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February 29, 2008

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Cheers!

Cheers, Evo!

Green is the color of health, and Evo is drinking to yours.

Evo, groovy in green

He sure looks groovy in green, does he not?

February 27, 2008

The sad and pathetic condition of a certain opposition

If only those idiots were useful, eh kitty?

Once more, the FARC release some hostages in the Colombian jungle.

And guess who got them sprung? And, evil mean tyrannical bastard that he is, even sent Venezuelan search-and-rescue helicopters to collect them, with the Red Cross logo on board?

You'd think the Venezuelan lamestream media would for once be bursting with pride in the influential skills of their president, who really seems to have a knack for getting the FARC to play nice, but oh noooo. Instead, they're reporting a completely irrelevant whimper from the Spanish prime minister (not president, Spain is not a republic, it is a monarchy--get a clue, El Luniversal!) saying you have to play nice with the opposition.

What a strange thing to say, considering they are fascists who refuse to play nice themselves. There they are, once again, trying so hard to draw attention to their own nonexistent oppression. What a pity it's not very convincing. It's awfully hard for them to argue that they are oppressed when this same president they so love to hate is now working to assure that Venezuelan players in big-league baseball are NOT oppressed, and is even hauling ass to make sure there's milk in Mercal for the traditionally oppressed (who voted for him repeatedly because he's the one guy who made good on his promises to un-oppress them).

Of course, the thing setting these fine young fascists apart from their predecessors is that the current crop have no sense of style whatsofuckingever. But hey! You can trust even their "educated experts" to get things oh, so wrong. With such a Simple Simon act to follow, is it any wonder the ol' goose-step has turned into a bit of a limp?

February 26, 2008

Are we absolutely sure this is fake?

Because it sure as hell rings true to me...


...all except for the Diebold "apology", of course.

Oh, and now they deny it.

According to Aporrea, Fedecamaras is a day late and a bolivar fuerte short in denying they would do what everyone and their cat knows they have already done...

The business sector group Fedecamaras "repudiated" the crime committed against its head office and in a communique read by its president, Jose Manuel Gonzalez, assured they would not "politicize" this occurrence in the midst of their antagonism against the national government.

Translation mine. Video (in Spanish) at the link.

Anyone besides me not believing them?

Pakistan: Bestest Democracy Evah!

Okay, you wingnuts--you screamed about Muslims protesting against inflammatory 'toons in Denmark. Where's your outrage over this? Last Sunday, the YouTube videos all over the Internets went dark, and nobody said boo...and now we know why:

Pakistan has blocked access to the popular YouTube website because of content deemed offensive to Islam.

Its telecommunications authority ordered internet service providers to block the site until further notice.

Reports said the content included Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that have outraged many.

But one report said a trailer for a forthcoming film by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, which portrays Islam in a negative light, was behind the ban.

"They asked us to ban it immediately... and the order says the ban will continue until further notice," said Wahaj-us-Siraj, convener of the Association of Pakistan Internet Service Providers.

Hmmm. I guess the reason for this strangely selective lack of outrage is over the fact that Pervez Musharraf, who is STILL, er, "president" of Pakistan, is the one behind all this. And since he's Dubya's good buddy, of course anything he does is all right. After all, Pakistan is Teh Bestest Democracy Evah!

And besides, the Muslims in Denmark only protested. They didn't actually censor anything. Everybody knows that dissent, not censorship, is the real evil! When in Denmark, your duty is to conform to the American global standard, Citizen!

Now, for another round of "look how brave we are, fighting Islamofascism with IslamoBASHism!" Coming soon to a wingnut site near you...

February 25, 2008

Ah, que c'est magnifique!

Un grand salut to a French supermarket chain for its efforts in going after the corporate greedheads...je vous admire, chers messieurs et 'dames!

The French supermarket chain Leclerc, one of the most important in the country, has decided to punish the big brands for raising the prices of their products too high, according to the daily Le Monde.

As of Friday, February 1, the chain plans to remove the following articles from its shelves: the 12-pack of the cheese "La vache qui rit", by Fromageries Bel; Ajax cleanser, made by Colgate-Palmolive; L'Oreal and Nivea facial creams; Orangina soft drinks; and Brossard cookies.

These products had raised their prices between 8.29% and 20.63% in recent months, which the chain does not consider justifiable in light of inflation.

"These items will not return to our stores until the suppliers agree not to raise their prices above the average of others of their kind," stated one of the owners of the chain, Miguel Eduardo Leclerc.

Translation mine.

Yowie zowie, that's positively shades of Chavecito!

As much as I love that Laughing Cow cream cheese, I've been finding it prohibitively expensive here in Canada, too. We could use this kind of price-fighting here.

Dis donc, Miguel Eduardo, ne pouvez-vous aller à faire la même chose ici?

February 24, 2008

Fedecamaras: just as classy as ever

Remember Fedecamaras? The Venezuelan chamber of commerce that basically made caca all over itself during April 2002, when its then-president illegally declared himself president, not merely of Fedecamaras, but of the entire blessed country? Yeah, that Fedecamaras.

Well, Fedecamaras has changed presidents since then, but it hasn't really changed its stripes. According to the Canadian Press wires, it's still as eager as ever to present itself, not as a treasonous aggressor against the legitimate president of Venezuela, but as his hapless victim. And how better to do that than to plant in the media and the minds of the public a strangely pat conclusion about a terrible tragedy that just so happened to take place on Fedecamaras' own doorstep, so to speak?

A small bomb exploded outside the headquarters of Venezuela's leading business chamber Sunday, killing one person, police said.

The blast occurred near the entrance of the Fedecamaras business chamber headquarters in Caracas's middle-class district of La Florida at approximately 1 a.m. local time, killing an unidentified man and shattering windows, federal police Chief Marcos Chavez said.

"There's a person who was close by, and presumably could have been hit by the shock wave," Chavez told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview. "We still have not identified the person."

The explosion could have been meant to scare business leaders who have been critical of President Hugo Chavez, said Fedecamaras President Jose Manuel Gonzalez.

"These actions do not intimdate us. They commit us to continue fighting for Venezuela," Gonzalez told Union Radio.

What an interesting choice of words, Sr. Gonzalez: "fighting for Venezuela". Is that what you called it when you collaborated with the US State Dept. in an act of treason that left dozens dead and hundreds injured? An act of treason that resulted in two whole days of dictatorial repression, the dismantling of all Venezuela's democratic institutions, and if not for the patriotism of millions of the ordinary people of the barrios--those really fighting for Venezuela--would have ended in a military-business junta, similar to that of Argentina or Chile, in charge for at least a decade? Is that what you call "fighting for Venezuela"? Man, you suits sure have the strangest notions of patriotism.

And talk about strange, here's what else passes for "fighting for Venezuela" in the argot of Fedecamaras:

Last week, Gonzalez strongly criticized Chavez for accusing local businesses of stockpiling products to sell later at inflated prices as Venezuelans struggle with sporadic food shortages.

Chavez warned recently that any business caught hoarding goods such as chicken, eggs and milk "should be seized and taken under government control" - threats that alarmed Fedecamaras.

Awww...isn't that touching? Fedecamaras "fights for Venezuela" by defending the "rights" of businesses to illegally stockpile food that is supposed to be sold at affordable prices to the same poor folks who really fought for Venezuela during the coup of '02. Yes, these heroic patriots of the suit set think it's the height of patriotism to starve out the barrio dwellers who can no longer find these staples at Mercal, and enrich the speculators who illegally truck the hoarded food across the border and sell it in Colombia! And they're doing all this in the hope of causing the populace to rise up on the side of big business against their elected president! Doesn't that just make your eyes well up and brim over with the wonder and patriotism of it all?

BTW, the "unidentified man" who died in this blast (and whose death is being used to shameful propagandistic ends by Fedecamaras) has been identified by pro-Chavez alternative media outlets YVKE Mundial and Aporrea as Hector Eduardo Serrano. May he rest in peace.

Rafael Correa: Take this debt and shove it!

It's odious, and Ecuador won't pay anymore!

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Saturday said an ongoing government probe into the country's foreign debt has unveiled "illegitimate" credits that he has vowed not to repay.

Correa, a leftist former economy minister, has pledged to stop payments of "illegitimate" debt or credits which he said were acquired under unfair terms by past corrupt administrations and that forced Ecuador to lower social spending.

But the U.S.-trained economist had until recently lowered his tone and refrained from halting debt payments. Last year he created a special commission of government officials and international experts to investigate any illegalities in foreign credits.

"Their (commission) findings are scandalous... we are not going to pay some of this illegitimate debt," Correa said during his weekly radio address. "We are advancing in the investigation."

You can watch or listen to him talking about that and more with Greg Palast at Democracy Now.

And now we know why John Perkins raised the red flag. He undoubtedly saw this coming.

Karl Rove: NOT welcome in Vancouver!

In Venezuela, the neo-con rich bang pots to bring down a popular president, and bring back oppression of the poor. In Canada, the regular folks do it the other way around--to fight the rich neo-cons who are trying to cheat us all out of a good future.

BTW, the Fraser Institute is deeply un-Canadian and downright anti-Canadian. During the '90s, they faked a big debt crisis (in response to the overlords of international capitalism), falsely claiming that we could no longer afford a public social safety net, and the media bought it. The feds cut some social services and downloaded others onto the provinces; the provinces then turned around and did the same to municipalities. And right now, the municipalities are teetering on a brink, and taxpayers are still paying (through the nose) for all this Fraser treachery. When we're not having to pay through the nose for less efficient, more expensive private-for-profit DISservices. Meanwhile, poverty is worse--thanks to Fraser's loud hyping of a crisis-that-never-was. So it's good to see them get some bad publicity for a change, and on Global at that--the most right-wing of our major TV networks!

(Oh, and they're still at it, too...as recently as 2006, they were ringing the phony alarm bells about our national debt, AGAIN. Pfeh.)

February 23, 2008

You know you've come a long way when...

...a gay pastor who broke the same-sex marriage barrier gets positively reported in the redneck-conservative Toronto Sun!

The Order of Canada was awarded for the first time to a gay activist at Rideau Hall yesterday.

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean presented Torontonian Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes with the country's highest civilian honour for his long-standing work as a gay rights champion.

"About 27 years ago, I was fasting to protest the police actions around the bathhouse raids," Hawkes, 57, said in a phone interview. "And to see how far we've come, that Canada is the first country in the world to give its highest award to a gay activist."

Hawkes has been a pastor at Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church on Simpson Ave. for over 30 years.

In 1994, Hawkes received the City of Toronto Award of Merit. In 1995, he got a Global Citizen Award from the United Nations Toronto Association, for advocating human rights in Canada.

But his greatest success to date has been his fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Canada.

On Jan. 14, 2001, he used an obscure portion of the Marriage Act to wed two gay and lesbian couples. After the City of Toronto refused to acknowledge the marriages, Hawkes sparked a court battle that saw same-sex marriage made legal in the province in 2003.

That "obscure portion of the Marriage Act" is the publication of the banns, an old Christian custom (incorporated into Ontario law) in which a couple's intention to marry is announced in church (or an equivalent public venue) sometime in the weeks prior to the event. All marriages thus contracted in Ontario are technically legal. Rev. Hawkes used this legal loophole to prove that the old arguments against same-sex couples marrying were bunkum, and he couldn't have picked a better way to do it: by catching the conservative Christians in their own trap. For what could be more Christian than marrying in a church?

But some didn't see it that way--conservatives, for one. And conservative crazies, for another. Luckily, the good Reverend persevered, and his hard work bore fruit. Ontario became the first province to legally register same-sex marriages, and the rest were not long in falling into line. The Supreme Court put the final cherry on top of the sundae with its ruling to legalize it, and as you can see, churches that don't want to marry same-sex couples...don't have to. But under civil law, all same-sex marriages are valid and legally recognized...in every province and territory!

You can read all about the fight for same-sex marriage rights in Ontario here, and in all of Canada, here. (Start at the bottom and work your way up to read it all in chronological order.)

And congratulations to the Rev. Hawkes on receiving his Snowflake--it couldn't have happened to a worthier Christian!

February 22, 2008

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Vintage Festive Left

In honor of Fidel Castro's recent announcement of his intention to retire, today we go retro:

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

Those were the good old Ches.

February 21, 2008

Taking the wind out of an overblown pop star

Heh, heh, heh. Didn't see this coming, did anyone now?

Hugo Chavez says Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz is welcome to perform at his presidential palace and denied Thursday that his government retaliated against the Latin Grammy winner because of critical comments he made.

More than 80 performers and other celebrities signed a statement supporting Sanz after his concerts were cancelled in Venezuela. Signers including Shakira, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Penelope Cruz and even soccer star David Beckham said they "believe in a Latin America where we are all free to express our views."

Venezuelan organizers said Sanz's sold-out Feb. 14 concert in Caracas was cancelled because it lacked "the appropriate conditions." The announcement came after government officials said Sanz would not be allowed to hold the concert at the state-controlled stadium because of his past criticism of Chavez.

Chavez denied any attempt to censor or retaliate against Sanz. "Come here and sing in Miraflores," he said, referring to Venezuela's presidential palace.

Aporrea has more:

The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, said on Thursday that the Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz and the Argentine singer/songwriter Fito Paez were "victims" of an international "mediatic war" which had targeted his government, and invited them to sing "together" in the Plaza Bicentenario adjacent to the Venezulean presidential palace, according to a newswire from DPA.

[...]

"No, Mr. Sanz, come here if you want, sing in Miraflores (the presidential palace), I'll lend you the Plaza Bicentenario so you can sing and say whatever you want," Chavez affirmed, in a message broadcast over all radio and television channels.

Chavez assured that he doesn't have time to occupy himself with such matters, and the only singer he knows is himself, adding that "I sing very badly".

Sanz had planned a concert on the 14th of February in the Poliedro, the biggest concert hall in Caracas, but it was cancelled for what were termed "security reasons", since the Spaniard had been declared persona non grata by the city's municipal council.

A planned concert for November had been suspended for lack of authorization from the Poliedro, recalling Sanz's criticisms against Chavez upon his last visit in 2004, when Sanz said he had collected a million signatures to let him sing what he wanted. He was referring to a petition leading up to the referendum on whether Chavez's mandate to govern should be revoked that same year.

Chavez also said that he had read some of Fito Paez's declarations, which called him "an out-of-date caudillo" and said that he was intolerant of dissent.

"He went out saying that here we persecute dissent, I think he's been manipulated. Just think how bad the mediatic war has gotten by feeding off the declaration of this singer. Fito Paez, come here and let's sing together. Go get your guitar," Chavez said.

Translation mine; you can also hear Chavez's words from his own mouth there.

Gee, I wonder what Alejandro Sanz is gonna do now. Pluck up his cojones and sing for the legitimately elected president he so despises, or just pick up his marbles and go home, and go on pretending that he's being kept out by an evil oppressor who doesn't actually exist? Chavez didn't bar him; it was the city authorities of Caracas, and seeing how they've had to deal with any number of anti-Chavez demonstrations that got violently out of hand, it's kind of understandable that they'd be antsy about any foreigner with openly declared oppositionist sympathies. Especially ones so rudely expressed. (I've read on Aporrea that Sanz also at one point wore a black t-shirt inviting Chavez to "suck my dick". Classy dude, that Sanz.)

And shame, shame, shame on Fito Paez. I hadn't heard about him saying those things he did, but it seems he is just as poorly educated as that snotty little punk Sanz. And that's really embarrassing, because Paez is several cuts above Sanz as an artist and a human being both. He of all people should have taken Sanz up short and told him that his so-called "persecution" is nothing of the sort. Because Fito Paez has been a real-life victim of political persecution, during the Argentine junta dictatorship of 1976-83, and therefore he of all people should know the bloody difference between a concert being cancelled by municipal authorities uncertain that they could provide enough security, and someone actually trying to silence dissent.

I'm with Chavecito--Fito, you are the victim of a campaign of lies. Look around you: have you heard a peep out of Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian minister of culture, to the effect that Chavez is a tyrant? Like you, Gil is a popular musician and a former victim of Operation Condor and the military dictatorship in his native land. He was imprisoned and tortured, then sent into exile, and all just for playing rock music. Yet he's said nothing bad about Chavecito. In fact, he's even appeared at the same World Social Forum as Chavecito. One would think he'd boycott it if he felt the man was an actual caudillo, in light of his prior experiences. Isn't that rather telling? (I'll tell you what else is telling: this, in which Gil and President Lula at one time mulled a law to rein in Brazil's insane right-wing media whores. Which, incidentally, is a lot more than Chavecito ever did to anyone, even ArsyTV. Not a peep was heard up here criticizing that!)

Chavecito wouldn't stop Fito from singing "Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazon"; in fact, I suspect he'd identify strongly with it. I know I do, and have done ever since I heard Lhasa de Sela singing it, with that incredible contralto of hers, in The Take. How lovely it would be if Fito Paez could sing it in Caracas, to a crowd of Chavistas. I sadly suspect he's soured his own chances there, now. (He certainly has with at least one former fan.)

Oh, and all the rest of you pop tarts? You might want to educate yourselves about Venezuela before you sign any more pathetic little statements criticizing a man you don't know the first thing about. Everyone IS free to express their views there (however stupid, however inane and however much the result of US government propaganda they might be.) Just pick up any newspaper or turn on any channel there and you'll see so much hatred that you won't believe your heavily made-up eyes. But it won't be coming from Chavez, it'll be directed at him, and most of it will be coming from overprivileged, undertalented snotballs who are virtually indistinguishable, in looks and half-baked ideas alike, from you.

Think before you speak, lest your words come back to hit you in the pocketbook.

February 20, 2008

Obama in Texas

Mi amiga Kim (who posts as TexasLibGirl at UNN) managed to get into a HUUUUUUUUGE rally for Barack Obama in Dallas. Here's her account of how it all went down.

And here's my favorite of the pics she snapped:

Barack Obama speaking in Dallas, Texas

A nice, close, professional-quality shot. This former j-school photo editor approves.

Way to go, Kim!

No, you can't.

A big-ass bucket of cold water on Barack Obama? Yes, it is.

But then again, it's also a pretty accurate picture of what conservatism really stands for.

Thanks, Uncle Jay!

This is the best overall explanation of the US government and how it works (or doesn't) that I've seen to date.

February 18, 2008

The rich aren't going to like this

Capitalism necessitates an oppressed underclass? I had no idea!

Talk about your "no shit, Sherlock" moments. How long did it take them to realize that unequal distribution of wealth is a major killer?

Economic growth does not necessarily translate into improvements in child mortality, major new research suggests.

Ten million children still die every year before their fifth birthday, 99% of them in the developing world, according to Save the Children.

A study comparing economic performance with child mortality reveals that some countries have not translated wealth into improvements across society.

Survival is too often just a "lottery", said Save the Children's David Mepham.

He said that even the poorest countries can cut child mortality by following simple policies, but at the moment "a child's chance of making it to its fifth birthday depends on the country or community it is born into".

English-to-English translation: If you're born into a socialist country, which is definable as one that taxes the richest heavily in order to supply free healthcare, education and a social safety net to all, your chances are excellent. If you're born into a backward country, where the wealth of the rich is left untouched, you're fucked. Best of luck, mate, you're gonna need it.

UNDP statisticians calculate that more than half of the babies who die in Angola could be saved were the country to spread its wealth more fairly.

Some of the poorest countries in the world - Nepal, Malawi, Tanzania and Bangladesh - are among the top ten performers in this index, showing success in cutting mortality.

But India, the fastest growing economy in South Asia, lags well behind its poorer neighbours.

Some states in India, including Orissa, Rajasthan and Bihar, have child and maternal mortality rates that are among the worst in the world.

Any guesses as to why that is?

On a visit to rural Orissa, it was not difficult to see why child survival is a matter of chance.

It can take days for villagers to reach medical help, and travel may involve boats or auto-rickshaws.

Dr Baharudat Mishra said that although the government did give a bonus to doctors to work in the outlying regions, it is not enough to entice many, especially compared to the salaries that can be earned in the new technology sector.

"If a doctor does not have a residence with water supply or electricity, and there is no vehicle to reach the affected villages, then naturally obstructions will come up," he said.

"The figures for child mortality in India are shocking," said Shireen Miller, from Save the Children India.

"They are close to sub-Saharan Africa, and one does ask that if we can make such rapid development economically then why can we not do the same socially?

"And in fact are we actually a developed country if we still have hundreds of thousands of babies dying and starving?"

Very pertinent questions. Unfortunately, the answers are rather impertinent:

But government health officials in Orissa blamed ancient customs and practices in the villages, such as starving babies at birth and giving them cold baths, for the poor mortality rates.

They said that where they have been able to train traditional birth attendants, many more babies and mothers do survive.

Here, unfortunately, the fallback position is the same old same old: blame social, rather than economic, backwardness. While I don't want to discount the socially-backward aspects of Orissan life (and child death), the glaringly overlooked fact that economic backwardness is at the root of the problem is apparent in the Beeb's header, "Wealth 'may not lead to health'." I bet that with a little digging, the reporter could have uncovered huge disparities of wealth in India, and particularly in Orissa. (I could!)

The article ends, depressingly as so many articles do, on yet another empty blahblah from a politician:

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Save the Children report is a development "wake-up call", and that the world "can and must do more".

Yes, it can, and yes, it must. And how about starting with India? And more specifically, how about starting with India dispensing with neoliberalism and making its rich pay up?

February 16, 2008

Bobby and Pap get Venezuela right

I love how Bobby Kennedy Jr. says that Hugo Chavez is the kind of leader his dad and JFK would have approved of. That says it all, really.

Um, thanks for the warning.

From the Department of Unfortunate Juxtapositions:

We have kittens. Meow meow!

Today's special: Sweet & Sour Kitten Balls.

Meow meow!

George W. Bush: Liar, terrorist and fascist

Keith Olbermann spells it out clean, clear and cold:

And that's why I love Keith Olbermann.

February 15, 2008

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Ever been jealous of an inanimate object?

Because damn...

I'm jealous of Rafael Correa's microphone. Aren't you?

...right now, I sure wish I were a microphone.

February 14, 2008

Mad Mel and his thirty shekels

Sheesh. What IS it with these religiocrazies? First they make a suspiciously overtoned movie glorifying the torture-death of Jesus (and a whole slew of horrible, sadistic commercial kitsch to go with it), and now this...

Actor and director Mel Gibson is being sued by the scriptwriter of his film The Passion of the Christ.

Benedict Fitzgerald says Mr Gibson told him the movie would cost up to $7m, but the writer claims the 2004 film's real budget was set between $25m to $50m.

Mr Fitzgerald claims in court papers he took a salary which was "substantially less than what he would have taken had he known the true budget of the film".

He also says he was refused extra money when the movie became a blockbuster.

Mr Fitzgerald also alleges Mr Gibson promised he would not receive money from the film and that profits would be distributed to people who worked on the movie.

Mr Gibson stated he did not want "money on the back of what he considered a personal gift to his faith," legal papers said.

Hey Mel, whatever happened to rich men not entering heaven? As I recall, your movie was heavy on the death of Christ, but light on what he actually said and did in the rest of his life. What do you suppose Jesus would say to this?

February 13, 2008

Cops Behaving Badly: Someone get his badge number!

Sorry, you can't see it here. But at least he helpfully gives his name: Officer Rivieri.

How do you say "Up Yours" in Spanish?

Don't look now, but I think Venezuela just said it to the confiscatory greedheads at Exxon Mobil.

Oh, it is so ON, kiddies!

My name is not Inigo Montoya...

February 12, 2008

Hard truths on war-torn Iraq

A veteran for peace, in his 80s, shows what he found on a recent trip to Iraq.

Warning: Very disturbing images.

Cuban students: We were manipulated by the media, not arrested

Oh what a tangled thread they weave--the crapaganda whores, whose job is to deceive!

For anyone who doubts that the US-owned and operated (by the State Dept.) Radio and TV Marti are in fact black propaganda organs and not messengers of liberty, read what one group of Cuban students had to say today:

The Cuban students whose images were exploited by the media in order to present them as examples of a rebellion against the government, denounced the videos as a manipulation in which they were used, and deny that they were detained as the media claimed yesterday.

After the recording of a two-hour chat between the students (of the University of Information Sciences) and the president of the Cuban parliament, the western media began to distribute some small fragments, which they presented as illegal recordings that showed the students rising up against the Cuban government. They did not mention that these acts are always recorded by the students and linked in their entirety via the university intranet.

Yesterday, on the 11th of February, the media began to denounce the "detention" of a student, Eliecer Avila. In a video, this student is now denouncing that statement as false. The lie began to spread, curiously, in Radio Marti and TV Marti, two media created in the United States "to bring the truth" to Cuba. However, once the message was repeated via other media and agencies, they withdrew the item from their website. The media did not stop repeating that "young Avila Cicilia was arrested at 9 a.m. on February 9 by state security agents, who arrived at his home in the El Yarey neighborhood of Vazquez, municipality of Puerto Padre, in the province of Las Tunas."

Translation mine.

Aporrea has screenshots of the false reports and YouTube videos (made by the CubaDebate website) of the student whose statements were taken out of context and falsified, denouncing the manipulation, along with several classmates. He certainly does not look like someone who was abused by police or deprived of freedom at any point. He is, however, quite indignant that his image was abused, and his good name smeared, by foreign media. He also shows the blue t-shirt he was wearing at the time of the alleged "uprising"--which is not a rebel shirt at all, but bears an "at" symbol (@), entirely appropriate to a student at a university of computer sciences and a computer buff (which he is.)

Meanwhile, Part Two of Fidel Castro's bitch-slap at the hallucinating John McCain is out in Granma. It's chock-full of interesting facts, including the story of the scuba gear that failed to kill its intended target. Seems its intended carrier, when he learned of the germ plot, was horrified, refused to go along with the CIA's assassination plan, and brought Fidel a clean suit instead. It also reveals some clues as to the doubtful state of McCain's sanity (taken from McCain's own autobio, no less). It's long and it rambles (hey, that's Fidel!) but every paragraph is an eye-opener. Go read.

Iran: Lessons from history

Did you know Iran WAS once a democracy? And that the US is the reason it became a tyranny? And that Britain, too, had imperial ambitions over it? And that oil is the secret cause behind it all?

In just 6 minutes and 20 seconds, you can learn a lot.

Fidel to McCain: Bitch, please!

Note: I totally respect John McCain's bipartisan work (with fellow senator Russ Feingold, D-HotStuff) on campaign financing reform, even if it never went anywhere (because the Bushpig Party just ran a big-ass dollar-driven steamroller right over it). But this is just ridiculous--and Fidel Castro has called him out for it:

Allow me to remind you, Mr. McCain: The commandments of the religion that you practice forbid lying. The years of prison and the injuries that you received as a consequence of your attacks on Hanoi do not excuse you from your moral duty to the truth.

There are facts that we should inform you of. In Cuba, there was a rebellion against a despot imposed on the Cuban people by the government of the United States on March 10, 1952, when you were approaching your 16th birthday, and the Republican government of a eminent military man, Dwight D. Eisenhower — certainly the first to talk of an military-industrial complex — acknowledged and immediately supported that government. I was a bit older than you, and would turn 26 in August, the month in which you, too, were born. Eisenhower had not yet completed his presidential term, begun in the 1950s, a number of years after the fame he acquired in the Allied landing in northern France, with the support of 10,000 aircraft and the most powerful naval forces known up to that point.

That was a war, formally declared by the powers that were confronting Hitler, initiated by surprise by the Nazis, who attacked without warning or a prior declaration of war. A new style of provoking mass killings was imposed on humanity.

In 1945, two atomic bombs of some 20 kilotons each were utilized against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I once visited the first of those cities.

During the 1950s, the U.S. government was constructing nuclear weapons to the extent that one of them, the MR17, weighed 19.05 tons and measured 7.49 meters, and could be transported in bombers and trigger an explosion of 20 megatons, equivalent to 1,000 bombs of the kind that it dropped on those two cities on August 6, 1945. That is a piece of information that would drive Einstein insane, given that in the midst of his contradictions, he expressed remorse on a number of occasions for the weapon that, without intending, he helped to construct with his scientific theories and discoveries.

When the Revolution in Cuba triumphed on January 1, 1959, almost 15 years after the explosion of the first nuclear weapons, and a Agrarian Reform Act was proclaimed on the basis of national sovereignty, consecrated by the blood of millions of combatants who died in that war, the response of the United States was a program of illegal acts and terrorist attacks on the Cuban people, undersigned by the president of the United States himself, Dwight. D. Eisenhower.

The attack via the Bay of Pigs came about following the precise instructions of the president of the United States and the invaders were escorted by naval units, including an aircraft carrier. The first assault with U.S. government B-26 bombers that flew out of underground bases came in a surprise form, with the use of Cuban insignia to present it to world opinion as an uprising by our national Air Force.

You are accusing Cuban revolutionaries of being torturers. I seriously urge you to present just one of the 1,000-plus prisoners captured in the combats of Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) combat who was tortured. I was there, unprotected in a distant general command post. With some aides, I personally captured a large number of prisoners; I passed in front of armed squadrons still hidden in the forest vegetation, who were brought to a halt by the presence there of the Commander of the Revolution. I regret having to mention this, which could seem to be self-praise, which I sincerely detest.

The prisoners were citizens born in Cuba and organized by a powerful foreign power to fight against their own people.

You profess yourself to be in favor of capital punishment for very serious crimes. What attitude would you have assumed in response to such acts? How many would you have punished for that treason? A number of the invaders, who had previously committed horrendous crimes under Batista's orders against Cuban revolutionaries, were tried in Cuba.

I visited the mass of prisoners from the Bay of Pigs, which is what you call the Girón invasion, more than once, and talked with them. I like to know people's motives. They were very surprised and acknowledged the personal respect with which they were treated.

You should be aware that, while their release was being negotiated via compensation in food for children and medicines, the U.S. government was organizing assassination plots against my person. That is confirmed in the writings of people who participated in the negotiations.

I shall not refer in detail to the long list of hundreds of assassination attempts against my person. These are not inventions. It is what is stated in official documents released by the U.S. government.

What kind of ethics underlie those acts vehemently defended by you as a matter of principle?

Seeing as McCain is unlikely to answer that question, Fidel, please allow me to fill you in.

McCain is just pandering to the anti-Cuban lobby, whom he perceives as being hugely influential in Republican circles. (You're probably familiar with them. They're headquartered in Miami, and they've made over 600 attempts on your life.)

Now, you know and I know what really happened at Playa Giron (or the Bay of Pigs), when you and your fellow Cubans fended off an invasion. I can't honestly say I blame you for importing Russian nuclear warheads in self-defence. In your shoes, I'd probably have done the same, with considerable regrets. Ever since I saw The Day After, in 1983, I've been a staunch peacenik and no-nuker.

However, as a Canadian, I'm live-and-let-live when it comes to Cuba. And I believe that Cuba, as a sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself by any means necessary. My belief is that it is the Cuban people who must decide, and if they decide they prefer you, or communism, over the US State Dept.'s handpicked candidates, so be it. I know there are many things worse than communism. (Such as, for example, the State Dept.'s handpicked candidates.)

But apparently, there are a number of crazies who think that communism is still THE #1 menace to the great global whatever, and that its embers, however small and dim, are to be stomped out wherever they feebly flicker. Is John McCain one of them? He certainly gives every impression that he is, and never more than when he is pandering to the Miami mafiosi who have repeatedly tried and failed to topple you.

Now, one thing I've noticed about those people is that they are all, to a man, bat-shit crazy. Perhaps McCain is, too; the treatment he endured in the Hanoi Hilton must have warped his brain. Whatever they did to him there, though, is no worse than what the US and its collaborators have done under Operation Condor throughout Latin America. In fact, from what I've read, I'd prefer to be in the hands of the North Vietnamese. (The South Vietnamese--the "friendlies"--were total sons of bitches. And guess who taught them what they knew!)

Of course, the charges that there were Cubans among the North Vietnamese torturers are nothing new. I found a PR release dated 1999, levelling just such accusations. I wasn't surprised to learn that the prime accusers were from CANF, and your old pal Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is among them--like I said, they are bat-shit crazy! (And good on you, Fidel, for getting them out of country when you did.)

And if you want to know how I feel about it, these people might want to clean up their own house before they point any fingers elsewhere. It seems they have plenty of torturers of their own, and some of them are ex-Cuban. But I doubt they learned their black arts from the likes of Fidel Castro.

February 11, 2008

Let's play Interference Futbol!

Okay, how embarrassing is this?

Team USA World Police undoubtedly thought they'd recruited a winning soccer team among the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Scholars currently living, studying and working in Bolivia. How sad and pathetic is it that their intended star players are already on the side of Integrity, with no intention of signing with any team owned and operated by BushCo's stinky State Dept.?

President Evo Morales declared a U.S. Embassy security officer to be an "undesirable person" on Monday after reports that the officer asked an American scholar and 30 Peace Corps volunteers to pass along information about Cubans and Venezuelans working in Bolivia.

[...]

Morales said Cooper is, "for Bolivia, for the government, an undesirable person," and accused him of sending U.S. citizens in Bolivia out as spies. "I feel that this man has not only violated the rights of these citizens, but also violated, offended and attacked Bolivia," the president said.

[...]

On Friday, Fulbright scholar Alex van Schaick told The Associated Press that Cooper, the embassy's assistant regional security officer, asked him to pass along the names and addresses of any Venezuelan and Cuban workers he might encounter in the country. "We know they're out there, we just want to keep tabs on them," Schaick quoted Cooper as telling him on Nov. 5.

ABC News reported that Cooper made a similar request to 30 newly arrived Peace Corps volunteers on July 29, angering the organization's programming and training officer for Bolivia, Doreen Salazar, who told Cooper that the request violated policy and told the volunteers to ignore it.

So, here's a quick rundown of the goals:

Peace Corps, playing for the side of Integrity: 1.

John "Alex" van Schaick, playing for the side of Integrity: 1.

The Bolivian Government, playing for the side of Integrity: 1.

The score so far: Integrity, 3; Team USA World Police, 0.

February 10, 2008

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

Hard home(boy) truth about FUX Snooze:

...and a shout-out to Barack Obama at the end. Let's hope that if nominated and elected, he'll be able to make REAL change to all this.

February 8, 2008

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Chavecito does Carnival

Well, all right. This guy isn't really Chavecito:

A Chavecito lookalike at Carnival

But you have to admit he's a pretty good lookalike. (And no, that's not FARC leader Manuel Marulanda behind him; that's another festive impostor.)

Meanwhile, Evo was out for the festivities, partying with his people...

Evo does Carnival Bolivian style!

...and getting loaded up with confetti and goodies. You have to admire his stamina, being able to walk with all that around his neck.

The brain-dead are walking the Earth

Either that, or they really, REALLY hate democracy.

Bush spoke to a boisterous crowd shortly after 7 a.m. EST. The ballroom erupted in cheers when someone shouted "Are there conservatives in the house?" When the president walked on stage, they clapped and chanted "Four more years! Four more years!"

Way to go, CPAC dumbshits. You are aware that term limits still apply in the US, right?

One more black eye for the Jesus Lobby

See what happens when you stand in the way of progress...but haven't got a leg, either of law or logic, to stand on?

A DEVOUT Christian who resigned as a family magistrate over the Government's refusal to allow him to opt out of cases in which gay couples adopt children has had his human rights challenge dismissed.

Andrew McClintock sat on the family panel of Sheffield Magistrates Court for 20 years before recent legislation enshrining the right of same-sex couples to adopt.

The 63-year-old went to court over the Lord Chancellor's refusal to allow him to continue in his role on the family panel, whilst "opting out" of cases involving same-sex adoptions.

He claimed the refusal discriminated against him for his Christian beliefs and said there was also a risk to any children involved because there was little research about the potential effects of such actions.

Today, after already lossing his case before an Employment Tribunal, and again before an Employment Appeal Tribunal, his legal campaign hit the buffers at London's Appeal Court.

Lord Justice Mummery said Mr McClintock's challenge was not a case of pure religious discrimination as was claimed. Although he had religious objections to the new family policy, his concerns focused on the alleged lack of research into the effects on children of gay adoptions.

Aha, there's the rub: there is, in fact, no shortage of research into the effects of gay adoption on children. The problem is, this ever-growing heap of research overwhelmingly points to the fact that gays are just as good at parenting as straights. And furthermore, that children adopted by same-sex parents don't turn out any worse than children adopted by conventional straight couples. There is also evidence showing that there's a crying need for adoptive families, and that straights, by implication, aren't stepping up to the plate--this, as their gay counterparts who want to adopt are being debarred though their parenting capabilities are no longer in question. Even the "they'll be tormented by peers because they have two moms/dads" argument doesn't wash because the more commonplace gay couples are seen to be, the more accepted they will be--yes, even as parents. And by logical extension, the homophobic bullies will be more isolated and ridiculed for their intolerance--and more visible for who they are. So any attempt to play the anti-gay-adoption card (including this cheap, literal attempt) will just end up backfiring on the player.

Long story made short: the only thing gay parents can't do that straight parents can, is conceive their children the old-fashioned way. And an awful lot of gay parents have still managed to do that--by living in the closet for waaaaaay too long. Volumes of research have also been written about the psychological ramifications of that--as have a number of comedies.

Personally, I find the "religious persecution" argument hysterical. There was a time when the Christians could claim it legitimately, but it was 2000 years ago, and Roman emperors were throwing them to lions for the sheer hell of it. Nowadays, apparently, it's enough just to find yourself suddenly and inexplicably contradicted by science, logic and all that other inconvenient cal. No more lions necessary. Even better, before anyone charges you with religious persecution (be it the Muslims, the Jews, the Witches, the atheists or the homo-sex-you-alls), why not just pre-empt them by claiming they're the ones doing it to the Christians?

And in other news today: Earth found to be spherical, rotating upon an axis, and revolving around the Sun! Sky falls for creationists! Ship of Fools falls off edge of planet! Film at 11!

February 5, 2008

And in other neo-Nazi nutbag news...

Looks like Alvaro Uribe has some unsavory company.

Although it's undeniable that most of those who marched this past Monday in Bogota and other Colombian cities were ordinary people demonstrating their indignation or rejection of the FARC, groups of skinheads or neo-Nazis also took advantage of the day to march against the irregular army, as you can see in this video of the march, taken by the daily El Tiempo de Colombia newspaper and available on their YouTube channel.

The far-right youths shouted slogans against communism, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and the FARC.

"No to communism! No more Chavez, no more FARC" can be heard in the YouTube video. So can shouts of "Uribe, friend, we're with you till the end", this in spite of the fact that the demonstration was supposedly convened by independent youth, without political banners, via the Internet.

Translation mine. Here's the video:

The Nazis appear at about the 2:20 mark.

Hey Alvaro, is the enemy of your "enemy" your friend? Better find some other friends, then.

And hey! So much for the common complaint from the Venezuelan right that Chavez's supporters are Nazis. Turns out, the Nazis hate him, in both Colombia AND Venezuela--they all think he's a commie. Go figure!

Q. Why does Stormfront hate human rights?

A. Because Stormfront hates everything and everyone except their fellow neo-Nazi whackjobs, duh.

What's really funny is that they're now holding up two people they would otherwise look upon as sworn enemies as champions of their, uh, "right to free speech".

A Liberal MP is being hailed as a poster boy for free speech on a white supremacist website.

Victoria MP Keith Martin was praised Friday on stormfront.org, a website that proudly displays the logo "White pride world wide" and links to radio addresses by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Martin earned the dubious distinction after giving notice that he plans to introduce a private member's motion calling on the government to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

[...]

The extreme right adherents at Stormfront were clearly thrilled to find a member of the Liberal party, which introduced the act and prides itself as the party of the Charter of Rights, joining their crusade.

"The sordid Soviet-style reign of terror by the Canadian Human Rights Commission is now out in the open," declares Paul Fromm in a posting on the website.

"The CHRC reign of thought control looks like a drying pool of vomit on the dirty floor of some dingy dive. Yes, it stinks and good men are beginning to speak up."

Fromm, a controversial anti-immigration and free speech activist who has been linked to neo-Nazi groups in the past, predicts it "may be easier" for Conservative MPs to back the motion because it's being introduced by a Liberal of "white and Indian (India) parentage."

The website urges readers to join a campaign to pressure their MPs to support Martin's motion.

For Martin, receiving praise from a white-supremacist group was both unwelcome and ironic.

"I'm a brown guy," he quipped in an interview.

Wait a second, you say--that's just one of them. Who's the other?

I'm so glad you asked.

A private members' motion from a BC Liberal MP has brought up Ezra Levant's name in conversations around Ottawa and Calgary water coolers uncomfortably often for Stephen Harper.

Levant, 35, became prominent as a writer, publisher and outspoken conservative activist known for provocative actions and comments, and for extreme views. He co-organized the Winds of Change conference in Calgary in 1996 in an unsuccessful attempt to merge the Reform Party of Canada and Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. In 2002, after the Canadian Alliance was formed, he won the party's nomination for Calgary Southwest, but faced intense pressure to step aside so Stephen Harper, who had just been elected party leader, could run there in a by-election.

He insisted very publicly that he would not step aside but later did under heavy pressure from within the party. Observers say Harper has disliked Levant ever since. "He certainly wouldn't be welcome as a visitor or adviser in Harper circles," one national reporter told HarperIndex.ca.

Another said "I don't think anyone could, with a straight face, say he's close to Harper." In addition to the personal conflict Harper had with Levant over the nomination, Levant was a major supporter of Stockwell Day - he called himself a "Stock-aholic" - and represented, like Day, a more extreme strategy of neo-conservative politics that Harper doesn't believe can win.

Levant is back in the news because rules against the publication of material deemed to incite religious hatred, under which Levant's now-defunct news magazine Western Standard was charged, are being challenged by Liberal Keith Martin. In 2006 the magazine published controversial cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed despite orders from the Canadian Human Rights Commission not to publish it.

Levant made a public case of the issue and even republished the cartoons on his website last month on the same day he appeared before a hearing of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission investigating a complaint over them.

Okay, folks, sit back and savor the irony for a moment...the white supremacist neo-Nazi hate-mongers are all agog over the free-speechifyin' virtues of...a brown guy and a Jew. One would think they'd be chewing their toenails over the fact that they don't have any champions who are fellow WASPs. Well, so much for the alleged superior intellect of the would-be Master Race!

Of course, the less delicious irony here is that if the Stormfronters got their way and ever ended up with real political power, what do you suppose is the first thing they'd take away from brown people and Jews? Yep, you guessed it...freedom of speech. Along with all the other hard-fought-for human rights which happen to be enshrined in our Charter. Which I doubt any of them have ever read, because right up close to the top, it lists the following four items as Fundamental Freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

d) freedom of association.

Kind of puts the lie to that Paul Fromm character when he claims the Canadian Human Rights Commission is waging a "sordid Soviet-style reign of terror", eh?

But wait, it gets better. Skip on down to the section labelled Legal Rights:

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

10. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention

a) to be informed promptly of the reasons therefor;

b) to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right; and

c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

11. Any person charged with an offence has the right

a) to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence;

b) to be tried within a reasonable time;

c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;

d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;

e) not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause;

f) except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment;

g) not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations;

h) if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again and, if finally found guilty and punished for the offence, not to be tried or punished for it again; and

i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.

12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

13. A witness who testifies in any proceedings has the right not to have any incriminating evidence so given used to incriminate that witness in any other proceedings, except in a prosecution for perjury or for the giving of contradictory evidence.

It even guarantees deaf or non-English/French-speaking defendants the right to an interpreter! Gee, that sure sounds like a Soviet-style reign of terror to me (she said, dripping heavy sarcasm.)

But wait...I guess this next bit, Equality Rights, is what's really got the wingnuts' collective dander up, and their group mind buzzing with muzzy commie conspiracy theories:

5. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Oh noooo. The spectre of Affirmative Action just reared its hydra heads. Some black, some brown, some yellow, some white; some male, some female, some transgendered, and some queer. Some that don't yet speak either of our two official languages. And some that bow toward Mecca in five-times-daily prayers, and some that loll over the headrest of an electric wheelchair...

The Nazi stormtroopers, of course, don't want any amelioration of conditions. They want the disadvantaged to stay there, presumably so they can feel superior to someone. And they would like nothing better, I imagine, than to see this section and subsection stricken from the Charter, so that there is nothing to stop them, if they should ever manage to seize power, from writing laws that explicitly put anyone in the designated out-groups at an institutional disadvantage.

But what really nails the coffin for the Stormtroopers and their conspiracy theories is this clause, in the General section:

31. Nothing in this Charter extends the legislative powers of any body or authority.

Gee, I feel so oppressed. Don't you, just reading that? Just imagine--no special legislative powers for anyone, not even the Human Rights Commission!

BTW, Glenn Greenwald has sure got egg on his face over all this. Sorry, Glenn, but as well-considered as your opinions may be nine times out of ten, this is that tenth time when you're all wet. Maybe you'd better bone up on our Charter too, before you spout off at the keyboard about it again. Ignorance of the law is no defence, and the Canadian Constitution, along with the Charter, is the supreme law of my home and native land. Our Charter is easily among the most progressive in the world (witness the fact that same-sex marriage rights came into being recognized here as a result of it.) It does not (and cannot) prevent anyone from thinking or speaking as they please, although it does recognize that the right to free speech ends where hate crimes begin. In other words: you can hate blacks and Jews, and even say nigger or kike, but you can't say something like "I don't rent apartments to niggers", or "Hmmm...you said your name is Greenwald? Sounds Jewish. In that case, your rent is $500 higher. Hey, don't get mad, now--it's my right! You Jews are all too rich anyway!" Or, worst of all, "I declare war on...(insert out-group name here)!"

It takes a lot to get called on the carpet by the Human Rights Tribunal--in fact, the offences that occasion such things are few, and so egregious that they invariably make the news and get the whole country talking and debating and arguing and punching each other's lights out in sleazy gin joints (kidding about that last one--I think!). In a real totalitarian dictatorship, that wouldn't be the case. And you'd never hear about it either, because there would be no freedom of the press.

See, here in Canada, the slippery slope is a fine place to go tobogganing, but it's nothing on which you can base a considered legal opinion. Much less an accusation that this free, beautiful country is some kind of Soviet gulag--or ever in danger of becoming one just because it guarantees human rights to minorities.

And as for free-speech absolutism, I will only say this: Absolute shit stinks absolutely. And I will not defend to the death the free speech of anyone who would only use their speech to promote the death and oppression of others. I have bigger freedom-fish to fry. And so should you, Glenn.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to my Pravda. The Commissar will send me to Siberia if I can't recite the entire latest edition from memory.

February 4, 2008

The difference between "sucks" and "ROCKS!"

Usually, I tune out all mass-media traveloguery. Having been to j-school (and having had the misfortune to study under a "magazine writing" instructor who preferred throwaway travel and celebrity puff pieces to actual, worth-paying-money-for MAGAZINE JOURNALISM), I guess I'm just plain prejudiced. I certainly had a lot of blinders ripped off my eyes as to what passes for "good" in the Industry--and in a word, it is DRIVEL. It has to be; it's just page-filler. Its sole purpose is to take up the space the advertisers didn't want, and to titillate the casual newsstand browser into buying a fish-wrapper or birdcage-liner she probably didn't want either. If magazines could be all ads and still get bought on the newsstand by paying customers, trust me--they would be. But we fickle consumers, we still insist on some semblance of substance, however vague. And if we wanted to read nothing but ads, there's all that junkmail cluttering up our recycle bins.

It should go without saying that the people who write those expensive, cloth-bound travel guidebooks have actually done a lot more homework than the professional tacky tourists who "do travel writing" for The Media. (Stands to reason; they don't have to fill non-ad space, and they have to be certain that their writing will be of use to someone--and not end up getting pulped for toilet paper.)

And I'm positively certain that well-travelled progressives could revolutionize the travel-book industry if they ever chose to go that way. Happily (or unhappily, depending on where you sit, yearning for progressive adventures), they're not in the Baedeker business. Leftists may profit from their travels, but they don't travel for profit. They're in it for something more than money. They don't give a hang if they've seduced you into shelling out for a package tour of the latest ecotourism hotspot (and if they do, you can be sure that they're NOT real leftists). What they do care about, is making sure that whoever deigns to read gets an accurate, socially-aware picture of what's going on elsewhere--the good and the not-so alike.

I bring this up for a reason.

Today, my Google Alert dropped not one, but TWO "been to Venezuela and decided to write about it" pieces in my inbox. One, in Slate, embodies exactly what I hold in such contempt about "travel writing". The other, in Monthly Review, is why I lust for a leftist Lonely Planet series.

Let's start (with clothespin affixed firmly to nose) on the Slate piece.

I don't like arriving in a new city early in the morning. You and the city are both still groggy, exposed; the pulse-racing anticipation of discovery is deadened by the overnight flight. It's like agreeing to go on a first date at 6 a.m. No, I'd rather make my first landing at night, when the shimmering lights only hint at what is soon to be unveiled.

And believe it or not, that unoriginal schlock was the best prose in the entire piece. The rest flits breathlessly between irrelevant digressions (the author devotes two lengthy, soporific paragraphs to singing the praises of his half-Venezuelan, mostly-Spanish travelling companion, Amanda), things we already know ("one of the things Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro share is a passion for el imperio's pastime—as a teenager Chávez also aspired to play pro baseball"), things we really didn't need or even want to know (the fair Amanda hates baseball; well, bully for you, Amanda!), and things we could just as easily find out from viewing a video ("Caracas is a sprawling mess of a city laid out in a beautiful valley, with shantytowns and ultraposh neighborhoods competing to take over the commanding heights of surrounding hillsides").

Unfortunately, when it comes to factoids, you could do just as well by reading the neoliberal crapaganda in El Universal. To wit:

Venezuela has an official exchange rate, set by the government, in the neighborhood of 2,000 bolivares to the dollar, a rate that is more aspirational than real. On the street, people are eager to give you between 4,000 and 6,000 bolivares to the dollar. (Following in the footsteps of plenty of other nations that have run their currencies into the ground, on the first day of 2008 Venezuela introduced the "bolivar fuerte," knocking three zeroes off the old currency.)

Of course, if that were true, then those people "on the street" either really don't need the money, or they're ripping themselves the hell off. The greenback is teetering on the cliff, needing only one stiff breeze from China to send it over the edge. Someone kindly inform them of that before they go broke like all the others who embraced gringo globalization. And someone please inform Slate's hack that the old, weak bolivar was not trading at 2,000,000 to the dollar, as his piece erroneously suggests! (And while you're at it, could you also let him know that the country with the world's largest oil reserves can damn well set the worth of its currency any place it collectively pleases?)

To persuade us of his econmic expertise, the author informs us: "Having grown up in Mexico, I am familiar with the melodrama of exchange controls and the corrupting nature of fictional rates. Mexico had to go this route when the country went broke in the early 1980s. But it is absurd to watch a government made ever more prosperous by surging oil revenues embrace such nonsense."

Really? Well, what a pity you didn't grow up in Argentina, dude. They could tell you a thing or two about "fictional rates" of currency exchange. They pegged their peso to the dollar during the Neoliberal Nineties, only to unpeg it sometime after Carlos Menem had sold the whole friggin' country out from under its citizens' feet. Once the local and foreign rich had taken their killings offshore (in US dollars, in the dead of the night, complete with siren-blaring police escorts for the armored Prosegur trucks), Argentina experienced such a currency devaluation as to make the country go through five presidents in less than a month, and default on a debt worth $93 billion. You want a currency crisis? That's a currency crisis, man.

The dirtiest little open secret in the world is that none of the usual suspects--whether Peronism or protectionism or the peculiarities of the Argentine psyche--actually caused the crisis. The culprit was none other than the globalized economy itself. If you don't believe me, read Naomi Klein; she spells it right out. Every country that has ever taken the advice of the World Bank and the IMF has just barely lived to regret it. Every country that has ever told either institution to piss off has managed to climb out of its hole sooner, and with fewer of the very repercussions the orthodox economists keep telling us are "inevitable" for anyone who refuses to comply with "conditionalities"--unemployment (due to lack of foreign "investment"), inflation, stagflation, etc. They don't boom as spectacularly, but they don't go bust, either. That's because, unlike Argentina, they are not so heavily dependent on exports; they have more endogenous development. A strong internal economy, it turns out, is the best buffer against a bust brought on by neoliberalism!

Now, Venezuela knows a thing or two about neoliberalism-induced busts. Venezuela went bust sooner than anyone else, back in 1989. Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, and Carlos Andres Perez came to power, Venezuela was forcibly submitted to the IMF's conditionalities. The Caracazo was the inevitable result; the riots and the subsequent authoritarian crackdown not only resulted in a massive national fire sale ("privatization", in foreign hands of course), but in the military revolt whose anniversary Venezuela celebrated just today.

The ringleader of that military revolt is someone you already know. He is now Venezuela's president. And one of his constant themes (besides gringo imperialism) is the crying need for endogenous development. Venezuela used to be self-sufficient in food, and before oil, its #1 export commodity was cocoa. In fact, the cacao bean is believed by experts to be indigenous to Venezuela; it evolved there, and eventually spread northward into Mexico, where Cortez subsequently "discovered" it--as the royal drink of Montezuma's court (and probably a fermented beverage with the same alcoholic content as a strong beer). It was so valuable that it was served in gold goblets that were thrown away after a single use!

But I digress.

The point is, Venezuela shouldn't have to import a bite of food; it has enough arable land that, if properly managed, can feed everyone and probably also export a fair bit of high-quality cocoa (a boon to us chocoholics, considering that Ghana's crop is in trouble and the price of cocoa could go sky-high as a result). If Venezuela is heavily import-dependent, it is not due to any laziness or other peculiarity of the Venezuelan psyche, any more than the Argentine financial crisis could be blamed on laziness or schizophrenia on the part of the Argentines. It is because (and if you have read Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America, you will already know this) the imperialists who "built" the country in the first place, built it to bleed ad infinitum.

Eduardo Galeano's book, by the way, is published by Monthly Review's book division (which, I hope, will one day consider expanding its list to include travel guides with a progressive relevance).

Which brings me rather nicely around to the Monthly Review piece: it's a goodie. I won't dissect it here, other than to say that it has everything the Slate piece lacks.

And, given that Slate thinks it worthwhile to tell us where "gorgeous" Russians come from and what porn stars' political positions are, perhaps that's not so surprising.

Neal Boortz: Useless, worthless parasite

Warning: Extreme victim-blaming by someone who probably does EVERYTHING he accuses Those People (i.e. the poor and blacks of New Orleans, whom he calls "GARBAGE") of doing...

Malmö Blue writes:

YOU, the consumer can do something to protest this smut and get this guy off the air!

Do like Nancy, a regular caller to KPHX, who has already announced that she will cancel her cable service provided by COX Communications Inc., owner of WSB 750 AM! Good for you, Nancy!

Be sure to let them know in writing that you disapprove of such hate mongering and will not have any business dealings with any company who supports it...

Address:

Cox Communications Inc.

1400 Lake Hearn Drive

Atlanta, Georgia 30319 U.S.A.

Telephone:

(404) 843-5000

Cox subscribers, please exercise your wallet power. Get this racist scumbag off the air. He is a useless, worthless parasite of the public airwaves, and it is time to kick this pile of trash to the curb.

February 3, 2008

More FARC hostages to be released

Score another point for evil Chavecito...

Colombia's Farc rebels have said they will release three hostages captured over six years ago, for health reasons.

The Farc told local media that it would free the hostages in return for mediation efforts made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The group released two high profile hostages earlier in January in a deal that Mr Chavez helped to broker.

The hostages to be released were named as former lawmakers Luis Eladio Perez, Gloria Polanco and Orlando Beltran.

No handover date was given.

In a statement, the Farc repeated their desire to exchange hostages for jailed rebels.

Such an exchange has been blocked over a Farc demand that the government demilitarise a large area in southern Colombia to enable a handover.

...and another black eye for the gringos' "good guy" Alvaro the para-narco-politician.

I really don't know why Dubya and Harpo want free trade agreements with that little putz; no one else does.

On the other hand, Chavecito's fair-trade pacts, such as ALBA and Petrocaribe, keep getting more signatories. And his hostage-release efforts, funnily enough, just keep bearing fruit. Shit, he's even combatting drug trafficking from Colombia through Venezuela at an unprecedented rate--one surmises it's a good thing he kicked out the DEA.

You'd think, eventually, that someone high up in Colombia would get the hint. Well, maybe they might--but they'll have to get rid of Alvaro first.

February 2, 2008

Rebellion of the Oaxaquenas

The women of Oaxaca, Mexico, were a key force in the organization of the popular dissent that began in 2006 and continues to this day. They took over a TV station for an hour when they realized that the local media was full of shit and would not tell the truth about the popular rebellion. Even women who had never been politically active in their lives said no to the old roles of oppressor and oppressed that are so deeply engrained in gender relations all over the world (and especially in machista societies in Latin America.) They left the kitchen, ignored the soap operas (those reinforcers of the old victim role of their gender) and joined a march of more than 20,000 women.

Being a female activist is fraught with danger; men can be killed, but women can be raped first. And even if rape doesn't happen, genderized humiliation and assault are common. One of the women, an indigenous Mixteca, tells of how the police hacked off her hair in an attempt to debase her not only on the grounds of gender, but ethnicity as well.

Ironically, though, after some initial shock, the men rallied around the women. Men saw the women's takeover of Channel 9, and were inspired to take up other grassroots media activities because of it. Husbands showed up at the jails to cheer their incarcerated wives; while mothers were imprisoned, the fathers looked after the children and told them to take pride in what their mothers were doing. The ongoing rebellion in Oaxaca is not only against a corrupt government and political system, but also a way of looking at gender and power relations at the root of society itself.

February 1, 2008

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Evo celebrates Alasita

Who, Evo? Chicken?

Happy Alasita, Evo!

Nah. He's just receiving a traditional "Ekeko" figurine of a hen, symbolizing a female partner (as he is, incredibly, still single). And a second one for his VP, Alvaro Garcia Linera, who's also unattached. (Single women get roosters.) The figurines are blessed by Aymara shamans and given as good-luck presents; nobody buys one for themselves. The thing they represent is supposed to come into the recipient's life within a year. You can read more about the customs and rituals of Alasita here.

(Holy crap, I better get flapping, so I make it down to Bolivia within the year. Boy, will my arms be tired.)

Madres reclaim a torture centre

I've been hungry for some good news, and happily I found it...in Argentina.

Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who launched a human rights crusade in the late 70s against a bloody dictatorship, took control of a building at a former naval academy that was the junta's chief torture center.

Activists on Thursday painted cheery suns and flowers on the building, which will begin operating April 30 as a cultural complex and also houses classrooms for law students attending a university the Mothers founded in recent years.

"Let's paint the building in the colors of life," cried a leader of the group, Hebe de Bonafini. "We have defeated death!"

The government announced in 2004 that the Navy Mechanics' School would be removed from military control and become a museum and monument honoring the victims of the 1976-83 military regime. The last officers left the campus late last year.

Nearly 13,000 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship's crackdown on dissent, according to an official tally. Activists say the toll is closer to 30,000.

Bonafini noted that children of some the Mothers were among the 5,000 dissidents detained at the clandestine torture center, where they were tortured and, in some cases, made to disappear.

Long live the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo!