Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Denial of Reality Comics

Juan Cole, Empire's Paranoia About the Pashtuns

These days, it seems as though the United States is conducting its wars in places remarkably unfamiliar to most Americans. Its CIA-operated drone aircraft, for instance, have been regularly firing missiles into Waziristan, where, in one strike in June, an estimated 80 tribespeople were killed while at a funeral procession for the dead from a previous drone strike.

Waziristan? If you asked most Americans whether their safety depended on killing people in Waziristan, they might wonder what you were talking about. But not in Washington, where Waziristan, the Swat Valley, the Lower Dir district, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, also known as FATA, and the North-West Frontier Province, among other places you'd previously never heard of, are not only on the collective mind but evidently considered crucial to the well-being, and even existence, of the United States. Perhaps that's simply the new norm. After all, we now live in a thoroughly ramped-up atmosphere in which "American national security" -- defined to include just about anything unsettling that occurs anywhere on Earth -- is the eternal preoccupation of a vast national security bureaucracy whose bread and butter increasingly seems to be worst-case scenarios.

The ongoing hysteria about lightly settled, mountainous Pashtun tribal lands in Pakistan on or near the ill-defined Afghan border might seem unique to our imperial moment. So imagine my surprise when Juan Cole told me it actually has a history more than a century old. And there's nothing like a little history lesson, is there, to put the strange hysterias of our moment into perspective?

Cole has just written a whole book about America's "Islam Anxiety," Engaging the Muslim World, and his invaluable website Informed Comment is one of my first daily on-line stops -- so who better to offer a little history lesson in imperial delusions of grandeur and peril? If you feel like a more extensive lesson in what to make of the gamut of issues where the U.S. and the Muslim world meet, or rather collide, don't miss his book. It's a continual eye-opener. Tom

Armageddon at the Top of the World: Not!

A Century of Frenzy over the North-West Frontier
By Juan Cole

WHAT, what, what,
What's the news from Swat?
Sad news,
Bad news,
Comes by the cable led
Through the Indian Ocean's bed,
Through the Persian Gulf, the Red
Sea and the Med-
Iterranean -- he 's dead;
The Ahkoond is dead!

-- George Thomas Lanigan

Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books.

And it hasn't ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA's drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that "in one to six months" we could "see the collapse of the Pakistani state," at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a "mortal danger" to global security.

What most observers don't realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It's at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire.

Barbra Streisand talks environmental urgency

Barbra Streisand. (Photo by Firooz Zahedi)
With multiple Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys and a Special Tony Award to her credit, Barbra Streisand is inarguably among the world's most successful and renowned entertainers. Yet Streisand is also a noted environmental activist, having donated $1 million in 2006 to the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation in support of former President Bill Clinton's Climate Change Initiative. She answered questions from POLITICO Senior Editor David Mark about her environmental work.

When did you become convinced global warming was an urgent issue?

I was very frightened after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and I was committed to gaining a deeper understanding about environmental issues. At the time, global warming wasn't on the country's agenda. Outside of the work of some scientists and academics, global warming was a theory, not a mainstream issue. I spent months talking to experts who studied the effects of climate change, and I learned about the work of leading environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.

It was during this time that I was introduced to Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, who was chief scientist and manager of the Climate and Air Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. I connected with Dr. Oppenheimer because he had a unique ability to synthesize his findings on climate change in a manner that was accessible and understandable to the general public. So, in 1989, I decided to create an endowed chair at the Environmental Defense Fund to support his work. This grant was one of the first major gifts of The Streisand Foundation.

From then on, my interest in trying to find workable solutions to help stop climate change only grew. During the '90s, in addition to making grants to support the work of leading environmental organizations, my foundation helped several U.S. scientists, experts and environmental leaders attend the Kyoto meeting on climate change. The meeting produced an international environmental treaty intended to achieve the reduction of greenhouse gases. (Of the 169 signatories, only the United States and Australia have yet to ratify the treaty.)

Most recently, I was one of three lead funders of the Clinton Foundation's Climate Change Initiative. Environmental protection, conservation and climate change will always be a top priority of my foundation.

What do you consider the most important conservation steps for individuals?

The awareness of global warming and the efforts at conservation have come a long way in the past 20 years. But clearly we are not moving at a quick enough pace. The U.S. contains 4 percent of the world's population but produces almost 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. A lot of time was lost over the past eight years to make the necessary drastic and critical changes in our behavior in order to curb climate change. Many Americans feel like the problem can only be solved with significant intervention by the federal government. That is true, but we also need the action of every American to help solve this problem.

It was fantastic that, during the 2008 presidential campaign, President [Barack] Obama highlighted ways in which everyday Americans can help in this fight. ... by filling up the air in their tires, replacing older light bulbs [with] newer, energy-saving ones, driving a hybrid vehicle, carpooling, bringing your own bags to the grocery store, installing low-flow showerheads, unplugging unused appliances and recycling.

These are not just energy-saving tips but cost-saving ones, as well.


As Lily Tomlin says, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

The truth of Tomlin's observation struck me when I read that lobbyists for America's charity hospitals are campaigning to kill reform legislation that would require charity-care hospitals to provide – get this – charity care. I sat there blinking for a while, thinking: you mean they don't?

As it turns out, no. Although they're called "charity hospitals," and although they are tax-exempt and they get some six-billon dollars a year worth of special tax breaks on the grounds that they provide free health care for low-income folks – they either don't, or provide very-little. In fact, it's hard today to tell the difference between these non-profit entities and your run-of-the-mill for-profit hospital chains. The charitable outfits often turn away the poor from the hospital doors, and when they do provide treatment, they're likely to use nasty, bullying tactics to try to collect money from the poor.

They've gotten away with this by claiming that they meet the charitable standard by holding some health fairs, offering occasional screening days for cholesterol, and doing medical research. A bipartisan proposal in Congress, however, says that tax-exempt hospitals could no longer refuse service to charity cases, and the bill also would rein in the hospital roughhouse bill collectors. In other words, this reform provision would require the non-profits to put the "charity" back in charity care – or lose their tax exemption.

Hospital lobbyists are squealing like stuck pigs. They recently sent an astonishingly-cynical call for charity hospital executives to "oppose charity care." To help battle this greed, join the email campaign by Community Catalyst. Contact the group by email at – or call 617-275-2896.

Tell the Gang of 6: Give back your dirty insurance money

Have you heard about the six senators who are out to kill health care reform?

Of course, that's not how they'd phrase it. Sens. Baucus, Bingaman, Conrad, Enzi, Grassley and Snowe say they're striving for "bi-partisan compromise." But what they're actually doing is working to make sure reform won't include a public option or mandatory employer-based insurance - two key policies needed for effective reform.

There are 100 members of the Senate, but these six, inexplicably, seem to be holding all the cards when it comes to health care.

So you probably won't be surprised to learn that all six have taken a huge amount of money from the health insurance industry and pharma. Take a look:

Senator Lifetime contributions from Insurance/Pharma
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) $1,203,205
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) $206,297
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) $442,165
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-NV) $342,228
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) $702,595
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) $161,706
TOTAL: $3,058,256

These six senators -- who, by the way, represent only 2.74% of Americans between them -- are writing bad policy, and they're doing it while they take money from the very companies who stand to benefit the most.

Sign this petition today to tell Sens. Baucus, Bingaman, Conrad, Enzi, Grassley and Snowe: Give back every dime you've ever received from health insurance companies and big pharma.

9 reasons why there wasn’t stress in the good old days

Nowadays, people seem to be more and more stressed, even average people that at least apparently don't take big gambles. Researchers have put a lot of time and money into the study of this problem, and came up with a whole lot of theories, but really, don't let those fool you. Here's the real deal, here's why it was so easy in those days.

Bayer's Heroin


Yeah baby, between 1890 and 1910, heroin was sold as a 'less addictive form of morphine'. At some point, it was even recommended to treat the usual cough, but only in children.

Diacetylmorphine was first synthesized by Alder Wright, who concluded it was even more addictive than opium, and abandoned research in this direction. However, the Bayer company concluded that it was very effective in treating moderate pains and dealing with diseases such as asthma or tuberculosis, so they branded it as Heroin. What's interesting is that it was branded pretty much at the same time with acetylsalicylic acid, that became later known as aspirin. It's hard to say which one of these had more success…

Boehringer & Soehne

Paperweight advertiser

Boehringer & Soehne were located in Mannheim, Germany. Never heard of them?? Well, if they were doing today what they did about a century ago now, you'd definitely know about them, because they proudly advertised their products, claiming the make the best produts from cocaine and chinine. It wasn't only the quality that made them so good, as their ads said: "Prices no higher than for any other brand". You just don't see that anymore, sadly.

Opium for newborns, and not only


Stickney and Poor's are known today mostly for spices, but back in the day, they also sold this syrup that helped babies sleep well; and if the opium inside wasn't enough, then the 46% alcohol would definitely do the trick.


Toyota's Solar Wi-Fi Flowers Stalk American Cities

by Jacob Gordon

toyota solar flowers boston photoTo promote its new 3rd generation Prius, Toyota is planting solar-powered W-Fi flowers in key American cities. These installation-ads give people a place to sit, as well as free wireless internet and a place to plug in a laptop or cellphone. According to Toyota, this falls under the marketing charge of creating "harmony between man, nature and machine," which we can respect. Some of the company's other claims, however, sound like they fell off the stupid wagon.

A press release on the campaign goes on to state that: "This fully integrated marketing effort explains how consumers can get virtually everything they want for themselves in a car – advanced technology, extra power, space, safety and 50 miles per gallon – all while providing what nature craves most: fewer smog-forming emissions."

Forgive us for questioning the notion of finding virtually everything we want for ourselves in a car, hybrid or not. But it is particularly asinine to suggest that fewer smog-forming emissions is "what nature craves most." presumptuous anthromorphism aside, smog is probably not madame nature's most vexing concern.

But ignoring the press release's wording for a moment, the ad campaign earns points for creativity, at least a certain degree of beauty, and genuine utility. Also part of the campaign is a series of solar-ventilated bus shelters. These is meant to reference the optional solar-powered ventilation fan on the newest Prius that cools the car when parked. The solar flowers and bus shelters will creep into half a dozen US cities by the fall of 2009, and Toyota has also announced it will be advertising the Prius along California highways with "floralscapes," first-of-their-kind living billboards made of flowers.

19 arrested over Canary bird fighting ring…yes, Canaries


Connecticut police have arrested 19 people in connection with a canary bird fighting operation.

Over 100 canaries were seized from a home in Shelton as the 19 were preparing to the birds to fight Sunday reports Fox. Apparently Canaries can become aggressive and fight each other, particularly during breeding season

We've tried to do some background on Canary fighting because lets face it, you don't really expect to hear of Canary fighting rings, however there's not a lot of history on it available on Google.


No reform!

Climate change to force 75 million Pacific Islanders from their homes

More than 75 million people living on Pacific islands will have to relocate by 2050 because of the effects of climate change, Oxfam has warned.
Fishermen paddle off Kennedy Island in the remote Western Province of the Solomon Islands: Climate change to force 75 million Pacific Islanders from their homes A report by the charity said Pacific Islanders were already feeling the effects of global warming, including food and water shortages, rising cases of malaria and more frequent flooding and storms. Some had already been forced from their homes and the number of displaced people was rising, it warned.

"The Future is Here: Climate Change in the Pacific" predicted that many Pacific Islanders would not be able to relocate within their own countries and would become international refugees.

Half of the population of the Pacific live less than 1.5km from the coast and are incredibly vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather. But as well as moving out, the report found that some countries had started adapting to the changing climate.

Fiji is attempting to "climate-proof" its villages by testing salt-resistant varieties of staple foods, planting mangroves and native grasses to halt coastal erosion in order to protect wells from salt water intrusion, and moving homes and community buildings away from vulnerable coastlines.

In the Solomon Islands officials are looking for land to resettle people from low-lying outer atolls, and those living in the outer atolls of the Federated States of Micronesia were also moving to higher ground. The tiny nation of Tuvalu also recently pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.

Oh so fitting to see Sarah Palin quitting: Now what?

Sarah Palin quit on her stool as governor of Alaska Sunday night, talking about leadership as she did. She clearly imagines herself to someday be the next President of the United States, getting to tell guys like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad where to get off, yet leaves whining about a bad joke from David Letterman. You rarely get political farewells this funny outside the state of New Jersey.

Palin doesn't actually leave the stage now, just goes off at intermission to write a book and get herself some kind of television gig on Fox. Once there, the most famous hockey mom in America — another of the cute catch phrases that replace actual ideas with her — will try to find a way to drive Newt Gingrich, another presidential pretender, right through the boards.

Sarah Palin hadn't even served two full years as governor when a desperate candidate, John McCain, picked her out of the chorus. She effectively stopped being Alaska's governor that day. When she finally walked away from the job this weekend, it was just bookkeeping.

The governor as quitter, sharing these deep thoughts with us on Twitter: "Wrapped up Anch (Anchorage) Gov's Picnic, awesome. Now road trip to Fairbanks for farewell speech/changing of the guard. Camper full of kids and coffee."

Compared to most of her other public utterances, this came out sounding like Churchill telling us England was going to fight them on the beaches.

Always with Palin there was this cockeyed idea, usually from the yahoos on the right, the frauds who treat her as being real, that if you attacked her, you were attacking working moms and the "real Americans" she talked about in her speeches, the ones who live far from big cities. Or that you were somehow threatened by this strong woman. From the start, there was as much substance to that as there is to her political thought, which you could fit inside a golf ball.


Why she really resigned...

Immigrants should be eligible for the presidency

"Birthers" say Obama isn't "natural born" and can't be president. Let's make their whole delusional argument moot

By Michael Lind


July 28, 2009 | The presidential election of 2009 is the first in American history in which questions about the citizenship of both major party candidates were raised. Article II of the Constitution says that "No person except a natural-born citizen ... shall be eligible to the office of president." During the campaign, some argued that this disqualified John McCain, because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone where his father, a naval officer, was stationed. Also during the campaign, some conservatives raised questions about whether Obama was born on U.S. soil. Since Obama's election as president, those critics have spawned an entire movement of "birthers" who have displaced "tea-baggers" on the wingnut right.

But it doesn't really matter where McCain or Obama was born. In the first Naturalization Act of 1790, Congress, which included many leaders who had drafted the federal Constitution in Philadelphia, defined "natural-born" to include the children of American citizens born outside the United States. And Supreme Court interpretations of the 14th Amendment have established that children of foreign nationals born on U.S. soil are citizens of the United States. It is doubtful that the drafters of the 14th Amendment, which was designed to give U.S. citizenship to ex-slaves after the Civil War, intended to bestow citizenship on the children of foreign nationals in the U.S., but mistaken or not this interpretation has become settled law. There are, in short, three ways to become a U.S. citizen -- to be born on U.S. soil, to U.S. citizens or foreign nationals; to be born to one or more U.S. citizen parents abroad; and to be born a foreign national, but to become a citizen of the U.S. by immigration to the U.S. and naturalization according to U.S. law.

The Constitution excludes the third category of American citizens -- naturalized immigrants -- from ever being eligible to become president of the United States (or vice-president, inasmuch as the vice-president, who might inherit the office, must meet all of the qualifications of a president). Absent an amendment to the Constitution, Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic governor of Michigan who was born in Canada, can never become president of the United States, and the Austrian-born governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can never become terminator in chief.

Gerald Goddamned Ford

He Was a Terrible President But He Sure Did Live a Long, Long Time

Not long after he became president, Gerald Goddamned Ford took a vacation to Vail, Colorado, for some skiing. According to the book Presidential Anecdotes, while the Ford family ate dinner, one of their dogs took a shit in the lodge. An attendant ran over with a rag to clean up the dog shit. Ford intercepted the attendant, took the rag from him, and reportedly said, "No man should have to clean up after another man's dog." Then Ford cleaned up his own dog's shit from the floor.

It's no Gettysburg Address, of course, and it's ironic, too, considering that Ford spent his whole White House career trying to clean up other people's shit, but it's typical Ford: At first, it makes you think he's a great guy, but then you realize he's just a schlub, running to and fro with a shit-stained rag, unaware or, worse, uncaring of his place in history.

Gerald Ford died on Tuesday, December 26, 2006. He was 93 years old. Gerald Goddamned Ford was a virtual treasure trove of oddball presidential trivia: the only president who never won an election for president or vice president; the only president who survived two assassination attempts made by women (Squeaky Fromme, a Charles Manson acolyte, and Sara Jane Moore, obsessed with Patty Hearst); the only president who was often referred to by the media as a "Boy Scout" and "Mr. Nice Guy."

Born Leslie Lynch King Jr. on July 14, 1913, Gerald Goddamned Ford renamed himself after his stepfather and quickly proved to be the kind of man who rises to the top through no fault of his own. He had his talents—he was a star football player at University of Michigan and fought with the navy in World War II—but even he probably couldn't believe his luck when he was elected to Congress and stayed there for nearly a quarter century, somehow getting elected minority leader on his nice-guy merits. President Lyndon Johnson was befuddled by Ford's rise to power, famously saying that Gerald Goddamned Ford "is so dumb he can't walk and fart at the same time." His congressional career is most notable for his time served on the now infamous Warren Commission.

When Richard Nixon's vice president Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace, Ford was nominated precisely because he seemed innocuous. Compared to the dark and brooding Nixon, Ford seemed like a golden boy.

The first month of Gerald Goddamned Ford's presidency, as detailed in Barry Werth's recent book 31 Days, turned out to be one of the biggest disasters in American history. Ford failed the one mission that mattered: not pardoning Richard Nixon. The only thing he had to do to come out of the presidency with a legacy was not pardon Richard Nixon. It took Ford a month to fuck that up, and he dared to announce, "Our long national nightmare is over."

That's bullshit, and we'll get to precisely why in a moment. First, it has to be said that the stench of Gerald Goddamned Ford, the presidential shitrag, lingers in the White House to this day. Though he opted to not nominate the odious George H. W. Bush as his vice president, choosing instead Nelson Rockefeller, Ford hired men whose names we're still living with today: Dick Cheney replaced Donald Rumsfeld as chief of staff after Ford named Rumsfeld secretary of defense.

Lie & Grow Rich