Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Thugs-eye view of how it works (or used to work) in Egypt

We have heard of “thugs” that do things on behalf of dictators in various countries, but how often do we hear from who those people are or have been thugs, to know how they are recruited, or how they ensure that the dictator gets what he wants?  Sherif Tarek, in Ahram Online published an interview with someone who served the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt.  

In a way this “thug” reveals that what we supposed is true – that dictators, who seem universally to believe their citizens love them, use strong arm means to ensure that elections demonstrate it  – but for me it was interesting to put a face on the kind of individuals that make it happen, to hear how one of them justifies what he was doing.  

We don’t have to believe all he says about himself to think it is useful to bring his story into the light of day, exposing it to general scrutiny.   That the story can be told reveals how much has changed in Egypt in the last year and a half.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Propaganda wars versus truth in the public interest

In the Business section of the New York Times on August 28, 2012, EDUARDO PORTER opens an article, "Unleashing the Campaign Contributions of Corporations" with this statement:
Way back in February of this year, more than two-thirds of Californians believed raising more money from tobacco companies to finance cancer research was a good idea. That was before industry money kicked in.  In just over three months, opponents spent $41 million to defeat the initiative — a proposition to levy an extra $1 on the sale of a pack of cigarettes — five times what its supporters spent. On June 5, it was defeated by 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent.Similar forces in the next couple of months could shape the November elections. All the funds raised for the presidential and Congressional races so far pale in comparison to the money expected to rush in after the party conventions this week and next.
This is what we all fear:  that the few who have money will control the media and other outlets of public information so they can persuade the public to think about issues their way -- enabling them to benefit even if it is not in the public interest.  Some people in our society seem to have so much money they can spend profligately.

A genuine public discourse about vital issues doesn't exist in this society.  What does exist is propaganda -- lies and half-truths that are spouted by various groups and industries in their own interest.  Is a meaningful discussion about vital issues possible in this society?  I wonder.  So far, it isn't happening.  And as long as those who have the where-with-all to dominate the propaganda wars the public is likely to be led into commitments that are quite unreasonable, unrealistic.  Train wreck is inevitable. 

Has it always been this way -- that our societies are formed around fantasies invented by certain economic and political interest groups, with little relevance to the actual world they claim to deal with?   If so, take it as evidence that a kind God exists who for reasons unknown has favored this country, despite the follies of ignorant leaders.  

But if such ways of life continue, we are done for.  Already an abyss looms ahead, real and imminent.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Muslim Clerics Seek to Protect Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy

The news that Muslim clerics have stood up on behalf of a Christian girl is a major turn from previous practice.  We have seen so much bitterness and brutality in that part of the world.  Now we have voices rising among the Muslim leadership calling for a more civil way of relating to each other in Pakistan.  Great news.  This group of Islamic leaders should be congratulated for their willingness to stand up for a non-Muslim girl accused of blasphemy.  In fact the accusers included a Muslim cleric.

The article appears in the Guardian, by Saeed Shah appeared on 8-27-12.  Some statements in the article:
Islamic leaders in Pakistan on Monday came out in support of a Christian girl with learning difficulties who is being held in prison, in an unprecedented public denunciation of the blasphemy law by hard-line mullahs. 
The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, which includes representatives from fundamentalist groups, joined hands with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and other religions, to call for justice for the girl, Rimsha, who is accused of blasphemy. They also demanded that those making false allegations be punished. 
Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the council, warned that the "law of the jungle" was gripping Pakistan ... 
She is being held in a maximum security jail, where her lawyer says she is deeply traumatised and begging to be released. Her parents have also been taken into protective custody. "We see the Rimsha as a test case for Pakistan's Muslims, Pakistan's minorities and for the government," Ashrafi said. "We don't want to see injustice done with anyone. We will work to end this climate of fear." 
Ashrafi is also part of the leadership of the radical Defence of Pakistan Council, a coalition of Islamic organisations which includes some thinly disguised banned militant groups. The outfit campaigns against western influence and to stop Nato supplies passing through the country to Afghanistan.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A site showing the different positions of various political groups

For those of us who are put off by the tsunami of claims and attacks about the different sides in the national election it is hard just to feel sure we have a grip on the facts -- not the claims or the lies being circulated on the web or TV -- I found a site that is very helpful.  Check out the Bill Moyers and Company charts of various plans that have been proposed by different political organizations on topics of major concern:  jobs, healthcare, etc.  

Have a look.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A displaced, abused people, with nowhere to go

Tucked away in various corners of the world there are still peoples who are little recognized in the world, with scarcely a right to live anywhere.  Many of them are distrusted because they have to survive by working in the margins of society.  Often they are abused.  
AlJazeera [thank you AlJazeera!] has been running a series of articles about a group that few of us ever heard of, the Rohingya.  It seems that they are unwelcome everywhere.  And of course they have a history of conflict with various other peoples, so they are regarded as troublemakers and on such grounds are abused.     Subir Bhaumik, in his latest report calls them "the world's most forgotten people."   Here are some of the things he says about them.  

Bangladesh's Awami League-led coalition government wants to send back all the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. "They are Myanmar citizens and we have sheltered them long enough. Now they must go back and settle down in Myanmar,"
The Awami League ... see the Rohingya as religious bigots who support their rivals in Bangladesh's Islamic party, the Jamait-e-Islami.  
Unwanted now in an over-populated Bangladesh, the Rohingya are also not wanted in their own country, Myanmar. Even President Thein Sein has said on record that the Rohingyas are migrants from the Chittagong region of neighbouring Bangladesh and not indigenous to Myanmar, so they should be taken away to some other place. 
The president is supported by many of his countrymen in his perceptions that the Rohingya are "dangerous trouble-makers" and "Islamic Jihadis". In late July, dozens of Burmese in Yangon chanted slogans in front of a UN office in Yangon: "Go back Rohingya, get out of Myanmar, we support our president". They blamed the Rohingya for the recent riots in  Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state, though UNHCR officials say the Rohingya have suffered much more than the native Rakhines.More than 60 of the nearly 80 killed in the riots in Rakhine state this summer are Rohingya. The riots started after Rohingya men were accused of raping a Rakhine woman, and spread when angry Rakhines went on a killing spree. 
And nearly 100,000 of them have been displaced from their homes and herded into makeshift camps. 
The Buddhist Rakhines and the Muslim Rohingya have a long tradition of intense hostility that goes back to the steady flow of Muslim immigrants from Bengal's Chittagong region into Arakan province, migration that was encouraged by the British. Thousands of Rakhines and Rohingya died in riots in Arakan in 1942 during the Second World War. The Japanese also massacred large number of Rohingya because they supported the British. 
... the Rakhines and the Burmese military junta ... unleashed "Operation King Dragon" in the Rohingya-dominated areas of Arakan in 1978. The mass torture and extra-judicial killings, gang rapes and demolition of mosques forced nearly one-third of the Rohingya population to flee to Bangladesh.  From there, many of them moved into India enroute to Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle east. 
...thousands of them have been migrating to Pakistan through India from the refugee camps in Bangladesh. During the course of her research, she found a lot of Rohingya women in the red light districts of Karachi and many Rohingya men in the port city's thriving fishing industry. 
After the prospects of migrating to Pakistan and the Middle East began to dry up, Rohingya turned towards Malaysia, travelling there through Thailand.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A billion lost here, a billion lost there ... Can we trust the bankers?

When I read the recent notice that very likely no one will be prosecuted for losing a billion dollars at MF Global I began to wonder if we actually have a meaningful banking industry.  

The last I heard, the amount that J P Morgan has lost in trading has reached “at least $5.8 billion.”  

If no one can be made accountable for losses of a billion dollars in a bank what hope is there that we peons can count on our funds being there when we need them?

What kind of world economy do we actually have?  The one thing that seems obvious is that the bankers who manage to lose a mere billion here or there – a matter that Jamie Dimon of J P Morgan called a “ tempest in a teapot” – are not going to lose out.  It’s the rest of us that are likely to come up short.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dozens of Muslims died in the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11

We were at the World Trade Center memorial the other day.  Being there made me wonder how many Muslims were killed there on 9/11/01.  I found a number of probable Muslim names listed on the memorial to the twin towers.

There has been so much talk about the danger that Muslims constitute in our society -- Joe Walsh seems to think it will get him votes -- that I thought I would check on how many Muslims were killed on that fateful day when the Americans decided Muslims were dangerous.

What I found when I looked it up was an uncertain number (many people already know this because it has been out there for years).  At least 30 died and the website says it could have been as many of 70, not counting the 19 Al Qaeda members who commandeered the planes.  I would not be surprised if there were even more, because many internationals were working in those buildings at the time.

The number of Muslim dead on that day proves nothing, but it seems one way to remind ourselves that the anxiety about dangerous Muslims in this country is contrived for local and contemporary reasons:  There are some Americans foolish enough to believe that by inventing terror they can be elected to Congress.  I believe not.  Anyone so foolish should not be in Congress.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Joe Walsh's radical anti-Islamism in the name of "godliness"

Salon has a report by Eric Lutz on what US. Representative Joe Walsh said in a town meeting in Elk Grove Village, IL on Wednesday Aug 8, 2012.
THURSDAY, AUG 9, 2012 11:40 AM CDT
Walsh: Muslims “trying to kill Americans”:  Exclusive: U.S. Rep Joe Walsh tells a town hall meeting that radical Islam has infiltrated the Chicago suburbs BY ERIC LUTZ
“It’s a real threat,” Walsh said at a town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village, Ill.  “And it’s a threat that is much more at home now than it was right after 9/11.” 
“It’s here,” he continued, referring to “radical Islam” in the suburbs of Chicago. “It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here.” 
...  “I’m looking for some godly men and women in the Senate, in the Congress, who will stand in the face of the danger of Islam in America without political correctness,” the man said. ...  
[R]adical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week,” ...
Radical Islam in the suburbs of Chicago:  And his evidence?
Godly men and women?  Stand in the face of the danger of Islam in America?  

What does this say about out country that a man like Walsh could be elected to our congress?  Is there no one in his neighborhood to suggest that this is nonsense?

Trouble in Tunisia, again

Most of us have forgotten Tunisia.  It was there that the first spark of the Arab Spring set the movement alight.  But now developments there are worrisome.  The new regime seems to be revealing its true Islamist perspective.  The Tehran Times [!] has an article on what's going on there that reveals how serious the situation has become.

Here are some details worth taking note of:

Warning shots, tear gas fired at Tunisia demos  Middle East Desk
On Line: 10 August 2012 17:08 In Print: Saturday 11 August 2012 
[There was] a second anti-government protest in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of last year's revolution.  ... 800 demonstrators furious at police intervention against a protest earlier in the day threw stones at security forces ....

On Thursday morning hundreds of demonstrators demanding the resignation of the Islamist-led government had tried to force their way into the provincial government headquarters, before the police fired tear gas and warning shots into the air.

Several opposition groups took part in the protest, including the Republican Party, the Tunisian Workers Party and Al-Watan, as well as political independents. ...

A similar incident took place at the end of June, ....

... [There is] ... criticism of the government by opposition and civil society groups, which accuse it of increasingly authoritarian and Islamist tendencies.

Several NGOs have accused Ennahda, which leads the ruling tripartite coalition, of seeking to curtail freedom of expression, most recently with a draft law to criminalize offences against “sacred values” that could carry a two-year jail term.

Another controversy has flared up over a proposed article in the new constitution that refers to the “complementarity” of men to women rather than their equality.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Potential Trouble in the South China Sea?

Powerful interests will converge and compete wherever critical resources are located, an example being the gathering international tensions in the South China Sea.  AlJazeera's "101 East" broadcast has a report on the situation there that suggests how important this sea could be in the future.  Here are some statements worth remembering:
Around half of the world's merchant fleets pass through [this sea] every year carrying an estimated $5 trillion worth of trade. 
The area is also believed to contain valuable oil and gas deposits.   [T]he Spratly Islands' hydrocarbon deposits [are] valued at $26.3 trillion.  [Of course, rights to them are being disputed.] 
The latest tension is at the Scarborough Shoal, a small cluster of uninhabitable islands ... [that]  has valuable resources including fishing, shipping routes and potentially enormous oil and gas deposits.  
After more than two decades of double-digit increases in defense spending, China now has the largest fleet of advanced warships, submarines and long strike aircraft in Asia.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The nature of the Euro Crisis, as Stratfor sees it.

George Friedman, head of Stratfor, has an excellent discussion of the nature of the Euro crisis.  I am not qualified to evaluate his analysis but I find it helpful because most of the more glitzy news seems to me generally misleading, at least superficial.   I here want to register that his discussion has been useful to me.  

Why don't the major television news programs talk about the "libor" scandal?

How tragic it is for our country that the great issues of our times are scarcely covered in the television news!

Look here to see the current inattention of the major news corporations to the  "libor" banking scandal.  

Why don't the news media want to reveal how the banks have ripped off their own clients?  Are their links to the powerful world-oriented corporations so compelling that they don't dare mention it?