US – Yeah, That And The Munchies – 4 May 2014

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/05/04/white-house-correspondents-dinner-transcript-of-obamas-remarks/

“Speaking of Rand Paul — (laughter) — Colorado legalized marijuana this year, an interesting social experiment. I do hope it doesn’t lead to a whole lot of paranoid people who think that the federal government is out to get them and listening to their phone calls. (Laughter.) That would be a problem. (Laughter.)”I knew I liked this Obama guy for a reason…

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US – $15 An Hour Needs To Be Proven Thinkable – The End Of The World Is Not Nigh – 4 May 2014

[Originally posted with a picture from the Facebook group US Uncut about Seattle’s $15/hr minimum wage legislation. I am reposting this without the graphic because US Uncut has apparently managed to rotate a new picture, which I was not reposting, into the place where the original graphic about the $15/hr issue was.]

I think we can properly call this “The World Ain’t Gonna End” activism, as its goal, beyond helping working people cope a bit better, is to send a message to the rest of the US and the world that this is not going to cause all business to leave Seattle or mass poverty to reign in the metropolis by Puget Sound.

Of course business people are going to make a lot of noise about this and act like they’re going to punish Seattle. Some will probably even make good on the threat. Most will not because the cost of refusing to do business in Seattle would be greater than the benefits of refusing to do business in Seattle.

This is why we’ve mostly heard places that are economically confident and secure they have products to offer the world making the first moves to democratise the economy (and that’s what it is) by raising the minimum wage to humane levels. Bring it, say these confident jurisidictions, because business people would have to be stupid to close themselves off to vibrant markets of considerable size and influence.

Basically what Seattle has done, as a test of conventional economic wisdom about daring to flaunt the business community’s narrow standards, is a variation on what Argentina has been doing. Since the early 00s, Argentina’s Kirchner and Fernandez governments have negotiated general debt deals which allow space for the economy there to grow rather than follow the diktats of their creditors to accept austerity policies. Some private creditors are still not onside with the deal, and still rhetorically rage about Argentina, occasionally trying to punish them legally and economically for not paying every red cent of what’s owed – but an Argentina with economic capacities is ultimately more valuable to international investors than one killing itself trying to pay overwhelming foreign debts. One look at Argentina’s bond ratings will tell you that, despite anti-austerity Kirchner/Fernandez policies, international investors know “The World Ain’t Gonna End” there either.

The best argument against TINA (There-Is-No-Alternative) arguments from the right wing is to go ahead and embrace a specific alternative in order to demonstrate that, no, indeed, The World Ain’t Gonna End. Good for Seattle for doing that.

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Israel – US – Israeli “Apartheid” – Secretary Kerry, The Debate Is Really More Constrained By Poor Metaphors, Don’t You Think? – 3 May 2014

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/04/29/kerry-apartheid-controversy-shows-limits-on-debate-over-israel/

Please. If anything it is this article which shows what the limits of debate about Israel are.

US Secretary of State opened up a predictable diplomatic controversy by suggesting that Israel, if it continues present policies, could become an “apartheid state”, thereby joining a disturbingly large group of people who can’t seem to grasp that comparisons to apartheid should be radioactive politically if they are not rigorously supported by facts.

Greg Sargent attempts to supply innuendo and supposition to bolster Kerry’s claim, but this only proves how tenuous the claim really is: “The future prospect of apartheid comes from what is sometimes called ‘the demographic problem,’ which is that Palestinian birth rates are substantially higher than Jewish Israeli birth rates, and eventually the number of Palestinians will exceed the number of Israeli citizens, at which point you have a minority government ruling over a majority population without citizenship rights.”

A population without citizenship rights? About 20% of _Israeli citizens_ are “Israeli Arabs” – only a small portion of those being non-Muslim, and most self-identifying as “Palestinian” in ethnicity. That population votes in elections and is part of a pluralistic Israeli state which operates in two official languages – Hebrew and _Arabic_.

If I’m supposed to demand we all “Cry Freedom” about that, you’ll be a long time waiting for me to do that.

But such are the limits of the debate about Israel. No one acknowledges there are Israeli Arabs with rights recognised by some hypothetically uniform “Jewish state”. It would be nice if we could transcend _those_ limits. But I see no call for that here.

How about this propagandistic claim: “There’s no other country in the world for which any criticism of the policies of that country’s current government will immediately be met with charges of insufficient loyalty to that other country and the insistence that only supportive statements may be made. Nobody would accuse an American Secretary of State of being ‘anti-British’ or ‘anti-Japanese’ if he said a decision of one of those governments was problematic, but people are routinely called ‘anti-Israel”’ if anything but full-throated support for whatever the current Israeli government does should pass their lips.”

Um, if John Kerry said either Britain or Japan could prospectively become an “apartheid state”, then yeah, people would complain about his “criticism”. The point is, that venom seems only reserved for Israel. (By the way, Britain and Japan are not non-racialist utopias. British voters elected hardcore racist Nick Griffin to represent them in the EU parliament. Japan has long had a reputation for being unwelcoming even to Chinese or Korean immigrants, despite the fact that no visible characteristics seem to identify people from other Asian countries as distinct from native-born Japanese. Even given these things, it would be outrageous to leap from those observations to “Britain is prospectively an apartheid state” and “Japan is prospectively an apartheid state”. Both are democracies with some unsavoury ethnocentric movements disturbingly on the rise. Perspective is important here. We don’t junk all of democracy to send a message about some crackpots. So we should not with Israeli democracy.)

Most troubling about Sargent’s narrative is that he seems to find himself incapable of imagining that supporters of the defence of Israel could actually be interested for its own sake in defending Israelis. His language suggests that he assumes a greater geopolitical purpose _always_ motivates them: “Like others before it, this controversy played out according to a familiar script: 1) Official says something uncomfortable but true about Israel; 2) The Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) condemn the statement,…

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US – Gun Politics – Kennesaw Creates Its Own Crime Wave – 1 May 2014

http://www.heavy.com/news/2014/04/kennesaw-georgia-fed-ex-shooting-cobb-county/

In addition to these five fast-facts, add a sixth, namely that Kennesaw is that lovely Georgia town where a law is actually on the books _requiring_ its citizens to own a gun for self-defence.

Gun boosters (I’ll be polite and not say “gun nuts”) are always telling us good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.

Where were the “good guys with guns” in Kennesaw, then? All I saw in this story was a bad guy wearing an ammo belt and rapid-fire slaughtering innocent people.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until Americans listen – either it’s time to well regulate that militia out there, or to finally relegate the Second Amendment mentality to the 18th Century with some serious constitutional reform. Use what’s in the Second Amendment to stop the US from becoming a shooting gallery, or else the only solution left will be to repeal the amendment.

Don’t think so? Think the Founding Fathers understood 21st century reality? How more graphic do the counterexamples have to get before you dismiss _that_ idea? If a town absolutely drunk on its Second Amendment freedoms can’t protect anyone from a rampaging shooter, what positive meaning can even be attributed to the “right to bear arms” principle? Bear arms? Why? It’s not like you do anything good with them.

Indeed, increasingly, it’s obvious that the “right to bear arms” is really the right to be one day shot by them. I’d rather see the Second Amendment struck in its entirety than put up with another starry-eyed libertarian justification for the next mass slaughter.

Sensible gun regulation now, before we have even more horrific examples of wild and unbound 21st century shooters intimidating our self-appointed 18th century-style citizen mercenaries.

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Italy – Silvio Calls Social Democrats Nazis, Ignores Fascists In His Own Coalition – Why Do We Take Him Seriously? – 26 April 2014

http://www.dw.de/berlusconi-gaffe-for-germans-concentration-camps-never-existed/a-17593907

Can someone tell me why the world puts up with Silvio Berlusconi?

Really, asking I already sort of know the answer to that – because people can accept a citation of moral-sounding reasons to promote the amoral.

It’s a bit incongruous, this being lectured about World War II by Berlusconi, a leader of a right-wing opposition coalition in the Italian parliament that actually includes Allessandra Mussolini, the leader of the neo-fascist Social Alternative party (still represented in parliament) and granddaughter of Italy’s fascist dictator by that same last name.

So how does he get away with slagging Germany, a country which has manifested a deep concern for rooting out Nazism from its public life since 1945, while a Mussolini in his own electoral coalition testifies to the fact that Italian conservatives hardly share that kind of concern with Italy’s World War II legacy?

I’ll tell you how – because irresponsible people trying to score points against “politicians” today allow him to do so. Right-wing populists (and also some left-wing ones) are not always averse to comparing the European Union, which they oppose, with Nazi Germany – they disingenuously claim they are doing as much to prevent future creeping totalitarianism in Brussels (ah yes, Brussels as the centre of a totalitarian colossus – someone alert the Belgians) as resistance movements did fighting Hitler. It is a breathtakingly inappropriate comparison, one that at once denies the importance of EU internationalism and defiles the graves of the victims of the Axis powers – Italy very pointedly included.

It has become the typical pattern for the reactionary Right throughout much of the world. The argument…pardon me, the harangue…goes like this: “Of course I resist the encroaching powers of centralised government, because you know who else had a centralised government? Hitler!” Then, when people pin back “the state” out of fear of empowering “Hitler”, we come to see, in horrific detail, exactly from what kinds of evils “the state” was protecting us. Meanwhile, the Berlusconis of the world make more money.

In any case, the fact that Berlusconi lays responsibility for whatever German denial of the Holocaust exists at the feet of…wait for it…Martin Schulz, the leader of the Socialists in the EU parliament, well, that’s your first indication of how irresponsible his criticism is. If there is one German political group that can honestly say it is not responsible for Hitler, it’s the socialists of the SPD. The SPD voted against Hitler’s Enabling Act (a noble act of courage as darkness gathered in Berlin in 1934), an SPD in exile existed during the war, and contributed energetically to establishing democracy in Germany afterwards. Martin Schulz is part of a party with a grand tradition of resistance to fascism.

Every European should make it clear that Silvio Berlusconi’s ravings cross the line. Unfortunately, people are so carried away by anti-government and anti-EU ideology that they are all the more likely to let it slide. If they do, they should be ashamed.

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France – US – Snowden Provides Sarkozy An Alibi – 21 April 2014

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2014/04/how-edward-snowden-saved-nicolas-sarkozy.html

Here’s a good example of foreign Snowdenism, in all its infuriating messiness. The slippery ex-President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was being investigated for possibly having taken money for his 2007 campaign from Moammar Gaddafi, is now wrapping himself in civil libertarian rectitude, thanks to a tip-in from changed public attitudes in the wake of the Snowden/NSA brouhaha.

It’s not as if Sarko doesn’t actually have a few points to make on his own behalf – just as it’s not as if Snowden doesn’t have a few here and there himself. It’s just that the ballooning and fatuous claims about imperial overrreach are, there as here, a bit too much to take.

This paragraph from the New Yorker article gives you a good impression of what’s really at stake: “The daily Le Monde published the news that French judges had begun wiretapping Sarkozy in the course of an investigation into whether, before winning the Presidency in 2007, he had received illegal campaign funding from the former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Investigators had bugged Sarkozy and his criminal-defense lawyer, Thierry Herzog, for more than a year. Aware that their phones were being tapped, Sarkozy and Herzog purchased a special secret phone, using the name Paul Bismuth.”

In that short paragraph you can see that the judges broke the rules, and so did Sarkozy.

In France, it is not a standard procedure to wiretap communications between an individual and that individual’s lawyer. This is something only done if there is probable cause of being under suspicion for being a terrorist or an organised crime figure. Granted, if the Gaddafi-Sarkozy connection could have been proven, that’s what Sarko would properly have been considered. But there appears to be no evidence of that.

On the other hand, the secret phone purchase under an assumed name seems to indicate France’s president was willing to obstruct a legally-ordered investigation. Imagine if either François Hollande or Barack Obama communicated on a “secret” phone and this fact were revealed to the press, especially in the context of a legally-ordered investigation. They’d be turfed in minutes, not hours.

Why can Teflon-Sarko get away with it, then? Why, civil liberties, of course! An intrusive government had no right to tap his phone, so he had every right in evading the government’s gaze by pretending to be this “Paul Bismuth”.

And here comes the hyperbolic justification, complete with a comparison to East Germany: “I have been under surveillance since September of 2013 for supposed acts of corruption dating from 2007! Not because they have any evidence but because they hope to find some. Today anyone who speaks with me knows they are going to be wiretapped.…This is not a scene from that marvellous film ‘The Lives of Others,’ about East Germany and the activities of the Stasi. It is not the case of some dictator acting against his political opponents. This is France.”

That’s obviously a bit over the top, even if there are legitimate complaints one can make about the behaviour of France’s institutions in all of this. I’ve said this dozens of times, and I’ll repeat it here – the Stasi had 1% of the East German population spying on the other 99%. It is not to be mentioned in the same breath as a civil liberties dispute in an obviously democratic nation – to do so is to diminish the Stasi’s crimes. People should think that any comparison to the Stasi that doesn’t demonstrate crimes of similar magnitude is radioactive politically. Sarkozy makes it clear he is willing to cheapen the suffering of East Germans to take the heat off himself. He is able to do that, in part, because defenders of Edward Snowden – up to and including even Daniel Ellsberg – have made such cheap Stasi comparisons commonplace.

There are legitimate complaints about how this case against Sarkozy was handled, and I am willing to follow those complaints to a certain extent – as long as we are not imagining that Sarkozy has behaved properly by getting himself a “secret” phone, and as long as we are not now imagining François Hollande to be up there with Stalin or Hitler in his creation of a “surveillance state”.

That’s not far from where I am with the whole business in the US. There are many places where I actually do buy into the complaints of the Snowdenites. I can list of plenty of those complaints with which I have agreed from the outset. No one should have been spying on Angela Merkel, or any allied leader. No spying for economic, rather than national security motivations, is justified, particularly if one claims to support a “free market”. Thirty years jail time for Bradley Manning is cruel and unusual punishment, and any similarly draconian punishment for Snowden would be unjustified. Grounding Evo Morales’s plane because Snowden might have been on board was hamhanded and disrespectful to Bolivia’s president. People who use the intelligence machinery to spy on people they know for personal reasons should be fired. And so on.

But I am willing to follow those complaints only if it doesn’t take the heat off of the slick, self-interested behaviours of American politicians only too willing to wrap themselves in the civil-liberties-battle-flag – Rand Paul being the most obvious example – and only if it doesn’t casually fling Barack Obama up there with Stalin and Hitler as a totalitarian eminence grise.

The greater the hyperbolic claims about critical failures in democracy and civil liberties – beyond the facts of individual cases and imputing complete dysfunctionality of liberal democratic government – the more it principally helps preening reactionaries, rather than the mass of citizens. The current situation with Nicolas Sarkozy demonstrates this more than adequately.

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