Friday, August 31, 2012

Texas loses latest voter ID battle after judges strike down 'retrogressive' law

    Friday, August 31, 2012   No comments

A federal court has struck down a Texas law requiring voters to present photo identification at the ballot box in the second ruling this week to effectively accuse the state of racial discrimination and attempting to manipulate elections.

In an escalating legal battle between mostly Republican-controlled states and the Obama administration over voter ID and other election laws, a panel of three judges in Washington DC found that the Texas legislation imposed "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" because of the cost and process involved in obtaining identification.

The US justice department told the court that voters would have to pay for birth certificates and travel up to 250 miles to obtain ID cards. The court said this imposed a "heavy burden" on any voter and would be "especially daunting for the working poor" who are more likely to be racial minorities.

The court concluded that if the law was implemented it "will likely have a retrogressive effect" by limiting access to the ballot box. It said that evidence submitted by Texas in support of its claim that the law was not discriminatory – and was necessary to combat voter fraud – was "unpersuasive, invalid, or both".

The US justice department told the court there are 600,000 people registered to vote in Texas whose names are not on driving licence or state identification databases. It said the voter ID laws in Texas and other states is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise African American and Hispanic voters.

On Tuesday another federal court ruled that an attempt by Texas to redraw its electoral maps was illegal because it was intended to diminish the impact of the Latino vote.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inside Daraya - how a failed prisoner swap turned into a massacre

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012   No comments
by Robert Fisk

The massacre town of Daraya is a place of ghosts and questions. It echoed with the roar of mortar explosions and the crackle of gunfire yesterday, its few returning citizens talking of death, assault, foreign "terrorists", and its cemetery of slaughter haunted by snipers.

The men and women to whom we could talk, two of whom had lost loved ones on Daraya's day of infamy four days ago, told a story different from the version that has been repeated around the world: theirs was a tale of hostage-taking by the Free Syria Army and desperate prisoner-exchange negotiations between the armed opponents of the regime and the Syrian army, before President Bashar al-Assad's government forces stormed into the town to seize it back from rebel control.

Officially, no word of such talks between the enemies has been mentioned. But senior Syrian officers told The Independent how they had "exhausted all possibilities of reconciliation" with those holding the town, while residents of Daraya said there had been an attempt by both sides to arrange a swap of civilians and off-duty soldiers – apparently kidnapped by rebels because of their family ties to the government army – with prisoners in the army's custody. When these talks broke down, the army advanced into Daraya, six miles from the centre of Damascus.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In the Shadow of Wounded Knee

    Sunday, August 26, 2012   No comments

By Alexandra Fuller
Photograph by Aaron Huey

After 150 years of broken promises, the Oglala Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota are nurturing their tribal customs, language, and beliefs. A rare, intimate portrait shows their resilience in the face of hardship.

Almost every historical atrocity has a geographically symbolic core, a place whose name conjures up the trauma of a whole people: Auschwitz, Robben Island, Nanjing. For the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that place is a site near Wounded Knee Creek, 16 miles northeast of the town of Pine Ridge. From a distance the hill is unremarkable, another picturesque tree-spotted mound in the creased prairie. But here at the mass grave of all those who were killed on a winter morning more than a century ago, it’s easy to believe that certain energies—acts of tremendous violence and of transcendent love—hang in the air forever and possess a forever half-life.

Alex White Plume, a 60-year-old Oglala Lakota activist, lives with his family and extended family on a 2,000-acre ranch near Wounded Knee Creek. White Plume’s land is lovely beyond any singing, rolling out from sage-covered knolls to creeks bruised with late summer lushness. From certain aspects, you can see the Badlands, all sun-bleached spires and scoured pinnacles. And looking another way, you can see the horizon-crowning darkness of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

One hot and humid day in early August, I drove out to interview White Plume in a screened outdoor kitchen he had just built for his wife. Hemp plants sprouted thickly all over their garden. “Go ahead and smoke as much as you like,” White Plume offered. “I always tell people that: Smoke as much as you want, but you won’t get very high.” The plants are remnants from a plantation of industrial hemp—low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Cannabis sativa—cultivated by the White Plume family in 2000.


Debating: Has Support for Israel Hurt U.S. Credibility?

    Sunday, August 26, 2012   No comments

America Has Shown Which Side It’s On

Israelis know it. Palestinians know it. The whole world knows it. The absence of any American sense of fair play where Palestinian-Israeli issues are concerned is no secret. In fact, it will keep the U.S. from ever being a disinterested intermediary in the Middle East.

Administrations of both parties long ago proved the U.S. unworthy of the title of “honest broker.” This has reached the point that today blindly siding with Israel, beyond being an electoral necessity, has become almost a patriotic duty for anyone in public office. Only those who ignore reality can deny that such bias has tarnished America's reputation and undermined its interests abroad.

President Obama has caved to Israel, and now Mitt Romney is trying to seem even more obliging.
Republicans criticize President Obama for showing insufficient fealty to Israel. He did push for a temporary freeze on illegal Israeli settlement building, but it was incomplete (neither Jerusalem nor ongoing construction was included) and he failed to get Israel to extend it. Moreover, Obama responded to Israel’s obduracy by offering it F-35 fighter jets and other goodies. The U.S. president has since coddled Israel, extending additional military assistance and vetoing U.N. resolutions criticizing settlement activity. He also opposed the Palestinian initiative for statehood last September, delivering the most pro-Israel American speech ever at the U.N. And though it seems of no importance in Washington, the Palestinians are as far from freedom from Israeli subjugation as ever.

Meanwhile, Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, who held a big-money fund-raiser in Jerusalem last month, said last December that when it comes to Palestinian-Israeli policy, “I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?’ ”

Americans surely don’t want to subcontract our foreign policy to another state, let alone one that seems determined to egg us into a disastrous war with Iran. Yet Sheldon Adelson, a big Romney contributor and casino mogul, appears committed to just that: pushing the Romney-Ryan team toward war. For his part, Obama refrains from saying the obvious: War with Iran would not only destabilize the Middle East, but also upend America’s own fragile economy.

As politicians, skinny dipping and clothed alike, outdo themselves to embrace an ever-more-belligerent Israel this electoral season, we should recall the words of George Washington’s farewell address: “A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

read the other points of view at "Has Support for Israel Hurt U.S. Credibility?"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Michael D Higgins v Michael Graham (Newstalk 106-108fm, 2010)

    Friday, August 24, 2012   No comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Syria's 'Rebel army? They're a gang of foreigners'

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012   1 comment

Robert Fisk

A victorious army? There were cartridge cases all over the ancient stone laneways, pocked windows, and bullet holes up the side of the Sharaf mosque, where a gunman had been firing from the minaret. A sniper still fired just 150 yards away – all that was left of more than a hundred rebels who had almost, but not quite, encircled the 4,000-year-old citadel of Aleppo.

"You won't believe this," Major Somar cried in excitement. "One of our prisoners told me: 'I didn't realise Palestine was as beautiful as this.' He thought he was in Palestine to fight the Israelis!"

Do I believe this? Certainly, the fighters who bashed their way into the lovely old streets west of the great citadel were, from all accounts, a ragtag bunch. Their graffiti – "We are the Brigades of 1980", the year when the first Muslim Brotherhood rising threatened the empire of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez – was still on the walls of the Syrian-Armenian hotels and silver shops. A 51-year-old general handed me one of the home-made grenades that littered the floor of the Sharaf mosque; a fluffy fuse poking from the top of a lump of shrapnel, coated in white plastic and covered in black adhesive tape.

Inside the mosque were bullets, empty tins of cheese, cigarette butts and piles of mosque carpets, which the rebels had used as bedding. The battle had so far lasted 24 hours. A live round had cut into the Bosnian-style tombstone of a Muslim imam's grave, with a delicate stone turban carved on its top. The mosque's records – lists of worshippers' complaints, Korans and financial documents – were lying across one room in what had evidently marked the last stand of several men. There was little blood. Between 10 and 15 of the defenders – all Syrians – surrendered after being offered mercy if they laid down their arms. The quality of this mercy was not, of course, disclosed to us.

The Syrian soldiers were elated, but admitted that they shared immense sadness for the history of a city whose very fabric was being torn apart, a world heritage site being smashed by rockets and high-velocity rounds. The officers shook their heads when they led us into the ramparts of the immense citadel. "The terrorists tried to capture it 20 days ago from our soldiers who were defending it," Major Somar said. "They filled gas cylinders full of explosives – 300 kilos of it – and set them off by the first entrance above the moat."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Being Sikh in America

    Monday, August 13, 2012   No comments


DELHI — From 1988 to 1993 I was a graduate student at New York University. Like many nonobservant Sikhs, I did not wear a turban, but I did keep a beard. When I would travel to small-town America, my appearance sometimes gave rise to a barely concealed hostility, occasionally even a comment or two.

I am not claiming that such incidents were the norm, but they were not uncommon.

Once, as I was stepping out of my own apartment in Jersey City with a bag slung over my shoulders, the police pulled out a gun and searched me. On another occasion, camping in North Carolina, I was made to stand in a police car’s high-beams with my hands over my head, again with a gun pointed at me, until the cops saw my white companions.

The years I am talking about precede 9/11 by a decade. As far as I can see, post 9/11, it has become considerably easier to express and act on such prejudices. My point, though, is this: these prejudices have always existed in the United States, and they are not restricted to white supremacists.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Who will come out on top?: The rebels are a diverse bunch who are co-operating—for the time being

    Friday, August 10, 2012   No comments

KINGS make war, but wars also make kings. A year ago, when Syrian government troops first tried to enter Jebel Zawiya, a region south-west of Aleppo where rugged hills enfold 33 villages, a handyman called Jamal Marouf gathered seven men and set off to fight the intruders. Now he claims to command 7,000 fighters, whose reach stretches over much of rural Idleb province, from Turkey’s border to Hama in the south. Perhaps to match their growing ambition, Mr Marouf’s “Martyrs of Jebel Zawiya” recently changed their brigade’s name to “Martyrs of Syria”.

The Sunni farmers who grow olives, figs and cherries have long resented the rule of the Assads and their Alawite co-religionists. Since the uprising took off a year ago, the Syrian army has wreaked havoc in Jebel Zawiya, as elsewhere in Sunni-populated regions. But the growing cost of fighting the tenacious rebels, combined with the need to reinforce strained government troops in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city that is now locked in a furious battle, has pushed the army out of the area. Last month it quit, leaving just a few isolated outposts from which it lobs shells into rebellious villages.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

God and the Ivory Tower: What we don't understand about religion just might kill us

    Tuesday, August 07, 2012   No comments

The era of world struggle between the great secular ideological -isms that began with the French Revolution and lasted through the Cold War (republicanism, anarchism, socialism, fascism, communism, liberalism) is passing on to a religious stage. Across the Middle East and North Africa, religious movements are gaining social and political ground, with election victories by avowedly Islamic parties in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. As Israel's National Security Council chief, Gen. Yaakov Amidror (a religious man himself), told me on the eve of Tunisia's elections last October, "We expect Islamist parties to soon dominate all governments in the region, from Afghanistan to Morocco, except for Israel."

On a global scale, Protestant evangelical churches (together with Pentacostalists) continue to proliferate, especially in Latin America, but also keep pace with the expansion of fundamentalist Islam in southern Africa and eastern and southern Asia. In Russia, a clear majority of the population remains religious despite decades of forcibly imposed atheism. Even in China, where the government's commission on atheism has the Sisyphean job of making that country religion-free, religious agitation is on the rise. And in the United States, a majority says it wants less religion in politics, but an equal majority still will not vote for an atheist as president.

But if reams of social scientific analysis have been produced on religion's less celestial cousins -- from the nature of perception and speech to how we rationalize and shop -- faith is not a matter that rigorous science has taken seriously. To be sure, social scientists have long studied how religious practices correlate with a wide range of economic, social, and political issues. Yet, for nearly a century after Harvard University psychologist William James's 1902 masterwork, The Varieties of Religious Experience, there was little serious investigation of the psychological structure or neurological and biological underpinnings of religious belief that determine how religion actually causes behavior. And that's a problem if science aims to produce knowledge that improves the human condition, including a lessening of cultural conflict and war.

Religion molds a nation in which it thrives, sometimes producing solidarity and sacred causes so powerful that citizens are willing to kill or die for a common good (as when Judea's Jews around the time of Christ persisted in rebellion unto political annihilation in the face of the Roman Empire's overwhelmingly military might). But religion can also hinder a society's ability to work out differences with others, especially if those others don't understand what religion is all about. That's the mess we find ourselves in today, not only among different groups of Americans in the so-called culture wars, but between secular and Judeo-Christian America and many Muslim countries.

Time and again, countries go to war without understanding the transcendent drives and dreams of adversaries who see a very different world. Yet we needn't fly blindly into the storm.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Karl Rove: He's Back, Big Time

    Friday, August 03, 2012   No comments

On the evening of June 29, Amedeo Scognamiglio, a jewelry designer on the Isle of Capri, met friends for drinks at the elegant Grand Hotel Quisisana. Around midnight, Scognamiglio says, “I noticed some familiar American faces.” He took to Twitter. “What,” he wanted to know, “is Karl Rove doing at the Quisisana with Steve Wynn?!” The answer came zinging right back from @KarlRove: “Part of a group enjoying really good Bellinis on a beautiful Capri night!”

Rove is a tech-geek. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was the only White House staff member connected to BlackBerry e-mail on Air Force One as the plane ferried President George W. Bush back and forth across a panicked nation. When he made his Bellini tweet, Rove was on the Amalfi Coast honeymooning with his third wife, Karen Johnson, a Republican lobbyist. On Twitter, Rove did not refer by name to Wynn, though the two men are friends. Earlier in June, the casino mogul joined a select group of guests at the Rove-Johnson nuptials in Austin. All of this, be assured, has more than gossip-page significance: Wynn is just one of many mega-wealthy backers whose enthusiasm and checkbooks have fueled a Karl Rove Renaissance that’s redefining the business of political finance.

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Also Listen to the Author's interview on NPR Here.


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