Sep 30, 2008

Sarah Palin: humans and dinosaurs coexisted

Palin dinosaurs

Philip Munger teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. He also runs a blog called Progressive Alaska.

In June 1997, soon after she was elected mayor of Wasilla, Palin met up with Munger when she was scheduled to address a small group of home schooled students. Munger asked the mayor about her religious beliefs and Palin informed him that "dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time." When Munger asked about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin told she had "seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks."

The conversation with Munger made clear that Palin was endorsing the view of a so-called "young earth". She said that she believed humans and dinosaurs coexisted a mere 6,000 years ago. That would be about 65 million years after scientists claim dinosaurs became extinct.

The creationist views contained in the comments to Munger are backed up by positions Palin took when was in the race for governor. At that time she called for faith-based "intelligent design" to be taught along with evolution in Alaska's schools.

Sep 29, 2008

Austria: far right win 29% of the vote


Heinz-Christian Strache, a politician who has been filmed wearing military fatigues and carrying weapons in the company of banned German neo-Nazis, appears to be just fine with a sizable percentage of Austrian voters.

Strache's far right Freedom Party won 18% of the vote in the Austrian general election. The Movement for Austria's Future led by Jörg Haider won 11%, making a grand total of 29%. The combined far right tally is higher than that of the mainstream conservatives - the Austrian People's Party.

The success of the far right suggests that there a lot of angry Austrian voters who are willing to buy into Strache's brand of nationalism, extremist as it is. Journalist Hans Rauscher puts it best:

Thirty percent for people who portray national socialism as innocuous ... who crawl around in forests with neo-Nazi mates, who are surrounded by skinheads; who campaign against foreigners; make common cause with the European extreme right; toy with antisemitism; campaign against Muslims, and develop contacts with the Serbian Radical party whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, is in the dock at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Austria is tops in Europe again.


Strache appeals to the lowest reactionary impulses. A number of his statements reflect a paranoid mindset that sees immigrants, particularly of Muslim background, as a threat to "our daughters" who are in danger of being exposed to "the greedy stares and gropings of whole hordes of immigrants."

Strache was a one-time associate of Jorg Haider. The two have a history of feuding, that eventually led them to go in separate directions. Strache is further to the right and more outspoken than Haider.

This is Ian Traynor's take on Strache in a recent Guardian article :

He mocks gay people; wants a ministry for the deportation of immigrants; says "Vienna must not become Istanbul"; hopes to repeal laws banning Nazi revivalism, and is pushing for a constitutional ban on the building of minarets. Heinz-Christian Strache, a former dental technician, is the new star of Austrian politics and the new poster boy of Europe's extreme right.

The choices facing the former ruling Christian Democrats are limited. They could attempt to revive the "grand coalition" they had with the conservative People's Party. They could also enter into some kind of deal with the far-right, a move that would draw international condemnation.


Assuming there is a hell, metaphorical or otherwise, Hitler must be dancing his little jig. It looks as though the far right has found the formula to edge its way toward real power once again in a European nation. Given it's history, it's hardly coincidental that that nation happens to be Austria. It must be proud.

Hitler pays a visit to Heinz-Christian Strache


Sep 28, 2008

Kathleen Parker calls on Palin to quit: 'out of her league'

Kathleen Parker

Palin's populist appeal doesn't extend to a number of conservative pundits and politicians who have become increasingly uneasy with the VP candidate's glaring deficits. Kathleen Parker of the National Review says her "cringe reflex" is exhausted after watching Sarah Palin's disturbingly sub-par performances in recent interviews.

Parker says:

Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.


Parker describes Palin as being "out of her league" and goes on to give a few examples from the interviews of commentary that has been testing her "cringe reflex":


Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there. Here’s but one example of many from her interview with Hannity: “Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we’re talking about today. And that’s something that John McCain, too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed to deal with an issue like this.

When Couric pointed to polls showing that the financial crisis had boosted Obama’s numbers, Palin blustered wordily: “I’m not looking at poll numbers. What I think Americans at the end of the day are going to be able to go back and look at track records and see who’s more apt to be talking about solutions and wishing for and hoping for solutions for some opportunity to change, and who’s actually done it?


In the early going with the RNC boost, the McCain campaign no doubt thought they had aced it with the VP pick. But even Palin's populist appeal won't cut it when she has difficulty stringing together two coherent sentences.

Sep 27, 2008

AC Milan goalie Christian Abbiati: 'I'm a fascist'

Christian Abbiati

Goalie Christian Abbiati, one of Silvio Berlusconi's players at Italian Serie A club, AC Milan, has gone public and declared he is a fascist:

"I am not ashamed to proclaim my political beliefs. I share [the] ideals of fascism, such as the fatherland and the values of the Catholic religion."

Fascism is a disease in Italian football and nothing new. Retired footballer, Paolo Di Canio, is famous for his straight arm salute to fans after scoring for Lazio in the Rome derby in 2005. Lazio fans have been known to unfurl flags bearing swastikas during games. Di Canio made known his admiration for former Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini - even advertising his affection with a tattoo bearing the letters "DVX," the latin appelative for Mussolini, Duce.

Although Di Canio made the claim that he 'is fascist, not racist' that distinction gets blurred routinely by Italian fans who often engage in racist chants and insults. There is a connection between the rise in racist attitudes and the prevalence of far right supporters.

Berlusconi's parliamentary alliance includes neo-fascist elements. A number of the members remain outspoken apologists for Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism.

Sep 26, 2008

Palin-Katie Couric interview: cringe inducing

Palin Couric interview

Anderson Cooper showed excerpts from the Palin-Katie Couric interview on his show this week. He said 'you have to see it to believe it' and he wasn't kidding. Palin's difficulties went way beyond the usual challenge of formulating a coherent response, she seemed tongue tied at times ... even lost in a mental fog..

Worse, she came off as clueless on details she should have had at least a passing knowledge of. She was unable to give examples of McCain's support for financial regulation and said "I'll try to find some and bring them to you."

When Couric asked how her proximity to Russia enhanced her foreign policy experience, it was hard not to feel embarrassed for the woman as she struggled for the right words. She appeared to have lost her confidence and it undermined her ability to give a straight answer.

The transcript of the interview doesn't adequately convey the weirdness on TV. This is part of her response to Couric's question about Russia and foreign policy experience:

Well, it certainly does because our ... our next-door neighbors are foreign countries ... It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to ... to our state.


The wonders of geography never fail to amaze. "Our next door neighbors are foreign countries" ... the way she referred to Canada seemed to suggest that we are as much of an unknown quantity as Russia.

Asked why she had only obtained a passport last year, we got this:

I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world. No, I've worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture.

Her political opponents don't need to bother targeting Palin for negative attention - she's doing it to herself.

Sarah Palin: the Kent Brockman interview

Sarah Palin interviewed by The Simpson's Kent Brockman

Stephen Harper disses the arts

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Canadian PM Stephen Harper recently took to dissing the arts on the campaign trail.

Harper has changed his tune over the years. The reformer zealot has strangely morphed over time into a cautious and strategic operator who seems more than willing to shelve the controversial aspects of his right wing agenda in the interests of consolidating power. He can still have a go at the arts though because he sees it as a safe target, even a popular target among his constituents.

This is the same Harper who allegedly told Newfoundland premier Danny Williams with whom he has been feuding, that he doesn't need Newfoundland and Labrador seats to form a majority. If you don't serve Harper's interests you get short shrift.

Recently great leader said that "ordinary people" don't care about arts funding. In Harper's mind the arts are a trojan horse. Funding of the arts facilitates creativity, individuality and experimental ideas - all threatening to a man for whom reality is circumscribed by bleak budgetary priorities and a narrow vision of what it means to be Canadian. Harper succeeded in insulting not only artists with his remark, but also Canadians in general, very few of whom would be thrilled to identify themselves as "ordinary".

The Harper government has cut arts and culture funding by $45 million. This is justified in the mind of a man who has the typically jaded conservative view of the arts.

This is what Harper said when he was campaigning in Saskatoon:

I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people.


The glitzy gala isn't what the arts in Canada is about, but Harper chose to evoke this scenario in order to highlight his solidarity with the mythical "ordinary people". Artists are hardly part of an elite - Liberal leader Stephane Dion correctly pointed out, many cash strapped artists have to rent their outfits to attend these functions. Moreover many such functions are in fact fundraisers paid for by private donors.

The arts in Canada generates significant economic activity and returns millions to federal government coffers. The arts doesn't exist in some rarefied "niche" as Harper seems to imagine, it is part of the fabric of Canadian life. Only an anti-intellectual boor would try to portray the arts community as elitist and out-of-touch ... rather rich coming from a Canadian PM who lives in a bubble, rarely accessible to the "ordinary" folk he so admires.

Not content to slash arts funding and insult the arts community, Harper and his cronies have put in place controversial legislation to give the heritage minister power to withdraw tax incentives from films that are considered in some way 'objectionable'. If Harper gets a majority we can look forward to an even heavier handed approach. NDP leader Jack Layton has predicted that if the Conservatives get their majority, they will privatize the CBC.

Layton also noted that Harper has been talking out of both sides of his mouth. While quick to diss the arts when speaking in English, he has declined to do so when speaking in French. However the NDP is ensuring that the Tories anti-arts bias doesn't go unnoticed in Quebec. An NDP ad that is running in the Montreal subway system gets it right. Playing on the Conservative Party's French name, the "Conservateur" logo morphs into "Conserva-tueur de la culture" ... meaning "culture killer."

Sep 25, 2008

Palin stars in pastor Muthee's anti-witchcraft prayer video

Palin and Muthi

Sarah Palin's church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, is a member of the Pentecostal association of churches. Pentecostalism has been spreading in Africa like wildfire.

African traditional religion with its understanding of sympathetic magic has something in common with charismatic evangelical practices. In Africa charismatic evangelism has an occult side to it, something that is rarely acknowledged. The Pentecostal concept of "spiritual warfare" is very real to many believers for whom the power of witchcraft and sorcery is in no sense hypothetical.

I posted recently on Thomas Muthee's history as a witchhunter and the occult forces he believed he was dealing with. A new video has surfaced that shows Muthee with Palin in attendance, engaged in a prayer to defeat witchcraft - check it out here.

At one point Muthee prays: "In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, every form of witchcraft is what you rebuke. In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, father make away now."

In order to defeat witchcraft, you have to believe in it first, and in its powers ... which Muthee obviously does. The governor of Alaska clearly believes in witchcraft and its powers also since she was front and center during Muthee's prayer. The truth is, much witchcraft hysteria is based less upon anything remotely supernatural and more upon overworked imaginations and paranoid fantasies.

In an article "Africa and Evangelical Christianity", Nigerian Leo Igwe, Secretary of IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union) writes about the dangers that Pentecostal religion has brought to Africa:

Africans are suckers for magic, miracles and paranormal claims. Evangelical churches now capitalize on that. They promise divine healing and instant solutions to all problems - poverty, hunger, failure, diseases, accidents etc. Pentecostal pastors claim they can make the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk and the barren give birth to children. They tell us they can raise the dead, make the poor rich and the unemployed to get jobs. Africans are therefore trooping to Pentecostal churches in their millions mainly in search of their miracles.


Igwe speaks of the American involvement in the African Pentecostal movement - an involvement that includes Palin's church, the Assembly of God:

Most Pentecostal churches in Africa have American connections. And they receive millions of dollars in aid from their American counterparts who want to 'bring Africans to Christ'.

Pentecostalism has therefore become a thriving business in Africa. In fact it has become the shortest route to wealth and affluence for the continent's teeming population of unemployed youths. Local pastors employ all sorts of means, tricks and techniques to exhort money from gullible folks (as well as foreign friends). They use this money to build magnificent churches, erect costly apartments, and buy luxurious cars and aircrafts. They live ostentatiously while their church members live and languish in poverty, misery and squalor.


Igwe points out that a lot of Pentecostal activity in Africa is a front for scams and outright criminality. He refers to a Kenyan contemporary of Thomas Muthee, one Gilbert Deya:

Most Evangelical pastors in Africa are now faith healers. They claim to have powers to cure all diseases and solve all problems. Recently, Gilbert Deya, a self acclaimed archbishop from Kenya, got himself into trouble. He said he could make infertile black couples give birth to miracle babies. But police investigations revealed child theft and baby trafficking. Some years ago, a Nigerian pastor Temitope Joshua - of the Synagogue of All Nations - announced to the world that he could cure HIV/AIDS. But his claims were later discovered to be all fake and forgery.


The video of Muthee engaged in his witchcraft prayer, shows Palin in front of him with head bowed, her hands held by two members of the congregation. She described his invocation as "very, very powerful". All the evidence suggests that she was steeped in this highly suggestible brand of evangelical worship, even to the point of believing that her rise to governor of Alaska came about in part as a result of a prayer by pastor Muthee.

McCain and the Keating Five: Fox host Doocy not happy

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Fox news' claim that it isn't taking sides in the presidential race is a joke. The pro right-wing slant in their commentary repeatedly cuts slack for McCain.

A typical example of the bias was on display recently during the morning show Fox and Friends. Steve Doocy had it in for radio host Mike Papantonio. Papantonio's offence ... bringing up John McCain's involvement with the infamous Keating Five.

It was entirely appropriate for Papantonio to raise McCain's sketchy dealings with Keating, now that McCain is suspending his campaign and posing as the guy America needs to forge a new path. Truth is, Mac has a long history of supporting deregulation in the financial industry, and there is no better example than the Keating Five. In the 1980's McCain intervened with federal regulators on behalf of real estate mogul, Charles Keating, who was trying to dodge regulations.

Doocy kept butting in to tell Papantonio to "pipe down" and "cut it out." He also described his guest as "rude". A show producer was heard saying "cut his mike." Doocy interjected at one point with "this is not the History Channel."

Fox' claim to be "fair and balanced" is bollocks.

Sep 24, 2008

Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews refuse to publish photos of Tzipi Livni

Tzipi Livni

Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is on track to become Israel's second female premier. The first was Golda Meir in the 1970's.

In ultra-Orthodox circles in Israel Livni's actual physical likeness remains sketchy for some of the more sheltered. This isn't due to lack of curiosity, but because the religious superstitions of the haredim prevent them from putting photographic images of women in their publications - which for the most part is their only news source.

In her push to get the backing of the ultra-Orthodox, who account for some 10-15% of the Israeli population, Livni has been prepared to make fashion concessions. When the occasion requires it, she sets aside her usual pant suits to don modest dresses and jackets with long sleeves - all this in deference to the antique sensibilities of the religious legislators with whom she occasionally meets. Some feminists understandably see this as a cop out.

The ultra-Orthodox appear to be insulated against changing cultural mores. An editor from the daily, Hamodia, indicated they wouldn't be reconsidering the ban on photos of females any time soon: "We have always done things according to the Torah. This is the way it was since the beginning of the world, and the way it shall remain."

Despite the refusal to look at her photo, ultra-Orthodox leaders have no problem making visual contact with the actual woman when attired accordingly. The word is that they have shown a willingness to work with Livni on a political level.

Tzipi Livni has a military background. She served as a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces and was employed by MOSSAD between 1980 and 1984. She also worked as a lawyer for a period.

There is a rumor that she hunted terrorists in her capacity as a MOSSAD agent, but this is an exaggeration that derives in large part from a factually incorrect Times story. Another reporter, Ayala Hasson of Channel One, got the story right. According to Hasson, Livni was a low level agent. One of her primary duties when stationed in Paris was to reside in an apartment and maintain the appearance of normalcy. MOSSAD often has its agents maintain residential properties in case they are required for an operation. The job involves such non-007 activities as taking out the garbage, nodding to the neighbors and making sure the rent is paid etc.

Sep 23, 2008

Paulson bail-out plan

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Addressing the US bailout plan, Arianna Huffington calls it "economic shock and awe" ... and asks:

Now the same folks who brought us those no-bid, profit-guaranteed, crony-friendly, war-and-disaster-profiteering boondoggles want us to hand them control of a $700 billion Wall Street slush fund -- with no strings attached. How dumb -- or frightened -- do they think we are?


Henry Paulson wants to reward the bad actors out of the pockets of the American taxpayer. Warren Buffet got it right when he described Wall Street as home to "madmen" who were planting "financial weapons of mass destruction" - and now Americans are supposed to pay for the madness.

When are Americans going to say enough of these crooks and liars with their hyped-up free market gospel that has been an object of worship over the past three decades?

This juiced-up market serves the interests of a small minority who have been reaping huge rewards. Meanwhile free market evangelists have been selling Americans a bill-of-goods, convincing them that free market voodoo holds the secret to prosperity and greatness - even as the US staggers under a mountain of debt, and the middle class loses ground.

Arianna Huffington :

Over the past 30 years, Americans have been bombarded with sermons evangelizing for the free market religion of the Right, and the supposed correlation between unregulated markets and progress. In the process, the American people have been demoted from citizens to consumers, and sold a bill of goods (rather than a Bill of Rights) about how the almighty market was the essential foundation of democracy.

In the course of selling us on buying, the market-worshippers shredded the modern social contract, the hard-fought consensus that had emerged since the New Deal, which ordered our political priorities, and expressed both our communal concern for the most vulnerable members of society and our disapproval of huge inequalities. We were now supposed to believe that all could be left up to the soulless, self-correcting calculus of supply and demand. Government involvement was an anachronism, regulatory oversight an impediment.

The last few weeks have demolished that notion. In the battle over the proper role of government, the forces of the Right, the high priests of the church of the Free Market -- including Bush, Paulson, and the Masters of Wall Street -- have suffered a monumental defeat. So why are we allowing them to dictate the terms of their surrender?

Frankly with everything that is known about McCain's history of collusion with bad actors it is insane that his campaign is pulling in the numbers it is. McCain is part of the problem, not part of the solution. If America buys his "reformer" act, get ready for more of the same once the dust has settled.

Christian nation

Christian nation America and corporate rip-offs

Sep 22, 2008

AP Poll: racial attitudes could hurt Obama

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The results of an AP-Yahoo poll on racial attitudes in the US election are a bit of a downer. According to the findings racial considerations could wind up being a factor that may determine the final results, especially in a close race.

An AP-YAhoo poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks -- many calling them "lazy," "violent," responsible for their own troubles.

The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 -- about two and one-half percentage points.


Poll respondents are often reluctant to reveal latent racial prejudice when talking to an interviewer one-on-one, so the poll interviewed respondents online after screening them. The findings suggest that racial prejudice among whites accounts for around a 6% fall-off in support for Obama.

Respondents were given a choice of negative and positive adjectives to describe blacks:

20 percent of all whites said the word "violent" strongly applied. Among other words, 22 percent agreed with "boastful," 29 percent "complaining," 13 percent "lazy" and 11 percent "irresponsible." When asked about positive adjectives, whites were more likely to stay on the fence than give a strongly positive assessment.


Racial attitudes are hard to assess in terms of predictive outcomes because even when present in a person's thinking, they don't necessarily determine who that person decides to vote for. It's disappointing though to discover that the findings suggest these attitudes are fairly prevalent among white voters, albeit to varying degrees.

Sarkozy smoking 'the opium of the people'

Pope and Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was so delighted to welcome Pope Benedict recently he broke with tradition and made the trip to Orly airport in order to be in attendance as the Pontiff's red shoe touched down on French soil. At Sarkozy's side was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, minus her guitar.

Pope Benedict arrived in France on a mission. A primary objective was to address the touchy subject of state-church relations. Sarkozy has signaled that he is open to change with his call for a more flexible approach to laïcité - the traditionally rigid separation of church and state in France.

Sarkozy has taken to speaking of "positive secularism" which really is a misnomer, because secularism correctly understood is neutral. Agnès Poirier makes that point in her New Statesman' article - "The Pope's Plot":

What the Pope and president pretend not to know is that there is no positive or negative secularism (laïcité in French). Secularism is neutral. It is neither a dogma nor a doctrine. If anything, it's an abstention. Secularism abstains from fav ouring one religion over another, or favouring atheism over religious belief. It is a political principle that aims at guaranteeing the largest possible coexistence of various freedoms.


When Sarkozy gave a speech praising the benefits of a secularism "more open to religions", the Pope commended him for his "expression of positive secularism". However the rather amorphous concept of "positive secularism" didn't originate with Sarkozy. As Poirer points out:

According to the political scientist Caroline Fourest, author of a recent book on the Catholic Church, the sympathy between the Pope and the French president shouldn't be surprising. Their "new idea" is a Trojan horse. The term "positive secularism" was actually coined in 2005 by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, whose views have inspired two of President Sarkozy's close aides and speechwriters, the practising Catholic Emmanuelle Mignon and the Dominican friar Philippe Verdin.


Not everyone was as delighted about the Pope's visit as Sarkozy, who apparently was keen to attend almost every important event during Benedict's French visit. Socialist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon accurately pointed out that the Pope and Sarkozy have "a common political goal" that casts doubt on the "laïcité of our Republic."

The satirical magazines Le Canard and Charlie Hebdo took a few shots. Le Canard informed its readers that Benedict had been listed in the controversial new police registry known as Edvige. Charlie Hebdo had a long editorial denouncing the Church along with anti-Pope petitions and protest info.

Nicolas Sarkozy: Vatican special agent 17756-SARK-O

Sarkozy becomes a Vatican enabler in France

Sep 21, 2008

Wall Street meltdown: greed, hubris and hypocrisy

Wall Street

The gospel of the free marketeers has always come with a certain contempt for the ethics of socialism. Yet who did the high fliers turn to after the recent Wall Street meltdown - the very public sector they love to demonize. I guess you could call them socialists-of-convenience. Every American will be out of pocket about $2,000 to help bail out the banks.

Willem Buiter writing in the Financial Times raises some interesting questions in the wake of the recent collapse:

Is the reality of the modern, transactions-oriented model of financial capitalism indeed that large private firms make enormous private profits when the going is good, and get bailed out and taken into temporary public ownership when the going gets bad, with the taxpayer taking the risk and the losses?

If so, then why not keep these activities in permanent public ownership? There is a longstanding argument that there is no real case for private ownership of deposit-taking banking institutions, because these cannot exist safely without a deposit guarantee and/or lender of last resort facilities, that are ultimately underwritten by the taxpayer.


John McCain has a long history of support for deregulation. He should be the last guy to be offended by what he calls "a casino culture" on Wall Street - let alone put himself forward as the candidate who is offering a way out the mess.

It would be no exaggeration to say that McCain has spent a large part of his career engaged in efforts to deregulate the financial industry. Back in the 1980's he was a chief player in deregulating the savings and loans industry. The Enron debacle owes a debt to McCain's fave economic authority, Phil Gramm, who McCain views as a possible Treasury Secretary. The "Enron Loophole" included in legislation back in 2000, made it possible for Enron to game the electronic trading market, ripping off California to the tune of some $30 billion. Some of the bad guys - the types Maverick #1 claims he's going to "make famous" - owe him a debt.

When you consider the vast disparity in wealth distribution in American society, the salaries and bonuses of the Masters of the Universe and their corporate hirelings can't fail to disgust. The average salary at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs aka "Goldmine Sachs" topped half a million. Hank Paulson, the chairman and chief executive, hauled down $38 million in 2005 along with shares and options. The culture of 'me-first' continues, even in the wake of the recent collapse. Up to 10,000 of the staff at the NY office of Lehman Brothers, the bankrupt investment bank, are set to divide the spoils. A bonus pool that has been set aside for them is worth $2.5bn.

The cruel irony is that the American people are bailing out players who ran a game that enriched a small minority. Hedge funds, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps and other financial schemes were geared toward enriching the few, even as corporate crooks lined their pockets.

Sep 20, 2008

Peter Lenk: 'group sex' sculpture whips up controversy in Germany

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The German town of Bodman-Ludwigshafen in the far south of Germany isn't exactly a hot tourist attraction. But lately it has been a magnet for tourists armed with cameras and camcorders. The sudden fame is due to a controversial tryptich at the center of town - a work by the German sculpture, Peter Lenk.

The sculpture is called "group-sex relief" and features prominent politicians and corporate players in various states of undress and completely nude. One panel stars German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder laughing and grabbing each others private parts.


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The sculpture has been denounced by Thomas Strobl, head of the Christian Democratic Party, as "piggish." Another Christian Democrat, Christoph Palmer, dismisses it as "cheap effect-mongering."

Sculpture Peter Lenk takes a different perspective:

When it comes to their privileges and taking money out of the pockets of citizens, they all hold the scepter, so to speak. Politics is far more pornographic than any art.


He said that while political scandals tend to fade quickly in the media, "a memorial like this will stay around and irritate them a bit longer."

Even if you don't agree with Lenk's political views, it's a unique way of hanging politicians and CEO's out to dry so to speak. I can't imagine the reaction if a Canadian version of the tryptich was unveiled here featuring Rona Ambrose clutching Stephen Harper's penis. Even less likely an unveiling south of the border with a naked Sarah Palin feeling up McCain or Bush fondling Harriet Miers.

The tryptich includes prominent European corporate figures such as Ferdinand Piëch, chairman of the supervisory board at Volkswagen, and Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsche Bank.

The mayor of Bodman-Ludwigshafen has been criticized for commissioning "pornography" - but in fact the tryptich is a two year donation by the artist, who to his credit isn't easily intimidated by the neoliberal power elite and custodians of conventional morality.

Sep 19, 2008

McCain snubs Zapatero

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John McCain has said that he is going to rebuild America's relationship with Europe. Earlier in the year he was glad handing the Europeans and talking up his commitment on climate change - he even spoke in rosy terms of a new era of multilateralism.

Take it with a large pinch of salt. His recent comments in reference to Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero show where he is really coming from. He appears more than willing to import Bush's old grudges against Spain for withdrawing their troops from Iraq. In saying that he wouldn't commit to a meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister, he made that evident. Great way to signal a new era of multilateralism.

Some have put forward the theory that McCain was simply disoriented and didn't understand the question. But even with his gaffe prone tendencies this doesn't add up because he was repeatedly asked about Spain and had the chance to state what he said in April to a Spanish paper, namely that he was interested in normalizing relations with Spain.

There is the possibility that McCain was simply being difficult. Maybe the pressure of the campaign is starting wear a bit thin, but there is little doubt that he knew exactly who and what the question referred to.

The questions to McCain concerning Zapatero were asked a number of different times:

INTERVIEWER: Senator finally, let's talk about Spain. If elected president would you be willing to invite President Jose Rodriguez Louis Zapatero to the White House, to meet with you?

McCAIN: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion.

The terms "Spain" and "President Jose Louis Zapatero" don't leave a lot open to the imagination. If McCain wasn't clear about the question then he must have been smoking something prior to the interview.

The interviewer continued to push:

INTERVIEWER: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government? To the president himself?

McCAIN: Uh, I don't, I, ya know, I, honestly, I have to look at the situations and the relations and the priorities. But I can assure you, I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America.

And yet again ...

INTERVIEWER: So you have to wait and see. If he's willing to meet with you, would you be able to do it? In the White House?

McCAIN: Well, again, I don't -- All I can tell you is I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not. And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.

And again ...

INTERVIEWER: OK, what about Europe? I'm talking about the president of Spain.

McCAIN: What about me what?

INTERVIEWER: OK. Are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

McCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those who are not.

The insinuation appears to be that Spain is suspect and not in the US good books. No matter what beef McCain has with Zapatero, the fact is Spain is a long-standing NATO ally and has troops in Afghanistan. Any US presidential candidate who is sincere about a new era of cooperation, should have the sense not to throw up road blocks in advance.

For all his posturing as the Maverick, McCain is a neo-con in sheep's clothing. A McCain administration will have Americans looking back with nostalgia at the Bush years. Putting him in the White House with Barracuda at his side could begin very quickly to look like a horror movie sequel.

McCain has a cold war mindset that turns a lot of Europeans off. His negative view of Russia didn't simply emerge with the recent Georgia hostilities. He has a well known dislike for the Russians and was all for kicking them out of the G8. Europe doesn't need or want McCain's old school antipathies.

A few pundits have facetiously suggested that perhaps he was confused and thought that Zapatero was some S. American bad guy, or that Spain was actually in S. America. Considering that gaffe-prone McCain referred to a non-existent 'Pakistan-Iraq border' on Good Morning America and has spoken of Vladimir Putin as 'the President of Germany' nothing should be ruled out. But either way, sound reasons for making sure he never sets foot in the White House.

If in fact he was zoned out and somehow hazy about the questions, a statement from his campaign that clarifies the weirdness might be in order.

Sep 18, 2008

Todd Palin: first dude who takes care of da bizness

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Americans never elected Todd Palin to do anything. Nobody would have heard of Todd Palin south of Anchorage if he wasn't shacked up with the governor of Alaska. However proximity to the seat power can give permission to take liberties ... and Todd it seems used his relationship with the guv to pretty much run his own little side-show.

An article in the Toronto Star describes Todd's unusual influence:

When Alaska's former public safety commissioner was summoned to a sensitive personnel meeting in the governor's office here, he sat down to discuss the matter not with Governor Sarah Palin, but with Todd Palin, her husband.

When the contract terms between the state and the Public Safety Employees Association were reached, an internal government email was copied to Todd Palin.

And when a visiting official sought an urgent meeting regarding the state's native corporations to discuss their priorities and voter perceptions, he got the meeting – with Todd Palin.
Coverage of Troopergate includes allegations that Todd Palin was out of line, acting more like an enforcer. He put pressure on public safety commissioner Walt Monegan to fire the governor's former brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten:

Todd Palin has been subpoenaed by the investigation into whether Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, abused her power in the firing of the former public safety commissioner Walter Monegan.

Monegan says he was fired because he would not dismiss Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a messy divorce with the governor's sister.

The retired state prosecutor hired to probe the circumstances surrounding the firing of Monegan said there is evidence someone in the governor's office may have pushed to deny workers' compensation benefits to Wooten.


If Palin makes it into the White House will Todd be fielding calls from Putin ... helping to run Homeland Security? This guy seems to have knack of insinuating himself into positions of authority without the hassle of actually getting elected to anything.

Todd Palin: the power behind the barracuda


Sep 17, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Kenyan witchhunter

thomas muthee,kenya,witch hunter

The title of this post reads a bit like the title of a tabloid story. The post provides yet another glimpse into the odd private world of Sarah Palin, a woman who if McCain gets elected and fate takes a twist, could be sitting as president of the United States.

Before getting to the governor's favorite witchhunter, a little background on Palin's place of worship. She attended the Wasilla Assembly of God... an establishment where folding chairs rather than pews serve the needs of the congregation.

The Assembly of God is a member of the pentecostal association of churches. Pentecostal worship can get lively, depending on the church - everything from the rattling of tambourines and wailing, to the indwelling of the holy spirit, a sort of trance state that results in the uttering of indecipherable gibberish - otherwise known as 'speaking in tongues'.

The minister of the Wasilla church, Ed Kalins, has an apocalyptic view of the world. He believes in so-called 'spiritual warfare', a theological concept that envisions a great struggle between darkness and light, good and evil. The big guy with horns and a strong scent of sulfur is always on the prowl looking to chalk up a win.

Kalins even manages to frame the Prince of Peace as a sort of 'warrior saviour': "I believe that Jesus himself operated from that position of war mode." Kalins' attempts to rationalize Jesus' "war mode" in a spiritual context, but when you look at his other statements from the pulpit it becomes clear that he is a shill for right wing ideology and that his views of Jesus have been severely compromised by his politics.

In 2004, Kalins questioned whether or not Americans who voted for John Kerry would get into heaven. He is also alleged to have said that any who criticized George Bush in the wake of the hurricane Katrina catastrophe would be banished to hell. This is really hokey stuff, but it's the type of primitive bible thumping Palin was obviously comfortable with, because she kept coming back for more.

But enough of Ed Kalins, and on to a more exotic character, who turned up on at least 10 occasions at the Wasilla church as guest pastor. Thomas Muthee is a Kenyan evangelist, famous for founding the the Prayer Cave, in Kiambu, Kenya, after God 'spoke to him'.

Muthee is also famous for being a witchhunter. He believed that Kiambu was infected with demons and that 'a spirit of witchcraft rested over the place'. He identified the source of the infestation as one Mama Jane who ran a divination center out of the Emmanuel Clinic. Muthee believed that Mama Jane's fortune telling and other nefarious 'evil eye' related activities had led to an increase in traffic accidents in the area near her clinic. He publicly declared her a witch, and demanded she either convert or git outta town. She chose the latter - possibly after deciding the place had become possessed by deranged Christians, some of whom were threatening to stone her. Wise woman.

This is the same pastor Muthee who 'laid hands' on Sarah Palin when he visited her church in 2005. His Kenyan escapades leave little doubt that Muthee is a man in the grip of delusional thinking who sees demons lurking around corners and witches working their dark designs in order to bring about traffic accidents and such.

None of this though, put the least bit of a damper on Palin's glowing endorsement of the witchhunter. A Times article on her relationship with the pastor, quotes her as saying:

And I’m thinking, this guy’s really bold, he doesn’t even know what I’m going to do, he doesn’t know what my plans are. And he’s praying not “oh Lord if it be your will may she become governor,” no, he just prayed for it. He said “Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened.


The childlike gullibility that comes across in these remarks isn't a trait most Americans would be comfortable associating with a candidate for high office. With Palin in the White House who knows ... the witchhunter might drop in for overnights in the Lincoln bedroom. He could always work on getting rid of the resident spirit while hatching plans for Salem redux.

When pastor Muthee gave his sermons, Palin was preparing for her gubernatorial run. Muthee annointed her (no mention with what kind of oil) and she described his laying-on-of-hands as "awesome".

Alaska has a big future in the apocalypse business. Ed Kalins reckons the state will be the refuge for American evangelicals in the coming "End Days".

Sep 16, 2008

Pastor Bittlinger's Pope ditty offends Catholics

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A German protestant pastor named Clemens Bittlinger entertains the faithful with his guitar. Up until recently this was a low-risk endeavor until, that is... Bittlinger decided to pen a song about the Pope.

The lyrics of the song have so offended some Catholics that Bittlinger has become the target of hate mail. Some missives have included death threats. It got so bad, the pastor has been given protection.

So much for Muslims getting hot and bothered by cartoons of the Prophet - now Catholics seem eager to follow their example. Jesus injunction to turn the other cheek clearly doesn't hold much sway with Christians who are prepared to threaten a man with death over a ditty.

The pastor's song contains criticism of the Pope, but it isn't abusive - just rather pointed:

Why do you revile other Christians? Why are you openly looking for a fight, saying: Yours is not a church.... You ban condoms, even for the poor of this world. So you encourage the spread of AIDS even if you do not like it. Meanwhile you abandon limbo for babies who haven't been baptised. Did you seriously believe that the Lord had something like that in the first place?


Samples of the hate mail include:

You dirty protestant pig, I shit on you and your dirty songs.

When a newspaper prints a Mohammed cartoon, entire cities burn ... but when the Holy Father is ridiculed in blasphemy, we are supposed to just accept that? No, not like that Mr. Bittlinger – you will surely receive the justice you deserve.


The pastor claims to be bewildered by the negativity his song has stirred up. He has enjoyed good relations with Catholics and is a specialist in ecumenical affairs.

There is good reason to wonder if Catholics are now attempting to emulate Muslims by upping the ante when it comes to fighting back against perceived attacks on their faith. The Pope recently denounced as 'blasphemous' a rather comical sculpture that shows a green frog crucified on what looks like popsicle sticks.

When Italian comedian, Sabina Guzzanti, made a joke at a Rome Rally about the Pope in hell - there were cries for legal retribution. In Italy you can go to jail for insulting the Pope who according to a 1929 Lateran Treaty is a "sacred and inviolable person".

Jill Greenberg ambushes McCain in Atlantic photo shoot

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The site of the photographer Jill Greenberg is called The Manipulator - not The Nice Girl or User Friendly. A cursory glance at her Google listings makes clear that her reputation precedes her.

When The Atlantic discovered that photos she had taken of John McCain for the magazine's 2008 cover, ended up on her site they were severely put out. Maybe they should have been less naive in the first place.


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Jill Greenberg staged a sting - used a strobe light placed on the floor that backlit McCain to make him appear menacing. Apparently Mac's infinite sense of his own grandeur never caused him to twig that Greenberg was setting him up.

It was an ambush... a photo 'shoot' in more ways than one and Greenberg pulled it off beautifully - nailed her prey with more skill than any Alaskan moose hunter. Of course the usual accusations of professional misconduct followed, but given McCain's track record more than a few people think the treatment was merited.

McCain was behind Bush 90% of the time when the Bush administration conned America and used Colin Powell as their mouthpiece at the UN to sell a pack of lies about Saddam's alleged WMD.

Many of the players from those years will never face justice, moreover America (at least half of it) is seriously considering electing McCain and Palin for more of McSame.

Sep 14, 2008

Alaska women rally AGAINST Palin

Alaska women against Palin

The Alaskan blog Mudflats reports on an anti-Palin protest in Anchorage. The Alaska Women Reject Palin rally drew a large crowd - bigger than the crowd that showed up to support Palin.

Mudflats points out that rallies in Alaska can often turn out to be a bit of a let-down - a group of 25 gathered for a rally in Anchorage is considered a success.

The crowd at the Alaska Women Reject Palin rally was around the 1,400 mark.


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This from Mudflats:

"This was the biggest political rally ever, in the history of the state. I was absolutely stunned. The second most amazing thing is how many people honked and gave the thumbs up as they drove by. And even those that didn’t honk looked wide-eyed and awe-struck at the huge crowd that was growing by the minute. This just doesn’t happen here."


The women who came up with the idea for the rally advertised the event with flyers posted around Anchorage. Needless to say they also drew negative attention. The local right wing mouthpiece at KBYR radio, one Eddie Burke, called the people who showed up for the rally “a bunch of socialist baby-killing maggots”, and read the home phone numbers of the organizers over the air. The women received many abusive and threatening messages.

The crowd chanted "O-BA-MA" and waved their signs as passing cars honked in approval. Thanks to Mudflats for great coverage.

Sep 13, 2008

Canadian election: Harper hoping for a majority

Stephen Harper

Canadian PM Stephen Harper has put out an election call, ending one of the longest minority Parliaments in Canada's history.

The reason we haven't seen more of Harper's true conservative agenda is because he has been leashed by his minority government status. He has been engaging in a soft shoe act, lulling the Canadian voter into compliance by presenting himself as a moderate fellow, a humble steward of the people. You would think butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

There is a good chance the Tories will get their majority, even though they broke their own laws to call this election. They were the ones who mandated fixed election dates.

Newfoundland premier Danny Williams had a few things to say about the Harper agenda recently and issued a warning on the dangers of handing the Tories a majority:

There is nothing Harper will not do in order to win a majority government. This ladies and gentlemen, is a party who purportedly offered a terminally ill MP a life insurance policy to get his vote.

When we vote, I would rather that we stand on the solid ground of principles than on the shaky ground of broken promises. If you believe the country deserves better, then you know what to do.


Williams has had his own run-ins with Harper over an equalization agreement on offshore oil resources. He also referred in his speech to the Chuck Cadman affair. Harper's conservatives have been accused of offering a $1 million life insurance policy to the late independent MP, Chuck Cadman, in an effort to secure his support in a critical house vote against former Liberal PM, Paul Martin.

As he always does when faced with evidence of wrong doing, Harper feigned ignorance. No matter what goes down in Harper's circle - the release of the Obama memo, the Cadman allegations, alleged Mulroney connections - Harper has a knack for presenting himself as an innocent party, shocked as the next guy by the suggestion of such scurrilous goings on.

Canadians should heed the Newfoundland premier's words when they head to the voting booth. Williams was as direct as you can get - he said that a Harper-led majority government would mark one of the darkest eras in Canadian history.

Harper thrills Canadians


Sep 12, 2008

Civil liberties under threat: FBI to get more powers

wire tapping,FBI

Proposed new rules that will give the FBI more powers have US civil liberty groups concerned.

The US Justice Department has proposed a consolidated set of guidelines for domestic FBI operations. It wants to apply the same rules to criminal investigations of terrorism cases and to the collection of foreign intelligence. The new rules are expected to come into effect on October 1.

Under the new rules, agents would not require a bureau supervisor's say-so to go ahead with surveillance, solicit informants and interview people-of-interest. Customarily agents only employ such methods once they open a file and establish reasonable grounds to believe a crime had been committed.

Using informants to monitor conversations with recording devices, won't require a prosecutor's okay - with the exception of high profile cases.

The American Civil Liberties Union are concerned about the ramifications of these changes:

 ... the rewritten rules had been drafted in a way to allow the FBI to begin surveillance without factual evidence to back it up.

It (ACLU) said that under the new guidelines, a person's race or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes will institute racial profiling as a matter of policy.

ACLU Washington legislative director Caroline Fredrickson said: "Agents will be given unparalleled leeway to investigate Americans without proper suspicion, and that will inevitably result in constitutional violations."

This also from Anthony Romero, ACLU's executive director:

Issuing guidelines that permit racial profiling the day after the 9/11 anniversary and in the midst of a historic presidential campaign is typical Bush administration stagecraft designed to exploit legitimate security concerns for partisan political purposes.

Sep 11, 2008

Sabina Guzzanti: might be prosecuted for dissing Pope

sabina guzzanti,Italy,Berlusconi

Italian comedian, Sabina Guzzanti, may be indicted because of satirical comments she made about the Pope at a rally in Rome in July. The rally was organized to protest interference by the Vatican in Italian affairs, in particular on issues related to gay rights and abortion. It was also a protest against Berlusconi's decision to invoke "ad personam" laws to avoid prosecution on corruption allegations.

Guardian:

Referring to the attitude to gay people of the Catholic church and Pope Benedict - the former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Guzzanti said: "In 20 years Ratzinger will be dead and will end up in hell, tormented by queer demons - not passive ones, but very active ones."


The Pope, according to a 1929 Lateran treaty is a "sacred and inviolable person". Insults directed at his person are punishable by one to five years in jail. A lot of this depends on the endorsement of the justice minister and thus far there has been a reluctance to push for a penalty against Guzzanti.


Sabinia Guzzanti


If Guzzanti is prosecuted for making fun of powerful figures, however "sacred" - it will make Italian politics seem even more fascist than many already suspect. Moreover there will be many protests. If the Pope was offended by this, he should prepare himself for more to come if Sabina Guzzanti is prosecuted for the 'crime' of satire.

Bel Giorgio and Benny

Pope Benedict's hunky personal assistant

Berlusconi and the Pope

Berlusconi sucks up to Pope Benedict

John McCain: pigs, lipstick and a whole lotta lyin'

Mccain campaign

For all his talk about change - you have to ask yourself what has actually changed in the political life of John McCain to warrant his claim to be an 'agent-of-change'. The answer is not much more than a new label filched straight out of the Obama playbook.

You can stick a new label on a can of stale refried beans and call them "new and improved," but the test is still in the tasting. The only change McCain is going to pull is a gimmick at the expense of the American people.

As Obama stated: “John McCain says he’s about change, too — except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics ... That’s just calling the same thing something different.”

At a stop in Virginia, Obama attacked McCain's brand of politics. To underscore his point he said: “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change; it’s still going to stink after eight years.”

The context of Obama's remark was clear - it related specifically to McCain ... not a word ... not a whisper ... about governor Palin. This didn't stop the McCain campaign from seizing on the 'lipstick on pig' comment and mischaracterizing it as a slam against Palin. They assumed Obama was making a play on a Palin joke, in which she said - 'the only difference between a pitbull and a hockey mom is lipstick.'

The sexism in the campaign has been real enough at times, but when the McCain campaign starts throwing around accusations based on nothing more than a presumed slight, they are over-reaching. No wonder. Sarah Palin, for all the fanfare, has been strangely absent on the media except for occasions when she read from the teleprompter and reproduced versions of the same speech she gave at the convention. It's a lot less risky to cast her as a victim of sexism and shunt her back to Alaska than put her on prime time unscripted.

It's ironic to see John McCain cast in the role of the good guy while Obama gets hit with bogus accusations of sexism. This is the same McCain who entertained a political audience a while back to an ape rape joke and called his wife "a cunt" during a pit stop on the campaign trail in 1992 - an incident that was witnessed by associates. This is the same guy who dumped his former spouse following a car accident that almost took her life. McCain has displayed behavior compatible with a textbook misogynist and America is supposed to believe he has changed in that regard also?

Believe it or not, the 'lipstick on pig' comment isn't the only cause for offense. The "old fish wrapped in paper" remark has also come under suspicion. According to some amateur psychoanalysts like Marsha Blackburn - the "old fish" is symbolic of nothing less than governor Palin's vagina.

This is what Blackburn was inferring when she told Tamron Hall on MSNBC:

"The comments he (Obama) made last night. He followed the lipstick on a pig comment with talking about old fish wrapped in paper. Senator Obama is a smart man. And he is very highly educated. And I think that it was unfortunate. He knew what he was speaking, the words he was speaking."


A Huffington Post article points out that the fish-as-vagina theme was also explored in satirical mode by Megan Carpentier on Crappy Hour:

Carpentier: "Anyway, what I want to know is how come since Obama's next line was about stinky rotten fish, no former female Massachusetts governor is calling out Obama for making inappropriate comments about the smell of Sarah Palin's vagina? Huh, Jane Swift? Did you miss that? Because I really think commenting on vaginal odor is, like, totally worse than saying she looks pig-like, not that he said that either but if this is taking-fake-offense day, that's the fake offense I'm taking."


All you can hope is that the insanity ends soon and we get back to the real issues.

The actual target of Obama's remarks was McCain - the pseudo agent-of-change. The so-called maverick was on-side with Bush 90% of the time, and if Americans put him in the White House they might as well put lipstick on a pig for all the difference it is going to make - and yeah the old fish McCain will bring with him after eight long years will stink to high heaven.

Sep 9, 2008

Globescan poll: world rooting for Obama

Globescan

As the battle for the edge in the presidential race heats up in the USA, there is no doubt where the rest of the world stands on the issue of the next American president.

The world overwhelmingly supports Barack Obama. All 22 countries surveyed in the poll want to see an Obama presidency.

The average in favor of Obama was 49% across the 22 countries ... the average in favor of McCain 12%.

Full report here.

Ignazio La Russa pays homage to WW2 fascist troops

Former Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, was assassinated in 1945. It seemed like the symbolic exorcizing of fascism when Il Duce was hung by his heels in Milan.

A few decades later how things have changed. This week Italian defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, paid tribute to the fascist soldiers who fought alongside the Germans. La Russa's comments added fuel to a fire started by Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, who refused to condemn fascism as evil, saying he has never regarded fascism as an "absolute evil."

The comments of La Russo were made while speaking at an anniversary event that marked Rome's resistance to Nazi occupation in 1943. He praised the valor of Italian fascist troops who opposed the advance of allied forces.

None of this should surprise. Berlusconi's government includes politicians with neo-fascist sympathies. La Russa and Alemanno are both members of Italy's National Alliance party which evolved from the Italian Social Movement, the ex-neo-fascist party.

The policies of Berlusconi's government show marked xenophobic tendencies, for example in the treatment of the Sinti and Roma peoples and the use of the army for dealing with ordinary internal challenges. The government avoids parliamentary debate, characterizing it as 'a waste of time.'

Berlusconi is the owner of the three main private TV channels. As PM he also has control over public media, placing the Italian press under an extraordinary level of government control.

Sep 8, 2008

John McCain: bare faced hypocrisy

John McCain

It's beginning to look as if John McCain will do anything to win an election.

To the disbelief of many, he has disengaged from the embrace of the Rovian wing of the GOP and a bear hug with Bush in order to present himself to America as an agent of change. Move over Barack Obama, here comes the Maverick!

Problem is, the straight talker is more like the forked-tongue talker. Prior to his miraculous transformation into agent-of-change McCain was with Bush 90% of the time on everything from tax cuts to torture to offshore drilling and social security privatization.

McCain took a stand against the religious right calling them "agents of intolerance." Then when he needed their support, he made a pilgrimage to Gerry Falwell's Liberty University in order to try and insinuate himself back into their good graces. He even acted the part of the Baptist-of-convenience in order to broaden his appeal to the southern bible brigade.

He constantly rails against special interests, even though his candidacy has been distinguished by the numerous lobbyists that both run and give to his campaign.

His acceptance speech was uninspiring, lack-luster. It re-enforced the impression that at 72, he lacks the energy that the top job requires. But hey - the Maverick's going to change the way Washington does business. Hold tight.

Sep 6, 2008

Donny Deutsch: Big Idea host has hots for Palin

Donny Deutsch


It boils down to this. Deutsch has a passion for Palin. He thinks she represents the new creation of the "feminist ideal" because ... she wears a skirt. In Deutsch's mind this is the reason Hillary didn't do better - lack of skirt:

"Hillary Clinton didn’t figure it out. She didn’t put a skirt on!"


He thinks Americans will be inspired to vote Palin/Grandad because voters deep inside have a need for a hot skirt-wearing-hockey-soccer-mommy candidate.

"I trust her. I want her watching my kids. I want her laying next to me in bed. That’s the way people vote."


It's possible Deutsch didn't get enough nipple when he was in diapers because this seems a lot like a late run on mommy nurture - regressive and more than a little weird. Forget about an in-depth discussion of who Palin really is and what she really stands for, it's enough for Donny that she makes him feel goooooood when she's flashing some leg.

“Women want to be her, men want to mate with her. It’s as simple as that."


Someone needs to get out more.

Asif 'Mr 10 per cent' Zardari appointed president of Pakistan



The widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, has been appointed president of Pakistan.

Zardari has been dogged over the years with allegations of corruption. A New York Times investigative report uncovered a network of bank accounts linked to the family's lawyer in Switzerland, with Zardari as principle shareholder. Shady real estate deals were also uncovered. Pakistani authorities alleged that a mansion in Surrey, England, valued at around $12 million was purchased by Zardari with the proceeds of corruption.

Few believe that the transformation of Zardari from 'Mr 10 per cent' to statesman will be real. The Pakistan Policy Blog bears out this prognosis:

The election of Zardari, albeit a constitutional and a political fait accompli, is like locking a nation of 165 million in a ship with a madman at helm and chucking the keys into the Arabian Sea. Zardari can prove everyone wrong. Pakistan, and indeed the world, needs him to. But the odds are, the Zardari of now differs little from the Zardari of yesterday. Pakistan, in perhaps as early as six months, will be back to square one, with one of its best opportunities for structural reform and rebalancing - led by its two largest parties, checked by civil society and the media, and in concert with a supportive military - vanquished.


Zardari's medical history has been a cause for concern. The conditions he has been diagnosed with include dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder and a major depressive disorder. He has stated that these conditions were brought about by the years he spent in Pakistani prisons fighting corruption charges.

Aside from concerns about Zardari's medical history, there are also questions about his suitability for office.

A Guardian article offers a an example of his idiosyncratic approach:

Several bloggers worry about Zardari's grasp of economics, citing an article in the New York Times in which, if accurate, should have economic policymakers quaking. According to the paper, Zardari gave this answer when asked how to finance wheat subsidies: "Print the notes."

When it was suggested that Zardari form a committee of experts to look into the issue, he said: "I am the expert."


Some see evidence of megalomania in these pronouncements, or at the very least an inflated ego.

A former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Tariq Fatemi, said recently: "He is coming with the blessings of the Bush administration ... They feel he will provide a political face to the military operations."

Sarah Palin: when sexism is used to silence legitimate comment

Sarah Palin

The McCain camp has accused the media of being sexist in its treatment of Sarah Palin. Similar complaints were made about the treatment of Hillary Clinton. Some complaints of sexism are legitimate, others less so and it's important to draw the distinction.

Harry Reid took heat recently because he described Palin as "shrill." The dictionary definition of shrill is "high pitched in quality." Any secondary understanding related to a gender put-down is a cultural add-on. If a woman refers to a male politician as "loud" or "overbearing" nobody thinks twice about it. In fact she could lay it on thick ... everything from "jerk" to "prick" and worse and you won't hear sexism raised in an effort to circumscribe her speech.

A feminist spokesperson for the National Organization for Women took heat because she said of Palin: “She's more a conservative man than she is a woman on women's issues. Very disappointing." To devalue this comment as 'just sexist' is to dismiss a valid insight. There is much about Palin's thinking that is indeed more in sync with views of a conservative sort that have traditionally been regarded as patriarchal.

Efforts to demean a female by suggesting that her gender undercuts her legitimacy as a politician or through objectifying her in blatantly sexual ways are clear examples of sexist behavior. But casual accusations of sexism as a way of devaluing and delegitimizing speech is a slippery slope.

The Republican party has traditionally reviled everything that feminism stands for, and now it is co-opting the language of feminism in a cynical effort to silence criticism of Palin. The record of McCain on women's issues is in the basement. A cursory look at his record and personal conduct makes that clear. The idea of a party stock full of misogynists using the language of feminism to intimidate critics is one of the greater ironies of this campaign.

Sep 4, 2008

Palin's RNC speech: nasty, divisive and a big hit

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The accolades have been pouring in after Palin's speech at the Republican convention. Grudging recognition even on some liberal blogs for McCain's secret weapon - 'barracuda' Sarah.

To what extent Palin's gender and youthful image was a factor that had many cutting her slack is hard to assess. On a superficial level Palin presents well. Cosmetic considerations already place her a few rungs up the ladder ... American-politics-meets-American-Idol ... and image does matter. But anyone who was really paying attention couldn't have missed the juvenile cadence in her delivery. She sounded like a 10th grader giving a rehearsed presentation in the early going.

The timing was off at times, with odd pauses apropos-of-nothing. Attempts to convey emotional conviction flatlined. The overall impression was of a speaker with undoubted charisma and confidence who nonetheless lacks emotional depth. Toward the end it sort of fizzled .... ran out of gas. If the low-key wrap up was a deliberate ploy intended to project gravitas and conviction it didn't translate. Palin doesn't do well with the rhetorical pause ... she needs to talk to score.

The right wing rhetoric she dished for the benefit of the Republican base is what America should be trying to deliver itself from, not embrace. Palin's line of thinking will make America more, rather than less unilateral in its approach. In some respects she out-Bushes Bush.

Obama is calling for healing and reconciliation. Palin seems determined to reignite the culture wars that pit small town America against urban America. Her rhetorical knifework aimed at Obama was delivered without an angry edge but when you read the text there is no mistaking this was a nasty speech.

Palin delivered under pressure. It remains to be seen how far she will stand up under scrutiny over the next couple of months.

Sep 3, 2008

Terence Koh: Christian sues gallery over 'erect' Jesus

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The work of Chinese-Canadian artist Terence Koh is described in Wiki as reflecting "queer, punk and pornographic sensibilities."

Koh's work has been exhibited internationally - venues include The Royal Academy in London, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Saatchi Gallery.

A gallery in Gateshead, UK, that has been showing Koh's work has been hit with a lawsuit. A Christian woman named Emily Mapfuwa was deeply offended by a statue of Jesus sporting an erection. The work in question was part of the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art's exhibition "Gone, Yet Still" which featured plastic figures in varying states of arousal. The Jesus piece was just one of a number of plastic figures that included Mickey Mouse and ET.

Mapfuwa claimed that Koh would never have dared present the prophet Muhammad in the same aroused condition. So the message seems to be that since some Muslims get riled up about artistic representations of the Prophet, it's time for Christians to get on the indignation bandwagon also.

Mapfuwa's lawyers brought the suit for causing harassment, alarm and distress to the public.

The tube shaped penis affixed to Jesus' robe doesn't look very realistic. It looks as though it has been stuck on as an afterthought almost. The positioning isn't anatomically correct - it sits, or rather projects, below the groin area, in the mid thigh region.

Some Christians might be surprised to learn that Jesus did in fact possess a penis. The devout, if they ever think about it in idle moments, probably consider it a sort of add-on that merely denoted gender. The idea that Jesus actually used his member for doing such unimaginable things as urinating and possibly even having sex is doubtless deeply shocking for some people, but he was after all a man - over-and-above the religious spin.

Works of art depicting Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha or any other allegedly god-filled personages, aren't the Real McCoy, obviously. Such works probably don't bare the slightest resemblance to the original, nor do they have any religious significance in the sense of being commissioned by the Church or serving any tangible religious purpose. They are artistic statements, period.

In many cases these works are created by artists who have no religious affiliations whatever, so it's a bit much for the religious to walk into an art space, scream "I am offended" and summon the lawyers.

Mapfuwa claims that Koh's statue is "blasphemous" - but this reflects a lack of understanding. The figure of Jesus is part of popular culture - a type of iconic commodity. Jesus is as much a part of popular culture as Superman, Spiderman and Mickey Mouse. Christians don't have a celestial copyright on the image of Jesus - it's fair game.

Freedom of religion has to be respected. The religious should be free to worship without harassment. But by the same token, writers and artists should be free to produce art without being harassed and attacked, even if their art happens to include symbols and personalities derived from religious sources.

Emily Mapfuwa likely wouldn't have brought her lawsuit if it wasn't for the Christian Legal Centre that agreed to cover her legal costs. The Centre aims to "promote and protect the biblical freedoms of Christian believers in the United Kingdom."

How exactly a plastic figure of Jesus with a rather comical erection threatens 'the biblical freedoms of Christian believers' is difficult to fathom. Nobody forced Ms Mapfuwa to visit the gallery, and once there she was free to leave. Terence Koh didn't parade his Jesus figure outside a church, post emails of it to reluctant recipients or in any way use it to harass Christians. That Ms Mapfuwa went out of her way to find an occasion to take offence can hardly be considered the fault of either the artist or the gallery.

Didn't Jesus talk a lot about respect, turning the other cheek and loving others. even enemies. Maybe Emily Mapfuwa should consider practicing her religion rather than using it as leverage to prosecute others.

Terence Koh's website is at ASIANPUNKBOY.