logo Ming the Mechanic - Category: Politics
An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

Saturday, March 1, 2003day link 

 Nader on Patents
Wired prints a few words from Ralph Nader about the U.S. Patent system.
"The United States spends more than $1 billion annually to examine patents. Despite this expenditure, the Patent Office has become a glorified diploma mill, routinely granting rights that should never have been issued. The patents wouldn't stand up in court, but they're expensive to litigate. So why are we forcing developing countries to follow our lead when we don't do a good job ourselves? [...]

The system protects two groups: software companies with weak products who use patents to harass competitors, and patent lawyers. The ease of getting patents makes it economically attractive to abuse the system in a number of unpleasant ways. People obtain patents and then ask businesses to pay licensing fees that are cheaper than the cost of mounting a legal defense. Also, firms are wary of investing in new products for fear they will be ambushed by an infringement claim that may or may not be valid but will cost millions in legal fees."

[ | 2003-03-01 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, February 28, 2003day link 

 Sympathy for the Devil
John Perry Barlow has an interesting perspective on Dick Cheney (U.S. Vice President) and what he might be up to. John knows him personally and considers him one of the most intelligent people he has ever met, even if he doesn't agree with him. Well, John is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, so that can't be overlooked. He thinks that Cheney is quite likely the brains behind the Bush strategy, and that he actually has thought the plan through in great detail.
"[T]hey are trying to convince every other nation on the planet that the United States is the Mother of All Rogue States, run by mad thugs in possession of 15,000 nuclear warheads they are willing to use and spending, as they already are, more on death-making capacity than all the other countries on the planet combined. In other words, they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either.

By these terrible means, they will create a world where war conducted by any country but the United States will seem simply too risky and the Great American Peace will begin. Unregulated Global Corporatism will be the only permissible ideology, every human will have access to McDonald's and the Home Shopping Network, all 'news' will come through some variant of AOLTimeWarnerCNN, the Internet will be run by Microsoft, and so it will remain for a long time. Peace. On Prozac."
A horrible thought. But he might be right, that they're merely bluffing. We'll know soon enough.
[ | 2003-02-28 23:59 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, February 26, 2003day link 

 A real war-on-terrorism strategy
picture Robert Wright, who is the author of Nonzero wrote a series of excellent articles last September titled "A Real War on Terrorism". It is the best thing I've read on the subject. Wright possesses a sense of logic, which seems to be peculiarly absent in the people we elect to run our countries. What we mostly hear is talking monkeys who repeat half-baked political and religious ideas, but who somehow have avoided developing the skill of thinking the whole situation through logically.

Wright describes very well how it will only become easier and easier for small groups of motivated, angry, intelligent people to create major grief and death for large numbers of people. It is no longer a matter of what governments support it, or what public support exists for such actions. A small group can, all by its own, in complete isolation, concoct some very bad things in a garage, from ingredients that can be bought openly, that might kill hundreds of thousands. No way you can just cut off the supply. There isn't necessarily anybody to bomb. Doesn't matter if large numbers of people support it or fund it or not.

The inevitable answer is that we'll need to change the things that different geographical or cultural groups are likely to become extremely angry about. That is more about memes, about the contageous ideas that travel through cultures, than it is about what really goes on. If certain relatively small and apparently sensible actions, like arresting some trouble maker, make many more people angry, the net result easily becomes more terrorism, not less. The amount of discontent in the world is becoming a highly significant national-security variable.

There will keep being reasons for terrorism as long as there are tyrannies and major economic inequalities anywhere on the planet. The United States will be a major target of terrorism as long as it keeps being a major force behind perpetuating these. The answer is democracy, freedom and a free economic market that actually works for most people in most areas.
"A few decades from now, there will need to be a 'global civilization' in which both words are literally accurate — a planetwide community of mutually cooperative nations, bound by interdependence and international law, whose citizens are accorded freedom and economic opportunity. This is the goal we're forced toward by some of the creepier aspects of technological evolution: ever-more-compact, ever-more-accessible, ever-more-lethal munitions, and the ever-more-efficient crystallization of interest groups, including hateful ones, via information technology."
In other words, the only way out is to make a world that works for most everybody, no matter where they live, so that there is no good reason for anybody being pissed at some unfairly privileged and parasitic group of people living in some other area. I'd probably also go further and say that we need to go beyond the idea of 'nations' altogether. But that's gonna take more work. In the meantime I wish somebody would listen to what this man is saying.
[ | 2003-02-26 14:12 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, February 20, 2003day link 

 The war explainifyed
From DemocracyMeansYou via Synergy Earth News
[ | 2003-02-20 23:59 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 War: A crime against humanity
picture The following is a press communique and statement from the Club of Budapest, dated yesterday. The Club of Budapest is a global think-and-action tank with a hundred members including the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Peter Ustinov, Jane Goodall, Peter Russell, Ervin Laszlo and many others. First Ervin Laszlo, President of the Club of Budapest, has this to say:
"Times are over when questions of war and peace could be decided in the context of international power politics. Right cannot be decided by might, in the international field any more than in the personal domain. In an interdependent global community every war between nations is fundamentally a civil war."
Here is some other good stuff from the press communique:
Terrorists and potential aggressors must be stopped, but war is not the way to stop them. Warfare must be replaced by dialogue leading to mutual understanding as a basis of multilateral cooperation in regard to relations among nations in the political as well as in the economic and the ecological spheres.

According to the Club of Budapest, the project of creating a structure of global cooperation beyond the veto-power and special status of individual states is best pursued in the framework of a 'World Futures Council' as proposed among others by Mikhail Gorbachev and Jacob von Uexkuell. The Council is to be constituted of one hundred independent individuals of high integrity who place the shared human interest above any parochial national or cultural interest. The Club of Budapest takes an active part in the creation of such a Council and will promote its work with special attention to questions of civil and political values and perceptions, and the humanism and sustainability of the policies motivated by them.
I very much agree with that. It is pretty insane to have global wars run by local politicians, either trying to police areas outside their own jurisdiction, or simply for the purpose of improving their chances of re-election, and for filling the coffers of their own business associates. I think there are some important points being made there, so here is the full statement signed by members of CofB:

The time has come for the world community to recognize that war, rather than an instrument for the elimination of terrorists and aggressors, is a crime against humanity. It is itself an act of aggression that threatens human life, and the environment on which human life vitally depends.

No other species kills massively its own kind: war is a uniquely human phenomenon. Such killing was never justified, but it had a marginal warrant at a time when war was waged among neighboring groups for the acquisition of territory with natural and human resources and could be limited to the territories and the warriors of the protagonists. At a time when resources are not limited to defined territories and hostilities cannot be contained, war is neither politically nor economically justified. Given that modern warfare kills innocent civilians, inflicts serious damage on the life-supporting environment, and may escalate to a global conflagration, waging war needs to be declared a crime against humanity. No nation-state should have the legitimate right to wage war against any other nation-state.

The stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction is not a warrant for waging war. Weapons of mass destruction whether they are nuclear, chemical, biological, or conventional are a threat to human life and habitat by whoever possesses them. They are not tolerable in the hands of any state, whether it is large or small, rich or poor, and headed by a dictator or by an elected politician. Such weapons need to be eliminated from the arsenals of every state, a task that is not the self-declared prerogative of any government but the responsibility of the global community of all peoples and states. There will be no lasting peace on earth until all weapons of mass destruction are destroyed, their production and stockpiling proscribed, and strategies calling for their use replaced by strategies of dialogue, negotiation and, if necessary, internationally agreed economic and political sanctions.

Attempting to eliminate weapons of mass destruction with weapons of mass destruction is to fight violence with violence on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, a policy that can end up making everyone blind and toothless. Aggressors and terrorists must be stopped, but war is not the way to stop them.

[ | 2003-02-20 22:59 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, February 16, 2003day link 

 CNN doctors the news
picture Dan Hon has done an excellent analysis of CNN's doctoring of the transcript of Hans Blix' report to the U.N. Friday.
After grabbing the text from the two transcripts, correcting for where the BBC inserted a whole bunch of whitespace, there it was. A count in Word says that there's 866 words in one version that aren't in the other. At all. And they're, variously, about Iraqi moves towards compliance and partial refutation of the evidence presented by Powell to the UNSC.
Get that. CNN deliberately left out the things Blix said about Iraq complying with the UN resolution, and the parts where he refutes Colin Powell's evidence from the week before. Look for yourself. BBC's full version is here and CNN's fake version is here.
[ | 2003-02-16 22:58 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, February 13, 2003day link 

 The Proof
Question: "What proof do you have that Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction?"

Colin Powell: "We kept the receipts."
That is a joke. But not all that much of a joke once you consider that the United States and Great Britain sold lots and lots of atomic, chemical and biological weapons material to Iraq, including rockets to deliver it with. See a list here of the companies involved.
[ | 2003-02-13 23:59 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, February 12, 2003day link 

 Old Europe - or old America
picture Nice article by Graham E. Fuller.
"Think about it. France and Germany have put five centuries of wars behind them, including two devastating world wars, to form a new union with shared currency and desires to forge a broad common foreign policy. Such a step is revolutionary among ancient nation-state rivals with different cultures.

But it doesn't stop there. The European Union is a remarkable experiment - the first time in history when states have been willing to give up real hunks of their own national sovereignty in order to join a new civilizational project. Turks, Bulgarians and Latvians are begging to pay the considerable admission fee to be let in.

The reigning premises of the Union are that states must be truly democratic, they must protect human rights and civil liberties, and that war among its members should be an unthinkable option. These states see themselves as a gradually expanding community, acquiring ever new members and geographical spread - but only after they meet strict criteria. They aspire to form a new force in the world - and are well on the way. This is the first time we have witnessed the emergence of an "empire" built on consensus and common desire rather than power and conquest - hardly the stuff of the "Old Europe."

It is America that represents the "Old World." This is not a pejorative aspersion. The United States now sees itself as the benign hegemon - or policeman - of the world, undercutting any and all efforts by potential rivals, friendly or not, to cast a shadow over overwhelming U.S. power."
Good points. Europe is moving towards more consensus, collaboration, democracy, human rights and civil liberties. The United States is currently moving towards domination through force and intimidation, and the opposite of democracy, etc.
[ | 2003-02-12 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, February 10, 2003day link 

 Powell's Evidence Refuted
Informative article at ZNet, doing a good job of analyzing the facts in relation to Colin Powell's U.N. presentation the other day.
Only two days after Colin Powell made his presentation to the U.N. Security Council, the evidence he provided is unraveling. Through interviews with experts, intelligence sources, and an examination of the physical evidence, reporters are piecing together facts that refute all of his major claims.
In brief, most of it is really old, and the grainy spy pictures are of sites that U.N. inspectors already have gone over recently without finding anything.
[ | 2003-02-10 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Frodo has failed, Bush has the ring.
Long list of some of the best signs from the peace march in Washington D.C. on January 18th:
  • Drunken frat boy drives country into ditch.
  • Bush/Cheney: Malice in Blunderland
  • Who would Jesus bomb?
  • War begins with 'Dubya'.
  • Bush is proof that empty warheads can be dangerous.
  • Let's bomb Texas, they have oil too.
  • How did our oil get under their sand?
  • Daddy, can I start the war now?
  • 1000 points of light and one dim bulb.
  • Sacrifice our SUV's, not our children.
  • Preemptive impeachment.
  • Frodo has failed, Bush has the ring.
  • Look, I'll pay more for gas!

[ | 2003-02-10 23:34 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Sunday, February 9, 2003day link 

 Losing my patience, Mr.Bush
Funny article by Terry Jones. A parody, about a guy who doesn't get along with his neighbors, and they're hiding their evil deeds so well that nobody else can see them, so he'll just have to strike first to take them out himself. Very to the point and hilarious.
"...Now, however, George W. Bush has made it clear that all I need to do is run out of patience, and then I can wade in and do whatever I want!"

[ | 2003-02-09 22:08 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, February 6, 2003day link 

 Dollars, Euros and Oil
picture Excellent article by Cóilín Nunan: "Oil, Currency and the War on Iraq". Fascinating explanation of some major economic mechanisms involving dollars and euros and oil. A very big reason that the United States is such an economically and militarily dominating country is apparently that U.S. dollar is the de facto world reserve currency. Lots of things are counted in dollars and some goods are only sold for dolars. That means that foreign governments and corporations and banks are keeping large dollar reserves. That essentially amounts to a huge loan the rest of the world is giving to the United States, which will subsidize the U.S. economy. In order to acquire those dollars, the rest of the world has to provide goods and services for those dollars. That allows the U.S. to have a huge import/export imbalance. Last November, 48% more imports than exports. It would be untennable for any other country to run such a deficit.

Next major point is that one of the reasons everybody has to have dollars is that the OPEC oil producting countries only accept dollars for oil. Well, not all of them. The only one that does something different is Iraq, which only accepts Euros for their oil, since 2000. And Iran is considering it as well. And the thing is that it might just as well be Euros that everybody used as a reserve currency. It would apparently be a better choice in many ways, because the European economies are more balanced, and the OPEC countries would end up getting more value for their oil. So, now, what would happen if Euros became the only choice for buying oil? Most likely the U.S. economy would plunge, because it would no longer be subsidized in that manner. And EU would probably be quite happy being subsidized in its place. Anybody thinks all this might have something to do with the great urgency to take over Iraq? And why would Britain support it?
[ | 2003-02-06 19:36 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Plagiarized Intelligence
picture On Monday the British government released a document: "Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment Deception and Intimidation", which appeared to be an up-to-the-minute intelligence based analysis, timed to back up what Colin Powell told the U.N. the next day. And Powell made a point out of praising it. Unfortunately, or maybe humorously, it turns out to have been put together from older public articles that various people have written, and most of it has just been cut and pasted verbatim, including typos. Some of it is taken from a paper written by a California college student. Seems like the British government doesn't have the resources to make up convincing stories themselves, let alone actually doing the intelligence work.
[ | 2003-02-06 17:45 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

Wednesday, February 5, 2003day link 

 France 'no longer ally'
picture U.S. foreign policy is becoming more and more like a Monty Python show. UPI reports that Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon's Policy Advisory Board is condemning French and German policy on Iraq in the strongest terms. He thinks that France's attititude is particularly dangerous and serious.
"France is no longer the ally it once was... " and he says the U.S. "must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally or we will not be talking about a NATO alliance." and how about this one "I have long thought that there were forces in France intent on reducing the American role in the world."
No kidding!?! It is time to send in the bombers. Those Frenchies are too damned independent. Wanting their own language and foreign policy, sheesh, they're just a bunch of revolutionaries. Let's just freeze them out.

And those Germans:
"But in the German case, the behavior of the Chancellor is idiosyncratic. He tried again to incite pacifism, and this time failed in Sunday's elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony. His capacity to do damage is now constrained. Chancellor Schroeder is now in a box, and the Germans will recover their equilibrium."
INCITING PACIFISM!?! Yeah, I can see - that's very serious. Maybe it is time to bomb Dresden again, so they can forget about silly notions like that.

Sarcasm aside, it is looking pretty grim if that is official policy. ... Maybe what is going on is that this is now the Internet world, so we actually hear what people like that are talking about, instead of it just being something they would talk quietly about behind closed doors, and then the CIA would sneak out and assasinate somebody and fund some new dictators that were easier to control.
[ | 2003-02-05 22:44 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, February 4, 2003day link 

 The Size of the Bet
picture Jock Gill has a nice piece on Greater Democracy, which hits some things right on the head.
"Nature has worked well for billions of years by making vast numbers of very small bets. This minimizes the risk that a single bad outcome could inflict. For this reason, our conservative brethren are correct in asserting Big Government is a problem. To the extent that Big Government represents a bet too big that imposes unacceptable risks, it is a problem that demands our attention. The failure of the old Soviet Union comes to mind.

But the riskiness of big bets doesn’t apply just to Big Government. It also applies to Big Business. And that’s the big bet today’s conservatives ask us to make over and over. The conservatives of course don’t call it a big bet. They call it 'privatization' and 'consolidation'. But they can’t have it both ways. If they want bigger and bigger bets on business, then we need government to protect the long term good for all by restraining the worst excesses of unfettered market capitalism with its narrow focus and myopic time scales. If conservatives want smaller government, they will have to agree to smaller businesses."
Indeed. Big government and big business is the same kind of animal. Both tend to be counter-evolutionary forces, making us all collectively quite a bit dumber than we really are.
[ | 2003-02-04 23:59 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, January 30, 2003day link 

 Family business
picture President Bush first named Henry Kissinger to lead an independent commission to examine 9/11, but he shortly had to excuse himself because of conflict of interest. Now, in December Bush named Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, to be the chairman of that commission. But it seems to be very hard to find people who aren't in bed with the enemy already. Fortune reveals a few things about Mr.Kean:
Kean is a director of petroleum giant Amerada Hess, which in 1998 formed a joint venture--known as Delta Hess--with Delta Oil, a Saudi Arabian company, to develop oil fields in Azerbaijan.

One of Delta's backers is Khalid bin Mahfouz, a shadowy Saudi patriarch married to one of Osama bin Laden's sisters. Mahfouz, who is suspected of funding charities linked to al Qaeda, is even named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by families of Sept. 11 victims.

True, Hess is hardly the only company to cross paths with Mahfouz: He has shown up in dealings with, among others, ultra-secretive investment firm Carlyle Group and BCCI, the lender toppled by fraud in 1992.
It's all in the family, it seems.
[ | 2003-01-30 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, January 29, 2003day link 

 US buys up Iraqi oil to stave off crisis
Facing its most chronic shortage in oil stocks for 27 years, the US has this month turned to an unlikely source of help - Iraq.

Weeks before a prospective invasion of Iraq, the oil-rich state has doubled its exports of oil to America, helping US refineries cope with a debilitating strike in Venezuela. ...

The trade, though bizarre given current Pentagon plans to launch around 300 cruise missiles a day on Iraq, is legal under the terms of UN's oil for food programme.
Eh, that's nice of Iraq to help out a bit. But I think bizarre is a bit of a euphemism.
[ | 2003-01-29 23:59 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, January 27, 2003day link 

 Europe and America: Some know more about war
From Herald Tribune article:
West Europeans, generally speaking, do not share America's ambitions of vast global reform or visions of history coming to an end. They had enough of that kind of thinking, and its consequences, with Marxism and Nazism.

They are interested in a slow development of civilized and tolerant international relations, compromising on problems while avoiding catastrophes along the way. They have themselves only recently recovered from the catastrophes of the first and second world wars, when tens of millions of people were destroyed. They don't want more.

American commentators like to think that the "Jacksonian" frontier spirit equips America to dominate, reform and democratize other civilizations. They do not appreciate that America's indefatigable confidence comes largely from never having had anything very bad happen to it.
That's a good point. I come from a country that has existed for more than a thousand years and that has been in many wars, a country that was occupied by the Nazis while my mom was growing up, and people were being sent off to concentration camps. However terrible Vietnam was, it wasn't happening on American soil. However terrible 9-11 was, for most Americans it wasn't really something the country felt on its skin for long enough to grow wise from it. It was mainly something on TV that then got projected violently outwards. It could have been a transformative event that gave America a heart, and it was close, and it felt like it for a while, but it unfortunately ended up being taken in a different direction.
[ | 2003-01-27 23:41 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, January 24, 2003day link 

 The U.S. Needs to Open Up to the World
Brian Eno is a music genius who also happens to have intelligent things to say about the world. He is one of the ongoing supporters for the Institute for Social Inventions. He has a nice article in Time Magazine, about how it seems to him, as a European, that America is trapped in a fortress of arrogance and ignorance. I agree with him.
" Europeans have always looked at America with a mixture of fascination and puzzlement, and now, increasingly, disbelief. How is it that a country that prides itself on its economic success could have so many very poor people? How is it that a country so insistent on the rule of law should seek to exempt itself from international agreements? And how is it that the world's beacon of democracy can have elections dominated by wealthy special interest groups? For me, the question has become: 'How can a country that has produced so much cultural and economic wealth act so dumb?'"

[ | 2003-01-24 23:59 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, January 22, 2003day link 

picture RIAA, the music industry's main organ, has been a lot in the press the past couple of years, because of their ongoing battle with ...just about anybody who wants to enjoy music in new and different ways, without paying them each time. Wired:
"There are a lot more voters downloading music than there are music company executives," Hayes warned. "If the RIAA was my client, I'd advise them to think this one through again."
Wise words from an entertainment industry lawyer. But think about it for a moment. We all know, of course, that there are many more voters who would like to share music they like than there are music company executives who want to own all music in the world. And this is a democracy, no? Well, if it were, there wouldn't be any problem at all. If we each had one vote, no problem. But music industry executives can buy power and media coverage that is equivalent to millions of votes and millions of voices. That will probably still eventually put them in the minority, but only barely.

Hillary Rosen, CEO of the RIAA, 'The Most Hated Name in Music' as Wired put it, wants to force ISPs to pay her for the losses she thinks she's incurred from online piracy. Well, obviously she has MUCH more than one vote, since such a scammy scheme even will be taken seriously in the major media. It is taken seriously because she might very well have bought enough politicians to actually carry it through. Luckily she's stepping down at least.

And here's some other good news: British pop star Robbie Williams says that he thinks that music piracy is a great idea.
[ | 2003-01-22 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

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