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June 30, 2007

You want a tyrant? You got one...

...in Peru.

The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency on Thursday for 15 days in the province of Coronel Portillo, Ucayali department, because of violent confrontations between strikers and police. The decree suspends constitutional guarantees of liberty and personal security, the inviolability of the home, and the freedom to meet and travel.

From Aporrea; translation mine.

Incredible. And yet, not a word about it in the US media. They're too busy trying to tar Hugo Chavez with the dictator label and make it stick. Meanwhile, Alan Garcia is acting the part much more closely, and do you think anyone says boo about him? No. Why? No oil. Or at least, not enough of it...and no resistance to international vampire corporations on the part of Garcia. In fact, he's more than happy to repress strikers and suspend constitutional liberties in an entire region.

Lovely!

Ahoooooo!

The late Warren Zevon's famous warning should not go unheeded...

...because the werewolves of London were clearly out again last night. Mutilating old ladies again and all.

Isn't the timing interesting, too...just as Gordon Brown, who could hardly be more different from Toady Blair if he tried, takes office as Britain's new prime minister. Hmm, whatever could it mean?

June 29, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging Too: Chavecito in Russia

He was there on a working visit, but it's still festive--he inaugurated the Simon Bolivar Latin American Cultural Centre in Moscow, and got a lot of love from the locals--especially some ladies who showed up wearing floral crowns in the colors of the Venezuelan flag. No purchase of nuclear weapons or subs, contrary to all the flap-and-squawk going on in the US media. But there WAS talk of getting Russian expertise on gas and oil extraction, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Lukoil, the Russian firm, stepped in where ConocoPhillips (in a fit of cutting off its nose to spite its face) buggered off. Their loss is sure to be someone's gain, and I have a strong feeling that that someone is Russian.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Gooooooooal!!!

Evo and the great Diego Maradona are Chavecito's guests of honor at the opening ceremonies of the Copa America soccer tournament this past Tuesday...

It doesn't get more festive than this.

June 28, 2007

Banzaiiiiiiiiiiiii!

Ninja Kittenz 4 Justice!

Take that, you son of a Bush...Ninja Kitty's ancestors are many times more honorable than yours!

Domestic cats around the world can trace their origins back to the Middle East's Fertile Crescent, according to a genetic study in Science journal.

They may have been domesticated by early farming communities, experts say.

The study suggests the progenitors of today's cats split from their wild counterparts more than 100,000 years ago - much earlier than once thought.

At least five female ancestors from the region gave rise to all the domestic cats alive today, scientists believe.

[...]

The earliest archaeological evidence of cat domestication dates back 9,500 years, when cats were thought to have lived alongside humans in settlement sites in Cyprus.

However, the new results show the house cat lineage is far older. Ancestors of domestic cats are now thought to have broken away from their wild relatives and started living with humans as early as 130,000 years ago.

The researchers focused on DNA in the mitochondria, the power plants of cells which supply energy and have their own genetic material.

Comparison of the genetic sequences enabled researchers to determine the relationships between different cat lineages.

The scientists found the cats fell into distinctive genetic "clades", or groups.

One of the clades included domestic cats and some wildcats from the Middle East, suggesting that today's moggy stems from the wild felines of this region.

Experts believe cats originally sought out human company, attracted by rodents infesting the first agricultural settlements.

The early farmers of the fertile crescent - present-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel - would have found the animals extremely useful for protecting their grain stores - an association that continues to this day.

"The felidae family is well known as a successful predator - very deadly, very ferocious, very threatening to all species including humankind," said co-author Stephen O'Brien, of the US National Cancer Institute.

"But this little guy actually chose not to be that," he said, "he actually chose to be a little bit friendly and also was a very good mouser."

Be that as it may, all kitties still know a rat when they smell one!

June 27, 2007

Uh oh, Washington is projecting again...

Crapaganda anyone?

The language could be from a Vanity Fair profile of any number of highly strung celebrities. The subject is described as insecure, malignantly narcissistic and driven by a need for adulation. Behind the public displays of arrogance and petulance lurks a fear of not being liked.

Barbara Streisand? Paris Hilton? Step forward Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, as depicted in a psychological profile commissioned by the US air force.

According to this analysis, the regional rivalry between Washington and Caracas is less about oil, geopolitics and ideology and more about Mr Chávez's desire to feel good about himself.

"The arrogant certainty conveyed in his public pronouncements is very appealing to his followers. But under this grandiose facade, as is typical with narcissistic personalities, is extreme insecurity," wrote Dr Jerrold Post, the director of the Political Psychology programme at George Washington University and a veteran CIA analyst.

Okay, right there you know just how reliable THAT source is. "Veteran CIA analyst" is a big red flag. Remember, the CIA has just opened one door of its skeleton closet (the one labelled "1950s-70s"), but left the other shut. This Post guy is but a small part of what you'll find behind that other door. (He was also behind the anti-Saddam propaganda drive in Gulf War II, in case you're wondering.)

Anyone who thinks the CIA is done with assassinations, or meddling in foreign politics, really needs to look behind the 2002 coup in Venezuela. The 600+ flopped anti-Castro efforts of the past may seem like comedy, but the anti-Mossadegh success of the CIA and Kermit Roosevelt was the real harbinger of what was in store for Chavecito. What...you think the guys who perpetrated that keystone koup were just acting off their own bat? Eva Golinger can tell you differently. In the weeks leading up to that coup, there was a spike in "declarations of insanity" against Chavez, as well as accusations that he was "autocratic" and "a dictator". These were faithfully, and uncritically, echoed in the US media. (Good doggies!)

But the most telling moment actually came on February 6, 2002, just two months before the coup, when CIA director George Tenet smirked fatly and said, "Mr. Chavez--and I think the State Department may say this--doesn't have the interests of the United States at heart." This was during a session on intelligence, in which Chavez was lumped in rather blatantly with Saddam, al-Qaida, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden as a projected menace to "democracy" on the US Enemies List.

Do I really need to remind you what the common denominator--the sole common denominator--between Chavez and all of those baddies actually is?

Tenet's words should haunt him to his grave. Of course Chavez doesn't have the interests of the United States at heart. What country is he president of, again? Last time I looked, it wasn't the US!

And, much to the dismay of those in the US who would like to go on thinking of Latin America as "the backyard", Chavez isn't content to be a good little doggie chained up to his kennel in the backyard, either. Were he a real dictator, but a tame right-wing one, no one in Washington would have a problem with him, unless s/he were stricken by a sudden attack of galloping integrity. Which, I gather, is not one of Jerrold Post's mental ailments.

I don't for a moment believe Post's "analysis" of Chavez, either. He's on shaky psychological ground there; his "patient" is not on his couch, and since Post has long been in the employ of the sworn enemy of said "patient", it's obvious where Post's real transference (that's psych-talk) lies.

But if you're looking for a patient to fit the "diagnosis" to a tee, may I suggest...drumroll please...the failed Texas oilman who wants to get his grubby mitts on all that bubblin' crude under Chavecito's cute little brown butt?

Perhaps Dr. Post might want to get together with his George Washington U. colleague, Dr. Frank, along with a bevy of other worthies, and compare notes.

Happy Journalists' Day!

From Venezuela, where free speech is supposedly at an all-time low...

But as the saying goes:

"Freedom of Expression" does not mean:

Freedom to lie

Freedom to deceive

Freedom to manipulate

Freedom of Expression is:

Freedom to inform

Freedom to teach

Freedom to debate

Happy Journalists' Day!

June 22, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Another grand opening for Chavecito

This time, it's the new viaduct for the highway between Caracas and La Guaira:

The old one broke down a while back, after years of sagging and buckling (known to previous presidents and obvious to anyone with eyes, but unaddressed.) Chavecito ordered civil engineers to save it, but unfortunately it was too late for the viaduct; it collapsed in spite of their efforts. Luckily, it had already been closed for repairs and the traffic re-routed through the valley, so no one was on it when it fell. Still, the opposition seized on the collapse as "evidence" of ineptitude in Chavez's administration, ignoring the fact that the problem pre-dated him and was therefore actually due to inept previous presidents.

With this big infrastructure project completed, that's one more thing off the escualidos' list of "what can we use against him?"--and one more reason for them to grit their teeth and go loco.

Let's just hope they don't erupt in road rage while driving on the new viaduct!

PS: Well, that didn't take long--Globovision is already spinning the lie that this bridge is the only infrastructure project of the Bolivarian government. Amazingly, they forgot several. I call bullshit!

June 21, 2007

Dicking around with definitions

Just ten of the ways Mr. Cheney is a dick

And speaking of ways Dick can kill, get a load of what he's done to his own fucking job description:

The Office of Vice President Dick Cheney told an agency within the National Archives that for purposes of securing classified information, the Vice President's office is not an 'entity within the executive branch' according to a letter released Thursday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, you exempted the Office of the Vice President from the presidential executive order that establishes a uniform, government-wide system for safeguarding classified national security information," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the Committee's chairman, wrote in a letter to Cheney. "Your decision to exempt your office from the President's order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk. It is also hard to understand given the history of security breaches involving officials in your office."

Or, in plain English, it really depends what your definition of "is" is, doesn't it, Dick?

Why all this sudden relativism and situational-ethicism from the far right, which is supposed to eschew such wishy-washy stuff as being for libruls? Well, it could have something to do with the outing of a certain blond CIA NOC who is married to a certain ambassador, who in turn wrote a certain article proving the Big Dick to be a Big Liar. That kind of thing is highly illegal if you're in the Executive Branch of the United States government.

But legality, schmegality. Clearly the Big Dick didn't write his own name on Dubya's ticket just so he would then be forced to obey the law and serve the people. You don't go to such extraordinary lengths for power only to have it curbed by such a trifling thing as law, seems to be the Big Dick's modus pensandi. No, when you're in the Executive Branch, you get to write your own damn law.

Or in this case, your own damn definition of what the Executive Branch is.

But--oopsie!--that means denying that the Executive Branch is the Executive Branch!

Is anyone besides me being reminded unpleasantly of Torquemadito Gonzales and his absurdly narrow definition of torture?

And speaking of torture, how much more of this can law and language bear? It's bad enough to hear Dubya mangling English so blatantly. One expects it of him; he's Karl Rove's finger puppet, and dumber than dogshit--so dumb, in fact, that he can't even repeat what's in his earpiece accurately. But the Big Dick doesn't have ignorance as his excuse, and that's what's most worrying about all this.

Well, that and Dubya's icky-poo retroactive declaration of dictatorship. Behind which I also smell the pudgy hand of Rove, or Cheney, or both.

Oh, and the fact that impeachment is still off the table!

June 19, 2007

Robert Zoellick's sour grapes

Poor little neo-cons, my heart bleeds for them. Case in point: PNAC member Robert Zoellick, a leading warhawk who in 1998 was urging Bill Clinton to bomb the living tar out from under Iraq. Clinton declined, but PNAC found a happy taker for its brilliant ideas in one failed Texas oilman, who got his own bailout from one of the many relatives of Osama bin Laden. Since that grandiose scheme proved so (cough, choke, wheeze) successful, Zoellick has now gone on to even greater grandiosity: taking his PNAC colleague Paul Wolfowitz's place at the helm of the World Bank. There, just imagine what havoc he can wreak on other oil-rich countries...like, oh, say, VENEZUELA.

"It's a country where economic problems are mounting and we are seeing (that) on the political and press side it's not moving in a healthy direction," Zoellick told a news conference in Mexico City.

He also suggested that the World Bank's influence would not suffer if Chavez goes through with his plan to pull Venezuela out of the lending institution.

"If a country feels it doesn't need or want the services of the international financial institutions then that's their choice. Venezuelans have a great amount of oil money," Zoellick said. "I've found no shortage of countries interested in trying to work with the World Bank."

Really? Golly whiz, Bob, WHO ARE THEY? Probably they're still in the Coalition of the Killing...all those countries which contributed no troops, that is, because they had no warm bodies to spare. They can't afford to send armies to kill Iraqis for oil, but hey, their scummy leaders are more than willing to rack up vast odious debts from the World Bank. Bully for them!

So nice to see that predatory capitalism hasn't given up the ghost yet. After all, it's gotta have considerable wind to belch out such bald-faced lies about Venezuela, whose economy has gone nowhere but up with Chavecito in charge.

Chavez has said the World Bank is a tool of the United States that keeps poor nations in debt. He has set up a commission to examine leaving the institution.

Chavez, who has been blessed with high oil prices for most of his eight years in power, insists his socialist policies have improved the lives of poor Venezuelans. The country's economy grew by 10.3 percent last year, the fastest in the region, and government statistics show poverty has declined.

Chavecito is right. The World Bank is the ultimate corporate welfare bum, and it mooches off the poor. All taxes collected go not toward public services; according to World Bank terms, those must be privatized, preferably at fire-sale prices so that "foreign investors" can snap them up cheap and then hike the rates to unaffordable levels. That very thing happened in Venezuela in 1989. It led to riots when the government of Carlos Andres Perez complied with every demand the Washington-based IMF and World Bank made, and suddenly the entire economy collapsed.

Two decades of Venezuelan compliance with the neo-con policies made the country poor, miserable and heavily dependent on expensive imports. A country that could have grown virtually all its own food, instead had to import about 80% of what it consumed. Meanwhile, all the oil was practically being given away, and its profits were pocketed illegally and invested outside of Venezuela by PDVSA executives, who were stealthily working to privatize a company that was nationalized in 1976.

As for economic growth? That was laughable. Foreign investment didn't do a thing for Venezuela; it only sucked the country dry.

And all this kleptocracy came courtesy of the World Bank and the IMF. That's why statements like this...

Critics say Chavez's policies are hindering job creation and scaring businesses with threats of expropriation. He has also come under criticism for failing to renew the broadcast license of an opposition-aligned television station, accusing the network of backing a failed 2002 coup.

...are such a joke.

Nothing has been expropriated without necessity and fair compensation. And the RCTV broadcast licence, a privilege long abused, is now in better hands. The only thing Chavez is doing "wrong", is holding private industry accountable. Oh, and expanding the number of public services the people can receive again.

And that's why I also suspect that Zoellick is engaging in sour grapes when he lyingly criticizes Chavecito's policies (including the now under-construction Bank of the South), which have worked well to undo the damage the Zoellicks of the world have done. The World Bank's credibility is gone, and nothing anyone says or does can restore it.

June 18, 2007

Quotable: Naomi Wolf on fascism without swastikas

"Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree--domestically--as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government--the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors--we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of 'homeland' security--remember who else was keen on the word 'homeland'--didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

"It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable...that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise."

--Naomi Wolf, "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps"

Washington Post sinks into the oil-soaked swamp

You can always tell what side a newspaper is on by how they choose to present any given story. Take this, for example, from the Washington Post...the paper that has the dubious distinction of having bogged down in complacency since its Watergate glory days:

It was a tiny gesture of protest: a dozen college students flagging down cars for an hour on Embassy Row this month, wearing symbolic white gags across their mouths and holding up posters that quoted Albert Camus and Walt Whitman on the importance of free speech.

But the anger of these Venezuela-born young people -- furious at the shutdown of a popular private TV channel in Caracas -- reflected the fast-rising political fervor that is gripping Venezuelan immigrants in the United States after years of private frustration over the tightening revolutionary grip of President Hugo Chavez.

"I want to go back to a country where I am free to criticize and express my thoughts, but the government is trying to change the laws and indoctrinate the population," said Merquit Garcia, 21, an American University student who attended the protest. "Venezuela is divided now. Half the people see Cuba as a model, and half see it as a threat," she said. "The future is very unclear."

In Venezuela, the recent forced closure of Radio Caracas Television has convulsed the oil-rich South American nation, leading to massive street protests and sharpening the class divisions that Chavez's socialist policies and defiant anti-Americanism have been creating since he came to power in 1999.

In the Washington region, where a few thousand Venezuelan immigrants have long blended into quiet suburbs and professional settings, dozens of prominent refugees from the Chavez era have joined the community. In Miami, where tens of thousands of Venezuelans have built an active and influential enclave, the crisis in Caracas, the country's capital, has unleashed a parallel frenzy of meetings, protests and preparations to receive a small but growing wave of political refugees.

Virginia Contreras, a resident of Germantown, is a former Venezuelan judge and diplomat for the Chavez government. In 2001, she quit as Venezuela's representative to the Organization of American States and has become an outspoken critic of Chavez's rule, which she says has steadily eroded democratic freedoms while proclaiming itself to be a champion of the poor and a prototype of modern socialism.

"It is not just a bad government; it is a totalitarian government," said Contreras, 49, who often visits Miami and Caracas to work with opposition groups.

She called Chavez a "snake charmer" who is trying to create a "constitutional dictatorship" but is increasingly alienating the public. The closure of Radio Caracas Television, she said, "touched something vital. Now everyone can see what he is trying to do."

If this isn't a bald-faced example of media manipulation, I don't know what is. Top-loading a story to push your chosen "good guys" is an old, and sneaky, media strategy. The writers and editors all know that many readers will only skim the first few paragraphs and skip the rest if it's not sexy enough for them.

Even worse is the loaded language. Tell me, how much digging into the real motives of the anti-Chavez factions do you think the reporter has done when she uses phraseology like this?

..."fast-rising political fervor"

..."tightening revolutionary grip"

..."forced closure"

..."massive street protests"

..."sharpening the class divisions that Chavez's socialist policies and defiant anti-Americanism have been creating"

..."a small but growing wave of political refugees"

And please note that all of these are the reporter's own words, not a quotation or a paraphrase of those "refugees" she interviewed. If that language is not biased, I'll eat my hat...and if it's not bullshit, I'll eat my entire collection of funky ol' hats.

And how do I know it's bullshit? Well, for starters, here is the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Let Mr. Insulza enlighten you:

Democracy is not being threatened in Venezuela according to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza yesterday at a press conference in Uruguay. Insulza explained that the decision of the Venezuelan government to not renew the broadcast license of the private television channel RCTV does not threaten democracy in the country but he maintained that he would still be willing to head a mission to Venezuela to investigate the case of RCTV if the OAS member nations request it.

[...]

"We should wonder why a number of democratic countries where freedom of expression prevails decided not to take a stance on this issue," he said upon being asked about the RCTV case. "I believe the reason is that they believed this is an administrative measure taken by a member state which does not threaten its democracy."

The Secretary General explained that the OAS charter allows for this type of political action "only when there is a serious threat of a rupture in the democracy."

When asked about the confrontational discourse of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his government in response to different OAS member countries, including the United States, Insulza guaranteed the union of the organization. "I do not think this rhetoric is likely to disturb or jeopardize union," he said.

Amazing, isn't it? Outside of the US, not one member of the Organization of American States has seen fit to claim that democracy is in danger just because RCTV's VHF broadcast licence was not renewed! And even more shocking, the "defiant anti-Americanism" of Chavez...isn't a problem either.

Is something wrong with Insulza? Has he lost his critical thinking faculties? Hardly. In the not so distant past, whenever Insulza has been at odds with Chavez, he hasn't hesitated to say so:

After strong pressure from Washington, the Organization of American States (OAS) sided with the media conglomerate. It criticized the decision of the Venezuelan government through its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, thus meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs and violating Article 2 of the OAS Charter. "The adoption of an administrative measure to shut down an information channel gives the impression of a kind of censorship against freedom of expression," the official declaration read.

Clearly, something must have changed his mind since then. Perhaps someone finally brought Mr. Insulza up to speed on RCTV's prominent role in the coup of '02. Or maybe the embarrassment of standing there alone while all of Latin America refuses to condemn Chavez's decision was too much for him. Or maybe someone took him aside and told him it was hypocritical to single out Venezuela when Alan Garcia did worse in Peru, as did Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

What's interesting is that the Post reporter doesn't mention the OAS happenings at all. Even though she had a perfect opening, given that she interviewed Virginia Contreras, Venezuela's former ambassador to the OAS. Why is that, I wonder? Surely not because everything Mr. Insulza has said, destroys Ms. Contreras's "constitutional dictatorship" contentions utterly?

I thought I'd google a bit to see if I could find anything historical on Virginia Contreras, whom the Post's reporter doesn't think worth digging harder about. Maybe, I thought, I could find out why she buggered off to work with the golpistas. In the process, I ran across a hidden gem in this article dated 2000, by professor Steve Ellner, who has taught economic history in Venezuela since 1977:

This was not the first time that a State Department official lost his/her patience and disregarded Washington's official policy of restraint toward Chávez. Earlier this year, Under Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Peter Romero told Spanish reporters: "In Venezuela, you don't see a government in charge—only plebiscites, referendums and more elections. They tell us 'wait,' but we gringos are not exactly known for our patience."

Wow! Some "constitutional dictatorship" you ran away from, Ms. Contreras! This was back when Bill Clinton was still president in the US, and already some self-admitted gringos were getting antsy because a Latin American leader was not only failing to bow down to them, he was actually letting his own citizenry get uppity and actually--(gasp)--have a say in the making of its new democracy!

"You don't see a government in charge--only plebiscites, referendums and more elections." In other words, democracy at work. In 1999, the people of Venezuela voted for the assembly that wrote their new constitution; then they voted again to ratify that radical document. What was that? People power directing the government, which, as this Canadian can tell you, is nothing but a group of servants hired (and occasionally, fired) by the public. If that is dictatorship, it is clearly a dictatorship of the proletariat--or in plain English, a government by, of and for the people. As I've so often asked before, what the hell kind of dictator gives his people more, not less, power?

Another thing: what the hell kind of "refugees" are these ex-Venezuelans when they are not poor, but rich--and not persecuted, but privileged? What have they lost--their democracy? Oh please. All they lost was free access to one lousy TV channel run by a nasty old man. Now they have to pay to get it on cable or satellite--from Colombia? Well, boo fucking hoo! That doesn't make them refugees. Every real refugee I've ever seen was genuinely, demonstrably oppressed. Hell, my own mother was one; her family was driven out of Yugoslavia in 1944, when the Russians invaded the Batschka-Vojvodina and all the ethnic Germans, who had lived in the region for some 200 years, were suddenly in deep shit. My grandfather was drafted into the SS; my mother's family went to Germany. They found not freedom, but to another kind of oppression there; they were looked down on as Slavic scum by their own people (so called). They wound up owning nothing but the clothes on their backs; my mom's baby sister was 11 months old when she died in a displaced-persons camp of malnutrition and dysentery. You want oppression, boobie? I can tell you a thing or two about that.

And I can also tell you that a bunch of spoiled brats from the country-club district in Caracas, now being lionized in Washington and Miami, sure as hell do not count as oppressed persons, just because they had fun-fun-fun till their president took their TV away. To grant them refugee status on such flimsy grounds is not only politically stupid, it's an insult to all the real refugees of the world.

There is just one thing these fake refugees have in common with the real ones in my family: They both fled from the spectre of communism to the reality of fascism. Of course, in my mother's case, the spectre was backed up by a real red menace, and the fascism was mercifully close to its ignominious death in a Berlin bunker. In Venezuela, the communism is just a vaporous spook that never really materializes (except on a few TV channels, whose reputation is the La Brea Tar Pits), while the fascism in Washington is very much alive.

But try getting the Washington Post to report that! It is clearly a Good German among newspapers. Its job is to keep its head down, I suppose, and be thankful it is still being granted the right to print anything at all. In exchange, it has to self-censor, and back up the official party line on all the crucial issues.

One of those issues is oil-rich Venezuela. Since it's no secret that the US government covets Venezuela's oil, and wants it to remain ruinously cheap for US oil companies to come and take at will, it stands to reason that the most prominent person in Venezuela standing in the way of all that--the president--must be demonized as a totalitarian dictator, just as Saddam Hussein was. That way, should it come to another coup--or an all-out war--the public will be primed to accept what their government is doing in the name of "democracy". They will ignore the very thing they should be paying attention to--the oil, stupid.

Only here's the rub: the "dictator" label stuck more easily to Saddam because he actually was one--at the US's behest and with the US's backing. In Chavez's case, it couldn't be more different: he is not a dictator; landslide democratic elections and vast popular support undermine the very notion, as do his communal councils and other radical efforts to democratize Venezuela from the grass roots up while eliminating the corrupt old Punto Fijo holdovers. And also, he is not tame to the US, he has no support from it (save from a few enlightened citizens like Cindy Sheehan, who hate what's happening to their country), and above all, he takes no orders from Washington, or anyone--except his own voting constituency. So any effort to tar Chavez with the dictator brush is futile. The man is independent and democratic--the very virtues you'd think Washington would be praising to high heaven if it actually cared a bean about either one.

And nowhere is that democracy or that independence more in evidence than on, of all places, the state's own TV channel, VTV, or Channel 8. There, a recent episode of the youth-talk show, Entre Panas (Among Friends) yielded some amazing events. There was an intense debate about RCTV and free expression, between Chavista and opposition student leaders. There was vehemence and even anger on display, but the debate never sank to so much as name-calling, let alone a brawl. On the contrary, it was for the most part very amicable. There were a lot of good, creative suggestions tossed out by the Chavistas; one of them was to have the oppositionists organize a march against imperialism instead of supporting a media mogul! Totally minus a beer-hall putsch, the show closed with a pop band belting out a catchy tune, and a Chavista, Libertad Velasco, danced hand in hand with her opposition counterpart, Yon Goicoechea. (You can see it all here, on Aporrea.org--the dance is in the bottommost video.)

Oppression? Where? On state TV, that supposedly censorious one-note organ of communist state propaganda, as the WashPost would paint it? Pffffft. The opposition had their say, twice now, and if they lost a debate, they lost it fair and square to some really intelligent, likeable young democrats with good ideas. It was first-rate viewing--kept me up long past my bedtime last night. But that is just one more thing I can't count on the Post to report, right along with the oppositionist vandalism in Maracaibo.

What a good thing I understand enough Spanish to be able to get the facts I need from the local alternative media, then, because it's painfully clear to me that the Post has waded into a swamp. It is now sunk in an oily morass, and has no intention of getting out of there anytime soon.

June 15, 2007

Obamama!

Note: This is not an endorsement of any candidate on my part. I just found the adaptation a hoot.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Chesus is Risen!

And boy, is he pissed.

Chesus Christ!

On a more serious note, yesterday would have been Che Guevara's 79th birthday, if he had lived. Here are Eduardo Galeano's remembrances of "El Comandante Amigo":

-1-

"Traitor," I said. I showed him the clipping from a Cuban paper. There he was, dressed as a pitcher, playing baseball. I remember that he laughed, we laughed. I don't know whether he answered me. The conversation jumped, like a ping-pong ball, from one subject to the next.

"I don't want every Cuban to wish he were Rockefeller," he said.

Socialism had meaning to the extent that it purified people, moved them beyond egotism, saved them from competition and greed.

He told me that when he was president of the central bank he had signed the bills with the word "Che" to poke fun, and he told me that money, that shit-awful fetish, should be ugly.

Che Guevara gave himself away, like everyone does, through his eyes. I remember that clean, morning-fresh look: the look of people who believe.

-2-

Chatting with him, you couldn't forget that this man had come to Cuba after a long pilgrimage throughout Latin America. He had been in the whirlwind of the Bolivian revolution and in the death throes of the Guatemalan revolution--and not as a tourist. He had loaded bananas in Central America and taken snapshots in Mexican plazas to earn his living, and he had risked his life by throwing himself into the "Granma" adventure.

He was not a man to sit behind a desk. That feline tension so noticeable when I interviewed him in mid-1964 had to explode sooner or later.

His was the unusual case of someone who abandons a revolution which he and a handful of crazy people had already made, to throw himself into beginning another one. He lived not for triumph, but for struggle--the ever necessary struggle for human dignity.

-3-

Three years later, my eyes were glued to the front page of the papers. The agency photos showed his motionless body from all angles. General Barrientos' dictatorship displayed its great trophy to the world.

For a long time I looked at his smile--ironic and tender at the same time--and bits of that 1964 dialogue came to my mind. Definitions of the world ("Some people possess the truth, but the matter of life is possessed by others"), of revolution ("Cuba will never be a showcase of socialism, but rather a living example"), and of himself ("I have been mistaken often, but I believe...").

I thought, "He has failed. He is dead." And I thought, "He will never fail. He will never die," and with my eyes fixed on the face of that Jesus Christ of the Rio de la Plata I longed to congratulate him.

--"But I Prefer the Radiance of People", from Days and Nights of Love and War

Che lives.

June 14, 2007

Kurt Waldheim ist kaputt

Bim, bam.

Gott sei dank, jetzt ist die Welt um einen Nazi-Mistbock leichter. Nur schade, dass es so lange gedauert hat...

The former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Josef Waldheim has died aged 88, Austrian media has reported.

The career of Mr Waldheim, who headed the UN from 1972 to 1982, was overshadowed by a scandal about his secretive World War II service.

Despite allegations he belonged to a German army unit that committed atrocities in the Balkans, he was elected Austria's president in 1986.

Admitted to hospital in Vienna last month, he died of heart failure.

The allegations arose in 1986, shortly after his nomination for the role of Austrian president.

The World Jewish Congress claimed he had been an officer attached to a German Army command which sent more than 42,000 Greek Jews from Salonika to their deaths, and was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Yugoslavs in the Kozara mountains.

[...]

Many Austrians did not believe the accusations against the man they elected president.

But they sparked international censure. The US, for example, banned him from visiting the country.

Later, Mr Waldheim said that the scandal surrounding his presidency forced Austrians to admit that they were not all passive victims of Nazi Germany.

Well, DUH.

I should say they were not. After all, Austria is the same country that gave us Hitler--the crummy little no-account who rose from the lowly rank of Gefreiter (Private First Class, not even a corporal!) to the chancellor's chair in the Reichstag. For many Austrians, that day must have felt like a coup, and the Anschluss was something they yearned for, and were proud of. At war's end those same ones got off very lightly, given their location and politics. That country remains more Nazified today than Germany, and that's no coincidence either. In 1949, for instance, former Nazis were allowed to stand for election--imagine that happening in postwar Germany! There is a whole slew of Austrian history still to be uncovered--particularly that of its Catholic Church, whose anti-semitic attitudes, going back centuries, nourished Adolf Hitler's mania.

I hardly need say that the real Austria bears no resemblance to the idyllic picture painted by The Sound of Music. Except, of course, for the scenery. It really does look that pretty in Salzburg. (And yes, I have been there. It's a lovely place to visit, especially the Mozart-Haus. But that movie is not only sugar-coated, it's horribly revisionist. Even Maria Trapp would eventually admit as much.)

And Kurt Waldheim was living proof that the Austrian connection was left untouched. Not just inadvertently, but on purpose. The official version had to be propped up somehow, and to admit that there were war criminals in Austria (not just Germany proper!), was to admit that an entire country was complicit. In fact, Austria wanted the Anschluss, and was annexed without even the pretence of a fight. Those inconvenient truths alone would shatter the "we were passive victims" myth.

Hitler could not have done what he did all alone; he had a lot of help. He had help as a beer-hall bully, in the pre-electoral days, both from his own SA goon squad and the Freikorps (which even the "leftist" Social Democrats could not resist employing to keep the Socialists and the Communist Party from rising to power). He had help from the conservatives, whose backroom deals made him unelected Chancellor in order to keep German (and foreign) business leaders "safe" from evil, wicked trade unionists (and, again, those damn commies). He had help in Eastern Europe, with its long bloody history of czarist pogroms, where the hatred of Jews was much stronger than in Germany, and where there was no shortage of willing collaborators. And then there were the right-wing leaders of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal...and Austria. Kurt Waldheim was one of Austria's many collaborators.

And now, he's totally gotten away with it. He has never been arrested, never been tried, and has died despised, but unpunished. Who says you can't get away with murder?

I find it odd, though, that the US only banned him from visiting after he became president of Austria. Yet not earlier, when he was Secretary-General of the UN and would have had to work in New York? What on Earth could that mean? And what were people thinking, electing him to that post (or any other) with such a cloud hanging over him? Questions, questions, inconvenient questions.

Seems to me that there is still no shortage of collaborators, only now they are too cowardly to strap on a swastika so that the rest of us may know them for what they really are.

June 13, 2007

Censored by YouTube--but why?

Luigino Bracci, a popular Chavista blogger (El Espacio de Lubrio), has had his YouTube channel killed. The reason is not what you might expect. Luigino published neither an incitement to violence, nor hate speech, nor pornography, nor a recipe for Molotov cocktails. His no-no? Posting a debate originally broadcast on the Spanish TV channel Antena 3, in which a Globovision "journalist", invited to a panel discussion, got her past handed to her:

(Video posted by Radioaporrea. Watch your backs, folks, you might be next.)

This debate occurred on April 30 of this year. The topic of discussion was RCTV and the non-renewal of its licence. Nitu Perez Osuna, Globovision's invitee, was accused of being a coup-monger by philosophy professor Carlos Fernandez of the University of Madrid. (This occurs at the 40:07 mark in the video.)

Considering that this discussion was rebroadcast in Venezuela by Globovision, it was a media moment I'm sure that channel would rather we all forgot. In case the video gets yanked, here's a short summary of the particulars:

Nitu Perez Osuna wears her bias on her sleeve--or rather, her lapel, where she's got a loop of black ribbon prominently displayed. (Is that a diamond brooch holding it on?) She's dressed all in white, as if to assert innocence. She proceeds to spout a lot of predictable spin which I won't detail here; I'll only say I've heard it all a thousand times and repetition has not made it true. Professor Fernandez challenges her on it repeatedly. So does another gentleman on the panel, Luis Alegre, also a professor of philosophy (who cites RCTV's long list of infractions, many dating back to well before the presidency of Chavez.)

Then Marcel Granier, RCTV's owner, comes on via telephone, spouting more of the same rubbish as Perez Osuna. He claims RCTV was shut down (a lie) for political reasons (another lie.) He doesn't miss a chance to push his fraudulent agenda. He's in full "poor me!" mode. After that, the discussion gets more animated in a hurry. There's a lot of crosstalk.

Then Iris Varela, a popular and prominent member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, calls in. She and Professor Fernandez do a fine job of refuting Granier. Fernandez makes an emphatic point that RCTV was an active participant in the April 11 coup against Chavez. He also notes that several Spanish media were active supporters of the coup, as was then prime minister Aznar (who went down in disgrace later on.) He calls April 11 "the day the European media were golpistas."

Then comes the question of what would happen to Antena 3, say, if they supported a coup d'etat against Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero, or the assassination of the king, Juan Carlos. That would be a fair analogy to what RCTV did in 2002, argues Professor Fernandez. He is clearly outraged at the notion of the media helping to perpetrate a coup against a head of state. When the conversation turns back to Nitu Perez Osuna, she claims Globovision is innocent (aha--the white suit was not a coincidence!) and that there was a "power vacuum"--an old, long debunked lie. Professor Fernandez laughs at her. (It's terribly hard not to--after all this time, you might think they could come up with some new lies instead of just recycling the old ad nauseam. They've had five years.) Shortly after that comes the "you are a golpista" remark. But she doesn't stop lying. She goes right on claiming Chavez had resigned and that a general had "accepted" the "resignation" that never was! (Well, no one can accuse her of going off message. Even if the message is complete bullshit.)

As the discussion comes to a close, the moderator keeps trying to render the discussion apolitical and the coup of '02 irrelevant. Neither of these is possible. The fact that the Venezuelan media is politically polarized--and that virtually the entire major private media is anti-Chavez--cannot be swept under the rug, as both professors insist. The media was clearly complicit in the coup--one of the coup generals spelled it out loud and clear when we said "We had a great weapon--the communications media." And Nitu Perez Osuna's last words--the insistent lie that Chavez is a communist trying to kill freedom of speech--will redound to her discredit everytime this video is viewed.

This is what Luigino Bracci's YouTube account was yanked for.

Antena 3 claims that this video was posted in violation of copyright, but this is hard to believe; if that were the case, Luigino Bracci's channel would not be the only one suspended. There are other channels still posting this entire video with complete impunity; RadioAporrea, whose clip I used, is one of them.

I suspect that the real reason for this blatant bit of censorship is that Globovision complained about how it came off as a result of this mediatic moment, and that they picked on one vulnerable individual--Luigino Bracci--rather than an organized collective likely to fight back hard, such as Aporrea.org. They must have tipped off Antena 3 and that channel, in turn, insisted that Luigino's channel be shut down altogether, rather than just yanking the offending video from all channels. This means that the more than 450 videos Luigino posted are no longer available--at least not from him, and not on YouTube.

Here's Luigino himself, discussing the censorship on the current-affairs show Dando y Dando, with Aristobulo Isturiz and host Tania Diaz:

Luigino makes the good point that the Internet is supposed to be a participatory medium, an open forum for discussion. Yet there was no discussion here, and no request to remove that one video, just a sudden suspension of an entire account without warning.

Sadly, Luigino's troubles don't end there. In addition to being censored on YouTube, his CANTV internet account was hacked:

Yesterday, the user account of Luigino Bracci at CANTV.net was hacked. It appears that someone inside CANTV.net changed the password and then gave it out to a third party. Using the CANTV.net account, they then hacked his Google account and eliminated all the content of his blog, El Espacio de Lubrio.

Bracci warned fellow internet users that any material published in that space at that time, was not his doing.

[...]

For the moment his CANTV.net account has been recovered, but he says he does not consider it reliable.

In the end he called the new authorities at CANTV, who have received letters regarding this matter. It turns out that the personnel who worked in the department in question had worked in INTESA and PDVSA and were part of the oil lockout-sabotage of 2003.

From Aporrea; translation mine. (Links added so that those not familiar with the INTESA case or the PDVSA lockout can learn more about the role of malicious hackers in these crimes. Incidentally, this is the reason Chavez is so big on open-source software such as Linux, to the point of making it the government's OS of choice--Microsoft Windows has gotten more, not less, hackable over time.)

Neither of these events is an isolated incident. Along with Luigino's account, the Aporrea forum was also attacked. And as one Aporrea writer has found, Venezuela now has the dubious distinction of being the most-hacked country in the world, with an average of 690 attacks per hour. No word on who is doing what, but don't be surprised if it turns out that most of these are perpetrated by operatives of the political right.

Clearly, this here is a case of malicious forces ganging up to censor and silence a popular progressive voice. There is a concerted effort going on to silence Chavistas like Luigino Bracci.

How ironic is this, in light of the RCTV case--where a private-sector capitalist is complaining about being "silenced?" (He wasn't--his YouTube account is doing just fine, thanks.) We are supposed to believe an entire country's rights were stepped on just because a single licence, which one man repeatedly abused, was not renewed, while all his other rights and privileges remain intact?

Pardon me, Marcelito Granierito, if I find it hard to squeeze out even a tiny little crocodile tear for you, but I choose to save my sympathy for people who actually deserve it.

Do corporate owners have greater free-speech rights--STILL--than some little bloguero and his compadres? Do corporate owners even deserve such an extra tier of privilege, given how easy it is for them to abuse it, right up to the level of high treason?

Where, oh where, are those free-speech advocates, and why, oh why, are they not making noise about THIS?

And when, oh when, will this state of unequal rights finally end?

Angus Reid believes the hype

Shame on them.

Don't they know that Hinterlaces is NOT a reliable pollster? This is not the first time they got an awful lot wrong. I wonder if their tabulation formula is a simple matter of inverting the real numbers; it seems that if you want to know the real picture, you have to turn theirs upside down.

Someone please send Angus Reid this story, in which a certain professional fibber is forced to tell the truth, way down at the bottom:

A survey of 1,500 people in seven Venezuelan cities, by the polling firm Hinterlaces, found that 53% of respondents supported Chavez and 38% were opposed to him.

Meanwhile, only 10% of those surveyed said they backed the opposition movement ... which was rejected by 83%.

"There is a new political panorama in the country," Hinterlaces director Oscar Schemel remarked to IPS. "The people see the opposition as a class of politicians stuck in the past, who want to maintain their privileges and who are neither working for the interests of the people nor coming up with a viable alternative to Chavez' programme."

Regardless of what any polling firm with known opposition ties may say, the truth is this: The opposition lacks fresh ideas. It is in a self-made death spiral, and Chavez is still NOT regarded as a dictator, no matter how badly some soap opera junkies crave their eMpTV. Angus Reid needs a hard reality check about lies and damned lies.

And speaking of damned, you may want to inform them of the lies of Penn, Schoen and Berland, too.

June 12, 2007

Montreal Bolivarians fight back!

A bunch of ex-Venezuelan escualidos tried to lay siege to the media during the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Montreal race, to report only their (false) version of the story of the RCTV non-renewal. Much to their surprise, a Bolivarian contingent was already out in force to counter them! In the end, the escualidos came away with zero coverage. The strong police presence securing the streets apparently prevented any attempts at a physical confrontation, although there was apparently a lot of shouting from both sides.

This might be a good time to visit the Quebec Bolivarian Society's page, oui?

Why they all want out of the World Bank

Zoellick at the World Bank

Same shit, different asshole. The World Bank and IMF are full of them. This is why so many countries are paying off their debts early and avoiding being dinged for interest that always ends up costing so much more than the original debt was worth.

Well, that and all the money they'll save and be able to put toward public services again.

More untold news about TV licence revocations

You better kiss my boots for this, people, I had to go all the way to Cuba to get it.

(Well, all right--to Granma.)

Throughout the world, many countries have adopted sovereign decision to not renew [broadcast] concessions or to allow them to expire. For example:

Peru, in April 2007, decided to shut down two television channels and three radio stations for incompliance with its Radio and Television Law, expired licenses and utilization of non-homologous equipment.

Say, who is the president of Peru? A communist? Nope...Alan Garcia. The "neo-liberal" darling of the newspaper neo-cons.

In Uruguay, December 2006, permits were revoked for radio stations 94.5 FM and Concierto FM, in Montevideo, and a resolution was revoked which had expanded coverage for the broadcast signal of the cable channel Multicanal, part of the Clarín Group of Argentina.

In El Salvador, in July 2003, the concession for the Salvador Network was revoked.

In Canada, June 1999, the Country Music Television's (CMT) concession was revoked.

What? In CANADA?? My home and native land??? Oh no, that must mean WE are communists, as of June 1999! AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in July 1969, revoked the concession for WLBT-TV; in 1981 it did likewise for WLNS-T; in April 1999, it revoked the license of Trinity Broadcasting; and in April 1998, that of Daily Digest (Radio). From 1934 to 1987 in the United States, 141 broadcasters lost their licenses, including 102 for non-renewal. In 40 cases, their licenses were revoked before they were expired. During the '80s, there were 10 cases of non-renewal.

Oh my god, it's even worse in the States. Free speech is REALLY under fire there!

In Europe, in July 2004 Spain revoked the concession of TV Laciana (a local cable channel) and in April 2005, it shut down open-signal radio and TV broadcasters in Madrid. In July of the same year, it shut down TV Católica.

Oh, that unspeakable Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. A communist underneath it all! For SHAME!!!

France revoked the license of TV& in February 1987; in December 2004 it revoked Al Manar's concession, and in December 2005 it shut down TF 1 for questioning the existence of the Holocaust.

What? No fascist speech allowed? Those crazy Zionist pigs.

Most shocking of all, though, is this:

In England, the government of Margaret Thatcher cancelled the concession of one of the country's largest TV stations simply for having broadcast news that was not agreeable, although absolutely true. She simply argued that "if they had already had the station for 30 years, why should they have a monopoly?"

This I just had to look into. So I googled, and googled some more, and then some more still, and finally a story emerged:

Death on the Rock was the title of a programme in the current affairs series This Week, made by Thames Television and broadcast on the ITV network on 28 April 1988. The programme investigated the incident, on Sunday 6 March 1988, when three members of the IRA, sent to Gibraltar on an active service mission, were shot and killed by members of British special forces. The incident, and subsequently the programme about it, became controversial as a result of uncertainty and conflicting evidence about the manner in which the killing was carried out and the degree to which it was an "execution" with no attempted arrest. The programme interviewed witnesses who claimed to have heard no prior warning given by the SAS troops and to have seen the shooting as one carried out "in cold blood." Furthermore, the defence that the IRA team might, if allowed time, have had the capacity to trigger by remote control a car bomb in the main street, was also subject to criticism, including that from an Army bomb disposal expert.

Apparently, Death on the Rock is what so offended Her Iron Ladyship, who was already full of antipathy for the British media, particularly the superb (and unionized) Thames TV channel. And no wonder: that tyrannical old milk-snatcher had a lot to hide. The documentary's finding that Thatcher's Tory government was behind a brutal summary execution of three IRA members in Gibraltar was the final straw for La Thatcher. Apparently, that fabled sense of British fair play demands that even the most feared and hated terrorists of the day be granted at least the due process of an arrest and a trial. Thatcher herself didn't think so, which I guess puts her in the same league of extraordinary renditioners as BushCo (Gitmo, torture taxis and secret prisons, anyone?)

Furthermore, Her Iron Ladyship expected the media to self-censor, particularly anything which might put the government in a bad light:

Any assessment of the Death on the Rock affair has to note a number of constituent factors. The hugely emotive and politically controversial issue of British military presence in Northern Ireland provides the backdrop. For much of the British public, the various bombing attacks of the IRA (many of them involving civilian casualties), seemed to give the incident in Gibraltar the character of a wartime event, whose legitimacy was unquestionable. At a more focused level, the Windlesham/Rampton report opened up, in unusual detail, on the narrative structure of current affairs exposition--its movement between interview and presenter commentary, its use of location material, its movements of evaluation. It also probed further back, into the way in which the programme was put together through the contacting of various witnesses and the investigations of researchers. This was set in the context of long-standing tension between the Conservative government and broadcasters, particularly investigative journalists, on the matter of "national interest" and on the "limits" which should be imposed (preferably self-imposed) on work which brought into question the activities of the state.

Emphasis added.

What Thatcher demanded of the media is a cardinal sin of investigative journalism--toadying to the authorities on the basis of "national interest" is a sure sign of an unfree press. Especially when something so explosive, so potentially nationally damaging, is being covered rather than corrected.

It's worth noting that fascism makes the same kind of demands on the media--claiming it is "in the interests of the state" to not broadcast the truth if the truth proves inconvenient, embarrassing or, as here, potentially incriminating to a head of state. (See #s 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12 of Dr. Lawrence Britt's "Defining Characteristics of Fascism"--they certainly seem applicable to Thatcherite Britain in my view, and to the way Thatcher lashed back at the BBC and Thames TV in particular.)

But lest anyone think that RCTV is in the same league as Thames TV and the Beeb, shove that thought right back up your ass and sit on it. This channel did not incriminate Hugo Chavez in any way, and neither did it merely embarrass or offend him. It trampled not on the state, but on the rights of the people. Which puts it in a league with Maggie Thatcher, who would no doubt have approved of its self-censorship in the immediate aftermath of the April 11 coup. "Cero chavismo en pantalla" (no Chavez-anything on screen) was Marcel Granier's policy. The official line was that the coup had restored Venezuela to "normality", which is a bad joke in light of what pre-Chavez "normality" actually entailed:

"Demonstrations in Two Times". This is a VTV documentary comparing the track record of Chavez to that of his predecessors, particularly regarding student protests. It puts the lie to the notion, commonly advanced in the Venezuelan commercial media, that the 40 years of Punto Fijo were peaceful and democratic. The "democracy" was false, characterized by vote rigging and widespread corruption; the "peace" was downright illusory when you consider the track records of the following presidents:

Romulo Betancourt, Accion Democratica (AD) party, 1959-64: Raids at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV). Violent repression of high-school and university students. Motto: "Shoot first, ask questions later." Venezuela went for three years without constitutional guarantees of human rights.

Raul Leoni, AD, 1964-69: Another raid at UCV, this time in 1966. Constitutionally guaranteed rights suspended in 1967.

Rafael Caldera, COPEI, 1969-74: Another series of raids at UCV, this one lasting a year. The university rector was dismissed. The Botanical Garden was seized and student residences shut down. In 1969-70, murders, persecutions, tortures and disappearances of hundreds of students, workers and peasants.

Jaime Lusinchi, AD, 1984-89: Creation of the special commando unit CEJAP, one of whose first chiefs was the notorious Henry Lopez Sisco. The next five years were characterized by almost-weekly confrontations between UCV students and police. In 1987, the murder of a student at the University of Los Andes (ULA) resulted in riots in which 70 students were injured, plus arrests and raids. The city of Merida was militarized.

Carlos Andres Perez, AD, 1989-92: The Caracazo of February 27, 1989. Students initiated protests over the sudden rise in bus fares. An estimated 3,000 deaths occurred during the police crackdown that followed. 1993: Journalist Maria Veronica Tessari injured in riots between students and police. She died five months later.

Rafael Caldera, COPEI, 1993-99: More police repression, especially on student protests against the privatization of the massive government steelworks, SIDOR, in line with the "neoliberal" policies beginning under Perez and continuing under Caldera.

Compare that, now, with the constitutional guarantees of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, 1999-present:

ARTICLE 68: Citizens have the right to demonstrate peacefully and unarmed, with no other requirements other than those established by law. Use of firearms and toxic substances by police to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. The law shall regulate all police and security actions in the control of public order.

The documentary goes on to show that the article in question was violated--not by police in the name of controlling the student demonstration, but by the students protesting the non-renewal of RCTV's licence. You can clearly see objects flying out of the crowd toward the police, and an injured officer being carried away by his comrades.

If that were happening anywhere but Venezuela, and the perpetrators were anyone but RCTV supporters, that would be headline news internationally--"Rioters attack cops!" Instead, it's buried...except for people like me, who like to dig up the bones the media would rather leave alone.

June 10, 2007

What's the matter with Albania?

Forget Kansas. Since Dubya has worn out his welcome with all but the hardest of the Hardcore Stupid at home, he now has to seek out his sheeple wherever he can find them:

President George W Bush has become the first US leader to visit Albania, where he enjoyed a hero's welcome.

The Balkan country is a staunch ally in America's "war on terror" and Mr Bush met Albanian soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Bush reiterated his support for the UN's plan for Kosovo's independence, adding it was time to "get moving" despite opposition from Russia.

Well, that explains his sudden, bizarre surge in popularity right there. Kosova has been a thorn in Albanian flesh ever since Yugoslavia ate it. This also explains why Russia doesn't approve of Kosovar "independence" (read: handing it to Albania, thus diluting Russian influence over a patch of dirt which has been under Russian hegemony since before Soviet times.)

More disturbing, however, is the fact that Albania has no solid democratic tradition to fall back on; it went from a monarchy (under King Zog) to Italian fascist hegemony, to Stalinist dictatorship. It has always gone from one brand of authoritarian autocrat rule to another, with a great deal of bloodshed all around, and I seriously doubt whether the elections that followed on Enver Hoxha's death changed anything all that much. A glance at the Wikipedia entry on present-day Albania confirms to my mind that it is still in a very weak and unstable phase, in which anything could happen and a great many dubious things already have.

The eagerness of Albanians to embrace a "market economy" by mistake for democracy is not terribly reassuring either. The already great societal discrepancies between the powerful rich and the powerless rest have only widened since the Berlin Wall fell. The lack of alternative thinking, or of civic-mindedness, is the most worrying aspect of all. Albanians are very nationalist, and that is about the only unifying factor I can see; unfortunately, as every fascist of history has ever proved, appeals to nationalism are dangerous and ultimately counterproductive; the interest of the people tends to be subordinated to "whatever is good for the country"--which is slippery to define and varies depending on whose interest is proclaimed as "good for the country". Capitalism is as bad as Stalinism in this respect; to one, the market is supreme; to the other, the state. Either way, it's an unhealthy condition that only a strong democracy and civil participation can remedy--and in Albania, both of those things are in short supply.

Right now, Albania is a lonely place. NATO and the EU are both hesitant to incorporate it (although Dubya has been more than happy to exploit it as an "ally" in the War on Terra). And if their government spokesman is to be believed, a staggering 94% of Albanians want in to both. So it's no wonder the Albanians look to Dubya as some kind of hero, even though he's actually the least likely American president ever to do anything concrete for them. Unless, of course, there's a pipeline to be built, a strategic regional outpost to be gained, or oil to be had, in which case he'll only be nice to them as long as they co-operate with him. The moment they say no, he'll swap the offer of a carpet of gold for the threat of a carpet of bombs. (Remember Afghanistan? The Taliban's only sin in Bush's eyes was that they said no. Osama was never an issue.)

Equally worrisome is how Dubya hasn't missed a chance to piss off Russia. It began with the highly unpopular missile "defence" boondoggle he's trying to cram down the throats of the Czechs and Poles, over strong opposition from the people. In point of fact, it's about as useful as teats on a bull. Some local leaders may like it because they mistakenly think it will bring jobs to the region, but no one else does. And the stated purpose of the shield itself is suspect. In spite of all the noise, there is no hard evidence that Iran actually IS a threatening "rogue state".

And now there's this. Bad, bad moves all around.

The Cold War, over? Don't anyone bet on it. Bush's imperial ambitions are not dead, and even though he is technically a lame duck, it's obvious that he can waddle around just fine, quacking his fool head off. After all, impeachment is off the table, and the congressional Dems caved when it came to war funding. To his mind, that's carte blanche to carry on reigning as a back-door dictator. The emperor may have no clothes, but until he's stripped of his sceptre and crown, he will never feel truly naked.

It's unlikely that the Albanians will do anything to contradict that impression. And that is the saddest part of all. Their leaders are so anxious to consolidate their own interests that they will happily suck up to the worst possible man to advance them, and as for the people--well, as usual, who cares what they think? All that matters is that they turn out dressed in tacky Uncle Sam hats, waving flags, and looking enthused. Except for the hats and flags, it might as well be Cold War times all over again. All that's changed is the face of the Dear Leader being given a hero's welcome he never deserved.

June 9, 2007

Another thing FUX won't show...

"Peaceful" anti-Chavez students in Venezuela, vandalizing the city of Maracaibo. They burned flags and the giant soccer ball announcing the Copa America tourney. This in "protest" of the RCTV non-renewal. (Don't ask me what a burned giant soccer ball is supposed to help them accomplish there, I have NO idea.)

And the private media--the same that supports RCTV and opposes Chavez--CENSORED all reporting on this rioting and vandalism, which happened on June 5, according to Aporrea.

Gosh, isn't freedom of the press wonderful? And aren't those students just such model democrats, such an inspirational vision of the future of the country?

Stalin calls Chavez "right-wing"

No shit--this really happened!

An opposition student leader named Stalin Gonzalez (I'm not making this up--that is his real name!) accuses Hugo Chavez of being a "right-wing military". He also thinks his infamous namesake was a "leftist". Um, that would come as a considerable shock to the original Left Communists, whose democratic stance Chavecito greatly admires (and often cites), and who would probably see that Stalin quite differently, especially in light of his supplying the Nazi war machine in the early days of WWII. (His famous purges and blatant nationalism would only have confirmed his identity as being of the far right wing of the Communist Party.)

But the fun doesn't end there. An aggressive, clearly pro-opposition "journalist" attacks the interviewer (who is from Avila TV, a local community channel), telling him he sounds foreign and should leave the country, blah blah blah. Basically, she makes herself look bad; doesn't make the case for her side any better than Stalin Gonzalez does. Both are, however, absolutely great for a laugh-and-a-half.

This all happened on Thursday the 7th, after a special session of the Venezuelan National Assembly, in which students from the opposition were, in response to their own demands, invited to engage in a debate with the elected officials and pro-Chavez students. The oppo students, rather than seizing the opportunity to act in a democratic manner and hold a back-and-forth exchange of ideas with their opponents, simply addressed the assembly and then walked out! And then, just to add insult to injury, they lied about having asked to address and debate the assembly in the first place!

This was an act of the utmost disrespect for both the assembly and the people of Venezuela, according to assembly president Cilia Flores. Every national TV station had to carry water for these punks while they pissed on democracy--it was covered in a nationwide simulcast. They had ample freedom of speech, and this is how they chose to use it--to lie about RCTV (whose expired licence, by the way, was granted by an actual right-wing military dictator back in the Good Old Days.) And to claim that their freedom of speech had been trampled--another lie. And then they have the gall to lie again, and say they never demanded this? I call BULLSHIT!

Why were they afraid of an open debate? Why just unilaterally give a blatantly political spiel and then claim to be "non-political" (as one of them did) before walking out in a snit? Were they afraid of their Bolivarian counterparts, who held up their end of the bargain just fine? How better to undermine oneself than to behave as dictatorially as one is accusing the government of doing--in the face of the same government very democratically giving one the opportunity to address a special session of the legislature?

I have some idea as to what these "democratic" student oppos are really about. And it isn't democracy. This sort of thing has been tried before. Luckily, its proponents are all hopelessly inept. And unpopular for many a damn good reason.

Chavecito's essential leniency is a great strategy. There is no need to hang these people. Give 'em enough rope, and they'll fashion a noose and stick their little heads through it, all by themselves.

June 8, 2007

Adam Housley: FOX's son of a bitch in Venezuela

Now THIS is what I call a smackdown. NYC councilman Charles Barron opens a calm, cool, factual can o' whup-ass not only on snotty host Neil Cavuto, but on FUX Snooze's shabby excuse for a foreign correspondent:

Notice how the one-note wonderboy "reporter", Adam Housley, completely loses his temper and calls Councilman Barron a "son of a bitch" and tells him he's "full of baloney". Project much, Adam?

Housley also claims a Chavista mob threatened to beat the shit out of him. While he certainly would have earned it, if his behavior here is any indication, such an action is out of character for Chavistas, who have endured much worse than him, and would only have relished the opportunity to give it to him verbally. That is, as in telling their side of the story to the reportero gringo--you know, the side fair and balanced FUX won't let you see?

Clearly nothing ugly happened with the Chavistas, though; otherwise FUX would have the verbal abuse and/or violence on video to show us. Do you seriously think they'd miss an opportunity to plaster it all over your screen if they had anything? That makes Housley's "I wuz almost ruffed up" statement rather suspect.

Also suspect: Housley's interviewee "Jessica", no surname, another of those "educated" ones with the unfortunate, ear-grating English. Considering this was her big chance to really lay on the sob story and say exactly how that evil Chavez-commie was depriving her of free speech, before the eyes of the world (or at least, of FUX Snooze), well--she fluffs it. Her father is in prison, she says, but won't say why. Only for "having a different political opinion", which is about as vague as one can get (and smells suspiciously of bovine feces). No mention of his name, his affiliations, or the actual charge against him. Hmmm, surely not because he might just be some kind of riot-fomenting terrorist--and your average American, who is wary of terrorists of all stripes, just might not sympathize? How do we even know she's telling the truth? Maybe he's off in a bingo hall somewhere getting roaring drunk, but no way is FUX gonna do any digging to verify if he is in fact a prisoner, let alone a political one.

So the FUXers make two unsubstantiated claims there at least. Plus they totally dropped the free-speech ball by not giving "Jessica" an opportunity to explain herself further. No questions. No digging. No verifiable facts. We're just supposed to take their word for it--which, for some reason, I just can't find it in my heart to do.

Meanwhile, that Floridian Fauntleroy, Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy the Umpteenth, gets into the fray (and WAY out of his depth) by telling Barron he doesn't know what he's talking about (another fine, flubbery projection):

Uh, Corny Smacks? You may want to stop throwing stones. Wouldn't want one to go astray and hit your glass house, now, would you?

How embarrassing for FUX that one Democrat can beat three far-right bullies and one strangely vague shill--without even breaking a sweat. I guess that's fair and balanced, all right; Charles Barron is worth at least four rightards.

(See also News Hounds for more.)

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Evo plays ball

In protest of FIFA's ban on high-altitude soccer games, Evo Morales recently laced up and played a rousing game at altitude, in sight of the beautiful Bolivian Andes:

Evo Morales playing soccer at altitude

He played four games in one day, thus proving that altitude is no hindrance. Being used to it is one thing, but maybe coca leaf tea also helped. I think they should start serving it at FIFA games, if they really want to level the playing field.

(And, dang, Evo--cute knees!)

June 7, 2007

And this is what the alert was all about...

Fux Snooze, so fair and balanced that they only talked to one side: the ANTI-Chavez blackshirts who threw rocks and bottles at the cops...and then proceeded to make out like it was Chavez's goon squad attacking THEM. The Fuxer on the scene seems all agog that they can speak English. (Their English is deplorable; they pronounce "democracy" as "demo-CRAZY", which seems like a good description of them, all right.)

Shit, I've seen The Onion do a better job of reporting on this whole schmier.

This is that "educated" class I've seen so much laudatory prose about in the US media, the same that thinks IT has the natural right to rule Venezuela? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! They're not fit to run a lemonade stand. Even their wonderful, shiny new "nonviolent" protest movement (another lie, BTW--they fired on the police!) is a cheap knockoff of the hippie protests from 40 YEARS AGO.

And they don't even know how to paint a proper peace symbol on their hands:

Anti-Chavez protesters with Mercedes hood ornaments on their hands

A Mercedes-Benz hood ornament is the best these poor mimes can do.

Hey, Educated Classes, don't you think it's time you came up with something fresh? The REAL protest movement always does. But then, we don't have the State Dept.'s hand up our backs, teaching us how to fake nonviolent action through a bogus "peace" institute...

And about that Maria Conchita Who?, it is better not to speak. She is hardly qualified to open her collagen-stuffed mouth about anything, let alone politics. The last big role SHE played was a minor one in a movie that would have been forgotten altogether had it not starred Robin Williams. Listen, I believe in affirmative action for the mentally disabled, but I draw the line at end-stage rabies. (And that goes for your guarimbista brother too, Conchita!)

On a more serious note, I notice Fux (along with RSF and all those other media shills claiming to represent journalists) is altogether silent about a REAL dictator who is really shutting down TV stations for opposing him...in Pakistan. But then again, Dubya loves him and there is no oil under his dirt, so that's okay! Carry on, Pervez--good doggie!

June 6, 2007

ALERTA!!!

Chavistas mobilize in support of their president and his decision not to renew RCTV's licence (I almost typed LIE-cence, which I guess it was!) They are sounding the alert: an alert against violence, hatred and lies from the blackshirts. As in April 2002, the "motorizados" (motorbikers) are out on the streets, shouting information and news from neighborhood to neighborhood to counter the lies that the mainstream media there and here are so eager to peddle.

While the oppos are boo-hooing about how their rights are being trampled (since when is the undeserved privilege of one media mogul a "right" to so many who get no real benefit from it whatsoever?), the Chavistas are celebrating one more true right of the people: the right to lie-free TV.

June 5, 2007

Cindy Sheehan on al-Jazeera

Riz Khan interviews Cindy after her decision to take a break from active work in the peace movement. She looks and sounds terribly tired. Let's hope she soon comes back rested and refreshed.

June 4, 2007

Ray Bradbury, right and wrong

From the Stranger Than Fiction Department, this little article on Ray Bradbury in the alternative LA Weekly--in which the author claims his most famous novel is "misinterpreted":

Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. It is widely taught in junior high and high schools and is for many students the first time they learn the names Aristotle, Dickens and Tolstoy.

Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.

This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury's authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship.

Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

Emphasis added.

I suspect this was the passage that led my best friend to post me a link to the article, saying that not only has Bradbury become a dreadful right-wing nut in his old age (he thinks Bush is wonderful!), he's also gone totally senile and can't remember what he originally wrote F-451 about.

In a sense, my friend is right--at the time the book was written and published, World War II was over. World War III, misnamed the Cold War (because everyone in the media was fixated on the nuclear standoff between the US and its funhouse mirror the USSR, and studiously ignoring all those "little" shooting wars being waged by proxy elsewhere, in which over 20 million real people really died) was in full swing. And the forerunners of McCarthyism had already brought fascism home to America before Pearl Harbor. Even at war's end, that motherfucker was still alive and well, and still ugly as a changeling (which in fact it was--it was repackaged as liberty's answer to communism, but under all that lipstick was one helluva pig).

And when none less than Bradbury's authorized biographer--authorized, one assumes, by Bradbury himself--says it was about censorship, one is inclined to believe that the biographer is probably right. All those images of firemen torching books are liable to give many impressionable readers just such an impression. And why not? Where's the last place that sort of thing happened, right before Bradbury sat down at his typewriter to fantasize and fabulate? Why, Nazi Germany!

But then again, Bradbury himself has long insisted just what he's insisting now:

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women's Lib/Republican, Mattachine/Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. [...]

Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.

That's from the afterword (copyright-dated 1979) of Fahrenheit 451 itself. Compare that with Bradbury today:

"Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was," Bradbury says, summarizing TV's content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: "factoids." He says this while sitting in a room dominated by a gigantic flat-panel television broadcasting the Fox News Channel, muted, factoids crawling across the bottom of the screen.

His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television's effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day's L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.

"Useless," Bradbury says. "They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full." He bristles when others tell him what his stories mean, and once walked out of a class at UCLA where students insisted his book was about government censorship.

[...]

He says the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell's 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as "walls" and its actors as "family," a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends.

The book's story centers on Guy Montag, a California fireman who begins to question why he burns books for a living. Montag eventually rejects his authoritarian culture to join a community of individuals who memorize entire books so they will endure until society once again is willing to read.

Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns against books: Whites reject Uncle Tom's Cabin and blacks disapprove of Little Black Sambo. He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were "minorities." He wrote that at first they condensed the books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately all that remained were footnotes, which hardly anyone read. Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.

Most Americans did not have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, and those who did watched 7-inch screens in black and white. Interestingly, his book imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings. And television was used to broadcast meaningless drivel to divert attention, and thought, away from an impending war.

As you can see, he's still saying the same things, more or less. But what is he doing? The very thing he warned us of back in 1953: Watching TV.

So here we have an ironic situation, one that would make the late Kurt Vonnegut chuckle with wry recognition. Ray Bradbury, the man who warned us in a dystopian novel about the tranquillizing dangers of parlor-wall TVs spitting out useless, meaningless "factoids" at their viewers all day and night, is himself now parked in front of one, which is tuned to that most useless and meaningless of all 24/7 factoid-spitters: Fux Snooze.

If Bradbury is so keen on people doing something besides permitting themselves to be pelted with poop, why does he own a TV set at all? Why has he worked successfully in the past as a television writer--and most of all, why the hell is he parked in front of THAT disreputable channel?

Maybe my best friend is right, and poor old Ray really has lost his marbles.

Damn shame that, because at his peak, Bradbury was capable of some mighty provocative and poetic musings on the state of things. And strangely, for all his disparaging talk of his pet hate, censorious minorities, he evinced more than a little sympathy for the real minorities. I'll never forget "The Big Black and White Game", which cleverly used a baseball game to point up the follies of racism and segregation, back in the days when there were actual, separate white and "Negro" leagues. (I don't suppose I'm giving anything away when I say that the white team lost on more fronts than one, to my delight.)

The problem with hanging one's sociopolitical hopes on Bradbury, however, is that he was never, not even at his most trenchant, a true social commentator. He was always a storyteller. (As his comments on Bush show, he's no good with politics, and frankly, I think he'd do well to keep out of that.) His musings are only meant as entertainment, rather than agents of social change, which I guess explains why some details were bang-on, and others waaaaaaaayyyy off. They were aimed at making you think, yes--but not so far as to think of ways to change the world for better, or at least ward off the uglier visions of things to come. Bradbury has never been interested in whipping up the masses; at most, he is only addressing the individual reader, as an individual. F-451 is not a manifesto, it's a novel. A novel which has some prophetic aspects, to be sure, but ultimately fails to predict the true shape of things to come.

And yet. And yet...

It's certainly true that we have become an electronicized culture. The wall-sized flat-screen TVs exist now, although we're not yet at the point of covering all four walls with them to create a virtual reality. (That may still be to come; certainly, it's more practical on one level to do that than don a gamer's headset, gloves, etc., and then wire oneself into the Internets.) The Seashell radios worn by Mildred Montag, likewise, are not yet a reality, but a definite possibility, and nearer to being reality now than they were when the book was written. Think of the earplug-sized headsets of iPods. Or, for that matter, those in-the-ear hearing aids that look like flesh-colored earplugs. We have the technology to make Seashells already; all that's lacking is someone to work up a design and execute it.

And the insidious effects of all this electronica are likewise accurately predicted. Poor Mildred is hopelessly lost in the world of televised "friends" and "relatives", to the point where she becomes alienated from her real-time husband; she grows anxious and jittery when Guy tries to "unplug" her. She would rather stick with her recognizably modern addictions--dieting, a bloody cartoon character called "The White Clown", and, when she heads for bed, sleeping pills. (Interestingly, though, she won't remove her Seashells from her ears--she never turns them off, even when she sleeps!)

There are plenty of real-life Mildred Montags walking around out there right now, fearful of what will happen when their televised daily routines are disrupted. Here is one who lives in Venezuela:

Usually his wife, Marisol, defends President Hugo Chavez as the best thing that ever happened to the country because his administration supplies free medical care and subsidised groceries. Her enthusiasm has been dented, however, by the government's decision not to renew the broadcast license of her favourite TV channel, RCTV.

For Marisol, the politics of the decision pales beside the fear she will lose some of her favourite shows, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. "I love that programme. I learn so much."

Poor Marisol! She doesn't need RCTV for that; she would do better with a schoolhouse. I'll never forget my seventh-grade history teacher, Mrs. Matthews; she was firm and at times severe, but what I learned from her has stuck with me to this day, because she was so passionately enthused about it. And because she really knew her onions. Not many TV hosts can give you what Mrs. M gave me. (I'll make exceptions from the honorable few who deserve it: David Suzuki, for example, whose The Nature of Things on CBC is a must. But then, Dr. Suzuki is also a trained biologist, and was one before he became a broadcaster.)

I have a strange feeling that in a few weeks' time, though, when the new station TVes has had a chance to seep into the collective consciousness, Marisol will feel as though she's stepped from darkness into daylight. She may not even miss her favorite "learning" game shows anymore, because so much more informative programming will have taken its place. She may even end up learning a thing or two about her own country; TVes, in contrast to RCTV, is not a derivative of well-worn US formatting, but is made entirely by, for, and about Venezuelans. Let's wait and see what happens after the guarimbas wind down and people have adjusted; right now it's too early to write Marisol off as hopeless. At worst, she might just end up working her literacy (newly universal in Venezuela, thanks to Chavez) and pick up a book!

Back to Bradbury:

It's true we don't live in an overt book-burning society, and no firemen are sent by the government to torch all paper reading materials in our flameproofed homes. But censorship is still real, and very much a fact of life in freedom-loving America, where some interpret "freedom" as the lawful right to cut from school reading lists any literature that offends a noisy right-wing nut's tender sensibilities, thereby infringing on the freedoms of those whose sensibilities aren't so easily offended. It gives me no small chuckle to note that F-451 is on a list of banned books because it contains the expression "God damn".

Bradbury was also wrong when he said nobody would be interested in books anymore, as a result of both minority prejudice and an increasingly electronic lifestyle. If anything, books are more popular than ever; what's more, electronic media have served to make them so. (Disparage Oprah's Book Club and its dubious choices all you like, but give it credit where due--it's got people reading, and talking about books, rather than just who did what on Dancing With the Stars this week!)

And if a book doesn't suit your own minority prejudices, why bother to censor it? Why not just write your own damn book? You can, if you want; you can even self-publish it. Electronically, no less.

Or you can just blog, as I'm doing now. Ray Bradbury never said nuttin' 'bout no bloggin'. I can't imagine what he'd make of an electronic world where people don't just passively soak it all up, but spit some out, too! Do you suppose he ever foresaw a world where nobody but a few daring rebels dared to write anymore? (Hey, that gives me some ideas for a novel...stay tuned, folkies.)

Most terrifying to me, though, is the hard home truth at the heart of the book, which is that a society can seem democratic, and yet not be--precisely because of all the commercialized pap that's so distracting that it literally, insidiously controls people's lives. Did "the people" really choose to become slaves to their "parlor walls" and Seashell radios, as Bradbury himself would have us believe, or was something more sinister at work beneath the surface of things? Novels often depart from what their authors consciously strive to make them say, and I think a case could be made for such subterranean forces at work in F-451, however much Bradbury protests. (Remember all those problematic firemen?)

I have read that book, several times in fact, and each time, I was properly repulsed by what I saw. I decided that I wanted no part of such a dissociated world, and I can honestly say that I am no part of one, either. And this though I am as "plugged-in" a denizen of this electronic universe as anyone. I watch the news on TV, I listen to radio (mostly via Internet these days); I surf the web, and I e-mail daily. I've got a community of real friends I only know, as yet, from online.

And yet, I am at the same time a dissident to the media-manufactured "reality" that is supposedly all the buzz with the unwashed masses. I'll take a book with me to bed, and yes, even on the john (the bathroom walls block the AirPort signal to my laptop, go figure!) I have never been addicted to game shows; even as a child, I saw them for the cheap, silly gimcrackery they were (and still are); I outgrew them before they had a chance to grow on me. I know what parts of the nightly newscasts are true, and what parts are pure bullfeathers. I pull out my earbuds from time to time and go work in my garden, and come back truly tired, but with a glow on my face that I can't get from the info-brilliance beaming at me via satellite. Same goes for yoga; you can't do that plugged in, and in fact, you're well advised not to even turn on a CD of New Age music; it's better to exercise and meditate in silence once you've learned how to do both. When I write fiction and poetry, I can't listen to music either; it colors my consciousness too much and makes it too hard for me to hear myself think, although occasionally I'll use a certain song for induction. Oddly enough, I have no problem writing non-fiction to music (there's an Astrud Gilberto bossa nova murmuring in my ears right now). When it comes time to write creatively, though, I must do it in Trappist conditions. And every so often, I just like to hear myself think.

In fact, if there is one thing in this whole world that I'm well and truly hooked on, it is thinking; and if there is one thing I seek out in the electronic world, it's other thinking people. Especially those who resolutely seek out reality as it is, despite all the noisy seductions into falsehood. There is something about me that sets me far apart from Mildred Montag, even though we technically inhabit the same universe...

I have always privately identified with Clarisse, the nature-loving, sweater-knitting girl who wakes up Guy Montag from his post-literate trance. (I even know how to knit my own damn sweaters--supposedly, that's a Lost Art!) Only here's the rub: Clarisse gets run over and killed by a car. One more casualty of modern times, I guess. Whereas I got hit by a car, and survived, albeit with a permanently deformed pelvis. So it goes: Whatever doesn't kill you, forces you to think a little harder about it all. I still don't have a driver's licence.

But what bothers me about F-451 now is the same as what bothered me the first time--the stubborn, foolish insistence that people did all this totalitarian-lite crap to, and by, themselves, as though there were no political and commercial interests involved and it was all by individual choice. Nonsense! Even couched as fiction, such statements simply don't wash. If there were no mass media offering an ever-fresh stream of seduction and manipulation daily and around the clock, how easily would we as individuals succumb to brainwashing? How many of us would seriously believe that Saddam had anything to do with 9-11, or gibber in all seriousness that there were WMD when the experts say there were none, or claim that Valerie Plame was just a CIA desk jockey despite the mounds of evidence to the contrary? How many of us would believe, as Bradbury unfortunately does, that Bush is wonderful, just because Fux Snooze keeps telling them so, insistently and at all hours?

It's worth remembering that the modern dictator (starting with Lenin) came into fashion shortly after the advent of moving pictures, which were first used in propaganda during World War I. And radio was a godsend to demagogues; just ask Father Coughlin, or his present-day equivalent, Rush Limbaugh. In the 1980s, with color TVs cheap and ubiquitous, the televangelist came of age, drumming up support for creationism, fraud, and Ronald Reagan alike. Now, we have a highly organized right-wing blogosphere belching filth into our eyeballs and earholes, while the established TV networks are scrambling to reinvent themselves as World Wide Web entities with a little help from those same punks. Without mass media, one wonders, would they have such a stranglehold on the public consciousness as they do? I am personally inclined to doubt it.

But if the common people didn't create the monster, they still have it in them to destroy or disable it. And now, they can even use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house (sorry, Audre Lorde--but I bet you'd be thrilled to be wrong on this point). It used to be that you were sunk if you didn't own or have access to a printing press, but today you've got the Internets. The alternative and independent media are flourishing here, I'm happy to say. (In Venezuela, they even helped rescue a democratically elected president from becoming one more US proxy-war casualty.) Petition sites offer hope of redress, and new ways of reaching politicians; e-mail lists can mobilize the social-justice troops in a flash. They are also helping us fight back against the most egregious forms of mass idiotization; we can now fling back the feces our TV sets and radios used to unilaterally fling at us.

And even such mainstream video-hosting sites as YouTube have served as vehicles for uppity leftish back-talkers like Keith Olbermann, the Edward R. Murrow of our time, who is fighting his own good fight against the new McCarthyism. He even signs off his commentaries with Murrow's trademark "Good night, and good luck"; what's more, he has his own blog. Meanwhile, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have combined information and entertainment with another smash hit: the fake-news show that tells more truth than the so-called real news does. (Wow, satire is an effective weapon against bullshit--who knew? George Orwell, that's who.)

Ray Bradbury isn't in the business of prognostication, so of course he couldn't have foreseen any of that. In fact, his own gaze was very much that of a censorious minority of one, so he resolutely ignored the possibility that people might find ways to fight back constructively, rather than with conflagrations. But let's not forget that he's just one storyteller, albeit a very gifted and popular one. There is not just one story, and there are many more people doing their own telling--right here, right now.

And I, who take issue with a lot of what Bradbury says (as well as agreeing with a lot of other things he says) am just one of them.

June 3, 2007

It was the Third of June...

Bobbie Gentry gives a wonderfully understated performance of "Ode to Billy Joe" on the Smothers Brothers show. (Thanks to King Daevid for the video link.)

I am a wild party

Seen at the G8 protests in Rostock, Germany:

I am an armed uprising

His sign reads "I am an armed uprising"--clearly a bitterly ironic statement in light of the fake popgun he's carrying. Nevertheless, the water cannons did not discriminate.

According to Der Spiegel, an outbreak of violence at the fringes of an otherwise peaceful demo spoiled it for those who had something to say besides just "fuck you":

"Get the hell out of here, get lost," shouts the young woman, beside herself with rage. In the next moment she gets pulled along with the crowd, as a police unit in heavy armor pushes them back at a running pace. Then the officials find themselves in a hail of stones, bottles and chunks of wood again, as they withdraw.

The young woman's anger is directed not only at the police, but at some of her own people. Those in black, some disguised with caps, sunglasses and scarves, who want to protest at the G8 summit with violence, show it right from the start. [...]

"The autonomous ones bust everything in their path up into tiny pieces," a police spokesman said later, visibly struggling to keep his composure. On the street "Am Strande", stones, bottles and firebombs rain down on the security forces. Militants turn cars over, set them on fire. Windows smash, the wind blows thick smoke and tear gas through the streets. Dozens of injured people need treatment; some, heavily wounded, are sent to hospital.

That the police hit back hard, many observers on the sidelines found just as unnecessary. "They ran down from over there like crazy, straight at us," said an older gentleman with a white beard. He is beside himself over this scene. In any case, this seems to be the exact result the "autonomous ones" wanted.

In the morning, at the main train station, it looked to be a very peaceful day ahead. An American protest-singer with a wild voice sang out against his president onstage, while the column of marchers, one of two, slowly formed up below. The spectrum of groups preparing to protest against next week's summit is colorful and international: leftist hedonists from Berlin, raucous anti-globalizationists from Greece, union representatives from Brazil--the protest is as chaotic as it is amicable.

Even the few recognizable representatives of the police had aligned themselves with it. "We wanted it to be like a folk festival," said one press spokesman. Accompanied by samba music, the procession got going around 1 pm as the sun tried to poke through an overcast Baltic sky. Accompanied by music groups, the demonstrators paraded through the city centre, "very calmly", as police spokesman Manfred Etzel later remarked. A horde of zany anti-globalization clowns led the way, and some police officers even let them paint their faces.

Only twice did violence flash up: Once in front of the Radisson Hotel, where some of the American summit delegation were supposed to be staying, some stones flew out from the so-called "black bloc" towards police and their buses. The same in front of a bank building.

A foretaste, apparently.

Why it came to a head at the harbor, is still unknown early this evening. The police presumably took a masked man prisoner--the provocateur, they say. Maybe it was only a convenient excuse. Christian Ströbele, protest fixture and fractional vice-president for the Greens in the Bundestag, is kneading something in his hands as he says: "I hope peace outweighs everything else in the next few days."

"Ah don' rightly know what's goin' on here," says a policeman from Berlin from under his heavy helmet. The people aren't really all that organized, he says. The representatives are drawn from several different German states, and that could be an explanation.

In fact, by evening it's incomprehensible to many bystanders as to why the police keep advancing in small groups against certain demonstrators. That's when they start to throw the tear gas, as spokesman Manfred Etzel determined at 4:30 pm.

"We want maximum de-escalation today," explained the special division leader, police superintendent Heinz Kiefer, at the beginning of the demonstration. Some hours later, the ground at the harbor is strewn with loose cobblestones, and an unknown number of demonstrators and at least two policeman are injured.

Translation mine. (Don't you love it that I'm a multilingual blogger, who can unscramble six languages, not counting all the dead ones I learned at university?)

The front page at Der Spiegel now puts the injury count at 300, and that's just the cops.

Meanwhile, in Schwerin (another east-German city), it looks as though the anti-globalization demos put the boots to what could have been another big riot: far-rightist thugs had planned an illegal demonstration, and a band of about 150 Antifa (anti-fascist) leftists summoned from out of town were ready for them. Luckily, though, the cops got there first. The whole thing went bust, along with several wanna-be troublemakers from the black bloc. Several smaller far-right demonstrations broke out in protest; about 140 of 'em marched past the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Police tried to stop them and got shoved aside. The police summoned reinforcements, and 13 arrests were made; after that, the demo broke up. In Lüneburg, five buses containing some 350 neo-Nazis were stopped. In all, police believe that as many as 1000 right-wingers were on their way to Schwerin. No word on where the escaped neo-Nazis got to or what they're planning to do next, and when.

Ach, die Deutschen--aren't they a riot?

June 2, 2007

Freedom of speech, true and false

Compare and contrast the following videos:

This was taken at today's big anti-imperialist march in Caracas. As you can see, the screen is split four ways. This is to show the size of the crowds in four well-to-do, opposition-dominated neighborhoods.

The interviews are with students at the Andres Bello Catholic University. According to Aporrea, the university's rector is an oppositionist with a heavy hand. These young adults have turned out to show (and tell) that they will not be intimidated, and that they are in solidarity with the revolution, the poor, and one another.

As you can see, the affair went off peacefully, without a hitch--but WITH a lot of music, dancing and a big ol' booty-shake.

Now, what has the other side been up to?

Well, Rosario Dinamitera has something interesting for us:

Not only have those fine young oppositionists been rather violent, but their pet TV station, Globovision, has been manipulating video and soundtracks to make it look as though the police were the bad guys, if the above is any indication. The same appalling sound effects get repeated throughout this video, as if to dramatize the action and make it seem worse than it actually is.

What really resulted from all this guarimbismo? Nothing constructive. RCTV is still off the public airwaves (and will remain so). Meanwhile, the residents of the affluent, mostly opposition neighborhoods where these demonstrations went down, are denouncing the violence. A car was torched, streets were trashed, barricades of burning tires (muy toxico) were set up, rocks and bottles (some full of Absolut Molotov) flew, shots were fired, private property was damaged, and a lot of ugly destruction for naught was the sole outcome.

And this from the people who claim to respect private property? They have a lot of money, but they seem not to believe in putting it where their mouths are.

Worst of all, the private media were in it up to the eyeballs. As usual, they are complicit in what can only be described as yet another failed coup attempt.

Now, a blast (literally) from the past:

This is what student protests in the pre-Chavez 4th Republic looked like. Violence and torture by the authorities were routine. That is no longer the case--except with the "free speech" bandits who stole power on April 11, 2002. They were, not surprisingly, from the old parties and the old system. This is what the fine young guarimberos of the save-RCTV crowd want to bring back.

The funny part is, they're breaking the law even under the old 1961 constitution (the one Chavez drove a stake through in '99). That law gives demonstrators the right to protest peacefully, and prohibits the uses of toxics, firearms and other weapons in political demonstrations.

Who is really supporting freedom of speech here? (I'll give you a clue--it has a lot to do with using speech responsibly and without violence.)

It's not RCTV--it's the oil, stupid!

Holy Me, What the Me Are We Gonna Do???

Shh...we don't use no bad fucking language around here, kapister? This site is censored, after all. It must be; after all, I'm a pro-Chavez socialist, therefore I must have something against free speech!

Oh, bullshit.

An opinion writer at Aporrea.org, Ivana Cardinale, has pinned down the real reasons why the US is so "concerned" about all those nationalizations--and the non-renewal of broadcast licence to a right-wing TV station whose main contribution to Venezuelan culture has been its soap operas. Here's a snip:

We Venezuelans are on the point of witnessing a coup d'etat against our president for the third time. The reason for this latest coup is NOT the end of RCTV's broadcast licence, much less the brothel of expression which we see and hear daily thanks to the media whores. RCTV is the mask Washington needs.

The State Dept. NEVER assassinates presidents or destroys governments over the end of a foreign channel's broadcast licence. Bush couldn't care less about RCTV or Granier.

The only thing that would move the empire to commit assassinations and coups d'etat in other countries is ENERGY, and failing that, natural resources.

[...]

The real reason is the nationalization of the Orinoco oilfields which happened about a month ago. Nothing more, nothing less. It's the ORINOCO, THE BIGGEST RESERVE IN THE WORLD. But...does no one see that?

The measures taken by Chavez infuriated Bush, drove him and his transnational oil buddies crazy. Had Chavez not nationalized the Orinoco reserves, believe me, the country would be totally calm and no one would care about RCTV or mobilize students to protest on behalf of the media whorehouse.

When Chavez nationalized [phone company] CANTV and Caracas Electricity, the empire was pretty pissed, but the nationalization of the Orinoco reserves was the final straw. Chavez dared to put a stop to the theft of our energy on the part of the "greengos". That was sufficient motive for the US State Dept. to assassinate or overthrow Chavez.

Translation mine.

I think Ivana has nailed it. Freedom of speech be damned; anyone who's seen a sampling of RCTV's "speech" would agree that their trashy programming isn't worth funneling US taxpayer money to dubious "student groups" (many of them headed by suspiciously over-aged "students"!)

And, in fact, free speech was never the issue. No more than free enterprise was the issue when CANTV and Caracas Electricity were nationalized. Both those decisions were "of grave concern" to Washington, but for the people of Venezuela, they were very popular and long overdue. Since CANTV was nationalized, President Chavez has announced that its rates will be cut and its coverage expanded to areas lacking regular phone service. Moreover, there will be more landlines. Venezuela has an inordinate number of cellphones, since the landline service there has been sporadic and unreliable--thank you, Free Enterprise, for another fine fuck-up. (And thank you, Chavecito, for having the cojones to un-fuck it.)

But the major media here are either paid propaganda organs or useful idiots. (The right-wing bloggers are both of the above, and often just plain idiots.) They keep overlooking the fact that RCTV had a rap sheet longer than your arm. Its licence to use the public airwaves was simply expired, and it is not being renewed for various reasons--everything from infractions against anti-porn and anti-violence laws passed before Chavez, to labor abuses including non-payment of its own hard-working talent, to--what was that last one again? Oh yeah, TREASON.

Just ask yourselves, people--if FOX News Channel were broadcasting 24/7 incitements to oust Bush, how long do you think they'd stay on the air? Do you suppose anyone would wait till THEIR licence was up for renewal before deciding to yank it? That channel is putrid and filthy, lousy with labor abuses (Bill Oh-Really, phone-molesting his producer, comes to mind) and rife with lies and lying liars, but how lucky for them that they're firmly attached at the lip to BushCo's collective scrotum. Even their token Democrats are, for the most part, mealy-mouthed go-alongs, the kind of cowards who'd never say shit even if they had a mouthful of it. No chance that they'd ever offend Der Bushler, except accidentally.

And no chance that they'd ever look hard at the truth. Just ask Jane Akre and Steve Wilson; bless their hearts, they tried. FUX shafted them most shamefully, and in the process it was determined that the US news media can lie and the law won't compel them to be truthful.

I bring that all up not as a digression but as a way of backing my truck into the truth. If the US media can legally lie about a major corporation and its unsafe products--in the case of FUX, it was Monsanto and its bovine growth hormone, Posilac--what else are they not legally obligated to be truthful about?

Surely not, oh, say, Hugo Chavez and RCTV, and the real reason for all this hoopla, which is not the silencing of Venezuela's oldest TV station?

Surely not the nationalization of the Orinoco oilfields, and the relegation of all foreign firms pumping oil there to junior-partner status in joint ventures with Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA?

Surely not the fact that broadcast licences have been yanked in several other countries, all to no foreign fanfare at all, let alone alarm bells in Washington?

And surest of all--the fact that free speech has dick-all to do with this in reality?

If "free speech" means the right to lie with impunity, then yeah, free speech is definitely under threat in Venezuela. But if it means the right to state one's opinion and be heard, and to have a participative say in democracy, then no, FUCK NO, it's NOT under threat in Venezuela at all. Quite the contrary. The station that went up on Channel 2 (RCTV's old roost) is far more democratic and free of speech than RCTV ever was. Its content is generated by a greater spectrum of people. Its purpose is to give voice to the Venezuelan people--to show the country as it really is. This stands in sharp contrast to RCTV, whose only purpose, so far as I could tell, was to stuff the already well-lined pockets of Marcel Granier, and to be his faithful mouthpiece.

And if Granier said something was to be muzzled, like say Chavistas, by God, the gags came out fast. Ask Andres Izarra about that "cero Chavismo en pantalla" policy sometime. Now that he works for another network--the multinational TeleSur, South America's answer to CNN--he is free to talk. Mind you, in order for him to do so, it was first necessary for that evil, wicked media-censoring Chavez to set up a whole new channel, AND get other countries to sign on as co-sponsors. Seems a rather long way to go to assure freedom of speech, but it sure as hell beats getting a bunch of "student leaders" with money from the US State Dept. to whip up a guarimba, doesn't it?

And if you're gonna fling phrases like free speech around, it would behoove you to meditate long and hard on what it means to use it. Starting with a single word that's harder to spit out, mainly because it's harder to swallow: RESPONSIBILITY. Responsibility to use your speech in the service of freedom, not bullshit. Responsibility to tell the truth, the whole truth. You have the right to have your own opinion--which we all do--but you are not entitled to your own facts. Any news outlet that reports only the RCTV side of the story, and not what's really behind it, is fucking with the truth. It is well established that RCTV and its cohorts, Globovision, Venevision and Televen (among others) have been doing that for some time--aided and abetted by the tentacles of the US Senate, the State Dept., the CIA and numerous North American news outlets and supposed human-rights organizations like Reporters Without Borders. Part and parcel of true freedom of speech is holding them accountable for that.

But then again, this is really not about free speech, which is in no danger in Venezuela. It's about the oil, stupid. The only three-letter four-letter word in the vocabulary of the free-speech fascists, it seems.

June 1, 2007

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Looky what I found!

The only picture of Evo "Mr. Casual" Morales wearing a suit and tie!

OMG, it's Evo in a suit!!!

As you may have guessed, this was taken at his high school graduation in 1977. The ill-advised David Cassidy haircut was the height of fashion at the time.

And just to freak you out a little further:

Evo in uniform, OMG, OMG!!!

Evo in uniform. I never knew he was in the military police, but apparently he was!

Personally, though, I prefer him like this:

Evo looking yummy

Between the outfit, the pose and the dimples, this picture totally does it for me.