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26 January 2008

Chomsky on World Ownership, Interview with Michael Shank | January 23, 2008

25 January 2008

Where Do the Presidential Contenders Stand on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Take a wild guess.

Here's a concise description of responsibility and complicity by Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada:

Well, I’d like to say that the suffering in Gaza has been so unremitting and so horrible and will continue. But I think we have to recognize and celebrate the resistance and the people power of the people in Gaza. And we have to recognize that there has been a deliberate siege on them by Israel, a decision taken by the leaders of Israel to starve and inflict suffering on a million-and-a-half people.

The government of Egypt has been complicit in this. They could have opened the borders months ago. Israel has been besieging Gaza for almost two years in this way. Egypt didn’t have to wait until Palestinians took matters into their own hands to free themselves from this barbaric siege.

The United States is complicit. And, by the way, Amy, this is another setback for the Bush Doctrine. The people of Gaza have been the victims of an experiment by the Bush administration and Israel, where, first of all, they had a democratic election. The US and Israel didn’t like that result, so they tried to overthrow Hamas using Contra-style militias and using a starvation siege. Hamas turned the tables on them and got rid of those militias. So they decided to tighten the siege on the people of Gaza, and the people of Gaza decided to break out of it themselves.

But the thing we have to absolutely focus on is the responsibility here. Israel, as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, remains fully responsible for everything that happens there. Under Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, passed, by the way, after the horrors of World War II, Israel is legally required to provide as much food, water, medicine and fuel as the civilian population needs.

And the excuse that the Israelis are using, that they’re doing this in response to rocket fire, we know for a fact that Israel has rejected ceasefire after ceasefire put forward by Hamas and other Palestinian factions. We know for a fact that there are no rockets coming out of the West Bank. And yet Israel continues to carry out extrajudicial executions in the West Bank and military attacks on Nablus, on Balata refugee camp and all the other places in the West Bank.

We have to be clear that what Israel is trying to do is a massive experiment in ethnic cleansing to get rid of a million-and-a-half people who do not fit its demographic desires and the desire to remain a state where one ethnic group has special and better rights by virtue of its religion. That’s what’s going on.

Some Excellent Vodcasts/Videos on Art from the Good Folks at smARThistory...

I'll just list the titles so you can click away at what piques your interest:

Broadcast Exclusive: Abu Ghraib Whistleblower Samuel Provance Speaks Out on Torture and Cover-Up at U.S. Military Jail

This is what courage and patriotism actually is. Moreover, Taguba ain't no hero. Dig it; click the title of the post.

24 January 2008

Alliance of Civilisations Gets Off to an Auspicious Start, By Tito Drago

A hopeful development; check it out. I wonder whether the US was represented. Ah, yes, it seems, by academics, CEOs, and NGO-ers (PDF). Thank god someone other than the Bush administration is representing us to the rest of the world!

Here's their site; it's a UN-associated org, it seems. Here's the specific site for this year's forum, which took place in Madrid. Next year's is in Turkey.

U.S. Stymies Security Council Action on Gaza, By Haider Rizvi

I know: you're shocked at the US's actions, as it goes against 40 years of putting pressure on Israel and supporting Palestinian human rights. Me, too.

Noam Chomsky, The Biology of the Language Faculty: Its Perfection, Past and Future

Update: Just in case I left the wrong impression -- no, I can't follow this in detail; I lack the lingo. I imagine most people reading this will, too, but the general flow of the argument, and the methodology of inquiry, are definitely intelligible to a layperson.

Brand-spanking-new (well, newly uploaded; from
October 19, 2007) talk by the Chomster. Blurbage:

Noam Chomsky, around whose work much of the Syntax series revolves, gives listeners a glimpse into the evolution of his own thinking, with an emphasis on areas of linguistics where computational considerations play a major role.

Chomsky briefly outlines the key components of a biologically based linguistics that began to emerge 50 years ago: first, a genetic language endowment (Universal Grammar), which interacts with the external environment, and second, the individual’s development and learning strategies. While UG has been called “controversial,” says Chomsky, the “alternative is magic,” since something has to account for the fact that “my granddaughter picked out part of her environment as language related, and almost reflexively developed a language while her pet kitten, a chimp or songbird, exposed to exactly the same data, didn’t take the first step and couldn’t conceivably take the second.”

Chomsky links a third factor of language involving architecture and the principles underlying data acquisition to natural laws that may apply generally in biology, and not specifically to language. Research suggests that between 50 and 100 thousand years ago, humans made an abrupt evolutionary leap forward in cognitive capacity. Language seems to have emerged at this time. While long-term evolution can lead to great complexity, a sudden leap like this, says Chomsky, tends to yield something “simple, almost perfect -- a perfect solution to design problems imposed by circumstances and conditions prevailing at the time of emergence...” This proposal has been dubbed the Strong Minimalist Theory (SMT), and offers a plausible approach to studying the complexity of language, believes Chomsky. It might prove profitable to “examine the range of phenomena that fall under what’s loosely called language,” and try to “disentangle them so some parts of them conform more or less to SMT.” And here, says Chomsky, issues of computational efficiency play perhaps an overwhelming role.

Chomsky links SMT to transformational grammar, a long-standing component of his linguistic theory. He states that “a simple form of transformational grammar is just the optimal system, and if you don’t have it, you’d have to have an argument as to why you don’t.” Well-designed systems should have simple, sensible properties. He recommends “chipping away at the stipulated properties of Universal Grammar, and technologies proposed to deal with particular problems to see how closely you can show that language does approximate to the perfect design that would be a natural expectation in light of what appears to be evolutionary history.”
  • Video length is 1:00:01.
  • Noam Chomsky begins with no introduction.
  • At 50:30, Chomsky takes questions.

Live Performance of Thus Spoke the Spectacle

This awesome multimedia rock show is on the road! For a taste, click the title of this post to go to the site. Also, go here for the YouTube channel.

The tagline for what this is could be: "Pink Floyd meets Nietzsche and Neil Postman." The music kicks ass; the message is utterly critical (in both senses).

Click the image to the left for a larger version. Eckhaus Gallery is in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and the show is next Tuesday, January 29th, at 7 PM. The event is free and open to the public, so please pass this notice along to anyone you know in the area who may be interested. Kutztown is about an hour from Philadelphia (nearby schools include Kutztown, Penn State, Muhlenberg, and Albright). Here's the Google Maps/Directions for ya, so you don't even have to open a browser window!

Action, Motive, Distraction, and Nukes in Politics. An Interview With the Iranian Press.

Allan Nairn lays it down; good stuff.

23 January 2008

The Danse Macabre Of Us-Style Democracy, By John Pilger

The former president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere once asked, "Why haven't we all got a vote in the US election? Surely everyone with a TV set has earned that right just for enduring the merciless bombardment every four years." Having reported four presidential election campaigns, from the Kennedys to Nixon, Carter to Reagan, with their Zeppelins of platitudes, robotic followers and rictal wives, I can sympathise. But what difference would the vote make? Of the presidential candidates I have interviewed, only George C Wallace, governor of Alabama, spoke the truth. "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans," he said. And he was shot.

What struck me, living and working in the United States, was that presidential campaigns were a parody, entertaining and often grotesque. They are a ritual danse macabre of flags, balloons and bullshit, designed to camouflage a venal system based on money power, human division and a culture of permanent war.

Travelling with Robert Kennedy in 1968 was eye-opening for me. To audiences of the poor, Kennedy would present himself as a saviour. The words "change" and "hope" were used relentlessly and cynically. For audiences of fearful whites, he would use racist codes, such as "law and order". With those opposed to the invasion of Vietnam, he would attack "putting American boys in the line of fire", but never say when he would withdraw them. That year (after Kennedy was assassinated), Richard Nixon used a version of the same, malleable speech to win the presidency. Thereafter, it was used successfully by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes. Carter promised a foreign policy based on "human rights" -- and practised the very opposite. Reagan's "freedom agenda" was a bloodbath in central America. Clinton "solemnly pledged" universal health care and tore down the last safety net of the Depression.

Nothing has changed. Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, another bomber, is anti-feminist. John McCain's one distinction is that he has personally bombed a country. They all believe the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is "a city upon a hill", regardless that most of humanity sees it as a monumental bully which, since 1945, has overthrown 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed 30 nations, destroying millions of lives.

If you wonder why this holocaust is not an "issue" in the current campaign, you might ask the BBC, which is responsible for reporting the campaign to much of the world, or better still Justin Webb, the BBC's North America editor. In a Radio 4 series last year, Webb displayed the kind of sycophancy that evokes the 1930s appeaser Geoffrey Dawson, then editor of the London Times. Condoleezza Rice cannot be too mendacious for Webb. According to Rice, the US is "supporting the democratic aspirations of all people". For Webb, who believes American patriotism "creates a feeling of happiness and solidity", the crimes committed in the name of this patriotism, such as support for war and injustice in the Middle East for the past 25 years, and in Latin America, are irrelevant. Indeed, those who resist such an epic assault on democracy are guilty of "anti-Americanism", says Webb, apparently unaware of the totalitarian origins of this term of abuse. Journalists in Nazi Berlin would damn critics of the Reich as "anti-German".

Moreover, his treacle about the "ideals" and "core values" that make up America's sanctified "set of ideas about human conduct" denies us a true sense of the destruction of American democracy: the dismantling of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus and separation of powers. Here is Webb on the campaign trail: "[This] is not about mass politics. It is a celebration of the one-to-one relationship between an individual American and his or her putative commander-in-chief." He calls this "dizzying". And Webb on Bush: "Let us not forget that while the candidates win, lose, win again . . . there is a world to be run and President Bush is still running it." The emphasis in the BBC text actually links to the White House website.

None of this drivel is journalism. It is anti-journalism, worthy of a minor courtier of a great power. Webb is not exceptional. His boss Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, sent this reply to a viewer who had protested the prevalence of propaganda as the basis of news: "It is simply a fact that Bush has tried to export democracy [to Iraq] and that this has been troublesome."

And her source for this "fact"? Quotations from Bush and Blair saying it is a fact.

Corporations Reaping Millions As Congo Suffers Deadliest Conflict Since World War II

I know, I know: who cares about Africans? Question: how many of you knew the scale of this conflict? I know I didn't, and that's my fault.

What a world. At least western corporations are making a killing. Not a total waste. But racism and colonialism are long, long gone....

Gaza: Stop the Blockade

Update: Gazans break out, through Rafah, into Egypt:

Sign and forward! It's the very least we can do. Don't bother quibbling about the "balanced" nature of the petition: just sign it!

The humanitarian crisis of sealed-off Gaza is getting worse: blackouts have brought global attention to the siege wrecking 1.5 million lives, with medicines, fuel and food stopped at the border for months. Civilians must be protected on all sides -- this is not the way to make anyone more secure.

We’re running an emergency global campaign to international, European and Arab leaders, calling on them to step in, stop the siege and help broker a ceasefire. We’ll deliver the petition when we reach 150,000 signatures -- so please add your name below, then spread the word:

To the United Nations, the European Union, the Quartet & the Arab League: We demand that you end the blockade and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, ensure the free flow of supplies by land, sea or air, and help to broker the ceasefire which civilians on both sides desperately need.
More from Juan Cole:
Israeli Victory over Asthmatics, Newborns in Gaza

The humanitarian impact of Israel's electricity blockade of the Gaza Strip. Raw sewage in the streets, which will soon seep into houses; asthmatics choking; hospitals on the verge of switching off life support.

Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group is eloquent in the Boston Globe/ IHT on why this Israeli tactic is self-defeating. [From Doug: It's not self-defeating if the goal is not peace but domination and the perpetuation of the occupation. This fact seems to escape most commentators.]

But more important than whether it is practical or not, it is a war crime.

"Gaza Strip: Crisis worsens despite Israel's new fuel pledge". AKI reports:
Amid predictions that more than a million people would soon be without safe drinking water, there were reports of raw sewage spilling into the streets because there was no electricity to fuel the local pump station.

The Gaza power plant shut down its two working turbines on Sunday, leaving much of Gaza in darkness, after Israel closed border crossings on Friday.

Hospitals dependent on vital diesel supplies were also predicting that they would run out of fuel within hours and then be forced to make crucial life or death decisions for their patients.

John Ging, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza said the civilian population was living in "abject misery" and had been stripped of their human dignity.

"People here in Gaza have been living in abject misery and hardship now for a long time," Ging told the Arab TV network, Al-Jazeera. "On top of that they are living in darkness.

"You have to see how miserable the situation is. The civilian population is under occupation. It is collective punishment -- they are victims."

"What we need is action and it starts with civilians."
More on this travesty from:

Latin America Banks on Independence

The Bank of the South is a very big deal.

21 January 2008

In the Eye of the Ring: An Explanation of the Mythology and Story of Wagner's Ring

Ignore the stupid "History: Fiction or Science" ads herein -- that is the ultimate "whatever"...

Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary

The full text, courtesy of Gutenberg.

Lost Treasures of the Ancient World: Dark Age England

Imperialist Propaganda: Second Thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War, By Chalmers Johnson

Wait, you mean Tom Hanks isn't our nation's greatest historian? Yeah, I know, a pretty good actor, but right in between the yellow lines. But what the fuck is Mike Nichols' problem, though? I thought he was at least informed, if not intelligent. Oh, well.

Foreclosed: The State of the Dream, United for a Fair Economy

A PDF of a 50+ page report on the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the country: from lower income people of color to higher income whites.

Oh, yes, no racism here! That was all solved back in Obama's "excessive" '60s and '70s, don't you know.

The Crusades, BBC documentary with Terry Jones

1. Pilgrims in Arms

2. Jerusalem

3. Jihad

Dig this wonderful blog, linked above: Popper's List. Chock full of historical documentaries available free online.

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill), by David Cay Johnston

From Democracy Now!

More here, and a previous book on the same broad topic here. The video for the 2004 episode is tough to get to -- last segement -- so feel free to read the transcript.

If those Americans who don't get this would stop hating, say, Muslims, blacks, and immigrants, the rich would be in serious trouble.

Here's his archive from the New York Times.

Some key quotes from the two segments....

2004 Segment:

Most Americans, no matter how much they make, assume that people who make more pay a larger share in income taxes. That is a progressive tax system. We don’t have that. If you made $60,000 last year, you paid a larger share of your income in income taxes and social security taxes to the government than people who made more than 10 million a year. That top group’s average income by the way, was $25.6 million. If you made $400,000, that’s a lot of money, but if you made $400,000, you paid a larger share of your income just in income taxes than people who made more than $10 million. That is people who made in a week what you worked for all year. We are shifting the burden of taxes steadily off the richest people in America and onto people who work. The very top taxpayers, the 400 highest income taxpayers in America, their taxes have gone from 30 cents on the dollar, which doesn’t strike me as an onerous burden, in 1993, down to 22 cents on the dollar at the end of the Clinton administration and now under the bush administration, they’re down to 17.5 cents on the dollar. Everybody else in America during those year, their taxes went up from 13 cents on the dollar overall to 15.
2008 segment:

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Barack Obama’s comments, David Cay Johnston, who praised—

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, one thing, Amy, I don’t do, Amy, I don’t talk about the presidential campaign, because—

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, you don’t have to—you don’t have to talk about them—


AMY GOODMAN: —but just the substance of what he had to say, which was very interesting, as he talked about former President Ronald Reagan. He was in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, appearing to express admiration for what he called Reagan’s “clarity” and “optimism” and overcoming “excesses” of the ’60s and ’70s. This is what he said.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path, because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the ’60s and ’70s and, you know, government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. And I think people just tapped in—he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing.

AMY GOODMAN: In response, rival candidate John Edwards said Reagan “did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people, created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day.” He said, “I can promise you [this: I will] never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.” So, David Cay Johnston, without getting into presidential politics, you write extensively about Ronald Reagan in this book.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yes. Well, Ronald Reagan, whether you love Ronald Reagan or you hate Ronald Reagan, was a great leader. He did, in fact, dramatically change the country.

Between 1945 and the election of Ronald Reagan, we had a government that was focused on creating and nurturing the middle class. When I was a young man, I was able to go to college only because it was free. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have any money—my dad was a 100 percent disabled veteran, and I went to work when I was ten years old and full time since I was thirteen—because it was free.

Today, the cost of a college education, a state college education, is about $10,000 a year. The average income of the bottom half of taxpayers—that’s not families, that’s taxpayers—is about $15,000. Think you can go to college if two-thirds of your income would have to go to college? I don’t think so.

Well, Mr.—what Mr. Reagan did in 1980 was he asked a question that had a very powerful effect. He said, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” And Americans said no, they weren’t. And they elected him to office, and they set in motion a major change in government policy, a change that I think has been perverted. I do not believe Reagan intended all of the things that have been done since he started this happening.

But I’m asking the question in Free Lunch: Are you better off than you were in 1980? And on the surface, America is much better off. The country is more than twice as wealthy in real terms as it was in 1980. Per person, adjusted for inflation, the economy now puts out $1.70 for every dollar that it put out in 1980. Those are absolutely tremendous economic numbers.

So how come we’re not all really well-off? Why is it one-in-seven families has filed bankruptcy in the last twenty-five years? Why is it people are so mired in debt that television ads are just full of debt relief and take on more debt ads, sometimes at 99 percent interest? Why is it that so many people don’t have health insurance and so many people no longer have a retirement plan?

And by the way, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans, what I call the vast majority, is smaller today than it was in 1980. And since the year 2000, when we really got serious about this tax cut business, the average income of Americans every year—2001, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05—has been smaller than it was in 2000. There have been some gains in 2004 and ’05, but they haven’t gotten up to equal 2000. And of those gains in the year 2000—it’s either ’05 over ’04 or ’04 over ’03—half went to people who make over a million dollars a year. What’s happened is—

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t that wealth transfer massively begin—I mean, accelerate with Reagan?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, yes. No, that’s—I’m sorry, that’s exactly my point, Amy, is that what happened is that we put in place all sorts of new programs, many of which were never written about in the news media, that got no attention whatsoever. We created healthcare billionaires while making healthcare unavailable to one-in-seven Americans. And we did this with government money. We allowed people to buy public assets for, in some cases, a fraction of a penny on the dollar and then poured government money into them.

And, you know, our national myth that Ronald Reagan ran for office on was that there were all these welfare queen Cadillacs—welfare queens driving Cadillacs out there. I think there was, in fact, one scam artist who went to prison. But what’s really going on is welfare at the top, and way beyond what’s been reported in the news media as corporate welfare. We have built into the scaffolding of the new economy rules that funnel money to the top.

And that this has happened really shouldn’t surprise us, because under our campaign finance system, which has gotten worse and worse and worse with campaign finance reform that hasn’t worked, politicians running for high office spend a great deal of their time talking not to you and me and school teachers and police officers and firefighters and factory workers, but to rich people and their paid representatives. And they hear about their concerns and what they say they need to make things fair.
Krugman on Obama, Reagan, and truth in history (and journalism).

Israeli Atrocity on Gaza Civilians, Juan Cole

Near-total silence from the various candidates, as far as I've read or heard -- Kucinich excepted. Disgusting, but utterly predictable and unsurprising.

Here's Chomsky speaking at Boston's Old South Church this past October, before things got even worse for Gazans (transcript here):