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February 27, 2007

El Caracazo: Today in 1989

A Google video to refresh the memories of those who have them, and inform those who need to know:

"El Caracazo", a docudrama about a shattering event in Venezuelan history. In Spanish. New York Times description here. History of the events fictionalized in the film here.

Enjoy!

February 26, 2007

Seen in Uruguay

STOP BUSH

Teeheehee.

War won't liberate the women of Iraq

From Yanar Mohammed, a glimpse of how badly gender relations in Iraq have deteriorated since the war began:

Iraqi society was shocked with an unprecedented issue of a woman stepping forward, voluntarily, and explaining that she was sexually assaulted by Iraqi security forces. Instead of pursuing an investigation into this assault allegation, or empowering the victim with moral support, opposing Islamist-sectarian factions competed to exploit the matter politically, preparing the ground for bloody sectarian conflict. They symbolized Sabrine's rape as an assault against the whole "Sunni religious group."

Meanwhile, the heads of Shia Islamist political parties — who are the top officials in the American-approved government — immediately scorned and disbelieved the victim, instead rewarding the accused rapists. Moreover, Iraqi government heads indulged in raising moral suspicions about the victim's reputation.

This entire matter has revealed a misogynist tendency in Iraq as most spokesmen started to scorn and discredit the victim, wishing that no woman should ever dare to speak out the details of her sexual humiliation. Worse yet, a few of these male-chauvinist reporters declared that they preferred that she end her life or live a lifetime of pain and misery without even thinking of punishment for her rapists.

[...]

Raping Iraqi women by the police force is not an unbelievable or a new matter. Our non-sectarian, non-religious organization, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has documented six confirmed cases where Iraqi police raped women — inside and outside detainment centers. The youngest of these raped females is 14 year old. OWFI activists have raised reports of these cases to the officials in the Ministry of Interior (who are responsible for security and criminal law enforcement) and the presidency of ministries. To this date, these men who have been given power, privilege, weapons, and uniforms by the Americans, have given us no answer.

Emphasis added.

This is what Operation Iraqi Liberation--er, "Freedom"--was about, gentlefolks. They "liberated" Iraq from Saddam and pretended to give it democracy, only to deliver half of its population back into the Dark Ages of religiously-excused sexism. And ALL of its populace into an intolerable sectarian civil war in which women are the inevitable pawns, as women have always been when there's a war on.

Yanar Mohammed continues:

Rapes take place daily, under the chaotic situations resulting from the occupation. The occupation authorities handed over the power to unscrupulous men who have no respect for women's rights and dignity. On the contrary, the appointed puppets have promoted sectarian hatred, and encouraged tribal barbarism where women of other clans are "sexual hostages" to be exploited, while the women of their own clan are "valuables to be protected". In either case, these forces will always regard women as property of the clan and a tool of political vengeance, but never as individuals, worthy of respect.

Remind me again: What was the war about? Oh yeah, "freedom", which isn't free--and if female and living in Iraq, is now afraid to leave the house without a head-to-toe disguise. How long, I wonder, before the "liberated" women of Iraq, in a desperate bid for freedom from assault, join their Afghan sisters under the burqa--or more poignantly, in drag?

Who protects Iraqi women in these barbaric situations? And who will guarantee their dignity, their privacy, and right to a decent future? Women of Iraq can not live secure under the occupation and the government of ethnic and sectarian division which has no respect for human rights or women's rights. The only hope lies in the people of Iraq to strive to create a political alternative which liberates us all from the repression of the religious, sectarian, and ethnic parties. Our alternative vision for freedom and equality is the only path to guarantee an end to gender inequality and all kinds of social discrimination in Iraq.

Or to put it another way: War won't liberate the women of Iraq. War is a facilitator of rape; rape, in its turn, is an age-old weapon of war. And until there is peace (which won't happen until all foreign invaders, mercenaries and profiteers leave the country), there will be no resources with which the people of Iraq can build the progressive paradigm of which Yanar Mohammed writes.

(See also these two passionate, powerful entries on Baghdad Burning about this, here and here.)

February 25, 2007

New bird species discovered in Australia

It's the Australian Chickenhawk, and so far only three specimens, all male, have been discovered:

A new bird species: the Australian Chickenhawk

Let's hope they're the last of the species; I'd hate to see another generation. One thing the world DOESN'T need more of, is this:

They weren't soldiers? Bummer!

And speaking of skitebirds I hope will NEVER reproduce, ladies and gentleman--please give it up for Rush Limbaugh!

Seriously, though: Dick Cheney is their hero? What heroic thing has the man done?

Could it be the incredible chutzpah with which he got out of serving in Vietnam--by taking advantage of every deferment he could get, and then, when those ran out, by conveniently knocking up his wife? (Sure beats having to exaggerate the severity of a pimple on one's ass, eh Rush?)

What I find sad is that three sorry-ass chickenhawks spent $1200 (Aus.) on a professionally-made banner to extol an idol who not only has clay feet, but whose entire carcass is guano. Way to show the world what you're made of, mates.

February 24, 2007

Dubya gets what he's got coming, again

Poor Dubya, he's been having such a rough week. First he gets spanked in Germany by Ms. Liberty, and now this:

Millions of people the world over will now realize a cherished dream: to give a big, fat kick in the ass to King George Bush. In New York, an English artist offers this cathartic service. See the brilliant photo.

British artist Mark McGowan went out this Thursday in the streets of New York dressed as US president George W. Bush, inviting people to kick him in the backside to "ease some of their frustrations".

Moving on all fours along the esplanade of Lincoln Center, with a "kick me" sign on his butt, McGowan explained that he was rendering a service "to the people of the United States, and to the people of New York."

"I'm offering a service, a therapeutic compromise, a cathartic experience--to kick Bush in the butt and ease some of your frustrations."

McGowan will be going around in this way for 72 hours, exposing his conveniently protected buttocks to the ire of the public.

The unusual presentation is the Briton's contribution to the contemporary art fair Scope, which will be held in New York on the 26th of February.

One of the first to kick the president's ass was a police officer, who would not give his name but who said he felt great after doing so.

The officer said he enjoyed doing it, and that "Bush has gotten this country into too much trouble, and he deserves a good kick."

(Translation and linkage mine.)

Here's something else this artist has done, which may or may not be germane:

"This is not a protest." Naturally the Bobbies think otherwise at first.

February 23, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Representing at Carnival!

A couple of weeks ago, I featured Caetano Veloso, performing his great "Tropicalia". This week, it's his old friend (and sometime brother-in-law)'s turn:

Gilberto Gil, Son of Gandhi

Gilberto Gil, Brazilian rocker turned minister of culture, rockin' out here in the garb of the "Sons of Gandhi", his longtime favorite samba school in his hometown of Salvador, the capital of Bahia.

Meanwhile, other faces of the left were also representin':

El Che, eternal icon of leftist hottitude

The iconic Che put in his appearance on a float.

Nelson Mandela: ridin' that tiger!

And Nelson Mandela's giant effigy rode in on a tiger.

February 21, 2007

Send Prince Harry to Iraq...

...see how soon the troops come back!

Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq.

Mr Blair is set to make a statement about the 7,000 British troops serving in Iraq at the Commons.

The BBC's James Landale said 1,500 troops were expected to return home in months, rising to 3,000 by Christmas.

It couldn't have anything to do with this, could it?

Prince Harry is to be sent to Iraq next year as a troop commander and is likely to patrol the hazardous border with Iran, defence sources have disclosed.

The third in line to the throne will join the Army's 1st Mechanised Brigade, which will be deployed to Basra in May 2007.

The prince has told colleagues that he is determined to go on operations and be treated as normally as possible - not kept out of the line of fire.

Naaaah...just a pure coincidence, I'm sure.

This would put the "Spare", as he's known (as opposed to big brother William, who is the Heir) streets ahead of King George the Dubya, who infamously shirked his duty during Vietnam and went AWOL even in the Chickenhawk Champagne Unit of the Texas Air National Guard.

But hey! Jenna and Barbara Bush could still get patriotic, even if their daddy isn't. What say, girls? Feel like ending a war anytime soon?

February 20, 2007

Rosenmontag!

Widdle Georgie Bushie gets spanked by Lady Liberty

Hanky, Panky--nothing like a Bush Spanky!

Seen at the Rose Monday parade in the famed carnival city of Mainz, Germany.

February 19, 2007

Say goodbye to another private-water failure

And this time, it's Guyana giving a multinational firm the boot.

Severn Trent is exiting Guyana after the government said it was failing to meet its targets for the supply of water to the South American country.

Severn International's contract was due to end at the start of 2008 but is being terminated nearly one year early.

[...]

Harry Nawbatt, Guyana's water minister, said this was due to the firm's failure to meet targets, such as increasing the amount of money raised from water bills.

[...]

Guyana is one of Latin America's poorest countries and its economy was badly damaged by 2005's floods. More than 40% of the population lost some or all of their possessions.

And yet this company's priority was not making sure the poor had safe, affordable water for all their needs. What was it? Collecting money.

This company wasn't in the business of supplying water, but rather denying it. Is it any wonder they're now on the way out? This is not what I call improving on an "inefficient" public service. Neither is how this company got its hooks into Guyana's water in the first place.

IMF conditionalities have long been a quick route to profit for multinational firms. The steady drumbeat of "the private sector can do it better", however, is breaking up under the growing chorus of "Oh no it can't!" and "We're taking our public services back!"

Quotable: Lee Stringer on writing and recognition

"This is not a science. We're not making porcelain. We're not out cutting two-by-fours. It's kind of crazy stuff just to sit in a room and click away at a--in my case, if you'll forgive me, a Mac--for eight or nine hours. It is a very unnatural thing to do. And there's no one there to tell you whether what you're doing is right or wrong. It's a very scary thing, to spend a year or so doing that. And the real fear is that you'll look back and say, 'Gee I've wasted a year doing nothing.' So in the midst of that loneliness to have another writer say 'You know, you did all right,' is a great thing."

--Lee Stringer (with Kurt Vonnegut), Like Shaking Hands With God: A Conversation About Writing

February 18, 2007

Terror-Free Oil Slicks come out and play!

Oh, boy. I just caught a flying one from a big, brave, wannabe terror-free oilman, and I'm sooooooo scared. Take a gander at what landed in my comments section today.

The only thing that overshadows author's stupidity is his poor research skills.

Article above: "embrace the economy car, the hybrid car, the fuel-cell car, and most importantly, the carpool."

TFO goals (http://www.terrorfreeoil.org/coalition.php):

- Educate consumers about alternative fuels (Ethanol, BioDiesel, etc.)

- Promote Hybrids & FFVs

- Promote public transportation

It might be worth researching the subject before providing your scholarly opinion. Will make you look less of a moron.

Bravo! You have finally come out from under your rock to insult me, reiterate your empty blurb, and give me an instant, depersonalized, internet sex change to boot. How courageous of you!

There's only one problem with your calling me a moron: it makes you look like an idiot.

I actually did visit your site and read it over THOROUGHLY (which, incidentally, is more than you did for me; more on this later.) I found it lightweight, to say the least--heavy on hype, short on actual research. You did not address the issues I brought up; that's why I brought them up. And you're still not addressing them adequately now!

You're forgetting that ethanol and biodiesel have net energy losses associated with their production, including the use of petroleum to power the process--look it up. There's "scholarly opinion" for you with a vengeance, bud.

I know you probably also don't care that the labor-intensive, cost-intensive, oil-consuming process of turning corn into booze into car fuel will starve millions of Mexicans. But I can promise you that you won't like the repercussions of mass Mexican starvation. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think feeding people, not machines, should come first on the list of agricultural priorities.

I also notice you ignored the fact that you cannot account for the source of every last drop of your "terror-free" oil. Care to address that issue, or would you rather just slick it over?

BTW, before you shoot off any more flames about my "poor research skills", try getting my gender right first. I'm female, as even a cursory reading of this site ought to tell you. Your failing to pay attention to something so basic makes you look much less of a researcher than me.

Or, in your own big words, a MORON.

PS: There is yet another reason to be skeptical of this initiative, now. Seems that al-Qaida, or some organization claiming to be linked to them, is threatening to attack ALL oil installations serving US needs--including those in the US, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. If they make good on this, NO oil, from anywhere in the world, can rightly be called "terror-free". Oh dear!

February 17, 2007

CubanaBomber Death Watch: How long till the mistrial?

Or, failing that, the sudden disappearance and/or death?

An anti-Castro Cuban militant is to face trial in the US in May, charged with lying to immigration officials.

Luis Posada Carriles has been held in an immigration detention centre in Texas since 2005 after crossing the border illegally from Mexico.

Both Venezuela and Cuba want to put Mr Posada on trial for allegedly masterminding the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976 that killed 73 people.

A US judge has ruled that Mr Posada can not be deported to Cuba or Venezuela.

Mr Posada is accused of fraud and making false statements on an application for US citizenship he made after he arrived in the country in 2005.

Of course, his illegal immigration trial is a sham; he should be tried for terrorism, but he won't, because he's CIA. So this is what it's come down to.

Everyone knows there's no such thing as an illegal Cuban alien in the United States. Once a Cuban is ashore in Florida, s/he immediately gets amnesty. "Illegal" is a designation which has long been reserved for Mexicans. This foolish inconsistency, where one kind of Spanish-speaking immigrant is more welcome than another, is just what you can expect of a "Land of Opportunity" with a long, proud history of racist exclusion laws--and an equally long, proud history of trying to annex Cuba. If you slip in undocumented from Mexico, you're an "illegal"; if you do it from Cuba, you're an "exile". Never mind that no human being is illegal, and the "exiles" weren't exiled by anyone but themselves. These are the strange subtleties of US immigration law.

Strangely, though, Posada Carriles did slip in from Mexico--by boat. And isn't it also strange that this "illegal" alien is not being deported to his native land--or to Venezuela, where he also has citizenship? Standard procedure for "illegals" is to send 'em back to where they came from, isn't it?

Well, yes. But since Cuba and Venezuela both want to try him for his numerous crimes, and no one else wants him, in the US he will stay and face the farce of a trial for a non-crime, claiming (falsely) that he is a victim of political persecution. He'll probably be set loose after a mistrial, since the outcome is already known. In fact, he'll probably still expect the US citizenship he thinks to be his due. After all, Poppy Bush hired him to commit anti-Cuban terrorism. Who's to say he didn't dangle the additional incentive of possible US citizenship just to sweeten the pot?

It remains to be seen how long the US government will temporize on this. Could be he'll die waiting for citizenship papers that never come. My bet is not only on that, but also on the likelihood of evil wicked Fidel outliving him, since both Chavecito and Fidel's own son (also named Fidel Castro) have now confirmed that the old boy's on the road to recovery.

The CubanaBomber, however, has undergone repeated treatments for skin cancer and a heart condition, and at his age, the prognosis isn't the best. I foresee his old employers in BushCo going on protecting him in the usual noncommital manner until their infernal lord and master comes to take him home.

It's just a question of which will come first: death or mistrial. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

February 16, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging: A bolivar for your thoughts...

Hugo Chavez holds up a bolivar coin

I think Chavecito's shaping up to be an even bigger ass-kicker than his historic hero. Maybe one day, it'll be his face on the other side of the coin!

O doomsayers, what say you to this?

Evo and Lula have just inked an agreement over natural gas. And not a shot was fired, as some were fearing when the Bolivian army went ahead with nationalization plans!

Bolivia has reached agreement on a price increase over its natural gas exports to Brazil.

The deal, signed by Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and his Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales, ends months of dispute over the issue.

Under the agreement, Brazil is expected to pay at least $100m more a year for its gas, officials said.

Negotiations began last year, when Mr Morales said an increase in the price would help lift Bolivia out of poverty.

Brazil depends on Bolivia for 50% of its daily gas supply. Last year, it paid nearly $1.3bn for Bolivian gas.

[...]

The deal does not actually increase the basic price that Brazil pays for Bolivian natural gas, which is already contained in the contract between the two countries.

However, Bolivia will now be allowed to charge more for individual components of the gas, such as ethane, butane and liquid petroleum gas, according to a complex formula based on calorific content.

Last year, the Bolivian government signed a deal that more than tripled natural gas exports to Argentina at increased prices.

So, let's see what this means: Evo fulfils a major campaign promise to his people a little more than a year after being elected, and that's only one of several. And, remarkably, he manages to do it peacefully, too. At this rate, even Chavecito will soon have to sit by and take notes.

February 15, 2007

By the way, you're also free to stop buying coke from Colombia

Oh, that Chavecito. Irrepressible as always, and ever ready with a blunt reply to Washington when it starts making noises about his novel take on democracy (namely, to actually practice it rather than just preaching it endlessly like Washington hacks do). Get a load of his latest snappy comeback!

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday said the United States is free to stop buying oil from its No. 4 supplier of imported crude amid persistent political tensions between Caracas and Washington.

"If they don't want to buy (our) oil, they can tell us and we won't sell them oil," Chavez said during a speech to retirees. "Over there they are the biggest consumers on the planet, that's not our fault."

Chavez, who has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States if Washington moves against him, was responding to U.S. government efforts to reduce reliance on foreign oil.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman on Wednesday told a Houston energy conference "the current level of energy insecurity in the world poses an unacceptable risk to our economies and security."

Oh, that must be why they're now ramping up for war on Iran. Yup, it's that ol' energy insecurity that'll get you every time. The United States have long suffered from energy insecurity, which is why they've repeatedly propped up one or another dictator in oil-rich countries. Just ask any Venezuelan.

The fact that wars are inherently destabilizing and kind of wreck your chances of energy security is neither here nor there with this bunch of Wunderkinder. It's like Gulf War I never happened, and Saddam (formerly a US ally) never torched all those Kuwaiti oil wells. At least, that's the feeling I get from seeing how all those oil-connected Repugs learned their history lessons...

By the way, fellas, feel free to stop buying your cocaine from Colombia anytime, if you're so worried about substance abuse, dependency and all that.

February 13, 2007

"Terror-free oil"--what it really means

Well, hey howdy. There's a new face on the gasoline scene:

Terror Free Oil--the $3 bill of the energy sector

Oh my, aren't they patriotic. Just look at that logo! Not a bit subtle. What could be more "American" than cashing in wherever you can, even on tragedy?

Unfortunately, this is just another way of profiting from the gullibility of the "patriotic" sheeple--the same ones who stick made-in-China yellow ribbon magnets on their SUVs and call that "supporting the troops". It's a slick scam, and here's why:

First of all, the "education" they're pushing, isn't. It's obfuscation. The idea of "energy independence" for the US is a pipe dream (pun intended), no matter whether the fuel is oil or something else, like ethanol (another much boosted non-starter, sadly). The country is, and long has been, and always will be, a net importer of fuels. The fact that even this "all-American" company relies on imported oil, not 100% domestic production, should tell you something.

Oh sure, it's touted as "terror-free" because it's supposedly not from the Middle East...but the truth is, you don't know where that oil really came from. The company itself doesn't know. It's the nature of the market, you see:

Claiming U.S. dollars used to purchase gasoline made from Middle East oil funds terrorism, a group called the Terror-Free Oil Initiative plans to open the country's first "terror-free" gas station.

Well, that's the goal anyway. The Coral Springs, Fla.-based group plans to open its first station Thursday in west Omaha, seeking to sell only gas that originates from countries that do not support terrorism and from oil companies that don't do business in the Middle East.

Sinclair Oil Corp., which operates truck stops and gas stations throughout the Midwest and the West, will be the initial supplier, said Terror-Free Oil spokesman Joe Kaufman.

Dalton Kehlbeck, a regional manager for Salt Lake City-based Sinclair, said most of the company's oil comes from the United States or Canada, but some is bought on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where oil from all over the world is traded.

"It's a basket of crude oil," he said of the exchange oil. "We cannot be sure where the conglomeration of the product comes from."

The same is true of most oil products sold in the United States.

According to the Energy Information Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, oil refineries often mix oil from different sources and companies during refinement and shipping.

The United States imported an average of 2.3 million barrels of oil a day from the Persian Gulf region in 2005, according to the administration. That accounted for about nine per cent of U.S. consumption.

Nine per cent? Yow, talk about using a sledgehammer to swat mosquitos.

Of course, the whole War on Terra could be characterized as such. And while that sledgehammer is being swung wildly and at random, the no-see-um bugs must all be laughing their guts out. Anyone who's been paying attention will already know how much more terrorism there has been since BushCo declared "war" on it; in fact, much of it has been a direct response to the war.

The fact that Freeperville has already embraced this campaign is another compelling anti-endorsement. Much as TFOI claims it wants to spur a "healthy debate" on energy, the true nature of the "debate" is suspiciously one-sided. The TFOI blog links to such far-right luminaries as Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, the Little Green Fascists, and other BushCo-boosters. Who wants to buy oil from someone plugging them--especially since they incessantly whore for those who have shown themselves manifestly incapable of protecting their country from terrorism? Their policies are pro-terror, not anti.

But wait, you may say--isn't it a good idea to make sure that filling up your gas guzzler isn't fueling Osama? And isn't this company a step in that direction?

To the first question, the answer is yes. To the second, unfortunately...no. Better to give up the SUV (yellow ribbon and all) and embrace the economy car, the hybrid car, the fuel-cell car, and most importantly, the carpool. When you ride alone, you ride with Osama--even if you just tanked up at a station with the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and Flight 93 on its sign.

Want to make even more of a real difference? Then go to CITGO, which the "terror free oil" site unfairly maligns--no doubt because their oil comes from Venezuela. At least then, you'd be getting your fuel from someplace in the Americas whose leader is truly opposed to terrorism--albeit probably not the kind that these people want you to get all worked up about. And you're also helping people living in poverty, both in the US and elsewhere. That's another powerful and proven anti-terror measure.

Bottom line: you don't know where your oil is coming from if it's traded on the open market, so the "terror-free" label is ultimately meaningless.

February 12, 2007

Neil Young sticks it to BushCo

All the reasons why Bush, Cheney and the entire vile bunch MUST be impeached.

February 11, 2007

Yep, free trade creates jobs, all right!

Unfortunately, a lot of them are child labor.

The Social Protection Minister Diego Palacio said that over 200 thousand children are working as miners in Colombia specially in deposits in Choco, Boyaca, Antioquia, Caldas, Cundinamarca and Nariño departments.

Palacio admitted that situation is growing more complicated every day because of the lack of control by the legal authorities that have been given the responsibility and obligation of checking, controlling and even closing those mines.

He assured that child exploitation in the mining sector appears in the illegal holes created by family groups that do not fulfil the minimum security conditions.

After recalling that about three thousand children were taken out of the mines between 2003 and 2004 the minister affirmed the programs to keep children at school remain aimed at reducing child labour even more.

(Corrections to text mine.)

A Colombian child miner

"You 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

And they call it democracy

And they call it democracy

And they call it democracy..."

--Bruce Cockburn, "Call it Democracy"

February 10, 2007

Quotable: Eric Fair on torture and its consequences

"American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.

[...]

"Some may suggest there is no reason to revive the story of abuse in Iraq. Rehashing such mistakes will only harm our country, they will say. But history suggests we should examine such missteps carefully. Oppressive prison environments have created some of the most determined opponents. The British learned that lesson from Napoleon, the French from Ho Chi Minh, Europe from Hitler. The world is learning that lesson again from Ayman al-Zawahiri. What will be the legacy of abusive prisons in Iraq?"

--Eric Fair, "An Iraq Interrogator's Nightmare"

February 9, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Day of Dignity, Dawn of Hope

Courtesy of RadioAporrea and ViVe, the Venezuelan public TV channel, a half-hour video about the forces that shaped Chavecito into a revolutionary fighter, unexpected popular hero and leader:

In Spanish.

This documentary stresses that the Bolivarian movement is a civilian/military alliance with an emphasis on popular participation. Soldiers who participated, civilians who remember, and historians who have analyzed the events explain the significance of that day.

While it may seem strange to celebrate a military coup attempt that failed, it's worth noting that neither the uprising nor its immediate result is the main thing here; it's the change in people's consciousness that it occasioned. On February 4, 1992, the Venezuelan armed forces underwent a transformation in the people's minds: from the feared and hated shock troops who had been turned against them during the Caracazo of 1989, to courageous campaigners for justice, who tried and failed to unseat the rotter who was ultimately responsible for those thousands of deaths. The uprising may have failed and its participants may have been jailed, but ultimately a surprising success grew out of that failure.

Carlchucho's blog has an interesting personal account of that day, which I've taken the liberty to translate:

Before I was 10 years old, I had never read about any political theory. Obviously my interests at that age were totally different. Perhaps the one occasion of which I had full political awareness was in 1988, when, by a premonitory instinct I've always had, I hoped that Carlos Andres Perez would not become president. Sadly, Perez won, and even more sadly I was right. A few days after taking power, he showed himself to be the biggest disgrace that could have happened to the country.

But I remember this morning, when my old man said "Wake up, son, they're overthrowing the gocho." It was 5:00 in the morning, and I think it's a crime to wake up at that hour, especially since I studied from afternoon through evening. I believe it was a Tuesday, and without any idea of what my father had said, I went alone to watch TV.

I don't remember which channel it was, but all of them were broadcasting the same thing, since RCTV had exclusive rights to the footage of the attack at Miraflores Palace. Since some journalists were there at the time shooting it, they gave a so-called report of the "recruiting" in the streets of Caracas (for certain, President Chavez abolished such recruiting, and they have the gall to call him "militarist"!) Later, they confessed that they knew what was really going on, but didn't reveal it because DISIP [the Venezuelan secret police] and other repressive organs of the AD government would surely have imprisoned them. So there was persecution then, and repression of free expression and the freedom of the press.

That morning was long and tense. And though I didn't understand much, I hoped that those guys, dressed in green, with red berets and the tricolor flag on their sleeves, would succeed in taking control of Miraflores. Sadly it didn't turn out that way, but I believe that what happened is better, considering how what came after it changed history.

A lot has been written about the "for now", but there is no doubt that it was the breaking point in history. I don't know why, but all of us were moved by his message, and especially by those words, which really had no prophetic intent regarding what would come years later.

The opposition talks a lot about the so-called mourning they feel for the fallen of February 4, of whom they don't even know one single name, but they don't say boo about the thousands who died on February 27 [1989], much less the hundreds of thousands who died of the worst massacre of the Punto Fijo era, which was poverty. There is no more miserable way to kill people than by hunger, leaving them to die of disease, and buggering off to Miami to enjoy the millions of dollars stolen from the nation.

Carlchucho touches on a number of important things here: the tendency of the Venezuelan private media to lie (and, tellingly, the fact that they lied on behalf of the then government of Carlos Andres Perez!); the way Chavez's short speech taking responsibility moved everyone who saw and heard it; and of course, the opposition's extreme hypocrisy in "mourning" for February 4 victims they don't even know, while refusing to acknowledge the many more who died of a much greater atrocity (in which, of course, they were fully complicit.)

All of this explains why even in failure, the coup succeeded. It also unravels the seeming paradox of how something so otherwise undemocratic as a military coup could yet end up ushering in a truly democratic future. This coup was the antithesis of what happened in Chile in 1973; it failed to put a military government in power but undermined a covertly authoritarian "democratic" government, and finally succeeded in getting the military man who led the uprising elected democratically to office.

Most interestingly, though: as much as the corporate media still slander this ex-military man as an "authoritarian" and a "dictator", the public has other ideas. Maybe it has something to do with what happened to their collective consciousness on that day. I think this picture sums it up as well as anything could:

Lucky lady meets loveable leader

February 6, 2007

How may Wal-Mart help the US? By closing up shop, of course!

The writing is on the Wal-Mart--or Mao-Mart, as some of my friends like to call it, thus slandering a certain Chinese chairman of yore.

Retail giant Wal-Mart is "bad for America", according to a poll carried out on behalf of a group campaigning against the store.

The poll, conducted by Zogby for a union-led group called WakeUpWalMart, asked 1,012 people across the US about their attitudes to Wal-Mart.

Of the respondents, 59% said they agreed with the statement that "Wal-Mart is bad for America".

And why do I say it's slander to the chairman to refer to this retail sweatshop as Mao-Mart? Well,

Wal-Mart retorted that its opponents were clutching at straws.

"This poll is another way for them to reach out for something to try to validate their efforts, because they don't have anything else to hang their hat on," a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Brrrrrr. That's cold--colder than Heilongjiang Province at this time of year. After all, at least Mao Zedong was able to mouth positive-sounding rhetoric about all the workers his policies killed.

Meanwhile, Mall-Wart is facing a slew of other problems: they just lost a class-action suit by workers forced to work during breaktime; female workers are suing for sexual discrimination; undocumented immigrants were used and abused; and of course, there's the inescapable fact that many workers also need food stamps and other welfare measures to make ends meet, even when working full-time. This company is sucking the taxpayers dry. I bet they don't pay into the system they're taking such shameless advantage of, either.

If this is "good for America", I'd hate to see what they call bad.

February 5, 2007

You call this "freedom of the press"? You call this "moral"?

Um, yeah. Riiiiiight. From Aporrea:

On Tuesday, February 6, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice will hold a constitutional hearing to determine whether the collective rights of citizens were violated by RCTV (Channel 2).

The articles in question are numbers 46, 54, 83 and 108 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which were violated by means of "pornographic advertising and advertising of prostitution", broadcast daily in the early morning hours.

The action was filed by attorney Juan Ernesto Garantón Hernández in 2006 on behalf of the civil association, the National Front of Bolivarian Attorneys, and citizens from various other social organizations.

[...]

The elements in question were submitted on VHS tapes, duly certified by the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL). These contain images extracted from the public signal of RCTV, taken from recordings of programming shown after 12 midnight.

The ads clearly show offers of sex and explicit solicitations of prostitution [...]. They present women in a very suggestive context, nude or semi-nude, inviting callers to obtain sexual services via text messaging and "hot line" calls to numbers appearing onscreen for a price in bolivars plus value-added tax. This equals promotion of prostitution.

[...]

The trial coincides with the announcement that the State will not renew RCTV's broadcast licence. Constitutional protection was sought by a coalition of civil organizations, including members of the National Front of Bolivarian Attorneys, against RCTV, for violations of human rights owing to RCTV's part in the coup d'etat of 2002, the petro-sabotage that followed it, and the wave of violence known as the "guarimba".

Translation mine; you can read more about this case, in Spanish, here and here.

The article goes on to note that the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Catholic church blessed the actions of RCTV and the other stations involved in the coup; certainly at least two of their representatives were very prominently visible in footage taken at Miraflores during the self-swearing of dictator Pedro Carmona and the issuance of his infamous decree. How do they reconcile themselves to the fact that at least one of their media allies is guilty of criminal solicitation of money for sex, to say nothing of its even more disturbing, repeated incitements to violence? I thought the Church was supposed to be a moral force in the land. Clearly its morality is, shall we say, highly selective.

You can argue pro and con as to the appropriateness of explicit sex on TV in the wee hours, and whether that falls under freedom of expression; that's not the issue here. What is, is the blatant hypocrisy of the Venezuelan right, which likes to present itself as a moral force of opposition to the supposed evils of Hugo Chavez--a leader who, incidentally, respects the separation of powers of a constitutional democracy to such a degree that he has even set aside a branch of national power for the moral institutions! It begs the question, then: what is their excuse for advertising not only prostitution, but violence? What is the morality behind that?

I also can't help but wonder if the Church hierarchy isn't covertly profiting from this moral outrage. The owners of the Venezuelan private media are extremely wealthy, after all, and the upper ranks of the Church have on more than one occasion been in the oligarchy's corner. (The Church's record in terms of human rights is rather spotty all over Latin America, come to think of it. A damn shame when you consider that many brave liberation theologians and clergy members have taken the side of the people over that of the oligarchy and/or dictator-du-jour. The current pontiff doesn't exactly inspire hope for better things, either.)

What I find amazing is that any media outlet could serve as a propaganda machine for...well, this:

Right-wing vandals at work, part I...

...and II.

Yes, the opposition lets its youth wing run wild. Nice to know that they're so into law and order, eh?

But I suppose they call that "free speech", just as they call it "morality" to broadcast ads for phone-sex lines.

Just say no to books

Courtesy of my friend Deck the Cyber Curmudgeon, today I found out:

The Associated Press is ending the book review package provided to newspapers, Editor and Publisher reports.

A spokesperson says the "AP is revamping its Lifestyles coverage to focus more resources on topics like food and parenting, and as a result we are discontinuing the book-review package that had moved through that department."

She adds that book coverage will continue through the Arts and Entertainment Department, though the emphasis appears to be on news and features.

Great, just great. More crap, more pap, less culture. Tastes bad AND less filling! Just what I needed to help me keep that New Year's resolution that I never made! Thanks, diet and lifestyle writers!

February 4, 2007

It was 15 years ago today...

Lt.-Col. Hugo Chavez, 37, commander of the paratroop brigade at Maracay, Venezuela, gives himself up after a failed attempt to topple a corrupt, abusive president who alienated a large swath of the army on the day he turned it against his own people. In this (surely the shortest speech of his career!), Chavez takes a minute to address the media, thank his compatriots for their bravery and unselfishness, and take responsibility for the coup attempt. He regrets that "for now", the plans he and his fellow Bolivarian revolutionaries made cannot be realized, and holds out hope that at a later date, new opportunities may arise.

As we've seen, that "por ahora" was prophetic indeed. Chavez is now president, and the most popular and successful president in Venezuelan history, at that. And far from being condemned, this 15-year-old day is widely celebrated in Venezuela--at least by those who understand the difference between fake democracy and the real thing.

And just to put it all in context:

"Venezuela Bolivariana" in its entirety, with English subtitles.

Pay special attention to the parts about the Caracazo, the Bolivarian military uprising, the new constitution, and the 49 laws passed under the Ley Habilitante, the same "enabling law" that's causing such a stir right now as more people-powered reforms are slated to commence. Notice that it's only the rich business class, the former ruling class, that objects to it! Interesting that Dubya, who's currently trying to "fast-track" his own legislation over the objections of Congress and the people, should pick on Chavez for this. (John Negroponte, the #1 antidemocratic export to Latin America, echoes it; the media parrots it all unquestioningly.) Even more interesting that the effect of Chavecito's legislation in Venezuela will ultimately be the exact opposite of what Dubya is forever trying to do in the US. Most interesting of all is that the Venezuelan people--and now the Venezuelan national assembly, too--have specifically granted Chavez a democratic mandate to do this.

So we can see that this documentary, shot in 2003-4, gives us a view of the beginnings of a process which is very much a work in progress--but which is now living up to what the many people in it are saying it should do.

Enjoy!

February 3, 2007

There goes the neighborhood

And right along with it, all hope that Peruvian president Alan Garcia might have learned from mistakes of the past:

Environmental and human rights group in Peru have denounced the government's campaign to auction off large swathes of the Amazon to oil and gas companies.

They say the amount of Peruvian Amazon territory open to exploration has risen from 13% to 70% in two years.

They say this is putting at risk the biodiversity of the Amazon and the lives of indigenous people.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia has said the plans are part of his investment programme to tackle widespread poverty.

Foreign investment, the magic remedy for poverty? Uh, Alan, you might want to ask your neighbors how that worked out for them. Specifically, your neighbors in Bolivia and Venezuela. Both are in the process of reversing the very mistake you're making, taking back what they'd virtually given away to foreign "investors" (read: ROBBERS) in the past.

For that matter, you might want to check Peru's own past history--foreign investment hasn't exactly panned out. Investors have preyed on poverty, rather than eliminated it. It's not in their economic interest to pay people a living wage, you see. In fact, the chances are poor that they'll even employ many locals for anything other than the most unskilled of grunt labor; they don't see non-Europeans and non-northerners as intellectually capable.

The fact that economic growth is completely divorced from poverty reduction is bad enough, but the prospect of environmental degradation makes matters even worse. For once the oil is gone, the oil companies too will be, and with them, all that investment which did nothing but increase the poverty. If environmental health is a form of wealth (and it certainly is, since no one can live well in a polluted hellhole), then the poverty is only doubled as a result of foreign investors. Local people, indigenous ones especially, will be driven from the only homes they've known; diseases against which they have no immunity will ravage them; and what disease won't do to eradicate them, pollution surely will.

This is how foreign investment really benefits people--not the many in the region where the "investment" takes place, but in the distant boardrooms of the investors. Who will only pull out when they feel it's no longer paying off enough to suit them.

Meanwhile, for the locals, it will be a distinct case of "there goes the neighborhood".

February 2, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Viva a banda-da-da!

The original Festive Leftist, Brazil's Caetano Veloso, still kicks ass. This is "Tropicalia", a surreal collage of images that dates back to 1968 and sounds every bit as relevant today.


February 1, 2007

Some people waited five years for this

Boy, do I feel sorry for them.

Microsoft has admitted that speech recognition features in Vista could be hijacked so that a PC tells itself to delete files or folders.

Vista can respond to vocal commands and concern has been raised about malicious audio on websites or sent via e-mail.

In one scenario outlined by users an MP3 file of voice instructions was used to tell the PC to delete documents.

Microsoft said the exploit was "technically possible" but there was no need to worry.

The firm has pointed out that in order for the flaw to be exploited the speech recognition feature would need to be activated and configured and both microphone and speakers would have to be switched on.

"The exploit scenario would involve the speech recognition feature picking up commands through the microphone such as 'copy', 'delete', 'shutdown', etc. and acting on them," a Microsoft security researcher wrote on the team's official blog.

Some Vista users have already tested the exploit and were able to delete files and empty the trash can so that the documents were not retrievable.

Ahhh, Microsoft. It's just one bug after another, but for some strange reason, Bill Gates prefers to refer to them as features.

Folks, get a Mac. It's the OS Gates ripped off as the "inspiration" for WinDoze. And OS X doesn't crash, which is more than you can say for Microfluff's crap. WinDoze is just one big bug. Er, sorry--feature.

Open mouth wide, insert foot, keep it there, wiggle toes...

The rich really aren't like the rest of us. Everything about them is larger than life, including the feet they stick in their mouths. Witness, for example, the actions of one obscenely rich man and his wife (dare we say she's "estranged"?):

When the flamboyant former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made flirtatious comments to two lovely young things at an awards ceremony last week, his overtures were overheard and splashed across the media.

His long-suffering second wife of 20 years, Veronica Lario, demanded an apology. None was forthcoming, so she wrote an open letter to a national newspaper headlined "My husband owes me a public apology."

She explained that it was with difficulty that she had broken her habitual reserve. "During the course of my relationship with my husband I have not given space to conjugal conflict, even when his behaviour has been such as to merit it."

But now that her children are grown, it's important to set an example as a woman "able to protect her own dignity in relationships with men".

Actually, Signora Berlusconi, you might have thought of that a lot sooner. Children aren't stupid; they learn about adult relationships by watching and emulating what their parents do. And since human beings aren't born with their eyes closed like kittens, that means your bambini have been watching you from a very early age indeed. What do you suppose they've been seeing for the past 20 years?

A more bashful husband might have slunk home contrite.

But not Mr Berlusconi, who has penned his own letter to the media. "Dear Veronica, here is my apology. I was recalcitrant in private because I am playful and also proud." He adds that when in the company of beautiful women, "the temptation to respond is strong and I did not resist".

Feh. You call that an apology, Signor Berlusconi? I call it excuse-making. Very lame excuse-making, at that...but then, how can one be anything other than lame when one has a Ferragamo permanently wedged between his dentures?

Mr Berlusconi has long cultivated an image of a virile Latin charmer. He famously vowed to give up sex in the run-up to last year's Italian election (only to lose), and claims his "playboy" charms persuaded Finland's female president to give up attempts to house the EU food agency in Helsinki.

And he is fond of recounting how he fell for the second Mrs Berlusconi after seeing her perform topless in a play; he showered her with gifts until she became his mistress.

Ah yes, there's dignity for you! The rich simply exude that...

For some time now, the Berlusconis have taken separate holidays and maintain separate residences.

...especially when they're spatting, snitting and just not getting along.

The Beeb has invited readers to comment on this very public marital contretemps. Here's what a couple of them have to say:

Good for Berlusconi for apologizing. But, shame on the author for using the words, "lovely young things" to describe the women who happened to capture Berlusconi's affection. "Things?" Is this protecting women's dignity?

Sara, Michigan

An excellent point. Of course, the author may have picked that word for a reason--"things" certainly seems to be an apt term for how the Berluscoglioni sees the ladies. I'm sure the concept of women-as-people has never really occurred to him. I get the distinct impression that to him, attractive females are just brushes for buffing his already glossy ego.

I found it wonderfully romantic that he admitted he was wrong and apologised in public. Of course, he's an idiot for behaving that way in the first place, but at least he had the guts to openly sorry 'I'm sorry, I'm a idiot, and I love you'. What British man, let alone politician could do the same? (and with such flair!)

Michelle, London

I might have found it romantic too, once upon a time. But I get the feeling he's just going to revert straight back to pattern at the next opportunity. Why? Because she knew what he was when she first consented to be his mistress.

And speaking of romantic:

When a woman loves a man, that man can do ANYTHING... it will always be forgiven. Now, when a woman does not care for you, you can try ANYTHING as nice as you can, you are wasting your time.

Oliver, Paris

But Oliver, what happens when a man loves a woman? Surely not things like this. Or have I just been listening to too many Percy Sledge songs for my own good?

Ah, but maybe it's different with the rich. After all, they're not like the rest of us. When they open mouth wide and insert foot, they don't have to pull it out and issue a real apology; they can well afford to keep that handsomely shod foot there and pay someone else to cart them around while they wiggle their toes for the world's amusement.

And the hearts and minds just keep on tumblin'...

Remember that old TV show, "Love American Style"?

This is something like that.

Call it "Summary Punishment, American Style". A tank runs over a taxi driver's car. Why? Supposedly it was being used to steal wood.

Yes, that's right--those nice clean free-market American soldier boys DESTROYED A TAXI DRIVER'S LIVELIHOOD. And you can hear them laughing while they do it, too.

I wonder exactly what Dubya is expecting his troop surge to accomplish. Surely not more of the same?