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July 30, 2008

Reuters, AP--what's the difference?

When it comes to reporting on Venezuela--not a dime's worth. Reuters is just as bad at hitting Latin America with the Stoopid Stick, as this Saul Hudson piece makes all too clear:

A popular mayor hoping to run for a top elected office in Venezuela protested a ban on his candidacy on Tuesday in a case that highlights opposition concerns over weakened democracy under President Hugo Chavez.

Leopoldo Lopez, 37, vows to stand for mayor of Caracas in November in nationwide elections for state and municipal posts, where a fragmented opposition hopes to loosen Chavez's years-old grip on regional power centers.

But Venezuela's top anti-corruption official has barred Lopez -- and more than 200 others -- from running on charges the Harvard graduate says authorities have trumped up to stop him winning a post that governs about 3 million people.

"We urge the Supreme Court ... to be strong enough to show its independence and take a coherent, constitutional decision," Lopez said as he led hundreds of supporters in a rally outside the country's highest court seeking the ban to be overturned.

A social democrat with a politician's ability to laugh and chat comfortably with both rich and poor, Lopez has been mayor of the wealthy Caracas municipality of Chacao for 8 years and now wants to govern the whole capital.

Which he never will unless he learns how to steal an election, ba-dump-bump.

Astute regular readers of this blog will probably have a fair idea of what the howlers in this snippet are, but for those new to NOTR, here we go again. Once more, with feeling:

Leopoldo Lopez is not "popular" anywhere else but in Chacao--probably because the vast majority of Caracas is populated not by the dissociated rich, but the very skeptical poor. He's unpopular for other reasons, too--all of them criminal, some of them downright treasonous. And in the case of at least one recent example, downright violent.

Lopez is also not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "social democrat". He's a co-founder of Primero Justicia, a far-right party. And the party he's with now, Un Nuevo Tiempo, is not by a long shot social-democratic, either, no matter what it claims (or its English Wikipedia page says). Again, it's a party of the right.

He's also not really comfortable with the poor--people from the wealthy parts of Eastern Caracas just plain aren't. If they must associate with them (and they keep that to a minimum for reasons as obvious as the color of the respective skins), they prefer them hand-picked for photo-ops, same as BushCo would do in Katrina-decimated New Orleans. Even worse, he's been known to use their neighborhoods for plotting crime. Safe to say that they're even less comfortable with him than he is with them, and for reasons clear.

Also, let's not forget that the candidate most likely to win the Metro Mayor seat...isn't Leo. That would be a certain black man who used to be Chavecito's education minister, is now a TV talk show host, and throughout it all, has remained popular with the above-mentioned po' folks.

And of course, no mention by Saul Hudson of the real facts about the so-called "blacklist". Here, let Francisco Dominguez of Dissident Voice clue you in.

BTW, here's some interesting video blastage-from-the-pastage:

Seems that the same opposition now decrying the "antidemocratic" law that permits disqualification of candidates convicted of, or under investigation and prosecution for, crimes--once upon a time, supported it unanimously in the parliament. How soon they forget, these brave opposition "democrats"! Funny, though, how they only protest when it's clear that their candidates are criminals who, even if permitted to run, would lose anyway. Talk about grasping straws...

But don't expect Reuters to report that about the oppos' Great White Hope in Caracas. They hate Chavez so much, they'll take anything Prettyboy says at face value. They are grasping at straws, too.

See what happens when you boogie with fascists?

You get poopy doody crappy assassination attempts everywhere in Venezuela! I hereby translate:

Parliamentary deputy Luis Tascon denounced that the attempt on the life of ex-defence minister Raul Baduel, which happened last week, was perpetrated by radical sectors of the ultra-right, who are looking for a martyr in this political moment.

"They need a martyr right now, and they have chosen the figure of Baduel," Tascon said.

That's true. The figure of Douglas Rojas certainly isn't enough for them. Especially when it turns out (as it surely will, sometime soon or late) that his own right-wing buddies did him in because they needed at least one death to blame on you-know-who.

There's still the lingering mystery of Hector Eduardo Serrano, the man who died in an explosion in front of the Fedecamaras building, too. Notice how all the maggots inside said building didn't hesitate to come out and dine on his corpse? Well, no wonder. As journalist Alberto Nolia has noted on his VTV show "The Devil's Papers", Fedecamaras is an "unburied corpse" itself. Stands to reason that such a cadaver would be crawling with unsavory critters; who else would touch it but the vultures and the flies?

But here's the kicker: No one seems to know who is currently president of that discredited chamber of commerce, and no one seems to give a shit either. Fedecamaras is officially irrelevant. VTV sent out a reporter team, sat them right in front of the Fedecamaras building, and had them ask passersby if they knew who the president of that organization was, and no one knew.

Imagine that; Fedecamaras has gone from being "respected advisors" to every Adeco and Copeyano presidunce of the old Puntofijista days, to coup-mongers against Chavecito in April 2002, to...nothing. The only way they can still survive is the way all right-wingers do these days: by eating the dead.

I hope the former general is watching these events and taking note of the general pattern, but it's hard to say. All that gringo dinero may still be flopping around over his eyes like a pair of smelly green horse blinkers.

July 28, 2008

Watch out, Bolivian fascists!

The "Red Ponchos" of the indigenous movement are going to be out in force to defend Evo come August 10:

...when there will be a recall referendum that's got the fascist governors of the Media Luna shaking in their boots, knowing they're gonna lose big-time, but Evo's gonna coast.

BTW, here's a pic of one of the heroes in red, standing shoulder to shoulder with another defender of Bolivia:

Red Poncho and Bolivian military side by side

(courtesy Abiding in Bolivia)

Now we know why the fascists are scared, eh?

No surprises here...

Ho, ditty, hum, ditty...why am I not surprised at this?

A man who opened fire inside a church, killing two people with a shotgun hidden in a guitar case, was frustrated at being unable to find a job and blamed liberals and gays, police said on Monday.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred of the liberal movement," Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen told reporters of Sunday's incident at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

Suspect Jim Adkisson, 58, who was being held on $1 million bond, had previously worked as a mechanical engineer in several states. He described his violent plans in a four-page letter found at his home, which also explained that his age and "liberals and gays" taking jobs had worked against him.

Another recent setback was that Adkisson's allotment of government-issued food stamps had been reduced, Owen said.

The church outside Knoxville, Tennessee, where some 200 people were watching a children's play at the time, had been in the news recently for its "liberal stance," Owen said.

Or this?

The government charged an oil trading firm Thursday with manipulating oil prices in the first complaint to be announced since the regulators began a new investigation into wrongdoings in the energy markets.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission accused Optiver Holding, two of its subsidiaries and three employees with manipulation and attempted manipulation of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

"Optiver traders amassed large trading positions, then conducted trades in such a way to bully and hammer the markets," CFTC Acting Chairman Walt Lukken said at a press conference. "These charges go to the heart of the CFTC's core mission of detecting and rooting out illegal manipulation of the markets."

In May, under the backdrop of record oil prices and calls from legislators to crack down on speculative oil trading and market manipulation, the CFTC announced a wide-ranging probe into oil price manipulation. The agency says it has dozens of investigations ongoing.

The complaint filed Thursday names Bastiaan van Kempen, chief executive; Christopher Dowson, a head trader; and Randal Meijer, head of trading at an Optiver subsidiary.

The CFTC said the firm attempted to "bang the close" by amassing large positions just before markets closed - forcing prices up - then selling them quickly to drive prices down and pocketing the difference.

The alleged manipulation was attempted 19 times on 11 days in March 2007, the agency said. In at least five of those 19 times, traders succeeded in driving prices higher twice and lower three times, according to the CFTC.

Wall St. greedheads manipulating oil prices don't surprise me; nor do deranged conservatives shooting up anything that they falsely blame for their own bad luck. But you know what WOULD surprise me? If a deranged shooter would for once put two and two together, realize that the speculators were the real cause of all his joblessness and woes, and barged into a brokerage house and shot that up instead.

Honestly, when will they learn that it's not blacks, or women, or gays, or liberals that are to blame for their troubles, but a bunch of very conservative white guys in pinstripes and suspenders, chuckling over martinis and contraband cigars?

Stupid Sex Tricks: Lady Godiva she ain't!

No, this is NOT Peru's answer to Lady Godiva.

YVKE Mundial has a lulu for us, all the way from Peru:

Dancer Leysi Suarez, denounced for desecrating her country's flag, apologized on Sunday in response to a court citation for the offence of being photographed nude and seated on the Peruvian flag.

The Spanish website Informacion.es reported that the 21-year-old Suarez, also a model, spent three hours giving a statement in the offices of the Public Ministry after the Minister of Defence denounced her for a criminal code offence that could carry up to four years in prison.

The minister of defence, Antero Flores Araoz, justified the measure by stating that the flag was not to be used as a "panty or Tampax".

[...]

Flores Araoz also denied the rumors circulating among politicians and the media that the accusation against Suarez is a "smokescreen" to cover up the fact that president Alan Garcia has a disapproval rate of greater than 70% in his first two years in office.

In a change from the sensual image in the photos, Suarez appeared before the court wearing short hair, large dark glasses, and a black coat. The model is also known to have romantic ties to narcotrafficker Oscar Rodriguez, nicknamed "Turbo", and for having appeared in a nude scene in the Peruvian film "I'll Tell You Tomorrow" (2008).

Translation mine.

My oh my, where to start with the hilarities of this one? Having a flag up one's wazoo is certainly undignified enough, but ties to a narcotrafficker? A smokescreen for an unpopular president? And being accused of using the flag for a tampon?

Priceless.

Just for the hell of it, here's the story of the actual Lady Godiva. Have fun playing compare-and-contrast with this, uh, "dancer" (whose boobs and hair extensions seem to suggest that she's one of the, um, "exotic" variety.)

July 27, 2008

Chavecito's new shirt

Why won't he shut up? Because he's just too much fun to listen to.

July 26, 2008

I could have told them so, but would they listen?

Whoa--is the sky falling, or what? The Economist has finally gotten (partway) off its "rah rah, America" kick and published a (somewhat) honest assessment of what's going on in the States. And a thing of beauty it is, too:

One source of angst is the sorry state of American capitalism (see article). The "Washington consensus" told the world that open markets and deregulation would solve its problems. Yet American house prices are falling faster than during the Depression, petrol is more expensive than in the 1970s, banks are collapsing, the euro is kicking sand in the dollar's face, credit is scarce, recession and inflation both threaten the economy, consumer confidence is an oxymoron and Belgians have just bought Budweiser, "America's beer".

Wow! And that's only the second paragraph. It goes on in that vein pretty much throughout the piece, with occasional excursions into the silly (which I'll get to shortly.)

I think we can safely say this marks an epoch. Just a few short years ago, this self-same Economist was totally behind the Washington consensus. Rather like the woman in the famous picture, cleaning up after the elephant by catching its droppings in a big bag-on-a-stick as they fell, so they wouldn't hit the ground and be seen for the vast load of shit they are.

Unfortunately, this moment of truth shall pass, as does everything else in the transitory world of market capitalism. And in fact, within the same article, we see evidence that the editorial writer doesn't really get what's going on at all:

America has got into funks before now. In the 1950s it went into a Sputnik-driven spin about Soviet power; in the 1970s there was Watergate, Vietnam and the oil shocks; in the late 1980s Japan seemed to be buying up America. Each time, the United States rebounded, because the country is good at fixing itself. Just as American capitalism allows companies to die, and to be created, quickly, so its political system reacts fast. In Europe, political leaders emerge slowly, through party hierarchies; in America, the primaries permit inspirational unknowns to burst into the public consciousness from nowhere.

The whole passage is pretty smelly, but that last sentence is a stinker.

Yes, they're still in the rah-rah mode there; that Rumsfeldian slagging on "old Europe" hasn't faded entirely from their consciousness yet. If they think the US political system is truly a "rapid response" mechanism, I have sad news for them: Machine politics are every bit as prevalent there as in "old Europe". (Tammany Hall, anyone?) Where exactly does the Economist's writer think it all came from in a nation of (predominantly European) immigrants?

And while the Economist may cling to the notion that Barack Obama is an "inspirational unknown", anyone who's actually been following his career from his senatorial debut onwards knows that he, too, is a product of the Democratic Party machine. How else to explain the fact that he and Hillary Clinton--the two LEAST progressive, and least inspirational, candidates--were the "front-runners" in a country where John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich were the closest to the true feelings of the masses when it came to the economy and foreign policy? One can tell the Economist wasn't privy to this video, which was circulated by the campaign of another candidate that didn't get far, thanks to the machine--a populistic maverick named Mike Gravel:

And no, I'm not a "Gravelian"; I just found this video very illustrative of how the machine works. The candidates least favored by the machine are invariably--LITERALLY--shunted to the sides, and given the least amount of time and consideration.

The rest of that paragraph is also pretty funny, considering the facts. Sputnik is not what drove the real funk of the Fifties. Sputnik, which came along rather late in 1957, was just an experimental gizmo that embarrassed the hell out of a country that had positioned itself--very prematurely--as a world leader in technology. The real funk-maker would be the Cold War, which started in the 1940s with the Manhattan Project. The space race began as a Russian response to the arms race, and guess who started that? (Hint: They are the same country that also is the only one so far to use nuclear weapons in a shooting war.)

"Watergate, Vietnam and the oil shocks" were all the products of what? Oh, surely not capitalism gone amuck in various ways. No, the Economist could never admit that. The unholy admixture of corporate, imperialistic supremacy-at-all-costs to existing machine politics? Are you kidding? That would make them start sounding like radical socialists. And everyone knows that when the Cold War's last icy ember died, capitalism was the Last Man still standing...right? It was The End Of History...right? Right???

Well, actually...wrong. But the Economist is loath to admit that, because it would throw into disarray their whole lovely theory about how a capitalism that "allows companies to die, and to be created, quickly" also virtuously infuses politics, so that "in America, the primaries permit inspirational unknowns to burst into the public consciousness from nowhere." They'd rather cling to the now thoroughly discredited notion that capitalism, even if it does not exactly equal democracy, is still a democratizing force. A notion that is downright laughable when one looks at the very places where capitalism is still going like gangbusters today, so much so that the US seems anemic by comparison: totalitarian China and the various monarchic and definitely undemocratic emirates of the Middle East--like, oh, say, Dubai. Tell me, O capitalist wizards at the Economist--how soon do you expect them to democratize and let their wealth trickle down to the point where it might actually do the peons some good? Maybe, if you learn to salaam or kowtow nicely, they might even throw some of it at you just for their own amusement.

And then there's this passage, which is strangely revealing, and yet at the same time, strangely concealing:

Abroad, America has spent vast amounts of blood and treasure, to little purpose. In Iraq, finding an acceptable exit will look like success; Afghanistan is slipping. America's claim to be a beacon of freedom in a dark world has been dimmed by Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and the flouting of the Geneva Conventions amid the panicky "unipolar" posturing in the aftermath of September 11th.

Now the world seems very multipolar. Europeans no longer worry about American ascendancy. The French, some say, understood the Arab world rather better than the neoconservatives did. Russia, the Gulf Arabs and the rising powers of Asia scoff openly at the Washington consensus. China in particular spooks America—and may do so even more over the next few weeks of Olympic medal-gathering. Americans are discussing the rise of China and their consequent relative decline; measuring when China's economy will be bigger and counting its missiles and submarines has become a popular pastime in Washington. A few years ago, no politician would have been seen with a book called "The Post-American World". Mr Obama has been conspicuously reading Fareed Zakaria's recent volume.

Well, so Barack Obama is reading Fareed Zakaria. The latter being a "firm centrist" (is there even such a thing, considering centrism caters to what is otherwise known as "the mushy middle"?), a vacillating journozoid who went from cheerleading for the "democracy-building" potentials of the GWOT, and explaining "why they hate us" (complete with overstated death counts of 9-11), to having sober second thoughts (and third, and fourth, and probably soon fifth and sixth ones) about it all. One of the corporate machine's political weathercocks is reading another of the corporate machine's scribbling weathercocks. So what?

The real story here, which is being glossed over more than a little bit, is the fact that the "bipolar" Cold war world, which collapsed into the "unipolar" world of the post-Cold War era, is now truly "multipolar". Took it long enough! But actually, it was multipolar all along, and it was just the lenses through which we were forced to view it that made it seem otherwise. Those lenses are shattered and ground to sand now. And it's a good thing, too--those lenses were more distorting than a funhouse mirror.

But if our own eyes have been naked and seeing clearly for some time now, the Economist's are still clouded. There's no mention of the biggest threat to capitalism, which isn't terrorism. And no mention of where it's coming from, either--not the Russian bear, nor the Chinese dragon, nor even the gyring falcons of the Middle East. No, to see it, you'd have to look to the mountains and jungles of South America, where a sexy trio of democratic socialist leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador is leading by good example. And the presidents presiding over larger economies in Argentina and Brazil are watching with interest and taking copious notes. Not a word about that here, and no wonder: that other America isn't supposed to count.

But Latin America does count, because it's where the unipolar worldview was first road-tested, and suffered its first ignominious smuck-ups from the instant the rubber hit the road. It's where fascist regimes backed by Washington first imposed totalitarian capitalism on the citizens against their will, and enforced it with murders, tortures and disappearances. And it's also where multipolarity was first talked about and recognized as the only fitting response to the corporate globalization of "savage capitalism" that was behind not only the Cold War, but the whole unipolarity farce that followed it.

No word from the Economist on why that should be, but it's a safe bet that the Venezuelans know. Even before the Iron Curtain formally fell in Europe, they were already victims of predatory capitalism; the Caracazo preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall by a full seven months.

The Venezuelan politics of the Cold War era might, to an uninformed viewer, make this sort of thing seem incomprehensible. Actually, it's very comprehensible indeed; after the ouster of the last Venezuelan dictator, Marcos Perez Jimenez, in 1958, representatives of three Venezuelan parties signed the pact of Punto Fijo, which became the basis of the local political machine. Three became two in practice, however, as the AD and COPEI parties swapped the government back and forth between them while continuing to use the same repressive practices supposedly ended by the fall of the dictator--torture, disappearances, murders, censorship, violence, raids.

Thus was born the illusion of democracy in a country which still, in practice, had little to none. It enabled capitalism to steamroll Venezuela like so much asphalt; dissenters still faced the same horrors that would have befallen them under Perez Jimenez, only now they faced them surreptitiously. And it also squashed all semblances of real democracy, which kept springing up like weeds amid all the tarmac; non-Puntofijista parties kept forming, only to find their paths to power blocked by the machine. And no wonder: the machine had powerful backing from Standard Oil of New Jersey, and by extension, Washington.

Venezuelans developed a sneaking admiration for Fidel Castro after he took power in 1959, and no wonder: Venezuelan guerrillas had tried, and failed, to overcome both dictatorship and phony democracy in turn. Venezuela, alas, was not Cuba, and the Andes were not the Sierra Maestra. By the time a young second-lieutenant named Hugo Chavez had graduated from military academy in the early 1970s, the guerrilla movement was sputtering out. Chavez was sent to help quell it, but in the process he found there was very little left to quell, and what there was, often turned out to be not guerrillas, but campesinos being beaten to death by soldiers under false suspicion. This not only disgusted him, it also disillusioned him about many things: Venezuela's bogus democracy, and the way its soldiers (many of them from poor backgrounds themselves) were being turned against their campesino brothers in an effort to shore up that sham. When he and a group of army comrades swore an oath under the same saman tree where Simon Bolivar once rested during his campaign to free Venezuela from the Spanish Empire, it was to vow the overthrow of that false democracy and bring about the real thing at the first opportunity.

That opportunity would have been the Caracazo, had Chavez and friends not been caught off guard; he was home with a fever the day the riots broke out. But the Caracazo galvanized his clandestine MBR-200 movement within the army, as other disaffected soldiers, sickened at having had to turn their guns against the poor, clamored to join. By 1992, things had progressed to the point where a coup attempt became plausible. The attempt failed and the conspirators went to prison, but popular support was on their side. Two years later, Chavez was pardoned, and his political career began. In 1998, it bore fruit: he was elected in a landslide, on a platform that promised, among other things, to do away with Puntifijismo, its machine politics and corruption, and most of all, the savage capitalism that had propped the whole mess up. He's been making good on all of that ever since, and so have the leftist leaders who have been swinging into power all over the region since then.

And that "making good" has gotten Washington's attention, all right--to the tune of numerous failed coup attempts against Chavez and everyone else trying to do what he's been doing. Ironically, in the name of "democracy", real democracy has been repeatedly subverted. But the subversion failed and continues to fail, for the simple (if incomprehensible to the whore media) reason that the same people who elected Chavez, Morales, Correa and others have long been wise to the neoliberal "alternative", and have been expressing their rejection of it at least since the five days of the Caracazo, if not even longer.

That rejection of global, unipolar, neoliberal savage capitalism is why the funk that seems to have engulfed the US is not touching Latin America; why the latter region, long in the doldrums of poverty, is now coming alive with a can-do spirit of its own. It's why the peoples of Latin America are evolving their own, home-grown answers to the global dilemma, and it's why we should be paying attention to them.

I could have told the editors of the Economist all this and more. But would they listen? No. Just like the icons of failed capitalism and false-fronted democracy they're still propping up, they don't care what ordinary people like me think. Which is why they're steadily losing relevance in a multipolar world that's moving on--and seeking out truly democratic leaders who do listen to the people. And, more importantly, obey them. Even if that means favoring socialism over capitalism.

In fact, especially then.

July 25, 2008

Evo's watching his back, and how!

Aporrea has a couple of interesting items. First, the helicopter "accident" of last week:

The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, said on Friday that it was "surely not coincidental" that the helicopter loaned to him by the government of Venezuela for trips into the countryside crashed, killing five soldiers, four of them Venezuelans.

"Something's going on," Morales added during a speech in Cochabamba, where the Venezuelan Super Puma helicopter exploded last Sunday.

[...]

Morales linked the helicopter accident with others suffered by airplanes of the Bolivian Air Force this same week and with a probable opposition plan to "topple the Indian".

"They might be able to topple me, but they won't topple the Bolivian people," Morales said.

Then, a big confrontation with an odious personage from Washington:

The Bolivian ambassador to Washington, Gustavo Guzman, revealed today that among proofs of an alleged conspiracy against his government, Evo Morales presented Undersecretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon, "personal e-mails and letters from functionaries of the United States."

In an interview with the Erbol network, the diplomat said that in Wednesday's meeting with Shannon, "the president, in twenty minutes, gave an extensive exposition of all the points which our government considers to be signs of a conspiracy."

Morales read out "an interchange of information via e-mail from functionaries of USAID, apropos of certain curious suggestions from ambassador Philip Goldberg," Guzman said.

Translations mine.

Looks like Evo's got his little duckies all in a row...and I'll bet Shannon was either white with shock or red with humiliation when Evo got done with him. I'm guessing Philip Goldberg is pretty green around the gills, too, from all this unwelcome exposition of his role in the treason and unrest.

There are so many coup plots going on in Bolivia right now (I've lost count, but thank Goddess, the Dude abides), it's almost unreal. What could it mean? Probably that Evo's so on track that it's seriously got the gringos scared. They wouldn't want to kill him--literally or figuratively--if he weren't succeeding in a wild way. And he is--he's gonna win the recall referendum in a landslide, and all the scummy opposition governors are going down. Especially now that the plans are final.

So, folks, keep your eyes on Bolivia--the vote goes down on August 10, and the Nazis and knuckle-draggers are already out in force down there.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Just for laughs...

...and in time for Chavecito's upcoming birthday:

The Sistine Chavecito

I found this at Inca Kola News. Apparently it's an actual mural from Caracas. It's also one of the funniest takeoffs I've ever seen on Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes. It's got Fidel Castro as God, Chavecito (looking hunky in a patriotic Speedo!) as Adam, and Evo, rather appropriately considering his dimples, as a cherub (at lower right).

I'm pretty sure Chavecito was not really "made" this way, but it made me chuckle anyhow.

PS: Speaking of chuckles, check out the video at the bottom of this page. I can't make out much of what's being said, but the body language speaks for itself: Chavecito is getting the last laugh on the King of Spain by charming the royal pants off. Oh, he's good.

July 24, 2008

The Wall Street Journal's "Jewish Problem"

Anti-German propaganda poster

Oh, look. The Wall Street Journal seems to have twigged to the fact that their leading "expert" on Latin America, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, is nothing more than a discredited hack parachuted in from the Heritage Foundation to promote far-right "values" at the expense of honesty and reality. So now they're handing the job of slamming Chavecito off onto a new guy. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Mr. Travis Pantin and his stirring rendition of recycled manufactured outrage, "Hugo Chavez's Jewish Problem".

Right away, you can see that Mr. Pantin is one for the loaded language: "preaching a gospel", "blessedly unvoiced", "decisively rejected", "dictator for life", "wild rhetoric and diktats", "by fiat", and oh yeah, that wonderfully well-worn phrase, "questions about his emotional and mental stability."

What a pity that the language-loading Mr. Pantin has only been skimming the surface, and it shows. If he'd sat through as many hours of Chavecito's speeches in Spanish as I have, he'd realize that most of the Venezuelan president's language consists not of "gospel", "wild rhetoric and diktats" OR "fiats", but of quiet, well-reasoned, informative and calm discourse that would put an Oxford don to shame. That's one thing that impresses me about Latin American politicians: despite their "fiery" reputation up here, when you pay closer attention to them, the first thing you notice is the contrast between not only them and the media's reporting of them, but also between them and our own politicians. We Canadians, for example, have a reputation for politeness, yet there is more scandalous language and violent gesticulation in our own mostly-white House of Commons during a single Question Period than there ordinarily is in Miraflores Palace in the space of a month. But you'd never know it from the way Chavecito gets covered in the English-language press. The only time anything he says ever makes the whore media up above the Rio Grande is when it's something that can be spun somehow as outrageous (usually by taking it way out of context), or just outrageously funny, like the time he first caught my attention by poking some badly needed fun at Condi the Shoe Queen--who is, as he says, a woman disastrously out of her depth (and never more so than when writing derivative drivel about the Czechs). And when he called Dubya the devil, I knew he was joking (something the whore media is curiously reluctant to admit), but also that there was an element of truth to it--a truth that the Travis Pantins of this world are overpaid to obscure.

But maybe I'm being too harsh on the WSJ's new boy? Hmm, you be the judge:

But to dismiss Mr. Chávez as a lunatic is to wish away his proven political skill. He is, without question, a powerful figure—and one who, thanks to a quirk of geography, is also in possession of dangerously large amounts of oil. His government claims to control over 100 billion barrels of proven reserves, by far the largest of any country in the Western hemisphere. Although estimates vary, at current production levels and prices Venezuela's oil revenues may top $250 million daily.

Translation: What's all our oil doing under his soil?

Nope, I don't think I've misjudged Pantin at all. Sooner or later, usually after a softening-up preamble in which the reader is treated to all the usual anti-Chavez slurs followed by a light glossing-over of more emollient language designed to make the piece appear "fair and balanced" when it ain't, it all comes around to this: Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil resources.

Those oil resources are under the control of an elected and immensely popular government--not only Chavez, but almost an entire parliament of his supporters--and they are not kindly desposed towards Corporate America. They have undertaken convincing steps to reverse the intended privatization of the national oil company, PDVSA. By putting the oil back squarely in the hands of the citizens, with foreign corporations (most of them based in the US) being forced to take the lesser role in any new oil development AND pay a healthy stack of taxes to boot, the Venezuelan government has reversed an impoverishing trend; Corporate America can no longer rob Venezuela blind. Venezuela is now coming into her own, and if anything angers Corporate America, it's a country with lots of oil and little patience for...well, Corporate America.

But since Corporate America cannot declare war on all of Venezuela, even though the Bolivarian slogan, "Ahora es de todos" (Now it's everybody's) holds true, they have to settle for the next best thing: using Washington to wage a proxy war on their behalf. And the surest way to lay the groundwork? A crapaganda offensive, of course. But instead of targeting all Venezuelans, which would provoke an outcry far beyond Venezuela, they pick on just one man: Chavez. He is their chosen scapegoat in the crapaganda offensive. And who better to do it than the newspaper of Corporate America...the Wall Street Journal.

Now that you know what you really need to know, let's get on with it and follow Mr. Pantin through the usual infernal pantheon of baddies Chavecito is supposed to be in bed with:

Unlike Fidel Castro, who as a client of the Soviet Union had to apply to his patron for funds, Mr. Chávez is thus free to indulge his ambitions. "In Venezuela we have a strong oil card to play on the geopolitical table," he told the Argentinian newspaper Clarín in 2005. "It is a card," he added, "that we are going to play forcefully against the nastiest country in the world, the United States."

To this end, Mr. Chávez has made common cause with FARC, a narco-terrorist group working tirelessly to overthrow the legitimately elected democratic government of Colombia, Washington's closest ally in South America. No less ominously, he has aligned his government with regimes and terror groups that would otherwise seem to hold little attraction for a Spanish-speaking country on South America's northern coast. These include Libya—which awarded Mr. Chávez the al-Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights, named for the country's dictator—as well as Syria, Hezbollah, and Hezbollah's patron Iran. Virtually alone among world leaders, Mr. Chávez is an impassioned defender of Tehran's right to pursue nuclear technology and has even hinted he would be willing to finance it.

See that? Right there, in the middle of all those bad guys? (Okay, so I underlined it.) The author has shown his hand. The oil is actually the objective of the WSJ's crapaganda offensive, but in a masterful act of deflection, it is cunningly placed in the designated villain's hand as a weapon. A sword--not of Bolivar, but of Damocles. This is misrepresentation at its finest, for as anyone who's been seriously following the Venezuelan situation knows, the oil revenues have gone to good use buying all the things Venezuelans needed but lacked: food, education, healthcare, well-built homes, and oh yeah, an updated national defence arsenal complete with Russian-made planes, missiles and machine guns to replace the old FAL rifles. The oil has been a weapon, yes, but not so much against the robber country as in aid, comfort and defence of the robbed.

That's a vital distinction, and it's one that Pantin doesn't want you seeing or contemplating. Instead, he fixates on the designated villains, intimating that Chavecito is so isolated in the world that he has to associate primarily with these bad guys, conveniently obscuring the fact that they are the foreign leaders he sees least (outside of BushCo!), and his main associations with them are through OPEC (in the case of Libya and Iran, who are both members) and the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (what? Venezuela is non-aligned? Fancy that!) Far more often than hanging out with Libyan dictators (who have, incidentally, been discreetly removed from the US's bad-guy list) and Syrian "terrorists" (about whom, if we were honest, we would admit that we know so little that it's hard to comment in any terms other than what Washington wants us using), Chavecito can be seen in the company of his fellow Latin American leaders. Incidentally, with a few isolated exceptions such as the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Peru, they are squarely behind him when it comes to reducing poverty and building Latin American solidarity and economic co-operation. That's another inconvenient fact Mr. Pantin wants us to ignore as he goes straight for the jugular with the biggest slur of all--the "antisemitism" canard:

As this list may suggest, there is something else, aside from simple anti-Americanism, at work in Mr. Chávez's foreign policy. He and his supporters are in the grip of another age-old obsession, albeit one with a few indigenous twists: an obsession, that is, with the supposedly excessive power of world Jewry, and in particular of Venezuela's few, prosperous and increasingly imperiled Jews.

Oh, joy. I was wondering when he'd finally get around to that!

Of course, once he finally gets to his point, Pantin dives right into the Big Lie, face first. Curiously, though, he starts with a point of history which Chavecito, who knows that subject better than any other, would undoubtedly be aware of:

During the struggle for independence from Spain, the fugitive revolutionary Simón Bolívar found refuge among a group of Venezuelan Jews, some of whom later went on to fight in the ranks of his liberating army.

...which rather undermines the idea that Chavecito has a "Jewish problem"; as would the simple fact that he's never said an actual antisemitic word, and anything he has said that has been so construed, has turned out to be not about Jews, but about oligarchs. There is simply no way that Chavecito would say Jews had persecuted Christ (that would be the imperial Romans, who had every political reason to do so), and certainly no way would he accuse them of having persecuted Bolivar (whom they offered not only refuge, but their own bodies on the line in his revolutionary army, to boot). We therefore have to conclude that the "Jewish problem" is not Chavecito's.

Whose is it, then?

Well, Travis Pantin has some rather funky ideas:

Since Mr. Chávez took the oath of office at the beginning of 1999, there has been an unprecedented surge in anti-Semitism throughout Venezuela. Government-owned media outlets have published anti-Semitic tracts with increasing frequency. Pro-Chávez groups have publicly disseminated copies of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the early-20th-century czarist forgery outlining an alleged world-wide Jewish conspiracy to seize control of the world. Prominent Jewish figures have been publicly denounced for supposed disloyalty to the "Bolívarian" cause, and "Semitic banks" have been accused of plotting against the regime. Citing suspicions of such plots, Mr. Chávez's government has gone so far as to stage raids on Jewish elementary schools and other places of meeting. The anti-Zionism expressed by the government is steadily spilling over into street-level anti-Semitism, in which synagogues are vandalized with a frequency and viciousness never before seen in the country.

Really? That's news to me, and I'll bet it's news to Venezuelan Jews, too. In fact, the leading Jewish organization in Venezuela has even gone so far as to defend Chavez against such spurious charges as the ones levelled by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. And more recently, there has been evidence that if the WSJ has no idea how to distinguish between denunciations of Jewish leaders involved in treasonous activities (at least one prominent orthodox rabbi was seen at Miraflores during the Carmona coup), and actual antisemitism, at least prominent Chavista figures are being more than careful to make and emphasize that vital distinction:

"We have to be very careful about what is going on in Venezuela, especially what is going on in the private universities," Mario Silva asserts on his pro-Chávez television talk show La Hojilla ("The Razor Blade") in late November 2007. The provocative host points out that in television news footage of a recent student march against proposed changes to the Venezuelan constitution, which were voted down December 2, a leader of the marchers crosses a police barricade and signals for the others to follow. Silva identifies this person as the brother of prominent Rabbi Jacobo Benzaquen.

"I repeat, so as not to be called anti-Semite, those Jewish businessmen not involved in the conspiracy should say so," Silva premises. He then draws the connection between the Benzaquens and another well-known Rabbi, Pinchas Brenner, who participated in the April 2002 coup d'état and appears in video footage with coup leader Pedro Carmona in the presidential palace where Carmona was declared the new (illegitimate) president. "These persons are actively participating in the conspiracy... and a lot of the [opposition] student movement now in activity is related to that group," Silva declares.

Is this an example of that "street-level anti-Semitism" Pantin was yattering about? Pantin claims it is; he even lists it with his "arresting evidence", but he doesn't say what was behind those remarks. So let's look a little closer at what's been going on:

In 2004 federal police searched, critics say "raided," a Jewish school in Caracas. Recent critics allege that they conducted a similar search on December 1, 2007 in Hebraica, a sprawling private Jewish community center related to the school. Neither search discovered anything, nor was anybody repressed or hurt.

Both searches were denounced as "inexplicable," "anti-Jewish," "harassment theatre," and "intimidation" by various critics, including Abraham Levy Benshimol, president of the Confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela (CAIV), who acknowledges that no acts of anti-Semitic violence have been committed against the Venezuelan Jewish community. Those leading the outcry make abundantly clear that the searches were conducted when kids were present and there was a wedding taking place, but they ignore the broader context and further facts.

For instance, the search warrant for the 2004 search was granted based on evidence that the notorious Israeli intelligence organization Mossad may be connected to the assassination of a Venezuelan Federal Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, who was investigating the authors of the 2002 coup - including allies of Rabbi Pinchas Brenner - when he was murdered in a car bombing in an allegedly Mossad-like manner. The search was part of an investigation of Anderson's murder, seeking information regarding the murder and possible future destabilization plans in facilities where suspects were known to operate.

Denunciations of last December's search leave out the fact that it occurred the day before the controversial constitutional reform referendum. The run up to the referendum was intensified by a steep increase in acts of false propaganda and violent protest committed by people and organizations opposed to the reform in various regions of the country, which seemed part of a coordinated destabilization effort among large national and transnational businesses, student groups, and opposition political leaders.

...some of whom, sadly, happen to be Jewish. Just as some prominent bankers and financiers also happen to be--an acknowledgement which is not to be read as a veiled allusion to a "global Jewish conspiracy", nor should it lead to counter-accusations of an anti-semitic strain in Bolivarianism. That would be, as Norman Finkelstein would say, Beyond Chutzpah.

But that apparently doesn't trouble young Mr. Pantin. Even near the end of his lengthy disquisition on the supposed Nazification of Venezuela, he has to come clean on the real motives for why the Jews of the opposition really hate Chavez...and yet won't go to safe, saintly Israel:

When asked why they stay, some wealthier Jews say that the answer is economic. "The problem . . . is that you could never live like this anywhere else," the owner of a Caracas textile plant told a reporter from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "Nobody here really wants to go to Israel. You would need to have 10 times as much money to live this way." Others, less well off, are similarly reluctant, and offers by the Israeli government to ease the process of aliyah have so far met with few takers.

The stated reasons are many. Even amid all their trouble, it has been pointed out, Venezuela's Jews retain a workable relationship with the Chávez government. Jewish journalists can still speak out. Nor have Jewish business been targeted for expropriation by Mr. Chávez's redistributionist policies. Jews can still travel freely, and anti-Semitic violence has not touched many of them personally.

Hmmm. Kind of puts a crimp in all Pantin's claims of Jewish persecution and accusations of "antisemitism [as] an instrument of state policy" in Venezuela, no? The Jews have it good there, and they know it; their real problem is that they fear--without reason--that their considerable possessions will be taken away from them. They scream and panic over a blow that they anticipate, but which never falls. And if they flee, they will have it no better, even if the ideology of the host country is more to their liking. And in fact, without realizing it, they will have played into the hands of their own worst enemy, whom they have in common with all other Venezuelans: Corporate America.

What all this should show is that Venezuelan Jews, particularly those in the opposition, are, like their majority Roman Catholic counterparts, not exactly averse to terrorism and crapaganda in their efforts to discredit and depose a president they falsely perceive as inimical to their business interests. What's sad, though, is that these Jews have chosen to throw in their lot with the fascistic element--the same that in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy would have interned them in death camps. They are much like those who, in Poland, would have policed the Warsaw ghetto, collaborating with the Nazis; they are also like the ones who would have sucked up to the camp guards in Auschwitz, becoming Kapos and repressing their fellow Jews in an effort to gain favor with their own oppressors.

It is never a good idea for any member of any minority, persecuted or not, to get behind a band of fascists in an effort to improve their own status. The moment those arch-Catholic oppositionists in Venezuela gained the upper hand in earnest, had the coup of '02 "taken" as intended, chances are they'd have thrown their rabbinical allies under the bus, rather than elevating them to new heights. "Persecuted" Jews make excellent figureheads for coupmongers to use in crapaganda; they do not, however, stand to gain much once the coup goes ahead. If you don't believe me, just look at the leader of another "persecuted" sector of the opposition, Carlos Ortega, the unelected leader of a now-discredited trade union federation, the CTV. He joined Pedro Carmona, the head of the bosses' federation, Fedecamaras, in calling for Chavez's head--only to be shunted unceremoniously aside once Carmona had sworn himself in as "president". Just as several prominent Venezuelan generals, believing they would obtain prominent positions in the Carmona administration, betrayed the armed forces (which were and still are overwhelmingly pro-Chavez), and ended up empty-handed and looking very foolish when the newly self-crowned dictator ignored them.

This is what was really in store for all those suck-ups--including the Jewish ones. Did they seriously think the oligarchy would make an exception for them, just because of what happened 70-odd years ago across the Atlantic? If they did, they haven't learned any more from history than have the terrorist car-bombers of the Israeli Mossad, or for that matter, the war criminal Ariel Sharon. Having been a victim in one place and time does not excuse one from the consequences of being a persecutor in another.

It isn't wrong to criticize what Israel has done to the Palestinians (Israelis criticize it all the time!), and it ought not to be wrong to probe Israeli government connections to illegal activities in Latin America either, but the Wall Street Journal--the paper of Corporate America and all its allies--hasn't twigged to that yet.

One might say that this vast blind spot is their "Jewish Problem".

Citizen's arrest for the Shoe Queen?

Let's hope so.

A $5000 dollar reward is being offered to any Auckland University student who can make a successful citizen's arrest of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to the country this weekend.

Auckland University Student Association (AUSA) president David Do said the arrest would be for her role in "overseeing the illegal invasion and continued occupation" of Iraq.

"It is hard enough living as a student in Auckland these days without having a war criminal coming to town, so we thought we'd give our students a chance to make a dent in their student loans and work for global justice at the same time."

Dr Rice will be in Auckland on July 26, where she will meet with Prime Minister Helen Clark, Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Opposition leader John Key.

Good luck, mates! You'll probably be rugby-tackled by some thug in a black suit and earpiece, but give it the ol' college try anyway!

July 23, 2008

Quotable: Stanley Milgram on bad Germans

"There is always some element of bad form in objecting to the destructive course of events, or indeed, in making it a topic of conversation. Thus, in Nazi Germany, even among those most closely identified with the 'final solution', it was considered an act of discourtesy to talk about the killings."

--Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority

Charlie Rose in conversation with Neil Young

Canada's elder statesman of folk-rock strips his soul--buck naked--on his Living With War album, his latest film, creativity, ecology, love and more:

Young doesn't use set-lists in his performances; he proceeds naturally and organically, as the feeling takes him. He repeatedly emphasizes the notion of creativity as a gift, a mysterious impulse to be followed as it strikes: "Respect the source. Be there for the source."

Words to live by, whether you're talking about creative impulses, or anything else.

July 21, 2008

Historical revisionism at Der Spiegel

Verdammt noch mal. You'd think a German newsmagazine could, in the interests of journalistic integrity, at least get its own country's history right. But Der Spiegel is now so far up the ass of neo-con Washington, it's even rewriting that...and in an interview with, of all people, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki:

SPIEGEL: Germany, after World War II, was also liberated from a tyrant by a US-led coalition. That was 63 years ago, and today there are still American military bases and soldiers in Germany.

Funny, but as I recall, the liberation of Germany occurred not "after World War II", but at the moment when the tyrant suicided in his own Berlin bunker. It was the liberation of the concentration camps that took place after the war ended; crucial distinction there, since not all of Germany was a concentration camp. And the coalition in question was not led by the US, which entered the war three years later than the original coalition leaders, Britain and France. The US didn't get into the war until attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. And they are not the ones most widely credited with Hitler's suicidal discouragement; that would be Russia.

That's an awful lot of revisionist lies the slick Spiegel interviewer told right there in the first sentence. What about the second one, about US military bases and soldiers? Well, there are still some (68,000 at last count), but most are gone. First there's no more need for them (Germany can police her own damn Nazis, thankyouverymuch), and second, Donald Rumsfeld--a source of shame to his German relatives--threatened to pull all the remaining ones in a grotesque form of economic retaliation for Germany's pacifist stance on Iraq. The ones still there aren't protecting Germany from tyranny; they're just there to provide operational support...to the war on Iraq. So that one is, at best, only a half truth, expressed to a disingenuous end.

I guess Der Spiegel, whose name means "The Mirror", really lives up to it. The paper just reflects...not reality, but what Washington thinks: that the sovereignty of other nations doesn't matter, but that Neo-Con America's will is supreme. So supreme, in fact, that history has to be rewritten in deference to its current war plans.

Schade!

July 20, 2008

Don't stop Bill C-51, stop the hysterics!

Lately, I've been hit with a spate of petitions to sign and YouTubes to watch, all claiming that a certain bill currently before the House of Commons will make it illegal for you to grow garlic or take Vitamin C. Most of the well-meaning but ill-informed souls who keep sending me this stuff haven't actually troubled to read the bill.

But trust me, folks, it's worth the trouble to read. It will calm your spinning mind and slow your palpitating heart, all naturally. Bill C-51 is not going to send the feds out to confiscate your comfrey or take away your tulsi. It doesn't grant them that power. What it does is require that all patented natural health products sold in stores receive identification numbers, similar to the system already in place for drugs, and health product companies will have to be licensed--i.e. pass muster as safe and reliable--with Health Canada before their products can be placed on store shelves.

Contrary to the C-51 naysayers' hysteria, this does NOT mean that "70% of all natural products could disappear from store shelves"--a nice round figure, which I suspect is vital if you're pulling things out of your ass. What it means is that most existing products which are known to be safe and reliable, will stay right where they are, and instead, anything new and/or potentially risky will be more closely monitored. C-51 will also facilitate the recall of anything found to be dangerous, or just plain not living up to its manufacturer's claims. I can't imagine anyone having a problem with that, can you?

Well, okay...I can imagine profitable "health product" corporations having a problem with that, all right. Especially those that are currently unregulated or underregulated, as "natural health products" often are. But a lot of reputable natural health product companies haven't jumped on the "Stop C-51" bandwagon. You'd think they would if they were really threatened...wouldn't you?

Now, let's take a closer look at who's behind this whole C-51 tempest in a chamomile tea pot. A MAIL-ORDER SUPPLEMENT CORPORATION. And one dealing in expensive supplements with extravagant health claims attached. Claims which, incidentally, have endangered the lives and health of their defrauded customers. And which have, in consequence, gotten Health Canada down on them like a duck on a junebug.

Ah, you say. So that's where all this talk of raids comes from--someone who's actually been raided! But that's just one company, you say. There are thousands more. So, whom have any of these innocent little "natural health products" harmed? And in what ways? And would tighter regulation of them really benefit us consumers?

I'm glad you asked.

Remember Cellasene? I do. My local health food shop, where I routinely buy my Vitamin B complex, was promoting it heavily in 1999--it appeared right next to the cash register. Cellasene was "natural"--well, as natural as something heavily processed (by Rexall Drug Corp.!) and sold in a soft-gel capsule can be. And it claimed to rid women of their pesky cellulite by improving their circulation and speeding up their metabolism. A miracle! proclaimed the media, and women rushed out to drop fat wads of dough on the product, which cost more than $100 for a one-month supply (to be consumed indefinitely if one didn't want the cellulite coming back).

But here's the harm part: Instead of dissolving cellulite and making ladies' thighs nice and sleek, Cellasene only made their wallets slimmer. Worse, it turned out to be so loaded with iodine that it ended up putting users' health at risk. Women began reporting hair loss and skin rashes as a result of taking it--both classic signs of thyroid malfunction due to iodine overdose. Then came a class action lawsuit, and a crackdown in the US, and now I'm not seeing Cellasene being sold here anymore. Go figure--Health Canada didn't like Cellasene any more than it did EMPowerPlus.

Health product regulation forced at least a closer look at the dangers of unregulated remedies, and as a user of natural remedies myself, I'm glad--I don't want to spend $100 a month for a false hope, let alone one that could kill me. However, I'm still concerned about caveat emptor, which seems to be the going rule in the health-product marketplace. There is a crying need for more regulation when it comes to what gets sold for profit.

Happily, health product regulation is what C-51 is all about. It builds and expands on existing food, drug and natural-products legislation. No one who really cares about her health (or that of her wallet) could have a problem with that!

And if you doubt me, please also read what the CBC have reported, and what the Canadian Health Food Association have to say. The latter is one of those who will actually be affected by C-51, and they say they want only its imprecise language about "practitioners" and prescibing cleared up, not the whole thing scrapped.

It's time to tune out the "Stop the bill that will kill our profits by denying us the right to make extravagant claims" lobby, who would have us believe that the sky is going to fall, along with black helicopters from the feds, in our own gardens, right in the peppermint patch. All this hysteria is bad for the heart and worse for the brain.

That's why I'm not watching any astroturf videos, I'm not signing any astroturf petitions, and I'm not going to have any more patience left for those who cannot and will not go to the trouble to read and understand a piece of legislation before they raise a big, fat, ginger-scented stink about it--at the behest of an astroturfing "health product" corporation. Skepticism is also a natural health product, but since it doesn't cost a thing and generates no profits, it doesn't sell all that well. Still, it's the best remedy we have for astroturf-induced hysteria. So please, take a big dose of it, folks, and DON'T call me in the morning.

July 19, 2008

The hubris of the Nestle corporation

Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck doesn't think water is a basic human right (he considers THAT position "extremist"); he thinks it should be owned by corporations and sold to the public for profit. I guess no one ever told him what happened to Bechtel in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for having the same idea.

And if you think Nestle is innocuous, take a look at how much of the world's water supply they're trying to buy the (cheap) rights to so they can sell it back to the people bottled (and expensive). And also, take a look at what they've done to a citizens' group in Switzerland that had the audacity to challenge their squeaky-clean public image.

Does a truly clean corporation need to feel threatened by a small protest group to the extent that it pays 65 million euros to a security firm, in violation of Swiss privacy law, to infiltrate and spy on such groups? Or is this just another case of corporate fascism refusing to brook any challenges to its own undeserved authority--especially in the face of sagging revenues?

July 18, 2008

Al Gore, I love you!

Watch this, and in half an hour, I guarantee you'll be in love too:

Al Gore makes the case for a no-carbon energy economy. And in so doing, he kills a lot of crapitalist birds with one stone. It's a brilliantly simple, totally viable solution. All that's lacking is the collective will to make it happen. And if his speech doesn't motivate you to do your part, you must be dead from the neck up.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: And now, something a little different...

Bravo Bunny applauds you!

Congratulations are in order for my best friend. Writing under his Craft name, he's published what might just be the first "Wicca 201" guide--The Wiccan Mystic, which traces the mystical lineage of modern-day Wicca through mystical threads in recorded history. It's clear, it's succinct, it's precise, it's a gem--and one influential British pagan book reviewer thinks so, too.

On a personal note, I've known "Ben" for over 20 years now; we became friends in our first year of university. (Yes, I realize that gives our ages away.) He taught me everything I know about Wicca, and if you read his book, you'll see why he was such a great teacher. He's great at making the connections, and his research is rock-solid. (And yes, I can say that, because I proofread and fact-checked his book before he sent it off to the printers.)

If his self-published work becomes a bestseller, it will truly deserve to. He is anything but a "fluffy bunny" Wiccan (my choice of graphics notwithstanding!), although he's probably the nicest, unspookiest guy you'll ever meet.

And I could not be more proud to call him my friend.

July 17, 2008

Mike Malloy rips Miss Universe a new one

No, not the lady who won this year's title. She's just another innocent victim. The pageant itself is what gets the new orifice. And it deserves it:

Hosted in Vietnam. By Jerry Springer. Sheesh.

I dunno...what's worse? Hosting an imperialist pageant in a former war zone of a war that was fought by peasants against imperialism, or the sheer in-yer-face tastelessness of Jerry Springer hosting said imperialist pageant in a former war zone of a war that was fought by...well, you get the picture. I mean, this shit just stinks from all angles. Not least of them being the fact that when the US buggered off out of the former Saigon (where this grand farce was hosted), they basically had to pry the hands of desperate South Vietnamese would-be refugees off the helicopter skids as they took off from the embassy roof. The Americans tried to enforce imperialism after the French failed to do it. And then, when the Americans couldn't go the French any better, they abandoned their local allies to the Red Menace. And now the Red Menace has gone capitalist, and those same menacing little people are now putting on their best silk PJs and Buddha-like smiles, and hosting Miss Universe. Charming!

And of course, there was this lovely pratfall, ushered in by Vietnamese disco dancers in full ao dai:

But hey, at least Miss USA fell with poise--she got up clapping like Vanna White! WTF was that all about? "Oops, I just fell on my well-toned ass, but please, applaud me anyway!"?

Kind of emblematic of the whole lame concept, if you ask me.

PS: Thanks to Malmo Blue of Equal Radio for faithfully YouTubing all the fun and frivolity on Mike's show--with appropriate pictures added!

July 16, 2008

M-13 terrorists kill their own

The Venezuelan opposition is so rabid and so bloodthirsty, they'll stop at nothing to get Hugo Chavez out of office. They'll stage violence as a way of "protesting" it. They'll even kill their own. We saw that already on April 11, 2002, when they staged a coup in which rooftop snipers and undercover sharpshooters, in concert with Metropolitan Caracas police officers (controlled by an anti-Chavez mayor, Alfredo Peña) fired on Chavista and anti-Chavista demonstrators alike. In the final death toll, there were more Chavistas than anti-Chavistas killed, but the point of my mentioning it is this: They will even kill their own if it "helps" them politically. They have absolutely no compunctions about it.

Here, however, is one example of such terror tactics backfiring, badly. In recent violence at the University of Los Andes (ULA), a young anti-Chavista demonstrator, Douglas Rojas, was fatally wounded by shrapnel. 48 hours later, he was declared dead. His fellow M-13ers were quick to blame the death on the police, who they say fired on them with shotguns full of the stuff.

But the following video tells a different story:

In it, we see the motionless Douglas Rojas on the ground, masked and wearing a single glove and with a pool of blood beneath his head, surrounded by other students, who are waiting for an ambulance from the ULA medical clinic to pick him up. At one point, about 1:05 in the video, we can hear a bystander saying "Don't touch him!" He's lying face-down, which begs the question: from which direction was he hit?

An autopsy has since determined that he was hit from from behind. This is consistent with the way his body lay at the scene; persons struck from behind tend to fall forward, while persons struck from the front will usually fall on their backs.

But here's the rub: At the time of the fatal impact, Douglas Rojas was facing the police, who were more than 25 metres away and behind a security fence. There were no officers behind him. All that was behind him were his fellow demonstrators. The projectile that killed him entered through the back of the head and at point-blank range. And indeed, at 4:05 in the video, according to Aporrea, a bystander can be heard yelling "Point-blank, for God's sake!" Several others can also be heard repeating the phrase, "Que bolas" ("what balls").

What balls, indeed. The escualidos have lost no time making grotesque hay of this murder in Mérida, as well as that of another young student, 19-year-old Roxana Vargas Quintero, in Caracas, who studied journalism and worked part-time on the production team of RCTV's local version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". Naturally both deaths have resulted in more "protests", which in turn threaten to cause more deaths. All of which they will undoubtedly exploit--even when the deaths were their own doing, as Douglas Rojas's obviously was.

After all, they have no problem with killing their own young. Why should they have a problem with eating them?

PS: The video I posted has already been (predictably) removed from YouTube. Nevertheless, I was able to see it twice and describe in detail what happened. I have now replaced it with an identical copy from RuTube. Ironically, the OTHER video, which I only linked as "making grotesque hay", is still up, although it is MUCH more offensive. It sets its blatant crapaganda to satanic fascist thrash-metal. Someone please notify YouTube that THAT one is the real violator of their terms of service.

July 15, 2008

Oh the irony. The IRONY!

Only one paragraph from the head of a news item in Venezuelanalysis, but oh my...

A notoriously violent Venezuelan student organization aligned with the Venezuelan opposition known as the March 13th Movement (M13) fired gunshots and threw Molotov cocktails at police officers, blockaded streets using seized university buses, and ransacked sections of the Andean town of Mérida on Thursday and Friday, to protest crime and insecurity in the city.

Did you get that? The M-13 "students" are "protesting crime and insecurity"...by resorting to crime and creating insecurity.

And just to compound the irony, there's this: the murder rate is down, and drug interceptions are up. Uh, what's that the M-13 thuggies were saying about crime and insecurity, again?

Meanwhile, in other utterly unironic news, we get this snippet from the BoRev guest blogger, El Catire:

Opposition Just Can't Decide: One day they call Chavez's government corrupt, next day they march to criticize a measure that would stop corrupt people from running for public office. What gives?

Hey Blond Guy, I'll tell you what gives: This is just more made-for-the-media whackjobbery from a faction that is entertaining to watch sometimes, if only for its utter lack of a sense of irony. The fact that nearly half of the "blacklist" consists of crooked, opportunistic and coattail-riding "Chavistas" (in name only, not in spirit) goes forever unmentioned in the lamestream media.

But hey, at least Chavecito's drama-queeny ex is predictably down with all the latest ruckus. So I guess that means they must have a point!

Chilean student douses education minister

For those of you who've been following the situation in Chile for awhile, you're probably aware that Chilean students are unhappy with their minister of education, and that they have good reasons to be. Yesterday, all that frustration spilled over, literally:

A protesting high-school student, frustrated that the minister isn't listening to her, picks up a pitcher of water and flings its contents over the minister. Naturally, the AP (via Yahoo) sides with the minister, who claims (rather melodramatically) to be the victim of "violence" allegedly "incited" by the teachers' union.

BTW, here's the vital context the AP has left out: The students, who cannot afford the excessive costs of a privatized education and who are protesting because of that, have been blasted with water cannons for having the audacity to speak their minds. And the minister claims they prefer "violence" over dialogue. Seems to me that they've already tried dialogue, and been violently rebuffed by a ministry hellbent on keeping the "reforms" of the Pinochet era of massive privatization. So hellbent, in fact, that they've resorted to awfully Pinochetist-looking tactics to inject a little "dialogue" into things.

July 14, 2008

Hideous tanorexia strikes again!

There she is, Miss Universe. Big whoop.

"Oh God, I won a rhinestone tiara for one whole year! All the torture has been worth it!"

Well, here's a foregone conclusion that I wish the world could forego: Once again, a totally un-Venezuelan-looking Miss Venezuela has been crowned a very un-universal Miss Universe. And some brave "independent" Australian kookaburra has seen fit to lay an egg on the Internets about it. (Insert obligatory reference to communism and tyranny anywhere you like, mate. And don't forget to totally ignore the distinctions between communism and socialism.)

Meanwhile, for the real lowdown on this ultra-hyped pseudo-event, we turn to Aporrea, which has the scoop on where the real tyranny lies--and no, it ain't communism or even socialism. Here goes my rough translation of selections from the article, with commentaries in between:

The Miss Universe pageant, of US origin, is put on by the Miss Universe organization, whose current owner is multimillionaire Donald Trump, who also owns large hotel chains and casinos throughout the world. Private companies in 80 countries buy franchises, and hold local pageants to choose their candidates. In the case of Venezuela, the franchise belongs to the Miss Venezuela organization, property of the Cisneros family.

Ah, the mighty Cisneros family. I wondered when they'd rear their cute little heads. And oh, the dirt that exists on them. Suffice to say, they loathe their "commie" president, because he dares to make them pay taxes. And they don't care a damn about ordinary Venezuelans, either, except insofar as they can squeeze money out of them.

Now that you know who owns Miss Venezuela, and you have an inkling of just how capitalistic they are, let's have a look at the raw materials this business uses to manufacture Miss Universes:

The [Miss Universe] pageant...demands that its participants be between 18 and 27 years of age, and that they never have been married or pregnant. Also, they must have a US passport and visa. Those most likely to win are closest to the "perfect measurements" of 36-24-36, and must be at least 5 feet 7 inches tall.

Even though the contest takes place in a different country every year, the western cultural elements always prevail and are telecast live in 170 countries (although only 80 countries participate in the pageant itself.)

Racism? Cultural imperialism? Oh, perish the thought. Everybody knows that there are "universal" standards of feminine beauty, dahling. Miss Venezuela's doodling Svengali, Osmel Sousa, says so. And what he says, goes. Who can argue with success? This is the man behind that disproportionate number of Venezuelan Miss Universes! His ideal woman exists only on his sketchpad and in his decidedly unhandsome head, but that doesn't stop him from strapping dozens of pretty girls to the procrustean bed every year. His creations are not so much a monument to humanity or excellence in genetics as they are to the crafts of the cosmetic dentist, dermatologist, plastic surgeon, personal trainer, and diet guru.

And by the time he gets through with them, that monumental comparison is no mere figure of speech; they resemble not women, but vivaciously animated dress mannequins. Many are selected, and meticulously tinkered with, but only one is chosen. And she has never been black, or indigenous--let alone of mixed race, as are more than half of all Venezuelans. That would be too individualistic, and not "universal" enough, to win that tinsel crown.

And this process repeats itself in eighty countries, each undoubtedly with its own Osmel Sousa, though most of those are not as gifted as that ex-Cuban cartoonist with an acumen for "universal" beauty--or the ruthlessness required to hammer a female body into that mold.

Of course, that ruthlessness in the pursuit of the "universal" has its critics. Which leads me back to Aporrea's analysis:

Opinions against this type of competition are diverse. An article by Argentine analyst Marcelo Colussi emphasizes: "In a world largely ruled by the idea of lucre, of economic gain at the cost of whatever other thing, beauty too has become more of a consumer article, a kind of merchandise."

Colussi opines that "while every 7 seconds, somewhere in the world somebody dies of hunger, and while the manufacture of weapons continues to be the principal form of human commerce, there is a lively tendency to consume "beauty products", such as plastic surgery, slimming diets, silicone implants and cosmetics (those last bringing sales of $14 billion dollars annually.) Does all this give us more beauty? The superficial, the banal, the purely cosmetic, occupy an ever-growing place in the hedonistic civilization capitalism imposes. The form supercedes the content."

So much style; so little substance. Even a man from beauty-conscious, Europeanized Argentina can see it well enough to decry it.

The pageant mavens, of course, would say it's a lie that their pre-fabricated goddesses are nothing more than well-schooled dress dummies, and that their accomplishments are just as great, if not more so, than their looks. Which begs the rather obvious questions: Why is it called a beauty pageant, then? And where are the brainy pageants, the worldwide broadcasts of excellence in pure, universal, stone-hard intellect? And if such even existed, who would watch them? A bunch of geeks with pocket protectors and duct-taped eyeglasses don't exactly make for riveting viewing, unless they are cast in a comedic light. The world of superficial, "universal" beauty loves to laugh at brains.

Even so, it takes brains--of a perverse sort--to "universalize" a beauty the way the latest Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza, has been done...

"The nose needed a slight retouching to prevent it from bending downward when she smiled."

"The bust was operated on because Dayana was very flat."

"Before the Miss Universe competition she had to tan much more to emphasize the color of her eyes."

Also, she required false eyelashes, because "her natural ones were very short."

You must admit it takes some heavy thinking to come up with all that.

Too bad all this brainpower was not her own, and that it was squandered on creating an "ideal" woman who only lasts one year at the pinnacle. If only the cosmetic surgeons who "did" Dayana Mendoza could apply their talents and training to saving the lives of poor folks, instead of catering to an "ideal" that only the richest can even hope to attain, and which remains "aspirational" despite its utter impossibility.

But then again, plastic surgery is so much more lucrative than tending the indigent, which is why so many poorer Venezuelans lived in a medical vacuum for decades before Chavecito finally rolled into town. No self-respecting Venezuelan doctor in private practice would deign to touch them for fear of catching The Ugly or, worse, The Bankrupt. Many still won't.

Well, maybe some future Venezuelan Miss Universe will set a true example by promptly turning her back on the coronet once she's won it. She might declare herself a feminist and a socialist, shun modelling and a lucrative marriage among the oligarchy, go to medical school in Cuba, and dedicate her life to healing the impoverished sick through Mission Barrio Adentro. Thus she might demonstrate to the world what true beauty is, and what a gulf exists between it and the "universal" ideal touted by pageant dictators and other capitalists.

We can always dream, can't we, girls?

Chavecito, humbled? Ha, ha, ha!

Not according to Iran's PressTV, he ain't...

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has called the Colombian Defense Minister 'a warmonger', urging President Alvaro Uribe to dismiss him.

Two days after the two leaders met and agreed on improving their diplomatic relations, Chavez criticized Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, saying that his remarks were 'shooting up' the process of progress made in mending Venezuelan-Colombian relations.

Chavez says if Santos was his defense minister, "I would have dismissed him by now'', AP reported.

Santos a warmonger? No shit. I have him on record as blaming the Mexican students who were killed in the FARC camp, on Santos's orders. I also have an interesting e-mail he got from a go-between ferrying State Dept. orders from the gringos to Bogota, which I daresay is mighty incriminating.

As usual, Chavecito is bang-on. And he looks so sweet telling the terrible truth here, at the bottom of the page. That man can smile while saying the darndest things!

July 13, 2008

Correa to Colombia: No diplomatic relations for you!

Soup Nazi

(Sacrilege! Of course this guy is nowhere near as cute as El Ecuadorable, and certainly nowhere near as nice. But he fits in with the general theme, so chill.)

Is Rafecito playing Soup Nazi now, or is there more to this than initially meets the eye? A little something from Aporrea, translated by Your Humble And Obedient:

The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, ratified on Saturday that he would not re-establish relations with Colombia, as long as "there is no decent government to work with."

The declarations came one day after his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, expressed interest in repairing ties broken since March, due to the violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty on the part of Bogota.

"We ratify: Those diplomatic relations with Colombia will not be re-established as long as there is no decent government to deal with," Correa affirmed.

Without alluding to the conciliatory words of his Colombian counterpart, Correa asserted that "personally, I have no problem extending my hand to Uribe," but when confronted with the disregard demonstrated by the Colombian government towards Ecuador, he prefers to leave that relationship on ice.

"I represent a country which has been attacked, a country whose sovereignty has been trampled, which has been disrespected constantly, disregarded by a government which doesn't understand what loyalty is, or international rights, or good neighborliness, peace, justice or dignity," Correa said.

Ouch.

Of course, he's correct on all points. Ecuador WAS attacked in the bombing raid of March 1; that attack WAS a violation of sovereignty, since it came without so much as a "By the way, you have a FARC camp on your soil, may we raid it?"; the Colombian government, especially the defence ministry, has indeed been a disrespectful bunch of shits; there are good reasons, some of them iterated by Correa himself, to question Uribe's judgment (and his sanity!); and of course, just to completely kong you over the head with the obvious, Colombia has indeed been a lousy neighbor to Ecuador and Venezuela both, utterly disrespectful to human rights within and outside its borders, and guilty of murder on an international scale (Mexican university students, anyone?)

But of course, the lamestream media, once it catches wind of this, will make Correa out to be the shit, and Ecuador the bad guy. They're all googy-gaggy over how Chavecito has "humbled" himself (ha! not even hardly), and as I've already pointed out, that's far from being the case. If anything, it's been his way of showing who's the better man. (Don't forget that Venezuela's sovereignty has also been trampled; his invitation, therefore, has a sharp little hidden point in it: Colombia, stay off our turf unless we ask you to come.)

So don't be surprised if, in the next few days, you see a rash of "Oh, that rude Rafael Correa" stories. Personally, I don't think it can get much ruder than for Colombia to bomb another country in the dead of night, but of course that's just me.

July 12, 2008

Clara Rojas criticizes Ingrid Betancourt

Clara Rojas, who was freed along with Consuelo Gonzalez by the FARC guerrillas on January 10 following negotiations brokered by Chavecito and Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba, has been viciously slandered by her fellow ex-captive Ingrid Betancourt, and feels compelled to set the record straight:

Clara Rojas would not vote for former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt if the presidential elections in Colombia were to take place today, according to an interview given yesterday to the RCN channel.

"As they say over there, if the elections were held today, I would not vote for Ingrid," said Rojas, without ruling out that in future she might change her mind.

[...]

The cracks in the relationship between two women who campaigned in 2002 as running mates for president and vice-president, came to light for both before the news media.

Rojas decried the false stories that have been spun about her relationship with Betancourt, and that Betancourt and another ex-hostage, Luis Eladio Perez, have smeared her name. She referred to declarations made by Betancourt to US journalist Larry King on Wednesday.

In that interview, King referred to an episode in which Clara Rojas supposedly tried to drown her son Emmanuel in a river in the jungle and Ingrid stopped her.

Translation mine. Link to videos and transcript of the Larry King interview here. In the transcript, Ingrid coyly side-steps King's question of how she allegedly saved Emmanuel, but it smells suspiciously of false modesty, if not outright falsity, period. If those things really happened, I think she'd be bursting to talk about them, because this was her big chance. And if she were honest, she'd give King a verbal bitch-slap for even suggesting such despicable things.

Clara Rojas was never interviewed, on this occasion or at the time of her safe arrival in Caracas. At least not by the North American lamestream media, and certainly not Larry King. None of them asked her for her take. They could have scared up a Spanish-speaking interpreter if they really wanted to, but they really didn't want to. And no wonder; she's basically refused to condemn the FARC. And she refuses to utter the sugary platitudes and high-flown rhetoric that Ingrid keeps spouting, either. In contrast to her erstwhile running mate, Clara Rojas has been straightforward and low-key when interviewed by local media. In this, she is very much like Ingrid's mother, Yolanda Pulecio, whom the media have shunned because she, too, has expressed understanding rather than blanket condemnation for the FARC, and saves her outrage for pathological liars like Alvaro Uribe.

But don't just take my word for it. Here is Clara Rojas at a press conference in Venezuela shortly after her rescue, talking about the birth of her son Emmanuel, who is the result of an affair with an as yet unnamed FARC guerrilla, under constant threat of bombardment in the jungle:

As you can see, she at no point refers to Emmanuel's birth with anything less than love and joy, and gratitude to the FARC for providing her what medical assistance they could. Which kind of casts doubt on Larry King's lurid allegations of rape, as well as Ingrid's tall tales.

And speaking of tall tales, check out what Machetera has to say about the Ingrid "rescue" and how that phoney story just keeps on crumblin' down. Also see her very interesting post on the FARC's response to all the media fuckery. Warning: May cause you to turn off your damn TV for good.

More folly and frivolity at WW4R, Reuters

Okay. Now we know who's NOT in the know about current events in South America:

"Venezuela and Colombia today open a new epoch in our relations," Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez told reporters after a meeting with his Colombian counterpart Álvaro Uribe in Caracas July 11. "I want to make clear that the intention exists to relaunch and fortify relations between Venezuela and Colombia, because these brother nations are destined to be united." (ABN, July 11) Construction of a rail link through Colombia giving Venezuela access to the Pacific is said to have been discussed in the meeting. Uribe told a recent Colombian cabinet meeting, "President Chávez has offered to make this railway. We are ready to it." (El Tiempo, July 12)

Uh, weren't these guys on the brink of war a few weeks ago?

Uh, no. Those tanks were sent to the border to keep Colombia's civil war from spilling over the brink, like it did in Ecuador. It wasn't a war footing, it was plain old self-defence. Catch a clue, dude, and quit doing the dog.

This is preparation on Chavez's part for improved relations with Colombia--a post-paraco Colombia. Uribe, whom the conventionally-wizdumbed Hugh Bronstein of Reuters mischaracterizes as "high-flying", is actually in a world of hurt. His presidency is crumbling faster than a well-ripened cheese. He's neck-deep in a scandal about his own fraudulent re-election (which was actually unconstitutional) and the woman who sold her vote to make it happen, has just posed nude--in prison. And several previously-freed FARC hostages are critical of the bogus "rescue" that supposedly catapulted Uribe to 90% popularity (if the Reuters take is to be believed, which I don't advise.) I've already noted that at least one of them wants Chavez brought back as a negotiator; educated guesswork tells me he doesn't approve of Uribe or his made-for-the-media "rescues".

BTW, a large number of Venezuelans weren't entirely happy with the rapprochement; they turned out to protest El Narco's presence on Venezuelan soil. Come to think of it, most of South America doesn't care for the little paraco, either. Even Peru, the other US-subservient state in the region, has turned him a cold shoulder over the bombing of Ecuador. So there's really no flying high for El Narco; he's already back in free-fall. The only question is when he'll finally hit the ground and make a greasy little splat.

But Chavecito, operating from a position of hidden strength, has been laying his groundwork cannily, as usual. He knows that Uribe is not Colombia. Which is why he rebuked the protest. It's not that he loves El Narco either; it's that he knows that he's likely very soon going to be dealing with another Colombian president--and with any luck, a better one.

Meanwhile, Chavecito is also preparing for a post-Bush US--which is why he's been talking more with the US ambassador lately. Whether the latter will change his tack, we don't know--but we do know that at least one prominent opposition fascist has been trying to suck up to Barack Obama already. Which may well be an indicator of who the likely winning candidate is; they want to get him on side before he takes office. While Colombia got a conveniently timed campaign visit from McCain, El Narco's ideological allies in eastern Caracas seem to have already understood that the old guy's gonna lose. Which is not a sign of great astuteness on their part (if they were really smart, they'd try to get some fresh policy ideas of their own, instead of endlessly recycling failed crap from Washington); rather, it's an indicator of their ability to swing whichever way the wind blows. After all, they're not exactly keen on non-white leaders. Just like Reuters and WW4R, it seems.

Justice at last for Victor Jara?

A snippet from Aporrea:

The official who was in charge of converting the state of Chile into a death, torture and detention camp in the bloody coup d'etat of Augusto Pinochet, has been arrested in Santiago.

Judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes today ordered the arrest of now-retired Colonel Cesar Manriquez Bravo, the only man investigated for the murder of popular folk-singer Victor Jara.

Translation mine.

July 11, 2008

Bring Chavecito back, says Colombian ex-hostage

What did I say earlier on about Chavecito being instrumental in the Colombian hostage negotiations? Looks like at least one former hostage is anxious to see the man who helped free him be brought back on board:

Colombian politician Luis Eladio Perez, liberated in February by the FARC guerrillas, asked of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe that he consider the possibility of re-establishing the mediation of his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, according to an interview published this Friday.

"I call publicly on Uribe that he reconsider the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, as mediator," announced the ex-congressman, who spent nearly seven years in the hands of the FARC, in an interview published by the daily newspaper El Espectador.

The The request was made in the run-up to the meeting of both presidents on Friday in Venezuela. It will be the first meeting between them since the interruption in November of Chavez's mediation with the FARC.

That interruption provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries and an exchange of mutual recriminations between the two leaders.

The interview with Perez was made, according to the newspaper, shortly before he left Colombia for Miami on Wednesday, alleging that he had received multiple death threats.

Translation mine.

meeting to take place later today is a hopeful sign, and I hope that El Narco is listening to what Luis Eladio Perez has to say. Maybe he'll have a special announcement concerning Chavecito later today? We can always hope. But I guess he'll probably end up "consulting" with Washington first.

Meanwhile, Perez's allegations of death threats come as no surprise to me. Anyone who's crossed El Narco and his tyrannical little wishes in this whole affair has gotten them. Just ask Piedad Cordoba. The valiant opposition senator got an official roughing-up when she flew to New York to attend a function at the Venezuelan consulate there. Guess the proxy relationship between Washington and New York works both ways. And it's not the only time she's faced threats and menaces from Uribe and his henchmen, either.

So no, I'm not surprised Luis Eladio Perez had to beat a hasty retreat. After what he's said here, I think he was being very prudent. But if I were him, I'd watch my back in Miami, too--all the right-wing scum of Latin America has a funny way of washing up there. Must be the ocean currents.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Evo does it again

WTF is it with these leftist presidents who keep on keeping their promises to their voters? This time, it's Evo...making good on his promise of uniting Beni and Mamoré with some long-overdue roadwork (and getting a little help from his friends in Venezuela):

And if I may say so, he's lookin' mighty fine in the process, too. Totally rocking the collarless-suit-with-no-tie look.

July 10, 2008

Quotable: Jeff Sharlet on imperialism

"Fascism may be a purer evil, but empire is a more pervasive one, and ultimately more dangerous because it's able to call on the loyalties of well-intentioned people who'd never go near fascism. But if you're a Vietnamese kid napalmed in 1968, or an Iraqi kid with your hands blown off in 2008, empire is every bit as bad as fascism. Or, for that matter, if you're a Bangladeshi or a Chinese sweat shop worker or an Afghani forced to grow and process heroin to survive, the economic ramifications of empire are as bad as the explicit political repression of fascism. And for decades, what traditional fascism has cropped up around the world — in Central America, in some African nations, for instance — has been made possible only through the support of empire."

--Jeff Sharlet, interviewed at The Wild Hunt Blog

July 9, 2008

A kick in the Berluscoglioni

How do you say "Ouch" in Italian? (I know how you say "son of a bitch"!)

The White House has apologised to Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi for a briefing describing him as a political "amateur" who is "hated by many".

The "insulting" biography was included in a press kit distributed to reporters travelling with President George W Bush to a meeting of world leaders in Japan.

He was "one of the most controversial leaders" of a country "known for governmental corruption and vice".

Only last month, Mr Bush visited his old ally, calling him a "good friend".

The four-page description of Mr Berlusconi had been taken from the Encyclopedia of World Biography.

It refers to the Italian prime minister as a man "hated by many but respected by all at least for his bella figura (personal style) and the sheer force of his will".

It says Mr Berlusconi was said to be "regarded by many as a political dilettante (amateur) who gained his high office only through use of his considerable influence on the national media".

What? You mean he's not?

BTW, here's a little video of Berlusconi's bella figura in action:

Taking a pratfall. Couldn't happen to a bigger prat. Unless you count the one he's with here:

BTW, there are two whole pages on YouTube dedicated to the general theme of "Berlusconi figura di merda." And they aren't all that shows the "di merda" aspect in action:

Booty-humping his own chauffeur in front of everyone. What class.

Oh, those brave Venezuelan journalists of the opposition!

They're not afraid of anything...except, maybe, this cute young Chavista hippie with a microphone. Scroll down to the video at the bottom and see for yourself! They run away from him like he's radioactive. (Well, he IS active on radio, or rather, TV.) They seem to think he's gonna stab them with his mike. (Well, it DOES turn into a light-sabre at one point.) But mostly, they just go out of their way to get out of his way, because otherwise, he'll give them booklets of Chavecito's constitutional reforms to read, and everyone knows that constitutional literacy is a dangerous, communistic thing!

Finally, Ingrid Betancourt rebukes Uribe

Took her awhile, and some of us were wondering what the fuck was up when she praised his highly dubious "rescue mission" (which some of us suspect was either a ransom or, I believe, an attempt at bribery.) But she has finally taken him to task, albeit a bit too mildly, and the Beeb has her on audio. Go listen.

The man Dr. Death could not kill

He's a Spanish anarchist, he's alive, he's the last of his kind, and he's in Bolivia. He survived over 100 attempts on his life. He helped hold Franco off when the latter marched on Madrid, then went on to spend five years in Dr. Death's infamous camp at Mauthausen. And yet he never broke.

If there is a cooler person on the planet, I don't know who he might be. This dude is BADASS. I wonder if Evo's met him? I bet they'd get along great.

July 8, 2008

Dr. Death alive in Chile?

What do you bet this sick sonofabitch was used by the Pinochet regime, too?

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre believes Aribert Heim is in Patagonia, where his daughter is known to live.

The centre has sent representatives to the region to pursue the search.

Heim is said to have documented the victims he tortured and killed at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria during World War II.

He is accused of killing Jews using exceptionally cruel methods. According to Holocaust survivors, he performed operations and amputations without anaesthetic to see how much pain his victims could endure.

Injecting victims straight into the heart with petrol, water or poison were said to have been his favoured method at Mauthausen.

"In the last few days we've received information from two different sources, both relating to Chile, which we think have very good potential," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

The group has put up a 315,000 euros ($495,000; £250,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of Heim.

"His crimes are fully documented by himself, because he kept a log of the operations that he carried out," Mr Zuroff said.

"He tortured many inmates before he killed them at Mauthausen, and he used body parts of the people he killed as decorations."

The article goes on to note that US forces detained Heim after the war, but he was never charged. How they could have missed him, I don't know--the Nazis were all meticulous record keepers, so much so that they used IBM punchcard machines to keep track of which of their victims went to which KZ.

They also note that if still found alive, Heim would be 94 years old. Far as I'm concerned, no fascist torturer is so old that he can expect to elude prosecution. Maybe that worked for Pinochet, but it shouldn't be repeated. Especially since Heim could very well have worked for the Chilean dictator; Nazi-style abuses, perpetrated by actual old Nazis, were not unheard of in those days.

The RCTVs of Ecuador?

Um, no. Just a bunch of oligarchic whiners getting their knicks in a twist again. This time in Quito and Guayaquil.

Ecuador's government has seized two private TV stations in a long-running dispute over debts.

Backed by police, officials raided the TV channels in Quito and Guayaquil, and another 193 companies in the same business group were also seized.

[...]

The raids were carried out by officials from the state's Deposit Guarantee Agency (AGD), which seeks to recover funds from banks that closed or went bankrupt in a financial crisis in the late 1990s.

The companies taken over on Tuesday form part of Grupo Isaias, whose owners are related to two bankers, Roberto and William Isaias.

The brothers ran the now closed Filanbanco that is being investigated for alleged embezzlement of state money put at some $661m (£335m).

The Ecuadorean government is seeking their extradition from the US.

All right. Now we can see that this is NOT a free-speech issue at all, but rather all about an end to impunity for wealthy embezzlers. And what better way to hit 'em where it hurts than to yank their lucrative access to the public airwaves?

But of course, being oligarchs, they whine...not because their voices are suddenly being muted, but because now they'll have a bit less to spend on cocaine, hookers and single-malt Scotch. And because they just might end up facing justice.

Typical.

A short note in a minor key

Hey y'all.

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth; I've just been a bit under the weather lately. Sick as a dog, too ill to blog. At least, anything that would make sense. Or anything other than how brutally Montezuma avenged himself on me the other day for eating fresh strawberries. 48-hour summer gut bugs are such fun, aren't they? And just to make things truly excruciating, two words: No Kaopectate.

Plus, my ear got waterlogged on Saturday, got worse on Sunday, and on Monday morning had to have a date with a dropperful of hydrogen peroxide and a squeeze bulb full of warm water. Yes, I think I got all the wax and there was (thankfully) no sign of infection, but I spent half of the morning feeling semi-deaf on the right-hand side, and a bit wonky as a result while I chopped veggies for my all-from-scratch chicken noodle soup. Then my ear finally drained--twice--and I finally got some blessed relief, but I think that before I retire I'll keep my date with the dropper and syringe, just in case.

July 4, 2008

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Chavecito's glad!

And why not? Ingrid Betancourt is finally free, albeit under very sniffy circumstances. But since the objective of all his work was peace in Colombia and a release of all hostages, not scoring political points, and since she's safe, he can still say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. After all, it was his success in freeing others, such as Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez, that helped spark this happy reunion between Ingrid and her family. And it was his words to the FARC that sparked this major release, as subsequent news will show (and I'll blog it if the lamestream media goes on failing to report!)

July 2, 2008

17 seconds to moral clarity with Christopher Hitchens

If you haven't seen this video yet, you simply must. In the space of five minutes, you get to see how Christopher Hitchens saw the light on waterboarding in an undisclosed location somewhere in North Carolina. Not only does he admit that it IS torture, he also admits that it's not "simulated" drowning, it IS drowning--of a particularly terrorizing kind. And it takes him just a few seconds to "break". He flings away the metal object (poetically called a "dead man's handle") that the torturers have given him to signal--simply by dropping it--that he can't take the torment anymore. It all looks so unceremonious, which makes you wonder how long anyone can withstand such a treatment.

Here's Hitchens in his own words:

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it "simulates" the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The "board" is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don't want to tell you how little time I lasted.

This is because I had read that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, invariably referred to as the "mastermind" of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, had impressed his interrogators by holding out for upwards of two minutes before cracking. (By the way, this story is not confirmed. My North Carolina friends jeered at it. "Hell," said one, "from what I heard they only washed his damn face before he babbled.")

It certainly doesn't look like they did much more than that to Hitchens, if you watch the video. I was surprised at how soon he dropped the metal thingie. It was almost immediate.

But of course, some of you lurking rightard sadists out there may be wondering if this technique "works". If by "working" you mean does it supply accurate and actionable evidence that will stand up in a court of law or assist in the search for terrorists, or will it defuse a ticking bomb, the answer is a resounding NO. But on the other hand, if you consider "working" to be defined as terrorizing the victim and making him/her say whatever it takes to make it stop--that is, if you consider the objective of the torture to be not gaining information or evidence, but simply to physically and mentally destroy the victim, then yes, it certainly does work. And it goes on working long after the torturer's part of the job is done. Here's Hitchens again:

Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, in case it's of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia. No doubt this will pass. As if detecting my misery and shame, one of my interrogators comfortingly said, "Any time is a long time when you're breathing water." I could have hugged him for saying so, and just then I was hit with a ghastly sense of the sadomasochistic dimension that underlies the relationship between the torturer and the tortured.

[...]

I am somewhat proud of my ability to "keep my head," as the saying goes, and to maintain presence of mind under trying circumstances. I was completely convinced that, when the water pressure had become intolerable, I had firmly uttered the pre-determined code word that would cause it to cease. But my interrogator told me that, rather to his surprise, I had not spoken a word. I had activated the "dead man's handle" that signaled the onset of unconsciousness. So now I have to wonder about the role of false memory and delusion. What I do recall clearly, though, is a hard finger feeling for my solar plexus as the water was being poured. What was that for? "That's to find out if you are trying to cheat, and timing your breathing to the doses. If you try that, we can outsmart you. We have all kinds of enhancements." I was briefly embarrassed that I hadn't earned or warranted these refinements, but it hit me yet again that this is certainly the language of torture.

"We have all kinds of enhancements" = "Ve haf vays of makingk you talk." Nice, eh? Of course, a wily enough victim could still find ways of resisting the "enhancements". But even if no one could, the torture still doesn't make people say anything particularly useful. Hitchens notes that one torture victim "confessed", falsely, to being a hermaphrodite. Torture may make 'em talk, but it does not guarantee that what they say will make sense.

And speaking of making sense: Maybe it's the residue of Hitchens's own residual lack of moral clarity. Maybe it's Stockholm Syndrome. I don't know what this passage is...

The team who agreed to give me a hard time in the woods of North Carolina belong to a highly honorable group. This group regards itself as out on the front line in defense of a society that is too spoiled and too ungrateful to appreciate those solid, underpaid volunteers who guard us while we sleep. These heroes stay on the ramparts at all hours and in all weather, and if they make a mistake they may be arraigned in order to scratch some domestic political itch. Faced with appalling enemies who make horror videos of torture and beheadings, they feel that they are the ones who confront denunciation in our press, and possible prosecution. As they have just tried to demonstrate to me, a man who has been waterboarded may well emerge from the experience a bit shaky, but he is in a mood to surrender the relevant information and is unmarked and undamaged and indeed ready for another bout in quite a short time. When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.

...but I can tell you unequivocally that the torturers who "belong to a highly honorable group" are just as indoctrinated and brainwashed as any al-Qaida terrorist, and, notwithstanding all protestations of "lame and diseased attempt to arrive at moral equivalence" by sophists like Hitchens, it is all for the exact same purpose. The only difference is which side one is on. Both groups perceive themselves as the righteous guardians of an order which is under threat from an enemy. And that enemy is out to kill them with the moral equivalent of tooth decay. Suddenly, the local high-fructose corn syrup diet must be maintained at all costs, including the very worst.

Maybe Hitchens doesn't understand this because, as an outspoken anti-theist, he's blinded by the blatant religiosity of the Islamists (as opposed to the much more subtle kind that prevails among the Americans), but if you go him one better and strip away all the religious trappings from the basic beliefs of the two tribes, you get the exact same thing. Each side perceives its own ungrateful, lazy, decadent civilization to be under threat from the other. And the threat can only be countered, at least in the minds of the "threatened", with murder and torture. Yeah, I can "clearly understand this viewpoint", too--but even more clearly, I can understand that it is bullshit, and I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand that incontrovertible FACT.

And in fact, even Hitchens, in his roundabout and bumfuzzly way, finally comes out and admits...well, ALMOST as much:

One used to be told—and surely with truth—that the lethal fanatics of al-Qaeda were schooled to lie, and instructed to claim that they had been tortured and maltreated whether they had been tortured and maltreated or not. Did we notice what a frontier we had crossed when we admitted and even proclaimed that their stories might in fact be true? I had only a very slight encounter on that frontier, but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words "waterboard" and "American" could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.

I don't know if he will go on to have more such episodes of genuine moral clarity, but it's a good start.

I could get smart-assy and suggest that he be waterboarded some more, but I think we already know where that road leads. Plus, I think that he might just be amenable to reason if treated more humanely. At worst, we could just, er, assist him by taking his bottle away.

July 1, 2008

Memo to the Media Luna prefects: You're toast!

As if it weren't enough that popular opinion is going to broom these "autonomist" butts out of office (and a landslide is going to confirm Evo), there's this little bombshell from off the coast of, of all places, Uruguay:

Uruguay says it may have found a large natural gas field that would change it from an importer to an exporter of gas.

The announcement of the possible find, which could also contain oil, was made by President Tabare Vazquez in a note on his official website.

Local reports say that the field could contain as much as three trillion cubic feet (85bn cubic metres) of gas but there has not yet been any drilling.

Link added.

The Beeb goes on to note that the gas field could provide for as much as 827 years' worth of domestic needs, based on the amount of gas Uruguay used last year. This means Uruguay will not only become a net exporter; it could become to natural gas what Venezuela is to petroleum. If Tabare Vazquez is as smart as I think and hope he is, he'll copy Chavecito and put the proceeds from that gas to use serving the Uruguayan people, who have been hit hard by the vagaries of the markets over the last 40 years. All in all, it looks very good for Uruguay.

But what, you ask, does this have to do with the Media Luna in Bolivia?

Good question, and I'm glad you asked.

Take a good look at any map of South America, and you'll see that at least one of the Media Luna provinces of Bolivia borders on a very large country: Argentina. Which imports a lot of its natural gas from Bolivia via pipelines through...drumroll please...the Media Luna region.

And since the Media Luna prefects are trying to claim "autonomy", meaning absolute control over Bolivian natural gas resources, that presents a problem. Not so much for Bolivia as for the Media Luna, since Argentina will buy gas only from the feds in La Paz, not some provincial prefect in the Media Luna. That means they deal with Evo, not the "autonomists"--and will go on doing so.

But, if Uruguay gets in the business of selling natural gas, guess where else Argentina could go to buy? Uruguay, if you consult your map, is also parked right next door to...drumroll please...ARGENTINA!

And do you know what means for the Media Luna?

Well, even if their "autonomy" drive succeeds--which is highly doubtful--Argentina could still turn its back on them and go to Uruguay for natural gas. And that would put the Media Luna prefects in a most uncomfortable spot.

Assuming, of course, Evo doesn't put the boots to them first.

(h/t The Scarlet Pimpernel for the news link.)

A stupid note on Canada Day

And who struck it, albeit inadvertently? The CBC. They interviewed a group of new immigrants (there's a special citizenship ceremony for some of them on Canada Day), and who did they interview? Some twit from Venezuela who claims he came here because of "political instability" back home.

Talk about desecrating the day. Can we please leave the political bullshit out of it and just interview someone who came from a REALLY unstable place next time, CBC? Like, oh, I dunno, COLOMBIA?

Jesus doesn't like it when you lie!

Even Jesus Hates You

At least, that's the impression I got last time I thumbed through any of the four Gospels. Too bad this site, calling itself the Catholic World News, hasn't gotten that message...and apparently, neither has a politically uncelibate Venezuelan archbishop, who routinely violates his vows with the opposition:

A spokesman for the Venezuelan bishops' conference has denounced the formation of a new religious sect called the Reform Catholic Venezuelan Church, which has pledged its support for the country's President Hugo Chavez.

Archbishop Roberto Lückert Leon of Coro, the vice-president of the Venezuelan episcopal conference, told El Nuevo Herald that the new sect is "a parallel church that Chavez has created." The group is being subsidized by contributions from Venezuela's state-owned oil company, the archbishop said, and is recruiting priests who have been disciplined by their own bishops because of "scandalous" behavior.

The Reform Catholic Venezuelan Church does not require priests to be celibate. The group also allows divorce, and proclaims that "homosexuality and bisexuality are not sins in and of themselves.' But the sect is uncompromising on one issue: "We completely support the socialist project led by Chavez," announced one of the group's leaders.

Funny, I haven't heard anything about a new religious sect forming in Venezuela--not from any reliable source, anyhow. But, according to El Nuevo Herald, there IS a new church...IN MIAMI. And it is under the auspices of the Anglican Church, run by a primate of Venezuelan and Canadian nationality. So much for it being a breakaway Roman Catholic sect in Venezuela. It's a Protestant one! Just like what Martin Luther did in Germany in the 1500s, albeit on a smaller scale. And in Miami.

Which begs the question: What is the archbishop getting his cassock in a twist about? If it's not his church, it's not his problem. Hell, it's not even based in his country.

Oh wait, I see: They allow divorce, they're not anti-gay, they don't demand celibacy. Well DUH! They're Protestants, and those things are all pretty mainstream for Anglicans, especially here in Canada. Even if they still are anathema to Roman Catholics, though, there are still plenty of rank-and-file Catholics who disagree with those prohibitions. (Consider the number of Catholic women who are on the Pill, or who have had abortions--and whose priests know it, and refuse to kick them out of the church.)

The accusations of government funding, I predict, will prove to be lies. This is not about a new church receiving government funding, it's about the Catholic church being cut out of it. And also about it being cut out of the status of power-behind-the-throne. Archbishop Lückert, thanks to his virulent anti-Chavismo, apparently believes he'll be absolved, but history will not be kind to him.

And, if Jesus is listening, I'm pretty sure he's pissed, too.

PS: On a related note, Venezuelan political analyst Vladimir Acosta notes the obvious...that the Roman Catholic Church is playing dirty politics in Venezuela, specifically on behalf of the rich exploiters. And on a more disgusting note, here's a recent example of what the professor is on about: a priest haranguing his parishioners using an upside-down Venezuelan flag on the altar. His sermon? Something to the effect of "What, don't you sinners have the balls to kill your duly elected president?" And this at, of all opportune occasions, an infant baptism!