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May 29, 2006

Another one bites the dust

From the Beeb, news that a nasty old Guatemalan strongman has gone to his just deserts...in Venezuela:

Guatemalan former President Romeo Lucas Garcia, whose 1978-1982 government was accused of rights abuses, has died aged 81 in a hospital in Venezuela.

Under his rule in 1980, police raided the Spanish embassy which had been occupied by student and labour activists, killing 37 people.

Spain unsuccessfully applied for his extradition from Venezuela to try him.

Gen Lucas Garcia was overthrown in 1982 by Gen Efrain Rios Montt, whose rule was among the bloodiest in Guatemala.

Gen Lucas Garcia had lived in Venezuela since the 1980s.

Last year, Venezuelan authorities refused to extradite him to Spain to face charges of human rights abuses.

The charges were based on testimony by the Guatemalan 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu, whose father was among the 37 people killed in the raid on the Spanish embassy.

Security forces stormed the building which had been taken over by activists who opposed the government.

"Death came and saved him from facing judgement," Eduardo de Leon of the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation told the Associated Press.

According to the Wikipedia, this creep was responsible for a lot more than just this massacre. And the dictator who followed him is a pretty nasty piece of work in his own right, though Pat Robertson, self-described hater of strong-armed dictators, just adored the fundie freak. (His daughter married a Repugnican US congressman. How appropriate: the fundie with the fundie, the wingnut with the wingnut, the valueless with the valueless.)

Too bad this SOA-trained punk didn't live to see justice. But his successor and co-defendant just might yet.

I wonder, though: Did Chavez not know this scum was floating around in his country, or did he refuse to extradite on more compassionate grounds? I can see his predecessors (corrupt as they were) refusing for less altruistic reasons.

If anyone knows, please feel free to drop a comment at the link below.

Quotable: Mahatma Gandhi on freedom and slavery

"The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others. Freedom and slavery are mental states."

--Mahatma Gandhi

May 27, 2006

Russia's little freedom problem rears its ugly head

"Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me."

Matthew 25:40

It appears that some people in Russia, who call themselves "Orthodox Christians", have forgotten who said what in the Gospels. Or at least, they've forgotten what it meant...

More than 70 people have been arrested in Moscow after activists tried to hold the city's first gay rights rally, despite a ban on the event.

About 50 gay rights supporters were held, as well as 20 people from religious and nationalist groups opposed to the march.

On Friday, a court upheld a ban on the march imposed by the city authorities who argued it could trigger violence.

Saturday marks 13 years since Russia's decriminalisation of homosexuality.

A number of foreign activists are in Moscow for a forum on gay rights.

About 1,000 riot police were deployed close to Red Square in the heart of the city to stop the rally from taking place and prevent clashes with its opponents.

They moved in when a group of activists tried to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in a symbolic protest to equate the struggle for gay rights with the struggle against fascism in World War II.

No, it's not the gay rights activists who've forgotten Jesus' famous admonition. They remembered. Read on...

Meanwhile demonstrators representing nationalist and Orthodox Christian groups chanted anti-gay slogans and shouted abuse.

Eyewitnesses said several foreign gay rights activists were beaten by protesters.

"What happened today unfortunately is representative of the non-respect for human rights in Russia. You can't express your point of view, and you are not protected from extremists," said French activist Sebastien Maria.

Nationalist groups expressed anger at the nature of the action at the tomb.

"We are Russians. We are Orthodox. These soldiers died so we could live like Russians, not so these people could come here and tell us what to do," Andrey, 25, told Reuters news agency.

I'm puzzled. What kind of Christian orthodoxy is it that so blatantly and selectively disregards Matthew 25:40? That's the word of the Lord there, people. How can anyone ignore it and still call himself a Christian--with no sense of irony whatsoever? Jesus never said a word against homosexuality. However, he was very clear on intolerance and lack of compassion, and put himself unambiguously in the shoes of anyone--ANYONE--who suffered persecution. And according to the Absolutist view of the Sermon on the Mount, the protesters are, ironically, living up to Orthodox belief much more than their persecutors.

In any event, these "Orthodox" Russians have confirmed just how right the activists were. There is, indeed, a fight against fascism still to be fought in Russia. And the conflation of religion with repressive official policy is a fascist tendency, whether they like to be reminded of it or not.

It isn't very Christian of them, either.

Shocked, SHOCKED, I tell ya!

Poor Kenny Boy. What a fall from grace the man has had. Once, he thought he was on track to be BushCo's energy secretary. Then, his gravy train mysteriously went off the rails. (Well, all right: NOT so mysteriously. Haha.) And then Georgie-boy pretended not to know his #1 corporate moneyman...

Now, he's crying us a veritable Amazon of crocodile tears:

The former bosses of collapsed US energy giant Enron have expressed shock and disappointment at being found guilty on fraud and conspiracy charges.

"Certainly we're surprised,... we're shocked, this was not the outcome we expected," Kenneth Lay told reporters after the verdict.

"I'm disappointed," said Jeffrey Skilling.

[...]

On the sixth day of deliberations, the jury decided the two men lied to employees and investors to cover up billions of dollars of losses at Enron while enriching themselves by selling their stock.

Skilling was found guilty on 19 of the 28 counts he faced - with the "not guilty" verdicts coming on some of the charges of insider trading.

He could receive as much as 185 years in jail.

Lay was found guilty of all six fraud and conspiracy charges that he faced.

He could get as much as 45 years behind bars.

Both men have posted $5m bonds to avoid custody until sentencing in September.

"We fought the good fight," Skilling told reporters outside the court after the verdict.

"Some things work, some things don't. Obviously I am disappointed but that's the way the system works."

Lay said: "Certainly we are surprised, more appropriate to say we are shocked, certainly this is not the outcome that we expected.

"I firmly believe I'm innocent of the charges against me, as I have said from day one, I still firmly believe that as at this day," he said.

They should have been held without bond, because both are obvious flight risks: filthy rich through ill-gotten means, and able to go anywhere in the world as a result of their Swiss bank accounts (which, I note, have NOT been confiscated). They can "firmly believe" they are innocent and be "disappointed" in the system (which actually DOES work--sometimes) to their shrivelled hearts' content, but the rest of us are far more firmly certain that they are guilty and they don't deserve another instant's freedom.

Why? Behold the powers of the Wayback Machine:

RECORDED ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Tell you what, you heard this here first. When Bush wins, that fucking Bill Richardson, he's gone, that fucking Clinton, all these fucking socialists are gone.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yeah.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: You know who the biggest single contributor to the Bush campaign is?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: You.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Enron.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: What?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Enron.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Is it Enron?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Jesus Christ. Is that true?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah, I think it is.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: The biggest single contributor.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Yeah, the biggest corporate contributor to the --

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Holy -- really? That's huge. That's huge.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Ken Lay is going to be Secretary of Energy.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Get out of here! Can you imagine that?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: Why not, though? Why not? It could be, right?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yeah.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: I mean, why not? Who, you know, who's to say, why not?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: He could be. That would be awesome, actually.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: That would be -- how great would that be for all the players in the market?

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: It would be great. I'd love to see Ken Lay be Secretary of Energy.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 1: We'd open these markets up.

ENRON EMPLOYEE 2: Yep, and you know what? If you don't know what you're doing, you're fucked. See you.

Well, they opened the markets up, all right. And shut down the state of California in the summer of 2000 with rolling blackouts for NO reason other than to make obscene sums of money at it (and maybe get the Girlie-Man elected as Governator).

But you know what? Now, Enron Employees #1 and #2, whoever they are, are ALSO fucked. Because when Enron went down, it took EVERYONE with it. And their little retirement plans, too.

Shouldn't have messed with Grandma Millie, fellas. Now you're in the same boat as she is...or, in your own words, "jammed up the ass for fucking $250 a megawatt hour."

You are ALL Grandma Millie now.

May 26, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Everyone hates Hugo!

In honor of Hugo Chavez's recent flurry of shuttle diplomacy and friendly visits, and the corresponding media circus and propaganda offensive against it, I feel inspired...to bring you satire. Since everyone from the stodgy old London Times to the wingiest of the wingnuts wants us to believe that Hugo Chavez is both a hopelessly inept buffoon and a force of Evil to be feared, I must oblige.

So, Gentle Readers, welcome to this Friday's festive blog entry: Everyone Hates Hugo!

Hugo claims he's ugly. Yeah, I can see why. I mean look at him, wearing camouflage. He must be trying to blend into the landscape so no one sees how hideous he is.

Hugo laughing at someone--or something

That grin scares the hell out of me. And who's he pointing the finger at? Could he be giving someone the Evil Eye?

Well, whoever it is he's pointing the Finger of Doom at, don't despair. These custom-made voodoo dollies will help you reverse the curse, whether he's in camo or civvies!

The one and only Chavecito Doll!

And if you don't think the dolly alone will do the trick, why not build an altar and cast your curses in style?

Voodoo altar with Hugo on it

And while you're waiting for the curse to take, this may comfort you. Chavez has so little support, he gets parrots to repeat his inane sayings to the world. Here he is, training one now:

Hugo with a parrot-trooper

And since his old ladyfriend spilled the beans on his wicked world takeover plans, all his romantic prospects have dried up as well. He has no one to hug now...but himself:

Hugo hugs himself

Uh oh...Hugo's getting hungry. He's gnawing the hand of the president of Chile--who, as we all know, absolutely depises him:

Hugo kisses Michelle's hand

Run, Michelle! RUN!!! Don't let the horrible fate of Cindy Sheehan befall you! Need I remind you that he chewed her ear off?

Hugo loves Cindy

Yes, folks, it really is true: Hugo Chavez is a vampire. He's sucking your blood by selling you oil.

And now the whole world knows it.

May 25, 2006

One disgusting computer game

No, I'm NOT talking about the latest "Grand Theft Auto" porno-fest. Check THIS out:

Venezuelan politicians have complained about a forthcoming "shoot-em-up" computer game that simulates an invasion of the South American nation.

In production by Los Angeles-based Pandemic Studios, Mercenaries 2: World In Flames is based around the overthrow of an imaginary Venezuelan "tyrant".

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has long accused the US of planning to invade, something Washington denies.

His supporters say the game aims to drum up support for a real invasion.

[...]

In Mercenaries 2: World In Flames, gamers play soldiers sent to overthrow "a power-hungry tyrant [who] messes with Venezuela's oil supply, sparking an invasion that turns the country into a war zone".

Of course, the game's makers say it's Only Entertainment and Not Really Propaganda:

"Pandemic has no ties to the US government," Greg Richardson, the firm's vice president of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

"Pandemic Studios is a private company, focusing solely on the development of interactive entertainment."

Yet Pandemic's publicist Chris Norris said its designers "always want to have a rip from the headlines".

He added: "Although a conflict doesn't necessarily have to be happening, it's realistic enough to believe that it could eventually happen."

Uh-huh. Riiiiiight. Get a load of what else this company has produced in the past:

However, on its website Pandemic lists a game called "Full Spectrum Warrior / Army Training", which it describes as a "squad-level, dismounted, light infantry training simulator created for use by the US Army".

Uh, how is making battle simulators for the US Army NOT construable as having "ties with the government"? Who do they think is ultimately in charge of the Army? The Flying Monkey Right has been harping on Bush as Commander in Chief for the longest time. And now, suddenly, he has nothing to do with this game which clearly sets out to demonize Hugo Chavez? It's just the makers, "ripping from the headlines"?

Funny how they just automatically picked the falsest headlines and made no pretence at trying to learn who's REALLY been trying to disrupt the supply of Venezuelan oil. Yes, there IS a power-hungry tyrant behind it, but he's not in Miraflores.

He's in the White House.

And they say Venezuela lacks press freedom?

They're full of shit. Take a look at what's happening in Colombia and THEN talk to me about Venezuelan journalists who are allegedly being muzzled:

Exposing outlaws — be they drug traffickers, leftist rebels or right-wing militias — risks assassination.

Over the past decade, 28 journalists have been killed in Colombia, making it the second-most dangerous country to report from after Iraq, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Most of the crimes against Colombian journalists, committed by all sides of the country's civil conflict, are never solved.

Only one journalist has been slain over the past two years, a decline President Alvaro Uribe has attributed to the success of his strong-handed security policies. Yet several journalists say there are fewer killings because their work has never been more muzzled.

A CPJ report last year entitled "Untold Stories" found more than 30 radio, TV and print journalists who acknowledged soft-pedaling or turning a blind eye to important news.

And from the CPJ article:

On some occasions, verified news is suppressed shortly before broadcast or publication. In other cases, probing journalists are killed, detained, or forced to flee. More often, investigations never even get started. The issues shortchanged are human rights abuses, armed conflict, political corruption, drug trafficking, and links from officials to illegal armed groups. Journalists end up focusing instead on "pleasant topics like fauna and flora," says Angel María León, news chief of Arauca's RCN Radio affiliate.

Communities pay a high price. "Any region without investigative journalism is going to have impunity," says Jaime Vides Feria of Radio Caracolí in Sincelejo, a provincial capital near the Caribbean coast.

And the self-censorship has international dimensions. The Uribe administration, for example, is pushing for U.S. and European funding of a $130 million plan to reintegrate the demobilized paramilitaries into society. But foreign taxpayers can hardly judge whether the plan might bring peace if the press doesn't dare investigate drug trafficking by paramilitaries or their civilian attacks.

"We're talking about serial massacres—extremely cruel deaths with torture," notes reporter Beatriz Diegó Solano of El Universal, a daily newspaper that curtailed its investigation of scores of unmarked graves discovered near Sincelejo this year. "Do you think these people are going to become corn farmers? They're psychopaths."

And it appears Alvaro Uribe has NO PROBLEM trusting them. Now he wants the rest of the world to do the same?

But wait...it gets better:

Uribe, speaking at a March conference of news executives, urged media outlets to exercise "self-control" and consider barring the publication of interviews with members of illegal armed groups. "The terrorists maintain a very dangerous political game," he said. "One day they kill and the next they want to be news personalities."

In a June 27 radio interview, Uribe admonished one journalist in particular. He said Hollman Morris, a Colombian television reporter who has written critically about the administration's security policies, had traveled to the southern province of Putumayo based on advance knowledge of June 25 FARC attacks that killed 25 government troops there. The allegation turned out to be false: Morris, who was working on a BBC documentary, arrived after the clashes. The president's office retracted the claim, but Morris says he had to cut his Putumayo visit short in fear of retaliation.

So it's not just locals, but the international media too who are being put at risk here. And for what? So the FARC don't come off in a more positive light than the right-wing paramilitaries, whom Uribe seems unusually eager to push as future model citizens? WTF???

But you haven't heard the worst of it yet:

On May 16, funeral wreaths were delivered to the offices of three nationally known journalists whose work often cast negative light on the Uribe administration. The wreaths came with cards inviting the journalists to their own burials. One of the three, Daniel Coronell, also received e-mail messages threatening the life of his 6-year-old daughter. Coronell, who directs a news show on the TV network Canal Uno and writes a column for the weekly magazine Semana, tracked the messages to a computer in the Bogotá mansion of former Congressman Carlos Náder Simmonds, a close friend of Uribe. Náder denied sending the threats but admitted they came from his computer. An investigation by the attorney general's office has shed no light.

Gee, I wonder why. Couldn't be orders from On High, could it? Noooo, perish the thought. After all, Uribe's as pure as the driven slush. And if you don't believe me, just consider what the man who's up for re-election this year did to get into power in the first place:

EL DIFICIL, Colombia - Amid the biggest Colombian scandal since drug traffickers helped finance a presidential candidacy, electoral judges and voters in this remote town are supporting allegations of vote fraud in 2002 that favored President Alvaro Uribe.

Right-wing paramilitary fighters forced election judges to fill in uncast votes for the conservative Uribe and discard votes for his rival, Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa, three of the judges here told The Miami Herald.

The judges' comments support recent accusations by Rafael García, a former official at the security agency known as DAS, similar to the FBI. Colombia's media and several nongovernment organizations have regularly made parallel allegations in recent weeks, and the attorney general's office opened an investigation into the fraud charges last week.

Coming ahead of balloting May 28 in which Uribe is expected to win a second term, the allegations have unleashed the country's biggest scandal since the 1994 presidential race, when drug lords contributed $6 million to former President Ernesto Samper's campaign.

The scandal also has highlighted Uribe's strong support among the illegal and notoriously brutal paramilitary groups fighting leftist guerrillas. More than 30,000 paramilitaries have put down their guns since 2004 as part of peace talks with the government, and Uribe has promised not to extradite some of their leaders -- wanted on U.S. drug charges -- if they stay with the peace process.

Or at least, if they give the appearance thereof. With the help of a nice, tame media, of course. And if the media's not tame enough, they get funeral wreaths.

And, O the charm of it all, death threats against their young daughters.

Now, Venezuelan private media honchos: cry me another river about how repressed YOU are. The worst thing you're facing right now is treason charges for your very prominent part in the attempted assassination of your democratically and cleanly elected president. Nobody's got a gun to your head, but to hear the way you kvetch to the CPJ, Reporters Without Borders, the IAPA (oops, waitaminute, isn't that one already in the Miami Mafia's pocket?) and Human Rights Watch, one would think you had the next Hitler offering you a one-way ticket to Auschwitz!

Meanwhile, the media venom continues to flow absolutely unchecked in Caracas--and New York. Yep, gotta strike back against that government repression of free speech!

May 23, 2006

It's nettle time!

And while most people have no use for stinging nettles, I do. It goes with the territory of being German; we find a use for what many others just call weeds. With rubber gloves, foraging for this stuff is no problem. Right now it's at its peak of potential usefulness.

Actually, I have a couple of recipes. One is for beauty, the other is food.

* * *

Soothing Nettle Hair Rinse

4 litres boiling water

1 litre apple cider vinegar

4 3-litre baskets fresh, young stinging nettle tops, loosely packed

Wash nettles in cold water, rinse, and let drip-dry for about an hour. Then place them in a large pot and pour boiling water over them until they are covered. Cover pot and let steep for 3 hours or so, occasionally stirring and poking down the nettles, until the mixture is cooled and the nettles are soaked. Then strain the mixture through a cloth, discard nettles, and bring the liquid to a boil again. Add vinegar, then pour immediately into sterile glass bottles and cap 'em. Makes approximately 5 or 6 litres of solution.

Use this rinse to combat dry, itchy scalp conditions, and keep hair healthy and shiny. You can use it full strength or dilute it in a bowl of water to the desired strength. Use it last thing as you rinse your hair after shampooing and/or conditioning. You can also pour some into an applicator bottle and use it between washings for a scalp lotion if you suffer from dandruff or psoriasis. Store unused portions in refrigerator.

My mom used to rinse my hair with vinegar in warm water when I was little, and this is my own souped-up version of that old home remedy, based on something I found in an old German fashion mag. My hair looked pretty good back then, and after trying this idea out, it looks great. Nettle tea seems to have a lot of good-for-the-skin properties, too, especially if, like me, you get dry itchy skin very easily at winter's end; applying it topically eliminates the itch fast and painlessly. What a convenient thing to find nettles growing right when you need them most! (But please, don't forget the rubber gloves when you handle them. Raw nettles can give you a nasty rash.)

* * *

Nettle Stir-Fry

2 3-litre baskets fresh young stinging nettle tops, washed and drip-dried

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed

Crushed red chillies to taste

Soya sauce

Sesame oil

Add enough oil to your wok to cover the bottom; heat on High until smoking. Add onion; cook until transparent. Add garlic, making sure to stir well so it doesn't burn. When onions and garlic are lightly browned, stir in the nettles. Toss frequently as they cook so they get done evenly. When nettles are emerald-green and tender, remove from heat; add chillies and soya sauce to taste. Serve with rice and any meat you like. Serves 4 to 6.

This is a delicious, quick and easy springtime supper; the sesame oil's smoky flavor, along with the spices, takes the edge off the rather gamy greenness of the nettles.

* * *

I'm also drying nettles so I'll have some for tea throughout the winter (to mix with cider vinegar and rinse my hair, naturally.) I imagine the usual rule applies: 1 teaspoon dried herb per cup of water; one part cider vinegar to four parts tea.

For more fun facts, remember: It's Be Nice to Nettles Week! (Yes...really.)

I see London, I see France...

I see Condi's desperate to do SOMETHING to revive her flagging credibility:

Condi turns flasher!

Unfortunately, it'll only work on the Republican pervert crowd. Who are already sold and think she can do no wrong.

Too bad for all of them; Chavecito is still not interested!

May 22, 2006

Madonna's still doing what she does best

And what is that, you ask? Let the Beeb answer...

The Church of England has criticised Madonna's appearance on a cross to kick off her latest tour in Los Angeles.

"Why would someone with so much talent seem to feel the need to promote herself by offending so many people?" said the church in a statement.

Madonna performed the ballad Live To Tell while suspended from a giant mirrored cross on the opening night.

[...]

This is not the first time the pop star's concerts have upset the Church.

In 1990, the Pope called for a boycott of the Blond Ambition tour, in which Madonna simulated masturbation during Like A Virgin.

The video for Like A Prayer also brought condemnation from the Vatican for its burning crosses and depiction of a black Jesus.

In answer to the C of E question: You people are missing the point. What you are witnessing IS Madonna's greatest talent: her talent for self-promotion by way of controversial expression. If she's not pissing someone off by offending their religious (and racial) sensibilities, the lady's not doing her job.

And apparently, her fans agree.

So much for the superiority of the private media...

The Beeb...living evidence that commercial radio just plain sucks, according to the UK Guardian:

The BBC's radio services have "badly bruised" its commercial rivals and Radio 1 and 2 should be sold for £500m, according to an influential report.

The UK radio market is suffering from "stunted growth" owing to the commercial sector's inability to compete against the BBC's budget and cross-promotional abilities, according to the report from the European Media Forum, an arm of independent research institute the European Policy Forum.

The report will be submitted as a contribution to Ofcom's "blue-sky" review of the shape of broadcast and communications regulation after 2010. Graham Mather, the EPF chairman, is a member of Ofcom's content board and the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

"The BBC, with an annual radio budget of £450m, has badly bruised its private sector rivals," says the report, published today.

"The BBC's ability to tap all its various media platforms to cross-promote - and cross-subsidise - its radio output has added to the commercial sector's woes."

Oh, poor babies. Pardon me while I convulse with laughter.

If the private broadcasters are truly suffering as a result of the Beeb's superior market share, where on Earth will they get the money--greater than the Beeb's entire annual radio budget, I see--to buy BBC 1 and 2? I guess they'll just have to knock over a liquor store. (Or better still, the Pentagon, which would never miss the money anyway...)

On a more serious note: there is no solid evidence that "both stations should prosper in the commercial sector", as the economist who did the study insists. On the contrary, were they to be converted to a commercial-radio format, they would soon lose listeners, no matter how much advertising revenue they gain. Why? Again, it comes down to the blindingly obvious: Because they will not be offering the public what they did when they were publically funded! They won't be the BBC anymore!

People like the BBC. They trust it BECAUSE it is the BBC, and not just another crummy commercial station. It has built up its market share on the grounds of comfort and familiarity, as well as its very solid journalism. It's obviously doing the public a service. And yet there are those who think it would "prosper" if it were sold off and watered down? What are those people smoking???

Here we have the ironies of a truly free market, where there's both private and public broadcasting on the airwaves: the "market", which is made up of PEOPLE, votes with its collective feet. And where do they run? To the one that gives them the best bang for their buck--or pound--or euro, if you prefer. The one that doesn't suck. The one that doesn't bombard them with inane commercials and crappy Top 40 music and brain-dead right-wing talk all day long. In other words, the PUBLIC station!

These twits are trying hard to fix what ain't broken--the Beeb--by insisting that the government break it first. It's an idea so crazy it should be laughed out of existence, but some people get paid unheard-of sums of money to come up with cockamamie schemes that don't bear closer scrutiny--yet somehow, mysteriously, seldom fail to be implemented. Presumably, this is because The Free Market (TM) mandates it.

Here's a radical thought for all you media privateers out there: How about putting out a product that doesn't stink, if you REALLY want to compete, instead of whining the same old tired tune about the Evils of Big Government stifling all competition?

And then they wonder why no one's listening.

Pentagon hit by...WHAT?

You have to see it to believe it.

And it doesn't have the face of Jesus on it, either. What a rip-off! I guess that means I can't sell it on eBay.

Quotable: Smedley Butler on the war racket

"The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nation's manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation — it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get. ... Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket — that and nothing else. "

-- Smedley Darlington Butler, Major General, USMC (Ret.), 1935; from "War is a Racket"

May 20, 2006

Quotable: Dubya picture quote #1

No such thing as WHAT?

Photoshopper unknown, but da-yum!--what a great catch.

Oh, my virgin eyes!!!

I swear...I'll never look at Dr. David Suzuki the same way again:

Nude David Suzuki

My best friend assures me that this is NOT a photoshop job; that's really Dr. Suzuki there. All of him except for what's under the, er, leaf. (No, it's not a figleaf, either; it's something rather more patriotic, at least to those of us here in the Great North, to whom Dr. Suzuki is a television icon.)

And what's all this about? Well, here's the CBC with the low-down:

David Suzuki, who courted controversy by appearing nude on the cover of TV Guide in 1999, has taken it all off again.

This time the environmental activist and CBC broadcaster appears in a promotional photo clad only in a maple leaf to advertise the new season of his show The Nature of Things.

Suzuki, 70, poses like Atlas with the world on his shoulders to launch the 47th season of his internationally respected science series, first launched in 1960.

In 1999, Suzuki showed off his newly fit body on the magazine cover to promote a show in The Nature of Things series.

He also appeared on the Royal Canadian Air Farce, covered only with a briefcase, and invited the host to inspect his "genetically altered banana."

While some viewers saw the nudity as a stunt, one newspaper reader at the time wrote: "Just think, Suzuki, up until now I was only interested in your mind!"

Yeah, me too.

Not that I'm complaining. For a septuagenarian with arthritic hands, he's definitely not bad! (There are, alas, plenty of guys half his age--i.e., MY age bracket--who don't look half as good.)

And now, to explain the bit about never being able to look at him the same way again, here's my very own David Suzuki encounter story:

When I was 14, I was hit by a car. I suffered a badly broken pelvis; so bad, in fact, that I had to be ambulanced out from my hometown hospital to the top-notch Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There, they did nothing in the end that the local general couldn't also have done: kept me on bed rest mostly, with the maximum legal dosage of Demerol to keep me from screaming the rafters down. (You ain't had pain till you've had bone pain; and you ain't had bone pain till you've had a comminuted pelvic fracture consisting of four tiny splinters poking up into the pelvic basin at a crazy angle. Believe me, it's a treat.) Oh, and X-rays: tons of those. Almost one every day for the entire 2 1/2 weeks I was incarcerated...er, hospitalized. They monitored me for internal injuries, too; they needn't have bothered, since I could have told them just by the nature of the pain that my innards were intact, it was my damn BONES they should've worried about. In the end, my damn bones kept me coming back for follow-up CAT scans.

And that's where David Suzuki comes in.

I was at the hospital a year or two later, accompanied by my parents, waiting to be CAT-scanned. While we were in the lobby, waiting in front of Information to be directed to the appropriate department, Suzuki came in with his camera crew in tow. I recognized his face right off; I'd seen enough episodes of The Nature of Things, which is an absolutely FASCINATING show (and not just because its host is daring and fit enough to appear in nude photos at an age when most people are retired and look it.) Even if I hadn't loved science, that show alone would have made me love it. It's as gentle, persuasive and informative as an hour-long show can get.

Anyhow, I must have been unable to hide my gawking, because he caught my eye, smiled and waved. I grinned like the adolescent geek I was, and waved back. He was the first really-truly famous person I'd ever seen in the flesh.

And hey howdy! Now I'm grinning like a geek all over again--because I'm seeing him in the flesh all over again.

Thank you, Dr. Suzuki.

May 19, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Huguito Cafecito!

Huguito Cafecito!

Hugo Chavez indulges in his pick-me-up of choice: a shot of espresso. He drinks at least 16 of those babies a day--down from 26, but still, YOWZA. I drink at most...what...TWO? Con leche, por supuesto. And that has me bouncing off the wall from mid-afternoon to midnight, tryptophan notwithstanding...

I guess we now know why he's always smiling and his energy never seems to flag. I'd probably be like that too, if I drank as much of the Italian rocket fuel as he does.

May 18, 2006

9-11 truth: Venezuela, Cuba PRESENTE!

Wayne Madsen drops a stunner--one that further raises Venezuela and Cuba in my estimation, and...well, let's face it, BushCo couldn't sink any lower. So let's just say they ignored one more reliable source of antiterror information...

In addition to Russia, Jordan, France, Germany, and other nations, Venezuelan and Cuban intelligence picked up chatter about a "major terrorist attack" on the United States prior to 9/11.

Cuban intelligence, which has an extensive network in Florida -- a home base of the hijackers and their handlers -- initially picked up reports about the attack and passed the information to both the United States and Venezuela ... however, the Bush administration failed to react to this and other foreign warnings.

Venezuelan intelligence, likely from its own sources in Florida and elsewhere, confirmed that something major would occur in the United States.

The failure of the Bush administration to heed these warnings coupled with subsequent intelligence picked up by the Cuban and Venezuelan security services have led them to conclude that 9/11 was carried out as a result of an "inside job" within the Bush administration.

I've already blogged (briefly) on the 9-11 Truth movement coming to Caracas. Looks like there might be a Havana chapter coming soon. (We already know there are at least five brave Cuban antiterror investigators getting the shaft in Miami.)

And, add to that the following Raw Story bombshell on Judith Miller and you get...

...an ever-growing rubbleheap of ignored warnings and evidence.

Yeah, tell me they didn't know. After all, they're knowingly sheltering another well-known terrorist, or three.

Shoot, what's a little terror between old right-wing friends?

May 16, 2006

Quotable: H.L. Mencken channels El Predicto

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

-- H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

May 15, 2006

Rona Ambrose: Canada's (inter)national embarrassment

If anyone makes me, as a Canadian, hang my head in shame, it's this woman:

Canada has no chance of meeting its targets under the Kyoto accord and must set more realistic goals for cutting greenhouse gases, the federal environment minister says.

"My departmental officials and the department officials from natural resources have indicated that it is impossible, impossible for Canada to reach its Kyoto targets," Rona Ambrose said Friday.

"And let me be clear. I have been engaging with our international counterparts over the past month, and we are not the only country that is finding itself in this situation."

The international agreement requires Canada to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

But since 1990, emissions have gone up, with the latest figures showing an increase of almost 30 per cent.

Ambrose said the government might consider setting new targets.

"We have to work with all of our industry sectors that are obviously the causes of emissions and pollution on ways to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases and they're willing, they're very willing to work with the government. So that's our next step."

"Work with industry"? To do what--pollute more? To make more excuses while they make more money at the expense of the rest of the planet? (Be it known that Ms. Ambrose is a Conservative--a member of the most industry-tied, big-bidness party in the country.)

Seeing this on CBC was like watching a nervous breakdown in progress. Ambrose's voice was whiny and defensive. It was so embarrassing that I actually cringed.

Maybe if she would spend more time on actually working on ways to meet and beat the Kyoto allotments, instead of her overstyled hair, overused rhetoric and overwrought excuses, we Canadians wouldn't have to be struggling to hide our collective blushes. We live in one of the world's most beautiful countries, and we should have a government worthy of it--one that will let us hold our heads up with the most progressive of them.

In other words: NOT a Conservative government.

Hugo Chavez, petro-pacifist?

Add one more thing to his list of unorthodox, yet brilliant gambits:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has warned the US that any attack on Iran will have devastating consequences and send oil prices soaring.

Mr Chavez, on a two-day trip to the UK, called for a socialist new world order and said nations were cowards for not standing up to the "American empire".

The US has not ruled out military action against Iran over its nuclear programme but is pursuing diplomacy.

[...]

The president told the meeting in Camden, hosted by Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, that a US military attack on Iran would lead to Tehran cutting off its oil supply.

"If the United States attacks Iran... oil could reach $100 (£52) a barrel or more," he said.

"Moreover, Iran has said it would attack Israel, and I know they have the wherewithal to do so.

"This would be a terrible escalation and I do not know where it would end and I do not know who would get out the first nuclear bomb or how many people would die. No-one would be safe from this madness."

Mr Chavez said the US "doesn't know what to do" in Iraq, which he called "the Vietnam of the 21st Century".

Of course, his warning will go unheeded. BushCo WANTS this war, precisely BECAUSE it will drive up the price of oil. After all, Dubya's cronies in the industry (among many others) MUST be repaid for all their investments in this dunce over the years.

And they're probably willing to try for yet another assassination attempt on Chavez, too, to put a stop to his use of PDVSA revenues and taxes on foreign oil companies in the interest of the Venezuelan public good (and those of other countries while he's at it).

Have I mentioned yet today how much I hate BushCo?

Libya good, Venezuela bad

I swear to Isis--just when you thought life in BushCo Bizarro World couldn't possibly get weirder, it up and does. From the Beeb:

The US is to renew full diplomatic relations with Libya after deciding to remove it from its list of countries that support terrorism.

The US has not had normal relations with Libya since 1980, and blamed it for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

It lifted many economic sanctions and restored some ties in 2004 after Libya renounced weapons of mass destruction.

The US secretary of state said Libya had since shown a "continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism".

Announcing the move to renew diplomatic ties, Condoleezza Rice praised Libya for its "excellent co-operation" in the US-led war on terror.

Washington will upgrade its liaison office in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to a full embassy.

Monday's decision was the result of successful diplomacy and came after a careful review of Libya's behaviour since 1993, a senior state department official said.

David Welch, US Assistant Secretary of State said it showed that when a state "adhered to international norms [it] will reap concrete benefits".

Wow. Way to go, Moammar. Now, could someone please explain to me why they're bothering to do this to Chavecito?

The US is to impose a ban on arms sales to Venezuela, US state department officials have said.

Spokeswoman Darla Jordan said the decision was taken because of lack of support by Venezuela's government for counter-terrorism efforts.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez later responded that the ban "doesn't matter to us at all".

Relations between the US and Venezuela are severely strained on a number of issues, including oil prices and trade.

The left-wing Mr Chavez has described his US counterpart George W Bush a "terrorist", denouncing Washington's Middle East policies.

The ban comes after repeated warnings by the US that Mr Chavez's government has failed to stop Colombia's two guerrilla groups - the Farc and the NLA - using Venezuelan territory.

It means that Washington prohibits US sales and license for the export of defence articles and services to Venezuela, Ms Jordan was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Any re-sales of US arms and technology from other nations would also be prohibited.

The ban comes despite the fact that Venezuela is a major supplier of oil the US.

This ban is essentially meaningless, since the US has already nixed the sale of Spanish and Brazilian planes containing US-made parts to Venezuela. Plus, Chavez has been buying rifles from Russia, not the US.

In the long run, this trade ban will only end up hurting the US. It's now selling more military hardware to itself than anyone else. Why do you think the war-toy manufacturers' stock shot up in value when Gulf War II was declared? Oh well...as long as the trough is full, the pigs won't complain. No doubt they think Venezuela is small potatoes, even as the Washington propaganda machine goes into full roar over the purported threat that Evil Dictator Chavez represents.

Meanwhile, the importation to the US of Venezuelan and Libyan oil goes on unabated, while the effort to secure Iraqi oil for the US founders. And it's clear that even if the cockamamie plan to open ANWR to oil development goes ahead, the US will never be able to meet its own oil demands, never mind becoming a net exporter ever again. And most of all, the price of oil is still way up high, with no signs of coming down anytime soon...enabling all kinds of interesting social-welfare developments, particularly in evil, wicked Venezuela.

It's kind of hard not to picture the Libyan and Venezuelan leaders--both OPEC members--chuckling up their sleeves over this. So much for Ronnie Ray-Gun's vow to "break OPEC", eh?

UPDATE: CNN just announced that Chavecito is going to pay a courtesy call...in LIBYA. Do you suppose he and Moammar are just going to swap recipes for falafel and arepas?

May 13, 2006

Buh-bye, Big 'n' Ugly...

And good riddance to bad rubbish. From the CBC:

General Motors will drop the gas-guzzling Hummer H1 at the end of the 2006 model year, the automaker said Friday.

The final H1 is expected to be built in June. About 12,000 H1s have been produced since 1992. The vehicle is based on the U.S. military's Humvee.

All of 12,000 of them? Wow. A real best-seller, that. And at the price of an average starter home in a modest neighborhood, it's a real bargain, too.

The company said rising gas prices and the vehicle's poor fuel efficiency were not behind the decision to drop the H1. GM added that it wants to focus on models that have broader appeal.

Yeah...probably something more like the all-time best-selling vehicle: the Toyota Corolla. Whose price is something like one-tenth that of the H1, and whose gas mileage is nearly ten times that of any Hummer.

The vehicle was popular with off-road drivers, and status-conscious owners are attracted to the H1's look-at-me factor.

Actually, it's more of a look-at-me-I'm-a-total-fucking-moron factor. Given that this is the clunker that got its commercial start as a prop in an Arnie Schwarzenegger movie, you'd have to have WAY more money than brains to even contemplate owning one. But since even Arnie is now tooting a different tune (and touting a "greener" Hummer, whatever THAT may be), the Big Ugly Hummer seems to have lost a lot of that dubious-to-begin-with cachet.

Who do GM think they're kidding, anyway? We all know it's the price of gasoline killed this beast. It's going up and up, and it won't be coming down anytime soon, if EVER. We're even believed by some very credible experts to be past the Hubbert Peak of oil production. Something like that is bound to take its toll on the appeal of driving a steroided, overrated SUV that corners with all the grace and ease of the Queen Mary.

Let's hope we're seeing the end of an era here, and that the H2 and H3 (and any subsequent H-bastards) will soon be following their big ugly brother to the Great Junkyard in the Sky.

And while we're on the subject of junkyards: How about melting 'em all down--and I do mean ALL, because this is the last vehicle I'd want to see become a nostalgic "vintage" model--and making them into armor for all the ACTUAL Humvees still marooned over there in Iraq, so the soldiers unlucky enough to be driving them no longer have to resort to "hillbilly armor"?

You gotta admit it's a better idea than trying to build a more mass-appealing Hummer.

May 12, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Chile loves Chavecito!

Chavecito in huaso Chavecito in huaso too

Two views of Chavecito in a traditional "huaso" poncho--given to him by a group of Chileans as thanks for sending them to Cuba for sight-saving eye surgery. They went as part of Mission Miracle, a social-welfare project of Venezuela, which brings impoverished Latin Americans to Cuba for specialized medical treatment free of charge.

May 11, 2006

This should drive the KKK loco

The Beeb reports a baby boom in the US...but not the sort of babies certain sectors of society (cough)--fascists!--(cough) would find desirable:

Nearly half of American children aged under five are from an ethnic minority, according to a new report from the US Census Bureau.

The latest figures show 45% of US pre-schoolers are non-white, with the Latino population growing the fastest.

Of the overall US population, one-third are now from an ethnic minority.

[...]

Latinos are the largest minority, now numbering 42.7 million, and the fastest growing, with a population increase rate of 3.3%, the figures show.

Of the 1.3 million more Latinos than when the figures were last gathered 500,000 were immigrants, the bureau said.

Numbering 39.7 million, blacks form the second-largest minority, with a growth rate of 1.3%.

The Asian population of 14.4 million grew by 3%, an increase also driven by immigration, with 239,000 of the 421,000 new members having arrived from abroad.

American Indians and Alaska natives number 4.5 million and grew by 1%. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders total 990,000, with a 1.5% growth rate.

With almost 67% of the overall population, non-Latino whites are still the largest group, but they have an older average age and much lower growth rate, increasing by just 500,000 in the period measured.

"These mid-decade numbers provide further evidence of the increasing diversity of our nation's population," Census Bureau director Louis Kincannon said.

Of course, this is not good news to those who want to ensure homogeneity and conformity. Any more than, of course, the fact that the largest demonstrations in US history...were by Latino immigrants and their supporters, the "menace" the self-styled "Minutemen" want to fence out of the country. As though THAT would make a difference. Some people dig fences; others dig under them. (Cue background music: "La Cucaracha".)

Of course, one of the main bones of contention for those trying to keep Those People out of the United States is that "them damn [fill in the blank with racist epithet of your choice] is going to breed and overrun us!" What they conveniently forget is that there are a lot of legal immigrants from all over, many of them not white--and they're breeding too. So, for that matter, are whites, who, despite falling birthrates, are still very much a majority (and, I note in passing, one well represented among actual domestic terrorists).

But one can always count on these "patriots" to sound the population alarm, as well as the "legality" one--even when it's absurdly alarmist to do so. The sheer size of the recent pro-immigrant marches can hardly be a reassurance to them, since it's graphic evidence that Those People, when they are angry and determined enough, represent a huge potential voting bloc that could put a whole new complexion on US politics, quite literally.

UPDATE: Looks like FUX Snooze is now exhorting its non-Hispanic (cough)--WHITE!--(cough) viewers to do their duty to the Reich. This dovetails very neatly with its prior history as a promoter of white supremacist site Stormfront as a Lonely Hearts Club for racists seeking breeding partners.

Raped by the cops in Mexico

The Beeb delivers a shocker:

A Mexican human rights group has accused police of raping or sexually abusing almost two dozen women during riots in San Salvador Atenco last week.

The National Human Rights Committee, a government agency, said police raped seven and sexually abused 16.

The assaults are said to have occurred when the women and many others were held during the unrest, sparked by a round-up of unlicensed street vendors.

[...]

Three of the women who were allegedly assaulted are foreigners.

One of them, Valentina Palma, a Chilean studying cinematography in Mexico, told La Jornada newspaper that she was robbed and beaten by officers.

"They insulted me, groped me, anything they wanted," she was quoted as saying. "When they jailed me that was when I saw the girls with their pants and underwear torn, sobbing."

Hundreds of police stormed the town after machete-wielding farmers kidnapped and beat six policemen who had been detaining the unlicensed flower vendors.

A teenage boy was killed and dozens of people were injured in the riots which lasted throughout Wednesday.

[...]

Television images of police beating bound demonstrators caused a national outcry after the riots.

Where is the oversight???

PS: Narco News has an excellent, in-depth article on the rapes and tortures of Atenco. It's a must-read!

May 9, 2006

Quotable: George W. Bush on his ideal government

"If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier, just as long as I'm the dictator."

--Dubya, 2002

Freedom emboldens terrorists?

So say a lot of knee-jerk rightards who would like only too well for people to hand their civil liberties over without a fight. But Steven Aftergood, of Secrecy News, has found otherwise--with the help of a very interesting source:

"In an open society like ours... it is impossible to protect against every threat," said President Bush in an August 24, 2005 speech. "That's a fact we have to deal with. In a free society it is impossible to protect against every possible threat," implying that it might be possible in a closed or unfree society.

Similarly, according to February 15 testimony by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "terrorists and criminals... would exploit our open society to do us harm."

And "precious little can be done to prevent [terrorist attacks on soft targets] in a society like ours that rightly values personal liberty so highly," wrote Clark Kent Ervin, former Homeland Security Inspector General, in a Washington Post opinion piece on May 7.

But a distinctly different perspective was offered by John C. Gannon, former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Among the reasons that there has not been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, he proposed, are precisely the openness and freedom that some others view with anxiety.

"I believe that the hard-won Constitutional freedoms enjoyed by Americans, along with our unparalleled commitment to civil liberties embedded in law, work against the development of domestic terrorist networks that could be exploited by foreigners," testified Gannon, who is now a Vice President at BAE Systems Information Technology.

[...]

"Americans have unparalleled Constitutional and legal protections to express grievances and to openly criticize government at all levels," he replied in a May 6 email message.

"This doesn't mean that terrorists wouldn't try to operate here. It means that the terrorists or other extremists would find less fertile ground to build networks in the US because local support would be harder to come by and because local opposition would be more certain."

"In this sense, our liberties are a powerful antidote to violent extremism."

"This is not an academic point for me. It is an observation from a career of watching the domestic consequences of repressive regimes elsewhere in the world--including US-friendly Islamic governments such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt," Gannon wrote.

The question of whether openness and civil liberties tend to enhance national security or to undermine it is not a theoretical one. Much depends on which one of the two perspectives prevails.

If openness and the rule of law are sources of vulnerability, or viewed as such, then they will be quickly surrendered in the name of security. Torture may be redefined to permit non-lethal abuses, habeas corpus may be suspended, statutes regulating domestic surveillance may be disregarded.

Conversely, if civil liberties and the rule of law are a source of strength, it follows that they should be bolstered and scrupulously upheld even in the conduct of vital security operations.

Secrecy News asked Dr. Gannon whether his views on civil liberties could be reconciled with intelligence programs such as warrantless domestic surveillance.

"The NSA warrantless surveillance program--the details of which are mired in secrecy--should not be seen as a tradeoff between security and civil liberties. But, for this to be true, the program must be bound by law and subject to both judicial review and competent Congressional oversight--the latter now in short supply," he explained.

"I believe our democracy has the instruments to advance security and protect civil liberties at the same time," he said.

It's worth pointing out, of course, that the terror network that launched the 9-11 attacks didn't do its recruiting on American soil, but rather overseas. The terrorists came to America already recruited and trained, posing as legitimate students in jet-flight schools. And damn if they didn't come from such wonderfully repressive, yet US-friendly countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia!

It's also worth pointing out that American civil liberties have been used by a certain other kind of terrorist as a recruiting tool, though: namely, home-grown right-wing extremists. Everytime anyone but a white, Christian, heterosexual male wins a victory on the civil-rights front, the wingnuts go berserk. See Clayton Waagner, Eric Rudolph, or William Krar and Co. But, again: the civil liberties didn't create or enable terrorism. At worst, they might be described as having elicited a knee-jerk reaction from the forces of extremist repression. The crucial difference being, these terrorists have a grudge against what is, by the vast majority, regarded as a good and beneficial thing.

Which, therefore, makes one wonder: Why, exactly, is BushCo so set against civil liberties, if they do not embolden or encourage terrorism but only drive neo-fascist nutcases up the fucking wall?

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

May 7, 2006

Yes, it's time to bomb Brazil!

After all, they've gone "nucular"!

Brazil has joined the select group of countries with the capability of enriching uranium as a means of generating energy.

A new centrifuge facility was formally opened on Friday at the Resende nuclear plant in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian government says its technology is some of the most advanced in the world.

The official opening follows lengthy negotiations with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

Brazil has some of the largest reserves of uranium in the world but until now the ore has had to be shipped abroad for enrichment - the process which produces nuclear fuel.

In future some of that enrichment will take place in Brazil.

The government says that within a decade the country will be able to meet all its nuclear energy needs.

Brazilian scientists insist their technology is superior to that of existing nuclear powers. They claim the type of centrifuge in use at Resende will be 25 times more efficient than facilities in France or the United States.

Sensitivity over that technology led to a standoff two years ago with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN watchdog.

Keen to protect its commercial secrets, Brazil was reluctant to give inspectors full access to its facilities and politically the negotiations were complicated by simultaneous concerns about Iran's nuclear plans.

But in the end Brazil and the IAEA agreed a system of safeguards to ensure that the new facilities would not be channelled into weapons production.

But of course, they don't have a trash-talking prat like Ahmadinejad in charge. I guess that makes all the difference. Because in everything else--from a growing nuclear capacity to friendly association with the evil Chavecito--Brazil is a prime target.

I know things look all right now, but all the same: Watch your back, Lula.

May 6, 2006

Quotable: Stephen Colbert on the "liberal" media

"Here's how it works. The president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!"

-- Stephen Colbert

May 5, 2006

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Just in time for Cinco de Mayo

And while this didn't happen in Mexico, there were plenty of amigos:

Left to right: Presidents Nestor Kirchner (Argentina), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva (Brazil), and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela).

Chavecito just did himself proud yet again, by brokering a meeting between Bolivia and Brazil and Argentina to renegotiate the latter two countries' contracts for extracting natural gas in Bolivia, which recently nationalized its natural gas deposits.

May 3, 2006

The Ravel's Bolero of ass-kickings

Normally, Juan Cole likes to confine his blogging to just what it says up top: Informed Comment. And that's what it is: loads of nice, fact-based analysis of what's really going on in the Middle East and what it actually means for the rest of the world. If you're sick of hearing goop and garbage, false assertions, baseless accusations and the usual spew of patriotripe that you get from the major media, JuanCole.com is the place for you. Because it's there that Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern studies currently at the University of Michigan (but rumor has it he's soon to move up--and east), holds forth on what's NOT making the news but should. And he does so with calm and civility and a steady hand that a top-tier neurosurgeon might envy. (I know I do.)

That's why it came as such a surprise to me last night when I read this.

Apparently Cole is the Clark Kent of Middle Eastern studies profs--meek and mild-mannered in his day job, but capable of turning Superman when the situation warrants. And this situation certainly does warrant it:

Christopher Hitchens owes me a big apology.

I belong to a private email discussion group called Gulf2000. It has academics, journalists and policy makers on it. It has a strict rule that messages appearing there will not be forwarded off the list. It is run, edited and moderated by former National Security Council staffer for Carter and Reagan, Gary Sick, now a political scientist at Columbia University. The "no-forwarding" rule is his, and is intended to allow the participants to converse about controversial matters without worrying about being in trouble. Also, in an informal email discussion, ideas evolve, you make mistakes and they get corrected, etc. It is a rough, rough draft.

Hitchens somehow hacked into the site, or joined and lurked, or had a crony pass him things. And he has now made my private email messages the subject of an attack on me in Slate. (I am not linking to the article because it is highly unethical and Slate does not deserve any direct traffic from my site for it.) Moreover, he did not even have the decency to quote the final outcome of the discussions.

And so it begins: Quietly, softly, but with a definite melodic thrust already apparent. Sort of like a certain well-known classical piece, which to me was always reminiscent of the Middle-Eastern deserts somehow; listening to it always gave me the sense that I was following a caravan, perhaps of Bedouins, on its slow and stately march over hot, golden sands to a distant oasis.

And now that the scene is set, let us proceed:

I'd like to take this opportunity to complain about the profoundly dishonest character of "attack journalism." Journalists are supposed to interview the subjects about which they write. Mr. Hitchens never contacted me about this piece. He never sought clarification of anything. He never asked permission to quote my private mail. Major journalists have a privileged position. Not just anyone can be published in Slate. Most academics could not get a gig there (I've never been asked to write for it). Hitchens is paid to publish there because he is a prominent journalist. But then he should behave like a journalist, not like a hired gun for the far Right, smearing hapless targets of his ire. That isn't journalism. For some reason it drives the Right absolutely crazy that I keep this little web log, and so they keep trotting out these clowns in amateurish sniping attacks. It is rather sad, that one person standing up to them puts them into such piranha-like frenzy.

Ah. Our caravan's driver does not go unarmed; he has a sword at the ready. Let's watch him draw it, shall we?

The precise reason for Hitchens' theft and publication of my private mail is that I object to the characterization of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having "threatened to wipe Israel off the map." I object to this translation of what he said on two grounds. First, it gives the impression that he wants to play Hitler to Israel's Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.

But the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.

Professor Cole goes on to share exactly what it is that he e-mailed. As it's too long and technical to excerpt meaningfully here, I suggest you go to the link I posted up top later on, to read the entire e-mail at your leisure. Now, let's move along so as not to lose the melodic flow:

Hitchens imagines a whole discourse of mine (which mostly never took place) that he now sets out to refute--from English translations! But I was saying that the wire service translations were the problem in the first place. Hitchens seems to think that he can over-rule my reading of a Persian text by reference to some hurried journalist's untechnical rendering into English.

Hitchens alleges that I said that Khomeini never called for wiping Israel from the face of the map. Actually, I never said anything at all about Khomeini's own speeches or intentions. I was solely discussing Ahmadinejad. Hitchens should please quote me on Khomeini and Israel. He cannot. He is making it up out of whole cloth. He should retract.

I write so much with which the Far Right disagrees so vehemently. I publish it here. Why is it that they keep having to invent quotations and put them in my mouth. Now, Cole is alleged to deny that Khomeini's rhetoric was hostile to Israel. Is that even a plausible allegation?

Now the tune is steadily picking up volume. We see clearly what this song is about: lies, fabrication, the deliberate deceitfulness and mendacity of one Christopher Hitchens, right-wing drunkard and hack extraordinaire. Hitchens, it seems, is a Don Quixote without any nobility whatsoever; he feels the cowardly need to invent the windmills (or strawmen!) he tilts at. (The real thing, one rather imagines, would sweep him up and dash him back to Earth in a hellish hurry. But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit here, so back we go to the music...)

Well, I don't think it is any secret that Hitchens has for some time had a very serious and debilitating drinking problem. He once showed up drunk to a talk I gave and heckled me. I can only imagine that he was deep in his cups when he wrote, or had some far Rightwing think tank write, his current piece of yellow journalism. I am sorry to witness the ruin of a once-fine journalistic mind.

But the other reason for Hitchens's piece may be that he has become a warmonger, and it is possible that he wants a US war against Iran.

I don't think it's any secret that Hitchens is not only a drunk, but indeed a warmonger. You can witness particular evidence of that latter here, where George Galloway, the anything but meek Scots politician who makes a perfect foil to the mild-mannered Professor Cole, wipes the floor with Hitchens in a debate billed as "The Grapple in the Big Apple". (You can also read Hitchens' own preliminary trash-talk, here.) At first, it looks like a Battle of the British Accents, which the plummier one seems sure to win. Hitchens comes off very gifted at bobbing and weaving (I'm told drunks do that rather well anyway). But Galloway, who's not one for fancy footwork, doesn't let the Hitchensian fiddlefaddle distract him. He goes straight in with the old one-two, delivering a merciless and highly satisfying verbal pummeling that leaves every last one of Hitchens' arguments sprawled on the ropes with a bloody nose and wobbly eyes. In other words: Galloway delivers a TKO worthy of Muhammad Ali.

Unlike Professor Cole, I'm not going to waste time or energy mourning the "once-fine journalistic mind" of the booze-addled Mr. Hitchens. Apparently that was before my time, because all I can ever remember him writing is absolute garbage, albeit of an apparently quite erudite and superficially entertaining kind. Apparently Monicagate gave him way too much material (and money to buy booze) while the Clinton impeachment hearings were underway. The results of this months-long bender are archived for posterity at Salon.com, alas and alack. (An interview on "how the Left became irrelevant", in which Hitchens laughably pretends not to put words in other mouths--George Orwell's in particular--can also be read at the site. Seems that Professor Cole is not the only one of Hitchens' betters whom Hitchens has seen fit to twist out of recognition.)

By the way, Hitchens' warmongering bent isn't the only reason he's gone so far to assassinate the character of Juan Cole. Cole has skewered Hitchens before. So maybe there's something personal at work here, among all the putridly political rest. It's well known that Hitchens can dish it out a lot better than he can take it. He's also remarkably capable of turning on a dime, alienating old friends at an instant's notice. (Just look at what happened with Sidney Blumenthal.)

All of this, I'm sure, nothing good betokeneth. There is no doubt in my mind that for all Hitchens likes to dwell on the specks in other people's eyes, be they friend or foe, the plank in his own is his true worst enemy.

But soft! The music builds:

What is really going on here is an old trick of the warmongers. Which is that you equate hurtful statements of your enemy with an actual military threat, and make a weak and vulnerable enemy look like a strong, menacing foe. Then no one can complain when you pounce on the enemy and reduce his country to flames and rubble.

It is obvious that powerful political forces in Washington are fishing for a pretext to launch a war on Iran, and that they are just delighted to have Ahmadinejad as cartoon villain and pretext. But they had a moderate, reforming president in Mohammad Khatami for 8 years, and just blew off all his overtures to the West. Iranians organized big candle-light vigils for America after September 11, in sympathy!

Washington never gave the reform movement the slightest encouragement, perhaps in hopes that the Iranians would be forced to turn right again and form a proper object of US hatred. If so, they got their wish last summer, when Ahmadinejad used the same dirty techniques to get elected as had George W. Bush.

All the warmongers in Washington, including Hitchens, if he falls into that camp, should get this through their heads. Americans are not fighting any more wars in the Middle East against toothless third rate powers. So sit down and shut up.

One, two, three, four! We don't want your stinking war!

And it only gets more powerful from there. The volume is rising, and with it, the momentum and force of the melody.

By now it's obvious that this is not some personal vendetta of Cole against Hitchens; it's Cole against what Hitchens is shamelessly beating the drums for. Cole has by this point begun putting pictures in between his words, so that even Hitchens at his most mendacious and distortive cannot miss what is being said. We see young Iranians at a post-9/11 vigil holding up candles and flashing the peace sign; flag-draped caskets inside a cargo plane, with a lone soldier saluting; a war vet in a wheelchair, his legs both amputated just below the knees; a medic holding up the gruesomely mangled feet of a casualty; an Abu Ghraib prisoner, his head covered by the now infamous black hood, cradling a little boy behind thickets of razor wire; pictures of prisoners at Abu Ghraib being tortured; a stately building beside a reflecting pool on a serene blue night, contrasted with the lividly yellow smoking wreckage of an aerial bombing; a child's terrified face, blood-splattered beneath a bandaged scalp. All of this is interspersed with a fine rant in which Cole asserts, in no uncertain terms, that a war against Iran will not be tolerated under ANY pretext:

We are not going to see any more US troops come home in body bags at Dover for the sake of some Cheney affiliate grabbing the petroleum in Iran's Ahvaz fields.

We are not going to have another 15,000 wounded vets flood onto our streets with spine damange and brain damage.

We are not going to put Yazd behind barbed wire to liberate it, as a millenarian Christian general did to Habbaniyah in Iraq.

We are not going to imprison and torture thousands of Iranians at Evin Penitentiary in Tehran, as worthy successors to the bloodthirsty Shah and Khomeini.

We are not going to kill 200,000 Iranians with aerial bombardments of Tabriz, Isfahan, Qom, Kerman, Shiraz and Mashahd.

We are not going to let dozens of US corporations loot the American people and the Iranian people alike with no-bid "contracts", embezzlement, corruption, and graft.

We are not going to let you have a war against Iran.

So sit down and shut up, American Enterprise Institute, and Hudson Institute, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and American Heritage Institute, and this institute and that institute, and cable "news", and government "spokesmen", and all the pundit-ferrets you pay millions to make business for the American military-industrial complex and Big Oil.

We don't give a rat's ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little shit gives.

I call on university students across America to begin holding antiwar rallies. The only way you can have a war on Iran is to draft the young people. It is you who are on the line. Demonstrate! Demonstrate against the very hint of war! Demonstrate in front of the warmongering "institutes" in Washington, DC! Demonstrate to end the one we've already got!

And just to hammer it home, he includes a petition featuring the opinion of the real Iran experts on the prospect of the war. I doubt if the presumably dry drunk in the White House will read it with any clearer eye than the very sodden one whose bullshit prompted Cole's unusual outburst, but it too is a thing of beauty.

But the final nail gets hammered with a precipitous crescendo:

Because Hitchens's dirty tricks and lies against me are only the beginning. Whoever stands against the Perpetual War machine will be attacked, slimed, marginalized, and destroyed if the warmongers get their way. I don't care. Thus far and no farther.

One, two, three, four. We don't want your stinking war!

Splendid.

I heartily applaud Professor Cole. He's not one to confine himself to the high, dry safety of the Ivory Tower. When need be, he's part pugilist and part artist--and he has just delivered what has got to be the Ravel's Bolero of ass-kickings.

No words needed

Help, I'm a prisoner and I can't get out

May 2, 2006

Somehow, I always suspected as much.

It's a little late for April Fool's jokes, but what the hell. This one's worth a laugh and a half:

Gerry Nicholls thought he was hallucinating as he kicked back in his seat to take the 35-minute GO train ride to his Oakville home.

About every three seconds, the scrolling electronic sign that usually carries transit updates and advertisements had a very different message that he just could not keep his eyes off.

"Stephen Harper Eats Babies. Stephen Harper Eats Babies. Stephen Harper Eats Babies," the message kept repeating.

"No one (in the car) seemed to be reacting to it," said Nicholls, who happens to be vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, the same conservative think-tank formerly headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"You go home and you are trying to rest from work and all of a sudden where they usually talk about Ticketmaster, all of a sudden you see this thing say `Stephen Harper Eats Babies,'" Nicholls said yesterday. "I wasn't even sure when I got off the train. Was I hallucinating?"

Turns out he wasn't.

An ingenious hacker, who boarded the Lakeshore GO Transit westbound train, made sure that on Thursday, Friday and yesterday, suburban commuters in at least five different cars continued to get his or her subliminal message

His weapon of choice was a remote control device that can be bought at a Sam's Club and used to discreetly program scrolling electronic signs found commonly in shop windows — and in every GO Transit train car — from about two metres away.

When Exclusive Advertising, the company that sells interior advertising on GO trains, installed the LED signs about nine years ago, the signs, which have to be individually programmed, couldn't be password protected, said company president Greg Donohue.

The company sells advertisers $8,690 of space a month to play 15-second messages with 52 characters on a three-minute loop.

Donohue said the hacker appears to have always gotten on the train at the third car from the locomotive and used the upper levels of the train.

"We have never had any problems until now," said Donahue.

GO Transit spokesperson Ed Shea called it "a case of electronic vandalism."

"Unfortunately it's a slur, it's an offensive message," said Shea. "We regret it happened and we're sorry if anybody was offended, including the Prime Minister."

Not to worry, I don't think he is offended. He's not programmed for that response. Craig Lauzon tells me so.

May 1, 2006

Un dia sin...

...ropa???

Si, puede ser en Mexico:

Members of a movement from the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz called the 400 Villages, the protesters strip with regularity, their nakedness stressing demands that the government resolve a long-running land dispute.

"We are asking for justice," said Alfonsina Sandoval, 54, a leader of the women who disrobe. "Undressing ourselves is an act of desperation and helplessness. We don't know what else to do to get their attention."

It takes a lot to stand out among angry Mexican masses.

Hundreds of demonstrations snare Mexico City's traffic each year. And unresolved land disputes are as common as cactus in the countryside, running into the many thousands.

The 400 Villages movement began in the late 1960s, accelerated after the jailing of about 100 activists in 1992, and first resorted to the Full Monty four years ago, after more staid and traditional pressure tactics failed.

The protesters want 5,000 acres they claim as rightfully theirs deeded to them. They want punishment for three former Veracruz governors they accuse of repression, including the slaying of some of their activists.

They say past agreements with presidential administrations have gone unfulfilled. Their protests have outlasted the fall of a one-party system called "the Perfect Dictatorship" and endured under Mexico's democratic transition.

"As long as we don't have responses to our demands, we can't talk about change," Sandoval said. "The president is demanding that Mexicans in the United States be taken care of, but they ignore those of us who have stayed in this country."

"Many of our young people have already gone to the north," she said. "How can you explain that those in the United States are better attended to than we are?"

The article has a pic of the farmers in their underwear.

And speaking of those "better off" in the US, I refer you to the excellent coverage of Los Blogueros. It's in Spanish; the pics are great. (No, no nudity there. Lo siento mucho.)

For English reports (and more photos!), bounce on over to BoingBoing.

Here come the heroes, just in time for May Day!

You want cojones? You got 'em...

Bolivia's President Evo Morales has signed a decree placing his country's energy industry under state control.

In a May Day speech, he said foreign energy firms must agree to channel all their sales through the Bolivian state, or else leave the country.

He set the firms a six-month deadline, but the military and state energy officials have already started taking control of the oil fields.

[...]

Bolivia has South America's second largest natural gas reserves.

But the country has suffered years of political crises over how to develop and profit from the industry.

Speaking at an oilfield in the south of the country, Bolivia's left-wing president called it an "historic day".

"The pillage of our natural resources by foreign companies is over," he declared.

He said the companies had six months to re-negotiate their contracts and urged them to "respect the dignity of Bolivians".

Foreign companies would receive 18% of oil and gas revenues during the transition period, reports said.

What a way to celebrate Beltane. I think I have a new crush. Evo, like his pal Hugo, is definitely the boss.

BTW, speaking of bosses, here's another one who hates to be known by that nickname, however well earned:

Bruce Springsteen has criticised politicians for "criminal ineptitude" in their response to Hurricane Katrina in the southern United States.

The singer was performing at the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, parts of which he had visited after they were devastated in the disaster.

"I saw sights I never thought I'd see in an American city," he said. "The criminal ineptitude makes you furious."

More than 1,300 people were killed across US states affected by Katrina.

The population of New Orleans fell from nearly 500,000 to less than 200,000.

Fans cried and embraced during poignant songs in Springsteen's set.

In one, "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?", the lyrics referred to "bodies floating" in the street and levees which had "gone to hell".

In a world bereft of heroes (RIP John Kenneth Galbraith, great Canadian!), it's nice to know that there are still some left.