6/29/2010 12:49:27 PM
How would you feel about a completely unqualified professional comedian running your government (note: I'm not touching a Palin joke with a 20-foot pole)? Apparently the citizens of Reykjavik feel pretty good about it, as they elected the facetious Icelandic actor/comedian Jon Gnarr and his "Best Party" to power earlier this month, with 34.7 percent of the vote (6 of 15 seats) in the 2010 city council elections.
"No one has to be afraid of the Best Party," Gnarr declared during his acceptance speech, "because it is the best party. If it wasn't, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that."
Gnarr and his Best Party, which was founded in December of 2009, made various promises to the city's residents over the course of the campaign, including:
- Building a Disneyland in the airport
- Providing free towels at public spas and swimming pools
- Creating a polar bear exhibit at the zoo
The amusing/alarming political development, covered in a variety of forums including the Atlantic Wire, the Village Voice, and New York Magazine, proves how disillusioned Reykjavik residents are with their political system: promises of polar bears and roller coasters seem more believable than most of the deceptive doublespeak they have heard in the past.
But seriously, how can you resist voting for a guy who uses Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" as his campaign song and refuses to choose a coalition partner who has not seen all five seasons of the HBO epic "The Wire"? The answer is you can't.
Source: Atlantic Wire, Village Voice, New York Magazine
Image by biologyfishman, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/28/2010 10:43:34 AM
Report at 0600, use no more than 140 characters: Uncle Sam wants you for his Twitbook account. After recent military restrictions (both considered and enacted) on servicemembers’ use of social media, the Pentagon has finally drafted a formal social media policy, reports Wired’s Danger Room. Read the official Pentagon document here (PDF). Of course, this development comes at a time when more and more government agencies, officials, and even politicians have begun using services like Facebook and Twitter for public relations. So, military access seems like a natural Web 2.0 evolution. But “access,” as defined by this new the policy, remains potentially tenuous, as you would expect. As Danger Room notes:
The new policy allows servicemembers to use the Defense Department’s unclassified networks to access everything from “SNS” (that’s “social networking services” in Pentagon-speak) and “image and video hosting websites” to “personal, corporate or subject-specific blogs” (that’s us!) and “Wikis.” But it also gives commanders wide latitude to restrict access to preserve operational security. A Pentagon news release notes that the new policy allows commanders to “safeguard missions” by “temporarily limiting access to the Internet to preserve operations security or to address bandwidth constraints.”
Still, for the connections social media can furnish between servicemembers and their families overseas—not to mention that the best policy is always an actual, clearly articulated policy—accommodating the information impulses of those in uniform seems like a great idea.
Source: Danger Room
Image by ob1left, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/24/2010 2:49:32 PM
Just imagine how America’s foreign policy in Iraq might have been different if the public had access to military intelligence before the invasion was finalized. The country could have avoided an expensive war and the deaths of many soldiers and civilians. Unfortunately, that information was hidden in plain sight, blacked out on official government documents.
As much as we abhor when the federal government acts clandestinely, we should at least know that it doesn’t always wickedly withhold information from citizens. In fact, the bureaucrats removing information from federal documents are probably bored to death by the Byzantine laws of redaction. *Note: Some government officials are capricious, contradictory or just plain evil. Or so claims The Believer’s Michael Powell in an extended cultural, aesthetic, and psychological history of two things that go hand in hand: the black Sharpie marker and government document redaction.
Redaction is a far more mundane and much less capricious process than we popularly imagine. “The redaction process is not part of a secrecy law,” writes Powell, “but an information-access law.” You’ve heard of it—it’s the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). *Note: We regret to inform you that FOIA requests result in an FBI-tail and 100-point hit to your credit score. Sorry. With arduous and exactingly thorough procedural manuals, codified techniques, and legal imperatives, most FOIA requests return documents with all the information that can be lawfully released. Nine legal exemptions are in place, the most controversial among information-freedom wonks being “national security,” that will impel any given bureaucrat to break out that infamous marker.
Black Sharpies occupy a nether-zone in the writing utensil-sphere. “Unlike the pen, a symbol of free thought’s transparent expression, or the sword, a symbol of free thought’s oppression, the black marker of government secrecy exists somewhere between these two places,” Powell writes.
Knowing that a piece of information exists and can’t be uncovered is worse than never finding out it existed at all, or as Powell puts it: “. . . any act of omission, while perceived by some as a grave injustice, cannot truly impact us until we finally learn that we haven’t learned what we had wanted to.”
Sources: The Believer
Image by JonDissed, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/24/2010 12:35:53 PM
The good vibrations rocking the World Social Forum, which has already brought over 10,000 spirited activists to Detroit, will no doubt be trumped by expected protests this weekend in and around Toronto at the G8 and G20 summits, host to the world’s financial power brokers—including U.S. President Barack Obama, who penned a letter last week urging member countries not to weaken global economic recovery by focusing too much on debt reduction.
While it’s a good guess the politicians will be droning on about interest rates and trade agreements, various activist groups—working on a wide-range of issues, such as AIDS reduction, child labor, and maternal health—will aim to provide reporters with something a bit more colorful. In anticipation of criminally riotous behavior, in fact, more than 5,000 cops and security personnel are on hand in Ontario. And yesterday morning, some of them got a little action when a Toronto man was found to be in possession of explosives and suspected of planning a summit-related spectacle.
It’s a good guess the alleged perpetrator, reportedly a licensed private investigator named Byron Sonne, was too busy stockpiling common household chemicals to read the May-June issue of This Magazine. In a short “how to” section titled, “Civil Disobedience isn’t for Dummies,” the Toronto-based bi-monthly doled out advice on how to survive a G8/G20 protest in “style (and safety).” Getting arrested before the summit starts was not on the list.
Among other things, activists are encouraged to travel with people they trust; educate themselves on the history of civil-disobedience, as well as current tactics employed by various groups; and decide beforehand what tactics fit your personal convictions. (Y’know, like, are you happiest while singing “We Shall Overcome” or when tossing Molotov Cocktails.)
As for wardrobe:
Pack protective shoes you can run in; heavy-duty gloves; shatter-resistant eye protection; clothing that covers most of your skin; a gas mask or goggles with a vinegar-soaked bandana for protection from chemicals; and noisemakers. Optional: rollerblades and a hockey stick to shoot back tear gas canisters—Canadian-style.
Yeah, that’s right you politically correct American progressives, in Canada sports fanaticism knows no boundaries.
Check out Utne Reader’s current cover story, “The New Face of Activism.”
Source: This Magazine
6/21/2010 2:13:50 PM
Because the family’s crops choked in the Dust Bowl, the Joads defaulted on their loans and watched as the bank repossessed their homestead—so begins John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. Following their dreams, their desperation, and a steady stream of equally down-trodden farmers, the Joads left Oklahoma for a new, uncertain life in California.
The promise of a decent job—or at least a decent chance at one—can push families across the country. So where do we go when the economy has thrown us a few stiff jabs?
2008 was a tumultuous year—undoubtedly because of the popped real-estate bubble, the hyperventilating automobile industry and general economic hysteria. Forbes has turned new IRS data into a distracting map that plots where people moved in 2008 and the average amount of money they made that year.
The map plots when people are leaving a county with red lines, with thicker lines signifying a stronger net migration. And as you might expect, Detroit looks like an open wound in the middle of the country. People also escaped Miami and Los Angeles, places where the housing crisis was most severe.
It turns out, the Pacific Northwest is a people-magnet—particularly, Seattle. Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas drew enough people to possibly warrant four additional seats in Congress for Texas, according to The New Republic.
Back home in Minneapolis, we had fairly balanced inward and outward migration, as well as interesting income redistribution. For example, 93 people moved from Broward County, Fla. (home of Fort Lauderdale) to Hennepin County (Minneapolis) and their average income was $63,000. On the other hand, 76 people moved from Minneapolis to Broward County, but their average income was $33,700. At the same time, 715 people left Minneapolis for Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix-area) with an average income of $160,000—the 492 who made the opposite journey averaged a $55,700 income.
Sources: Forbes, The New Repbulic
Image from The Grapes of Wrath trailer, in the public domain.
6/18/2010 12:21:52 PM
The news from Iran these days is as fit to print as ever, but surprisingly under-reported. Although the massive election protests last summer received top-tier coverage in venues like the New York Times and New Yorker, the news cycle has been a little blinder in the months since. One current story we can’t ignore comes to us from Virginia Quarterly Review:
Oxford PhD student Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour, who campaigned for opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi in 2009, was arrested on Monday afternoon, June 14, according to his wife, Fatemeh Shams.
Jalaeipour was first arrested on June 17, 2009. After attending a family wedding in Iran, Jalaeipour was prevented from boarding a flight to Dubai. He and his wife had been returning to the UK to continue their studies. The couple were members of the Third Wave campaign, a reformist youth movement that eventually backed Moussavi in the Iranian presidential election last year. Jalaeipour told the Wall Street Journal that, inspired by the Obama campaign, he had created pages on Facebook to reach young Iranian voters. After his 2009 arrest, Jalaeipour endured eighty days of imprisonment including more than fifty days in solitary confinement at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. After his release, Jalaeipour remained in Iran with his parents, as his passport had been confiscated. His wife currently lives in the UK where she also attends Oxford.
This turn of events resurrects the desperation of Jalaeipour’s previous imprisonment, which VQR will document in their Summer issue by publishing letters Jalaeipour’s wife, Fatemeh, wrote him while he was in custody. VQR is getting the word out, but it’d be nice if Iran could stay in the crosshairs of our depleted attention spans.
Source: The New York Times, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review
Image by Beverly & Pack, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/18/2010 10:08:04 AM
Yesterday, some of us got a little persnickety about the notion that Obama’s speech on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill/precursor to apocalypse was too linguistically complicated. We should have known, but the blog We Are Respectable Negroes has done a great public service and re-written the speech to be more “grade level appropriate.” Enjoy:
The U.S. is in big trouble right now. People need jobs and more money. We are fighting bad guys who hate us in other countries. Our soldiers are doing a good job killing the bad people.
Now, I want to talk to you about the oil in the ocean down South. On April 20th an oil rig blew up. Too many people were killed. There was a big hole dug deep in the ground by the oil rig people. It started to leak oil out into the water. The water is really deep.
…The oil is like a big monster. It is evil. It is hard to cleanup. The oil is killing fish and birds. People who work on boats in the water can't make money. To fight the monster I told the navy to help. The smart people are going to dig another hole in the ground. With the BP folks they are going to soak up the mess like a big paper towel. I hope that the hole in the ocean will stop leaking in a few weeks.
…The BP people killed the nice people that worked for them. We need to make sure we know why the oil rig blew up. They dug a deep hole in the ground. They didn't even think about plugging it up. Now, we need to make a rule so that does not happen again. No more messes!
…Remember, we are a great country. We have lots of bad things going on now. But, the U.S. always wins. We will soak up the oil. We will kill the bad guys in those other places where they pray to the wrong God and want to blow us up. The economy will get fixed. God bless America.
Source: We Are Respectable Negroes
Image by Tim Morgan, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/17/2010 11:34:21 AM
Foreign Policy has a report on a British medical study about the explosive expansion of the elderly population we can expect this century:
Death and taxes may be guaranteed, but what happens to an economy when the hereafter becomes a much more distant prospect? Western countries are about to find out. More than half the babies born since 2000 in France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada, Japan, and the United States will live past 100, according to a recent study in The Lancet, the British medical journal, charting the astronomical increase in life expectancy experienced since 1840 in developed countries. By midcentury there will be nearly 6 million people over 100 in the world, compared with just 340,000 today, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
The social and economic consequences of a centenarian world are likely to be monumental. One challenge, of course, will be medical costs. Just because people are living longer doesn't mean they're staying healthy as they age, and the price tag just for basic elderly care will be massive. But the more profound change might be in how societies think about work and careers. "The 20th century was a century of redistribution of income," the authors write. "The 21st century could be a century of redistribution of work."
Source: Foreign Policy
Image by catmstew, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/17/2010 10:52:26 AM
So, some people are concerned that Obama’s oil spill speech was too linguistically ambitious. CNN reports that
Tuesday night's speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. The Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.
Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence "added some difficulty for his target audience," Payack said.
What is this, SATVerbalSection-gate? No, it isn’t, because that's not a thing. For my money, The Awl has the only comment that matters. Check the title on their quicklink: “Why Won’t Barack Obama Talk To Us Like The Morons We Are?”
Source: CNN, The Awl
Image by jurvetson, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/16/2010 1:58:17 PM
Being blown up in an oil-rig-related explosion calls for some compensation, no? Well, according to Slate, BP might not be paying much to the families of those killed when the Deepwater Horizon outfit burst into flames:
After a BP refinery in Texas exploded in 2005, killing 15 workers and injuring scores more, the oil giant paid $1.6 billion in settlements to employees and their families. But the families of the workers killed on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico probably won't receive a similar windfall. That's because the Deepwater rig is legally considered an oceangoing vessel and was more three nautical miles offshore at the time of the accident. As a result, the families of the dead workers can only sue BP and its contractors under a 90-year-old maritime law, the Death on the High Seas Act, which severely limits liability. In some cases, BP could get away with shelling out sums as paltry as $1,000.
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) may be one of the least emotionally accommodating laws of all time:
Just ask Son Michael Pham, the vice president of the International Cruise Victims Association. In 2005, his parents went on a Caribbean cruise and never came back. Carnival Cruise Line, one of the world's largest cruise operators, never offered any explanation for what had happened, and has refused to discuss the incident with Pham and his family since then. That was how Pham discovered the horrible divide in the way the law treats people killed through negligence at sea. "We couldn't take legal action to get justice," he says. Long before the BP explosion, his group was lobbying Congress for DOHSA to be overhauled.
Yeah, some reform might help.
Image by Ashok666, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/9/2010 11:26:23 AM
The U.S. prison system is astronomically expensive. How to cut costs? The Center for Economic and Policy Research has a new report (PDF), with some financial hints:
We calculate that a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate of non-violent offenders would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion per year and return the U.S. to about the same incarceration rate we had in 1993 (which was already high by historical standards). The large majority of these savings would accrue to financially squeezed state and local governments, amounting to about one-fourth of their annual corrections budgets. As a group, state governments could save $7.6 billion, while local governments could save $7.2 billion.
(Thanks, The Daily Dish.)
Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research
Image by Center for Economic and Policy Research.
6/4/2010 3:01:03 PM
Take a gander at mainstream media and one could be forgiven for having the impression that, despite the military nature of former president Manuel Zelaya’s removal, the Honduras question is largely resolved, with free and fair elections replacing a president on the verge of becoming a second Hugo Chavez.
“The Washington Post called the election ‘mostly peaceful,’ ” according to muckraker NACLA Report on the Americas. “[Porfirio] Lobo was ‘elected president in a peaceful vote’ . . . reported Bloomberg News, [and] The New York Times said in an editorial that there was ‘wide agreement’ the election was ‘clean and fair.’ ”
Alternative publications and organizations, including NACLA, Briarpatch, and The Nation, have pushed back forcefully, claiming that Lobo’s election was intended to gloss over a military coup led by corporate oligarchs and military generals. Through the alt-press lens, we can glimpse the ongoing human rights abuses, flaws in the argument that Zelaya was on the verge of becoming a dictator, and the passionate public opposition to the new government.
Let’s begin with the scene on the ground last November. As mentioned above, Lobo’s election was widely portrayed as a peaceful end to the strife that followed Zelaya’s removal by the Honduran Congress and military, who claimed his attempt to include a non-binding referendum—calling for a constitutional convention—on the ballot would have paved the road to him becoming “President for Life.”
The elections themselves, however, were heavily protested; The Nation reports that street protests ranged from 400,000 and 600,000 people, and leading progressive candidates withdrew from the November election in protest of the coup. Between June and December of 2009, the Committee for Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras documented 708 human rights violations and 54 murders.
Briarpatch questions the motives behind Zelaya’s removal, blaming the oligarchs who run Honduras’ multinational corporations for supporting the forcible replacement of a progressive president with one friendly to business. In 2009, Zelaya raised the minimum wage 84 percent to $289/month, lowered interest rates on home loans, and otherwise moved to protect working-class Hondurans. The day after the coup, in contrast, interim president Roberto Micheletti, “promised to make Honduras an even more attractive destination for foreign direct investment,” and replaced those in the Ministry of Labour who “possessed knowledge of the issues” with people who were friendly to industry.
Six months later, sweatshop workers found that their working conditions had deteriorated, and that their protests to the Ministry went unanswered, Maria Luisa Regalado, the director of the Honduran Women’s Collective, told Briarpatch.
Making matters more complicated, NACLA points out that the Honduran constitutional convention—had it happened—would probably not have begun until well after the seven months Zelaya had left in his one term, and any resulting changes almost certainly wouldn’t have gone into effect until years afterward. Thus it is far more likely, in a what-if scenario where the constitutional convention abolished term limits, that Zelaya’s successor, not him, would have had the chance to become “President for Life.”
Nor have things settled down since the election; since many Hondurans refused to accept the results, the government has moved to silence dissent. According to Reporters Without Borders, Honduras has become “the world’s deadliest country for the media since the start of this year [emphasis added],” particularly for those who oppose Lobo. Seven journalists were killed in the six-week period between March 3 and April 21.
In addition, opposition radio stations have been threatened with censure and closure, and neither threats nor killings have been seriously investigated by the police; Reporters Without Borders notes that no one has yet been punished for any of the attacks. Honduran journalists are being silenced—making the U.S. mainstream media’s silence all the more disappointing.
Sources: Briarpatch, Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, NACLA Report on the Americas, Reporters Without Borders, The Nation
6/3/2010 5:09:00 PM
The TPMMuckraker has a nifty map out, one that shows the home state of every member of what Justin Elliott and Zachary Roth call the “Shadow Congress.” As they explain in a companion article:
It's not exactly breaking news that Washington is stuffed to the gills with lobbyists. One good government group recently tallied 8 lobbyists for every member of Congress during the health-care reform debate. But what doesn't get as much attention is that, over the last few decades, a vast army of what might be called uber-lobbyists has taken shape in the capital, made up of retiring lawmakers eager to cash in on K Street after a lifetime of making do with public sector salaries.
We've compiled a close-to-comprehensive list of former members of Congress currently working on behalf of private interests in Washington's influence-peddling industry. We count 172 of them -- almost one-third the number of current members of Congress.
“Shadow Congress” is a pretty intense name, but, then again, maybe these people plan on kidnapping Batman and taking over Gotham City. Or just peddling their influence in a way that we tend to frown upon these days. You like frowning, right?
(Thanks, Columbia Journalism Review.)
Image by kevindooley, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/3/2010 11:10:32 AM
The Los Angeles Times’ book blog Jacket Copy has an update on the imprisonment of Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo:
On Christmas Day last year, Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his part in creating Charter 08, a document calling for greater freedoms and democratic reforms in China. On Tuesday, the international human rights and literary organization PEN announced that it has learned that Liu Xiaobo has been moved from a detention center in Beijing to Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning.
(Thanks, The Rumpus.)
Source: Jacket Copy
Image by waffler, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/2/2010 11:53:48 AM
Perhaps the argument for tougher government drilling regulations and more renewable energy production can be made on the basis of our distaste for “tarballs” washing ashore while we’re laying siege to each others’ sandcastles. The Texas Observer has posted a scary little tarball history of sorts, in which they point out:
Anyone who visited Texas’ beaches in the 1970s is familiar with the tarball. Ranging in size from a penny to a basketball, these dough-like masses of raw petroleum stained our skin and swimsuits with an unfortunate brown smear. They also made handy projectiles to throw at crabs, seagulls and friends. Tarballs seemed like just another hazard of playing in the waves, like jellyfish—the price paid for living in an oil-producing state.
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the tarballs are likely rolling back up Texas beaches this summer.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by elleinad, licensed under Creative Commons.
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