Archive for the ‘International’ Category

I Helped Legitimize a Genocidal Regime and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

January 17, 2010

Sorry folks, pack up your shit, we have some cabanas to build

Back in 1980, The Dead Kennedys released “Holiday in Cambodia,” a blistering critique of entitled Western attitudes towards impoverished and war-torn nations. If the New York Times is familiar with this punk rock anthem of bitter resentment wrapped in sarcastic disgust, they clearly didn’t get the joke.

Of all the tourist destinations in the world, this year the Times selected Sri Lanka as the “number one place to go in 2010.” How edgy! How provocative! How… fucking morally bankrupt are the editors at the New York Times?

Just two days before the Times offered this extremely lucrative endorsement of this “island, with a population of just 20 million, [that] feels like one big tropical zoo,” they ran another article about Sri Lanka. This article was about Sri Lankan soldiers committing war crimes by executing blindfolded-and-bound prisoners of war and the government of Sri Lanka not really giving a fuck.

While the travel piece does allude to the decades-long civil war that finally “ended” last year after the Sri Lankan government went on a merciless killing spree against Tamil rebels and all the innocent children and other civilians who happened to get in their way, the NYT writer is ready to move on from that nasty little episode and explore “this teardrop-shaped island off India’s coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendors.”

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any sweeter: “Decimated by the tsunami in 2004, the surrounding coastline is now teeming with stylish guesthouses and boutique hotels.” Awesome! No more of those stinky fishing villages with their grubby little huts… but if you really want to beat the crowds, you might just want to skip Sri Lanka and head straight for Darfur. I hear the dust storms aren’t too bad this time of year and when the New York Times writes about it next year, you’ll be able to say you were there first.


What’s Next – Are They Going to Try to Block Out the Sun?

June 17, 2009


My introduction to the “favelas” (slums) of Rio de Janeiro came through watching “City of God” and listening to the speaker-rattling funk carioca music has exploded globally over the past few years. Enjoying these cultural fruits from afar, it’s easy to forget (or completely ignore) the fact that poverty, violence and oppression dominate the lives of those who live in these precariously perched ghettos.

Brazil was the very last country in the Western hemisphere to legally outlaw slavery (in the 1880s) and a vast socio-economic chasm defined largely along racial lines continues to persist in many places like Rio. A journalist friend who used to report from South Africa recently told me that the visceral and widespread animosity against the lower classes was worse in Brazil than anywhere else she had seen.

Like slums all over the world, the favelas in Rio are basically crapped on by the local government. The lack of education opportunities, social services and even basic infrastructure (like functional sewers) in many favelas makes life pretty damn rough. Many of the favelas that the city government has basically abandoned are controlled by gangs. Two years ago, Rio’s governor, Sérgio Cabral Filho called the favelas “a factory for producing criminals.”

Favela photos via JR /

Favela photos via JR /

But now that Rio is a finalist to host the 2016 Olympics, the Mayor needs to “clean up the city.”  So what is he doing about that pesky fact that hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised citizens are living in such conditions? Well, according to The Wall Street Journal, his master plan is to build a giant wall around the favelas (apparently starting with the ones that rich people can see from their houses) and then send in 22,000 more cops to crack some heads.

Of course, the justification for these 10-ft cinderblock barriers (which the planners have creatively named “eco-barriers”) is to protect the forests from sprawl — the favelas have expanded geographically by about 7 percent in the last decade. So now the upper classes conveniently have an eco-friendly excuse to support this scheme.

An extreme conclusion would be that Rio’s rich have chosen to prioritize the lives of trees over the lives of people. The favelas inhabit an extreme space.

While building walls between classes of people is certainly nothing new, the goal of the walls is usually to separate groups, not to isolate one of them so completely (with a few notable exceptions, of course).

How could these looming physical barriers not exacerbate the socio-economically isolated position that the residents of the favelas already find themselves in? Rio’s wealthy may temporarily succeed in fortifying the wide, nasty chasm between rich and poor through this “eco-barrier” plan, but the last paragraph of the Wall Street Journal article suggests that this unjust solution will not be a permanent one:

“While laying cinder blocks on a hillside with sweeping views of Rio, Mr. da Silva says, he has had time to think about how to get over the wall he’s helping to build. Grabbing some paper, he diagrammed one idea — break a series of footholds into the cinder blocks. Another idea: Tie a rope to a tree on the other side.”

One more thing: Sure, this is blatant commoditization of culture for purely commercial purposes, but it’s also really cool. Check out this orange juice ad featuring the classic baile funk beat:

But Isn’t Being Broke & Unappreciated Sooo Much Cooler?

June 16, 2009
"The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders who drop bombs and massacre villages." -Banksy

"The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders who drop bombs and massacre villages." -Banksy

Whenever a provocative, up-and-coming “guerrilla” artist transitions from the streets to the gallery world, the backlash is inevitable. So it was no surprise when the haters came slithering out of the woodwork last year when Banksy started selling his pieces for ridiculous gobs of cash to the likes of Brangelina and the rest of the Hollywood set during his stint in LA.

Now, situations like this often warrant justifiable criticism (check my article on Shepard Fairy if you want a good example), but it’s just plain stupid to start disliking an artist, band, etc. just because they’ve gotten popular — and in Banksy’s case, he seems to be doing some of his best work ever now, despite the fact that he’s not just another bloke from Bristol sneaking around in the railyards to stencil witty slogans on train cars anymore.

If he’s going to keep raising the bar with new projects like this jaw-dropping Banksy vs. Bristol Museum show that will be running for FREE all summer in his hometown, I don’t give a shit if Bill Gates joins the Banksy fan club.

Like Florida in 2000, but With Fire

June 14, 2009
Wait your turn, buddy – I’m next in line to give this cop a noogie!

Wait your turn, buddy – I’m next in line to give this cop a noogie!

If you’re looking for the most convincing argument that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s win over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was rigged, check out Juan Cole’s article “Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen.”

This potential election fraud would indicate that the conservative, Islamic hardliners have attempted to strengthen their already formidable stranglehold on Iran’s theocratic government by undemocratically crushing the more liberal/reformist opposition.

There’s really nothing funny about this situation, but I’m the type of person who responds to bad situations with humor. I guess it’s a personal defense mechanism to keep from going crazy as I’m constantly confronted by scenes of death and despair in the media and in the world around me. Some people retreat into a psychological cocoon, some go postal, others immerse themselves in booze, mindless entertainment, religion, or some combination of all those above to numb the pain. I crack jokes.

Anyway, if you’re not in the mood for serious analysis right now and you just want to see some amazing photos from the ongoing riots in Iran accompanied by smart ass captions, keep on scrolling.

Down with Ahmadinejad, Up with the Village People!

Down with Ahmadinejad, up with the Village People! C'mon everybody, you know what time it is..

This guy clearly slammed some Mountain Dew before hitting the streets.

This guy clearly slammed some Mountain Dew before hitting the streets.

One more thing about this situation. American neo-conservatives – the folks who pretty much want to nuke everyone who disagrees with them and build tax-free corporate free trade zones on the ashes – have actually been saying that they hope Ahmadinejad wins! This is like saying that you hope the neighbor you hate doesn’t move away, because then you’ll have nobody to angrily shake your fist at. For an insightful look at why the people who thought invading Iraq was a great idea are now rooting for “the Hitler of our time,” read Rachel Weiner’s article “Right-Wing Neocons Rooting For Ahmadinejad Win” and/or check out this video from Rachel Maddow’s show:

The Taliban More Popular Than Republicans

May 5, 2009

Former RNC chair Mike Duncan recently told his fellow Republicans that they need to “do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering.”

What’s the difference between the Taliban and the GOP?

The Taliban has a better PR team. No, seriously.

You may remember a few months back when Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) raised a few eyebrows by suggesting that the GOP could learn a little something about political strategy from that other underdog party — the Taliban. “One can see that there’s a model out there for insurgency,” he told National Journal editors.

Explaining how the GOP might look toward those masters of persuasion in the Taliban for insight, Sessions said, “They went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes.”

Well, if the Republicans want to keep up with the Taliban, they’ll have to try a lot harder, because in the time since that interview, they haven’t been doing so hot. Quick recap: Rush Limbaugh’s enormous face everywhere, Michael Steele talkin’ about a hip-hop makeover, Norm Coleman loses to Stuart freakin’ Smalley, Arlen Specter flees for bluer pastures and teabagging teabagging teabagging! What’s next? Will John McCain’s ol’ campaign buddy Joe the Plumber say something even stupider and more bigoted than anything he’s said before, like how he would never let “queers… anywhere near my children”? Oops, just said that.

So the GOP “insurgency” is on a roll like a Hummer with four flat tires.

Meanwhile, the Taliban — a group not usually noted for their public relations savvy — has really improved their communications skills. According to Time magazine’s new article “Why the Taliban Is Winning the Propaganda War,” “The same Taliban that once banned television now boasts a sophisticated public relations machine that is shaping perceptions in Afghanistan and abroad.”

Motivational DVD’s, a pirate FM station called “Mullah Radio,” fancy press releases and staged photo shoots — the Taliban spin doctors have apparently been working hard to capture those hearts and minds, and it seems to be paying off. In recent weeks, the Taliban has moved deeper into Pakistan, prompting The News International, a leading English newspaper, to call the Pakistani government’s failure to “evolve a counter-narrative to the Taliban propaganda” that fills airwaves and newspaper columns a “dereliction of the highest order.” (via Time)

So let’s review: A bunch of dudes who have spent much of the last decade hiding in caves between guerilla battles with the strongest military force in world are totally kicking ass, according to mainstream Western media. And the Republicans? They couldn’t even figure out how to get their shit together on Twitter.

So maybe emulating the Taliban was a little too advanced for the GOP. Maybe they should try setting their sites a little lower and see if they can keep up with Ashton Kutcher first.

ObL Spotted in the Mission

April 18, 2009
Where You At?

Where You At?

This stencil just went up a block from my spot at 15th and Mission the other day.  Most stencils in the Mission are inside jokes clearly aimed at other artists (“Beat the Buff”) or total clichés along the lines of “Die Yuppie Scum,” so it’s good to see something more original making an appearance. The SF Print Collective has been one of the few groups keeping a steady stream of subversive art on the walls and bus shelters of the Mission over the last decade, but I haven’t seen anything new from them since the Dignity mural (below) that they did for the Clarion Alley Project last year, so it’s good to see other artists stepping up with quality street propaganda.


I really like this “Missing Osama” stencil, because it’s such a stark reminder of how pathetically Bush’s “War on Terror” failed on so many levels. To be fair, there were no major terrorist attacks on the United States after 9/11 (although I’m not even going to scratch the surface on the unconstitutional rampage of wire-tapping and torture that Bush went on to “keep us safe”). But the primary goal of W’s foreign policy — to strengthen pro-Western governments and allies in the Middle East while delegitimatizing Islamic fundamentalist forces — actually resulted in the exact opposite of it’s intended effect. From Egypt to Pakistan and even in Saudi Arabia, governments friendly to the U.S. have been destabilized by U.S. incursions into the region and reacted by (trying to) crack down even harder on internal opposition groups, which have been using everything from Facebook to RPGs to strengthen their movements. Iran is closer to getting nukes every day, Hamas still holds power in Gaza and after nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan, the Taliban has re-emerged as a major military and political force.

These situations are really complex and confusing. For example, I’m totally opposed this ongoing drone bombing of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, which has seemingly been killing just as many civilians as “terrorists” lately, but seeing the recent headlines about hardliners passing laws to legalize rape in Afghanistan is equally troubling. It feels like there’s no “good side” to choose in this conflict.

But getting back to the Osama stencil, this simple image captures the essence of the utter failure of the Bush’s War on Terror. Despite all the huffing and puffing and blowing all lot of other people’s houses down, Bush never took down the biggest “evildoer” of them all, the global face of extremist jihad, the man who was transformed from regular ol’ terrorist to Islamic super-villian during the fall of 2001. In a shattering rebuke to the myth of U.S. omnipotence, Bin Laden is still out there, telling everyone to study the vile history of recent U.S. military interventions and calling for violent resistance to Western powers. This is an important fact to remember and I’m glad that there are artists in my neighborhood doing their part to remind us of this discomforting reality.

We Could Learn from Peru

March 22, 2009

Peru Fujimori

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori got slapped with a 25-year bid for human rights abuses, including murder and kidnapping, last week. When Fujimori became president in 1990 Peru’s right-wing government was barely in control due to guerrilla insurgencies being led by the leftist Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and the so-called Maoist band of lunatics called The Shining Path. Fujimori brought stability to Peru by squashing the insurgents (and those suspected of supporting them) with secret death squads and torture, while at the same time promoting a neoliberal agenda of privatization and free trade. At the time, he was widely popular, especially among middle and upper class folks, for calming shit down and pulling in mad IMF loans to boost the economy. Even though he was ethnically Japanese, his Peruvian supporters affectionately referred to him as “El Chino” (the Chinaman), which he was cool with.

His authoritarian style (he fired the democratically elected congress and a bunch of judges for disagreeing with his agenda) earned him plenty of enemies, though, and he was eventually toppled over corruption charges in 2000. In voting to oust him, Peru’s congress actually used the term “morally disabled” to describe Fujimori.

Fujimori still has widespread support among many in the upper classes and his daughter actually has a serious chance of being the next president of Peru, so we’ll see if he really stays locked up for that long, but the sheer fact that he was convicted is definitely a victory, in terms of holding (former) high ranking officials accountable for criminal acts committed while in office.

The parallels between Fujimori and George W. Bush are obvious. Most relevantly, they both used the threat of terrorism to authorize massive campaigns of human rights abuses.  However, Bush did this on a global scale with an even flimsier pretext. Peru actually was crawling with violent revolutionaries when Fujimori cracked down, where in the US, most of the cases of “terrorism” that have actually been brought to trial so far have been transparently and pathetically bullshit. While there has been a recent move by a Spanish court to charge Bush, Cheney and 3 other cronies from their inner circle with violations of international law, the political (and popular) will to demand justice for the Bush regime’s 8-year crime spree has pretty much evaporated.

There have been a few books and articles in the last few years that have comprehensively built the case against Bush and described in detail how he could be nailed, but Obama and Congress have indicated that they’re not really interested. Most depressingly, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and a small handful of other journalists have been leading the way in bringing us the shitty news that Obama is defending and actually embracing some of Bush’s worst (and most illegal/unconstitutional) policies, such as holding terrorism suspects with no charges and amnesty for warrantless wiretapping.

It took Peru almost a decade to get a conviction against Fujimori. I understand the arguments that Obama should focus on the cornucopia of crises facing him right now, ranging from our crumbling economy to the two unwinnable wars in the Middle East. Sure, people are sick of Bush and want to forget all about all the atrocities of the past administration and move on. But with Obama beginning to travel down the same unconstitutional and secretive road as Bush, it looks increasingly unlikely that our nation’s government will ever follow the example of Peru in holding a tyrant regime accountable for it’s crimes against humanity.