Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 Žižek Studies Conference


A Verso Books Partnered Event

The conference is open to any and all individuals interested in being a part of this event. If you have a question about registration or the event contact Antonio Garcia at

Judge Overrules EPA Denial of Mountaintop Removal Coal Permit

by Matt Bewig

Despite a recent study showing that mountaintop removal coal mining—in which coal companies literally remove the tops of mountains, dump the tons of debris into nearby streams and then strip mine the underlying coal—causes children born nearby to suffer higher rates of birth defects, a federal district judge last week held that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could not revoke a permit for one such large project.

Arch Coal had received approval for the permit from the EPA in 2007, during the administration of President George W. Bush, but EPA in January 2011 revoked the permit, marking the first time the agency had ever done so. EPA concluded that the Spruce No. 1 mine, which would be the largest mountaintop removal in West Virginia history, would have dumped 110 million cubic yards of coal mine waste into streams; buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in one county; polluted downstream waters as a result of buried streams; and degraded area watersheds, thus killing wildlife and adversely impacting other species.

Arch Coal sued the EPA for the permit revocation, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Obama in 2011, held that EPA had exceeded its authority. Jackson found that the statute contemplated a single permitting process with a definite endpoint, so that once EPA issues a permit it cannot later revoke it; otherwise companies would never know if a given permit was truly final.

The ruling’s impact on future EPA decisions regarding mountaintop removal, including more than 100 pending mountaintop removal permits, is yet to be seen, although the knowledge that permits cannot be revoked may provoke deep thought before their issuance.

ALEC Exposed

The Corporations Bankrolling ALEC, which Has Promoted the "Stand Your Ground" Gun Law as a "Model" Bill

by Brendan Fischer

The gun lobby has come under the spotlight for its role in the so-called "Stand Your Ground" or "Shoot First" law that may protect the man who shot and killed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida -- but many other special interests, including household names like Kraft Foods and Wal-Mart, also helped facilitate the spread of these and other laws by funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman highlighted this week in the New York Times, the Center for Media and Democracy's work exposing ALEC has pierced through the veil of secrecy around how "model" bills like the NRA-conceived "Stand Your Ground"/"Shoot First" bills get approved in closed-door meetings of corporations and politicians and then pushed across the country.

But as CMD has documented through, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is not the only special interest that has funded ALEC's operations over the years. Kraft, Wal-Mart, State Farm, and other well-known corporations are ALEC members and give thousands of dollars a year to ALEC to support its work, sit on its board, have a vote on its task forces, and access lawmakers through ALEC meetings at fancy resorts. Over 98 percent of ALEC's annual $7 million budget comes from corporations and sources other than the $50 in annual dues paid by its legislative members. Because ALEC is largely corporate-funded, it is through the financial support of some of the largest companies in the world that ALEC model bills can spread across the country.

CMD has called ALEC a "corporate bill mill" because it facilitates companies like Wal-Mart and special interests like the NRAputting their wish lists in the hands of state legislators and having their desires ratified as model bills to pass in statehouses around the country. In addition to the Florida bill that ALEC and the NRA call the "Castle Doctrine Act," ALEC model bills have served as the template for "voter ID" laws that swept the country in 2011, for the "voucher" programs that privatize public education, for anti-environmental bills, anti-immigrant legislation, and for the wave of anti-worker legislation pushed over the past year in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Indiana, and most recently, in Arizona.

ALEC Task Force meetings, where model bills are initially approved, are closed to the press and public, but corporations and ideological special interests like the Wal-Mart "have a VOICE and a VOTE," in the words of ALEC, with elected officials. Not only do corporate representatives have a vote on model legislation alongside legislators on ALEC task forces, some companies also provide gifts to the ALEC "scholarship" fund for elected officials to attend ALEC meetings at resorts. Under ALEC's published bylaws, every state's legislative co-chair has a "duty" to raise money from ALEC corporations for these trip funds. (CMD has filed a complaint with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board about how the ALEC scholarships appear to violate state ethics and lobbying laws.)
ALEC boasts of having over 300 corporate members, with almost two dozen corporations sitting on the ALEC Private Enterprise Board. According to ALEC's published bylaws, this Board meets jointly with its "public sector" board of state legislators.

In addition to the usual suspects like Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and Altria/Phillip Morris, corporate members of that board include a variety of businesses whose products are well known. Coca-Cola and computer chip manufacturer Intel both sat on ALEC's board last year when CMD launched and began highlighting the corporations making ALEC's agenda possible. Currently, the Board includes mac-and-cheese maker Kraft Foods, the "good neighbor" State Farm, shipping giant UPS, and the global consolidated liquor company Diageo (known for brands like Johnny Walker, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, and Guinness). Verizon's former lobbyist, Ron Scherbele, is currently ALEC's Executive Director, after having represented Verizon on the Board for years.

Other ALEC Private Enterprise Board members include telecommunications giant AT&T and pharmaceutical companies like Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, along with the drug industry lobby group PhRMA. (PhRMA also gave over $350,000 to ALEC's scholarship fund in 2010 alone.)

Wal-Mart is also a member of the ALEC Board, and in 2005 headed the ALEC Task Force that ratified the law that may protect the killer of Trayvon Martin and other unarmed victims. Wal-Mart is also the largest seller of rifles and ammunition in the U.S.

With the launch of, CMD, along with the efforts of Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Progress Now, and others, began a corporate accountability campaign to hold the corporate leaders of ALEC accountable for legislation resulting from the ALEC bill mill.

Numerous citizens have responded by contacting ALEC corporations, which often try to disavow any responsibility for ALEC bills. Koch Industries has just issued such a claim, despite its long-time leadership role as a member of the ALEC corporate board, and despite having chaired the board in the past. Koch says it opposed an NRA bill in Florida, but at the same time, a Koch representative was sitting on the corporate board of ALEC (and have been for over a decade), and both Koch Industries and the Koch family foundations have been funding ALEC's operations. Over this period, ALEC in turn has been elevating an array of gun bills as state "models," including legislation expanding concealed carry and allowing guns on college campuses as well as the Stand Your Ground/Shoot First/Castle Doctrine bill. And many ALEC legislators have sponsored these bills to become the law in states across the country.
ALEC has boasted repeatedly that nearly a thousand of its bills are introduced each year and 20 percent become law. Corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart have helped make that possible through their long-standing financial support of ALEC.

US Markets for Oil Sands

Northeast Markets Eyed for Oil Sands as Clean Fuels Standard Fades

A clean fuels effort among 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states is fading, as new pipelines for tar sands crude to the Atlantic get an industry push.

By Maria Gallucci, InsideClimate News

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's administration pulled out of a proposed pact to cut global warming emissions in transportation fuels.

In New Hampshire, the House passed a bill to leave the same regional initiative. And in Maine, the government opted to continue to engage in the program, but not to apply the rules to its own transportation sector.

In those three states and others, leaders are reevaluating their role in the Clean Fuels Standard, a policy that limits consumption of high-carbon fuels like oil sands crude, as pressure from oil industry-backed groups mounts and support falls off. And it is happening just as the region's entire fuel picture may be about to change.

A Montreal pipeline firm plans to transport tar sands oil to the Atlantic Coast for the first time by reversing the flow of its Maine-to-Quebec oil pipeline. Enbridge, Canada's largest pipeline company, has its own plans to link to that Montreal line and carry Alberta crude east. And TransCanada Corp., the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, wants to pipe oil from tar sands mines to refineries in Ontario, Quebec and potentially to a New Brunswick facility that supplies fuel to the Northeast.

Since late 2009, 11 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region—New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont—have been developing the Clean Fuels Standard. The idea was to create a policy modeled on California's pioneering Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, which requires oil refiners and suppliers to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel mix by 10 percent in 2020. The Northeast pact is expected to be completed next year.
But opponents have been ratcheting up efforts to keep a California-style standard from taking hold in the Northeast, and they're finding receptive audiences in some Republican-leaning states.

Now, all participants are considering alternatives, including making the program voluntary.

Leading the charge to block the rules are two organizations: Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a group founded and funded by oil industry interests—including the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch—and the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which represents oil and gas producers, business councils and energy trade associations. Both argue that fuel emissions requirements would raise gas prices and cost the region hundreds of billions of dollars.

On the News with Thom Hartmann: Anti-Austerity Strikes Halted Business in Spain Yesterday, and More

By Thom Hartmann

You need to know this. The nation of Spain ground to a halt yesterday – as working people across that nation went on strike and took to the streets to protest an austerity budget being pushed by their new government. It's the same sort of social unrest that's followed austerity measures in Greece, the U.K., and Italy. And it's the same sort of austerity budget that Republicans just passed out of the House of Representatives yesterday, approving multi-millionaire Congressman Paul Ryan's budget. In a vote of 221 to 191 – the Ryan Budget passed the House – but is dead on arrival in the Senate. Ten Republicans joined the unanimous Democratic opposition – although many of those Republicans likely voted "no" because the budget doesn't go far enough in crashing the economy. Under the Ryan Budget – government discretionary spending will fall to its lowest level in 50 years – that means benefits for veterans, senior citizens, the poor, the sick, students – all of it will be slashed. Meanwhile – big oil gets $40 billion in corporate welfare – and Paul Ryan would give American billionaires a $3 trillion tax cut. If you think what's happening in Europe can't possibly happen in the United States – think again. If the Republicans win in November – their radical billionaire/bankster/oil agenda will tear this nation apart.

The Savage Arithmetic of the Pre-Existing Condition

By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout

According to the American Heart Association, more than 81,000,000 people in America suffer from one or more forms of cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 11,000,000 people in America currently suffer from some form of cancer.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million people in America currently suffer from diabetes, and the Center for Disease Control has estimated as many as half of all Americans will suffer from the disease by the year 2050, thanks to our deplorable dietary habits.

According to the National Parkinson's Foundation, between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's are diagnosed in America each year.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, some 400,000 Americans currently suffer from MS.

That's a pretty substantial portion of the population, with more being diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's and MS every day.

Do the math.

It's you, too.

Hundreds of millions of people in this country are sick at this moment, or will be sick tomorrow, the next day, or somewhere down the line. The numbers are spinning like the fare meter on a New York City taxi cab, ever higher every day. If you're not sick, you will be one of these days: bank on it...and in the meantime, at least one person you know is in that tribe.

That's fact.

We're enveloped in a national debate about insurance mandates and the political leanings of nine Supreme Court Justices. That's all well and good, but entirely beside the point.

A nation that does not care for its sick and infirm is a nation that does not deserve to exist. A nation that actively profits from the pain and suffering of those sick and infirm deserves to burn in Hell. A nation that throws those sick and infirm to the wolves is so far beneath contempt as to beggar description.

Broccoli and Bad Faith


Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.

There are at least two ways to address this reality — which is, by the way, very much an issue involving interstate commerce, and hence a valid federal concern. One is to tax everyone — healthy and sick alike — and use the money raised to provide health coverage. That’s what Medicare and Medicaid do. The other is to require that everyone buy insurance, while aiding those for whom this is a financial hardship.

Are these fundamentally different approaches? Is requiring that people pay a tax that finances health coverage O.K., while requiring that they purchase insurance is unconstitutional? It’s hard to see why — and it’s not just those of us without legal training who find the distinction strange. Here’s what Charles Fried — who was Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general — said in a recent interview with The Washington Post: “I’ve never understood why regulating by making people go buy something is somehow more intrusive than regulating by making them pay taxes and then giving it to them.”

Indeed, conservatives used to like the idea of required purchases as an alternative to taxes, which is why the idea for the mandate originally came not from liberals but from the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. (By the way, another pet conservative project — private accounts to replace Social Security — relies on, yes, mandatory contributions from individuals.)

So has there been a real change in legal thinking here? Mr. Fried thinks that it’s just politics — and other discussions in the hearings strongly support that perception.

I was struck, in particular, by the argument over whether requiring that state governments participate in an expansion of Medicaid — an expansion, by the way, for which they would foot only a small fraction of the bill — constituted unacceptable “coercion.” One would have thought that this claim was self-evidently absurd. After all, states are free to opt out of Medicaid if they choose; Medicaid’s “coercive” power comes only from the fact that the federal government provides aid to states that are willing to follow the program’s guidelines. If you offer to give me a lot of money, but only if I perform certain tasks, is that servitude?

Yet several of the conservative justices seemed to defend the proposition that a federally funded expansion of a program in which states choose to participate because they receive federal aid represents an abuse of power, merely because states have become dependent on that aid. Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed boggled by this claim: “We’re going to say to the federal government, the bigger the problem, the less your powers are. Because once you give that much money, you can’t structure the program the way you want.” And she was right: It’s a claim that makes no sense — not unless your goal is to kill health reform using any argument at hand.

US anti-terrorism law curbs free speech and activist work

US anti-terrorism law curbs free speech and activist work, court told

Controversy over NDAA centres on loose definition of key words, such as who are 'associated forces' of named terrorist groups

A group political activists and journalists has launched a legal challenge to stop an American law they say allows the US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism.

The seven figures, who include ex-New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, professor Noam Chomsky and Icelandic politician and WikiLeaks campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir, testified to a Manhattan judge that the law – dubbed the NDAA or Homeland Battlefield Bill – would cripple free speech around the world.

They said that various provisions written into the National Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, effectively broadened the definition of "supporter of terrorism" to include peaceful activists, authors, academics and even journalists interviewing members of radical groups.

Controversy centres on the loose definition of key words in the bill, in particular who might be "associated forces" of the law's named terrorist groups al-Qaida and the Taliban and what "substantial support" to those groups might get defined as. Whereas White House officials have denied the wording extends any sort of blanket coverage to civilians, rather than active enemy combatants, or actions involved in free speech, some civil rights experts have said the lack of precise definition leaves it open to massive potential abuse.


Testifying alongside Hedges was Kai Wargalla, a German organiser behind Occupy London, and a supporter of WikiLeaks, which has extensively published secret US government documents.

Wargalla said that since British police had included Occupy London alongside al-Qaida on a terrorism warning notice, she was afraid of the implications of NDAA. She said that after NDAA was signed she was no longer willing to invite an Islamic group like Hamas to speak on discussion panels for fear of being implicated a supporter of terrorism. "We are on a terrorism list just under al-Qaida and this is what the section of the NDAA is talking about under 'associated forces'," she said.

Author and campaigner Naomi Wolf read testimony in court from Jonsdottir, who has been a prominent supporter of WikiLeaks and a proponent of free speech laws. Jonsdottir's testimony said she was now afraid of arrest and detention because so many US political figures had labelled WikiLeaks as a terrorist group.
Despite receiving verbal assurance from US officials that she was not under threat, Jonsdottir testified she would not travel to the US despite being invited to give lectures in the country. "[The NDAA] provisions create a greater sense of fear since now the federal government will have a tool with which to incarcerate me outside of the normal requirements of the criminal law. Because of this change in the legal situation, I am now no longer able to travel to the US for fear of being taken into custody as as having 'substantially supported' groups that are considered as either terrorist groups or their associates," said Jonsdottir in the statement read by Wolf, who is also a Guardian commentator.

In an opening argument, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that they would try to show the definitions used in the NDAA provisions were so unclear that it would have a "chilling" effect on the work of journalists, activists and academics even if no one was actually detained.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Slavoj Žižek, God in Pain

Slavoj Žižek Q & A, Book Party, and Signing – God in Pain

Event Dates: April 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

Labyrinth Books
122 Nassau Street
Princeton, NJ

Just out is God in Pain: Inversions of the Apocalypse, a brilliant dissection and reconstruction of the three major faith-based systems of belief in the world today, from one of the world's most articulate intellectuals in conversation with Croatian theologian Boris Gunjévic. Zizek will be at Labyrinth to celebrate the release and to take questions.

Slavoj Žižek at the New York Public Library

April 25, 2012
New York Public Library

Come listen to Žižek speak at the New York Public Library
On April 25th, Slavoj Žižek will be appearing at the New York Public Library to speak about his major and long-anticipated new work on Hegel, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism.
Please visit the NYPL events page and stay tuned ours for more details to come.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Slavoj Žižek visits Brunel to discuss the revival of radical politics

Friday 16 March 2012

Slovenian philosopher and bestselling author Slavoj Žižek visited Brunel University to talk about worldwide revolutions and protests in recent years to a large audience.

As part of the research seminar series Crisis, Transition, Transformation. Revolutionary Thought Today, organised by the Social and Political Thought research group, the seminar discussed events from Occupy to the Arab Spring.

Politics and History Lecturer Dr. Peter Thomas said: “He covered the numerous crises in the contemporary world with particular reference to the different protests and revolutions of the last year."

“Slavoj Žižek talked about the critiques proposed by these movements and the possibility of positive social change, and posed the classic question of revolutionary politics: ‘What is to be done?’”

Around 250 people attended the event, travelling not just from London but also from as far as Brighton to listen to the thoughts of the prominent contemporary philosopher and author.

Žižek’s seminar also coincided with the launch this year of Brunel University’s master's course Modern Political Thought: Violence and Revolution, which focuses on the role of concepts of violence and revolution in political change.
Dr. Peter Thomas said: “We distributed information about the new course and the many other activities of the growing Social and Political Thought research group, which was very favourably received.”

Overall, the Brunel University lecturer was pleased with the event and particularly the attendance, which was so large that the event had to be moved to a bigger venue.

“Slavoj Žižek is in high demand as a speaker as he is very well known as one of the leading voices of contemporary critical thought. It was a pleasure to host him here at Brunel, and we look forward to inviting him back in the future.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ukrainian Art World Gets Political


KIEV — The shutting down of an exhibition in Kiev last month became something of a performance art piece in its own right. The show, “Ukrainian Body,” which opened Feb. 7 at the Visual Culture Research Center at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, aimed to explore corporality in contemporary Ukrainian society. Alongside pieces like Oksana Briukhovetska’s picture book of the elderly and destitute in Kiev and a trident shield (the symbol of Ukraine) hand-carved by Vova Vorotniov were Sasha Kurmaz’s photographs of nude women, a few drawings of naked men by Anatoliy Byelov and a video installation by Mykola Ridnyi that looped contrasting images — one of a vagina and one of the Ukrainian Parliament — and asked viewers which image was more irritating.

The Mystetskyi Arsenal, an arts space set inside a vast former arms depot, will play host to Kiev's first contemporary art biennale in May.

Three days after the exhibition opened, the academy’s president, Serhiy Kvit, visited it. As Vasyl Cherepanyn, the director of the center tells it, a few hours later Mr. Kvit came back to the exhibition, keys in hand, and began shutting down video monitors and turning off the lights. “I asked him what he was doing,” said Mr. Cherepanym, who teaches in the university’s cultural studies department.

“He told me ‘This is not an exhibition,”’ and used an expletive to describe it.
Mr. Kvit later told the media, “The exhibition is not closed, it is just locked.”

The president did not reply to e-mail requests for an explanation of his actions, though the academy provided a link to a page — in Ukrainian — of comments made by Mr. Kvit on the case.

After that, the academy only opened the show to the public when journalists requested entry. The closure prompted major debates over censorship not only among those involved in contemporary arts in Kiev, but also in the mainstream media.

Sympathizers across Ukraine showed solidarity with performances of their own, including one man in Donetsk who stripped naked in the freezing cold and carved the symbolic trident shield into his stomach with a razor. “Ukrainian Body” never reopened and the university closed the exhibition space altogether this month for what it said were “renovations.” According to Mr. Cherepanyn, the space will now be used to house the university's archive.

A petition to protest those actions — signed by the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, artists including Artur Zmijewski and Sara Goodman, and academics including Eric Fassin and John-Paul Himka — and calling for the “restoration of academic and artistic freedom” has been circulating across the country.

Despite widespread disappointment at the censorship, however, many see the outraged reaction of the general public as a sign of positive growth in the arts world here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 21, Happy Birthday Professor Žižek!

March 20, 2012

Happy birthday (for tomorrow...) Slavoj Žižek!

Dubbed 'the world's hippest philosopher' by The Telegraph, 'philosophy's answer to Bob Dylan' by The Guardian and an 'intellectual rock star' by The Times Literary Supplement, Slavoj Žižek turns 63 tomorrow (21st March) and so we felt it was only right to celebrate with some of our popular books by and about the man himself.

Whether you're just dipping your toe into his writing or are well-versed and looking for something new to read, we're guaranteed to have something to interest you.

Rethinking Marxism

From Rethinking Marxism, No. ¾, 2001

“Have Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Rewritten the Communist manifesto for the Twenty-First Century?”

By Slavoj Žižek

Although most of us probably do not agree with Jurgen Habermas, we do live in an era that could be designated by his term neue Undurchsichtlichkeit, the new opacity. More than ever, our daily experience is mystifying. Modernization generates new obscurantisms; the reduction of freedom is presented to us as the arrival of new freedoms. In these circumstances one should be especially careful not to confuse the ruling ideology with ideology that seems to dominate. More than ever, one should bear in mind Walter Benjamin's reminder that it is not enough to ask how a certain theory (or art) declares itself to stay with regard to social struggles; one should also ask how it effectively functions in these struggles. In sex, the effectively hegemonic attitude is not patriarchal repression but free promiscuity; in art, provocations in the style of the notorious "Sensation" exhibitions are the norm, the example of the art fully integrated into the establishment.

One is therefore tempted to turn round Marx's eleventh thesis. The first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things (which then inevitably ends in a cul-de-sac of debilitating impossibility: "what can one do against global capital?"). Rather, the task is to question the hegemonic ideological coordinates, or, as Brecht put it in his Me Ti, "Thought is something which precedes action and follows experience." If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space; it will be an act within the hegemonic ideological coordinates. Those who "really want to do something to help people" get involved in (undoubtedly honorable) exploits like Medecins Sans Frontieres, Greenpeace, and feminist and antiracist campaigns, which are all not only tolerated but even supported by the media; even if they seemingly enter economic territory (say, by denouncing and boycotting companies that do not respect ecological conditions or that use child labor). They are tolerated and supported so long as they do not get close to a certain limit. Let us take two predominant topics of today's radical American academia: postcolonial and queer (gay) studies. The problem of postcolonialism is undoubtedly crucial; however, "postcolonial studies" tend to translate it into the multiculturalist problematic of the colonized minorities' "right to narrate" their victimizing experience of the power mechanisms that repress "otherness" so that, at the end of the day, we learn the root of postcolonial exploitation is our intolerance toward the Other, and, furthermore, that this intolerance toward the "Stranger in Ourselves", in our inability to confront what we repressed in and of ourselves. The politico-economic struggle is thus imperceptibly transformed into a pseudo-psychoanalytic drama of the subject unable to confront its inner traumas. The true corruption of American academia is not primarily financial-it is not only that they are able to buy many European critical intellectuals (myself included, up to a point)-but conceptual: notions of "European" critical theory are imperceptibly translated into the benign universe of cultural studies chic. With regard to this radical chic, the first gesture toward Third Way ideologists and practitioners should be that of praise: they at least play their game in a straight way, and are honest in their acceptance of the global capitalist coordinates, in contrast with pseudo-radical academic leftists who adopt toward the Third Way an attitude of utter disdain while their own radicality ultimately amounts to an empty gesture that obliges no one to anything determinate.

Lenin is for us not the nostalgic name for old, dogmatic certainty-quite the contrary. To put it in Kierkegaard's terms, the Lenin we want to retrieve is the Lenin-in-becoming, the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which old coordinates proved useless, and who was thus compelled to reinvent Marxism-recall his acerbic remark apropos of some new problem: "About this, Marx and Engels said not a word." The idea is not to return to Lenin but to repeat him in the Kierkegaardian sense: to retrieve the same impulse in today's constellation. The return to Lenin aims neither at nostalgically reenacting the "good old revolutionary times" nor at the opportunistic-pragmatic adjustment of the old program to "new conditions", but at repeating, in the present, the Leninist gesture of reinventing the revolutionary project in the conditions of imperialism and colonialism-more precisely, after the politico-ideological collapse of the long era of progressism in the catastrophe of 1914. Eric Hobsbawn defined the concept of the twentieth century as the time between 1914, the end of the long, peaceful expansion of capitalism, and 1990, the emergence of the new form of global capitalism after the collapse of really existing socialism. What Lenin did for 1914, we should do for1990. "Lenin" stands for the compelling freedom to suspend the stale, existing (post)ideological coordinates, the debilitating Denkverbot in which we live; it simply means that we are allowed to think again.

Russian "Anti-Terror" Troops Arrive in Syria


A Russian military unit has arrived in Syria, according to Russian news reports, a development that a United Nations Security Council source told ABC News was "a bomb" certain to have serious repercussions.

Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad's strongest allies despite international condemnation of the government's violent crackdown on the country's uprising, has repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council's attempts to halt the violence, accusing the U.S. and its allies of trying to start another war.

Now the Russian Black Sea fleet's Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency.

The Iman replaced another Russian ship "which had been sent to Syria for demonstrating (sic) the Russian presence in the turbulent region and possible evaluation of Russian citizens," the Black Sea Fleet told Interfax.

RIA Novosti, a news outlet with strong ties to the Kremlin, trumpeted the news in a banner headline that appeared only on its Arabic language website. The Russian embassy to the US and to the UN had no comment, saying they have "no particular information on" the arrival of a Russian anti-terrorism squad to Syria.

Moscow has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Assad regime, to which it sells billions of dollars of weapons. In return Russia has maintained a Navy base at Tartus, which gives it access to the Mediterranean.

Last week Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had no plans to send troops to Syria.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

Drug-resistant "white plague" lurks among rich and poor

By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent | Reuters


TB is a bacterial infection that destroys patients' lung tissue, making them cough and sneeze, and spread germs through the air. Anyone with active TB can easily infect another 10 to 15 people a year.

In 2010, 8.8 million people had TB, and the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that more than 2 million people will contract multi-drug resistant TB by 2015. The worldwide TB death rate currently runs at between two and three people a minute.

Little surprise, then, that the apparently totally untreatable cases in India have raised international alarm.

The WHO has convened a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss whether the emergence of TB strains that seem to be resistant to all known medicines merits a new class definition of "totally drug-resistant TB", or TDR-TB.

If so, it would add a new level to an evolution over the years from normal TB, which is curable with six months of antibiotic treatment, to the emergence of MDR-TB, then extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB).


Like other bacteria, the TB bug Mycobacterium tuberculosis can evolve to fight its way past antibiotic medicines. The more treatment courses patients are given and fail to complete, the stronger and more widespread the resistance becomes.
"The doctors, the healthcare workers, the nurses, entire healthcare systems have produced MDR-TB. It's not a bug that has come from nature. It's not a spontaneous mutation. It came about because patients were treated badly -- either with poor quality drugs, or not enough drugs, or with insufficient observation so the patient didn't finish the treatment course," said Ditiu.

Ditiu is somewhat reassured that the WHO is meeting to look at recent extreme cases of drug-resistance, which will at least throw a spotlight on this often-forgotten disease. But she says while definitions are central to international guidelines and treatment protocols, they make little difference to sick people.

"What is much more important is the drama and tragedy of the human beings. Whether it's MDR, XDR or TDR TB, it doesn't make much difference to the patients. A lot of them will face a very, very unfortunate fate."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Air pollution 'will become bigger global killer than dirty water'

OECD report says pollution will become biggest cause of premature death, killing an estimated 3.6 million people a year by 2050

Beijing, China, which is one of the countries likely to be worst hit by pollution-triggered deaths in coming decades. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters
Urban air pollution is set to become the biggest environmental cause of premature death in the coming decades, overtaking even such mass killers as poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water, according to a new report.
Both developed and developing countries will be hit, and by 2050, there could be 3.6 million premature deaths a year from exposure to particulate matter, most of them in China and India. But rich countries will suffer worse effects from exposure to ground-level ozone, because of their ageing populations – older people are more susceptible.

The warning comes in a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is a study of the global environmental outlook until 2050. The report found four key areas that are of most concern – climate change, loss of biodiversity, water and the health impacts of pollution.

If current policies are allowed to carry on, the world will far exceed the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are safe, the report found. "I call it the surrender scenario – where we would be if governments do nothing more than what they have pledged already?" said Simon Upton, environment director at the OECD. "But it could be even worse than that, we've found."

The report said that global greenhouse gas emissions could increase by as much as half, as energy demand rises strongly, if countries fail to use cleaner forms of energy. Water demand is also likely to rise by more than half, and by 2050 as much as 40% of the global population is likely to be living in areas under severe water stress. Groundwater depletion would become the biggest threat to agriculture and to urban water supplies, while pollution from sewage and waste water – including chemicals used in cleaning – will put further strain on supplies.
However, the OECD study alsos said that there are some actions that governments can take quickly to tackle some of the key problems. For instance, many governments treat diesel fuel for vehicles differently than petrol for tax purposes, with tax breaks that encourage the take-up of diesel. But although diesel vehicle fuel produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than petrol, it is far worse for spewing out small particulate matter, which is bad for urban pollution.

"In environmental terms, there is no reason to give diesel tax breaks over petrol," said Upton.

Governments could also remove other environmentally harmful subsidies, such as fossil fuel subsidies and subsidies for water that encourage irresponsible use of the resource. Biofuels are another potential danger area, because although they can emit less carbon than conventional fossil fuels, they also contribute to reducing biodiversity and put further strains on water use, so governments should consider carefully whether to go down the biofuels road, Upton warned.
Upton said that if governments took action now, and developed long-term views of these environmental problems, it would give them a much greater chance of avoiding the worst outcomes. "The key thing is that these four biggest problems are interconnnected – biodiversity is affected by climate change and land use, water is linked to health problems, for instance. You can't solve any one of these in isolation. So to be effective, governments have to focus on all of these four and look very closely at the connections between them," he said.

Democracy is inherently susceptible to corruption

From "13 Reasons Goldman’s Quitting Exec May Have a Point"
by Cora Currier

April 2003: SEC charges Goldman Sachs over conflicts of interest among its research analysts. The company eventually settled for $110 million in fines and disgorgements.

November 2003: Former Goldman economist John Youngdahl pleads guilty to insider trading. The firm had to pay the SEC $4.2 million over profits it gained from the illegal dealings.

July 2004: Goldman settles with the SEC for $10 million over charges it improperly promoted a stock sale involving PetroChina.

January 2005: Goldman settles with the SEC for $40 million over charges that it violated securities law in promoting initial public offerings.

April 2006: Two former Goldman employees are charged with running an international insider-trading ring while they were at the firm. Eugene Plotkin and David Pajcin, both in their 20s, paid off insiders at other firms and stole early copies of Business Week to get an edge. They also tried (unsuccessfully) to use strippers to get information. Both eventually served jail time.

March 2007: A Goldman subsidiary, Goldman Execution and Clearing, settles with the SEC for $2 million over allegations that faulty oversight that allowed customers to make illegal trades.

March 2009: Goldman Execution and Clearing settles with the SEC for $1.2 million over improper proprietary trading by employees.

July 2009: The SEC charges a former Goldman Sachs trader Anthony Perez and his brother with insider trading based on information Anthony Perez obtained through his job at Goldman Sachs. He was fined $25,000 and his brother more than $150,000.

May 2010: The SEC hits Goldman Execution and Clearing with a $225,000 fine for violating a rule aimed at regulating short selling.

July 2010: Goldman settles with the SEC for $553 million over allegations that it misled investors about the collateralized debt obligation ABACUS 2007-AC1 by not disclosing the involvement of a hedge fund in its creation, or the fact that the hedge fund stood to benefit if the CDO failed. Goldman executive Fabrice Tourre was also charged.

March 2011: The SEC charges Goldman board member Rajat Gupta with insider trading. Gupta allegedly passed on information he learned as a board member to the hedge fund Galleon Group. In October, 2011, he was arrested and hit with criminal charges by the FBI. The case is pending.

September 2011: The SEC charges a Goldman employee, Spencer Midlin, and his father for insider trading based on information Spencer Midlin gained from his position at Goldman Sachs. The two men were ordered to pay $92,000.

February 2012: Goldman Sachs receives notice from the SEC that the agency may bring charges related to mortgage backed-securities.

Decade of the Living Dead

By Nomi Prins

“Zombie Banks: How Broken Banks and Debtor Nations Are Crippling the Global Economy”

A book by Yalman Onaran

After reading “Zombie Banks,” I interviewed Onaran. His responses underscore the importance of his book and the ongoing fallout of the widespread governmental subsidizing of zombie banks.

Nomi Prins: How would you rank the top U.S. banks from worst to least in terms of “zombieness”?

Yalman Onaran: No. 1 Bank of America, 2 Citigroup, 3 Morgan Stanley, 4 Goldman Sachs, 5 JPMorgan.

Prins: How does their zombie status hurt ordinary Americans?

Onaran: The zombieness of some of the largest banks hurts our economy because the zombies cannot fulfill their most important role of lending to consumers and companies. They try to use the money they get from the government to patch up their consistently bleeding wounds. They also make riskier bets with their money—such as writing complicated derivatives connected to the debt of troubled countries in Europe—which increases the likelihood that their final blowup will be even costlier to society than if they were stopped right now. That’s what happened in the past when zombie banks weren’t stopped in time. Taxpayers end up paying for the final mess every time and they will this time too.

Prins: Do you see us getting to a point where the zombie status is turned around?

Onaran: If the politicians wanted to kill the zombies, they could. The U.S. and many other countries have passed laws that allow them to wind down troubled banks. Even before the last crisis though, they could have done it. Politicians typically choose to muddle through though, which means letting the zombies live. If Obama finally decided to replace Geithner with a Treasury secretary more independent of the big banks, he could use Dodd-Frank reform’s resolution powers to take over and shut down the worst zombies. As presidential elections get closer and the economy refuses to improve, Obama might be tempted to go that route. Alternatively, if he loses the elections and the incoming Republican president decides to get tough on the banks, it could be done. I’m not very hopeful on either possibility though. Unfortunately, we’ll probably keep muddling through.

Prins: The OWS movement has demonstrated understandable, palpable anger toward the big banks—how can reading your book help them?

Onaran: OWS is reflecting the widespread anger throughout society toward the big banks because as unemployment lingers around 9 percent, the economy is stuck in an almost no growth zone, and bankers are back to paying themselves big bonuses and taking big risks while taking comfort from the government’s implicit guarantee to save them if their bets go sour, like in 2008. My book will give the OWS supporters a much better understanding of all the forces in finance and politics that play into this dirty game, help connect the dots between what’s happening here and in Europe. It will also help the OWS movement formulate concrete demands from our politicians so we can fix this mess. I lay out various steps the government can take to end the zombieness of the system, so the economy can move on.
* * *
If our leaders don’t adopt any of Onaran’s suggestions, the resulting blowup will be more horrific the next time around. Patching financial injuries by printing money doesn’t make the bleeding wounds go away. Onaran tells us we have to fix the problems or suffer the devastating consequences of zombie banks eating our economic flesh for years to come.

Choosing our Fate (2)

Slavoj Žižek

[...] we put the blame on fate when we miss an opportunity – which opportunity? The opportunity not simply to act freely and use given possibilities, but the opportunity to change what we perceive as our fate, to choose a different fate.

This insight is of special importance today, when the crises humanity is facing cannot but appear as part of an inexorable fate pushing us closer and closer to an apocalyptic point: ecological breakdown, biogenetic reduction of humans to manipulable machines, total digital control over our lives… At all these levels, things are approaching a zero-point, “the end of time is near”. Here is Ed Ayres’s description: “We are being confronted by something so completely outside our collective experience that we don’t really see it, even when the evidence is overwhelming … that ‘something’ is a blitz of enormous biological and physical alterations in the world that has been sustaining us.” At the geological and biological level, Ayres enumerates four “spikes” (accelerated developments) asymptotically approaching a zero-point at which the quantitative expansion will reach its point of exhaustion and will have to change into a different quality: (1) population growth, (2) consumption of resources, (3) carbon gas emissions, (4) the mass extinction of species. In order to cope with this threat, our collective ideology is mobilizing mechanisms of dissimulation and self-deception amounting to as direct will to ignorance: “a general pattern of behavior among threatened human societies is to become more blinkered, rather than more focused on the crisis, as they fail.”

What, then, can we do in such a predicament? Recall the Arab story about the appointment in Samara: a servant on an errand in the busy market of Baghdad meets Death ther. Terrified by Death’s gaze, he runs home to his master and asks for a horse he can ride to Samara where Death will not find him. The good master not only provides the servant with a horse, but goes himself to the market, looks for Death and reproaches him for scaring his servant. Death replies: “But I didn’t want to scare your servant. I was just surprised that he was here when I have an appointment with him in Samara tonight…” What if the message of this story is not that a man’s demise is impossible to avoid, that trying to twist free of it will only tighten its grip, but rather its exact opposite: that if one accepts fate as inevitable one can break its grasp? Imagine that upon encountering Death in the market the servant had said: “What’s your problem? If you have something to do with me, do it, otherwise beat it!” Perplexed, Death would have mumbled something like: ”But… we were supposed to meet in Samara, I cannot kill you here!”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Choosing our Fate

Slavoj Žižek

If we are effectively to counteract the drift towards catastrophe, it is not enough just to submit to a critical analysis the standard notion of historical progress; one should also deploy the limitation of the ordinary «historical» notion of time: at each moment of time, there are multiple possibilities waiting to be realized; once one of them actualizes itself, others are cancelled. We need to break out of the ”historical” notion of temporality which runs from the past to the future, and to introduce a new mode of time, the ”time of a project“(Jean-Pierre Dupuy), of a closed circuit between the past and the future: the future is causally produced by our acts in the past, while the way we act is determined by our anticipation of the future and our reaction to this anticipation. This, then, is how Dupuy proposes to confront the catastrophe: we should first perceive it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, projecting ourselves into it, adopting its standpoint, we should retroactively insert into its past (the past of the future) counterfactual possibilities (“If we had done that and that, the catastrophe we are in now would not have occurred!”) upon which we then act today. Therein resides Dupuy’s paradoxical formula: we have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, the catastrophe will take place, it is our fate – and, then, on the background of this acceptance, we should mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change fate itself. Instead of saying “the future is still open, we still have the time to act and prevent the worst,” one should accept the catastrophe as inevitable, and then act to retroactively undo what is already “written in the stars” as our fate.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Family of Florida boy killed by Neighborhood Watch seeks arrest

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The family of a 17-year-old African-American boy shot to death last month in his gated Florida community by a white Neighborhood Watch captain wants to see the captain arrested, the family's lawyer said on Wednesday.

Trayvon Martin was shot dead after he took a break from watching NBA All-Star game television coverage to walk 10 minutes to a convenience store to buy snacks including Skittles candy requested by his 13-year-old brother, Chad, the family's lawyer Ben Crump said.

"He was a good kid," Crump said in an interview, adding that the family would issue a call for the Watch captain's arrest at a news conference on Thursday. "On his way home, a Neighborhood Watch loose cannon shot and killed him."
Trayvon, who lived in Miami with his mother, had been visiting his father and stepmother in a gated townhome community called The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, 20 miles north of Orlando.

As Trayvon returned to the townhome, Sanford police received a 911 call reporting a suspicious person.

Although names are blacked out on the police report, Crump and media reports at the time of the shooting identified the caller as George Zimmerman who is listed in the community's newsletter as the Neighborhood Watch captain.
Without waiting for police to arrive, Crump said, Zimmerman confronted Trayvon, who was on the sidewalk near his home. By the time police got there, Trayvon was dead of a single gunshot to the chest.

"What do the police find in his pocket? Skittles," Crump said. "A can of Arizona ice tea in his jacket pocket and Skittles in his front pocket for his brother Chad."
Zimmerman could not be reached for comment on Wednesday evening at a phone number listed for him on the community's newsletter.

Crump said the family was concerned that police might decide to consider the shooting as self defense, and that police have ignored the family's request for a copy of the original 911 call, which they think will shed light on the incidents.
"If the 911 protocol across the country held to form here, they told him not to get involved. He disobeyed that order," said Ryan Julison, a spokesman for the family.

"He (Zimmerman) didn't have to get out of his car," said Crump, who has prepared a public records lawsuit to file on Thursday if the family doesn't get the 911 tape. "If he never gets out of his car, there is no reason for self-defense. Trayvon only has skittles. He has the gun."

Since Trayvon, a high school junior who wanted to be a pilot, was black and Zimmerman is white, Crump said race is "the 600 pound elephant in the room."

"Why is this kid suspicious in the first place? I think a stereotype must have been placed on the kid," Crump said.

(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan)

Treated like a criminal for speaking up

William Brown, a former Navy SEAL and Iraq war veteran, attended a town hall meeting on March 8 to raise his concerns about a takeover of the Rutgers-Camden law school by Rowan University--and for his troubles, he got called an "idiot" by Gov. Chris Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party establishment. Christie grew intolerant of Brown's questions and had state troopers "escort" him from the meeting. Brown spoke with fellow antiwar veteran Rory Fanning about his eviction.

Interview with William Brown:

WHY DID you come out to the town hall meeting with Gov. Christie last Thursday?

LAW STUDENTS at Rutgers are upset about the Rowan University takeover. Some 4,000 signatures have been collected in opposition to the plan. Not once did the governor consult students about this decision. He was insistent that the takeover was going to happen whether we liked it or not.

MEDIA REPORTS say you "calmly" raised your first point about your law degree being watered down as a result of the move. The governor responded, and then things escalated. When Christie lost his cool, he yelled, "Let me tell you something--after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail, idiot."

HE WASN'T giving a real answer or telling the truth. The governor disrespectfully referred to me as "pal" after my first question. Christie also said, "You don't represent the students." I said, "Have you read the newspapers?" Besides the papers, he hasn't talked to any of us, so how would he know what the students think?

ABC News called me after the event. Of course I wanted to talk about the Rowan takeover of Rutgers, but there are other issues that need to be addressed here.

Not only were the voices of the governor's constituents completely ignored on this issue, but I was also treated like a criminal in front of the entire country for speaking up. CNN, ABC and Fox News broadcast the governor having me escorted out of the room by police. It was humiliating. The whole thing is disturbing.

DID YOU see what happened when people peacefully protesting the Virginia bill mandating that a woman undergo an ultrasound before an abortion tried to march in front of Gov. Bob McDonnell's mansion? He called out the riot police and SWAT team.

I AGREE this is all part of a bigger narrative. It was extremely intimidating when I was taken out of that room. The state troopers wanted to lead me down some alley. I insisted on staying by the cameras.

Two of the troopers were grabbing my shoulders, then they had me backed up against the wall, and another had his hand pointed inches from my nose. I asked, "Why are your hands on me? Let go of me." The troopers said, "Why did you say you were a Navy SEAL?" I said, "Because I wanted to share a bit about my background." I had no idea what they were going to do. I can't imagine what would have happened if the cameras weren't there.

THE SAME day you were kicked out of that meeting, H.R. 347 was signed into law by Barack Obama. The law expands an existing federal statute to make it a felony to cause a disturbance at any event that has the Secret Service in attendance, whether you know the Secret Service is there or not.

THERE IS a reason the right to free speech is the First Amendment to the Constitution. We're in trouble when we don't have the ability to peacefully express our dissatisfaction with our government.

CHRISTIE WAS courted by big money in the hopes that he would run for president. The Koch brothers, Charles Schwab and Kenneth Langone, the founder of Home Depot, were all ready to get behind Christie. Christie has a lot of influence and very well could be president one day.

EXACTLY. THERE is still a good chance this guy could be vice president this election cycle. Do we want someone with a temper like his negotiating with Iran?

FOLLOWING THE financial meltdown of 2008, we were witness to history's largest transfer of wealth from working people to the rich. Trillions were spent bailing out the banks, and now they want us to shut up and accept the austerity measures, the housing crisis, the trillion-dollar wars, the prison industrial complex, etc. If you peacefully stand up against these measures, they try to publicly humiliate you or throw you in jail.

I AGREE with you. Anyone who tries to speak up risks what happened to me, or worse. It causes people to think twice about saying what is on their mind. Our elected "representatives" don't want to address the real problems in this county.

WHAT DO you plan on doing next?

THE GOVERNOR'S response to my questions speaks volumes about the current reality in this country. I am not the only concerned citizen. I will continue to speak up when I see an injustice. I will take things day by day, and we'll see what happens.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Udi Aloni with Slavoj Žižek

Joe's Pub Reserved


What Does a Jew Want? is a remarkable series of visual Midrash presenting philosophy, video art, story-telling, and performance. The event portrays theological political fragments of a “split Jew” through the eyes of an outrageous philosopher and an obscure artist.

"Slavoj Žižek is the most dangerous philosopher in the West."
-Adam Kirsch of The New Republic

“Aloni’s secular theology is definitely one of the most fascinating innovations of our time. So if you want to dwell in your blessed secular ignorance...then do not come to this event – at your own risk”
-Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. His is one of the most original and influential figures in contemporary thinking. His books include "First as Tragedy, Then as Farce;" "In Defense of Lost Causes;" "Living in the End Times;" and many more. His recent book is Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, (Verso 2012).


Udi Aloni is a writer, artist and filmmaker whose work explores the discourse between art, theory, and action. Among his films are Kashmir: Journey to Freedom (2009), Forgiveness (2006), and Local Angel (2003). His recent book: What does a Jew want? On Binationalism and Other Specters (2011 Columbia University Press)

Last fall The Public Theater presented his Arabic adaptation of Waiting for Godot.

More Info at Joe's Pub

Friday, March 9, 2012

US Senate Rejects GOP Measure to Construct Keystone Pipeline

By Ben Geman and Josiah Ryan, The Hill

The Senate has rejected a GOP plan to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline after President Obama made personal calls to Democrats urging them to oppose it.

The 56-42 vote staves off an election-year rebuke of Obama, but will give political ammunition to backers of TransCanada Corp.'s plan to build a pipeline connecting Alberta's massive tar sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.
Despite Obama's efforts, 11 Democrats brushed off Obama on the vote and sided with Republicans.

The 11 Democratic defections were Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Bob Casey (Pa.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Jim Webb (Va.).


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

UN top torture official denounces Bradley Manning’s detention

"Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" and "excessive and prolonged isolation"

In December, 2010, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture announced a formal investigation into the conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention that endured for the eight months he was held at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. The Army Private has been detained since May, 2010, on charges that he leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks, but has not yet been tried. Yesterday, the U.N. official overseeing the investigation pronounced that “Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation“ to which he was subjected at Quantico. That official, Juan Ernesto Mendez, heads the U.N. office created by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, bestowed with the mandate “to examine questions relevant to torture.”

The extreme conditions of Manning’s detention were first reported here in December, 2010, and included Manning’s being held 23 out of 24 hours a day in solitary confinement for what had then been five straight months, along with other plainly punitive measures. Thereafter, Manning was stripped of his clothing and forced to stand nude for morning inspection, and a special Marine investigation (ultimately rejected by brig officials) concluded that “that Manning’s jailers violated Navy policy by keeping him on suicide watch after psychiatrists concluded he was not a threat to himself.” In the wake of what had become a worldwide controversy that led to the resignation of the State Department’s spokesman, Manning was moved in April, 2011, to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where his detention conditions apparently improved.

Over the past year, the U.N. torture investigator repeatedly complained – including in official reprimands – that his investigation was being obstructed by the Obama administration, which refused to provide unmonitored access to interview Manning. About this refusal to allow an unmonitored interview with Manning, the U.N. official said: “Such a condition violates long-standing rules that the UN applies for prison visits and for interviews with inmates everywhere in the world.” In reporting on this U.N. grievance, The Guardian wrote: “It is the kind of censure the UN normally reserves for authoritarian regimes around the world”; indeed, “the vast majority of states allowed for visits to detainees without conditions.” Just to underscore how unusual was this obstruction: the Bush administration allowed investigators with the International Committee of the Red Cross private interviews even with the most “high-value” detainees at Guantanamo: that is, once they emerged from the CIA “black sites” where they were kept for almost three years beyond the reach of the ICRC (see p. 3 of the ICRC report).

Despite this obstruction of his investigation, the U.N. torture rapporteur, speaking at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, condemned Manning’s treatment as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” specifically citing “the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in during the eight months he was in Quantico.” He also rejected the defenses offered by Obama officials for what was done to Manning: “the explanation I was given for those eight months was not convincing for me.”

Once the oppressive conditions of Manning’s detention were reported here, an intense controversy resulted. In January, 2011, Amnesty International wrote a letter to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates protesting that the conditions “are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment” and “breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties.” In March, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked at a small Q-and-A session at MIT by a PhD student: “There’s an elephant in the room during this discussion: Wikileaks. The US government is torturing a whistleblower in prison right now.” Crowley replied by denouncing the abuse of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” That, in turn, led to President Obama’s being asked at a Press Conference about Crowley’s criticisms by ABC News‘ Jake Tapper (Obama replied that brig officials “assured” him Manning was being handled properly), and to Crowley’s “resignation” shortly thereafter.

Beyond human rights groups and the U.N., criticisms over Manning’s detention condition were widespread and vehement. Leading newspapers editorialized against it, with the LA Times denouncing it as “inhumane,” while The New York Times, under the headline “The Abuse of Private Manning,” editorialized that the Obama administration” has been treating [Manning] abusively, in a way that conjures creepy memories of how the Bush administration used to treat terror suspects. Inexplicably, it appears to have President Obama’s support to do so.” The NYT Editors added: “Far more troubling is why President Obama, who has forcefully denounced prisoner abuse, is condoning this treatment.”

The only support for Manning’s treatment came from far-right neocon outlets that have long reflexively supported torture [The Weekly Standard (“Don’t Cry for Bradley Manning”) and RedState (“Give Bradley Manning His Pillow and Blankie Back”)], along with Obama’s hardest-core, the-Leader-does-not-err followers who echoed those neocons almost verbatim, such as this front-page writer at the liberal blog Crooks & Liars (“the meme o the day seems to be on Manning’s so-called torture, to which I say ‘boo hoo“), and this former Obama campaign press aide and current daytime MSNBC contributor (“Bradley Manning has no pillow??? GTFOH!”). It’s revealing indeed how often those two factions are in lock-step agreement. Atrios asked the right question about such individuals here.

It is remarkable that the administration of President Obama, who repeatedly railed against and vowed to end detainee abuse, first obstructed the investigation of the U.N.’s top torture investigator, only to be now harshly condemned by that investigator for “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”: treatment that endured for eight full months until the controversy became too intense to permit it to continue any longer. Last month, it was announced that Manning was one of 231 individuals officially nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by at least one person with formal nominating rights vested by the Nobel Committee. In a Guardian Op-Ed in December, I argued that the abuse of Manning was part of the larger war on whistleblowers being waged by the Obama administration, and that “for what he is alleged to have given the world, Manning deserves gratitude and a medal, not a life in prison.”

Discussion of “A Challenge from Raymond Lotta to Slavoj Žižek

Let’s Debate the Nature of Imperialism, Prospects for Revolution

Tuesday, Mar 27 7:00p to 9:00p
At Revolution Books, Berkeley, CA

Discussion of “A Challenge from Raymond Lotta to Slavoj Žižek: Let’s Debate the Nature of Imperialism, Prospects for Revolution, and the Meaning of the Communist Project.”

A8-252 Whither the "Death of God": A Continuing Currency? from American Academy of Religion on Vimeo.

Climate Change


It is certain that increased greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and from land use change lead to a warming of climate, and it is very likely that these green house gases are the dominant cause of the global warming that has been taking place over the last 50 years.

Whilst the extent of climate change is often expressed in a single figure – global temperature – the effects of climate change (such as temperature, precipitation and the frequency of extreme weather events) will vary greatly from place to place.

Increasing atmospheric CO2 also leads to ocean acidification which risks profound impacts on many marine ecosystems and in turn the societies which depend on them.

The Society has worked on the issue of climate change for many years to further the understanding of this issue. These activities have been informed by decades of publicly available, peer-reviewed studies by thousands of scientists across a wide range of disciplines. Climate science, like any other scientific discipline, develops through vigorous debates between experts, but there is an overwhelming consensus regarding its fundamentals. Climate science has a firm basis in physics and is supported by a wealth of evidence from real world observations. Our work has taken the following forms:


Slavoj Žižek at Labyrinth Books, NJ

April 10, 2012 8:07pm

Hey, New Jersey!

Philosopher and author of God in Pain, Slavoj Zizek will be at Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ on Tuesday April 10 at


Verso at Left Forum 2012

March 16-18
Pace University | One Pace Plaza
New York, NY 10038

A unique phenomenon in the U.S. and the world, Left Forum convenes the largest annual conference of a broad spectrum of left and progressive intellectuals, activists, academics, organizations and the interested public. This year, the opening plenary includes speakers Rose Anne De Moro, Marina Sitrin, William Strickland, and William Tabb. The closing plenary will include Elaine Bernard, Arun Gupta, Chris Hedges, and John Holloway.

Verso is proud to present the Left Forum panels below. You can register to attend online today or at Pace University starting Friday, March 16.


Why an MRI costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France

by Ezra Klein


The question, of course, is why Americans pay such high prices — and why we haven’t done anything about it.

“Other countries negotiate very aggressively with the providers and set rates that are much lower than we do,” Anderson says. They do this in one of two ways. In countries such as Canada and Britain, prices are set by the government. In others, such as Germany and Japan, they’re set by providers and insurers sitting in a room and coming to an agreement, with the government stepping in to set prices if they fail.

In America, Medicare and Medicaid negotiate prices on behalf of their tens of millions of members and, not coincidentally, purchase care at a substantial markdown from the commercial average. But outside that, it’s a free-for-all. Providers largely charge what they can get away with, often offering different prices to different insurers, and an even higher price to the uninsured.

Health care is an unusual product in that it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the customer to say “no.” In certain cases, the customer is passed out, or otherwise incapable of making decisions about her care, and the decisions are made by providers whose mandate is, correctly, to save lives rather than money.

In other cases, there is more time for loved ones to consider costs, but little emotional space to do so — no one wants to think there was something more they could have done to save their parent or child. It is not like buying a television, where you can easily comparison shop and walk out of the store, and even forgo the purchase if it’s too expensive. And imagine what you would pay for a television if the salesmen at Best Buy knew that you couldn’t leave without making a purchase.

“In my view, health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere,” says Tom Sackville, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government and now directs the IFHP. “It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.”

The result is that, unlike in other countries, sellers of health-care services in America have considerable power to set prices, and so they set them quite high. Two of the five most profitable industries in the United States — the pharmaceuticals industry and the medical device industry — sell health care. With margins of almost 20 percent, they beat out even the financial sector for sheer profitability.
The players sitting across the table from them — the health insurers — are not so profitable. In 2009, their profit margins were a mere 2.2 percent. That’s a signal that the sellers have the upper hand over the buyers.

This is a good deal for residents of other countries, as our high spending makes medical innovations more profitable. “We end up with the benefits of your investment,” Sackville says. “You’re subsidizing the rest of the world by doing the front-end research.”

But many researchers are skeptical that this is an effective way to fund medical innovation. “We pay twice as much for brand-name drugs as most other industrialized countries,” Anderson says. “But the drug companies spend only 12 percent of their revenues on innovation. So yes, some of that money goes to innovation, but only 12 percent of it.”

And others point out that you also need to account for the innovations and investments that our spending on health care is squeezing out. “There are opportunity costs,” says Reinhardt, an economist at Princeton. “The money we spend on health care is money we don’t spend educating our children, or investing in infrastructure, scientific research and defense spending. So if what this means is we ultimately have overmedicalized, poorly educated Americans competing with China, that’s not a very good investment.”

But as simple an explanation as “the prices are higher” is, it is a devilishly difficult problem to fix. Those prices, for one thing, mean profits for a large number of powerful — and popular — industries. For another, centralized bargaining cuts across the grain of America’s skepticism of government solutions. In the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, for instance, Congress expressly barred Medicare from negotiating the prices of drugs that it was paying for.

The 2010 health-reform law does little to directly address prices. It includes provisions forcing hospitals to publish their prices, which would bring more transparency to this issue, and it gives lawmakers more tools and more information they could use to address prices at some future date. The hope is that by gathering more data to find out which treatments truly work, the federal government will eventually be able to set prices based on the value of treatments, which would be easier than simply setting lower prices across-the-board. But this is, for the most part, a fight the bill ducked, which is part of the reason that even its most committed defenders don’t think we’ll be paying anything like what they’re paying in other countries anytime soon.

“There is so much inefficiency in our system, that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit we can deal with before we get into regulating people’s prices.” says Len Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University. “Maybe, after we’ve cut waste for 10 years, we’ll be ready to have a discussion over prices.”

And some economists warn that though high prices help explain why America spends so much more on health care than other countries, cutting prices is no cure-all if it doesn’t also cut the rate of growth. After all, if you drop prices by 20 percent, but health-care spending still grows by seven percent a year, you’ve wiped out the savings in three years.


Ayn Rand and the new right

Her psychopathic ideas made billionaires feel like victims and turned millions of followers into their doormats


It is not hard to see why Rand appeals to billionaires. She offers them something that is crucial to every successful political movement: a sense of victimhood. She tells them that they are parasitised by the ungrateful poor and oppressed by intrusive, controlling governments.

It is harder to see what it gives the ordinary teabaggers, who would suffer grievously from a withdrawal of government. But such is the degree of misinformation which saturates this movement and so prevalent in the US is Willy Loman syndrome (the gulf between reality and expectations) that millions blithely volunteer themselves as billionaires' doormats. I wonder how many would continue to worship at the shrine of Ayn Rand if they knew that towards the end of her life she signed on for both Medicare and social security. She had railed furiously against both programmes, as they represented everything she despised about the intrusive state. Her belief system was no match for the realities of age and ill health.

But they have a still more powerful reason to reject her philosophy: as Adam Curtis's BBC documentary showed last year, the most devoted member of her inner circle was Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve. Among the essays he wrote for Rand were those published in a book he co-edited with her called Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. Here, starkly explained, you'll find the philosophy he brought into government. There is no need for the regulation of business – even builders or Big Pharma – he argued, as "the 'greed' of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking … is the unexcelled protector of the consumer". As for bankers, their need to win the trust of their clients guarantees that they will act with honour and integrity. Unregulated capitalism, he maintains, is a "superlatively moral system".

Once in government, Greenspan applied his guru's philosophy to the letter, cutting taxes for the rich, repealing the laws constraining banks, refusing to regulate the predatory lending and the derivatives trading which eventually brought the system down. Much of this is already documented, but Weiss shows that in the US, Greenspan has successfully airbrushed history.

Despite the many years he spent at her side, despite his previous admission that it was Rand who persuaded him that "capitalism is not only efficient and practical but also moral", he mentioned her in his memoirs only to suggest that it was a youthful indiscretion – and this, it seems, is now the official version. Weiss presents powerful evidence that even today Greenspan remains her loyal disciple, having renounced his partial admission of failure to Congress.

Saturated in her philosophy, the new right on both sides of the Atlantic continues to demand the rollback of the state, even as the wreckage of that policy lies all around. The poor go down, the ultra-rich survive and prosper. Ayn Rand would have approved.

Best Reason for the Very Rich to Pay a Lot More in Taxes

BuzzFlash on Tue, 03/06/2012


Before getting into the best reason, here are some of the usual - and always good -- reasons. First of all, for every dollar the richest 1% earned in 1980, they've added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added ONE CENT.

The richest million families have not worked three times (let alone 300 times) harder than the other 99 million families.

The richest 10% own 80% of the stock market, providing billions in "unearned income" that is taxed at less than half the rate of income earned through real work. The richest million families may have actually worked LESS than the other 99 million families.

A number of individuals have had one-year incomes over a billion dollars, enough to pay the salaries of 25,000 teachers or health care workers or emergency responders. It's questionable whether a guy who makes a billion betting on a mortgage collapse is worth even one teacher or health care worker or emergency responder.

Next is the woeful state of tax collections on the people making most of the money. Mitt Romney pays 15%, Warren Buffett 17.4%. The richest 400 Americans paid 16.6%.

The whole top 1% (a million families) paid less than 23% in 2006.

Average Americans pay more than that. Studies show that when state and local taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes are tallied up, low-income people can be paying a higher percentage of taxes than the rich, perhaps up to 40% of their incomes.

Average Americans are also paying more than corporations. For every dollar of workers' payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it's 16 cents.

Whew. A lot of good reasons for the rich to be paying a lot more in taxes.

But here's the BEST REASON. The super-rich like to believe their own initiative and creativity have been the primary drivers of growth in technology and science and business and medicine. Some innovative business leaders deserve credit for putting the pieces together on specific initiatives. But the pieces themselves were put together over many years by thousands of less conspicuous people. As Elizabeth Warren said, "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."
Consider just a simple communications device. The pieces were put together by a procession of chemists, physicists, chip designers, programmers, engineers, production-line workers, market analysts, testers, troubleshooters, etc., etc. They, in turn, couldn't have succeeded without another layer of people providing sustenance and medical support and security and administrative assistance and transportation and office maintenance for the technologists. ALL of them contributed to the final product.

You say a lot of them DID get paid? Well, then, something's wrong, because few of the profits over the last 30 years went to this "middle class" of people to keep them financially secure, and to keep them educated in all the new technologies that are replacing their jobs.

The long-term dependency on the supporting members of society is the best reason for the most fortunate among us to care about everyone else. Sadly, research suggests that wealthy people have less empathy for people unlike themselves, because they no longer have reason to associate with them.

This psychological gap between the rich and the rest of us naturally diminishes the incentive for the 1% to support anyone beneath their economic class. Thus less tax revenue and more cutbacks. Cuts in federal spending have been accompanied by an onslaught of social ills, including the highest poverty and homicide and incarceration and obesity and mental illness rates, an increasing child mortality rate, the highest health care costs, low global rankings in math and science scores. We continue to cut the programs that support a stable society.

The most fortunate among us have succeeded because all of America has supported them for 60 years. Yet they've somehow come to believe that they did it all on their own. Nothing could be further from the truth. They should be thanking all the people who contributed to their success.

Thanking them by paying taxes.

Paul Buchheit teaches Economic Inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Žižek: April in L.A.

Los Angeles Times

Spring preview: Books,0,3980522.story

Coming to the ALOUD lecture series at the L.A. Public Library in April is the intellectual provocateur Slavoj Žižek, a jovial Slovenian philosopher with a worldwide fan base. He'll be talking about his new book, "God In Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse," which looks at Christianity, Islam and Judaism through the lens of Hegel and Lacan.