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Good Questions

The new doctrine implied by recent public statements of Catholics criticizing President Obama are indeed curious, though they are regrettably not unprecedented. Under this doctrine there seem to be two categories of  the unborn, and they deserve completely different accounting in the moral sphere.

One class of the unborn deserves very little recognition, and therefore their suffering is of very small concern.  Into this first class fall, for example, the unborn victims of the several wars we are now fighting, those unborn killed by pollution, or directly by hunger, or those unborn poor who need quality healthcare, among other groups too numerous to mention here. Lest we forget, there are many of the born in similar groups who are perishing each and every day.  These very real deaths now also include the first deaths caused by global warming, whose toll shall, with near certainty, dramatically increase every year.

The other class of unborn is so especially deserving of our protection, however, that even though the President has no direct legal authority to protect them, the mere announcement of a candidate of his opposition to a legal precedent enjoins us to put all of our concerns for the first class of the unborn out of our minds, and cast our votes, as unthinking automatons, to continue the wholesale slaughter of those unborn in the first class, while making very slight progress helping those unborn in the second class.

Therefore I, being uneducated by only 2 degrees from Jesuit Universities, must ask those who promulgate this new doctrine of the two unequal classes of the unborn to clarify, with some precision, what are those characteristics of the first class of the unborn that make them so undeserving of our protection and conversely makes those in the second class so especially deserving of our protection?

This question deeply vexes me.

Asking the right question over at Al-Jazeera English; the answer is: Yes!

A revolution against neoliberalism?

Two observations about Egypt’s history as a neoliberal state are in order. First, Mubarak’s Egypt was considered to be at the forefront of instituting neoliberal policies in the Middle East (not un-coincidentally, so was Ben Ali’s Tunisia). Secondly, the reality of Egypt’s political economy during the Mubarak era was very different than the rhetoric, as was the case in every other neoliberal state from Chile to Indonesia. Political scientist Timothy Mitchell published a revealing essay about Egypt’s brand of neoliberalism in his book Rule of Experts (the chapter titled “Dreamland” — named after a housing development built by Ahmad Bahgat, one of the Mubarak cronies now discredited by the fall of the regime). The gist of Mitchell’s portrait of Egyptian neoliberalism was that while Egypt was lauded by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund as a beacon of free-market success, the standard tools for measuring economies gave a grossly inadequate picture of the Egyptian economy. In reality the unfettering of markets and agenda of privatization were applied unevenly at best.

The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked “by the book” were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organised labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.

Earlier in the article they define neoliberalism, too:

What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the “proper functioning” of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.

Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.

I don’t usually agree with Ron Paul.  So I kind of wish someone else had written this. But it is good someone has said this, and asked the questions he has asked.  It is a strange day when I like a right wing libertarian, but this little speech is a gem:

“WikiLeaks release of classified information has generated a lot of attention in the past few weeks. The hysterical reaction makes one wonder if this is not an example of killing the messenger for the bad news. Despite what is claimed, the information that has been so far released, though classified, has caused no known harm to any individual, but it has caused plenty of embarrassment to our government. Losing our grip on our empire is not welcomed by the neoconservatives in charge.

There is now more information confirming that Saudi Arabia is a principal supporter and financier of al Qaeda, and that this should set off alarm bells since we guarantee its Sharia-run government. This emphasizes even more the fact that no al Qaeda existed in Iraq before 9/11, and yet we went to war against Iraq based on the lie that it did. It has been charged by experts that Julian Assange, the internet publisher of this information, has committed a heinous crime, deserving prosecution for treason and execution, or even assassination.

But should we not at least ask how the U.S. government should prosecute an Australian citizen for treason for publishing U.S. secret information that he did not steal? And if WikiLeaks is to be prosecuted for publishing classified documents, why shouldn’t the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others also published these documents be prosecuted? Actually, some in Congress are threatening this as well.

The New York Times, as a results of a Supreme Court ruling, was not found guilty in 1971 for the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg never served a day in prison for his role in obtaining these secret documents. The Pentagon Papers were also inserted into the Congressional record by Senator Mike Gravel, with no charges of any kind being made of breaking any national security laws. Yet the release of this classified information was considered illegal by many, and those who lied us into the Vietnam war, and argued for its prolongation were outraged. But the truth gained from the Pentagon Papers revealed that lies were told about the Gulf of Tonkin attack. which perpetuated a sad and tragic episode in our history.

Just as with the Vietnam War, the Iraq War was based on lies. We were never threatened by weapons of mass destruction or al Qaeda in Iraq, though the attack on Iraq was based on this false information. Any information which challenges the official propaganda for the war in the Middle East is unwelcome by the administration and the supporters of these unnecessary wars. Few are interested in understanding the relationship of our foreign policy and our presence in the Middle East to the threat of terrorism. Revealing the real nature and goal of our presence in so many Muslim countries is a threat to our empire, and any revelation of this truth is highly resented by those in charge.

Questions to consider:

Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?

Number 3: Why is the hostility mostly directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?

Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?

Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?

Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?

Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Thomas Jefferson had it right when he advised ‘Let the eyes of vigilance never be closed.’ I yield back the balance of my time.”

Interesting to see what follow through there is on this story:

Doubts cast on H1N1 scare

The severity of the H1N1 outbreak was deliberately exaggerated by pharmaceutical companies that stood to make billions of dollars from a worldwide scare, a leading European health expert has claimed.

Wolfgang Wodarg, head of health at the Council of Europe, has accused the makers of vaccines for the virus of influencing the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision to declare a pandemic.

The council, a Strasbourg-based body responsible for the European Court of Human Rights, has decided to investigate Wodarg’s claims in an emergency debate on the issue to be held later this month.

An interesting story at the Yale environment360 project, looking at the three different mass die-offs (Amphibians, Bats and Bees) which might be connected by a common thread:

07 Jan 2010: Report
Behind Mass Die-Offs,
Pesticides Lurk as Culprit

In the past dozen years, three new diseases have decimated populations of amphibians, honeybees, and — most recently — bats. Increasingly, scientists suspect that low-level exposure to pesticides could be contributing to this rash of epidemics.
by Sonia Shah

Ever since Olga Owen Huckins shared the spectacle of a yard full of dead, DDT-poisoned birds with her friend Rachel Carson in 1958, scientists have been tracking the dramatic toll on wildlife of a planet awash in pesticides. Today, drips and puffs of pesticides surround us everywhere, contaminating 90 percent of the nation’s major rivers and streams, more than 80 percent of sampled fish, and one-third of the nation’s aquifers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fish and birds that unsuspectingly expose themselves to this chemical soup die by the millions every year.

Reminds me of Lem’s Chain of Chance, where several man-made compounds end up having a totally unforeseen effect, when combined.

The Nieman Watchdog’s slogan “Questions the press should ask” tells what they do rather well. Here’s one example of a story the Nieman Center has highlighted, showing how the media has mislead the American public, leading them to think that the rich have been hurt by the financial crises disproportionately, when in fact the opposite has happened: the poor have shouldered more than their fair share of the recent economic losses, while rich are doing relatively better than they were before the crisis. Good luck figuring that out from reading the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, whose business apparently is: lie to protect the rich.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University was founded in 1938 “to promote and elevate the standards of journalism in the United States.” I suggest you add it to the sites you visit and judge for yourself.

Heres a summary of the story, original at the Columbia Journalism Review:

Selective and misleading reporting on incomes
“The bottom 90 percent of Americans…earned incomes in 2007 that were 1.7 percent less than in 2000, the equivalent of working fifty-two weeks but getting paid for only fifty-one…while the top 1 percent during the same period saw their incomes rise 12 percent,” writes David Cay Johnston. But you wouldn’t know it by reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, whose coverage has exaggerated the negative effects of the economic crisis on the rich.

Of course there needs to be the obligatory post about Amazon deleting the stuff from the kindle that they didn’t like.  The bigger questions, that Amazon has not answered, are:

Do you want to buy something that can be monitored & controlled by some central entity?

Why did Amazon build that feature into the Kindle in the first place?

Do you trust them when they say we won’t do it again?

Who else can use the features in the Kindle to monitor what you are reading?

Just don’t buy a Kindle. My strong recommendation:  Buy a netbook that has GNU/linux (for less than the $299 the Kindle sells for), and download what you want. When you tire of reading you can play some chess* or travel through the solar system (and this is all using free software…)

Oh, and by the way 1984 is in the public domain in Australia and Russia, so take a look at these sites:

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/orwell/george/

http://orwell.ru/library/novels/index_en

Here are some free fonts to use when reading your downloaded books:

http://exljbris.wordpress.com/

And here are some free software packages with which to read your .pdf’s:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/pdfcreator/

http://www.foolabs.com/xpdf/

And here are 100 of the top book downloads from Project Gutenberg:

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Interesting story at MSNBC covered at the blog Big Bear Observation post.  Apparently the NSA had been keeping a very long list of Americans considered to be dangerous.  About 60% of Americans must be on the list, as opposition to the War in Iraq seems to be a criteria. Gotta love the new label for those on the list: “socially dangerous”  I’d be very disappointed if I am not on that list.  

The really interesting story though will be if the Obama administration cancells this program (almost certainly they will) and if they release the list of those socially dangerous people.  The cover for not releasing the information will be that ‘they don’t want to violate the privacy’ of those wrongly accussed.  Next, will be for the list to find it’s way to wikileaks anyway.  That’s when the story will get interesting.  There could even be a fake list as part of a disinformation campaign. Next step: crowdsourcing the analysis of the different lists…all speculation for now, of course…

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Many can’t seem to figure out what is going on in Greece.  For example, Chris Blattman finds Stathis N. Kalyvas’s analysis wanting:

Why is Athens Burning?

In essence, Stathis argues that social norms govern acceptable behavior, and a perverse set has been allowed to settle upon Greece. It’s an appealing theory, but one that has not been popular back home (judging, he says, by the angry hate mail).

To help anyone who doesn’t get it,  I’ve downloaded this visual guide below:

15629_normal

And just in case that wasn’t clear enough there is this, (see this excellent site for more):

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