Feb 28, 2012

Rick Santorum and the other Great Satan

Rick Santorum and the dark side seem a natural fit. Maybe it's his count Dracula look or those sweater vests that project inner darkness. So it's no surprise that the devil figures into Rick's world view.

Topping the list of Santorum's bogeymen is no less than His Satanic Majesty. We're not talking some abstract spiritual principle or an allusion that is purely allegorical. When Rick says "Satan" he really does mean the legendary denizen of the deep.

Like the man said - "I'm a person of faith. I believe in good and evil."

When people are comfortable and in the company of the like-minded they often say what they truly mean. Ave Maria College in Florida was made for people like Rick Santorum and the late Savonarola. The place is a magnet for Orthodox Catholics with conservative beliefs. So not surprisingly Rick's tendency to Satan-it-up was in high gear when he spoke at the college in 2008.

We get Satan alerts like - "This is not a political war at all, this is not a culture war at all, this is a spiritual war... and the father of lies has his sights on what you think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on. A good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America."

Taking a cue from a Stephen Colbert skit - top of the agenda for a president Santorum would likely be a pre-emptive strike on hell. Colbert: "It's simple: All we have to do is take our nuclear missiles out of their silos and put them back in upside-down."

But maybe not. Bet Santorum secretly loves the idea of hell. After all it has to do with sin and suffering. Probably turns his crank. A punishment zone in the hereafter where Godless liberals burn for eternity.

Santorum has had to chill on his more outlandish sermonizing to avoid scaring away independents and other potential backers. Make no mistake though, good-and-evil theology co-starring Lord Satan is a scenario Santorum is entirely comfortable with. A view that would have been a big hit in the Middle Ages.

Rick Santorum is a walking pro-Obama ad. If in the unlikeliest of worlds it ever comes down to a Santorum versus Obama face-off, Americans will have more of a stark choice than they ever dreamed possible. It isn't just Santorum's superstitions that will be front and center, it will be his views on contraception, women, the crusades, the Middle East, welfare... to name a few.

The secular eco-type "theology" Santorum attacked recently is nowhere near as questionable or deluded as the theology that inspires his oddball zealotry.

Satan endorses Rick

Rick Santorum believes in the literal Satan

Feb 26, 2012

What the Natan Eshel affair says about Netanyahu

Top: Eshel / Middle: Netanyahu and "Resh"
Bottom: Yohanan Locker, Zvi Hauser, Yoaz Hendel

Women in Israel who are sexually victimized by officials in high places prefer to remain anonymous. In the media they are sometimes identified by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the case of one of the victims of former president Moshe Katsav, the chosen letter was Aleph. More recently in a harassment case connected with the office of Israeli PM Netanyahu, the female victim was known only by the identifier Resh or "R."

Resh has chosen to remain faceless, even declining to testify. No doubt she is aware of the fate that befell the woman in the Katsav affair. In the wake of the affair her life was ruined. Everyone in the media knew her true identity. She was unable to find employment and had to move out of Israel.

The recent case involving Resh would suggest not a lot has changed.

According to reports by State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, leading Netanyahu aide, Natan Eshel, engaged in the harassment of Resh, a female subordinate. A Haaretz editorial describes Eshel as "... the go-to person for Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu." Elsewhere he is described as a bureau chief and top adviser.

Netanyahu and Eshel

It is alleged that Eshel became so obsessed with Resh he took to stalking her and spying on her. The harassment included taking upskirt shots with a cellular phone. He is also accused of reading Resh's email along with other conduct characterized as "unbefitting and unacceptable."

Three senior PMO officials reported the harassment to the attorney-general. According to a Maariv report 28 people in-all were interviewed in connection with the case. Eshel admitted to misconduct, signed a plea agreement and stepped down - but the handling of this case says a lot about the status and protections afforded to working women in Israel, especially as it relates to this type of harassment.

The harassment claim was dismissed by the PM's bureau as "cheap gossip." Netanyahu gave no credit to the reporting officials for stepping up and doing the right thing, rather he appears to regard them as whistle blowers who went over his head. On the other hand the PM had no problem extending warm sentiments to Eshel on his resignation, thanking him for his "years of dedicated service" and his “important contribution to the good work of Israel’s government.”


From Netanyahu's perspective, Eshel's loyalty compensates for his inappropriate conduct and is more praiseworthy than the whistle-blowing of Military Secretary Yohanan Locker, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and National Information Directorate head Yoaz Hendel, who got the alleged harasser ousted from the heart of the government by doing their civic duty and making sure the law got enforced.

Netanyahu was apparently put out that the complaints weren't brought directly to him. Perhaps there was good reason they weren't. Given his reactions to the affair one wonders if complaints about Eshel's conduct would have been suppressed. Netanyahu's primary concern certainly didn't appear to be the victim in the affair.

Some Israeli opinion in reaction to the Eshel affair is frankly unbelievable and gives some insight into why chauvinistic attitudes have proved so intractable in some quarters. A leading Israeli media presenter, Ayala Hasson, referred to attractive women workers as "candies" and argued that if sexual harassment occurs, the women should switch jobs. She gave an example of a woman who was "discreetly" removed from her position because her boss "wanted her like a lovely piece of candy.”

Characterizing women as "candies" suggests their value is predicated on their sexuality. Hasson comes off as an enabler and part of the problem. Her "solution" amounts to further victimization along the lines of "Hey honey you're way too cute and candy-like for the boss to handle... better run off and look for work elsewhere."

A more reality-based assessment was given by Meretz Party Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On - “When a woman working in the Prime Minister’s Office is harassed, and the attorney-general takes five weeks to decide whether to even launch an investigation, only to later hand it [the investigation] over to the Civil Service Commission and then close the case with a plea deal, it indicates that we have a serious problem and are still far from achieving equality.”

The Labor Party's Shelly Yachimovich said of Netanyahu's actions - “Instead of praising his office’s senior employees, who exhibited decency and reported the grave indiscretions taking place in his bureau, he turned his back on them … The message conveyed by Netanyahu’s actions is that of hostility toward the rule of law and hostility toward victims of harassment in the workplace. Upstanding men who may want to help [harassed women] will be afraid to do so.”

More on the story from the UK Independent.

Feb 23, 2012

Russian band Pussy Riot flashes Moscow cathedral

The icons and statuary in Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow were rocking this week when all-female band Pussy Riot staged a flash gig. It was a brief, unscheduled appearance during which the band belted out the lyrics of their tune "Holy Shit."

During the cathedral gig the identity of band members was disguised with trademark neon balaclavas. There are about 30 people in the group. Members cite the Riot Girl movement of the 90's as an inspiration. Bikini Kill and Sonic Youth are also influences.

Pussy Riot is part of the protest movement that has been springing up in Russia. It includes groups such as the Blue Buckets and the art collective Voina. A Voina action that attracted a lot of attention in 2010 was the massive 65m long phallus painted on the Liteyny drawbridge leading to the Bolshoy Dom, headquarters of the Federal Security Service.

Pussy Riot members reveal few personal details. Aside from granting a degree of anonymity, the balaclavas send a message that the group represents the many. Band member Garadzha said in an interview "It shows we can be anybody...".

A Guardian article provides more background:

The band began writing songs with lyrics such as: "Egyptian air is good for the lungs / Do Tahrir on Red Square!" and performing on trams and in the metro. Videos of the flash gigs began spreading across the internet. When the protest leader Alexey Navalny was jailed for 15 days after his arrest during Russia's first post-election protest on 5 December, three members of Pussy Riot took to the roof of the jail where he was being held, setting off red flares as they sang "Death to prison / Freedom to protest!"
The band doesn't describe what they do as either "art" or "politics" - for them it's one and the same. The venues they have chosen for their flash gigs are both symbolic and provocative. It's no coincidence that the members are proud feminists. Garazhda told the Guardian:  "There's a deep tradition in Russia of gender and revolution -- we've had amazing women revolutionaries."

Feb 20, 2012

Jodi Rudoren's tweets and the chill in the lobby

A Rachel Shabi article in the Guardian's Comment is Free section titled False accusations of antisemitism desensitize us to the real thing is worth the read. It discusses the targeting of New York Times Jerusalem reporter Jodi Rudoren for tweets that a number of concerned Zionists viewed as problematic.

Rachel Shabi:

Apparently, soon-to-be bureau chief Jodi Rudoren has been sending bad tweets to the wrong people and that's enough to have Israel's rightwing defenders denounce the journalist, within hours, as biased and "anti-Zionist".

She should not be tweeting "cutesy missives" to Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah. She shouldn't be approving a forthcoming book titled The Crisis of Zionism by American writer Peter Beinart. In fact, the most benign critics suggest, she should not be tweeting at all – which, we can guess, would not be the case had she decided to post about, say, the dry weather and deluge of hummus that await her in Jerusalem.

Ali Abunimah is a prominent Israel critic who has presented an interesting argument in favor of a one-state solution. Rudoren was doing what journalists do - namely pursue leads and solicit opinion. Sounds as though her messages were upbeat or "cutesy" according to the displeased... how is that evil?

The Times came to Ms Rudoren's defence stating that the paper had "complete confidence in Jodi's fairness and integrity as a journalist..."

Some of the criticism has come from Atlantic blogger, Jeffrey Goldberg. He says that Abunimah "argues for Israel's destruction." This is a slur often directed at Ali Abunimah by Zionist critics. It would more accurate to say that Abunimah views Zionism as the problem, as in fact many Jews do - check out the views of Ben Ehrenreich on the topic.

Too often criticism of Israel is linked to the anti-Semitic shadow. If you communicate with people who are Israel critics you must by extension be somehow tainted. The reach of the Israel Lobby means that this type of intimidation succeeds all-too-often in damping down perfectly reasonable criticism of Israel.

Menachem Shalev, a former spokesman for the Israeli consulate in New York was disarmingly honest about the influence of the Lobby: "Of course, a lot of self-censorship goes on. Journalists, editors, and politicians are going to think twice about criticizing Israel if they know they are going to get thousands of calls in a matter of hours. The Jewish lobby is good at orchestrating pressure."

It's not just journalists who suffer consequences. The influence of the Lobby extends to the heart of US power. In March 2009, Charles W. Freeman, Jr. withdrew his candidacy for the chair of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman didn't pull his punches on the reasons why: "The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired .... The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency .... The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process ...."

Rachel Shabi:

The [Rudoren] incident is part of a broader rash of pouncing-upon from rightwing pro-Israelis that has sucked the oxygen out of any conversation about the country – especially in the US.

Add Canada to that. It isn't always the better known right-wing pro-Israeli voices either doing the pouncing.  When reverberations of the Gaza war were still front and center a column in the Toronto Star by Rosie DiManno accused protesting Canadian students of a sort of uber version of anti-Semitism - something she dubbed "hyperbolic anti-Semitism."

DiManno's attack on Canadian students exercising their democratic rights came at a time when an increasing percentage of Israelis were showing sympathy for a virulent and racist brand of right-wing nationalism. Yet DiManno went after Canadian students protesting Israeli actions that were in contravention of international law rather than lambasting the drift toward political extremism in Israel.

On the other side of the coin, during the same heated time period concerned Canadian Jews stepped up to express their concern about attempts to suppress valid criticism of Israel. They made the comparison between spurious allegations of anti-Semitism and the anti-Communist terror of the 1950s.

One hundred and fifty Canadian Jews co-signed a statement that outlined their concerns. The statement was rejected as an op-ed by the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. 

It comes as no surprise at all that Rudoren was targeted for "offending" tweets.

Feb 17, 2012

Electronic surveillance bill: Big Bro Toews wants your data

Canadian Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, is pushing a draconian surveillance bill that would give police extraordinary powers to snoop on Canadians. On a different but related matter Toews wants an investigation into a Twitter account - @vikileaks30 - that has been exposing details of his marital breakdown. How does it feel Vic - having people nosing into your affairs? Not much fun eh?

The Conservatives are outraged. The Twitter account allegedly links back to an IP address in the House of Commons. The Tories are fingering the NDP as prime suspects. The NDP denies involvement.

Toews clearly doesn't like the invasion of his privacy. Who would? Yet this is the same Minister who is behind Bill C-30, a surveillance nightmare that opens the door to violations of Canadians' privacy. The CBC reports that Internet providers would be required to hand over subscriber data, name, address, mobile phone number, IP address and online ID's - without a warrant. The Bill would also compel internet providers to provide a "back door" to make communications accessible to police. Essentially a spy portal. More on C-30 provisions from CBC - here.

Toews is the same guy who tarred a Liberal MP who questioned the Bill's provisions with "he can either stand with us or with the child pornographers." To call the smear disgusting is an understatement. The sacrifice of Canadians who fought in two world wars in defence of liberty is besmirched by Toews' gutter politics on a matter so integral to Canadians rights and freedoms. The police already have the resources to wage a fight against predators. C-30 is a road too far and would grant way too much power to the authorities.

The Berlin Wall may have come down but the snoop-and-control tactics of the Stasi are alive and well in Stephen Harper's Conservative Party. It's just a question of how much we will allow them to get away with. The Tories are a punitive, vengeful bunch who punish and ridicule people who disagree with them. The former leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, was smeared as "Taliban Jack" for proposing talks with the Taliban - eminently reasonable as compared to Harper's gung-ho no-cut-and-run rhetoric in the face of a no-win mission. Another Tory target - British MP George Galloway - was denied entry into Canada to speak. He was smeared by a Tory spokesperson as "an infandous street-corner Cromwell."

By choosing his moves carefully when he was in a minority position Harper managed to seduce the soft vote that helped to put him over the top. His attempt to sell himself as good old Stevie included tickling the ivories, crooning for the cameras and taking part in a TV comedy show.

Now we're seeing the real agenda emerging. More prisons even though crime stats have shown a downward trend, a cynical effort to pass a draconian surveillance bill using child victims as cover, an attempt to reshape Canadian institutions along conservative lines - just some of the items on the agenda. Harper wants to give Canada an American-style makeover and in the course of doing that change the very essence of what it means to be Canadian.

Beneath the NDP's Charlie Angus defending freedom in Canada:

Big Bro Canada: Stasi redux

Canadian government wants more powers to snoop on internet users

Feb 15, 2012

Las Malvinas: Prince William should focus on polo

Las Malvinas aka the Falklands is one of the last theaters available to the Brits for flag waving and displays of military-style jingoism. They've been upping the ante lately. Prince William weighed in in his role as coptor co-pilot inflaming an already volatile situation that has seen angry headlines, protests and union jack burning in Buenos Aries.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, described William's unwelcome presence in the region as "entirely routine." Is he saying that on an anniversary year of the Falklands war William was dispatched without any prior discussion in Number 10? Making it sound like business-as-usual is a little disingenuous to say the least.

What's all the bluster about anyway? Well nothing that would warrant royalty and warships. The jack is planted in the Falklands. There is no threat of imminent invasion. There is though the small matter of oil in the seas around the islands and as mentioned the approaching anniversary of the unnecessary war launched by Thatcher. There is also Meryl Streep's version of Thatcher doing the rounds of the theaters. Add William-waving and a diplomatic war of words and it's all a combustible mix for S. Americans who think the British need to stick to their own hemisphere.

In a recent interview Sean Penn, who is no stranger to S. American politics, characterized British geo-political grandstanding as 'colonialist, ludicrous and archaic.' He also said that any attempt to control natural resources would be seen as an act of bullying and that the sharing of resources should be brokered through diplomatic talks. Sounds perfectly reasonable.

The days of imperial grandstanding by the mother island is over. Sooner or later a deal will be reached on the Malvinas. In addition to being unnecessary and unwanted, all of this pomp and bluster is a waste of time and newsprint.

Lower the William and take the military hardware home.

Feb 12, 2012

Song Byeok: N Korean artist paints Kim Jung il in drag

 Song Byeok, a one time N. Korean state artist has turned his talents to producing satirical works that are a far cry from the idealized posters he used to design in which "Every line, every angle... was just copying from the model.”

Now the message is coming from the artist himself and although the subject matter is still N. Korean-related the vision is radically different. Kim Jung Il appears in one piece, not as master of his corner of the universe, but as a Marilyn Munro-like drag queen holding down a fluttering dress and sporting a wide grin. All that's missing is a blonde wig. Dear ex-Leader as we have never known him.

Song Byeok has come a long way from the poster work that he now refuses to describe as "art". He says he simply painted pictures he was required to produce. Song says: “People in the paintings had to seem happy. If not, they would not be published publicly...”

During the famine of 2000 Byeok attempted to get to China for needed food supplies. In the course of an attempt to cross the Tumen River into China, his father drowned. Byeok was subsequently detained by N.Korean border guards and did a stint in a prison camp. After he was amnestied he made it into China and later to S. Korea.

An exhibition at the Atlanta Goat Farm Arts Center will feature the artist's better known paintings along with new work.

Feb 8, 2012

The Law in These Parts: difficult truths about Israeli justice

The Israeli film The Law in These Parts, was awarded Best Documentary at the 2011 Jerusalem Film Festival and the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, said it was the hardest film he has ever made.

It's a brilliant piece of work. The film gets behind the rigged court system in the West Bank and cleverly exposes its inner workings via the mouths of those who were in on it from the early going. What becomes evident is that "justice" was routinely manipulated in the interests of national and IDF priorities.

In speaking of his film Alexandrowicz said that "... upholding the law doesn't always lead to justice. It can even be used as a tool against certain segments of society."

The film is divided into five chapters and comes across as almost academic in its approach. It features interviews with Israelis who helped set up the system in the West Bank and administer it. As you watch these men explain themselves and justify their actions, it is disturbingly reminiscent of war criminals conducting self-serving reviews of past actions. There are moments of ambivalence when facial expressions and body language seem to contradict the words being spoken.

The truths that come out in the wash aren't pleasant. Activities that were probably very routine are troubling to those looking in from the outside. One judge candidly says that he was aware of the torture that was going on. The admission seemed as routine as the land confiscations and other aggressions committed in the name of the state.

Black and white footage from the early years of the Israeli occupation evokes memories of incursions by the Germans into lands of the conquered in WW2. It is a comparison that resonates even as it disturbs. The film certainly isn't alone in going there. During operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a former Zionist, British MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, made a direct reference to IDF tactics as Nazi-like.

To say there are issues with the administration of justice in the occupied territories is a large understatement. The problems are systemic and deeply rooted.

Lisa Hajjar, a professor at the University of California, did extensive research into the system in the West Bank for her book Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank And Gaza. A very good review by Menachem Hofnung - here - highlights important areas of Ms Hajjar's work.

In describing the impact of the system in the West Bank, Hofnung says: "The military court system has served as the important foundation within the broader range of governing institutions and practices in which Palestinians are controlled by the state of Israel, subjected to restrictive codes of conduct, and physically immobilized through the use of mass arrests, closures, curfews, checkpoints and prisons."

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy likened the "law enforcement mechanism of the IDF" to a "ridiculous simulacrum of a justice system." In his article IDF's law enforcement is a joke of a justice system Levy talks about individual cases involving the killings of Palestinians and the ways in which the wheels of justice turned slowly or not at all - slightly more perhaps when pushed by human rights organizations such as B'Tselem.

In its 2011 Annual Report, Amnesty International detailed the many abuses that have become woven into the fabric of life for Palestinian residents in the occupied territories.

Amnesty International:

Consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children, were frequently reported. Among the most commonly cited methods were beatings, threats to the detainee or their family, sleep deprivation, and being subjected to painful stress positions for long periods. Confessions allegedly obtained under duress were accepted as evidence in Israeli military and civilian courts.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz deals in more hard truth about Israel than you are likely to find in N. American mainstream media. The columnist Gideon Levy told American Jews: "If you love Israel, criticize it." Advice a few N. American editors should take under notice.

Trailer of The Law in These Parts beneath:

Feb 5, 2012

Brock U study links low IQ with racism, prejudice

A Brock University study has come up with findings guaranteed to ignite a few fires on the net. Put in the most basic terms the research finds that people who succumb to racism and prejudice are likely to be less intelligent and drawn to right-wing ideologies.

Researchers conducted in-depth analysis on data from British and US studies. One finding indicates that lower intelligence scores in childhood is an indicator of racism in later life and that racist attitudes may be compounded or 'mediated' by the adoption of right-wing beliefs.

It seems reasonable to extrapolate that the above traits could dispose individuals to take meaning and identity from right-wing ideology - a reassuring 'big daddy' solution to life's problems. Right-wing ideology after all is structured, ordered, conformist, resists radical change and in some cases actively promotes prejudice as a virtue.

There's always a danger of drawing hard and fast conclusions from a study like this. Perhaps at the risk of stating the obvious, lead researcher Gordon Hodson said it doesn't follow that all liberals are smart and all conservatives are stupid.

There are any number of thinkers with right-wing political allegiances who clearly aren't dealing with an intelligence deficit. Christopher Hitchens by any measure was a brilliant thinker yet he could take fairly hardline conservative positions. His reactionary stance on some issues often seemed at odds with his impressive analytical skills and capacity to think outside the box.

In general terms though the Brock study lends weight to a common perception - namely that right-wingers often seem less smart and more inclined to prejudice. It isn't just a hunch either. Polling data... social and political science research... has repeatedly demonstrated that people who support right-wing parties are more likely to hold prejudiced views than people of more liberal persuasion.

It could also have to do with wiring. A study out of the University of London offers physiological 'evidence' that the brains of conservatives and liberals are structured differently. Researchers found that liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain that has to do with how information is processed. Conservatives tend to have a larger amygdala, linked with emotional detection.

More on the study from Live Science.

Feb 4, 2012

Feb 1, 2012

P183: Russian graffiti artist draws Banksy comparison

A Russian graffiti artist P183 aka "Bankski" to some, is behind Banksy-like murals that have been showing up in and around Moscow. The Banksy comparison though shouldn't be taken too far. P183 could as easily be linked with Blek le Rat as an influence - in the end it's about P183's work at a time of deep political unrest. The Banksy comparison has helped give him some profile.

There is little out there about the man himself. According to reports P183's a 28-year old dude named Pavel. Other sources claim he's an active member of the Russian LiveJournal community.

P183's street art - raw eye-catching stuff - has drawn the Banksy comparisons for obvious reasons. In the Moscow area his mural-style graffiti turns up on median dividers, walls, even on bridges. He has also undertaken some fairly ambitious mixed media installations.

P183 and Banksy have their own distinctive styles. Wit and message are brilliantly fused in Banksy's work. The humor doesn't detract from the delivery of the message. There is a visceral, dramatic power to some of P183's best work. It will be interesting to see where he takes it.