke a state of tightly unified, pseudo-patriotic ecstasy in the U.S., as long as it operates according to the “9 Principles” (including “I believe in God and He is the center of my life,” and “Government cannot force me to be charitable”) and “12 values” (such as “reverence,” “thrift,” and “gratitude”) of his project. Which is to say, as long as everyone wholeheartedly agrees with Glenn Beck.
But, wait a minute. The United States on September 12, 2001 was a nation in the grip of fear, hysteria, and uncertainty. The things which brought the country together during that time were compassion for the bereaved (good) and lust for revenge on the perpetrators (bad). Aren’t most of us taught as children that decisions made in confusion and anger tend to be . . . well . . . bad decisions? And isn’t an appeal to return to “9/12” at least in some sense a roundabout way of asking for another “9/11”?
Of course it is! Beck appeals to a certain segment of the conservative populace in the U.S., one which is undereducated, underinformed, and overzealous with respect to issues they don’t really even grasp. Such people can only operate meaningfully when there is a common enemy into which they can channel their frustrations, some of which are legitimate until they are so sorely mishandled.
Joanne Mariner, via Counterpunch, gives a full and insightful survey of human rights violations committed by the U.S. beginning on September 12. Is this the America to which Beck wishes to return?
Since September 2001, the U.S. government has been directly responsible for a broad array of serious human rights violations in fighting terrorism, including torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials. In many instances, US abuses were carried out in collaboration other governments.
To cite one example—albeit a particularly notable one—Pakistan’s intelligence agencies worked closely with the CIA to “disappear” terrorist suspects, hold them in secret detention, and subject them to torture and other abuses.
With Barack Obama’s term as U.S. president, the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism has changed. The scope of the Obama administration’s reforms is not yet clear, but it is obvious that the new administration wants to rethink many of the policies that were instituted over the past eight years.
This change in the U.S. approach is long overdue. What is called for, however, is not only for the United States to reform its own abusive policies, but also for U.S. officials to try to counteract the negative influence of past policies worldwide. As a brief review of US counterterrorism efforts will suggest, the human rights impact of the US-led “war on terror” has been felt across the globe.
There is great cause to be anxious and even outraged in the realm of current events. Why does the United States support rogue states such as Israel and befriend human rights behemoths like Saudi Arabia, while making bellicose overtures to Iran for brandishing its own rhetoric and pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program? Why does it stand idly by through the Ossetias and Darfurs of the world, while plunging hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives into Iraq and Afghanistan? But the moment we stop thinking critically, asking and researching questions, and start vegging out in front of the TV with twinkies and soda, we enter the fruitless province of Beckistan. Within those too clearly-defined borders, the important things to be concerned about are illegal immigrants, God in the classroom, and the Satanic bane of homosexuality.
Even Shephard Smith, FOX News anchor and veritable conservative posterboy, found time to ridicule Project 912:
According to the investigating Iraqi magistrate, Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at visiting U.S. President George W. Bush and called him a “dog,” was beaten while in custody and had bruises on his face to show for it.
The Guardian reports:
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush was beaten afterwards and had bruises on his face, the investigating judge in the case said today, as a senior cleric in Iran urged others to wage a “shoe intifada” against the US.
The reporter, Muntazer al-Zaidi, had bruises on his face and around his eyes, said the judge, Dhia al-Kinani said.
Zaidi was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes during a Sunday press conference by Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
He remains in custody and is expected to face charges of insulting a foreign leader.
Kinani said a complaint about Zaidi’s treatment had been filed on his behalf and court officials “will watch the footage to identify those who have beaten him … He was beaten and we filed a case for that. Zaidi did not raise a complaint and he can drop this case if he wants to.”
Clerics in Iran have praised al-Zaidi’s bravery, and his actions have been similarly hailed throughout the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez said that, while the throwing of shoes was uncalled for, the sentiment was justified. Al-Zaidi has asked the forgiveness of the Iraqi Prime Minister; if convicted of insulting a head of state, he could face up to 15 years imprisonment. Prime Minister Maliki has the authority to grant a pardon, but only if a conviction is first handed down. The Iraqi parliament is currently sharply divided on the issue.
Earlier, the journalist’s brother had claimed he was beaten in custody and was taken to an American military hospital for treatment for a broken arm, broken ribs, and other injuries. The court ostensibly intends to closely review video footage to determine if al-Zaidi’s injuries were sustained merely during the struggle to take him into custody, or were incurred or exacerbated later, while in detention.
In Muslim culture, feet and shoes are regarded as especially unclean; the throwing of shoes is therefore one of the most degrading physical insults which could be visited on a person.
I thought Barack Obama would be a shoe-in; I just didn’t know Bush would be a shoe-out. But if the shoe fits . . .
Standing alone among the major Western powers, the delegation from the United States refused to sign on Thursday a non-binding United Nations resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality.
The measure, co-sponsored by France and the Netherlands, was signed by 66 countries. In at least 80 nations, homosexuality is a criminal offense; in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is punishable by execution.
BBC News reports:
The countries signed a declaration sponsored by France and the Netherlands demanding an end to legal punishment based on sexual orientation.
Sixty other countries of the UN’s 192 member states, including a number of Arab and African states, rejected the non-binding declaration.
They said laws on homosexuality should be left to individual countries.
Gay men, lesbians and transsexuals worldwide face daily violations of their human rights.
France and the Netherlands drafted the declaration in part to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories included all 27 members of the European Union, Japan, Mexico, and Australia, as well as three dozen other member states.
France’s human rights minister, Rama Yade, called the lack of U.S. support “disappointing,” especially for a country which so vocally prides itself on its defense of human rights abroad.
Why did the United States refuse to sign? An MSNBC article explains:
According to some of the declaration’s backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States — despite its unwillingness to sign — condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation.
Gay rights activists nonetheless were angered by the U.S. position.
“It’s an appalling stance — to not join with other countries that are standing up and calling for decriminalization of homosexuality,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
She expressed hope that the U.S. position might change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.
The federal government of the United States has never concretely expressed that Equal Protection—the Fourteenth Amendment provision which is supposed to force states to guarantee the extension of rights to all citizens—applies to matters of sexual orientation. It has left the legislation of sexuality open to the various states, such as California, where voters last month passed Proposition 8, a measure defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Consequently, many gays in the U.S. feel merely tolerated and frequently openly discriminated against by U.S. law. They say the federal government should take a stand against anti-gay laws and use Equal Protection to ensure compliance at the state level.
Syria represented a group of 60 countries which refused to sign the declaration. The Vatican City also abstained, stating that, while it supports an end to anti-gay laws and persecution, its view is that such a declaration “gives rise to uncertainty in the laws and challenges existing human norms.”
And that, French and Dutch delegates might argue, is exactly what the declaration was intended to do.
The New York Times reports that the State of Israel expelled on Monday Richard Falk, a United Nations investigator of human rights in the Palestinian territories, citing his “vehement publications” criticizing Israel for committing gross human rights abuses in its treatment of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.
Falk, a Princeton professor of international law and the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, has come under scrutiny in Israel for calling the Gaza blockade a “crime against humanity” while offering only “cursory” reprimands to the Palestinian militants who dare attempt to defend themselves against decades of colonialist aggression and oppression in their own homeland.
He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities and has called for more serious examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks. Pointing to discrepancies between the official version of events and other versions, he recently wrote that “only willful ignorance can maintain that the 9/11 narrative should be treated as a closed book.”
In his capacity as a United Nations investigator, Mr. Falk issued a statement this month describing Israel’s embargo on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, as a crime against humanity, while making only cursory reference to Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israeli civilian centers. Israeli officials expressed outrage.
When his appointment was announced by the Human Rights Council last spring, the Israeli representative said it was “impossible to believe that out of a list of 184 potential candidates,” the members had made “the best possible choice for the post.”
The American and Canadian representatives also expressed concerns about Mr. Falk’s possible bias. The Palestinian representative said it was curious that Israel was “campaigning against a Jewish professor” and called the nomination “a victory for good sense and human rights.” Israel objects to the mandate of the special rapporteur on grounds that it ignores all human rights violations by Palestinians, either against Israelis or against other Palestinians. More specifically, it objects to Mr. Falk.
But Jessica Montell, director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, countered that, even if Israel has legitimate concerns about Falk’s objectivity, expelling him in this manner is “an act unbefitting of democracy.”
Israel has shown a marked preference for the Washington-backed government of Mahmoud Abbas, while harshly punishing Palestinians in Gaza for their free election of a Hamas-controlled administration. Yet the Israeli government continues to portray itself as a neutral, objective party, insisting that ad hoc guerrilla attacks against its territory and citizens are acts of aggression rather than protest and defense.
Heedless of copious outcry among the international community and continual denouncement by the United Nations, Israel has occupied Palestinian territory for more than forty years, largely with the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments, claiming a divine right to the land according to religious scripture through the Zionist movement, not to be confused with the faith of Judaism itself.
A very interesting read by Janet Smith, found in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, highlights common attitudes on environmentalism among the U.S. ‘Far Right.’ The piece is probably well worth your time, but here are some highlights:
“Environment is not about saving nature,” the founder of Freedom Advocates, Michael Shaw, sternly warned an audience of antigovernment “Patriots” and far-right conspiracy theorists during a mid-July conference. “It’s about a revolutionary coup in America. [Environmentalism] is to establish global governance and abandon the principles of Natural Law.” Sustainable development policies, Shaw argued, will require “a police state” and ultimately “turn America into a globally governed homeland where humans are treated as biological resources.” . . .
. . .
This year’s conference linked up several of the far right’s bogeymen into one giant whopper of a conspiracy about sustainable development policies that attempt to protect the earth for future generations. The basic thesis pushed at Freedom 21 was that the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. that includes some environmental requirements, is part of a nefarious and secret plan to merge the U.S, Canada and Mexico into something called the “North American Union” (NAU) — an entity which does not, in fact, exist, and has never been planned, despite the hysterical warnings of conspiracy theorists like Corsi.
The NAU, these theorists insist, will bring with it global government, and, most horrible of all, sustainable development policies. Sustainable development is the real evil lurking in the shadows of global government, according to the conference’s organizers; a wolf in sheep’s clothing, environmental policies really exist to destroy Americans’ freedoms and system of government.
“Freedom cannot be sustained in the presence of ‘sustainable development.’ The two concepts are mutually exclusive,” Freedom 21 materials insist. “Sustainable development can exist only when people are controlled by government.” . . .
My penchant for dark humor compels me to ask these people in exactly what ways they feel they are not currently being “controlled” by one of the most bellicose, plutocratic, anti-democratic governments in the world.
Among other charges leveled at environmental activists—even at mere oxygen-breathing enthusiasts, one almost feels—was that of ‘pantheism,’ and thereby the severing of humankind from God’s word. Sheesh.
Yet, underneath the cacophonous hysteria, it bears mentioning that the ‘patriots’ at Freedom 21 are actually hinting at a fairly salient fundamental point about the human living condition, one which their obstinacy unfortunately obscures.
Perhaps the most important lesson that environmentalism teaches us—a lesson well-known (and sometimes learned the hard way) among primitive peoples for countless ages—is that ‘freedom’ is a relative concept. We should strive to be as free as possible in the most meaningful imaginable sense, but with the knowledge that we cannot be absolutely free to do as we wish if we are to leave future generations an Earth which is worth inhabiting. If that is ‘Earth worship,’ please count me in among the heathen pagans who are, out of the very sort of patriotism we are accused of sorely lacking, ready and willing to admit that the so-called ‘American Way’ has, in more ways than one, frequently proved far from the best way in dealing with matters interior and exterior.
BBC News reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, slated to keep his post after Obama takes office in January, has told U.S. troops on an airbase in Iraq that their mission is in its ‘endgame’:
Mr Gates said the US military presence would undergo a “significant change of mission” next June when troops are due to withdraw from Iraq’s urban areas.
Under a recently agreed deal between the two countries, US troops will completely withdraw from Iraq by 2011.
However, the US general leading US troops in Iraq has said he expects some soldiers to stay in cities beyond June.
The Iraqi parliament voted in favour of the new security deal with the Americans last month. Iraq’s government has hailed the agreement as the prelude to the return of full sovereignty to the country.
Not that this is the first time we’ve heard such talk, of course. But this time, Pentagon officials may actually be speaking from their icy black hearts.
Commanders on the ground in Iraq expect to restore native control to all 18 Iraqi provinces by June, under the terms of a new security deal with the government of Prime Minister Maliki. U.S. voters will expect incoming president Barack Obama to deliver on his promises of a deliberate but expeditious withdrawal from Iraq.
But it isn’t all campaign politics; the simple truth is that, while automakers badger the U.S. Congress for a handout of a few billion dollars, the staggering financial costs of the occupation of Iraq—in the hundreds of billions per annum—continue to create debt and leave federal and industrial resources ever more tightly stretched. The presence of 150,000 troops in Iraq is edging towards the logistically untenable, and recent developments have created an environment in which withdrawal on Washington’s terms is becoming more opportune.
In October, the Iraqi government officially opened its oil reserves—the third-largest proven reserves in the world—to dozens of foreign investors, under the terms of an ownership contract which was never made public. Crude oil prices have recently plummeted in the wake of decreased demand, but with the hands of international oil companies on the spickets in the petroleum paradise of southern Iraq, OPEC is now largely unable to effectively counter in many markets. Critics of the U.S. administration have long maintained that gaining the ability to exert this kind of pressure on oil markets, from the Middle East to Venezuela, has always been a primary goal of the occupation of Iraq.
Another important prerequisite for withdrawal which is now a fait accompli is the establishment of a series of ‘megabases’ throughout Iraq, including some of the largest such facilities anywhere on the globe. TomDispatch reports:
By now, billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It’s a “16-square-mile fortress,” housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types, and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post’s Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out — in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases — it’s essentially “a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.” Back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow — and keep in mind that Balad has been steadily upgraded ever since to support an “air surge” that, unlike the President’s 2007 “surge” of 30,000 ground troops, has yet to end. . .
. . .Think of this as the greatest American story of these years never told — or more accurately, since there have been a few reports on a couple of these mega-bases — never shown. After all, what an epic of construction this has been, as the Pentagon built a series of fortified American towns, each some 15 to 20 miles around, with many of the amenities of home, including big name fast-food franchises, PXes, and the like, in a hostile land in the midst of war and occupation. In terms of troops, the President may only have put his “surge” strategy into play in January 2007, but his Pentagon has been “surging” on base construction since April 2003.
Aside from providing a bottomless boon to salivating contractors, these airbases ensure that, even with the vast majority of manpower extracted from the region, the U.S. can continue to project its power into the Middle East to protect its diplomatic and economic interests. This sends a strong message to the re-emerging Russian Federation as well as to regional powers such as Iran.
So while it may be true that the official U.S. mission in Iraq is coming to a close, in the sense of realpolitik, the ‘game’ may be just beginning.