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Archive for March 14th, 2012

 

CARACAS — After nine months in a flood victims’ shelter, Daviana Padron now lives in a free apartment, works in a cooperative bakery and her kids attend a new school in the Venezuelan city of Caribia.

The coastal town outside Caracas is a model of what President Hugo Chavez refers to as his Bolivarian socialist revolution. And he plans to eventually turn the socialist-minded project into home to more than 100,000 people.

It also is an example of how Chavez hopes passionate grassroots support from low-and-middle-income Venezuelans will propel him to a third term as president in the upcoming October 7 vote.

He faces a tough election against Henrique Capriles, a 39-year-old lawyer who is popular among Venezuela’s moderate and conservative voters.

Chavez says Capriles appeals to business interests while the ailing president draws supporters from more rural and economically disadvantaged.

Padron is one thousands of Venezuelans who credits her new lifestyle to Chavez’s policies after heavy rains in 2010 washed out thousands of homes, leaving her and about 130,000 other people as victims.

“My life has changed too,” Padron, 41, said. “I was a very aggressive person and I did not like being approached. Since I’ve been here, I share, I work, I talk to people and they listen to me.”

Bread at the bakery where she works costs half as much as in the rest of Venezuela.

The packaging on locally made drinks reads: “Made with socialism.”

Since August, about 5,000 people have moved into apartments in Caribia with up to four bedrooms each. For now, their rent is free but the government plans to establish payment plans for them based on their income.

In addition to the school, services in the city include child care, a health center, a hairdresser, a small market and a clothing store.

Padron says she does not want to return to Caracas, where she was unhappy with daily life and Venezuela’s highest cost of living.

“I’ll have nothing to do with Caracas,” said Padron, who with her four children and partner were among the first families to move to Caribia. “My life is here.”

But Padron and her neighbors also worry about how long what she calls her “little paradise” will last if Chavez is not reelected.

Chavez is recovering in Cuba from his second cancer surgery in less than a year. He acknowledged publicly recently that the tumor was malignant, which has created concern among supporters in Caribia that the next government might doom the urban project’s future.

“With the help of God and the Virgin, Chavez will be fine because if he dies, this is over and things will become difficult here,” said Carlos Silva, a 47-year-old baker whose voice became anguished and eyes watered amid discussion of a possible end to Chavez’s administration.

He and Padron work with nine others in the cooperative bakery, where they display a photo of Chavez. Nearby, dozens of buildings are under construction. Work on the city started in 2007.

About 800 apartments have been built in Caribia so far with plans for 20,000.

“I live here peacefully and happily thanks to God and Chavez,” Silva said. “We are starting a new city. If we care for it, it will stay safe.

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Hollywood vs. Hobbits

 

Film producer Saul Zaentz owns the film, stage and merchandising rights to JRR Tolkien classics such as The Hobbit. Ostensibly to protect those rights, lawyers for the company are now threatening small businesses across the UK with ruinous legal action if they don’t stop using the term ‘Hobbit’ – a word that may not even have been created by Tolkien.

When Hollywood paints their version of the piracy picture, they’re careful not to mention the millionaires and the affluent who do rather well despite unauthorized copying. Instead they focus on the little guys who make coffee and run errands on set, and the mom and pop businesses scraping an honest living on the periphery.

But when the big rightsholders feel under threat, they’re happy to crush those very same people in pursuit of money. Cue an awful story today from the UK’s Daily Echo.

For the last 20 years a little pub in Southampton, England, has been serving beer to the local community and all that time it’s had the same name – The Hobbit. But Saul Zaentz, the producer behind movies such as The English Patient and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, has sent in the lawyers to do something about that.

Zaentz owns the merchandising rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and his lawyers have warned that if the pub doesn’t change its name and remove all references to Tolkien-related items by the end of May, its owners will be sued for infringement.

Understandably its owners are upset. They can’t afford to fight the studio but their pub’s very identity is now at risk. People supporting a Facebook campaign against the studio’s threats is growing quickly.

But even more worrying is that this action by Zaentz against a local pub doesn’t sit in isolation.

In November 2011, Zaentz sent his lawyers to threaten the owners of a small cafe in Birmingham, England, near to where Tolkien was born. The sandwich bar, known as The Hungry Hobbit, was accused of copyright infringement despite operating under the name for the last 6 years. The current owners are first-time business owners of less than a year’s standing.

In a letter titled “Unauthorized Use of Hobbit” – Zaentz’s lawyers ordered the owners of the cafe to stop using the word Hobbit or face legal action, claiming that the sandwich bar’s use of the term would be detrimental to the brand and would leave people to believe that the outlet is endorsed by Zaentz.

But the threats don’t even stop there. A small company in Scotland making wooden lodges dared to refer to one of their products as “hobbit houses” on their website. Of course, Zaentz sent in the lawyers and the company were forced to comply.

But let’s step back for a moment to see what the origin of the word ‘Hobbit’ actually is. Was this something conjured up from the depths of Tolkien’s imagination in 1937, a product of his mind and his mind only? That’s up for debate.

In 1895, folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham listed a massive collection of interesting creatures in his publication ‘The Denham Tracts Vol 2‘ which included “. . . nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants..”

And, of course, ‘Hobbits’.

It seems absolutely ridiculous that 125+ years after an imaginary creature was reported somehow a company can come along and turn the lives of normal people upside down over the use of its name.

Trademarks may have to be protected, but being a heartless bully can’t be the answer.

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The first documented initiative for establishing a Norwegian sister organization to the English Defence League occurred in a forum post by Anders Behring Breivik, the accused Norwegian spree killer, in December 2009, and apparently the group was formed some time in 2010. […]

On March 11, 2012 Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet revealed that during 2010 and until the spring of 2011 the leadership of the NDL was infiltrated by members of the left-wing group SOS Rasisme. Several anonymous sources told the newspaper that the anti-racists in fact were in majority on the board. One of the sources, and an SOS Rasisme member, was one of the NDL board members. Another SOS Rasisme member whom the sources alleged to have been an NDL board member denied the claims. The anti-racists were using false identities and were reporting directly back to SOS Rasisme. According to the newspaper, Lena Andreassen who was leader of the NDL in the spring of 2011 didn’t know about the infiltration. Ronny Alte, NDL spokesperson as of March 2011, confirmed they had come to realize that there were infiltrators in the NDL in 2011.

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It’s true that poor Southern whites generally vote against their own economic interests but who can blame them if their self-appointed “saviors” are limousine liberals like the smarmy Maher?

With Tuesday’s Alabama and Mississippi primaries on the horizon, Bill Maher sent filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi to the heart of Mississippi to interview some prospective voters, and what she found was some scary footage– of voters who feared President Obama was a “Muslim” and promising “the South will rise again.” The panel, including Jon Hamm and Michael Steele, analyzed the situation and, after making a few jokes about the subject’s teeth, argued that education was the only solution to their poverty. […]

Steele defended those hopes, noting that they were natural and American. “No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘All I want to be today is poor.’” He did find the “South will rise again” rhetoric weird, asking “what the hell does that mean, exactly?” Former SEIU head Andy Stern was actually more aggressive towards Democrats than Republicans, noting that they weren’t offering the sort of viable alternative to people like the ones in the film that would entice them. “Democrats have to figure out how to speak to people, too– there isn’t an alternative, it looks like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”

Catherine Crier noted that even Adam Smith had called for a social safety net to guarantee the functioning of capitalism, which led to a discussion on the “trampoline” vs. “net” analogy, and to the ultimate conclusion that public education that works is key to fixing these issues.

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Events in February were dominated by an intensified war drive against Syria, held back only by Russia and China’s refusal this time to allow the United Nations to be misused to sanction yet another war of conquest against a third world country and the firm stance of Syria’s leadership, armed forces and the great mass of its people to defend their independence and sovereignty at any cost.

On 24 February, a gathering of a grotesquely misnamed body calling itself the “Friends of Syria” took place in Tunis, birthplace of the “Arab Spring”, to coordinate the attempts to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The key participants were the United States, the main European imperialist powers grouped in the EU and the reactionary Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with Turkey, which is the main base of the terrorist Free Syrian Army.

Coinciding with this, President Obama came out with his most explicit war threat against Syria to date, stating that the US and its allies would use “every tool available” to topple its government.

The major imperialist powers were deeply stung by the joint veto cast by Russia and China on 4 February of a UN Security Council resolution designed to create the conditions for a similar onslaught as that which laid waste to Libya last year. Moscow and Beijing followed with further negative votes on a 16 February resolution in the UN General Assembly, which nevertheless passed overwhelmingly. (The General Assembly resolution lacks legal force but can nevertheless be used to push the case for armed intervention.) And both countries refused to attend the farcical gathering in Tunis.

Torrents of invective were unleashed from Washington, London and Paris against the Russian and Chinese stance and more was on offer in Tunis. With her lapdog, more commonly known as UK Foreign Secretary William Hague sitting obediently at her side, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a bravura performance of the kind of semi-hysterical harridan she has come to play so well, ranting to camera:

It is quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto while people are being murdered – women, children, brave young men – houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable and I ask you whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.”

But beneath this faux hysteria, so cynical and so contemptible coming from the mouth of such a leading representative of the very power that has laid waste to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya in the last decade alone, whose drones regularly slaughter civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, and who personally revelled in the sadistic torture, rape and murder of Colonel Gaddafi, declaring “we came, we saw, he died”, lies a deadly serious search for a way to unleash a war that would be even bloodier and more devastating than last year’s carnage in Libya.

At the Tunis meeting, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia declared that he thought arming the Syrian opposition would be an “excellent idea”. This formulation and others was actually carefully devised to ease into the public domain and supposedly somehow legitimise an already existing fact on the ground – the massive support that has long since been pouring in to the terrorist groups inside the country from the enemies of Syria.

This was made abundantly clear by Clinton in London, the day before the Tunis conference, when she stated that Assad would face “increasingly capable opposition forces…They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures.”

Meanwhile, Turkey, France and Qatar are taking the lead in calling for the creation of so-called “humanitarian corridors”, that is conquering parts of Syria which can then be used to funnel arms to the terrorists.

Similar intent lies behind the proposal to create a joint UN/Arab League ‘peacekeeping’ force, in reality an army of occupation. US drones are now flying over Syrian territory and there are even reports that the British military are already active inside the country.

On 1 January the Daily Star reported that: “Britain is gearing up for fighting in Syria that could be bigger and bloodier than the battle against Gaddafi.” It quoted a security official as revealing that “MI6 and the CIA are in Syria to infiltrate…We have SAS and SBS [Special Boat Squadron] not far away… Syria supports Hezbollah. That threatens Israel and the whole of the Middle East.”

The Russian media has also reported the presence of British and Qatari special forces in the city of Homs, scene of some of the most intense fighting to date and where Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, who had entered Syria illegally, was killed, along with a French colleague, in still unexplained circumstances.

Further detailed plans for the war in Syria are being openly aired in the imperialist press.

In a Financial Times comment, former CIA official Emile Nakhleh wrote: “The assistance should begin with establishing a haven for the opposition and the military personnel who defect from the regime, as in northern Iraq in 1991. Food, water, clothes, medical supplies and technical equipment should be dropped into the safety zone. Ankara [the Turkish government] would have to play a critical role in planning, and ultimately in maintaining and supplying the zone, as it would almost certainly have to be contiguous to Turkey. If Syrian forces violate the sanctuary, the West should arm the opposition and work with military defectors to organise more effective resistance.”

A former leading official in Obama’s State Department, the appropriately named Anne-Marie Slaughter, called in the New York Times for the supply of  “anti-tank, counter-sniper, and portable anti-aircraft weapons” to the US-backed forces. She further called for the establishment of “no-kill zones” in which US-backed Syrian forces could find sanctuary, near the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Once Syrian government forces in these grossly misnamed “no-kill zones” were “killed, captured or allowed to defect without reprisal, attention would turn to defending and expanding the no-kill zones”.

Clearly such plans do not describe a “humanitarian”, “no-kill” operation, but rather a US-led war of extermination against any Syrian forces that refuse to submit to the colonial resubjugation of their country.

In Ms Slaughter’s words:

Foreign military intervention in Syria offers the best hope for curtailing a long, bloody and destabilising civil war

Establishing these [‘no-kill’] zones would require nations like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to arm the opposition soldiers with anti-tank, counter-sniper and portable antiaircraft weapons. Special forces from countries like Qatar, Turkey and possibly Britain and France could offer tactical and strategic advice to the Free Syrian Army forces. Sending them in is logistically and politically feasible; some may be there already.

Crucially, these special forces would control the flow of intelligence regarding the government’s troop movements and lines of communication to allow opposition troops to cordon off population centres and rid them of snipers. Once Syrian government forces were killed, captured or allowed to defect without reprisal, attention would turn to defending and expanding the no-kill zones.

This next step would require intelligence focused on tank and aircraft movements, the placement of artillery batteries and communications lines among Syrian government forces…. Turkey and the Arab League should also help opposition forces inside Syria more actively through the use of remotely piloted helicopters, either for delivery of cargo and weapons  – as America has used them in Afghanistan  – or to attack Syrian air defences and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones.”

The leading organs of British finance capital have also explicitly advocated war on Syria in their editorial columns.

In its editorial of 13 February, the Financial Times argued for arming the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and attempting to split the army on religious sectarian lines (namely against Syria’s Alawite minority). This, it claimed, would probably need to be followed by foreign invasion to establish supposed “safe havens” and by “aerial bombardment”.

On 11 February, the Economist argued in a leader: “Turkey, with the blessing of NATO and the Arab League, should create and defend a safe haven in north-western Syria. The FSA can train fighters there, and a credible opposition can take shape. Turkey seems willing to do this, providing it gets Western support. The haven would be similar to that created for the Kurds in northern Iraq.”

Russia and China have hit back at the imperialist attack on their principled stand on Syria. In an article carried by the Xinhua news agency on 20 February, and entitled, ‘Saying no to gunboat diplomacy’, Li Qingsi, a professor at Beiing’s Renmin University, wrote:

After Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria on 4 February, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution…on 16 February. Though non-binding, the newly passed resolution will put more pressure on the Syrian government and might prove to be the beginning of future outside intervention

The West wants to topple the Syrian government and replace it with a pro-Western one. Syria is considered a problem in the West’s Middle East strategy because of its close relations with Iran and Lebanon, which are hostile to the United States.”

Accusing the Arab League of being “willing to charge into the West’s Middle East strategy”, Professor Li added: “After solving the Syrian issue in a non-peaceful way, the West’s next target, no doubt, will be Iran

The West’s furious response to the vetoes by China and Russia shows the vetoes have exposed the West’s true purpose of trying to dominate the Middle East and monopolise UN affairs, which they had sought to veil behind their lofty claims of protecting human rights in Syria.

The world has witnessed too many invasions of sovereign states and the killing of innocent civilians in the name of humanitarian intervention. The military interventions since the end of the Cold War show that the West, while holding high the banner of human rights protection, is in reality seeking its own global or regional strategic interests

Experience shows that, since the Cold War, Western countries, no matter how great their quarrels are, will join hands when in conflict with non-Western countries. Even in this era of globalisation, there is still a clear dividing line between the West and the non-Western world

After the Cold War, the US managed to ‘have a firm hold over the UN to oppress the international community’ while small and medium-sized countries dared not voice their discontent.

The US’ hysterical reaction to China’s veto shows it has not adapted to China’s change. At a time when gunboat policy has been revived in a new guise, a modest, self-disciplined diplomatic approach seems ill-timed.

If China and the US can peacefully coexist, it will be an unprecedented, pioneering undertaking. But the history of China-US contacts indicates such cooperation cannot be attained through compromise or requests, nor should we expect any cooperation for win-win by our own wishful thinking. Struggle without breaking relations should not be the bottom line of the Chinese attitude to the US. Only when we are ready to pay the price for splitting will we manage to win the struggle without splitting.

No matter how difficult the external situation is, China won’t stop developing… Having been invaded by Western powers, China understands the suffering that results. So a rising China will not repeat the errors of others, because the Chinese people believe that what you do not want done to yourself, you do not impose on others.”

Campaigning for a return to the Russian presidency, outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would not allow a replay of the events in Libya: “Learning from that bitter experience, we are against any UN Security Council resolutions that could be interpreted as a signal for military interference in domestic processes in Syria.”

We appear therefore to be at a significant turning point in world politics. In seeking to overthrow the patriotic and progressive regime in Damascus, imperialism also seeks to deliver a knock out blow to Hezbollah, thereby strengthening Israel. Above all, in seeking to destroy its most significant regional military ally, the attack on Syria is a vital stepping stone to yet another war of aggression, this time against Iran, beyond which lies the global conflagration that confrontation with China and Russia would entail.

In a very real sense, Syria today stands in the same place, as did the Spanish Republic in 1936. British workers and progressive people need to stand in their place, demanding: Hands off Syria! Victory to Assad! And above all, using our collective power to stay the hand of our ‘own’ ruling class.

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Egypt calls Israel its number one enemy, saying it will “revise all its relations and agreements” with Tel Aviv. In a protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza, Egyptian MPs have voted to expel Israel’s Ambassador in Cairo, and to halt gas exports.

“Egypt will never be the friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity [Israel] which we consider as the first enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation,” reads the text of a report prepared by the Arab Affairs Committee of the People’s Assembly, the lower house of Egyptian parliament.

The resolution was passed on Monday night with the majority of the country’s Islamist-dominated 508-seat chamber voting in favor of halting of gas exports in protest against Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Egyptian MPs also called on the government “to revise all its relations and agreements with that enemy,” referring to Israel.

According to the approved text, MPs suggest the expulsion of Israel’s Ambassador to Egypt and a recall of the Egyptian Ambassador from Tel Aviv.

Monday’s vote is said to serve as an indication of how relations between two countries may wrap up next.

There has been no official comment from Israel on the vote so far.

The vote is seen as largely symbolic as only the ruling Military Council, the country’s current government, can make such decisions.

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Aside from preparing the cases of the Megaupload defendants, a team of lawyers is working hard to grant the site’s users access to their personal data. The cyberlocker is working out a deal with the Department of Justice to allow users to download their personal files. Interestingly enough, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom reveals that these users include many high-ranking US Government officials.

In the wake of the MegaUpload shutdown many of the site’s users complained that their personal files had been lost due to collateral damage.

From work-related data to personal photos, the raid disabled access to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of files that were clearly not infringing.

With most of the news coverage focusing on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and the racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering charges, the fate of these users hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

By taking down Megaupload many of the site’s users were directly harmed. To resolve this matter Megaupload has been talking to the Department of Justice.

“Megaupload’s legal team is working hard to reunite our users with their data. We are negotiating with the Department of Justice to allow all Mega users to retrieve their data,” Kim Dotcom told TorrentFreak.

Over the past weeks Megaupload has been looking into the various options they have to grant users temporary access. Interestingly enough, this quest revealed that many accounts are held by US Government officials.

“Guess what – we found a large number of Mega accounts from US Government officials including the Department of Justice and the US Senate.”

“I hope we will soon have permission to give them and the rest of our users access to their files,” Dotcom told us.

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