Archive for the ‘Culture – How not to do it’ Category

10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

– From John Turley in the Washington Post.   I hope the folks in Washington, D.C. are reading this stuff.

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Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

– Click here:    to read on and see the list of the ten things we’ve lost.   It’s scary.

Saudi woman driver to be whipped

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

A Saudi woman was sentenced yesterday to be lashed 10 times with a whip for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, the first time a legal punishment has been handed down for a violation of the longtime ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.

Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again.

But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Making the sentence all the more upsetting to activists is that it came just two days after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015.

Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.

The mixed signals highlight the challenges for Abdullah, known as a reformer, in pushing gently for change without antagonising the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.

Abdullah said he had the backing of the official clerical council. But activists saw yesterday’s sentencing as a retaliation of sorts from the hardline Saudi religious establishment that controls the courts and oversees the intrusive religious police.

“Our King doesn’t deserve that,” said Sohila Zein el-Abydeen, a prominent female member of the governmental National Society for Human Rights. She burst into tears and said: “The verdict is shocking to me, but we were expecting this kind of reaction.”

The driver, Shaima Jastaina, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission, activist Samar Badawi said. The punishment is usually carried out within a month. It was not possible to reach Jastaina, but Badawi said she had appealed against the verdict.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women – both Saudi and foreign – from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the US$300 ($382) to US$400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them around.

There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.

Activists say the religious justification is irrelevant.

“How come women get flogged for driving while the maximum penalty for a traffic violation is a fine, not lashes?” Zein el-Abydeen said.

– More…


Where child sacrifice is a business

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

– Superstitions and destructive cultural practices are among the worst aspects of humanity.   This story is really sad.  I have a hard time sharing the planet with people like this.  And I’ll let you guess, dear reader, who I think should go.

– dennis

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The villages and farming communities that surround Uganda’s capital, Kampala, are gripped by fear.

School children are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until around three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country’s economy.

The mutilated bodies of children have been discovered at roadsides, the victims of an apparently growing belief in the power of human sacrifice.

‘Sacrifice business’

Many believe that members of the country’s new elite are paying witch doctors vast sums of money for the sacrifices in a bid to increase their wealth.

At the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries church, Pastor Peter Sewakiryanga is teaching local children a song called Heal Our Land, End Child Sacrifice.

To hear dozens of young voices singing such shocking words epitomises how ritual murder has become part of everyday life here.

“Child sacrifice has risen because people have become lovers of money. They want to get richer,” the pastor says.

“They have a belief that when you sacrifice a child you get wealth, and there are people who are willing to buy these children for a price. So they have become a commodity of exchange, child sacrifice has become a commercial business.”

The pastor and his parishioners are lobbying the government to regulate witch doctors and improve police resources to investigate these crimes.

– more…


Healthcare in New Zealand

Friday, September 9th, 2011

– For my American friends who still haven’t worked out how badly you are being treated by the corporate owned and dominated healthcare industry in the U.S., let me share the details of my small interaction this afternoon with the New Zealand system.

– I made an appointment with my GP two days ago and I went in today to see him and discuss my current health (which has returned to excellent) and to get some prescriptions renewed.

– I noted that he has copies of all my medical records from the several places here in New Zealand where I’ve generated records; 24 hour walk-ins, other GP’s offices and the hospital.   It’s all shared electronically here and the system is organized so that it all your medical records go automatically to your GP (who you can change any time you like at no charge and all your records will follow you).

– My appointment was at the end of the day at 5 PM and, amazingly, he was only 10 minutes late in seeing me.

– I spent 20 minutes with him talking over various issues and discussing prescriptions and whether, based on research, I should be taking this or that.   In the end, he wrote me five prescriptions. 

– At the front desk, my bill for seeing him was $38.00.   I then walked next door (literally) to the pharmacy and my prescriptions were filled in under 10 minutes and I was charged $3.00 each or a total of $15.00.   I know from earlier experiences that those which have refills authorized will be refilled for no charge.   The original $3.00 covers it.

– Here, the medical system is what some would call Socialized Medicine.   That simply means that we, the people, all pay for it with our taxes.   The government has a special branch that shops for the prescription medicines consumed in the country.   It’s a simple circle:  we all pay taxes, according to how much we earn, to subsidize the medical system.  And we all use and benefit from it according to our level of need.

– In the U.S., there’s something or someone else in what should be a simple circle.   It’s the corporate for-profit entities.   And they are milking the American consumer big time to maximize their profits and holding the health of Americans for ransom in order to do it.   Meanwhile, the U.S. government, which collects nearly as much tax as is collected here, doesn’t have to use that money to maintain the health of the American people because the corporate entities have said, “No problem, we’ve got it covered“.  Yeah, right!   So, the government is free to spend the taxes Americans pay instead on foreign wars, bank bailouts and whatever else they think governments are suppose to be about.

– In my opinion, the purpose of government’s should be about maximizing the quality of life for all of its citizens – not just for its ‘corporate citizens’.

– Wake up my friends – things are a mess there!

– dennis

India corruption: Hazare heaps pressure on government

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

– This post is for, and in honor of, my friend Mangala Gouri in India.   She’s engaged on a hunger strike in solidarity with so many others there who want to see corruption eliminated.

– I applaud her and all of those like her who want to see changes in India.

– It’s been my opinion that graft and corruption suck the energy out of an economy.  

– Imagine, if everyone who wanted a bit of your gasoline could attach a small hose to the pipe in your car that carries gasoline to the engine.  After awhile, the engine would get weak and the car might stop.  Graft and corruption are like that.   But the car they are stopping is the economy that belongs to all the people.   The economy that builds the wealth of the nation.   Wealth that is used for roads and schools – among other things.

– Graft and corruption are just a way of stealing from all of us for the benefit of the few.

– Bravo, Gouri !   Bravo.

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Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has called on the government to pass a new anti-graft law or quit.

He has been on a public hunger strike since last Tuesday. An aide said he had lost 5kg, but was in good health.

Thousands of supporters are gathered at the vast Ram Lila Maidan grounds in the capital, Delhi, where Mr Hazare is conducting his fast.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the government is open to talks with the 74-year-old activist.

Mr Hazare wants to force the government to strengthen an anti-corruption bill, which he regards as too weak.

He was released from Tihar jail on Friday after his arrest last Tuesday sparked mass protests across India.

On Thursday, he agreed to a police offer permitting him to go on hunger strike for 15 days.

He had previously vowed to remain in custody unless he was permitted to resume the protest which triggered his arrest. His campaign against graft has struck a chord with many Indians.

– More…  

Has America Become a Corporate Police State?

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

– This is definitely what I think is happening.   These changes have been creeping up on us so slowly that we’ve scarcely noticed their aggregation and increasing power over the years.

– Corporations (large ones, anyway) are primarily (by law) about maximizing the profits of their shareholders.  At some point in their growth and increasing competitive sophistication, they realize that shaping government policies is a viable strategy  for maximizing their shareholders profits – and the game is on.

– In the end, mankind will have to make a collective decision about this.   Their are two schools of thought about the choice:

– One point-of-view is that the maximization of individual profit and power is the highest thing humans can aspire to and thus what corporations and extremely wealthy individuals are about is a good thing.

– The second point-of-view is that our governments, laws and societies should primarily be about maximizing the quality of life for all of the people here on the planet.

– Thus far, our species and most of our societies haven’t made a conscious choice.   Indeed, I’ve seldom even seen the question/issue posed.

– But, there will come a time (it’s nearly upon us now) when the consequences of  letting the power and profit obsessed (both individual and corporate)  run free among us like wolves through the sheep will become blindingly obvious.

– dennis

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In just the last few years, the Corporate Police State has reared its head at every level of government.

“Corporate Police State,” it’s a fraught — some might even say, overwrought — term. But in its purest, apolitical form, it simply describes the periodic commingling of state and corporate power to protect private interests.

In the American psyche, any discussion of that phenomenon typically brings one of three images to mind. There’s the Old Corporate Police State — the sepia-toned America of decades long past, a place where state militiasmurder striking mine workers on behalf of Gilded Age barons and Congress empowers the government to forcibly ban work stoppages that defy corporate executives’ wishes. There’s the Fictional Future Corporate Police State — that smoldering bombed-out world depicted in “Robocop,” “Fortress” and every other dystopian flick in Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic catalog. And there’s the Foreign Corporate Police State — think Dubai, Singapore, Monaco and every other lavish enclave defined by lots of rich people, lots of corporate headquarters, lots of heavily armed cops — and almost no civil liberties.

By imagining the Corporate Police State primarily as a historical, fictional or foreign monster, these snapshots encourage us to believe that this monster poses no threat to us in the here and now. They encourage us, in other words, to ignore the monster’s creeping advances in present-day America.

In just the last few years, the Corporate Police State has reared its head at every level of government.

States and municipalities, for instance, have toughened criminal penalties and immigrationlaws at the behest of the private prison industry; empowered Wall Street banks to not only collect taxes but levy additional tax penalties; and allowed energy companies to exploit so-called forced pooling statutes, thereby creating what one Republican governor calls a new power of“private eminent domain.” One state is now even considering making it a criminal act to share your Netflix password with friends and family, because that is cutting into Netflix revenues.

In Washington, D.C., the federal government just enacted a healthcare bill whose individual mandate forces citizens to purchase private insurance, and the Pentagon has developed a reliable pattern of using military power to occupy resource-rich countries — and then to privatize those resources at the barrel of a gun.

This same government, which has granted corporations the rights of “personhood,” has also used its power to let corporations avoid the responsibilities of personhood — effectively using state power to create a new privileged status that is above the law. For instance, federal statutes have trampled the concept of “equal protection” by deliberately exempting corporate interests from the laws the rest of us live under — laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act (whichdoesn’t apply to natural gas drillers) and antitrust statutes (which still don’t apply to private health insurers). Federal courts have used judicial power to limit corporations’ legal and financial liability for fraud and lawbreaking.

– More…

TV boss Muzzammil Hassan found guilty of beheading wife

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

– Wrote about this a few months ago.   Very strange.

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A New York television executive has been convicted of stabbing his wife to death and beheading her.

A jury found Pakistan-born Muzzammil Hassan guilty of second-degree murder in the 2009 death of Aasiya Hassan six days after she filed for divorce.

Hassan never denied killing her but said she had abused him and that he had acted in self-defence. He served as his own lawyer during the three-week trial.

Hassan, who founded a Muslim-oriented TV network, could face life in prison.

Prosecutors argued Hassan abused his wife and planned the attack in a hallway at Bridges TV, a satellite channel he set up in 2004 in an effort to counter negative portrayals of Muslims following the 9/11 terror attacks.

– More…

Four arrested after Bangladesh girl ‘lashed to death

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Four people including a Muslim cleric have been arrested in Bangladesh in connection with the death of 14-year-old girl who was publicly lashed.

The teenager was accused of having an affair with a married man, police say, and the punishment was given under Islamic Sharia law.

Hena Begum’s family members said a village court consisting of elders and clerics passed the sentence.

She was alleged to have had the affair with her cousin and received 80 lashes.

Punishment received

The family members of the married man also allegedly beat the girl up a day before the village court passed the sentence in the district of Shariatpur.

“Her family members said she was admitted to a hospital after the incident and she died six days later. The village elders also asked the girl’s father to pay a fine of about 50,000 Taka (£430; $700),” district superintendent of police, AKM Shahidur Rahman, told the BBC.

He said it had not been established yet whether she died because of the punishment she received or another reason.

“We are still waiting for the post-mortem report. In the meantime, we are also looking for another 14 people including a teacher from a local madrassa in connection with this case,” Mr Rahman said.

Activists say dozens of fatwas – or religious rulings – are issued under Sharia law each year by village clergy in Bangladesh.

“What sort of justice is this? My daughter has been beaten to death in the name of justice. If it had been a proper court then my daughter would not have died,” Dorbesh Khan, the father of Hena Begum, told the BBC.

– More…

– And then later this:

A Bangladeshi girl who was publicly whipped for an alleged affair with a married man bled to death, according to a fresh post-mortem examination.

Doctors in Dhaka found multiple injuries on the body of Hena Begum, the deputy attorney general told the BBC.

The High Court ordered her body to be exhumed and taken to the capital after a local autopsy recorded no injuries.

Miss Begum died in hospital six days after last month’s beating, which has caused shock in Bangladesh and abroad.

Police have opened a murder investigation.

– More…

American Psychosis: What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?…

Monday, May 16th, 2011

By: Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of severalbooks including the best sellers War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. . . .

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears or John Edwards, enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.

Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.

It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.

– More…

Indian shaman ‘poisons women in witchcraft test’

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

An Indian shaman who allegedly forced women to drink a potion to prove they were not witches has been arrested.

Nearly 30 women fell ill after they were rounded up in Shivni village in central Chhattisgarh state on Sunday and made to drink the herbal brew.

A senior police officer told the BBC that six villagers had also been arrested.

Witch hunts targeting women are common in east and central India, and a number of accused are killed every year.

Most of the cases take place in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

Police spokesman Rajesh Joshi told the BBC that an 18-year-old villager was accused of witchcraft because she had been unwell.

“Her father Sitaram Rathod and other villagers suspected that it [her illness] could be due to an evil spell cast by a witch,” Mr Joshi said.

“They [the villagers] called for an ojha [witch doctor] to ward off the spell.”

Authorities said the shaman, named as Bhagwan Deen, had been helped by a few other residents as he rounded up nearly all the adult women in the centre of the village.

He concocted the potion test after conducting rituals which failed to expose the alleged witch.

“The shaman then forced the women to consume a drink that he had made out of a local poisonous herb,” Mr Joshi said. “He said that after drinking the brew, the real witch would voluntarily confess.”

Of the nearly 30 women taken to hospital after the incident, around 25 women have since been discharged.

But police said five remained in hospital, including a 70-year-old woman who was in a serious condition.

– To the original…