Monday, December 15, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

The most authoritarian, power-mad fascists in America are running Homeowners Associations A Loudon County, Virginia man has invoked the ire of the Beige Gestapo in his neighborhood and accrued $900 in fines for painting a kolam on his driveway.

Ram Balasubramanian is a devout Hindu, and painted the (stunningly beautiful) kolam on his driveway to welcome the Hindu goddess of prosperity and honored guests to a Thread Ceremony for his son. (A Thread Ceremony is a coming-of-age ritual akin to a bar mitzvah or confirmation.) The kolam upset his homeowners association and they fined him ten dollars a day to the maximum $900. The symbol has since been covered but the HOA is still not placated because the outline is still visible through the black paint that was used to cover it over. (BG makes an observation: For what it’s worth, in my neighborhood, the person who created that symbol would not invoke anyone’s wrath. Instead, he would be beset by requests to create one in front of everyone else’s house, too.)

How can they continue to call Tasers ‘non-lethal‘ when they have killed iver 400 people? A new study commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has found that Tasers, marketed to police departments throughout the country as a non-lethal way of stopping and capturing suspects without causing permanent harm, have killed more than 400 people. Canadian police departments have begun banning the use of Tasers after the units were found to deliver a higher charge than the manufacturer says is possible. Yet in spite of the corpses piling up, the manufacturer refuses to acknowledge the weapons can kill.

Democracy in Russia slips ever further away On a 355-85 vote, the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, voted to give control of verdicts to judges in some cases where defendants are charged with terrorism, hostage taking, insurrection, sabotage and civil disturbances. The measure now goes to the upper chamber where passage is assured. In a deliciously ironic twist, it was Communist lawmakers who rebuked the measure, saying it was an unnecessary step away from democracy under Vladimir Putin.

And just in time, too! Russian police detained dozens of anti-government protesters today who defiantly assembled for an unauthorized rally in Moscow. Police and riot troops in body armor and overwhelming numbers prevented the planned protest in central Moscow from materializing. It was the latest sign that public expression of dissent against the authorities will no more be tolerated under President Dmitri Medvedev than they were under his puppetmaster, Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister.

55 dead in bus accident in Egypt A crowded bus plunged off a main road south of Cairo and came to rest in a canal. At least 55 people, many of them students, perished by drowning before rescuers could reach them. It was the deadliest road accident in Egypt since 1987, when 63 people died in a bus-train collision.

Greece has been rocked this past week: Athens was calm Sunday after eight days of the worst riots Greece has seen in decades, sparked by the police killing of a teenager. Traffic returned to normal in the center of town and open-topped double-decker buses carried tourists around the city's main sights. The cafes in the Thissio area under the Acropolis were busy, and couples took their children for Sunday walks. But Greek youths who have protested daily since the boy's death have vowed to remain on the streets until their concerns are addressed. Protesters are angry not just at police but at a government already on the defensive over a series of financial scandals, and over economic issues. "We are not in this for the short term," said Petros Constantinou, an organizer with the Socialist Workers Party. "We want the protests to continue after Christmas and New Year, until this government of murderers goes."

Yet another reason why not having a functioning State Department matters: Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan launched a joint military offensive on Sunday against Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in a remote northeast corner of Congo, their armies said. The three governments agreed in principle in June to start joint operations against the LRA guerrillas -- notorious for mutilating civilians and kidnapping children -- if their leader Joseph Kony did not sign a final peace deal to end two decades of conflict. He repeatedly has failed to sign prepared deals. "The armed forces of Uganda (UPDF), DRC (FARDC) and Southern Sudan (SPLA) in a joint intelligence-led military operation, this morning the 14th of December 2008 launched an attack on LRA terrorists of Joseph Kony in the Garamba forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo," the three nations' military intelligence chiefs said in a joint statement. "The three armed forces successfully attacked the main body and destroyed the main camp of Kony codenamed camp Swahili, setting it on fire," they added, saying further details would be released as the offensive progressed. Officials from southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo were not immediately available for comment.

Another reason to laugh and wonder what all the fuss is about: Russian officials donated generators and computers to Nicaragua on Saturday during a visit by three Russian warships to the Central American nation that opposition leaders condemned as illegal. Russia donated about $200,000 worth of equipment to hospitals, police and the army during the stop at the southern port of Bluefields, Gen. Julio Aviles, the Nicaraguan army's chief of staff, told state radio. The visit by the anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support vessels was the first since the 1990 fall of Daniel Ortega's Marxist Sandinista government, which allied itself with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Let's hope the GOP clings to their failed ideology for all time: California is bleeding Republican red as the state's minority party tries to squeeze a spending cap and pro-business policies from fiscal chaos. Badly outnumbered and often ignored by the Democratic-dominated Legislature, the GOP is not getting sand kicked in its face these days. California is hurtling toward a financial abyss, projecting a $40 billion shortfall by July 2010, and no deal can be struck without at least three Republican votes in both the Assembly and Senate. GOP officials clutch that trump card with relish as the state braces to pull the plug on $5 billion in public works projects and warns it won't be able to pay all its bills by February or March.

Time to write off the Cuban-American vote: Throughout his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said that he'd loosen some restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba and rebuild the already slight ties to the communist nation cut by the Bush administration. With an Obama government soon to become reality, many in the U.S. capital are pushing for much more. The question of what U.S. Cuban policy will look like under Obama has fed one of the moment's biggest foreign-policy debates, and a loose coalition of legislators, free-trade advocates and leftist groups thinks that it has an ally in the president-elect.

Another view on torture: Few post-9/11 issues have produced more anxiety and revulsion than the Central Intelligence Agency's use of "aggressive interrogation" and the extrajudicial rendition of terrorist suspects to countries that practice torture. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to ban waterboarding and other pain-inflicting soliciting techniques, as well as rendition. He has also promised to close the Guantánamo Bay prison. More broadly, liberal Democrats in Congress intend to deploy a more moral counterterrorism, where the ends — stopping the slaughter of civilians by Islamic holy warriors — no longer justifies reprehensible means. Winning the hearts and minds of foreigners by remaining true to our nobler virtues is now seen as the way to defeat our enemies while preserving our essential goodness. Sounds uplifting. Don't bet on it happening.