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January 29, 2006

A shot of Victory Gin (and tonic)

Here's a little free advice for y'all: Don't EVER watch "1984" all in one sitting. It will depress the shit out of you.

In fact, even in two sittings, it's damn near unbearable.

That's what I've been up to in my spare time, these past couple of days. Getting the shit depressed out of me. By a goddamned movie.

I'm still getting used to the fact that I now have a laptop--a PowerBook G4, no less!--that plays DVDs. I have a very modest collection of 'em, which I've been parsimoniously parcelling out to myself. Most, I've noticed, are of a decidedly progressive nature: Return to Kandahar (still to be viewed many moons after buying it from Buzzflash), Fahrenheit 9/11, The Day After (a mid-1980s gem of nuclear-war social consciousness that even woke up Ronnie Reagan!), and a few others whose titles escape me at this late, gin-'n'-tonic-saturated hour. Out of what I do have, only two of them are strictly for fun: a copy of Rush in Rio (courtesy of my guy), and a goofy old blaxploitation movie called Cleopatra Jones, which was given to me by my sister for my birthday. I don't own a lot of DVDs, let alone many "fun" DVDs among them. Is that depressing or what?

Well, there's one thing that's even more depressing, and that's "1984". Which is why I'm drinking gin and tonic. Not because I like it; both ingredients, as far as I'm concerned, are medicine, not recreational drugs. Separately, they're unspeakably vile; together, they're cloyingly sweet with an ugly bitter aftertaste. Like Buckley's cough syrup, it's the sort of up-yer-nose awful taste that gets you pulling faces, no matter how hard you try to keep a straight one. I keep them on hand not for myself, but for anyone visiting who might want some. (Some people actually like gin. I'll never know why.)

Back to the movie. Victory Gin is, of course, a prominent prop in the movie, as in the book. Winston Smith is always drinking it. So, for that matter, seems to be just about everyone. And no wonder: They need something to convince them that Ignorance is Strength, War is Peace, and Freedom is Slavery. Or that 2 + 2 = 5, or that they love Big Brother. Or at least, to distract them from the fact so they can go about their daily business: in Winston's case, altering history at the Ministry of Truth. So I figured I'd give it a shot. After all, I need some distracting of my own...

Well. Suffice to say that gin, like Newspeak, is very much an acquired taste--and one that I haven't yet acquired. One that I (still) frankly don't hope to acquire. Bittersweet is not my style, at least not in terms of beverages.

I suppose I should thank my lucky stars for small mercies--that I can still turn off the telescreen and stop the infernal propaganda that pounds in nonstop, like a daily tide. Winston Smith couldn't do that. (O'Brien could, but O'Brien was a duplicitous, torturing bastard who worked for Big Brother.)

I bring this up for a reason, O my brothers and sisters. Do I need to spell it out for you?

Newspeak is Nospeak. Little Sister watches back.

Bottoms up.

January 24, 2006

Canadian Elections for Dummies

Well, it's finally over. The dust has settled. I'm still alive. And I'm not even terribly sorry that the party I despise most (at least in my home and native land; the world is another story!) has won the election...

Let me explain.

There are 308 seats in the House of Commons. To win a clear majority, a party needs to pull down at least 155 of them. Since Stephen Harper's Conservatives only took 124 (compared to the Liberals who are now the Loyal Opposition, at 103), that means a minority government. And that's good news!

Here's why.

Minority governments, regardless of party stripe, have historically been quite good for Canada. Because the party in power has no popular ("50% plus one") mandate, it must form alliances with another party (or two, as the case may be) and/or any independent MPs in the House to make up the electoral shortfall. That means a broader spectrum of opinion when it comes time to vote yea or nay on any legislation; it also means more input from smaller parties that might otherwise have no voice. It all boils down to more representation for more Canadians, and less chance that anything too hardline or narrowly self-interested will pass.

Like I said, that's a good thing.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. The Liberals, this time around, are the official opposition--a fairly large and powerful one, at roughly one third of the seats. The balance of power is made up of the separatist Bloc Quebecois (51 seats), the social-democrat/environmentalist New Democrats (29 seats), and one independent. Since it is unlikely the cussedly stubborn Bloc, which is long accustomed to its own role as not-so-loyal opposition to les maudits anglais, will consent to an alliance with the Tories, that leaves the New Democrats and the lone independent as kingmakers--maybe.

You'll notice, if you do the math, that even with all of them on board, the Tories STILL don't have a majority vote! They fall short by one--and unless someone in the Liberals or the Bloc decides to break ranks (not bloody likely under the circumstances!), that's where they will bog down.

And that's what truly makes this a good thing. It means the Tories will have to tread VERY lightly and not push the hard-right agenda they've been holding up their sleeve while pretending to be moderates for the purposes of getting elected. They will have to be Red Tories in spite of themselves, because otherwise, they will lose a confidence vote in no time.

And that will mean another election, which they are highly unlikely to win, given their current slack showing.

And THAT is a VERY good thing.

January 23, 2006

White Like Me

Now, here's one for the WTF? files. A black cop from Utah, quite possibly unique in all the world, for reasons you'll NEVER guess...

About 25 years ago, Ron Stallworth was asked to lead the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs.

Problem was, the outgoing Klan leader didn't know that Stallworth is black.

"He asked me to take over the lead because I was a good, loyal Klansman," said Stallworth, who had been in constant phone contact with the Klan leader while leading a yearlong Colorado Springs police investigation into the Klan.

Stallworth later moved to Utah, where he recently retired after nearly 20 years as an investigator for the Utah Department of Public Safety. He says he's amazed that no one ever caught on to the investigation he led starting in 1979. After he was offered Klan leadership, he quietly disappeared.

As a memento Stallworth still carries his Klan membership card — signed by David Duke.

"It was one of the most fun" investigations, he said. "Everybody said it couldn't be done."

I'll just bet they did. Here's how that unthinkable caper went down:

Stallworth communicated with Klan leaders using the telephone. A white officer posing as Stallworth went to the meetings.

"The challenge for me was to maintain the conversation flow," Stallworth said. At the same time, Stallworth also led an undercover investigation into the Progressive Labor Party, a communist group that protested at Klan rallies.

Stallworth, of Layton, worked 30 years in law enforcement in four states. Stallworth's undercover experience and research led him to become a nationally known expert on gang culture.

He calls the Klan investigation "one of the most significant investigations I was ever involved in because of the scope and the magnitude of how it unfolded."

The investigation revealed that Klan members were in the military, including two at NORAD who controlled the triggers for nuclear weapons.

"I was told they were being reassigned to somewhere like the North Pole or Greenland," Stallworth said.

Which leads me to another WTF? moment: Why were they only "reassigned", not FIRED? Who can feel safe knowing that their national security is in the hands of crazy-ass white supremacists?

Uh...on second thought, don't answer that. I think I already know.

January 21, 2006

Evo Morales, style icon

Forget the "sweater girls" of the 1950s and '60s...here comes the Sweater Guy of the 2000s. Yes, folks, the new president of Bolivia, not known for his sharp suits (he doesn't even own one, and he's never been seen in a tie, either) has become a fashion leader, whether he wants to be one or not...

A Bolivian businessman is producing a range of woolly jumpers inspired by the casual dress sense of President-elect Evo Morales.

Since winning last year's presidential election Mr Morales has met a series of world leaders sporting a cosy-looking red, white and blue sweater.

Now knitwear company Punto Blanco says it will sell copies of the alpaca jumpers as "a symbol of the president".

The jumpers will be made from synthetic fibres and will cost just $8 (£4.50).

Mr Morales will be sworn in on Sunday, with observers wondering if he will wear the jumper for the official ceremony.

[...]

Punto Blanco owner Raul Valda said he decided to manufacture imitation jumpers after being inundated with calls from fans of Mr Morales.

"This is going to become a line we call 'Evo Fashion' that we hope will appeal to young people.

"We did not want to do another sweater, a copy of the one that the president wears, but a symbol of the president and what he wants to do," Mr Valda added.

No word on what the It Boy has to say about his newfound status yet, but here's a CounterPunch article on the meaning of the sweater. Or lack of meaning thereof, as the case may be...

You can see his most famous pullover here, on the Beeb's site.

Update: Here's what Evo wore to his inauguration:

Morales broke the media-generated suspense over what he would wear to such a formal occasion by showing up in a black tunic ringed with indiginous weaving.

You can see a picture of it here. Like Huguito Chavecito, the man does his sash proud.

January 18, 2006

Evil, wicked Cuba--biotech giant?

Yes!

From the Beeb...

Health ministry officials say Cuba's $1.8bn (£1bn) and growing tourism industry will soon be overtaken as the number one foreign exchange earner by biotechnology joint ventures, vaccine exports and the provision of health services to other countries.

Successful clinical trials in several countries have already established Cuba as a world leader in cancer research and treatment.

Last year, Cuba's health budget was boosted by a doubling in biotech exports to $300m, and the country earns fees from foreign patients and from exporting other medicinal products and diagnostic equipment and machines.

Amazing! And to think there are some who said this little island would lose Fidel Castro if they only starved it into submission? Looks like someone's gotta eat their words. I'm thinking here specifically of a certain trade embargo...

And get a load of this, too:

German biotech firm Oncoscience is holding clinical trials of anti-cancer drug TheraCIM h_R3, which it hopes to get registered, and Californian Cancervax is expected to test another Cuban cancer treatment after Washington agreed to make an exception to its trade embargo.

"If we get access to the Western market, then this hi-tech sector could become the locomotive of the entire Cuban economy," says Dr Rolando Perez, scientist at the Centre of Molecular Immunology (CIM).

And lest you think this is just some flash in the pan, I submit:

During the 1990s, Cuba became the first country to develop and market a vaccine for meningitis B, and this sent export earnings soaring. Then there was a surge in exports of its hepatitis B vaccine, which is currently being shipped to 30 countries, including China, India, Russia, Pakistan and Latin American countries.

But what really gets me is this:

Whatever the cause of Cuba's difficulties, its many dilapidated buildings, ramshackle shops and frequent power cuts bear witness to the way its crumbling, underdeveloped economy coexists with the country's advanced medical and scientific sector.

Cuba's development model is based on harnessing the nation's wealth in human resources and science to a create a knowledge -based economy focused around health, according to the 79-year-old president.

"Someone might think that we are going bankrupt," President Castro said at a recent conference.

"No. We are improving. Human capital is worth far more than financial capital."

Say what, Fidel? Surely you jest...that extra bit of income can't be hurting you any, either. Might even make a few Cubans hungry for more of the same. But then again:

"We know that in the US scientists are highly paid. I receive only 665 pesos a month (less than US$40)," observes Dr Perez.

But "we work in a environment of fulfilment and innovation", he says, pointing towards a laboratory full of scientists.

"You are free to interview any of them.

"We are highly motivated, not by money and commercial profit, but by a commitment to saving lives. We have not lost any of them. Nobody has defected to the US."

Pretty damn amazing, considering how many people think it a truism that the US just vacuums up brains from all over the globe with the lure of a ton of cash, and noplace else can hope to compete. Sort of blows the hell out of the idea that money is the main motivator to do a job well, too. A scientist who enjoys the work of science for science's sake? Who would rather save lives than just rake in the dough and the accolades? Heresy!

Most interesting of all, those Cuban doctors who DO leave the country to practice medicine elsewhere, aren't going to the US. Guess where they ARE going?

Under a recent agreement, Cuba has sent 14,000 medics to provide free health care to people living in Venezuela's barrios, or shantytowns, where many have never seen a doctor before.

In addition Venezuelan patients can receive free surgery and specialised treatment in Cuban hospitals.

In return, Venezuela is slashing its oil bill to Cuba by up to a quarter over a 15-year period in a deal estimated to be worth up to $1bn, thus securing the supplies of 90,000 barrels of oil a day to the cash-strapped Cuban economy.

It may not meet the IMF's approval, but it IS called TRADE, people. Fair trade, as opposed to the fraud that is "free" trade. (Free for whom, I wonder? Considering how much it costs, both financially and in human terms, it seems a lot to pay for a heap of horseshit.)

Nope, this is not a fluke. This has all the hallmarks of a pattern in the making.

Once again, socialism proves that it is benefiting everyone--even the most ostrich-like American arch-capitalists. Bwahahahaha!

January 16, 2006

Even a cardinal is no match for Hurricane Hugo!

Once again, let me reiterate: I love this man. The Beeb has the goods:

Venezuela's leader has demanded an explanation after a Roman Catholic cardinal said that the country was becoming a dictatorship.

President Hugo Chavez described the Church's behaviour as "undoubtedly a provocation" and demanded a full apology for the "insults" and "hate".

He said there was a conspiracy in Rome and at home to bring down his government.

So far, there has been no public reaction from the Church leadership to this latest row with President Chavez.

In his weekly TV show, President Chavez showed his anger about what had happened late on Saturday during a Catholic mass at a cathedral in west of the country.

Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, the most senior Catholic clergymen in Venezuela, told thousands of worshippers at a pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin Mary that the country had "lost its democratic course and presents the semblance of a dictatorship".

Venezuela's socialist leader has now hit back by saying this was "shameful for the Catholic Church".

Mr Chavez said he had called the Pope's representative in Caracas but that he was so far not satisfied with the explanation offered by the Vatican's ambassador.

The Venezuelan head of state said the Church should stick to spiritual work and stay out of politics altogether.

In the past, Mr Chavez and several Venezuelan church representatives had clashed over they way the government was carrying out far-reaching social and economy reforms in the country.

Of course, the church is remiss in more than just its spiritual missions; it is far behind in its charitable work here as well, or it wouldn't be sniping at the first president to seriously tackle the issues of poverty, unemployment and lack of education and healthcare in Venezuela. It should be striving to help him, but it is not; it should have been doing work in those sectors all along, but it seems not to have. It's been too busy sticking its oar in politics, propping up the worst parties of his opposition, according to the Oil Wars blog. And this is shameful, too, considering that it is supposed to be a source of refuge and succor to the poor. Or so it has presented itself...

There is plenty of evidence that Chavez is not just blowing smoke here about the vicious antagonism of the cardinal. This same churchman has flat-out said Chavez should be exorcised. Obviously he's set himself up as some kind of spokesman for the murderous and disloyal opposition, who have wanted Chavez dead since at least 2002, if not sooner. He's also one of a body of anti-Chavez churchmen who have been trying hard to paint Chavez as some new kind of Hitler.

But the joke's on the cardinal: I have it on good authority the good people of Barquisimeto practically ran him out of town for his anti-Chavez sentiments when he tried to hijack a holy festival for unholy ends. Seems Barquisimeto is a pro-Chavez stronghold. They also take their feasts of the Blessed Virgin rather seriously, and they don't take kindly to having politics mixed so inappropriately into it all. The cardinal would do well to overcome his unChristian arrogance and listen to them for a change.

Meanwhile, let's at least give Chavez credit for trying to reach the bishops, even if most of them would rather support the rich oligarchy than the poor masses...or the president who's doing his damnedest to help them out of poverty. The church has had twenty centuries to deal with the problem and hasn't even made a dent in it. Chavez? Well, for Venezuela alone, in just seven years...you be the judge.

(UPDATE: No reprimand from the Venzuelan episcopal conference for the errant preacher man. Excuse: He's retired, so he can meddle in politics if he wants. If that's the case, why was he allowed to address worshippers at a mass--does "retired" mean something different for far-right cardinals than it does for the rest of us? Is there some kind of magical exemption applicable only to those who speak for the rich oligarchy?)

January 15, 2006

Michelle, ma belle...

Michelle, ma belle,

These are words that go together well:

Ma Michelle...

Michelle, ma belle,

Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble,

Tres bien ensemble...

YOU KICK BUTT, YOU KICK BUTT, YOU KICK BUTT!

I THINK WE KNOW BY NOW--

THIS IS NO FLUKE SOMEHOW

BETWEEN YOU AND HUGO AND THE LEFT

WE ALL UNDERSTAND!

MA MICHELLE!

(Apologies to the Beatles for the parody, but it had to be done.)

Yup, Alito's an activist judge...

And I have some very nice old poopy to prove it...

A suspected Japanese terrorist was secretly working with Libya to detonate bombs at three sites in Manhattan, including a Navy recruiting office, when he was arrested last April, a federal prosecutor said today.

New details involving Yu Kikumura, convicted in November without offering a defense, emerged as prosecutors and defense lawyers prepared for his sentencing Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark.

In a confidential presentencing memorandum, the government charged that Kikumura is a member of the Japanese Red Army who was secretly working with agents of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi seeking retaliation for the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya, according to Samuel A. Alito, U.S. attorney in Newark.

The government alleged that a map with three pinholes, found in Kikumura's car, showed that his targets were the United Nations, the Manhattan garment district and a Navy recruiting office. His goal was `mass slaughter,' prosecutors charged in their 32-page memo.

Ronald L. Kuby, Kikumura's attorney, called the charges `wild and unsubstantiated speculation' and said, `We categorically deny that he was planning to injure or kill people.'

Kuby said in his presentencing memo that prosecutors had resorted to `innuendo and guesswork' in an attempt to link Kikumura to Libyan terrorists.

Alito agreed to confirm the government's findings after being told that many of the details were cited in the defense memo, made available to The Washington Post. This is the first time that prosecutors have discussed publicly the alleged nature of Kikumura's mission.

[...]

Alito noted that Kikumura's arrest came two days short of the second anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Libya. Two days after the arrest, five people were killed in the bombing of a USO club in Naples, Italy. A Japanese Red Army member was the chief suspect.

`The Japanese Red Army was carrying out retaliatory bombings for the Libyan air strike,' Alito said. He said a State Department report recently noted the group's role `in doing Gadhafi's bidding.'

The govenrment memo alleged that a confidential informant reported having seen Kikumura, wearing a ski mask, training in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley with several other masked persons who later went to Libya.

Kurby denied this and, in his memo, assailed `the government's imaginative attempts to bootstrap this into the much-discussed `Libyan terrorism' . . . Because the bombs were not planted or detonated, the prosecution feels free to conjure up scenarios of `mass slaughter.'

While federal sentencing guidelines call for Kikumura to receive a prison term of 27 to 33 months, prosecutors have asked that U.S. District Court Judge Alfred J. Lechner sentence him to spend most of his life in prison.

Kuby said he asked that the govenment be required to prove its terrorism allegations at a court hearing. `The Constitution does not permit imprisonment by innuendo,' he said.

Alito said such a hearing would jeopardize confidential sources and hinder terrorism probes. `It's hard enough to get confidential informants to tell you what's going on in places like the Japanese Red Army,' he said.

Alito said the sentencing guidelines `don't take into account the nature of the bombs he had, what he intended to do with the bombs or the fact that he's an international terrorist. I don't think you'd find a judge in the country who would give this guy two or three years.'

Even back in 1989, as a prosecutor, Alito was already working to give the Reagan government (along with big corporations) unwarranted powers--against the rights of individuals. (This was right before he was promoted to his first judgeship, by the way.)

And isn't it interesting how tightly aligned he was with the War on Terra even then? Recall that in the 1980s, it was fashionable in right-wing Washington circles to tie all terrorism to communism, whether there was a link or not. (For some, those wacko days have yet to end, alas. For others, the memo has yet to cross the desk that communism has but one thing in common with terrorism: that as a threat, both are grossly overblown. Fortunately, there are a few who seem to get it...)

What really gets to me, though, is that Alito--currently praised even by Democrats as a close and careful reader of the law--isn't nearly so cautious here, in his early prosecutorial/activist incarnation. He was perfectly happy to send someone (albeit a nasty piece of work that someone was) up the Big Muddy for much longer than the laws of the day would allow. Is this the kind of conscientious t-crossing and i-dotting for which Alito is known?

And--does this rhetoric look familiar?--he claimed that the proof he was called upon to produce would "jeopardize" antiterror probes. A bit of bunkum if ever there was one (and recently uttered by Dubya, too, to justify his domestic espionage activities, particularly against those dangerous, nasty, evil Quaker peaceniks.)

And this obvious right-wing activist is what the Repugs want to put on the US Supreme Court--and convince us that he's really not going to legislate from the bench? What a dirty joke. He was already trying to rewrite the law, in favor of Big Rightard Government, from the prosecutor's table! What makes anyone think he won't do it from the bastion of unelected power that is the SCOTUS?

And what makes anyone think he won't use the flimsy--and flexible--current definitions of terrorism as a crutch to disallow any freedoms he finds offensive to his right-wing biases?

Vietnam--future front in the oil wars?

Could be! Prensa Latina reports:

Su Tu Nau, a new oilfield, was recently discovered offshore the southern Vietnamese province of Binh Tuan, bringing to seven the number of oilfields found in the area.

The Ministry of Industries informed that the oilfields in the zone include Ruby, Rang Dong, Su Tu Den, Su Tu Trang, Su Tu Nau, and others with reserves already in production.

Experts indicated the area has large reserves of oil and natural gas, with the Su Tu Den, for instance, producing 90,000 barrels of oil daily since 2003.

Mind you, this is small compared to Venezuela's likely output, within a decade, to over 5 million barrels a day (currently it's at 3.3 million). But it is worth noting that the CIA is currently tracking proved oil reserves...and Vietnam currently ranks 42rd in the world (to Venezuela's 7th.)

However, those stats are all dated 2004 at the latest. A lot can change...

You may also note that Iran ranks ahead of Iraq on the CIA's list. Is all the current nuclear tut-tutting over Iran such a coincidence, in light of that--and recalling all the similar tut-tutting over Saddam's nonexistent WMD just three years ago?

Anyhow, as long as Vietnam remains relatively low on that list they have nothing to worry about. But should a truly colossal offshore reserve turn up, they might just have more in common with Iraq than even all the current comparisons would suggest!

Meanwhile, Venezuela watches her own back for reasons I need not elaborate on here. Hugo Chavez is buying military boats and cargo planes from Spain, come hell or high water--and looks likely to get his next fleet of fighter jets from Russia or China if the US goes on reneging on its old contract to service the current F-16 fleet. No doubt that is also good for a propaganda offensive...or several.

Yeah, tell me it's all just a coincidence. Maybe I'll believe you when all the world's oil runs out.

January 13, 2006

Tell me, dear, are you truthy tonight?

Oh lord...talk about made-up words for people who make shit up (but desperately HOPE that the act of believing their own smack makes it true). CNN (the Chicken Noodle Network) "reports":

A panel of linguists has decided the word that best reflects 2005 is "truthiness," defined as the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.

[...]

Michael Adams, a professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in lexicology, said "truthiness" means "truthy, not facty."

"The national argument right now is, one, who's got the truth and, two, who's got the facts," he said. "Until we can manage to get the two of them back together again, we're not going make much progress."

Yeah, professor, no shucking fit! How be we just call "truthiness" by its right name, instead of making up new, nonsensical terms for a concept that already existed long before this year. Hey, I know: Let's call it WISHFUL THINKING!!!

Seriously, folks, this is just another way of saying someone is faith-based, as opposed to reality-based. Although I prefer the term "reality-challenged" for such people. After all, reality challenges them to come up with ever more sophisticated means of evading it.

What a pity more of them don't rise to that challenge in ways that don't involve mangled language or synapses bent out of shape.

January 12, 2006

Uh oh, Hugo...now you've pissed off Peru!

Depending on where you sit, this could be an example of Hugo Chavez putting his foot in it yet again, or of him being downright fucking brilliant yet again. From the Beeb:

The Peruvian authorities say comments made by Venezuela's president about candidates for the April election in Peru are unacceptable.

Hugo Chavez described the conservative Lourdes Flores as the candidate of the Peruvian oligarchy.

He also praised the nationalist former army officer, Ollanta Humala, saying he stood for Peru's "abandoned people".

Mr Chavez's comments come a week after Peru accused him of interference and recalled its envoy for consultations.

The diplomatic row erupted last week when Mr Humala attended a news conference in Caracas with the Venezuelan leader and Bolivia's President-elect Evo Morales.

On that occasion, Mr Chavez praised Mr Humala for "joining the battle" against the Free Trade Area of the Americas backed by Washington and a number of countries in the region.

He also said a failed military uprising led by the Peruvian candidate in 2000 was worthy of Don Quixote.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Chavez said: "He [Mr Humala] asked me for a meeting and I received him. The president of Peru got angry, what am I to do?"

Mr Humala has been gaining ground in opinion polls ahead of the 9 April vote. Ms Flores, a former congresswoman, is seen as a frontrunner in the election.

Say, didn't this also happen when Evo Morales was campaigning for the presidency just recently in Bolivia? We all know how that ended...

Hey Hugo, would you please consider interfering in our elections up here in Canada? It looks as though the yucky Conservatives might just win, despite having nothing real to offer. Could you please put in a good word for Jack Layton?

Pretty please???

January 11, 2006

Screw abstinence. Carry condoms!

Picture this: You're young. You're in love. You remember--dimly!--that you were told to just say no. And at the time, you did, with all good intentions...but that was before you found love. Love has a way of making all other intentions evaporate. And now it's down to that crucial moment: do you say yes or no to the one you love?

Now, if this were the United States, you'd be screwed. In more ways than one. It'd be either go on saying no--against your will!--or else have sex woefully unprepared.

But ah, my friends, this is Colombia. And get a load of what could be in store for you:

Colombian teenagers could be forced to carry condoms in an effort to stop unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The man proposing the scheme says men over the age of 14 in the town of Tulua should have to carry condoms, just as they carry ID cards, or face a fine.

"The measure does not force anyone to have sex, but to protect themselves," Councillor William Pena told El Tiempo.

[...]

Last year, 14 people died in Tulua due to sexually transmitted diseases.

This shows an increase of 50% from 2003, according to figures published by the daily.

"This is a country with a lot of sexual activity and Tulua is no exception," Mr Pena told El Tiempo.

Hence, the proposed condom law. So far, so sensible...right?

Well...not everybody feels that way:

Father Jesus Velasquez, however, describes the proposals as absurd.

"It would be like selling guns on the streets," he said. "What is needed is education and respect for moral and Christian values."

As I recall, isn't it a deficiency in education, brought on by a funny interpretation of moral and Christian values, that brought about the need to carry condoms in the first place? After all, Father...these kids didn't just catch STDs because they had sex, they caught them because they had sex with an infected person, minus a condom. Clearly, being told not to have sex didn't make a lick of difference to them, when it came right down to that crucial moment.

Screw abstinence; a condom's still your best bet if you're not a celibate priest (as most of us are not). Values change, but facts don't. And it's an influx of unpleasant facts that's forcing old, insupportable values to change, Father...whether you like it or not.

Patwa gets his mouth slapped, part II

Now it's personal. The latest from the Beeb on Patwa Robertson is that the Powers that Be are not amused with him and his big mouth...

Israel is pulling out of a $50 million deal with US TV evangelist Pat Robertson after he said Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution.

Tourism Ministry spokesman Ido Hartuv said Israel would not sign a contract with Mr Robertson to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee.

Mr Robertson suggested on his popular TV show the stroke was a punishment for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

His remarks were condemned by the US government and American Jewish groups.

Mr Robertson was leading a group of evangelical Christians hoping to build the Galilee World Heritage Park.

The centre was expected to cover nearly 35 acres (14 hectares) north-east of the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

It would have had a park, an auditorium, a Holy Land exhibition, outdoor amphitheatres, information centre and a media studio.

The Israeli government had tentatively agreed to provide land and infrastructure for the centre in the hope of generating millions of dollars from tourism.

But relations soured when Mr Robertson said God wanted Israel to be whole and undivided and had therefore punished Mr Sharon for Israel's pull-out from the Gaza Strip last year.

"You read the Bible: This is my land, and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he's going to carve it up and give it away, God says no, this is mine," he said last week.

Mr Hartuv said his government was furious with Mr Robertson's remarks.

"We were due to sign a contract in the near future with Mr Roberson for the construction of a new Christian heritage centre in the Galilee," he told the AFP news agency.

"We, as the State of Israel, cannot accept what he said and we will not do any business with him or with anyone else who agrees with his view."

Mind you, it's not a complete boot-out of the fundies and freaks from the Land of Unholy Squabbling just yet, but it's a good start.

People like Prattling Pat give Christianity a bad name, and there are many reasons why. In his own case, the sins are legion. Consider his association with strong-armed dictators: unlike Hugo Chavez, who is democratically elected and popular and thus, no dictator (and therefore, a major target for Patwa's death threats), Patwa's pals include a couple of the real thing: Charles Taylor, the blood-diamond butcher of Liberia, and Efrain Rios Montt, the fundamentalist racist butcher of Guatemala.

Oh, but Bina, you say--that's different! They were Christians!

Well, so's Hugo Chavez. Actually, he's a better Christian than any of them. Didn't stop Patwa from calling for his head, did it? (Frankly, I'm sure it's because he's a better Christian--a real one, in any event, which they are not--that prompted the fatwa from Patwa.) Chavez truly believes in being his brother's keeper, not his brother's robber, murderer and oppressor. Or, in the case of Israel, his brother's exploitive annoyance.

Just a little something to keep in mind, Patwa, should you ever decide to stop trying to make a buck off your hypocritical facsimile of religion, and actually get into the REAL thing.

January 8, 2006

Space tourists = space TERRORISTS?

I'm trying very hard not to laugh over this...honest I am. But get a load of the latest bizarre directive from the FAA:

Space tourists must be screened to ensure they are not terrorists, according to proposed regulations from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The draft report's suggestions aim to prevent a terrorist from destroying a spacecraft or using it as a weapon.

However, the report has no strict proposals on the health of any would-be space tourists.

The suggestions will affect Sir Richard Branson's enterprise which aims to launch people into space this decade.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is attempting to regulate the commercial space industry in a bid to ensure minimum safety standards.

It has recommended security checks similar to those for airline passengers.

The FAA also suggests space tourism companies check the global "no-fly" list, from the US Homeland Security Department, to exclude potential terrorists.

"New technologies carry new risks. Nonetheless, Congress recognises that private industry has begun to develop commercial launch vehicles capable of carrying human beings into space, and greater private investment in these efforts will stimulate the nation's commercial space transportation industry as a whole," said the report.

"The public interest is served by creating a clear legal, regulatory, and safety regime for commercial human spaceflight."

There is so much that's ludicrous about all this, it's hard to know where to begin. But here goes:

First of all, I can't see there ever being that many "space tourists". Affordability is the prime factor--the vast majority of us just don't make enough money to pop $20 million for a ticket to the International Space Station.

And those of us that do, are pretty easily checked out for possible terrorist connections--wouldn't you think? I mean, if you're going to be taking that money to send someone into space, you kind of want to know that he's not Osama, right? I would expect an extensive background check is already in place on any non-astronaut intending to fly along on space missions.

Or are they trying to tell us that space tourists just aren't all that well-vetted to begin with? This passage makes me wonder:

Space tourists should also be given pre-flight training to handle emergency situations such as a loss of cabin pressure or fire.

However, the FAA has so far left any medical requirements in the hands of the tourist, who should decide themselves if they are fit to fly.

By that standard, I expect they'll also be given a lecture on the evils of terrorism and should decide for themselves if they are worth trusting on a billion-dollar mission. Uh-huh.

And what's more ludicrous is the notion that private companies should be allowed to offer trips to space, for whatever the market will bear--even if the flight barely lasts long enough for the travellers to blink. The amount of fuel alone that's needed would make such things prohibitively expensive in more ways than one. And given that we are probably already past the Hubbert Peak of oil production, that means a fuel crunch could well scuttle this whole venture before it ever gets off the ground. We simply don't have the resources on Earth for anyone to make this kind of thing profitable. Any alternative fuel technology is going to be put primarily toward travel on Earth. At that rate, good luck getting any private, commercial spacecraft beyond the drawing board!

Here's a better idea for the FAA: Why not just put the kibosh to space tourism before it goes gaga--by keeping all NASA flights strictly for trained researchers and refusing all pay-to-play passangers? A more irresponsible form of conspicuous consumption is hard for me to imagine. Space is, or should be, the province of scientists, not daredevil dilettantes with money to burn. Perhaps all these other would-be Dennis Titos should consider a wiser earthly use of all their boodle--such as researching alternative energy sources.

It would make for one helluva trip, trust me.

Time to start taking Bolivia seriously

Hey neo-cons--especially you, King George the Dubya--it's time for you all to stop pissing on Bolivia and start showing some respect. Particularly to Evo Morales, in light of his flying start. The man's not even inaugurated yet, and already he shows all the signs of being a full-blown statesman and diplomat, not to mention a sharp businessman:

While on a visit to Beijing, Bolivia's President-elect, Evo Morales, has invited China to help develop his country's energy sector.

One of Mr Morales' economic advisers said China could be interested in converting Bolivia's natural gas into environmentally friendly diesel.

Mr Morales will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday.

Correspondents say his left-wing stance and anti-US speeches may have already won him support in Beijing.

"For the government of President Morales, hydrocarbons is a fundamental topic, in particular the industrialisation of natural gas," Carlos Villegas, an economic adviser to Mr Morales, said in Beijing.

"He invited the Chinese government, through its state companies, to participate."

But Mr Villegas emphasised that China was not the only country Bolivia was assessing as a possible partner.

"We have made the proposal in Spain and France, and now in China... It doesn't mean that we are relying only on China," Mr Villegas said.

You remember China, don't you, guys? They own your debt. I think you'd better practice your kowtowing while you still have time.

And you might want to start by genuflecting respectfully in front of Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, and a host of other leaders who will build a multipolar world over the desiccated bones of your grand (but hollow) ambitions.

Your time is OVER, neo-cons. Another star is rising, and it won't shine on you unless you know your place--beneath it.

January 7, 2006

Finally, Patwa gets his mouth slapped...

Tell me honestly...do you think BushCo isn't just a wee bit selective in terms of what kind of loose talk it will condemn from its allies in the Religious Reich?

The White House has been unusually sharply critical of one of the president's most prominent supporters, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

Mr Robertson suggested Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for the withdrawal of Israeli settlers in Gaza.

A White House spokesman described the broadcaster's remarks as "wholly inappropriate and offensive".

Now, where were those harsh words when Patwa was saying something even worse about Hugo Chavez? Here, let me jog your memories, folks...

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.

"It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Pretty unambiguous, wouldn't you say? That's called uttering death threats, and ordinarily, it's considered a crime. It certainly would be considered a crime if, say, a Muslim cleric anywhere in the world were to say that about George Dubya.

But not until Patwa starts flapping his gums in a rather frivolous, superstitious vein about Ariel Sharon does the condemnation actually come.

Someone, please, hold my head while I lean over the toilet bowl. The hypocrisy is gagging me.

January 4, 2006

Can't you read the signs?

Honestly, sometimes I'm amazed at what you can do when you put your mind to it...and bend the resources of the state to the task. Here's a nice long piece from Vheadline.com detailing the many successes of Hugo Chavez. It seems that free education and massive state-run literacy programs are not only a hit with the people (that stands to reason; hungry minds are eager for anything that will feed them!); they're also a further proof that socialism works and redounds to the overall good of society.

Most striking of all is how quickly Chavez has managed to virtually wipe out illiteracy in Venezuela. Here's how he did it:

Mision Robinson I

This mission uses volunteers to teach the poor to read and write. In 2004 it had raised the literacy rate to an impressive 99% of the population having so far enrolled nearly 1.4 million people, nearly 1.3 of whom have successfully completed the program. In the Americas, only Venezuela and Cuba have virtually eliminated illiteracy. In the US, the Department of Education estimates that over 20% of the population is functionally illiterate.

Mision Robinson II

This mission was a continuation of Mision Robinson I and seeks to consolidate the literacy rates achieved as well as provide primary education in other areas. It has enrolled 1.2 million people and graduated a large majority of them with an elementary school education.

Mision Ribas

This program at nearly 29 thousand education centers around the country provides a high school education to Venezuelans of all ages enabling them to receive a high school equivalency degree. Enrollment has reached nearly 1.5 million.

Mision Sucre

This mission provides access to higher education to all Venezuelans with a high school or equivalency degree. It has enrolled nearly 275,000 people in various university level programs, and since 1999 has established 5 new universities. Unlike in the pre-Chavez era, education now is completely free through the university level and has been a boon to school enrollment.

This, out of a population of 26.6 million. For comparison, the population of the United States is more than 10 times that, at 295 million in 2005. (Source: BBC Americas pages.)

This tells us two things. One, that Chavez's social missions, by being implemented so quickly and state-subsidized in their entirety, have worked a miracle: a virtual boom of educated people, who will eventually command higher salaries and raise the economic profile of the country considerably. And two, that the arch-capitalist, socialism-wary US, for all its boasting about "No Child Left Behind", is in fact lagging FAR behind--and leaving children and adults functionally illiterate in its wake. Upshot of this: Lower wages, poorer products, a country headed for the dumper. If the current trend continues, the US will only end up in a vicious vortex: Lower wages means a lower tax base means less funding for social programs means a less educated and less healthy populace, leading to lower wages...etc.

Already we're seeing the signs of BushCo's bad policy decisions all around. Just yesterday, 12 coal miners in West Virginia died in a mine explosion. (A thirteenth remains in serious condition at this writing.) The mine was the dubious beneficiary of BushCo cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a lowering of workplace safety standards. While this may have given the mine's owners and shareholders a fatter wallet, it sure as hell didn't trickle down to the miners.

Long story made short: "neo-liberal" economics are neo-something, but it damn sure isn't LIBERAL. Liberality, you see, implies both generosity and freedom--two things that have been more and more absent in America of late. More workers are being shackled to ill-paid and unsafe work for life, thanks to constantly lowered wages, ever-diminishing pensions, and rampant corporate malfeasance. Lack of generosity on the part of employers is leading to a lack of freedom for the workers. Do you call THAT "liberal"?

I call that TYRANNICAL.

Coal Country is, of course, a place that's always borne the brunt of illiberal economics and right-wing politics. Tennessee Ernie Ford's famous song, "Sixteen Tons", spells out just how bad it was, not so long ago, and how bad it could soon be all over again:

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt.

St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go--

I owe my soul to the company store...

Of course, all this would not be possible unless the coal miners were of a historically under-educated class. "A mind that's weak and a back that's strong", as Ford sang, were the chief requirements of the job. Miners were being paid to do grunt-work, not think. Literacy, as you can well imagine, was not deemed an asset. In fact, the bosses outright considered it a liability, for a miner who could read--and think--was often a dangerous potential agitator and union organizer. Unless, of course, you co-opted him and made him a foreman, in which case he'd be safely pitted against his grunt brethren--or, if co-opting proved impossible, you assigned him to a more dangerous part of the mine (with promises of extra pay), gambling that he'd eventually meet with an accident. (Or something that could be made to look like one, which would serve the dual purpose of making an example of him to anyone else who got an overly bright idea.)

That BushCo is failing to invest in social services all around is no coincidence. This is an administration that's squarely in Big Business's pocket. And Big Business doesn't like to pay too many people too well, and certainly not to think (unless, of course, it's about ways to further cut the payroll and so artificially increase profits in the short term.) It stands to reason, then, that they're actively looking to deny healthcare, education and yes, safety standards to their workers. The Big Lie they're looking to push is that "the private sector can do it better", a.k.a. Personal Responsibility. They're guilt-tripping everyone into the idea that they're not working hard enough, or else they too would have the best of everything that money can buy. (The fact that they can't, on the wages and training they're receiving, is the dirtiest little open secret of Corporate America. But then again, they're not being paid to think, so of course no one thinks of that. Everyone is too busy scrabbling just to survive! Who has time to think?)

Now, back to Venezuela--which is resource-rich. And until recently, for the most part its people have been dirt-poor, under-educated, neglected by the government, and highly exploited. In other words, in the exact situation the West Virginia coal miners have been in, only even more so. Venezuela's resources are nowhere near to being played out, unlike those of Coal Country, which have been in steady decline since the 1950s. (Homer H. Hickam's memoir of his West Virginia boyhood, Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky, makes that painfully clear. Young Homer Hickam at least had the foresight to realize that coal is a dying industry, and set his eyes on space and rocketry instead; he eventually went to work for NASA.)

Nevertheless, Hugo Chavez has had the unique and innovative idea of putting Venezuela's resources to work for the state, instead of just doing more of what his corrupt predecessors had done: letting private corporations suck them away and give practically nothing back to the country from which they were taken. And his idea has borne fruit: Venezuelans are now taking destiny in hand. Starting with basic literacy skills, and working right on up. It won't be long before Venezuela literally reaches the sky, with a little help from its new communication satellite, appropriately named Simon Bolivar. Venezuela's star is rising even as the USA's is sinking like a stone.

The signs are everywhere, America. Can't you read them? Don't you wonder why you can't? And aren't you sick of being paid not to think?

January 3, 2006

Colonia Dignidad: The plot thickens...

Looks like more evidence against former Nazi Paul Schaefer, minion of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, is surfacing. From the Beeb:

A Chilean judge is investigating the discovery of an unmarked grave in a German enclave in the south of Chile.

Rights groups say the colony's leaders helped with the repression of left-wing activists during military rule.

It is thought dozens of bodies were buried at the enclave formerly known as Colonia Dignidad, but later moved.

Last year, the state took control of the enclave. Its former head, Paul Schaefer, is in jail charged with child abuse and human rights violations.

Judge Jorge Zepeda is expected to inspect the unmarked grave on Tuesday.

Experts working at the site say that while they have not found any human remains, they are certain that bodies were buried there and later exhumed, Chilean media reports.

It is believed that in 1978 the bodies were exhumed, cremated and the remains thrown into a river.

Investigators have said there could be more unmarked graves in the enclave, where it is believed about 100 left-wing activists were killed.

Dead men DO tell tales, it seems. These ones are sure to tell a horror story.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for the living: Many are believed to be there against their will.

This war ain't gonna pay for itself, nosirree...

Forget everything you heard out of Washington in '03.

No, on second thought--remember it. And throw it back in the faces of all the wingnuts who repeated this bullcrap to you. The war in Iraq is going to be a money pit. And trust the media of Old Europe--in this case, Germany--to get the story right where the US media is falling on its ass:

Two-and-a-half years after the US invasion of Iraq, the country's oil industry is still in disarray. An official of the Oil Ministry in Baghdad told ISN Security Watch, on condition of anonymity: "We do not know the exact quantity of oil we are exporting, we do not exactly know the prices we are selling it for, and we do not know where the oil revenue is going to."

According to Baghdad press reports, export revenues are still not sufficient to cover the Iraqi state budget. The government is forced to take loans from international banks to cover its running expenses.

Although the US invested around US$1.3 billion in the rehabilitation of oil plants damaged by lack of maintenance during 13 years of UN sanctions, the daily output of approximately 1.3 million barrels remains far below Iraq's pre-war production level of 2.5 million barrels.

The production goal for December 2004 of 3 million barrels per day, set by the US and the Iraqi government, cannot be reached in the near future, according to experts within the Iraqi Oil Ministry who talked to ISN Security Watch.

The Iraqi government looks set to lose US$8 billion a year in potential oil revenue, due to the poor current state of the oil industry.

One of the reasons for the decline of the industry is a lack of progress in the reconstruction effort, due to serious managerial deficiencies.

For instance Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) was awarded a US$225 million contract, without a tender, to rehabilitate the Qarmat Ali Water Plant in southern Iraq, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

This, of course, comes as no surprise to anyone who's been seriously paying attention. Neither does the fact that profiteers--Halliburton, and of course the banks--are making out like bandits from all this, and they're the only ones that will. This, in spite of the fact that Halliburton is clearly inept:

In Kurdistan, KBR signed a US$70 million contract to rehabilitate part of the pipeline system. According to the Los Angeles Times, KBR was only able to fulfill half of the contract. A couple of million barrels that had already been pumped could not be transported, and had to be re-injected into the ground — a practice that engineers regard as harmful to oilfields.

Did you catch that, kiddies? "KBR was only able to fulfill half of the contract", and "a couple of million barrels had to be re-injected into the ground".

THIS is the wonderful private sector that can do everything so much better than state-run industry? What a joke. Sounds to me like Halliburton has barely come up in the world from the time when it was in the business of transporting "sailboat fuel" on empty flatbed trucks.

But wait...it gets worse:

Iraq's oil exports hit their lowest level since the war, according to figures released on Monday, heightening a sense of crisis as fuel supplies grow scarce and political leaders struggle to form a government.

Iraq exported 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil in December, a senior official said -- less than any month since exports resumed in mid-2003 after the U.S. invasion and about half the level seen during sanctions under Saddam Hussein.

Sabotage is damaging plants and blocking investment, keeping exports at a fraction of targets officials say should be met if Iraq's vast reserves are to provide its people with the prosperity that might draw the sting of civil conflict.

The oil official was speaking after Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum announced his resignation in opposition to fuel price rises imposed last month as part of an aid deal with the International Monetary Fund that demands big cuts in subsidies.

The price rises have been unpopular among Iraqis, already struggling with poor basic public services and appalling violence on their streets.

Again, take careful notes here, people. The oil minister quit because he didn't like the so-called "aid deal" (really, an agreement not to press charges after the entire country was mugged) laid out by the IMF.

Now, I'm not gonna bore you with a long, dry history of how the IMF screws troubled countries out of an honest living and a real shot at democracy; instead, I'm going to leave you with a link to a previous entry I've blogged here on the "Iraqicazo", as Oil Wars has dubbed it, and a little serenade courtesy of Bruce Cockburn:

Padded with power here they come

International loan sharks backed by the guns

Of market hungry military profiteers

Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared

With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality

Who render rage a necessity

By turning countries into labour camps

Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument

Who makes the gun into a sacrament --

The only response to the deification

Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'

Idolatry of ideology

North South East West

Kill the best and buy the rest

It's just spend a buck to make a buck

You don't really give a flying fuck

About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF

Takes away everything it can get

Always making certain that there's one thing left

Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders

Passing themselves off as leaders

Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows

Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy

And they call it democracy

And they call it democracy

And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too

Trying to make the best of it the way kids do

One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast

To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast

They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF

Takes away everything it can get

Always making certain that there's one thing left

Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

And they call it Democracy...

January 2, 2006

Triumph of truth over fascism

Beam, beam--I'm so proud. Vheadline.com has just published my first letter to the editor.

And I hope it won't be the last time something I write gets in, either. This is a decidedly valuable news source. Between it, Prensa Latina, Oil Wars and Venezuelanalysis, you get a nice clear picture of Venezuela under Chavez, and it's much brighter than the Bush administration or Chavez's disloyal opposition would have you think. So much brighter, in fact, that those opponents have to throw mud, toxic sludge and manure at it by the dumptruckload, in the vain hope that something will stick. Not a chance! Even the more staid mainstream sources, such as the BBC, now grudgingly admit that Chavez's policies have had a positive impact. (More left-leaning sources, such as the UK Guardian and the Independent, have been there for quite some time already, giving voice to journalists like Richard Gott, who have been thorough, fair and honest--and in the process of getting to know the man, quite bowled over by Chavez.)

Anyway, the reason I'm proud Vheadline has seen fit to publish me is because they were at the forefront of the international alternative media's big truth blitz in April 2002. That's when Chavez was kidnapped, on the 11th, by a band of fascist coup-plotters headed by businessman Pedro Carmona. The word in the mainstream media at the time was that Chavez had resigned, and that the military had asked Carmona to lead. It was, of course, a lie--Chavez had been ousted by force and taken against his will to a series of remote locations while the coup-plotters and their military lackeys installed themselves at the Miraflores palace and made haste to erase all his democratic accomplishments. They were confident that they, with Washington's not-so-tacit support, had won they day; they reckoned wrong. From the get-go, a counterplot was afoot. Chavez's own daughter, Maria Gabriela, made phone calls to anyone who would listen, to let everyone know that her father had not resigned, and that the opposition--which, incidentally, OWNS the commercial media in Venezuela--was lying through its collective laser-bleached teeth.

One of those who did listen was Chavez's long-time friend Fidel Castro. He, in turn, spread the word via the Cuban press--which, though state-run, is independent of Washington or any large corporation, unlike the American mainstream media.

Meanwhile, the situation at home was dire. Independent media operating out of Venezuela found themselves jammed and shut down. Pro-Chavez websites were shut down at the server; broadcasters couldn't transmit a signal. Even Vheadline was momentarily out of commission, but publisher Roy Carson found a way to get the message out regardless--via the samizdat of the modern era, an e-mail newsletter.

Word spread quickly through the barrios. Within two days of the coup, Chavez supporters had turned out in the hundred-thousands, marching down from the hills into the streets of Caracas. They faced down anti-Chavez troops at their barracks, and confronted the enemy marchers in the street (and some paid the price with their lives); at Puente Llaguno, some fired back at snipers from the city's police, who had been set against them by the anti-Chavez mayor of the time. General Jorge Garcia Carneiro, loyal to Chavez, ordered his troops to trap the coup plotters in the presidential palace, where they were still too busy drinking and congratulating themselves to realize that the gig was up. He also got on the horn to CNN in Atlanta, obtained a live satellite feed from them, and announced the truth to the world: that there had been a coup, Chavez had not resigned, and the plotters were under arrest. Eventually, loyal troops turned out to restore order, clear the seditionists' barricades from the roads, and return Chavez to Miraflores.

Anyhow, that's the story of how a president who was almost toppled by commercial media, was restored in no small part because the quick-thinkers of the alternative media, truly the voice of the people, intervened and delivered the truth. And truth, as we all should be aware, is the enemy of fascism, which, incidentally, is defined by Mussolini as the merger of the corporation and the state. Since true independent media are not corporate (and indeed, many are downright anti-corporate in nature), it stands to reason that they cannot be co-opted by corporate interests, and therefore cannot be made to serve a fascist purpose. Likewise, fascism is not served by the truth--because the truth makes you free. Indeed, it makes ordinary people too free--and classless--for the fascists' liking!

Is it any wonder, then, that "seize the radio station" was one of the first orders of business when the Nazis were on the march? It's no coincidence that the fascists in Venezuela own the commercial media, either; that is their chief means of distributing propaganda. Were they to rely on word of mouth as the Chavistas did in the crunch, they'd be a flat failure, for there simply aren't enough of them to actually spread the word anyplace it would actually count. Least of all among the ordinary citizens, the majority of whom these oligarchs openly despise. No wonder their grand scheme fell through!

Meanwhile, the counterpunch against fascism continues, and I'm glad to play a part in it, however small. Looking at what a difference the alternative media made at a crucial time is enough to convince me that size is no longer an issue; all that matters is having some means to get the truth out. All that's needed to make a difference is for us to speak out, and go on speaking out, in any way we can.

And of course, to keep on telling the truth.

January 1, 2006

Things I look forward to this New Year

Happy 2006, everyone...hope you're not too hung over to read. I'm sure as hell not too drunk to write...

Since everyone and their dog seems to have a top five or ten or whatever of the year's past stories, I'm not going to go that route. Instead, I'll be looking into the ol' crystal ball for mine. Consider this to be Swami Sabinananda's psychic Top 10 News Stories of 2006:

1. Another failed coup attempt on Hugo Chavez, who will romp to yet another landslide re-election in December. Chavez will further embarrass Washington and the CIA by publicly proving them to be behind this one, as they were in 2002's "dictator for a day" flop-a-palooza. Venezuelan opposition will continue to wilt and wither, whining all the while about how "autocratic" Chavez is, what a "dictator", yadda yadda yadda. Also more whimperings about his friendship with Fidel Castro as an "alarming" sign of communist encroachment in Latin America. Only Washington and Pat "Fatwa" Robertson will be fooled.

2. Fidel Castro will continue to defy all of Washington's efforts and still be alive and well at the end of the year (his 80th, for those keeping track.) Likewise, Cuba will remain independent and not turn into another Puerto Rico, much to Washington's dismay.

3. US trumps up a war on Iran, and probably Syria as well. Look for fudged dossiers, intel failures, and self-interested "informants" galore. Said false informers will be uncommonly cozy with high-level members of BushCo, particularly Condi Rice. Another goofy-ass deck of cards will be issued, this one full of black-turbaned mullahs and the occasional woman in a chador. Priceless Persian antiquities will be looted. Only building in Tehran not ransacked or destroyed in fighting will be the Oil Ministry, which will enjoy a heavy guard of US marines.

4. Evo Morales will take a leaf from Hugo Chavez's book, and make multinational companies looking to tap Bolivia's natural gas dance to his piping. He will raise their taxes and hold them to pay; also look for joint ventures only, with Bolivia holding controlling interest. Proceeds to go to impoverished Bolivians for a change. Huge improvements will result. Wealthy Bolivian oligarchy will take a leaf from that of Venezuela, and whine about his friendship with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Again, alarming noises of nonexistent communist encroachment. Only Washington will take it seriously. Look for another fatwa from Patwa.

5. Augusto Pinochet will finally go down for crimes against humanity. This time, though, he won't be able to use poor health as a "get out of jail free" card. Judge who was bamboozled once, saw interview footage taken shortly after, in which the old dictator appeared surprisingly hale and hearty for one supposedly at death's door. Said footage is now admissible in court as evidence that the accused was trying to evade prosecution. If Pinochet should pop off when the guilty verdict is read, it will be poetic justice for the families of those his regime killed and tortured and "disappeared". US will fear the legal repercussions as those apply to it, as well.

6. European Union will hold Washington's feet to the fire over CIA torture flights landing at various international airports. Look for plenty of tapdancing from Condi.

7. European Union will hold Poland and Romania's feet to the fire over CIA secret prisons on their soil. Look for plenty of tapdancing there as well.

8. Black residents of New Orleans return one by one to find their homes rebuilt--and unavailable to them, but occupied by white folks far better off. And it won't be any coincidence, either. Meanwhile, Michael "Drownie" Brown will find his latest business venture flopping, to no one's surprise except, perhaps, Dubya. Halliburton, on the other hand, will continue to make out like the bandit it is.

9. Mexico will join the great left-flowing tide of Latin America, and elect former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador president. Washington bootlicker Vicente Fox will be heard whining in the background about how the new president is an "autocrat" and a "dictator", if not an outright communist. Also look for an excellent showing by the newly-fledged Zapatista party, accompanied by more anxious noises from Washington. Friendlier relations with Cuba and Venezuela (and probably Bolivia as well) on the horizon. Heads-up for possible coup/assassination attempt on Obrador and/or Subcomandante Marcos from right-wing rump roast, aided by CIA and preceded by yet another fatwa from Patwa (who, with any luck, will bust a blood vessel at this juncture and so be rendered inoperable.)

10. Iraq war continues to be in its "last throes", but with end mysteriously nowhere in sight. Death count of US military alone will top 5,000 by year's end. Iraqis? Your guess is as good as mine. (Mine is that it will top the half-million mark if it hasn't already.) Meanwhile, on the home front, the blossom will go off Karl Rove's turd for good as Patrick Fitzgerald indicts him for treason and/or perjury in the outing of Valerie Plame. Look for explosions galore--and not from July 4 fireworks, either.

Check back again, this time, next year. I predict that Ye Olde Crystal Ball will have been remarkably accurate.