Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Sports and poisonous atmospheres

Much has been made in the American media, and rightly so, about the melee at an NBA basketball game in Detroit where players from a player from the visiting Indiana Pacers stormed into the crowd to confront a player who'd thrown something at him.

However, this article from The San Francisco Chronicle notes that such anti-social idiocy is not limited to professional sports, millionaire players and fans paying ridiculous ticket prices.

When the first blow landed on the side of his head, sending his glasses flying, soccer referee Bruce Greenlee wasn't shocked. There was no disbelief that a low-key, recreational league soccer game among 8- and 9-year- olds had turned to violence.
The sad fact is, he'd been expecting it.

"My first thought was, 'Well, I guess today's the day,' '' Greenlee, an attorney and legal software developer in San Francisco, said Monday. "I kind of knew it would come someday.''


In this case, it was last Saturday morning [November 20] at halftime of an under-10 soccer match in sleepy, suburban Albany. It was a lovely morning until the coach of a Richmond [CA] team completely lost his marbles. He threatened Greenlee, a 59-year-old referee, and when Greenlee couldn't change his mind, hit him twice, at least once with what Greenlee believes was a martial-arts kick, sending him to the hospital for stitches.

It wasn't the first run-in Greenlee had with this coach. The guy had been in the league for three seasons, and Greenlee had twice before disqualified his team for failing to provide proof that his players were not over the required age. It was simple, the ref said: The guy was sneaking older players onto his team so he could win.

The ref disqualified the cheating team, which prompted the cheater coach to go psycho on the kiddie league official.

Fortunately, the ref is reportedly pressing charges against the delinquent who attacked him. The coach could face a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a referee, which carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a year in jail, authorities said.

I'm glad the ref chose to do this. He's sending a message to all parents that if you act like a criminal, you'll be treated as one... regardless of the context.

That the coach would be so pathetic as to cheat in an 8-/9-year old game is enough of a black mark on his character. But to assault the ref like some common street thug? I feel sorry for the child that has to grow up with this person as a male role model.

I've written before about the lunatic parents that reign in some youth sports leagues. In most cases, it's a minority of parents; most of them are either passionate within the bounds of reason or simply supportive of their child. Most coaches volunteer because they love the sport or because they want to spend more time with their kids. But it only takes a few jerks with no sense of perspective, even one, to ruin the experience for a whole team. Combine that with a bunch of decent parents who won't confront the jerk(s).

There is a counterexample to all this doom and gloom. My city's rec soccer program (with which I am not involved) has a reputation for having a culture when perspective prevails. Parents whose passion nears that line which separates reasonable exuberance from 'get a life,' they are politely reminded which side of the line to stay on.

The rec program is a feeder for the school program in which I coach. Not coincidentally, participation in my school's modified (middle school) programs is much higher than it was before the rec program started.

Increased participation allows me a bigger pool of players to develop, which in turn leads to more competition and thus better players. Our school's varsity team (the top level team) has improved greatly in the last few years.

In other words, letting kids enjoy themselves and creating a positive atmosphere for them to play in eventually leads to successful results.

How revolutionary!

Albany: how to fix the mess

The dysfunctional and corrupt nature of New York government has long been a topic of scorn for local government officials, school administrations and the state's editorial writers. But the heat seems to have been ratcheted up this year.

First, there was a report by the Brennan Center at New York University's law school which called New York's legislature the most dysfunctional in the nation. Then there was groundbreaking investigation, which may well win a Pulitzer Prize, by the Syracuse Post-Standard on the corruption in the secret slush funds maintained by the state's govenor and two legislative leaders.

There is no shortage of ideas on how to fix the mess, only a shortage of will.

The NY Public Interest Research Group's Blair Horner cites the case of former state Sen. Guy Vellela, now incarcerated, as a an example.

According to the DA’s indictment, people seeking contracts [to paint a bridge in Albany] were told that to win the bid they needed to contact Velella and retain his father’s firm to represent them in the bidding. Velella got kickbacks from the clients who retained his father’s firm. In the end, Velella resigned in disgrace, pleaded guilty to a felony, lost his law license and was sent to prison.

But more interesting is what Horner's op-ed in The Post-Standard suggests as remedies:

Boost the state comptroller’s powers to review agencies’ and authorities’ contracting decisions.
Empower the Lobbying Commission to monitor procurement lobbying. With so much at stake, big bucks are spent influencing agency contracting decisions. The Assembly has passed legislation deputizing the Lobbying Commission to monitor contract lobbying. The Senate and the governor should support it.

Create an independent ethics agency to monitor both the executive and legislative branches. The governor’s internal oversight is inadequate.

Kevin Murray, a Monroe County (Western NY) legislator, offers a different solution. In his essay for Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle, he cites the now familiar list of Albany absurdities: late budgets, pork, gerrymandering that prevents electoral accountability.

He believes a state constitutional convention is a long-overdue measure. He endorses a reform proposal by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky which would, in his words, would give the state Legislature would have clearly defined powers to amend a governor's proposed budget, rather than be forced to simply accept or reject it. Under this revised constitution, election districts would be drawn by a nonpartisan commission. And the state Legislature would become a unicameral body of just 100 members.

Mitchell Kaidy, who was part of the state's last constitutional convention in 1967, offers some suggestions on rules a constitutional convention must adopt if real reform is to happen.

The public rejected a convention back in a required referendum back in 1997, but the legislature can call one at anytime. As necessary as it certainly is, I wouldn't hold my breath. Legislators have a reputation for protecting their own for a good reason.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Pentagon: they hate our policies, not our freedoms

For a long time, many have poured scorn on the administration's claims that anti-Americanism is being fueled because 'they' [loosely defined] "hate our freedoms." This article from The Christian Science Monitor notes the latest party to trash this assertion: an advisory board to none other than the War Secretary himself.

The paper cited a report by the War Department's Defense Science board which wrote:

Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies [the report says]. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.

That was the War Department's advisory board speaking, not Amnesty International.

MSNBC further noted:

``The dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars” against the United States, the report said. “American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims.''

Many have criticized the administration for claiming to spread democracy while cozying up to oppressive Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; these criticisms have typically been dismissed as naive and unrealistic by hardliners (or as a fuzzy, bleeding heart diversion).

Yet the Defense Science Board, which includes the chairmen of the Army, Navy and Air Force, added: It is noteworthy that opinion is (strongest) against America in precisely those places ruled by what Muslims call ‘apostates’ and tyrants — the tyrants we support. This should give us pause.


Common ground? Uh sure... but how?

There's been a lot of talk lately how liberals and progressives need make inroads in small-town, red America if they want to have electoral success. I think there's a degree of merit in that argument. Many on the left are very smug. They think of themselves as intellectually superior to the rubes who supported President Bush. Sophisticated Americans vote Democrat (or Green), while ignorant rednecks vote Republican.

Of course, the parallel orthodoxy on the right is that patriotic God-fearing Americans vote Republican while hedonistic secularists (aka: liberals who "despise Christ") vote Democrat or Green.

Still, those on the left need to realize that calling people 'stupid' is not a good recipe for winning their votes.

Nevertheless, it's hard to counter stereotypes when you read stuff like this.

The final count of a Nov. 2 referendum saw Alabamans REJECT a constitutional amendment to erase segregation-era wording requiring separate schools for "white and colored children" and to eliminate references to the poll taxes once imposed to disenfranchise blacks.

I wonder exactly HOW liberals and progressives are supposed to make common ground with people who take such positions.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The colonialist denounces imperialism

Some anti-war folks might be tempted to think that because French President Jacques Chirac agreed with them on Iraq, then he might be someone to admire. That would be mistaken. He happened to be right, but the as the law of averages dictates, it was bound to happen eventually. Even Jesse Helms was accidentally right once in a great while.

In his recent trip to Britain, Chirac said, "The peoples submitted to the West’s domination in the past have not forgotten and are quick to see a resurgence of imperialism and colonialism in our actions."

This was shortly after the French military destroyed the entireity of the Ivorian air force. An action which, shock of shocks, provoked an outpouring of anti-French sentiment in Côte d'Ivoire who accused the French of... imperialism and colonialism.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The mess in Albany: it's worse than you think

I knew New York state's government was dysfunctional and totally devoid of any transparency. This summer's Brennan Center Report from New York University's law school detailed that. But as bad as I may have thought Albany was, it's much, much worse.

My local paper ran excerpts of the ground breaking investigation by the Syracuse Post-Standard on New York state's slush funds. These slush funds are controlled by the three men who dominate almost every aspect of New York's government: Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. These slush funds were created in order to avoid the state's constitutional requirement that the public approve all state-incurred debt. These slush funds have cost NY tax payers over 1 billion dollars in just the last seven years.

It's worth noting that these secret slush funds are separate from the usual 'pork' contained in the state budget, which itself is hardly a model of transparency.

The most appalling part is not merely the money. The worst part, this being New York state government, is the process. As The Post-Standard describes how, starting in 1997:

The legislature and governor agree to create a multimillion-dollar program for projects to be named later. The bill they pass says the money will be borrowed but says little else.

In a private deal with no vote of legislators, the three leaders decide the details. Pataki gets a share to distribute. Bruno takes a cut for his Republican senators and Silver a cut for his Democratic assemblymen. The governor and legislators in the majority parties then pick which fire department or dance troupe hits the lottery and which is out of luck.

To pay for it, the three leaders direct the authorities to borrow the money — Empire State Development Corp. for the Republicans and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York for the Democrats. Those authorities write the checks for projects picked by Pataki, Silver and Bruno.

The leaders have never fully disclosed to the public, or even their own legislators, how they spent this borrowed money.

Millions of dollars fly around below radar, with no audits and little public scrutiny. There are few rules, leaving lawmakers to choose projects without statewide competition, with no requirement of financial need, with little concern for conflicts of interest and with a nudge from those who contributed money to their re-election campaigns.
[emphasis mine]

As absurd as the state's budget 'process' is, at least it goes through nominal public scrutiny.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Founding Fathers vs the theocracy brigade

I don't subscribe to the 'we must be enslaved to everything the Founding Fathers thought now and forever more' school of thought so popular nowadays. But those who get apoplectic at people who don't say "America is a Christian nation" every 3.2 seconds should read this article.

[T]he 1796 Treaty of Tripoli - initiated by George Washington and signed into law by John Adams - proclaims: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion."

Thomas Paine wrote, "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

George Washington never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in any of his thousands of letters, and pointedly referred to divinity as "It." Whenever he (rarely) attended church, Washington always deliberately left before communion, demonstrating disbelief in Christianity's central ceremony.

John Adams wrote, "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved - the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!" adding that "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [forming the U.S. government] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven..." [George W. Bush take note]

Thomas Jefferon noted that common law "is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England ...about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. ...We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

James Madison said, "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."

As I said, I don't accept that we must be shackled to the Founding Fathers' beliefs from here to eternity, but those that do should recognize that they weren't quite as in-your-face about Christianity as today's popular myth would have you believe.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sham elections, debt relief and immoral television

Though I don't read The New York Times on a regular basis, it did have a few interesting articles this weekend.

The first was an opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof entitled 'No More Sham Elections.' Now before you write this off as another round of liberal whining about John Kerry's loss, it has nothing much to do with the presidential election.

He remarks on the uncompetitiveness of elections across the country. In Arkansas, 75 percent of state legislative races this year were uncontested by either the Republicans or by the Democrats. The same was true of 73 percent of the seats in Florida, 70 percent in South Carolina, 62 percent in New Mexico... And Congressional races were an embarrassment. Only seven incumbents in the House of Representatives lost their seats this month Four of which were in gerrymandered Texas districts.

The best solution he proposes is one I've advocated for a while: independent state electoral commissions should draw up electoral boundaries. Right now, this is done by partisan state legislatures. Sometimes, they're overtly biased in favor of one party (like in Texas). Other times, redistricting is overtly biased in favor of incumbents (Democratic Assemblymen and Republican Senators here in New York). Iowa was the first state to have the lines drawn by an independent commission; not surprisingly, they have the most competitive electoral races in the country.

He also proposes getting rid of the electoral college (as well as noting how close we came to actually having the House of Representatives elect the president). But I've already written on this issue.

The independent electoral commission would do the most good. Eliminating the electoral college, for all its evident merits, is highly unlikely in my lifetime.


This article remarks on how The world's leading industrial nations agreed Sunday to cancel 80 percent of the nearly $39 billion debt owed them by Iraq. The news article called it a critical step in rebuilding the country's devastated economy and an important precedent for its other creditors to follow.

It's interesting to wonder why this is such a great idea for Iraq, but some object to the same being done for African countries.


Bill Carter's article observed that the unsurprising revelation: Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like Their Television Sin.

Unsurprising because if only Kerry supporters or so-called liberals watched 'immoral' television shows, they wouldn't get high enough ratings to remain on the air.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Reagan's other legacy

Fans of the late US President Ronald Reagan would do well to read this article in The London Review of Books on Greg Grandin's book The Last Colonial Massacre. They claim to love him because he allegedly spoke clearly and unambiguously about freedom and liberty.

The piece cites malicious American involvement in Latin America in general and Guatemala in particular. The objective of such meddling was to preserve feudal societies favorable to big landowners, many of whom were American companies. None of this is particularly new to anyone who's been paying attention, but it's a useful reminder to Reagan hagiographers that the Cold War was fought not only in Central and Eastern Europe

It's useful to remember that tens (hundreds?) of thousands Latin Americans were slaughtered by fascist and reactionary pro-American regimes in the name of Reagan's notion of "the free world."

The Last Colonial Massacre points out that Latin America's left became radicalized largely because the pro-American, anti-communist regimes did as much as they could to purge the moderate, democratic left. The US-engineered 1954 coup against Guatemala's democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz taught a young Che Guevara the impossibility of peaceful, electoral reform and promised his followers that 'Cuba will not be Guatemala.' Guevara went on to team with Fidel Castro, another Latin American disaffected by the corruption and repression of a pro-American regime.

The book points out that the domestic reactionaries' real fear wasn't communism, but popular participation. The most mythologized martyrs of the Latin American left, Arbenz and Chile's Salvador Allende, were social democrats (like the then-ruling parties of, say, Sweden and Canada), not authoritarian communists (like in the USSR or North Korea). But they occassionally cooperated with communists so that automatically made them communist, in the simplistic dichotomy of American foreign policy.

Arbenz's Agrarian Reform bill was deried by a communist legislator as 'a bourgeois law.' When complained to about the slowness of reform, Arbenz replied, 'I don't care! You have to do things right.'

But the feudal lords of Latin America didn't care for such nuance. When anti-Communists put an end to this democratic awakening in 1954, it was as much the peasant's newfound appetite for thinking and talking as the planter's expropriated land that they were worried about. As Guatemala's archbishop complained, the Arbencistas sent peasants 'gifted with facility with words' to the nation's capital, where they were 'taught . . . to speak in public'.


Much like America's very own Crusaders...

Relying on the power of the Catholic Church, the regime that replaced Arbenz had prelates preach the gospel against Communism and socialism, and also against democracy, liberalism and feminism. Reaching back to the rhetoric of opposition to the French Revolution, the Church fathers characterised the Cold War as a struggle between the City of God and 'the city of the devil incarnate'.

Reformists were called 'professional corrupters of the feminine soul', elevating women with 'gifts of proselytism or leadership' to 'high and well-paid positions in official bureaucracy'. Because the Church elders were sometimes too fastidious to whip up the masses, emigrés from Republican Spain, who were partial to Franco and Mussolini, frequently took their place, calling for a more ecstatic faith to counter Communism's appeal: 'We do not want a cold Catholicism. We want holiness, ardent, great and joyous holiness . . . intransigent and fanatical.'

Reagan didn't single-handedly cause the horrors of Latin America any more than he single-handedly won the Cold War. But, to continue the analogy, his influence was indispensible in perpetuating it. When he met with Guatemala's dictator, Gen. Rios Montt, Reagan described the general as 'a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy.'

This was right in the middle of the genocide being committed by the general's military.

Of course, Reagan acknowledged the awkwardness of his comments by blaming the messengers; the "do-gooders" were giving Rios Montt 'a bum rap.'

There were a lot of "hot wars" during the Cold War. El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique to name a few. Nearly every one of those wars ended during or shortly after, the Soviet Union's disintegration and subsequent American disengagement. In other words, once the foreign meddlers left, the domestics got tired of it and settled things amongst themselves. The singular exception was in Angola, whose conflict preceded Superpower involvement.

Most leftist intellectuals, chagrined by reality exposed, have long since dissociated themselves with repressive Stalinism and its cousins. Perhaps the Reaganites could show the integrity to do the same.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Soccer: the good, bad and ugly

The semifinal round of CONCACAF (North American and Carribbean) zone World Cup qualifying concluded on Wednesday. Advancing to the final "Hexagonal" round are: USA, Panama, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The surprise elimination was that of Jamaica's Reggae Boys, who were bounced despite a 1-1 away draw to the US; they paid the price for failing to win any of their three home qualifiers (including a shock loss to Panama). The US-Jamaica match featured yet another goal by young Eddie Johnson, who cooly netted his 5th goal in only his 3rd cap, thus becoming the first American in history to score in his first three international appearances. Since he played only briefly in the first two matchs and scored early in Wednesday's match, his 5 goals came in less than an hour of actual playing time.

The big news in Wednesday's action was in Madrid where Spain and England played a "friendly." Spanish fans hurled racist abuse at England's several black players, making monkey noises every time midfielders Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Philips touched the ball. This was the day after the exact same thiing happened at a match between the same two countries' under-21 youth national teams.

I'm sure the self-styled "anti-political correctness" crowd will think the monkey chants are ok.

Several weeks ago, Spain's coach Luis Aragones referred to French striker Thierry Henry as "that black sh*t." Henry is one of the best players in the world and, unlike Aragones, is seen to have a bit of class. He did the usual "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" bit, adding the obligatory "I have many black friends" line and everyone thought the issue was over.

No, that would be too boring.

Aragones revived the controversy on Tuesday by turning it back on Britain. "I know who is racist. I remember the colonies. There are people who ran after them like wolves after prey," said the Spanish boss, apparently unaware that his country had a pretty large empire too.

Not surprising, Aragones refused to condemn the racist chants after Wednesday's game (though his employers did apologize).

Many English commentators think the team should've walked off the field, including players' union chief Gordon Taylor and former Coventry City and Southampton manager Gordon Strachan.

Strachan wrote in The Guardian that the FA, England's soccer federation, is saying that Uefa and Fifa [respectively, the governing bodies of European and world soccer] should do something about the racism. Well do something yourself. Show how brave you are. Taking the team off would have been a great stance. The whole world would have taken notice.

I'm generally a supporter of anyone-but-England (except Mexico), but I have to agree with Strachan. The racist abuse was garbage and there was no reason for England's team to tolerate it. The match wasn't an obligatory World Cup or European qualifier; it was a friendly, an exhibition voluntarily agreed upon by the English and Spanish federations. If the Spanish authorities weren't able to fill their part of the bargain by controlling this racist crap (Spanish officials or even players could've made announcements asking the crowd to knock it off), then that certainly freed England from its part of the bargain.

Frank McGahon, over at Internet Commentator, notes that for the terrible reputation English fans have, that sort of racism would not have been tolerated in English stadia. Such racism was commonplace in England through the 80s, but a concerted effort by the country's entire soccer structure has significantly diminished this crap.

Frank writes: Anyone tempted in the future to label all British football fans as hooligans because of the actions of a tiny minority of violent thugs and who assumes the European football fan to represent the acme of civilised behaviour would do well to pause and instead consider the fact that this racist barracking, unthinkable at British grounds, is commonplace at European football grounds and is, at best, tolerated by the entire crowd, at worst, celebrated.

BBC Online explored the question of racism in Spanish soccer. Liverpool's Spanish manager Rafael Benitez claims that it's not a problem.

But Frank's comments rightly point out that discussion should not be limited to Spain. The exact same racist monkey chants were directed at some English players during a Euro 2004 qualifier in Slovakia a few years ago.

Though Frank and I have had an interesting exchange as to why some offensive chanting is seen as tolerable (Mexican fans chanting 'Osama' at American players, Irish nationalist or loyalist sectarian songs in Glasgow) but others (racist ones) provoke an international incident.

The irony is that before Wednesday's match, the Spanish federation aired a video entitled 'All United Against Racism in Football.'


The Iraq occupation has proven far more difficult than the rose-colored glasses wearing types in the Bush administration seemed to expect. Though not any more surprising than what was predicted by those of us with a moderate appreication of history who were treated at the time like Chicken Little.

You'd think the administration would've learned its lesson about the danger of too many Yes Men and the value of Devil's Advocates. A little forethought can save a lot of problems later.

Except the administration doesn't think it did anything wrong in Iraq. Anywhere. At any time. Its collective Messiah Complex prevents them from acknowledging mistakes, and misjudgements and from fixing them. To acknowledge an error is to show a "lack of resolve."

And this is the biggest problem I have with the Bush administration. It's not just its bad policies. It's the fatally flawed decision making process which naturally leads to... fatally flawed decisions. And because the decision making process is inherent, it leads regularly to poorly thought out decisions based on dubious or overly optimistic assumptions.

In other words, the Bush administration believes in figuring out a course of action and then making sure the "facts" fit the pre-determined conclusion.

So the solution to this problem (which they won't admit is a problem)? One less independent voice.

The new CIA chief Porter Goss is a former conservative Republican congressman. He issued a memo to employees which said, "We do not make policy, though we do inform those who make it. We avoid political involvement, especially political partisanship,"

Yet in the same memo he wrote, "We support the administration and its policies in our work," and "As agency employees, we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies. We provide the intelligence as we see it — and let the facts alone speak to the policy-maker."

The CIA is to "avoid political involvement" and "support the administration."

"If Goss is asking people to color their views and be a team player, that's not what people at CIA signed up for," said a former CIA official.

note: CYA is short for cover your own [behind]

Thursday, November 18, 2004

No honor in such 'resistance'

So Iraqi insurgents shot dead the humanitarian aid worker they'd captured. They have a beef with the foreign military occupation so they take hostage an older lady whose sole purpose AND ACTIONS in the country are to help the Iraqis whose lives were devastated by war. According to the British The Telegraph, they blindfolded her and shot her in the head.

This was after they'd forced the woman to make another video where they humiliated her by making her plead to British Prime Minister Tony Blair not to send British troops to Bagdhad.

One might possibly understand (if not agree with) the anger of nationalist insurgents who don't appreciate being conquered and occupied by a foreign power. Though, as CNN noted, [h]er abductors never explained why she was targeted.

But such understanding evaporates pretty quickly they commit a disgusting act like humiliating and assassinating an apolitical, unarmed woman who devoted her career to helping others. Including the insurgents' countrymen.

If this were done in Liberia or Uganda, it would be labeled 'typical of African brutality' and then ignored. But some will probably romanticize it or, more likely, change the subject to George W. Bush or Ariel Sharon.

If "resistance" means murdering aid workers in cold blood, then the word is meaningless.

Delay tactic

Dennis over at the Moderate Republican comments on efforts by Congressional Republicans to protect their leader Tom Delay. Several of his political associates have been indicted in Texas on illegally using corporate money to help Republicans win state legislative races in 2002. Those Republican victories in turn gave the state party enough legislative muscle to win redistricting changes that helped Congressional Republicans gain five additional seats in Texas on Nov. 2, according to the New York Times.

In the early 90s, House Republicans (then in the minority) passed a party rule whereby any leader who was indicted would have to step down temporarily. This was done to contrast their virtuous selves with former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the power Democratic Ways and Means Committee Chair who was indicted and convicted for mail fraud.

Yet, as Dennis noted, like all common-sense ideas, it was thrown out once it actually had to apply to someone, someone that might be responsible for their hefty majority.

Unlike partisan ideologues, he acknowledges an unsurprising, but unpleasant to admit, reality: What's disturbing about all this is that 10 years ago, the GOP came in to the leadership promising reform. A decade later, they are no better than the Dems they replaced. In some cases they are even worse, because they professed to take ethics more seriously than the Dems and yet did something totally different.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Velvet Revolution: 15 years later

This week is the 15th anniversary of the protests which eventually lead to the Velvet Revolution, the toppling of the communist regime in then-Czechoslovakia. Radio Prague is doing a series on the event.

The station reports that Czech Republic president Vaclav Klaus played down the role of the dissident elite, saying it was ordinary people, leading their everyday lives who should really be thanked for bringing down communism.

Hardly surprising since Klaus had very poor relations with his predecessor Vaclav Havel, who was also the most prominent dissident against the communist regime.

Klaus suggested that what really brought down the regime were ordinary Czechs. In the 70s and 80s, Klaus writes, people retreated into their own private world and helped the regime to collapse by putting all their imagination and energy into their private and family lives rather than the regime. Klaus interprets this as an effective act of passive resistance, rather than a sign of weakness.

Historian Bohumil Dolezal took issue with Klaus' characterization. "This was simply a populist gesture trying to flatter the average Czech that it was he who brought down the Communists and not the dissidents," he said.

"In my opinion, what Mr Klaus said about the role and significance of dissidents is politically aimed and I think there is a trend here today to marginalise and play down everything that is related to dissident activities. The amount that the dissidents managed to publish illegally here is huge, and they created an effective network to support people unjustly persecuted. In this way they continually monitored the situation and reminded the world outside what was happening here. There were all kinds of documents the dissidents published on human rights, and I know that people read them and actively sought them out. So the dissident movement did have a kind of intellectual influence on the minds and conscience of the people."

Strangely enough, there was no mention of the late US President Ronald Reagan, despite recent American hagiographies implying that he singlehandedly won the Cold War. Radio Prague wisely reserves most of the credit for those who actually risked their lives, liberty and personal security in this noble cause.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Deafening silence

The vaunted "Arab street" and the region's media will almost surely go apopolectic with indignant rage over the shooting of an apparently unarmed civilian in Fallujah (more on that later). A single person.

Yet the genocide in Darfur sponsored by Sudan's Arab regime against the country's black population continues unabated, costing tens of thousands of lives so far.

The reaction so far from the "Arab street" and the Arab media?

Deafening silence.

Of course, the next time an Israeli checkpoint verifies the identity papers of someone exiting Gaza, you can expect a huge international incident, outraged editorials and demands for UN sanctions against Israel.

Sudan: the carrot which has nothing to do with the stick

Last week, I expressed a bit of skepticism at a deal between the Sudanese regime and rebel leaders in Darfur, an agreement referred to as "breakthrough" by many independent parties. Sadly, my skepticism was justified.

The DAY AFTER the agreement was signed, BBC journalist Fergal Keane (a veteran of the last African genocide in Rwanda and its subsequent, and expectedly hollow, promises of 'Never again') filed this report from a Darfur refugee camp.

I saw at least four jeep-loads of police driving over the flimsy shacks erected by displaced people.
Later they returned and began to beat and tear-gas the frightened crowd.

I saw one of the community leaders being thrown to the ground and attacked by several policemen.

The police launched tear-gas grenades into a compound where women and children were sheltering.

Police then entered and forced them to flee.


The police showed open contempt for United Nations officials when they arrived, firing tear-gas grenades and driving aggressively around the camp.

African Union (AU) peacekeepers at the camp said they did not have power or mandate to intervene.

More police have now arrived to reinforce the earlier contingent.

It's chilling to consider what the word 'reinforce' means in this context.

Keane continued:

The police staged two assaults on displaced people, and wouldn't desist from bulldozing their camp, despite the presence of representatives of the UN, AU and international aid agencies.


All the people here I have spoken to were driven out of their own villages by the pro-government Janjaweed militia and have witnessed rape and murder.

It is really hard to convey what it is like, when in the dark hours of the early morning, jeeps come in with searchlights, knowing that these people have absolutely no protection.

I've been covering Africa for 21 years and I thought I'd seen everything, but to watch the officials and the police of a state like Sudan - which has just signed a peace agreement - demolishing people's shacks under the eyes of international observer and breaching international law, is quite extraordinary and unique.

The domestic BBC Panorama program has also spoken to members of the Janjaweed in northern Darfur.

They also appear to substantiate the often denied claim that Arab soldiers - who are accused of rape and murder in Darfur - are armed by the Sudanese government.

Panorama interviewed one Janjaweed recruit who claimed of his commanders, "They said that if you come across any villages with rebels in burn them down. Straight away."

One refugee told of the horror inflicted on her by the Janjaweed: "Five of them surrounded me I couldn't move I was paralysed. They raped me, one after the other."

Another said, "My son was clinging to my dress. An Arab looking man, in a uniform with military insignia, stopped his car next to me. He grabbed my son from me and threw him into a fire."

A third villager Hikma, claimed the Janjaweed hurled racist insults as they carried out their attacks.

She said: "They were saying 'the blacks are slaves, the blacks are stupid catch them alive, catch them alive, take them away with you, tie them up'.

A fourth told the BBC: "We went to get the firewood at eight o'clock in the morning. Suddenly we were confronted by the attackers.

"They started asking us: 'Where are you going, fur women?', and calling us donkeys. 'Where are the rebels?'

"They started beating us. We tried to resist and defend ourselves but we failed because they threatened us with knives. Four of them raped me."

In response to the appalling situation, the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch has called on the UN Security Council to impose an long-delayed arms embargo and travel sanctions on the Sudanese regime.

A group of six aid agencies added their weight to calls for action, saying that previous UN resolutions "mounted to little more than empty threats, with minimal impact on the levels of violence". This was evidenced by the atrocities mentioned earlier that were committed in full view of UN and African Union officials.

Despite being the only major country to call the Darfur situation 'genocide' and despite having earlier pushed the arms embargo/travel ban resolution, the Bush administration has quickly flip flopped, according to The Washington Post. The daily reports: The Bush administration is pressing the United Nations to reward Sudan with a major package of international debt relief and reconstruction funds if the Islamic state signs a peace deal ending a brutal, 20-year civil war with the Christian-backed Sudan People's Liberation Army in southern Sudan by the end of the year.

This is a separate conflict from Darfur (the regime has a knack for fighting its own citizens, eh?).

The offer of financial aid marks a strategy shift by the United States, which had sought international support for two U.N. resolutions threatening to sanction Sudan if it failed to crack down on the Janjaweed.

The US' ambassador to the UN John Danforth says the Bush administration wants to focus more on the carrot than the stick.

Too bad the America carrot has nothing to do with the situation the Bush administration itself called genocide.

Monday, November 15, 2004

An "anti-misery" tax on oil?

A recent essay in Le Monde called for a solidarity tax on petroleum. Olivier Giscard d'Estaing, president of the Action Committee for a World Parliament (and I'd guess son of the former president of the French Republic), called for a one dollar tax per barrel of oil "against misery."

The author estimates that such a tax would the 50 billion dollars ($50,000,000,000) annually necessary to reach the Millenium Goals against poverty. He calls on OPEC to institute this initiative, which he likens to the Marshall Plan.

This is a wonderful and noble idea.

But how will it reduce poverty?

In many oil-producing countries, like Venezuela, Angola and Nigeria, the problem is not lack of money. Those countries are rolling in oil revenues. The problems are corruption and lack of transparency. The money's there. It's just not reaching the citizens. It's not having any effect on the lives of ordinary people.

An "anti-misery tax" would only increase the amount of money for the leeches to siphon off.

DC United: 2004 champions

Congrats to DC United who, yesterday, won their record fourth championship in Major League Soccer's nine seasons. A pair of goals by man of the match Alecko Esckendarian (including a controversial one following an ignored hand ball) helped DC overcome a 57th minute red card (for a non-ignored handball) for a 3-2 win over Kansas City.

Unlike most observers, I thought DC would win this match simply because they were playing better soccer. Kansas City got to the final on the strength of their defense (2 goals in their previous six matches). So when DC exploded for a trio of goals in a seven minute span, it wasn't surprising that KC lacked the creativity for a fight back. They played the last 10 minutes with no sense of urgency, despite being down a goal.

Frankly, they deserved to lose and DC deserved to win. But it was a fantastic game.

And DC are deserving champions. They struggled early in the season, but once they found their stride, they played the best soccer in the league. They also scored at least two goals in each of their five playoff games, so they didn't exactly back into the final. They won a nervy penalty shootout in the semifinal against New England, following a match many have called the greatest in the league's brief history.

While many American fans sneer at the quality of MLS, it certainly provides some edge-of-your-seat soccer. I've watched a total of 20 European and FA Cup finals and one, maybe two, of them matched the excitement of this match. Last year's final was even better.

Perhaps the fact that MLS Cup doesn't get quite as much media attention as other big soccer finals makes for a BETTER spectacle. Because there's a little less scrutiny, teams feel less pressure to play negative soccer and allow themselves a few shreds of creativity, denied their counterparts in more prestigious finals.

Ivorian morass

The mess in Côte d'Ivoire continues to deteriorate. First, an Ivorian government air strike on French peacekeepers left 9 French soldiers dead. The French responded by destroying the small Ivorian air force, something which Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo called "acts of war." Then French troops deployed across the commercial capital Abidjan following anti-French rioting and took control of the city's international airport. The French commander in Côte d'Ivoire denied it represented an attempt to overthrow Gbagbo. Over this weekend, Gbagbo fired his moderate army chief Gen. Matthias Doué and replaced him with a hardliner.

Now, the UN Security Council is rightly preparing an arms embargo on the country (all belligerents). Including a travel ban and a freeze on "funds and other financial assets" to be imposed against unspecified individuals to be decided later by a Security Council panel. Gbagbo is likely to be on the list, diplomats said. The individuals would include those who threatened the peace and "reconciliation process" as well as those "determined as responsible for serious violations of human rights," the resolution says, reports CNN.

My take on all of this?

a ) I strongly suspect that the "Young Patriots" militias are out of the control of both Gbagbo and his FPI party, even though the militias are nominally "pro-government." I fear if Gbagbo compromises, he may be assassinated by extremists like happened to Rwanda's leader Juvénal Habyrimana right before that country's genocide. Gbagbo may fear this too.

b) The French crossed a dangerous line when they actively bombed the Ivorian air force. It's one thing to protect civilians or themselves but this certainly seems like plain old aggression. Even if they were provoked. So-called peacekeepers don't do this sort of thing; belligerents do. This only stoked anti-French fires that the nationalistic and xenophobic militias were more than happy to exploit.

c) The French are in deep and they don't know how to get out. The French government negotiated the Marcoussis agreement that was supposed to bring an end to the civil war. Originally, they were seen as an honest broker in the conflict. This was no small feat considering that the country's history of meddling in Africa is comparably odious to US meddling in Latin America. Yet the rebels quickly soured on the French as their peacekeepers stood in the way of the rebel march toward Abidjan. Now it's the Ivorian government accusing the French of bias.

France's long history of "involvement" in Côte d'Ivoire and French president Jacques Chirac's comment that "We do not want to let a system develop that could lead to anarchy, or a regime of a fascist nature" only feed the conspiracy theories.

To make things worse, "120 French tanks" had taken position some 500 meters from Gbagbo's residence, according to the Ivorian leder, who equated it to the Soviet invasion of Prague.

d) Sadly, the Ivorian government IS alarmingly close to being "of a fascist nature," however "constitutional" it may be. Reporters Without Borders noted how the country's state media mix propaganda, disinformation and incitement to riot. The non-governmental organization added "If President Laurent Gbagbo does not want to be accused of saying one thing and doing another, he must ensure that the official media are no longer used as tools for organising and mobilising the pro-governmental Young Patriots."

On November 9, a preacher from the Church of the Living Word went on the air with violent imprecations. "The country must be delivered from the evil ones," he said, claiming that French President Jacques Chirac is "inhabited by the spirt of Satan." Ivory Coast was "divided into two blocs, with the Devil's bloc on one side and God's bloc on the other" and it was up to the "patriots" to ensure that the second prevailed, he said. His monologue ended with a ringing "Amen, pastor" from the two RCI [Ivorian state radio] presenters. Throughout the 90 minutes of Reporters Without Borders's monitoring of RCI yesterday, the same two presenters regularly punctuated their live comments with such slogans as "Vigilance, patriots" and "Thanks be to the fatherland." This morning on RTI [Ivorian state television], Reporters Without Borders noted that President Chirac and the French soldiers of the Force Licorne were systematically referred to as "settlers" and "imperialists." In general, comments and reports tended to focus on the claim that France is in the process of carrying out a "coup d'etat" against Ivory Coast, despite the denials by both the French and Ivorian military.

d) The militias and government used the refusal of rebels to disarm as a pretext for bombing. In a national address, Gbagbo said, "I have always considered, by culture and religious conviction, that war is a bad thing. That is why I have unreservedly adhered to all the peace accords signed here in Ivory Coast between the rebellion and the national armed forces or signed in friendly countries between political forces."

Yet it was the parliament, let by Gbagbo's FPI party, that refused to scrap the xenophobic "Ivoirité" laws as required by the peace agreements he "unreservedly adhered to." The legal changes were supposed to PRECEDE disarmament according to the Marcoussis agreement both the government and rebels signed. The discrimination imposed by the "Ivoirité" laws are at the very heart of the grievances that provoked the rebellion in the first place. That Gbagbo refuses to recognize this testifies either to his crimnal and treasonous hard-headness or his fear of being assassinated by nationalist extremists.

In short, if the French are in deep, Gbagbo's in deeper.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Liberals despise Christ

I've been asked why I'm so dismayed by President Bush's re-election. I don't consider him Evil, like some of my friends and acquaintances, even if I despise his most prominent policies. The answer is because he and especially his entourage seem to think they have a Divine Right to rule. This collective Messiah Complex is far more dangerous than political expediency, since Divine Certainty knows no quarter, offers no compromise. We're fighting religious extremism abroad, yet some would argue we just gave it a popular mandate at home.

Dennis over at The Moderate Republican (something there are too few of) noted this congratulatory letter from Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University, to President Bush.

Conservative Americans would love to see one president who doesn't care whether he is liked, but cares infinitely that he does right.

Liberal and progressive Americans would welcome this radical change too.

But on to the more telling part, Jones told the president:

In your re-election, God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be like the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly.

Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you.

And some Evangelicals honestly have no idea why some of their comrades inspire fear and loathing in other Americans.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The targeting of aid workers

This is something I meant to write about a few weeks ago but other events kept getting in the way.

I was disgusted to read of the kidnapping of the director of CARE International in Iraq late last month, which provoked the organization to suspend its operations in the country.

Some laud the insurgents as 'freedom fighters' opposing a foreign occupation. If they were only attacking coalition troops or other symbols of America or Britain, then it would be one thing. But to attack organizations whose sole purpose is to help ordinary Iraqis eliminates any claim on some sort of ethical high ground.

Of course, to these guys, foreign humanitarian aid organizations ARE seen as symbols of the US/Britain. They think that by kidnapping aid workers from a country, it will provoke troops from that country to leave, as a concession to free the hostage.

This view was strengthened when the Philippines withdrew its small military contingent in Iraq in the summer to secure the release of Filipino truck driver held hostage. To the surprise of no one, ANOTHER Filipino was taken hostage in Iraq on Nov. 1 and a third was taken in Afghanistan.

The insurgents don't want the plight of Iraqis to improve because they fear it would legitimize the American-appointed Iraqi government and, by extension, the occupation. Thus illustrates how their cause is different than cause of ordinary Iraqis.

You don't have to support the war or the occupation of Iraq to denounce horror against those trying to feed and house the victims of war's devastation. Not least because Iraq is hardly the only place where aid workers have become targets, rather than unintentional victims, of violence.

Ask and you shall receive

The conservative Christian lobby used the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake fiasco at the Super Bowl to demand the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more strictly enforce "decency" standards. They certainly had in mind someone like Howard Stern who went to satellite radio (which are free from FCC regulations).

They perhaps didn't have in mind the movie Saving Private Ryan. Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, said, "Saving Private Ryan is a powerful and important depiction of the sacrifices made for our country."

Yet many ABC TV affiliates refused to air the movie on Veterans' Day because they feared the film's graphic language would run afoul of... the FCC's decency standards.

Obstructionism vs opposition

Abiola over at Foreign Dispatches makes some good points on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be the next US Attorney General.

Rather than waste time and energy in obstructionism guaranteed to play into GOP efforts to undermine the Democratic Party's Hispanic support, why not let the administration have its way, so that the sheer awfulness of Gonzalez' attitude towards civil liberties reveals itself for all to see? That way, when the time comes for him to be put forward as a Supreme Court prospect (and we know that such a time will come - it's just too politically convenient), it'll be easy enough to use Gonzalez' own casual attitude towards constitutional norms to bring him down, with most reasonable people accepting that he is indeed too extreme to deserve such a position.

He notes that: there is plenty of grumbling already going on within the GOP about Gonzalez' nomination, not least by those who are doubtful of the zeal with which he will be ready to oppose abortion and affirmative action, and the only effect of all-out Democratic opposition will be to rally even the grumblers around the candidate (who will end up getting passed anyway), while presenting a campaigning gift to those eager to turn the Hispanic vote into a solidly Republican one.

I agree provided that "letting the administration have its way" means simply that Democrats in the Senate do not fillibuster Gonzales' nomination or otherwise try to block a vote. The Dems should get his thoughts on the record and then simply vote against him.

It's clear that Gonzales has as much contempt for the rule of law as his predecessor if Gonzales thinks treaties like the Geneva Conventions should be ignored simply because his person considers them "quaint." Those who believe in the rule of law would prefer that the Senate officially de-ratify treaties rather than having the attorney general of the day simply dismiss them with a wave of the hand.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

MLS Cup 2004: DC United vs Kansas City

We're only a few days away from MLS Cup 2004, the championship final of America's Major League Soccer. The match will pit Kansas City Wizards (2000 winners) vs record champions DC United. KC will be looking for a double, having won the US Open Cup last month.

DC reached the final by topping my own New England Revolution in sudden death of a penalty shootout following a 3-3 draw. Many commentators are calling it the most thrilling match in MLS history; unfortunately, it wasn't on national television.

The neutral observer in me has to support DC, albeit not enthusiastically. United play very, VERY physically, but at least they offer an exciting brand of attacking soccer. Kansas City, on the other hand, achieved the league's second best record on defense and a style of play that only a diehard could love. Their fairly successful brand of negative soccer has more than compensated for the loss of key players like playmaker Preki, winger Chris Klein and veteran goalkeeper Tony Meola (all internationals earlier in their careers). KC used the defend-and-counter strategy successfully in winning the 2000 championship against the more creative Chicago.

Hopefully, this will be a good match. Though with the physical United and the negative KC, signs aren't good. Nor are trends. The 2000 and 2002 finals were dreadful affairs; I attended the latter and struggled to stay awake despite the presence of 61,000 fans and my favorite team. The 2001 and 2003 finals were brilliant and filled with scintillating soccer Unfortunately, 2004 is an even numbered year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

An attack unanswered is an attack believed

No one likes attack ads. Or at least no one, short of Karl Rove or Jim Carville, will admit to liking attack ads. The unfortunate fact is that they work. Campaigns wouldn't spend huge sums of money on them if they didn't.

It's not surprising why. When there are only two choices (or two self-imposed choices), an ad promoting yourself and an ad attacking your competitor have essentially the same effect. If a scale only has two sides, adding a weight to your side and removing one from the other side amounts to the same thing.

This is partly why we need effective multipartyism in this country. In a multiperson race, there are two equations, rather than one. Why your opponents are the wrong choices and why you are the right choice. Even if you successfully discredit one of your opponents, voters still have at least one option other than you.

This won't totally eliminate negative campaigning; candidates might well choose to attack all of their opponents. But they might find running more positive ads are more effective use of their resources.

The reason negative ads work is because an attack unanswered is an attack believed. For example, Roadrunner is running ads touting how much better its high-speed internet service is compared to the allegedly deathly slow DSL from Verizon. Those two of the main high-speed internet services in my city.

Verizon, on the other hand, is promoting its DSL service by touting how much faster it is than... dial-up internet. They didn't address a single one of the allegations of deathly slowness contained in Roadrunner ads.

So I assume that the Roadrunner ads must be true. I do this because I assume if Verizon had any advantage over Roadrunner, they'd mention it in their own ads or otherwise debunk the Roadrunner charges. But they don't.

The attack unanswered is the attack believed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

War on terrorism over!

One thing I WILL give Fox News (and I'll even omit the [sic] this time) credit for is that when their news stories cite a politician's speech or letter or some other document, they often provide a link to the verbatim text of the work in question.

Given my skepticism of media paraphrasing and the infamous ... in reporting, I find this a very valuable tool.

Anyway, I was pleased to hear of the resignation of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

I was also intrigued by a comment in his letter of resignation which stated: The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved.

Yay, terrorism is defeated!

Though perhaps the credibility of that statement was undermined by the laughable one that immediately followed: The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts.

'Soccer is changing America'

A couple of interesting soccer articles from The Guardian (UK). This piece by Steven Wells opines that the United States Of America - having won a hot war against fascism and a cold war against communism - is being slowly but surely eaten alive from the inside by socialist soccer. Though it's worth noting that since the European Court of Justice's landmark Bosman ruling, European soccer resembles capitalism far more closely than any the US' "big four" sports or America's Major League Soccer.

Though I'm as big a soccerphile as anyone, I think Wells has his head in the clouds when he writes: America's homegrown sports, like the genetically unique fauna of some long-isolated island, have no natural defences against the soccer plague. And - like the Dodo, the Tasmanian Tiger and the Passenger Pigeon - baseball, basketball and gridiron are all doomed to extinction.

Soccer may eventually replace the NHL as the country's fourth sport, especially if the hockey league continues to shoot itself in the foot, head and every other body part. Though soccer will never eliminate basketball, baseball or American-style football, no matter how much soccer supporters may hope. And I'm not sure why they would want to hope.

Though it IS nice to read a piece in the British press about soccer in America that isn't completely condescending and doesn't make a single pointless and snide remark about the use of the word 'sawker.' The Guardian's footie pages seem a rare exception in that regard.

The evidence is everywhere; every suburb of every city in America is dotted with soccer pitches. In many communities gridiron has ceased to exist as a youth sport.

This is true, yet it underlines the fundamental paradox of soccer in this country. So many people play soccer but so few people watch soccer on TV. This conundrum has baffled Major League Soccer executives since the league was born in 1996. There are many theories about this but a few I subscribe to are:

a) Soccerphiles are so busy playing soccer themselves and/or ferrying their kids to games on weekends that they don't have time to sit in front of a television set. American kids playing soccer is highly organized and structured; kids spontaneously gathering to kick around, yet alone watch a game, is rare compared to other countries.

b) Soccer gets so little coverage in the mainstream sports media that you have to actively seek information on when/if games are going to broadcast and results. For many American fans, following soccer closely would be nearly impossible without the Internet. The kids I coach, I always try to tell them whenever the national team has a game or when MLS championship final is upcoming (this Sunday, 3:30 PM Eastern Time) because I'm probably the only way they'll hear about a match being broadcast.

c) Even of those fans who do watch the game on TV, many won't watch Major League Soccer. Many of them view it as crap soccer. With so much soccer on television (if you have digital cable or a satellite dish), some would rather watch the Mexican or Spanish or Italian leagues or the English Premiership than 'unskilled' Major League Soccer. Some dismiss this as silly, since the "crap" league provided a majority of players for the US national team that made to the quarterfinal of the most recent World Cup. But fair or not, the pre-conception remains.

Wells concludes: The inevitable anti-soccer backlash has been as savage as it has been futile. High-falutin' neo-cons intellectuals and knuckle-dragging internet boo-boys have combined to claim that soccer is inherently gay, feminine and communistic... The rest of the world has been worried for some time that America will try and change soccer. The truth is that soccer is changing America.

In other words, the soccer boom in America has a double bonus: pissing off both the Mexicans AND the neo-cons.

Then there's the warning that the European Champions League is killing soccer.

England's Premiership is one of the least open because the 'competitive imbalance' between the richest three - Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United - and their 17 rivals has become so acute on and off the pitch, say [European soccer's governing body] Uefa. Their views are backed up by research from a sporting think-tank, The Sports Nexus... in a conclusion sure to shock no one.

But the most absurd revelation was this: The Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, privately blames the Champions League's financial rewards for ruining domestic football. 'He feels that Uefa created this fantastic competition in 1992, but that it has now become a monster that has produced this unequal struggle between haves and have-nots in countries across Europe,' said a source who has discussed it with Johansson.

Originally, the Champions League comprised only the winners of Europe's domestic soccer leagues. Thus the name Champions League. However, in the last six or seven years, the competition has been bloated to include second-, third- and even fourth-place finishers in Europe's more prominent leagues.

Johansson's protests about the negative effects of a bloated Champions League might gain a more sympathetic ear except for the fact that Johansson presided over that very bloating.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Come together, right now...

In the aftermath of the bitterly contested presidential election, there's been a lot of talk (mostly by Democrats) about how we need to come together as one nation, how liberals need to stop condescending to Middle America, the religious and "red staters" in general. I think there's plenty of merit in some of these arguments, some of which I try to address later this week. But there are complications too.

For example, how are progressives supposed to come together with, say, Alabamans? Residents there voted last week on an amendment that would remove segregationist clauses from the state's constitution.

The vote is too close to call and a recount is going to happen. The removal of segregationist clauses is presently trailing by 2500 votes (0.17%).

That around half of all Alabamans who objected.

The measure was opposed by the state's former chief justice Roy Moore, who gained notoriety among conservative religious folks for opposing the removal of the Ten Commandments from the state's judicial building.

The amendment's opponents say it's really about taxes.

Abiola over at Foreign Dispatches is skeptical. He notes that only four years ago, some 40% of Alabamans voted in favor of banning interracial marriage. A sentiment he notes is not unique to the home of Lynrd Skynrd and "Segreation Forever."

How exactly should I compromise with that? What common ground is there between my beliefs and the prevailing norms of Alabaman society?

A little guidance anyone?

Banned from Las Vegas for excessive hedonism

Chippla's blog notes that Halliburton has been reportedly banned from Nigeria for questionable business practices.

Nigeria is the third most corrupt country in the world (I'm surprised it's not first).

That's like being banned from Las Vegas for excessive hedonism.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Traitor Bédié

With the resumption of the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, the war against the independent press and vast anti-French violence in the country's commercial capital, I've come to a conclusion. The country's former strongman Henri Konan Bédié should be jailed for the rest of his life for treason.

Back in the late 90s, Bédié was having difficulty maintaining his PDCI party's decades-long stranglehold on power; the country had been a one-party state until the early 90s. So as demagogues tend to do when challenged, he found a scapegoat: immigrants.

He invented a concept called "Ivoirité" or Ivorianess. "True" Ivorians were those for whom both parents were born the country. Or in many cases, the colony that became the country. Anyone not fitting that critieria wasn't a real Ivorian. Even if they'd lived all their life in the country. Even if one (but not both) of their parents were born there. In a country where a huge percentage of the population has some sort of roots elsewhere, it was an explosive concept. Until then, Bédié merely been a pompous windbag. Ivoirité is what turned him into a traitor.

It was also ethnically charged. The north of the country was where most people were affected by the Ivoirité. The north of the country is also the only area where Islam is predominant; the rest of the country is mostly Christian. Ivoirité was a xenophobic way of targeting the non-Christian part of the country.

Ivoirité was designed to target Alasanne Ouatarra and his RDR party. The RDR is strong in the north. It was deemed that Ouatarra wasn't legally an Ivorian citizen, despite him having an Ivorian passport. Despite the fact that Ouatarra was once prime minister of Côte d'Ivoire and acting president when the then-president Houphouet-Boigny was hospitalized.

Not surprisingly, northerners finally got sick of the harassment and a civil war broke out. Peace accords were signed in Marcoussis, France but the southern dominated parliament refused to pass legal reforms that would've given more equal treatment to northerners and chipped away at Ivoirité.

With northern rebels refusing to disarm as planned because of the lack of political reform, government forces launched unprovoked air raids on the north, in violation of the cease fire. And the civil war appears to have resumed.

And despite being overthrown in a 1999 military coup (which was later replaced by a civilian government), traitor Bédié remains free to act as an opposition leader and stir up the xenophobic pot even more as his country goes up in flames. All this started because he wanted to cling to power a little longer.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Bush not the only leader to exploit the 'gay menace'

The United States is not the only country where the president is using the "gay menace" as a smokescreen to distract from real problems. Nigerian leader Olesegun Obasanjo recently backed Africa's Anglican bishops who vehemently objected to an American Episcopalian diocese's appointment of a gay bishop. President Obasanjo, a born-again Christian, praised bishops for their "principled stand against the totally unacceptable tendency towards same-sex marriages and homosexual practice" adding that "such a tendency is clearly un-Biblical, unnatural and definitely un-African."

Perhaps, he could apply this vigor to fighting rampant corruption that gnaws away at every facet of Nigerian society.

In the light of recent general strikes, turmoil in the oil producing Niger delta, repressive Sharia being imposed in northern Nigeria and most recently, a fuel shortage which grounded air flights in the country, the religious controversy is useful distraction for Obasanjo.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Dictatorship's thumb

In a recent rant, the far right-wing (his own self-description) essayist condorman wrote:

Most Americans dont have the foggiest clue what its like living under the thumb of a dictatorship. They also dont have the slightest inkling of what a tyrant will do to keep the peasants in line. Were so spoiled by freedom we cant imagine the depths of depravity and the breadth of barbaric brutality evil men will employ agaisnt their own countrymen. This explains the simplistic solutions and naive thinking by peaceniks and pop stars alike. Shakira said "I just feel that there are always pacifist solutions" and the people "have the obligation to demand to our leaders to give us pacifist solutions." Mayb she should first try to understand the nature of the beast.

While some anti-war rationale is breathtakingly simplistic, the rant raises some points worth responding to.

Ironic, then, that Africans (a majority of whom live under real or de facto dictatorships) generally also opposed the Iraq invasion. Maybe because they DO have more than the slightest inkling of what a tyrant will do, they realize better than Americans that true change can only come from within. They, unlike Americans, have seen regime change by force repeatedly up close and personal and how it so rarely achieves anything good in the long term.

Ask the people of Liberia if they preferred Samuel Doe's brutal dictatorship or the (foreign-backed) savage civil wars that toppled him.

Ask the people of the DR Congo (former Zaire) if they preferred Mobutu's kleptocracy or the first African continental war that followed his demise. But you can't ask the over 3 million Congolese that have died in the six years of said war.

Even Morgan Tsvangarai, dictator Bob Mugabe's erstwhile enemy, urges British caution in dealing with Zimbabwe.

South Africa is an instructive case. While the anti-apartheid struggle had international backing, the racist system was ultimately overthrown from within, not via foreign intervention.

Or, to leave the African continent, Serbia. It wasn't years of international condemnation or even airstrikes in Kosovo that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. It was a domestic protest campaign that brought him down.

Karl Rove sends his thanks

Last week, I complained about a stupid, ill-conceived campaign by the British paper The Guardian. The left-wing daily encouraged its European readers to send letters to residents of Clark County in the swing state of Ohio. Presumably to share European discomfort with the prospect of four more years for President Bush.

I criticized the campaign as ill-conceived and horribly counterproductive, however well-intentioned in may have been. I can imagine John Kerry's Ohio allies cringing at the inevitable bad PR generated by this story. I wrote that if The Guardian's editors think this campaign will be a net benefit for the cause of defeating Bush, then it's clear that they don't have a clue about American culture. I give them the same advice I'd give our government in Washington: don't mess with what you don't understand.

Abiola over at Foreign Dispatches cites a Slate article with some concrete numbers.

Al Gore won Clark County by 324 votes. And since Ralph Nader received 1,347 votes, we can assume Gore's margin would have been larger without Nader on the ballot. On Tuesday George Bush won Clark County by 1,620 votes.

But that's not all.

The most significant stat here is how Clark County compares to the other 15 Ohio counties won by Gore in 2000. Kerry won every Gore county in Ohio except Clark. He even increased Gore's winning margin in 12 of the 16. Nowhere among the Gore counties did more votes move from the blue to the red column than in Clark.

Dear Guardian editors, Karl Rove sends his thanks.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Social democracy and economic growth

Chippla's blog cites an economic report by former Dutch leader Wim Kok on Europe's flagging economies. Chippla's conclusion: European countries may finally be realizing that the social-welfare system on which a number of their economies are based is in need of radical reform.

The presence of Mr. Kok is interesting. During his tenure as Labor (center-left) prime minister, the Netherlands had one of the strongest economies in Europe. This isn't supposed to happen because Kok was not only center-left but a former trade union leader. They are supposed to run economies into the ground, according to conventional wisdom.

Or perhaps Kok knows that if done properly, social democracy and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

Bush, unrestrained

I keep hearing commentators saying that morality was the key issue with a large number of voters.

Kinda makes you wonder.

A majority of those voters elected a man who launched an unjustified, destructive imperial war against a random country which posed no threat to America or its allies and did so for reasons which have been totally discredited. He did all this instead of focusing efforts against those who actually DID attack America. While he may not be overtly malicious, his incompetence and recklessness border on criminal.

Is this the morality a majority of American voters just endorsed Lash out first and think later, if at all?

THIS is why 'they' hate us.

Or perhaps because for some people, the "pro-life" philosophy applies to abortion and nothing else.

Abiola, over at Foreign Dispatches, posed the question: what carried Bush over the threshold? His conclusion: gay marriage.

I hate to say it, but I really do think that is what it came down to, and the resounding margins by which amendments to prohibit it triumphed in several states speaks to the success of this wedge issue, as does the increase in black support for Bush

I'm afraid I have to agree with that analysis. It was always going to be tricky for Republicans. They've had an insurgency mentality ever since Gingrich led them to Congressional control in '94.

But it's hard to maintain a "We're mad as hell and not going to take it any more" when you dominate the House of Representatives, the Senate, the presidency, the military and are one moderate judge's resignation away from controlling the Supreme Court.

So terrorists became the enemies from without (along with their domestic "appeasers", ie: liberals) and gays were the enemies from within. It's harder to find scapegoats when you control all the levers of power, but they managed. Contrary to the popular left-wing belief, Bush is NOT stupid.

I heard a commentator say that as a second-term president, Bush will have fewer restraints to impliment his agenda.

FEWER restraints?

Look what he did in his first term... WITH the alleged restraint of having to run for re-election... WITHOUT the mandate of actually having earned the endorsement of even a plurality of voters.

Does a Messianic Crusader like Bush, who's already proven what he'll do without a strong popular mandate, need FEWER restraints?

Now there's a thought to give you nightmares.

God, may You protect us from your self-appointed servants.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

'Poisonous coda' or rule of law?

Frank over at Internet Commentator applauds John Kerry's concession of defeat.

I think Kerry's decision was a wise one. Far from being razor thin like in Florida's 2000 contest, the Ohio race would've required a mathematical miracle for him to win.

That said, I disagree with Frank's implication that Gore's legal challenges in 2000 were long drawn out poisonous coda to the election and that a repeat would've given the impression that the Democrats were sore losers.

I'm a little tired of the notion that letting the legal and electoral processes run their course should be scrapped for some fake sense of "unity." Or that insisting the legal and electoral processes is sore loser-ness or putting party ahead of country or inflicting a poison on the electorate. Americans are big boys and girls. We've had the same system for electing presidents for nearly two centuries. An extra week or two to make sure it was done right was never going to cause the collapse of the Republic.

Contrary to what one might infer from Frank's characterization, Al Gore and the Democrats did not start riots in 2000. They did not call for general strikes. They did not engage in looting and pillaging. They did not attack Bush supporters. They merely asked the courts to rule on the dispute. When the highest court ultimately ruled against him, Gore did not whine about the ruling. He did not undermine Bush's legitimacy. In fact, he immediately conceded once the verdict was rendered.

It seems to me the ideal way to settle electoral disputes. Not a "poisonous coda."

Election post mortem

Post-mortem is an appropriate title since I feel a bit lifeless today.

To Americans,
Thomas Jefferson said, "People tend to get the kind of government they deserve."

This is certainly true today. I never figured we were quite so bad as to deserve 8 years of Bush. But I guess I was wrong.

I hope we're smart enough to learn something from this ordeal.


To conservatives,
Many of you have spent the last two and a half years suggesting that anyone who disagrees with the president is unpatriotic or an America hater or anti-troops. So before you go on demanding that we all unite behind the president because "we are all Americans," save your breath. Yesterday, we were immoral liberals and you can't go from that to "real Americans" in a single day.

Some of us aren't quite so receptive to the "shut up and conform" message. Try treating us as patriotic Americans who happen to disagree with the man who is president, not as terrorist appeaser scum or opponents of "God in the White House." If you treat us respectfully, we might even listen.


To people who voted for smaller parties,
Feel good that you voted your conscience, that you voted for the person you thought the best candidate. If you're wavering, consider this. Most Kerry supporters voted for the lesser of two evils and they still got stuck with the worse evil anyway.


To Kerry supporters
As Harry Truman said, "When given the choice between a real Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican, Americans will choose the real Republican every time." John Kerry was not a moderate Republican, but he campaigned as one. Republican Colin Powell probably would've been more at ease in a Kerry administration.


To the anti-Ralph crowd,
Will you stop blaming Nader now? Your energy would always have been better off convincing Naderites that Kerry was a good candidate rather than insulting Nader supporters and smearing their candidate. You were never going to convince Naderites by getting in their face and screaming that they were helping elect George W. Bush, no matter how much you believed it. To quote the line in the movie The American President, some of you "need to work on your people skills."


To Democrats in general,
How did you nominate John Kerry? Like I've said before, I know lots of Democrats but I don't know a single one for whom Kerry was their first choice among all the primary candidates. I know lots of Deaniacs, some Edwards and Clark supporters, even a few who liked Kucinich. But I don't know anyone who preferred Kerry last December or January. Yet, you Democrats SETTLED for Kerry over a candidate like Dean who actually appealed to progressives rather than spit on them. Many of you berated any left-of-center voter who wouldn't SETTLE for Gore last time or who wouldn't SETTLE for Kerry this time. The men you settled for lost both times. Do you notice a trend here?


To elected Democrats and party head honchos
Instead of spending the next four years sniveling about Ralph Nader, maybe you can look in the mirror and figure out how your candidates lost twice to a man as unimpressive as George W. Bush. Maybe you will notice that while Bush didn't give his base of supporters everything they wanted, he didn't totally take them for granted.

Instead of whining about the past while the Bush administration expands its radical agenda, like you Democrats did in the two years following 9/11, maybe you can demand your fellow party members in Congress to hold the administration accountable like the respectable opposition this country deserves.

I won't hold my breath that any of this will happen, but I can hope.


To everyone,
Tragic as it is to say, there can be no doubt American voters wanted Bush. Unlike in 2000, Bush had not only a plurality (more than anyone else) of the vote, but a majority (more than everyone else put together) of the vote. No excuses about Katherine Harris or hanging chads or the US Supreme Court this time.

Anyone tempted to blame flukes or controversies or whatever should remember this: nearly 58.5 million Americans voted for President Bush, already knowing what he's done to the country. That was not an accident. It means that 58.5 million Americans more or less support the president's agenda. There can be no getting around it. Bush won more or less fair and square.

This time, sadly enough, we deserve him.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The UN is owed an apology

Robert Scheer, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote an excellent column today entitled "The UN Deserves an Apology."

My sentiments exactly.

Some Americans like to talk as if the U.N. exists merely for the convenience of the Third World, forgetting that it was the United States that fought to create an inclusive international forum to help restrain mankind's new ability to destroy itself.


In the decades since [its inception], the U.N. has undertaken hundreds of largely thankless humanitarian, arms control, nation-building and peacekeeping missions. If these actions have not cured man's rapaciousness and cruelty, they have certainly helped save countless lives and arguably prevented a third world war.

Yet, even as we once again call on the organization to help broker peace and elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, American politicians find the U.N. an irresistible piñata, ripe for demagogic bashing. When the president honored United Nations Day last week in a routine annual resolution and then asked state governors to follow suit, for example, opportunist Texas Gov. Rick Perry refused to sign the symbolic proclamation. It's not surprising, because the Texas Republican Party believes that the United States should leave the U.N. altogether.

Of course, such posturing does a disservice to the many U.N. "blue helmets" who have died in the cause of peace over the last five decades. Even more important than their bravery, however, has been the U.N.'s work in helping to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The UN, along with France, has become the new bete noire of politicians and yapping heads who want to take cheap shots to score partisan political points.

These folks, a motley crue of the disingenuous and the willfully ignorant (which doesn't include the tiny minority who actually offer reasonable criticism in good faith), speak of "the UN" as though the General Assembly, the Security Council and the New York City-based bureaucracy is the entireity of the organization. Those anti-polio vaccination campaigns, the peacekeeping missions, feeding and housing refugees, etc., they don't exist according to these self-proclaimed experts.

Fortunately, most people around the world know that the UN is more than a building in Manhattan.

Yet, in a classic case of blaming the messenger, some in the media have accused the U.N. of interfering in U.S. electoral politics by calling attention to the missing explosives. "The U.N. … used 377 tons of high-grade Iraqi explosives to announce its opposition to reelecting George W. Bush," wailed a Wall Street Journal editorial, notes Scheer.

In response to the sniping of U.N.-bashers, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the [International Atomic Energy Agency], was forced to point out the obvious: "There is a world out there other than the American election."

Monday, November 01, 2004

More 'support the troops' symbolism vs reality

Since the Iraq invasion, I keep seeing these stories about how soldiers are being sent into battle with inadequate equipment. And I know this isn't a case of the "liberal" media making stuff up. The soldier from my neighboring town who was killed in Iraq was killed in a vehicle that did not have armor plating.

In fiscal year 2004, the Pentagon's budget was over $375 billion ($375,000,000,000). And this figure does not include billions more in supplemental expenditures alloted by Congress throughout the year. Yet our government sends folks into combat situations without basic stuff like armor plated vehicles.

This is an absolute scandal. Where is the $375 billion in tax dollars going if the troops doing the dirty work they are ordered to do aren't sufficiently protected?

I opposed the war, but whenever you send troops into harm's way, you should offer them as much protection as is reasonable.

And it's easy to blame Sen. Kerry for whatever he did on this appropriations' vote. And perhaps it's justified, perhaps not. Still, the bottom line is that the president is commander-in-chief, not senators or former presidents. The president is in charge. It's the president's responsibility to ensure this. But Bush has proven that the buck stops with him only when it contains good news.

The 'support the troops' folks should be screaming from the rooftops about these stories of ill-protected troops. But I guess it's easier to mouth phrases like, wear little ribbons and let 'support the troops' be merely symoblic, rather than backed up by action.