Saturday, November 29, 2014

Investor Revolt at News Corp: Will the Murdoch Dynasty be Dethroned?

by Nomad

After NewsCorp investors staged a revolt at the annual shareholders meeting last week, CEO and founder Rupert Murdoch barely managed to retain control over his company.
The source of the dissatisfaction revolves around the structure of the company, and the Murdoch family's ability to lead the company.

If reports are accurate, things apparently got hot and heavy at a recent News Corp shareholders meeting last week. According to an article in  The Sidney Morning Herald, Rupert Murdoch just barely survived a  revolt at the annual meeting of investors. At issue, was the Murdoch family control of the company, which sparked widespread displeasure among a large number of stockholders.

The company structure allows the Murdoch family to control around 40 per cent of the company's vote while actually owning 14 per cent of News Corp. In this way, they have been able to keep an iron grip on the company. That has,  as the article notes, lead "to accusations it is run more like a family fiefdom than a conventional public company." 

Furthermore, some investors charge that such a structure provides Murdoch family with significant control of News Corp while passing the risks onto the other investors. 
One investors at the meeting called it "“fundamentally undemocratic."
"This kind of governing structure may be exactly what we'd expect in Cuba or North Korea, but it is at odds with good governance practices here," Bill Dempsey, chief financial officer of the New York-based Nathan Cummings Foundation, told Mr Murdoch at Friday's meeting
Shareholders proposed that the company's controversial dual-class voting structure be reformed. They proposed scrapping the present structure and replacing it with a one share, one vote system. Although the motion was narrowly defeated, it was a sign that all is not well behind the ramparts of the News Corp fortress.

Notably, even one of the companies key investor, the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, (worth an estimated $27 billion) also voted in favor of restructuring the company. It marked the first time in 17 years that Al-Waleed, News Corp's second largest single investor, has voted in opposition of Murdoch. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Other Side of Anger: The East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917

by Nomad

A century, in the summer of 1917, East St. Louis was rocked by a race riot that has today been largely forgotten. It was, in many ways, a classic example of how things between the majority and the minority can quickly get out of control.

Exodus from the South

It is the summer of 1917 and the place is East St. Louis.
For the black laborer, the conditions in the Deep South, with its Jim Crow laws and the prevailing atmosphere of oppression, offered very little enticement to stay. Despite federal laws which were supposed to provide equal protection and due process, the African American in the South at that time was considered a second-class citizen.

As one source points out, all Southern states had some form of Jim Crow laws. Segregation was a way of life for black in the South, affecting every social activity, not merely schools, but also in restaurants, theaters, parks, and hospitals. All these restrictions were held in place by a justice system that favored the white race in every way. And when injustice was challenged, the KKK was on hand to provide the intimidation to keep the "coloreds" in line.

It was a time of great demographic changes. Around 1910, African Americans had constituted more than half the population of South Carolina and Mississippi, and more than 40 percent in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana. The Black exodus had rendered the South essentially without a labor force. In the North, cities that once been virtually all white at the turn of the century now became centers of urban black culture.

Factories in the North offered great opportunities for men willing to work, especially in 1917 with America about to enter the World War. Between the years 1916 through 1918, an estimated 400,000 African Americans left the South in to take advantage of a labor shortage in the wake of the First World War.

During that spring, African Americans from the South were moving to St. Louis at the rate of 2,000 a week. And this influx presented the Northern manufacturers an ultra-cheap source of labor. That was to prove to be an excellent bargaining chip against unhappy union workers.

Unions vs Management

At the same time, workers unions were embroiled in labor disputes not only in the US but globally. Among the demands, workers were attempting to establish a fair wage, the right to collective bargaining, an eight-hour work day, increased worker safety and job security. Across the nation, unions were attempting to assert their dominance over industry.

With wartime demands for industrial production increased, the timing for workers couldn't have been any better. If industrialists were going to get rich, then workers believed that they had every right to demand their own share. Added to that, union leaders understood that conscription for military service was bound to create a shortage of civilian manpower. The time to seize the moment was now.

For the corporation owner, therefore, the black migration -cheap labor that would accept whatever conditions and at whatever wages that company owners offered- was one sure way that they could break the power of the largely white unions. since the Industrial revolution began the one tactic that has long become fool-proof is to pit worker against worker. In the 1917 case, the plan was to pit white union labor and black easily-exploitable labor.

When 470 African American workers were hired to replace striking white workers at the Aluminum Ore Company in East St. Louis, the stage was set for a war between the races. The strike. which included, at least, half of the company's workforce, had already gone on for several weeks.

It was one of a series of labor actions in the area that had weakened the power of the unions. These companies were now in the power position and felt no need to arbitrate.

The hatred for corrupt management and greedy company owners swiftly turned into racial hatred for the black "scabs."

That discord was, historians have noted, largely stirred up by management that was in no mood to negotiate. Government orders meant profits and these dangerous combined factors would soon erupt into all-out calamity.

The book, Power, Community, and Racial Killing in East St. Louis, author Malcolm McLaughlin. points to the tactics (along with collaboration with local government) as the chief factor for the racial violence to come. The war allowed the industrialists to identify their own interests with the interests of the nation at war. Striking workers were portrayed as un-American. Any tactic to break the strike was considered fair.

The company had also, McLaughlin also notes, employed professional strikebreakers, armies of thugs and armed them with secretly-obtained US government issued rifles. The company had apparently received the rifles from a local gun club set up by Estes Sorrell, the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. McLaughlin speculates that the club was specifically intended as a means of gun running since the rifles appeared at the Aluminum Ore plant, packed and ungreased.

Rumblings Before the Eruption

Tensions were reaching a breaking point. On May 10, union leaders warned local government that something had to be done about the black workers taking white jobs. They threatened to take action themselves if nothing was done.

Eventually, on May 28th, 1917- just weeks after America had entered the war, the spark caught fire and the race riots of East St. Louis exploded. Formal complaints about black workers were lodged with the Mayor of East St. Louis Fred Mollman by furious whites. 

A month earlier Mayor Mollman had won re-election on a promise to clean up the city. He had also assured black voters that black police officers would be hired and a new firehouse would be built for black neighborhoods. White voters were also furious when Mollman threw a post-election party with hundreds of black supporters. 

The mayor assured the angry white crowd that he had a plan to handle the Negro problem. However the remarks of another speaker, a white lawyer, that struck an ominous note. He told the crowd that "there's is no law against mob violence." 
It was exactly the wrong thing to say and the worst message to give.

Immediately after the meetings, with passions running high, a rumor was circulated about a white man being robbed by an armed African-American. Mobs of angry white civilians gather and set off a rampage through the downtown, assaulting all blacks they could find. African Americans were pulled off trolleys and beaten on the street.

Critics claimed that the police were more interested in disarming the black residents instead of protecting lives and property.
This violent episode was brought to an end only when Illinois governor Frank Lowden called out the National Guard to restore calm.

Had the governor followed up with a thorough investigation and prosecution of transgressors along with preventative measures, the situation could have been resolved. 
However, in the month that followed, the riot was all but forgotten while the simpering underlying causes remained. As one source notes:
No precautions were taken to ensure white job security or to grant union recognition. This further increased the already-high level of hostilities towards African Americans. No reforms were made in police force which did little to quell the violence in May.
When Governor Lowden ordered the National Guard out of the city on June 10th, the black residents of the city faced the situation alone. 
During this time, the strike was officially called off two weeks later, all that was left of the labor action was a bitter resentment that demanded its expression in violence.

The Slaughter of the Innocents

On July 2, 1917, an automobile driven by white males passing through a black neighborhood, firing shots at African Americans. 
Not long afterward, black residents mistook another car carrying a journalist and two police officers for the same attackers and fired shot at the passing vehicle, killing both police.

Later that day, thousands of white residents gathered on the scene to view the blood-stained auto. The crowds then turned and marched into the black parts of town, reportedly beating any African American they found along the way - including women and children.

Professor Elliot Rudwick's 1964 book Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917, provides an insight to the terrible night. After cutting fire department water hoses, white rioters torched entire black neighborhoods of the city and shot at residents as they attempted to escape. 

Several innocent African Americans were lynched by the mobs.
Guardsmen were called in but accounts exist that they joined in the rioting rather than stopping it. More joined in, including allegedly "ten or fifteen young girls about 18 years old, [who] chased a negro woman at the Relay Depot at about 5 o'clock. The girls were brandishing clubs and calling upon the men to kill the woman."
Some unverified reports claimed that "black women were stripped by white women for the amusement of the crowd." 

Troops were ordered not to shoot rioters and a number of rifles were stolen from the soldiers. When squads of soldiers were sent out to round up firearms, it was clear that both sides were well-armed. 

One Col. S. O. Tripp of the Illinois Guard came out as a hero of the hour when he rescued an elderly black man from a lynching party of hundreds. The black man, with a rope around his neck, was being dragged through a street by more than a hundred men. Col. Tripp forced his way through the crowd and demanded the crowd release the man. 
Such acts of heroism were not common and later, as the details emerged, the actions of National Guard on that night would seem anything but heroic. 

According to one account at the time, African Americans were "being shot down like rabbits" and hanged to telegraph poles in the south end of the town. Other reliable reports counted nineteen black corpses on a side street. 

Throughout the night of July 2, the atrocities against black Americans continued despite the presence of patrolling Guardsmen. In addition, high winds spread the flames engulfing three different parts of the city. 

In the early hours of the following morning, leaders of the black community gathered together to make an appeal directly to President Wilson and to the Illinois governor. They demanded increased security for the black population under mortal threat. The total number of Guardsmen was 1.500, but officials conceded that that number would not be enough to restore order. 
Here's how one reporter described the scene the following morning.
Estimates of the number of dead varied widely from 25 to 250. At 9:30 o'clock 24 bodies had been recovered, including three whites, 74 wounded negros were found.

Estimate of the bodies supposed to lie under the acres of ashes and smouldering debris, where fires consumed hundreds of negro shacks and house last night run into the hundreds.

Keeping Out of Sight 

The morning brought some degree of calm to the city. Exhausted Guardsmen patrolled the streets while many black residents driven from their homes huddled together "seemingly anxious to keep out of sight." 

Six thousand blacks were left homeless and five hundred men women and children had been forced to spend the night in the city jail. presumably, the only place that would provide any degree of security.

Otherwise. said the reporter,  the city appeared normal. There were broken windows here and there, other wreckage and the breeze carried the acrid smell of water-soaked embers.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dispatched two representatives, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martha Gruening, to investigate the events. Silent marches of 10,000 were held in New York City in silent protests for what black leaders were calling a "massacre."

In the days after the event, there was a national outcry for those responsible to held to account. including the police commission and other government officials. Closer to home, however, it was a different story. 
In the days following the riots, the city's whites exhibited little regret. Many toured downtown, which buzzed with a mardi-gras environment, showing off mementos that they had gathered during the unrest (mainly pieces of clothing from dead bodies). They also blamed their black neighbors for the July 2 disturbance.
Collins also points out that when justice finally came, it was the based on a surreal version of impartiality.
A grand jury eventually handed down indictments to 134 people, about one-third of them black. Most of the whites paid a small fine or spent a few days in jail. Six substantial trials stemmed from the riot- four involving whites and two blacks. Nine whites and twelve blacks served time in prison.

The Garvey Indictment

The controversial and charismatic Marcus Garvey, the president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) delivered a speech on July 8, less than a week later. 
His words were unambiguous calling what had taken place as "one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind for which any class of people could be held guilty."

It was, he said,  "no time for fine words, but a time to lift one's voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy."
“This is a crime against the laws of humanity; it is a crime against the laws of the nation, it is a crime against Nature, and a crime against the God of all mankind.”
He did not blame just the individuals involved, but Garvey indicted the entire system:
For three hundred years the Negroes of America have given their life blood to make the Republic the first among the nations of the world, and all along this time there has never been even one year of justice but on the contrary a continuous round of oppression.
Quoting   Acts 17:26, Garvey said that  God has created "of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth." Yet, it was the white race that was determined "to enslave, conquer and rob the rights of the Peaceful."
Through that system of enslavement, conquest and robbery, the black man was taken into this country where he was forced against his will to labor for the enrichment of the white man. Millions of our people in the early days of slavery gave their lives that America might live. From the labours of these people the country grew in power, until her wealth to-day is computed above that of any two nations.
In spite of this inarguable contribution to the American success story, the Negro race was still "a despised creature in the eye of the white people." How else can the massacre in East St.Louis be explained?

"The white man," Garvey told the crowd, "has never found it convenient to live up to the principles of brotherhood which he himself teaches to all mankind." 

In that speech, Garvey also outlined a conspiracy against African Americans who had abandoned the brutal oppression of the South in a bid for their fair share of prosperity and a better life in the North. He took direct aim at East St. Louis Mayor Mollman. 
"I am convinced that he fostered a well arranged conspiracy to prevent black men migrating from the South much the loss of Southern Farmers who for months have been moving heaven it seems to prevent the exodus of the labor serfs of the South into the North."
He accused Mollman of doing "absolutely nothing to let the people know that the law would be enforced to preserve order and ensure the peaceful lives of the black people."
The authorities instead of attempting to keep law and order had simply stood by and watched.
We have a police department that is incompetent and inefficient if not worse. Not only was the word sent out that law would not be rigidly enforced but the impression was allowed to spread that law violations would be winked at."
There were reports, Garvey said, that the East St. Louis mayor had been contacted by representatives from the South to see what could be done about the black migration.
As proof of the conspiracy, Garvey also cited a message from Legislature of Georgia that "their good Negroes must come home as they will treat them better than East St. Louis did." 

In one day, Garvey said, the mayor of East St. Louis succeeded in driving out a black population in fear of their lives in the face of a white mob. he promised that he would do all he could to discourage Negroes from Louisiana going into East St. Louis as the city did not want them. 
The South was, he said, wild about the "splendid performance."

 *   *   *
Within a month, insurance companies in East St. Louis were canceling policies on property owned by African Americans, in advance of the National Guards eventual departure. 
According to an article in the St. Louis Argus for July 20th, landlords were rumored to be demanding tenants leave and that certain time payment furniture houses were offering to take back partially paid for furniture and refund amount advanced. The same article noted that Illinois Senator Lawrence Sherman was warning the Senate that the rioting was likely to erupt again unless a Congressional committee was formed to investigate the incident.

The message to black residents was clear: they were not safe and they were not wanted. Go back to where you came from.

Committee Hearings

By August of 1917, the United States House of Representatives formed a special Committee investigation of the East St. Louis Race Riots. It came at the request of President Wilson. He wrote a letter to Congress declaring it was "a very serious thing for the whole Nation that anything of the sort that happened in East St. Louis should be possible." 

The committee was charged with reporting the causes that led to the murdering, the lynching, the burning, and the drowning of innocent citizens. The testimony of witnesses presented the Congressmen with horrors that could not be ignored. One witness gave his own account of victims begging for mercy at the hands of a mob gone utterly insane. as well as death by stoning and African Americans randomly being burned alive.
Black skin, a witness told the Congressmen, was a death warrant. 

Another witness stated that the white mob could be a "frugal" lot as well. After shattering the windows of a black residents, white mobs would then loot homes and would remove "every useful piece of furniture, especially if they were large pieces, and carried them to the homes of the poorer whites."

(The complete report was held under seal by the U.S. Government as "classified information" and the U.S. Government did not declassify this report until 1986.) 

The definitive findings of the committee revealed gross negligence of the National Guard and the St. Louis police force. They had not, the report said, acted adequately during the riots, revealing that the police often fled from the scenes of murder and arson. Others had deserted the station houses and refused to answer calls for help. 

In short, law and order were essentially non-existent when it came to protecting the black population on that fateful night. The result as one witness observed was a spectacle worthy of the barbarity of the Roman Coliseum, except, in this case, the white mob had "become were their own gladiators and their own wild beasts."

The Echoes of the Race Riots

In 1918, Representative Leonidas C. Dyer, a Republican from Saint Louis, Missouri introduced the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Dyer had been on the Committee and had been appalled at the race riots. Th bill was an attempt to punish lynchings and mob violence. The legislation would have made lynching a federal felony, thereby overcoming any question of state jurisdiction. 

The draft bill not only demanded punishment for perpetrators but also  prescribed a maximum of 5 years in prison for "any state or city official who had the power to protect a person in his jurisdiction but failed to do so or who had the power to prosecute those responsible and failed to do so."
There was more. 

A $10,000 fine was to be paid by the county in which the lynching took place, to be turned over to the victim’s family. If the victim was seized in one county and killed in another, both counties were to be fined.
 States, especially in the South at that time seldom prosecuted lynchings and they claimed that the prosecution of mob violence including lynchings was a matter of states to decide. 
Congressional Record also showed that senators defended lynching on the grounds that it helped control what they characterized as a threat to white women and also served to keep the races separate.

The bill was passed by a large majority in the House of Representatives, however, the legislation was blocked by a filibuster each time it was put up for a vote.  The opposition was led by the South.

Ninety percent of all lynchings occurred in the Southern states Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama furnished nearly half the total victims. Before the civil rights era- which radically changed the direction and agenda of the Democratic party, the South was firmly in the hands of the white ultra-conservative Democrats. 

This faction effectively prevented the passage of the anti-lynching each time the matter came up. 1922, in 1923 and once more in 1924. Each time, Southern Senators replied that they could their own affairs pretty well without Federal interference.


In June of 2005, the US Senate formally apologized for its failure to enact anti-lynching bills. Between the years 1882- 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching laws were drafted. Of those, only three passed the House vote. All of them died in the Senate, a result of the Southern Democratic opposition. 

(That political trend continued until the Democrats under President Eisenhower who challenged the segregation policies of the South. The civil rights policies of Democrat Presidents Kennedy and Johnson ended the Southern conservative wing of their party and today, thanks to the Southern Strategy of Nixon and Reagan, the South is firmly in the hands of the Republican party.) 

Even in 2005, the vote to apologize for the failure was not unanimous. Two Senators from Mississippi, Republicans Trent Lott and Thad Cochran.refused to sign.

Before the Endless Loop

Marcus Garvey once said that the function of the Press was public service "without prejudice or partiality, to convey the truth as it is seen and understood without favoritism or bias."

Today, we have the 24/7 news cycle which may show a glimpse of the truth (when it wishes) but it is rarely the whole truth. Today we have cameras in helicopters soaring over crowds of angry protesters. Close ups of furious African American faces, shouting and holding up handwritten signs. Today CNN reports can show live shots of buildings aflame and National Guard troops in full uniform firing tear gas canisters into silhouetted crowds. We see an endless loop of shots of black residents breaking into shops and carrying out whatever they get a hold of.

Back in 1917, none of this technology existed, of course, and the news coverage of the events in East St. Louis was limited to a small item at the bottom of a page. In the East St. Louis incident, there were practically no photographs of the atrocities and the few that were taken were not flashed every hour to a disgusted public. 

All and all, that's a lucky thing for the white race. Without a mirror, it's so easy to forget what one looks like.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Musical Sanity Break: Eric Whitacre and the Virtual Choir

by Nomad

This is certainly a time that calls for a little harmony and calmness. For that reason, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to a special person.

Meet Grammy-winning American composer and conductor, Eric Whitacre. Although you might not have heard of him before, The Daily Telegraph has called Whitacre a "rare thing, a modern composer who is both popular and original."

He has won numerous awards for his work, including awards from the Barlow international composition competition, American Choral Directors Association, American Composers' Forum
But that's only half of the story.

By combining his choral, orchestral and wind ensemble music, the power of the Internet and thousands of talented strangers- as well as Whitacre's determination- his Virtual Choir projects have  pushed the boundaries and inspired the world. 

I will let him explain the concept in this 2011 TED lecture the rest of the details.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How the Facts about Benghazi Bring an End to the Republican Lying Game

by Nomad

After two long years of investigating the Benghazi incident, the Republicans were forced to admit that all of the slanderous claims made against Obama and his administration were, in fact, untrue.
Nobody wants to talk about holding anybody to account now.

This week the last chapter in the pathetic Benghazi attack saga was finally written.
After years of constant (some said faked) outrage about the tragic events in September 2012, the final report by the Republican Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was very quietly released. It should have been big news. The mainstream media however barely reported it. 
That's not a surprise perhaps since this report- direct from the Committee itself- absolutely vindicated the Obama administration's version of events.

The investigations really started on that night with presidential candidate Mitt Romney's famous smirk. For a president seeking re-election, the timing of the Libyan event couldn't have been worse. The tragedy allowed the Republicans to paint the entire administration as incompetent, careless, and able to react to an unfolding crisis. Weak leadership, in a word.

Unfortunately, Romney overplayed his hand and his opportunism backfired miserably, leading one commentator to call the candidate's press conference   "one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign." 
Fox News however called Romney's remarks about the Benghazi attack a demonstration of his "Reaganesque commitment to American resolve in our might."
On that night, the battle lines were drawn.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why an Oil Company Plans to Sue County for $1.2 Billion After Voter-Approved Fracking Ban

by Nomad

Following a vote against fracking and other enhanced oil extraction processes, voters and local officials in one California county are learning what happens when you cross an ambitious corporation.

Local government officials in central California's San Benito County have every reason to feel bullied and bruised by recent events in the area. 

Measure J
In a November ballot, a referendum known as Measure J was put before its citizens. That initiative was a proposed ban on all "enhanced petroleum extraction such as fracking, cyclic steaming and well acidizing along with all petroleum activities in rural residential zones."

Supporters argued a so-called fracking ban was necessary to prevent possible environmental impacts. According to Measure J supporters, the toxic chemicals used in the extraction process had the potential to cause cancer and other illnesses through groundwater and watershed contamination. The impact to endangered species in a nearby national park was also cited as a cause for worry. 

The Washington-D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity pointed out 
“These enhanced recovery methods include steam extraction, acid extraction, and hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). Although all of these methods involve chemistry not used in traditional oil and natural gas extraction, in California none of them is regulated or tracked any differently than are the traditional methods. Statewide, there is no requirement that companies declare the chemicals used in their extraction operations, or even that they are using enhanced extraction methods. Any regulation on these activities therefore (need to be) enacted at the county level.”
Finally, Measure J supported also noted  in quake-prone California,  the possible impact of fracking  on fault-lines should be matter of grave concern. Even in areas where there is little seismic activity, where fracking has been used, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of tremors. San Benito County already has its risks. The notorious San Andreas Fault runs through the region. 

Opposing the ballot initiative was in Newport Beach- based, Citadel Exploration. The oil company, founded in 2006, was set to begin its Project Indian in the Bitterwater area near Pinnacles National Park. In 2013, the company had received approval from county supervisors, over the objections of environmental groups, for a this limited pilot project.

While still in the testing and initial production stage, the oil drilling project was expected to recover an estimated millions of barrels of heavy (11-14 gravity API) oil. Alongside the oil companies were local farmers ready to sign lucrative real estate deals. The company pointed out that strictly speaking the technique to be used was not fracking

It turned out to be a showdown between environmental groups and powerful corporations which reportedly spent $2 million in advertising to defeat the initiative. That's not surprising. Armen V. Nahabedian, President and CEO of Citadel Exploration. has talked up the project
"Having worked on this project for over seven years, I can't overstate the importance and magnitude of our discovery at Project Indian."
When the measure passed by a strong majority (57.36%) in this month, citizens might have thought that would have been the end of the matter. As of Jan 1 next year, because of the vote, all enhanced extraction practices are to be banned and existing projects would have up to three years to comply with the provisions. 
End of story? 
Not quite.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Extinction of Compassion: A Tale of Empires and Elephants 2/2

by Nomad

Here's the conclusion of the historical tale of the last days of the Roman Republic and the revenge of the slaughtered elephants. We will also compare those brutal times to our own.

In the first of this two-part series we recounted how the ambitious masters of Rome were step by step destroying the Republic. In public spectacle in 55 BC, the audience, so used to bloodshed, were suddenly unexpectedly repulsed by the cruel slaughter of 18 elephants, who had begged in vain for mercy. Instead of applauding Pompey, the sponsor of the celebrations, the disgusted citizens of Rome denounced and cursed him.  
Let's watch the rest of this classic tragedy play out.

Destinies Fulfilled
It didn't take long for the Gods to answer the calls of revenge from the dying elephants and the curses of the Roman public. Within two years, the First Triumvirate tottered and collapsed.
The intermarriage ties between Caesar and Pompey- Pompey was married to Caesar's daughter Julia- dissolved upon her tragic death in childbirth.

First to die was Marcus Crassus, one third of the three-way alliance. After a military disaster in the East against the Parthians, his troops mutinied in Syria, and was later murdered while trying to arrange a humiliating peace negotiation. According to accounts from one Roman historian, his particularly gruesome death at the hands of his enemy was meant to be a testament to his greed. Molten gold was supposedly poured down his throat while he still alive.

A showdown between Caesar and Pompey now seemed all but inevitable.

For five more years, Pompey managed to hold onto Rome. That all quickly unraveled when Caesar returned from successfully conquering of Gaul (modern day France) with his sizable armies and considerably more wealth. Certainly enough to bribe whomever stood in his way.
In open defiance of Senate orders to bring his troops into Rome and to come alone and unprotected, Caesar and his armies continued a march south, crossing the Rubicon. That act was a declaration that he would no longer take orders from the Senate.

The political crisis had now become an all-out civil war. After losing battles in Spain and Greece, Pompey's hold on power became less and less convincing. With the Roman people' and the city armies' allegiance unreliable, Pompey had little choice but to flee (along with much of the Senate) to Egypt, with hopes of later re-establishing control. From there, he presumably planned to cut all grain shipments to Rome and force Caesar into negotiations.
It was not to be.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Extinction of Compassion: A Story of Empires and Elephants 1/2

by Nomad

In this first of a two-part post, I want to go back to one of the most important moments of Western history, when the Roman Republican was beginning to unravel  and the small but surprising part that elephants had to play in the story.

History has all kinds of hidden treasures. One thing that I find exciting is discovering some forgotten tale with a nice mix of drama and effect.

The one I am about to tell takes place in the last years of the Roman Republic. It involves the cruel and arrogant politicians, a desensitized public that suddenly awoke and the lamenting tears of elephants preparing to die. First of all, we need to set the stage. 
Literally, in this case.

Roman Politics and the Theater
Politics in ancient Rome down through the centuries was rarely very stable, the situation at Rome In the spring of 55 BC, was  particularly strained. The Roman Republic was in disarray and many worried, (rightly so, as it turned out) that it could not be restored.

The Roman general and consul Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better know as Pompey) was preparing the dedication of his great theater project the first stone theater in Rome. 
To prevent Rome falling into tyrannical monarchy- something that patriotic Romans feared above all else- a joint rule was established between the generals. It was called by later historians as the First Triumvirate. It was made up of Pompey, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was also the wealthiest man in Roman history, and Gaius Julius Caesar

That arrangement was never official approved by. the Senate. Out of necessity, the three-way leadership  was for some time kept secret from both the people and the Senate.
Actually, that alliance was much more like modern day gangsters agreeing on territories. than a military overthrow. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cooking the Books: How the Conservative Best Seller Scam is a Free Market Hypocrisy

by Nomad

When is a bestseller not a bestseller? A lot of bestselling conservative authors have found a way to turn horse manure into gold. It's a testament to their actual commitment to the free market system.  

The Making of a Bestseller

Ever wonder who buys all those books written by people like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Sarah Palin? Somebody has to be purchasing them, right? How else can their books be making it on the best sellers lists so often?

John Iadarola, known for his work on The Young Turks, offers this insight into what can only be called a publishing scam.

It's a credible theory. In 2010, a reporter for Salon suggested the same thing:
The sales of books by awful right-wing authors like Jonah Goldberg are boosted by an entire industry dedicated to … boosting the sales of books by awful right-wing authors. Conservative book clubs purchase tens of thousands of copies and right-wing think tanks order right-wing books in bulk.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bush's Unending Lies: Why Deceptions about Iraq May Be His Only Legacy

by Nomad

Former president George W. Bush's recent comments about Iraq demonstrated that his skill at deception and self-deception is undiminished by time. 
It will probably be the only thing he will be remembered for.

The other day former president George W. Bush was on NPR plugging his book on his father, 41: A Portrait of My Father. While presumably whitewashing his father's career, Bush took a moment to whitewash his own. 

In that interview Bush was asked whether he thought Iraq was safer now compared with when Saddam Hussein was in power. What would Iraq be like today if we hadn't invaded?  
"One could envision a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq. The man, Saddam Hussein, would have a lot of revenue as a result of high prices of oil."
Actually this is an outright lie. 
Since 1991, sanctions on exports and imports administrated by the UN had made all exports of oil tightly controlled. Admittedly it wasn't perfect and Saddam was able to find some loopholes. (This is the Middle-East where no rule is entirely fixed and black markets can be found everywhere.)

However, to claim that Iraq could have found the financing for a atomic weapons program is absolute nonsense. In fact, The government of Iraq declined UN offers to ease sanctions which would have enabled Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to meet its people's needs. Saddam refused in order to effectively hold his own people hostages and to have all sanctions removed. 

The UN did not let up the pressure on the Iraqi government and set up the much-criticized Oil for Food Program in 1995.  Corruption might have been rife in that program but there was never any evidence that money was diverted for any atomic weapons project. 

In fact, 25% Iraqi oil export proceeds allowed under the sanctions were used to the Compensation Fund for war reparation payments, 2.2% went to United Nations administrative and operational costs and 0.8% for the weapons inspection program. The rest (72%) went to humanitarian purposes.
That doesn't leave very much to spend on a clandestine nuclear weapons research program.

Breaking it Down
Immediately after this statement, to preempt reality from wrecking his myth- he added
"And even though there wasn't, you know, a -- we found a dirty bomb, for example -- he had the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And so there's -- you know, it's all very hypothetical."
The statement is typical of his fumbling oratorical style but there's more to it than mere incoherence. Bush tries to cram so much misrepresentation in one remark, it's hard to know how to break it down.
Let's give it a shot.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dog Owners in Iran To Receive Lashing for Walking their Pets

by Nomad

If Iranian lawmakers have their way, dog owners could face harsh penalties for taking Spot or Fido for a walk to the park. 

The French News Agency, AFP, recently had this odd and rather unhappy news item for all animal lovers

If the conservative parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran has its way, dog owners may have to pay a heavy price for their pets. Hardliners have proposed a draft bill, that would keep at dogs at home and forbid owners from walking dogs in public. 

That proposal has already been signed by 32 members of the parliament. Violations to the law would see dog owners face up to 72 lashes and heavy fines ranging from 10 million rials to 100 million rials ($370 to $3,700 at official rates).
The law states that:
"Anyone who walks or plays with animals such as dogs or monkeys in public places will damage Islamic culture, as well as the hygiene and peace of others, especially women and children."
Dogs (and monkeys) would, the laws states, be confiscated and held in zoos, or left in forests or other wilderness areas. Even before this law, Iran's morality police were stopping dog owners and warning or confiscating the animals.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Criminalizing Charity: The Shame and Hypocrisy of a Christian Nation

by Nomad

Do city ordinances which forbid the feeding of the homeless violate the religious liberty of Christians? Why has there been so much more outcry about gay wedding cakes and yet barely a whisper when it comes to outlawing a core commandment of the Christian faith?

There's no denying that, from the time of the struggling Puritan settlers until this day, Judaic-Christian values have had a profound influence on American culture. Certainly more than any other religious teaching. This is true not merely in the so-called Bible Belt but in other regions and other aspects of American social life.

Of course, no fair minded person would say that America has no room for diversity of religious thought or that Christianity should be forced upon any citizen. Simply because a religion has an influence doesn't mean it has any more right to become the only faith or the national governmentally-endorsed religion. Yet, it is true that much of American morality has roots in this particular faith.

Despite what Justice Scalia has recently said, the government is constitutionally mandated to remain wholly neutral, neither supporting nor rejecting any religion. At the same time, according to past Supreme Court rulings, the government must also steer clear of interference with degrees of religious faith: from the devout to the unbeliever, all must be respected.

Even with the equally-strong belief in secularism (when it comes to religion and government), on a person level, the humanitarian principles found in Judaic-Christian teachings are generally considered the bedrock of American philosophy. 

Among those Christian unchallengables is the call to charity, a command to help those in need, to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked. This idea, of course, is not unique to Christianity but it is generally where Americans draw their inspiration for doing good works.  

After loving the Lord with the second uppermost command is that we "love our neighbors as we love ourselves." And the two points cannot be separate in the Christian theology as the Book of John observes:
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion--how can God's love be in that person?
The Book of James one can find:
If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
In the Old Testament too one can find similar thoughts. Proverbs 14:31 for example:
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
And in the same book:
Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
With regular outraged anguish about "religious liberty" the Far Right Christians seem strangely silence and disinterested when it comes to criminalizing one of Christianity's most noble articles of faith.

*   *   *
Only last month we featured a post about laws against feeding the homeless. Here's what it looked like in action when a 90-year-old man was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last weekend. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Megalodon Deception: Why Fictionalizing Science is More Deadly that a Monster Shark

by Nomad

A Shark Week hoax about long extinct monsters of the deep says a lot about our diminishing ability to discern fact from opinion and science from fantasy. 

So there I am watching the Discovery Channel, and there's a program about a prehistoric shark, much much larger than even the Great White Shark. We are talking eighteen wheeler size big. 
This species used to roam the seas millions of years ago and then went extinct long before man came along. Thank Goodness for that, because it is quite possible that humanity would never have been able to cross the oceans with a monster like that, ready to gulp us down like a slices of pizza at a frat party.

Shark Week has always been a big draw for the Discovery Channel. The problem is after spending years talking about a particular animal, inevitably there comes a time when you run out of new things to say. It's big. It swims. It's fast. And it will eat you. That's really all you need to know. People can only remained scared for so long before they get bored. Then it's "Shark, shmark." 
But after racking their brains, the executives came up with a new angle.  

Megalodon Fraud 
According to experts on the show (aptly named “Megalodon: The Monster That Lives”), there is strong evidence that Megalodon is not extinct at all. The show spent quite some time reviewing photos, videos and eyewitness accounts showing that this monster was actually still out there. Waiting on me to pluck up the courage to dip my big toe into the high seas. 

Gradually, however, it dawned on me that there was something wrong here. There was something unnatural about the interviews. The lighting too perfect. the words too precisely chosen and descriptive for an average person. The rhythm of the speech was more like the delivery of a stage actor. The shark expert was a little too photogenic and well-spoken. In addition, the camera work for the video evidence was a little too polished.
That's when it hit me.
The whole show and all of the evidence were a well-orchestrated hoax. Ten minutes of being made a fool was my limit before I continued my search for something to watch.