Saturday, July 31, 2004

Sudanese in Darfur abandoned to their fate

The United Nations Security Council has officially abandoned the people of Darfur to their fate.

As I've mentioned before (see: Stop the genocide in Eastern Sudan): militias, widely believed to be armed and sponsored by the Sudanese government, are committing massacres and other forms of ethnic cleaning in the country's eastern region of Darfur. These situation been declared to be 'genocide' by the US Congress, 'massive human rights violations' by the European Union and 'the worst humanitarian situation in the world' by UN officials.

The Security Council yesterday passed a resolution ostensibly designed to further increase the pressure on the Sudanese regime to reign in the militias. In reality, the resolution capitulated to the demands of about half the Security Council members (Pakistan, China, Russia, Algeria, Angola, the Philippines and Brazil, according to the BBC) to remove the explicit threat of sanctions from the text.

The watered down resolution gave the Sudanese regime 30 days to control the militias. And if they didn't, the Security Council would... revisit the issue. I'm sure Khartoum is shaking in its boots. "Stop arming the genociders or... we'll hold another meeting!" Can you say 'Bosnia'?

This demand, if you can call it that, occurs a full month after Khartoum promised to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell... the exact same thing.

One month of stalling after promising to Annan and Powell. Another month of stalling is permitted by the resolution. This is already after the months of massacres that happened before it even made it on to the international agenda. Then after the month of "warning," it's going to take more time to impose sanctions, assuming the objecting nations even have the guts to do that minimal step. If military intervention, either by the UN or African Union, is ever decided, everyone in Darfur will already be expelled or dead.

Pakistan, China, Russia, Algeria, Angola, the Philippines and Brazil: their blood is on your hands.

You're not in Sweden anymore

Millions Americans were flabbergasted at Bill Clinton's impeachment. Even many Republicans thought, "Should a president lose his job because of a sex scandal? Only in America!"

Except America isn't the only country in the world where a sex scandal jeopardizes the job of a prominent public figure. Though England doesn't have a president, they do have a national football (soccer) team coach who typically inspires as much love and vitriol as the US president does for Americans.

English national team boss Sven Goran Eriksson is under fire over an affair he had with a secretary for the FA, England's soccer federation.

Though some have resigned first, no Engand manager has been dismissed for poor results since 1974, when the FA sacked Alf Ramsey, who'd previously led England to their only international trophy (the 1966 World Cup) and gotten a 'sir' before his name as a bonus.

In Italy, they'll fire a national team coach if he comes within seconds of winning the European championship but falls victim to a opposition miracle. In England, they only fire national team coaches for insulting disabled people or for personal legal problems or, possibly, for sex scandals.

Eriksson's own appointment was controversial, as he was the first foreigner even to coach England's national team. His arrival was bitterly contested by many segments of the notorious xenophobic England tabloid press (compared to which Fox News [sic] seems like CSPAN).

English fandom is infamous for savaging their best players. Though David Beckham is the second most overrated player on the planet, he is still one of England's better players. Yet he is a hate figure in many quarters, even when wearing the national shirt. Star striker Michael Owen went from Messiah (after dismantling Germany in Munich a few years ago) to Public Enemy Number Two (next to Beckham) during his present struggles. Current wunderkind Wayne Rooney will surely befall the same fate when his incredible international form inevitably slows down. Many fans bitterly criticized Eriksson for sticking with aging goalkeeper David Seaman even though they agreed his understudies weren't yet ready for prime time.

Eriksson, for his part, doesn't understand why the affair is such a huge story that might cost him his job. This would never have been a story in his native Sweden.

Hey Sven, you're not in Sweden anymore.

If you didn't understand the irrational nature of the British footballing press before you accepted the job, you were very poorly served by your advisors.

Friday, July 30, 2004

"Fringe parties" and the political process

Oliver Kamm writes:

Fringe political parties almost invariably claim that they are disadvantaged by a lack of coverage in the press and broadcasting media. The truth is the opposite: they typically gain from the fact that few people will bother to correct their more extravagant claims.

Personally, I'd rather have outrageous viewpoints from outside the so-called mainstream (including from "fringe political parties") discredited than legitimate points from there ignored.
If such scrutiny hurts the more extreme claims, then so be it. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In the US, anyways, all major social justice movements in our history have been initiated from outside the framework of two party duopoly.

For example, in the 1840s, the two major parties were the Democrats and the Whigs; the Republicans didn't come into being until 1856. There was a "fringe party" called the Liberty Party, which advocated the then-lunatic idea of abolishing slavery throughout the nation. Within a generation, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution did exactly that.

Heck, even if smaller parties got media coverage comparable to their level of support, it would be an improvement. Ralph Nader got 3% of the vote on the Green line in 2000. Imagine if Greens got anywhere near 3% of the political coverage from 2001-2004. It would be a huge increase.

Can a war on terrorism succeed?

In a conversation with an acquaintance, I pointed out that terrorists were the new Communists. He questioned this link and suggested that as a so-called opponent of the war on terrorism, this is a bad analogy since both were/are dangerous. My response:

My linking of terrorists and Communists was related how the former is used as a bludgeon to try to silence dissent and pretend one party has a monopoly on patriotism just as the latter was a generation ago. It used to be that if you didn't believe in rampant militarism, you were soft on communism. Now, if you don't believe in rampant militarism, you're soft on terrorism.

I do object the "war on terrorism" as it's currently being undertaken because a war against terrorism, in the classic military sense, can not succeed. I certainly object to the war in Iraq which had nothing to do with dealing with terrorism, but it has clearly increased the likelihood of terrorism. It has also brought American targets much closer to the terrorists and thus faciliated their task.

My acquiantance himself said of the "war on drugs": declaring something a "war" implies the need to "win" it through complete and utter victory, which is of course impossible in this case as with every other form of crime.

This is an EXCELLENT point and I'm baffled that he doesn't see how it also applies to terrorism.

In fact, I object to the way the "war on terrorism" is being fought. I object to doing something simply for the sake of doing something, to soothe our rage for action, even if that action is ultimately counterproductive.

I object to the way the fight against terrorism is being conducted because those fighting it don't have a clue as to its causes. They think that terrorists "hate us because we're free." Do they really think millions of people actually hate freedom? The truth is that millions of people don't see America as representing freedom in the first place. "They hate us because we're free"? This garbage is so self-serving that no self-respecting satirist wouldn't dare make it up.

Some on the left suggest that terrorism is caused by poverty. This is as facile as "they hate us because we're free." If poverty were the only factor, then the international terrorism's epicenter would be in sub-Saharan Africa. But terrorism (for export to the west) is virtually non-existent in that part of the world.

How can we counter something as nebulous as terrorism if we don't have a clue (or are willfully self-delusional) about what's causing it?

Simply put, terrorism is caused by resentment. It's caused by a widespread lack of dignity and a sense of powerlessness. And it's caused by a few extremists who cunningly exploit the widespread sentiment toward a designated scapegoat. The scapegoat can be effective even if it's only a secondary cause of the lack of dignity and sense of powerlessness.

Since our leaders don't have a clue about these causes, it doesn't have a clue how to counter them. Thus they fall back on the one option we're certain we do well: militarism. This is why the "war on terrorism" is failing. A military war on terrorism can never succeed.

Eliminating international terrorism can never happen with a war; it requires something more akin to policing. War is random, brute force. Imagine if every time the police tried to arrest someone, it resulted in a shootout. Police action does involve the threat, and sometimes the use, of force. But it relies more on persuasion and collaboration. Oh, and police action also is supposed to be based on respect for the law as well.

The United States government supports oppressive dictatorships around the globe, notably in the Arab world. The US government need to demand that our allies respect human rights and democracy and practice good governance and permit space for political opposition. If the regimes object to our "meddling," then they are free to do so. And they cease to be our allies. And they cease to receive American aid. We can't invade every country who doesn't do things exactly as we'd like, but the American taxpayers don't need to subside those who most odiously offend our values.

Americans like to see their country as a beacon of freedom and liberty. The people of Egypt or Tunisia live in a corrupt police state that oppresses them on a daily basis, that throws people in jail because they are gay or because they criticize the head of state or because they dare run an independent media outlet. And then the US government lauds their dictators as a true friends of America. Is it any wonder their people don't quite view America as a beacon of freedom and liberty?

A lot Americans who've never been abroad or don't read foreign media don't appreciate the dichotomy between our perception of ourselves and others' perceptions of us. Many Americans think that what our soldiers did 20 or 50 or 100 years ago should immunize our government against criticism of what it's doing today. This perception gap leads to simplistic falsehoods like "they hate us because we're free."


Remember the example of Iran in 1979. The US government eagerly supported the corrupt and repressive Shah for decades (who they installed after the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government). Washington was so eager to prop up the Shah because he was "our SOB" that the US was oblivious to warning signs of discontent against a tired, hated regime. So people gravitated to the Islamist movement because it was seen as the ONLY alternative to the Shah's corruption and oppression.

The US was shocked with the Islamist revolution toppled the Shah and took all those Americans hostage. "Iran was our friend," we thought. Except Iran wasn't our friend, the Shah was our friend. This mistake is one the American government made time and time and time again throughout the Cold War. And we see evidence of it again now.

In Iran, by blindly and recklessly supporting one autocratic regime, we got one that was even worse AND anti-American. One could make a similiar, though imperfect, analogy to the Batista regime in Cuba that was toppled by Castro. Or the Somoza regime in Nicaragua that was overthrown by the Sandinistas.

The Cold War offers other lessons that the Terrorist Warriors (the new Cold Warriors) would do well to remember. One fundamental truth about the Cold War is that Eastern Europe was not liberated from Communist oppression by American tanks rolling into Prague or American jets bombing Warsaw. Eastern Europe was liberated by the Eastern European peoples who finally got sick of the way their lives were being ruined by the autocratic leaders. American support was mainly moral and probably financial. It wasn't military. Eastern Europe was ultimately liberated by the courage of its own people who decided to take charge of their countries. Once this happened, the Communist house of cards did not take long to collapse.

The Arab world can only truly be liberated if it's done in the same manner. Initiated by its own people. If we are on the right side of this struggle AND offer our support in the right manner, then we will be respected. If we do it the wrong way, by shoving things down their throats and meddling in their countries' affairs and supporting democracy only when it produces a result we want, then they will be even more anti-American.

The sentiment toward America in Eastern Europe is a testament of how we are respected when we do things the right way. The sentiment toward us in Latin America is a testament of how we are despised when we do things the wrong way.

We will not convince the hard core of extremists to come over to our camp. Osama bin Laden will never run a McDonald's or The Gap franchise. But extremists, just like dictatorships, are always a tiny minority of the population that require the support and complicity of large numbers ordinary people. Once that support and complicity evaporates, well, I cite the Eastern Europe example again.

Right now, those ordinary people, the masses, only see two options. One is the decadence, corruption and oppression of their regimes that is, in their eyes, sponsored by America. The other is this Islamist ideology that talks about religious fidelity and self-reliance.

If we were seen as sponsoring a third option, the movement for human rights, good governance and democracy, then we'd be seen as the good guys. And the small band of terrorists would be starved of the oxygen of support they need to perpetrate their vile crimes.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Stop the genocide in eastern Sudan

I've been meaning for two weeks to write another essay on the genocide in Darfur, eastern Sudan, but there's been so much material, I haven't had time to sort it. But this editorial from the Botswanan newspaper The Reporter captures my opinion very concisely.

I note how the editorial points out the futility of wasting time arguing whether what's happening in Darfur is really genocide or "only" ethnic cleansing.

What needs to be done?

The starting point is quite clearly immediate international sanctions against the Sudanese regime, who are almost universally believed to funding, arming and organizing the massacring militias. These sanctions must include an arms embargo.

Sanctions must also include a deadline, in the near future, for the regime to reign in the militias. Not for them to promise to do so, which they did weeks ago, but to actually do so. Since the regime pretends they want the massacres to stop and that they are allegedly not coordinating the militias, the international community must call their bluff by offering to "help" them deal with the problem that they claim not to be the authors of.

If they reject this offer, then the deadline must also include a warning that an international intervention, authorized by the UN and by the African Union (AU), will be conducted. If the regime continues to thumb its nose and continue supporting the massacres, then the intervention must occur. The Arab League could, for once, stop whining about Israel for a few seconds and join in the pressure against Sudan.

Any intervention must be done by African Union and/or Arab League troops with technical assistance and funding from the European Union and the US. It is important that the intervention be done by an AU or Arab force. A western-led force will immediately lead to charges of imperialism and will necessarily stoke the fires of Arab nationalism and domestic Sudanese resistance, no matter how legitimate the cause or illegitimate the targeted. Simply put, a western-led intervention in Darfur can't be successful because of the pot it would stir up. An AU intervention would be much harder to tar with the 'neo-colonialist' brush.

The AU is a new organization whose founders hope will be more relevant that the lethargic Organization of African Unity (OAU) it replaced. It has a dynamic leader in Alpha Oumar Konare, the former Malian president. But it has a big handicap. Although the AU has a new structure, it has the same member states that rendered the OAU irrelevant. Whether Konare's exurbence will prevail over the collective inertia of Africa's governments remains to be seen.

The lives of millions of Sudanese depends on it.

**


From: The Reporter of Gaborone, Botswana

Darfur - Africa See No Evil, Speak No Evil
Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)
EDITORIAL
July 21, 2004
Posted to the web July 22, 2004


INTERNATIONAL reaction to the tragedy playing out in the Darfur region of Sudan (in which government-supported Arab militias have killed more than 30 000 black Muslims, and left more than a million others without shelter or enough food and water) has attracted outrage from everywhere else, except - of course - in Africa.

Africa's muted response is best summed up by the communiqué that was issued after the heads of state summit in Addis Ababa two weeks back: "Though the crisis in Darfur is grave, with unacceptable levels of deaths, human suffering, and destruction of homes and infrastructure, the situation cannot be defined as genocide."

Trust Africa's leaders to always choose the backseat, and leave the driving to others, even in matters that are of immediate concern to Africans.

While the continent is in denial (how else do you explain the statement that seeks to qualify the human misery that is going on?), British liberal democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, says the situation in Sudan is exactly what African leaders say it is not: a genocide in the style of what happened in Rwanda exactly a decade back. Once again, a whole continent is sleeping soundly while a raging fire razes its hut to the ground. In the meantime, it is left to the likes of Kofi Annan, Colin Powell and Tony Blair to speak up against the Sudanese crisis. It looks increasingly likely that action, if any, will be initiated from outside Africa's borders.

The indecisiveness and inaction - in the face of a calamity of this magnitude - prove one thing: Africa is in want of leaders with the courage to rise up to the challenges of the day. Today's generation of leaders has not graduated from the victim mentality that gripped the post-colonial leadership. Close to 50 years after the departure of former colonial powers, African leaders still blame colonialism for all the continent's ills, most of which stem from avarice by the ruling class and its cronies; and total disregard for good governance. So many years after independence, African leaders still expect the world, as of right, to clean their mess. The Darfur crisis is a case in point.


**

Want to help: go to MSF's website (Doctors Without Borders)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

What America is all about

I heard some of Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech to the Democratic National Convention last night. I was pleased to hear her praise Peace Corps Volunteers who are serving their country in dozens of different nations around the world.

She said:

In the past year, I have been privileged to meet with Americans all across this land. They voiced many different concerns, but one they all share was
about America's role in the world, what we want this great country of ours to stand for.

To me, one of the best faces America has ever projected is the face of a Peace Corps volunteer.

(APPLAUSE)

That face symbolizes this country: young, curious, brimming with idealism and hope, and a real, honest compassion.

Those young people convey an idea of America that is all about heart, creativity, generosity and confidence, a practical, can- do sense, and a
big, big smile.

For many generations of people around this globe, that is what America has represented: a symbol of hope, a beacon brightly lit by the optimism of
its people, people coming from all over the world.


I'm probably somewhat biased, since I served in the Peace Corps myself. But I'm still warmed by Heinz Kerry's words. It's nice to know that, once in a great while, people can be acknowledged as doing good things and making positive contributions even though the tools of their trade might be shovels or chalk rather than bombs or rifles.

The Peace Corps and programs like it do far more to enhance America's reputation abroad and counter pre-conceptions of "what America is all about" than any war of mass destruction.

Mrs Kerry, thank you for acknowledging that Peace Corps volunteers are not only sacrificing in service of humanity, but they are truly front lines warriors in the struggle against anti-Americanism. It may sound self-serving, but Peace Corps volunteers represent what America likes to think of itself as.

A little commentary on imprecise language

It's interesting to note that Teresa Heinz Kerry, the potential next first lady, is an African-American. Though Heinz Kerry doesn't identify herself as such, she has one characteristic that most self-described African-Americans don't have: she was actually born in Africa. In Portugese Mozambique, to be exact.

This is partly why I care little for labels in general and hyphenated labels. A late neighbor of mine didn't care to be called African-American because she was born and raised in Jamaica. Jamaica's in the Carribbean, not Africa.

These labels, like all labels, are things that are based on shorthand, on convenience. But just like the pathetic labels 'liberal' and 'conservative,' they are inadequate for fully expressing the complexity of the human condition.

I knew this guy in college who born and raised in Morocco but who had become an American citizen. He sometimes identified himself in newspaper columns as an African-American. He enjoyed the look on people's faces when they met him, a swarthy fellow. I have to admit, I thought it was funny when he did it too. Everyone ought to have their pre-conceptions toyed every once in a while. It's good for you!

All four of my grandparents came from Italy. I never set foot in the country until I was 22 and even then only for four days. Now do you think you have me all figured out?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Albany: officially the worst legislature in the country

A shocking study was publicized last week. It revealed, astonishingly, that New York state's government doesn't work. I, and many other commentators, activists and editorialists from around the state, have been saying this for years. Maybe the next great study will reveal that Januarys in New York are colder than Julys.

"Neither the U.S. Congress nor any other state legislature so systematically limits the roles played by rank-and-file legislators and members of the public in the legislative process," concluded the report released by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The report found: Meanwhile, just 4.1 percent of bills proposed in 2002 in New York were enacted, compared with 69 percent in Michigan, which has the nation's best enactment rate. In California, the most populous state, 41 percent of bills passed.

Though rank and file legislative participation is virtually non-existent in Albany, I think this is a spurious way to measure it. I don't think you measure a legislature's effectiveness by how many, or what percentage, of laws it passes. Otherwise, you get people passing laws just for the sake of passing laws.

Yet, the report does detail how broken Albany is.

The report cited the infamous 'three men in a room mentality,' whereby major decisions are handled exclusive by the governor, Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker.

According to the Times Union, the study said that this problem would be greatly reduced, the Brennan Center concluded, if the Assembly and Senate would change the rules governing legislative committees.

These rules largely determine which bills go to the floor for debate and a vote, and which are buried.
The study found the committees now do little real work, have few hearings on bills and release almost no reports to help members make voting decisions. It also said it is more difficult to bring a bill to a full house vote in New York than any other state.

Every two years, both the Senate and Assembly adopt rules for their committee processes. Those rules will be voted on in January; their passage requires neither agreement among the legislative leaders nor gubernatorial approval.


The report made other suggestions as well:

Making it easier for members to request a public hearing on a bill.

Require all bills reported to the floor to have a detailed public committee report reflecting the debate held on each.

Limit committee assignments to no more than three per lawmaker per legislative session.

Restrict the number of bills passed under a "message of necessity" from the governor, which gives lawmakers little time to read what they are voting on.

The report also calls for the end of proxy voting. Legislators can swipe their ID cards, reporting themselves as "in," and leave the chamber -- sometimes even going home -- but still have their votes recorded. Those votes are automatically counted in the affirmative.

Citizens are cheated by the existing system, [Brennan Center's associate counsel and an author of the report Jeremy].Creelan said. Many bills of public interest never receive public hearings.


The New York Times' article on the topic added that over a five-year period, 11,474 bills reached the floor of the two houses of the Legislature in Albany. Not a single one was voted down.

And during that period, from 1997 through 2001, the Legislature held public hearings on less than 1 percent of the major laws it passed. When those laws made it to the floor of each chamber for a vote, more than 95 percent passed with no debate.


In short, nothing even gets voted on that the chamber leader doesn't want voted on; not that they don't get approved, but that they don't get voted on. And when I say nothing, as the article makes clear, I mean that literally.

In fact, hardly anything even gets DEBATED in the whole chamber or even a committee hearing, without approval of the Assembly and Senate emperors. It's as though the minority members aren't representing New Yorkers; it's as though they don't exist.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno called the study "pure nonsense." He asks, "What are you going to do, have a discussion and have 212 employees decide what the agenda is?" he asked, referring to the 212 legislative members. "Then you'll have 212 different agendas. That is just chaotic. That is Third-World-country stuff."

Now, I have some regard for Sen. Bruno, despite him being a Republican. Not only is he an affable guy and a distant relative of mine, but he's only one of the "three men in a room" who's able to work with the other two to get things done. The governor and Assembly speaker spend all their time criticizing each other through the media. But this comment shows that Sen. Bruno just doesn't get it.

His logic might make sense if New York's legislature actually worked today, if it weren't chaotic today. For example, it would be nice if they could pass a budget on time. My sister will be old enough to drink next year; the legislature hasn't passed an on-time budget in her lifetime.

As I wrote about here, a parliamentary delegation from Ghana, West Africa, visited Albany in May. Ghana is a country that had its first democratic change of government only four years ago. Yet even they were shocked by what they saw in New York's Capitol.

The New York Times summed up their visit like this: While West Africa in general is not a place where there are functioning governments, much less governments operating in a way the public can scrutinize, the delegation found New York's budget 'opaque.' "Here we have to ask a lot of questions," [the Ghanaian parliament's finance committee chairman] said. "You just really don't know how each allocation is spent. That is quite bleak."

Sen. Bruno, even third world countries aren't impressed by how Albany operates.

And quite frankly, if Mr. Bruno thinks that rank and file legislators are irrelevant and only the leaders matter, then maybe we should get rid of the other 210 and save ourselves a lot of money.

Bravo Brasil! Bravo South America!

South America's continental soccer championship, the Copa America, concluded yesterday with thrilling victory for Brazil over Argentina, in what is arguably international soccer's best rivalry. It was a fantastic end to a great tournament and proves that, contrary to popular snobbery, there's some pretty good soccer to be found outside Europe.

Though often seen as the weak sister to the European championship, the Copa America often produces more compelling soccer than its European counterparts, as South Americans eschew negative soccer. A large part of the soccer artistocracy tends to fetishize defense. A certain mentality insists that any goal conceded MUST be the result of poor defending and can't possibly be the result of great attacking play. Thus their solution is defend even more and take fewer chances, especially in big games. The attacking mentality is considered naive.

This is a fairly recent development. No World Cup final participant, winner or loser, was held without a goal until 1990. Yet 5 of the last 8 finalist teams failed to score in the big game. The modern fan can barely conceive of a World Cup final with 5 combined goals, like the 1970 classic.

South Americans tend to reject this mentality. Even when the matches didn't have a lot of goals, they did have a lot of chances. That's what fans want to see: excitement. Not a single Copa America contest ended 0-0.

Though the quality of play might not have been as high (and this Reuters article even takes issue with that suggestion), it was far more interesting for neutrals to follow.

Take the final. It was an end-to-end affair with a lot of chances on goal. Argentina probably had more chances on goal in the 2nd half than both teams had in the entireity of the Euro 2004 final. Argentina appeared to score a deserved late winner in the 87th minute only to have Brazil equalize on the last kick of the game. The match went straight to the odious penalty shootout, on which the world champions prevailed. Such a back-and-forth game would never been seen in a major European final, or, probably, a World Cup final. Such a thrilling contest requires both teams to adopt a positive mentality. This was consistently done throughout the Copa America.

If Americans saw more of this kind of soccer, and less of the hyperdefensive, "sophisticated" borefest that dominates the big games they DO watch, the sport might be more popular as a television sport.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Just to prove that Democrats don't have a monopoly on dirty tricks this year...

Some people think that citizenship ceremonies should be used for all kinds of other purposes, such as religious prostelytizing. Or political prostelytizing. I'm inclined to think they should be used for the sole purpose of, oh I don't know, swearing in new citizens. Radical, huh?

But The Miami Herald, along with several other news outlets, reports that an "unknown" Florida Republican organization thinks differently.

Just before the new citizens left the June 29 event, an immigration official directing the swearing-in urged the them to stop by a voter registration table -- a not uncommon sight at naturalization ceremonies.

But this table was unusual: Those handing out forms were Republican volunteers -- and the party affiliation box had been checked off ahead of time to make all of the new voters members of the GOP.

All of it was suspicious to Linda Cross, who was there to watch her husband, Dario Cruz, take his citizenship oath. Cross asked one of the women sitting at the table in the foyer of the University of North Florida auditorium whether there were any forms that left the party affiliation blank.

She was told no.

''They said they didn't have any forms that weren't checked,'' Cross recalled. 'She said, `We're a Republican organization.' ''


What's particularly insidious about this is the fact that many new citizens come from countries where you are, shall we say, 'strongly encouraged' to register and vote for a particular political party.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Does file sharing help CD sales?

Ryan Freebern points out an article from the UK Guardian. The paper writes, New research suggesting that file sharing has no impact upon sales of CDs has, not surprisingly, angered the music industry.

"Over the period 1999 to 2003, DVD prices fell by 25% and the price of players fell in the US from over $1,000 to almost nothing," says
Koleman Strumpf, Associate Professor in the economics department at the University of North Carolina. "At the same time, CD prices went up by 10%. Combined DVD and VHS tape sales went up by 500m, while CD sales fell by 200m, so a possible explanation is that people were spending on DVDs instead of CDs."

Another possible explanation is simply that the current music scene rots and CDs are way overpriced for the poor quality product.

Despite gloom and doom predictions from the RIAA (record industry trade group), CD sales in America have increased by 7%, despite continued growth in file sharing.

Let me repeat that: CD sales in America have INCREASED by 7% despite the explosion in file sharing.

Professor Strumpf casts doubt on the RIAA's sky-is-failling mentality, "If file sharing is killing record sales, why are records starting to sell better?"

Freebern, for his part, wonders I’m curious how the RIAA will respond to that. “They may be rising, but they’re not rising enough!”

Their solution will probably be to expand their disastrous strategy of suing their own customers.

More from 'Harper's Index'

Another selection of interesting factoids from Harper's Index from the August issue of Harper's magazine.

[-Citations from the Index are in bold. My commentaries are in regular font]


Though National Guardsmen from all over the country have been forced to go to Iraq rather than defending America, some states are more "represented" in the Occupation than others.

Chances that a member of New York's Army National Guard was in Iraq in June: 1 in 4

Chances that a member of Texas' Army National Guard was: 1 in 31



Some contend that those who don't genuflect to Wal-Mart are just jealous of the corporation's success. They argue that Wal-Mart is successful because it's efficient. They claim that if small, locally owned businesses who pay decent wages and offer (gasp) benefits can't compete with Wal-Mart in the free market capitalist system, then tough luck. Fair's fair.

Minimum amount that Wal-Mart has received in subsidies from state and local governments since 1980: $625,000,000


From the land that introduced John Ashcroft to the national political scene:

State grant awarded to a Missouri police department's Youth Outreach Unit two years ago to battle Goth culture: $273,000

Amount the Unit returned to the state in April after no Goth-influenced youth could be found to aid: $132,000

Amount spent in the interim to set up the program: $141,000

Friday, July 23, 2004

'It takes a man'

Iraq war opponents often characterized warmed-over 60s hippies, incoherent left-wing radicals and/or obnoxioius loudmouthes. New York Times' sport columnist Bill Rhoden paints a different portrait of an unlikely anti-warrior: Toronto Blue Jays' first baseman Carlos Delgado.

Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, most Major League Baseball stadia started playing 'God Bless America' during the 7th inning stretch, rather than the traditional 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.' In fact, this was done on the order of baseball's commissionner Bud Selig.

Last March when the United States invaded Iraq, Delgado, in his own quiet way, said that for him, enough was enough. He had stood for "God Bless America" through the 2003 season but vowed not to do so this season. In an act of a simple, mostly unnoticed, protest against the war, Delgado, a 32-year-old first baseman, has chosen to remain in the dugout while "God Bless America" is played.

"I'm not trying to get anyone mad," Delgado explained. "This is my personal feeling. I don't want to draw attention to myself or go out of my way to protest. If I make the last out of the seventh inning, I'll stand there. But I'd rather be in the dugout."

He didn't make a big deal about it or rant or rave to the media. He just did it. Quietly. Rhoden writes, Delgado's protest this season has been so quiet, so subtle that [Selig] didn't know about it until I called him to talk about it on Monday.

"I don't honestly think that politicizes the issue," Selig told Rhoden, calling the playing of the anthem a matter of respect. "After all, we do have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Perhaps Selig is not aware that the choice to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan was a POLITICAL decision.

A Blue Jay player, who was pro-war, noted that Delgado never raised the issue with his teammates.

Despite the silent and inconspicuous nature of Delgado's gesture, baseball's figure head promised to make a mountain out of a molehill.

"I'm in the process of getting more information, but eventually I would like to sit down and discuss it with Carlos," Selig said. "I am very sensitive to this kind of issue, both as a matter of respect for our country and for one's right to express his opinion."

Delgado is American, by nature of having been born on and grown up in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is, of course, a territory that was conquered by the non-imperial United States following the non-imperial Spanish-American war.

The player sees his protest as consistent with his earlier opposition to the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a weapons testing ground. In many ways, the United States military waged a form of war for 60 years on the tiny island, using a 900-acre site for bombing exercises.

Delgado, who grew up on the mainland, remembers older residents telling stories about bomb explosions.

"They lived in that target practice area for 60 years," he said. "They tell you stories of how, in the middle the night, a bomb blew up. I never experienced it, but I can imagine it. I can see why you might be a little hostile from time to time. "


Even the general manager of Delgado's Toronto club praised the player even though the GM actively supported the Iraq war and criticized the Canadian government for not sending troops (why didn't Selig investigate that criticism?).

"I have no problem with what Carlos did," the GM said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "Carlos didn't hold a placard and stop traffic. He didn't impede the game because he's not that kind of guy. He's been total class in the community almost from the day he arrived."

"It takes a man to stand up for what he believes," Delgado said Monday. "Especially in a society where everything is supposed to be politically correct."

Radio offerings

Everyone has eclectic things they inexplicably like. Two of mine are country stores and county fairs. North Country Public Radio ran a nice audio postcard on two of the region's county fairs. The sights, smells, and sounds of county fairs are classic ingredients of summer. The midway barker beckoning you in to a show. The whip of the wind through your hair on the day-glow roller coaster. And of course, the smell of fried dough and French fries. My mouth waters just reading it.

**

Vermont Public Radio reporter Steve Zind is airing a five part series on his trip to Iran to explore his family roots. One of Zind's ancestors ruled Persia in the mid-18th century. He recounts his arrival in his ancestral village. In a show of typical Iranian hospitality, the villagers want us to stay for lunch. Despite their poverty they are eager to share the little they have. Even after we are in the car, they're pulling open the doors and insisting we come to their homes. But the police are watching.

**

The BBC World Service's Assignment program has a show about Kosovo, five years after the NATO intervention. The [anti-Serb] violence which broke out in Mitrovice this year came as a tremendous shock, not only to most of the population of Kosovo, but to the United Nations Mission, which has been running the territory for the last five years, and the international military force which has been trying to keep the peace here. It raised enormous questions about how much this international intervention has achieved and where Kosovo is now heading.

**

BBC domestic Radio 4's Front Row asks: Is the [British] government's encouragement of child-friendly art galleries and museums an investment in our artistic future, or an annoying distraction for adult art lovers?

Where exactly will the future adult art lovers come from if they're not encouraged as kids?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Nice racket if you can get it

A local Christian organization recently hosted Roy Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who was ousted for thumbing his nose at a federal court order. It's the same organization that, a few months ago, hosted Oliver North. I'm not sure what is their fascination with disgraced outlaws. But, it's a free country.

Anyways, the Ten Commandments tempest-in-a-teapot was a Godsend (pun sort of intended) to Moore. A brilliant self-promotional tool. Before, he was just an ordinary judge, little known outside of Alabama legal circles. Now, he's a poster boy for the pro-theocracy crowd.

He's going around the country giving speeches, which I'm sure is quite a lucrative endeavor for him. And there's even talk of him running for governor or some other high office in Alabama.

Break the law. Pretend you're a martyr for Christianity. Become a celebrity.

It's a nice racket if you can get it.

The sky didn't fall

Last weekend, my city hosted an event billed as the Aggressive Music Festival. Perhaps not surprisingly, it generated controversy as soon as it was scheduled. A group of so-called concerned citizens organized to try to get the city council to cancel the festival. The two leaders of this group were a local real estate agent and a restaranteur who's a county legislator.

The group made several allegations. It was like something out of a bad made-for-TV movie.

First, that the city shouldn't implicitly endorse the horrible lyrics of these bands by allowing the concert in the city-owned and -operated Civic Center arena. This was probably the most absurd charge. Is the New York City government endorsing the Republican platform simply by allowing Madison Square Garden to host the party's national convention? No sane person would suggest this.

Then they went on about how violent the bands' lyrics were. I went to a hockey game at the Civic Center during which the visiting team's equipment manager attacked the home team's mascot. Actual fights on the ice occur at least once during most games. Will there be a movement to eject the popular hockey team, whose players sometimes commit actual violence, rather than merely singing about it?

The county legislator said that if the city didn't cancel the concert, he'd push the county to withhold its annual contribution to the Civic Center's operation. It was disgusting that an elected official who's supposed to be representing the city's interests wants to punish the city taxpayers because the Civic Center hosts a concert that doesn't conform to his personal musical tastes. Will he campaign for de-funding of the public library because their collection includes Mein Kampf?

The most stupefying thing about this campaign was the propaganda. The "concerned citizens" sent a flier to every house in the city informing people about their Crusade. The fliers gave examples of the allegedly horrible lyrics they objected to.

My jaw hit the ground when I saw this.

They are concerned about children being exposed to these lyrics, so their solution is to send clearly printed copies of those objectionable lyrics to every household in the city. These Crusaders think they're protecting kids from garbage by sending it directly to their mallbox?! Why don't they put up a billboard at the Little League fields while they're at it?

These folks are truly sending kids mixed messages. War is glorified on television every day (and when the media try to show the more unpleasant realities of war, they are accused of sensationalism or, more insidiously, undermining the troops). The Iraq aggression opened with a campaign that caused large devastation of property and loss of civilian life, as is inevitable in any modern war. The campaign was called by the impressive sounding name "shock and awe," which is a euphemism for "mass destruction." Yet people are more worried about violence in music lyrics?

If these "concerned citizens" are worried about violence, then I urge them to focus on the real thing rather an innocuous concert.

Last weekend, the concert was actually held. And the most incredible thing happened: nothing. Lots of males in their teens and twenties milled around downtown and rocked to their music. They dressed in black and had a lot of piercings and tatoos and were friendly to the older people who frequent Burger King, even if the latter were bemused by the their appearance.

Our city was invaded by kids who dressed unconventionally and listened to an alternative style of music. And you know what?

The sky didn't fall.

Gays: the new terrorists

The new demagogue of the week is Pennsylvania's US Sen. Rick Santorum, the leading proponent in that chamber of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Santorum hasn't quite reached Tom DeLay levels of vitriol yet, but he appears to be making a renewed push in that direction.

As unfortunate as this amendment is in its own right, Santorum could've at least advocated it in a reasonable manner. But that's not his style.

Last year, Santorum equated homosexual sex acts with bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery. He has declined to apologize for those remarks, noted a Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Then, he tried making the martyr route. "This has been an incredible few days for me... it is not easy standing up against this popular culture in which we live."

In the debate over the amendment, Santorum insisted that he was not a bigot, that the amendment "was not about hate.... It is simply about doing the right thing for the basic glue that holds society together."

That contention would've been slightly more believable if he hadn't compared support of the amendment to the fight against terrorism.

"I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance," said Pennsylvania's junior senator. "Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?"

Though he did accept the controversial nature of his role. "You've got to go out there and say what you believe and accept the consequences of your actions," Santorum said. "I'm perfectly willing to take the consequences of that in the next election. I'm not going to hide who I am or what I believe in."

But terrorist gays, of course, should hide who they are and what they believe in. Lest they threaten the fabric of society.

What's 'summer'? - Gay divorce - 'Fair and balanced' legality

It rained yesterday.

It's been a dry, sunny summer. It's only rained for 13 of the last 14 days, I think.

A woman at work, running out to close her car windows, muttered, "It's not supposed to rain today."

I don't know what she's thinking. She should know that it only rains on days of the week that end in 'y'.

I lived in the rain forest where it rained every day for 8 straight months and it wasn't this annoying. At least there, you knew what to expect. Every day, between 3-3:30 PM, it would get dark fast and you knew to run to your house/hut. It would rain for 2-3 hours and stop. It would never rain, or even be cloudy, any other time of day during the rainy season. You knew not to plan to be outside at 4 PM. You knew certainly to plan to be not far from the village.

Here, even when it's not raining, it looks like it's going to rain. Considering that, in the summer, 95% of my non-work activities are done outside, it's so (*$#(&*$#&(*%$&(*!@!$#)__$( annoying.

Summer? My foot!

**

If any more assurance is needed that gays will treat marriage with the same reverence as straights, just read this article. One of the first gay couples married in Ontario has filed what is believed to be Canada's first same-sex divorce.

As one commentator said, "Gay marriage will lead to gay nagging."

Ironically, though some Canadian courts have ruled gay marriage laws legal, the divorce act still refers to a spouse as "of a man or a woman who are married to each other".

The couple, who had been together for five years, separated five days later.

Hey, that's five times longer than Brittney Spears lasted.

**

Remember when Fox News [sic] sued Al Franken for copyright infringement over the phrase 'Fair and balanced'? Well now, MoveOn.org (a Democratic advocacy group) and Common Cause (a consumer group founded by Ralph Nader) have filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission to force Fox to stop using the slogan. The groups said Fox News reports are -- as they put it -- "deliberately and consistently distorted and twisted to promote the Republican Party of the U.S. and an extreme right-wing viewpoint", reports the AP.

Thus proving that idiocy is not limited to one side of the political spectrum. Do I think Fox News [sic] fair and balanced? No. Is the motto deceptive? Yes, though it's so farcical, that it might constitute satire.

Is it demonstrably and objectively false in a legal sense? Absolutely not. Should they be legally forced to stop using it? No way.

Part of a free press is that media outlets can make themselves look like morons. If they do, people will just ignore them.

Making Fox into some free speech martyr is the last thing we need. These anti-Fox folks should remember how Fox's campaign against Al Franken helped put the latter's book sales through the roof.

Though a Fox spokeswoman called the suit, a "transparent publicity stunt," thus demonstrating that the days of pots taunting black kettles is not yet over.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Why I won't vote for the Green presidential candidate

A letter I submitted to web site of David Cobb, the Green Party's presidential candidate.

As you know, there was a spirited debate at the Green Party convention and David Cobb was the winner. That's how democracy should work. But I was disappointed after the convention by some of the remarks of his running mate concerning Ralph Nader. She and several other Green leaders went out of their way to insult Nader or demean his contribution to building the GPUS. This disgusted me because Nader probably did more to bring in new members to the Green Parties in the US than any single individual in history. I, and many of my friends, became Greens as a result of his inspiration. I certainly understand and appreciate the desire of some party members to move beyond Nader; the party should reflect certain values and ideals and not be overly associated with one particular individual. But this could've been achieved with a little more grace than occured during the convention. Evolution is desirable; ingratitude is not.

But beyond this, I'm sorry to say I refuse to waste my vote on Cobb's candidacy, even though I'm a Green. His 'safe states' strategy is the reason for this. I believe it's an insult to voters. It's repugnant to both the Green movement and those who believe smaller parties should play a more prominent role in the political system.

Smaller party candidacies have two points, aside from hopefully winning. One is to offer voters a choice beyond the establishment parties which some believe are corrupted beyond redemption. The other is to "grow" the party, to get it more exposure.

This safe states "strategy" essentially says that some voters should have another choice, except for voters who live in so-called close states. This mentality only reinforces the two party system; it only reinforces the notion that a smaller party vote is a wasted vote. The strategy basically admits this. "Vote for us if it doesn't matter; but not if it does matter." Even if Cobb's on the ballot in close states, he may not campaign there. How does this offer voters another choice? How does this get the party more exposure? The fact of Cobb being a Green Party member (unlike Nader) does not impress me if he's going to voluntarily ignore Greens in certain states, to say nothing of other voters.

Cobb's "strategy" will only set back the Green movement and the fight to get more influence for smaller parties. Cobb is reacting to the template, when I want a candidate who will try to change the template. I will not waste my vote on a candidate who shows contempt for millions of Americans by saying that some voters deserve a choice but others don't.

Bush's willing enabler

The two most prominent presidential candidates offer stark differences in at least one significant way: style. President Bush is a messianic, self-righteous Crusader who makes a decision and never lets reality or the course of events force him to revisit his strategy. Modest tweaking, for him, is tantamount to unconditional surrender.Sen. Kerry is a more classic politician: always trying to have it both ways. This is a bad strategy for Kerry. Because the guy who stands for something, no matter how controversial or reckless, is usually going to beat the guy who stands for nothing. Politics abhors a vacuum.

On Iraq, Kerry claims he supported the war because he thought it was a good idea in principle (my suspicion: he was uncomfortable with it but thought it would be suicide for his presidential ambitions to oppose it). Now, he claims the president misled him and other legislators about it. This doesn't say much for his judgement.

Of course, he has to take this position. He agreed with his main opponent, the president, on Iraq so he needs to figure out some pretend difference to distinguish him from the president. Questioning what's going on in Iraq is no longer politically correct, or less than it once was, so he has to find a tricky balancing act. His answer, "Iraq was right, but done the wrong way." It's a stretch, because it was almost impossible that Iraq could've been done the right way. But he has to come up with something.

Kerry also voted for the Patriot Act, the centerpiece legislation in the war on civil liberties. But now he's blaming all the problems on Attorney General John Ashcroft. On his website, Kerry writes (in a piece ironically entitled, "George Bush's credibility problem":

You can sum up the problems with the Patriot Act in two words: John Ashcroft.

and

But, the real problem with the Patriot Act is not the law, but the abuse of the law. John Ashcroft has used police powers in secret ways and for political purposes - authorized his agents to monitor church meetings and political rallies without any cause and without the need to get approval.

This, more than anything else, shows that Kerry just doesn't get it. Sure, it's nice to demonize the attorney general (and not entirely inappropriate given the man in question), but this is a distraction designed to deflect Kerry's complicity in signing the blank check Mr. Ashcroft is exploiting.

If the attorney general can legally commit these abuses, then the problem is not just the attorney general. Any law whose fairness is put solely at the whim of one man is an inherently bad law. The whole point of our system is that people's lives and liberty should not be subject to the magnanimity of one man. Any law that does this, and thus ignores human nature, is so fundamentally rotten as to be irredeemable at its core.

Sen. Kerry signed a blank check giving the president carte blanche authority to conquer Iraq and the attorney general carte blanche authority to abuse civil liberties; now, he's whining about the logical consequences of his actions. Nothing can change the fact that he was complicit in both of these travesties.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Soccer, globalization and sportsmanship

This Atlantic Monthly article interviews Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World?. Soccer is the most globalized of all sports. It is also, for the most part, the most purely capitalist; almost no (non-American) soccer leagues have cartel-like restrictions on how can own a franchise, minimum individual salaries or salary caps.

Some of Foer's most worthy observation deals with the complex relationship between internationalizing phenomena and local specifics, thus the soccer as globalization metaphor.

There's also a clear difference between American sports franchises and soccer clubs around the world. American sports franchises represent very broad geographic areas. The greatest compliment you can pay an American sports team is that they're "America's team." But soccer clubs represent communities or neighborhoods. And when you're representing a neighborhood, you're representing a very specific segment of the population. Soccer clubs become proxies for ethnicity, class, religion, or social caste. That makes them inherently more political. So soccer matches usually signify a clash of religions, classes, and castes. To me, that's what makes the game so thrilling to watch. There's always some elevated stake to the game...

For all the globalization that it obviously embodies, in most cases soccer is still firmly rooted in the local. Your identification with a particular soccer club has a lot to do with how you define yourself as a human being...

Take the Barcelona soccer club. By all accounts, the Catalans should have no use for their self-identity as Catalans. They're very prosperous members of the Spanish nation. Their history is preserved and protected and under no threat. Yet they still demonstrate this essential human impulse to identify with the group. It's evidenced by their enthusiasm for the soccer club FC Barcelona, which is a great symbol of the Catalan nation.


For Foer, former Argentine star Diego Maradona is everything that's great about the sport. He was short. He was fat. And he was the best in the world. Soccer is a game for everyone, unlike so many American sports. You don't have to be 6'11", or 400 pounds, or take massive amounts of steroids to play. It's so much more about skill and basic fitness—or not even basic fitness, as the case of Maradona proves. One of the great elements of the game's mythology is that you can have these almost semi-professional sides come in and take out the best teams in the world. There should be something refreshing for Americans about a game where a short, fat guy can be one of the best people in it.

Maradona was always a prick of a human being. Soccer's answer to Pete Rose. But he, in his prime, was truly sublime to watch. It's sad that his decline culminated just about the time I started following the sport. Still, he embodied one of the reasons I love soccer so much: normal sized human beings can not only play the sport, but be pretty darn good at it. Maradona was about 5'5"; Pele is around 5'9". Most consider them the two best players who ever lived.


**

I admit it's ironic to follow an article mentioning Maradona with an article about sportsmanship, but here goes.

The Christian Science Monitor ran a nice piece about the work the Ripken brothers (Cal and Bill) are doing.

The brothers opened the Ripken Baseball Academy in Baltimore last year, with the goal of increasing baseball participation among youths. Their gospel is simple: Teach parents and coaches to stop wrecking kids' games and start making baseball fun again, leading more kids to play the game longer.

Baseball participation has dropped by a third since 1990. Youth sports experts across the US cite lack of fun as the top reason young players dump baseball, typically when they turn 12 or 13. Overzealous competition and relentless schedules - many elite youth teams play 60 or 70 games a season - ratchet up the pressure and reduce the joy.

The phenomenon of burned-out kids exists in other sports, but is felt most acutely in baseball, says Jim Thompson, founder of the nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance. Baseball's slower pace, he suggests, may increase scrutiny on the individual.

"Bad coaching intensifies all of this," Mr. Thompson says. "And bad coaching often means paying more attention to winning rather than teaching life lessons. You can win pee-wee baseball games by taking walks and running the bases. But that's not baseball, it's a track meet."


That's exactly the mentality that needs to change in all North American youth sports, not just baseball.

The club soccer team I helped coach this spring (12-14 year olds) could've played in the 3rd or 4th division, since our league lets clubs choose. We could've done so and won most of our games by a comfortable margin. Instead, we played in the 2nd division. We won 3, tied 4 and lost 5 and we were competitive in all but one of our games. By being challenged, the kids became better soccer players. All the kids. And there were no hard feelings created by winning every game 7-0.

I saw the hypercompetitive mentality in some of the other coaches. My co-coach and I strived to avoid this crap. We quite probably could've won more games if we hadn't played certain players or only played them for a few minutes. But that's not really the point. They don't get any better sitting on the bench. And let's face it, no one likes sit on the bench any more than they have to. Just because they're not the best players on the field doesn't mean they have no pride. That's something clueless coaches either don't realize or don't care about.

(Also see my essay Philosophies of coaching youth sports)

If it were up to me, organized, adult-driven youth sports would be banned for kids younger than 10 or 11. Get kids together and let them play pickup or recreationally. Maybe have one adult sitting in the corner, QUIETLY, in case someone gets hurt or whatever. But otherwise, no audience. No lunatics jeering like they're watching a group of highly-paid professionals. No micromanaging coaches barking out orders like they're training dogs. Just let the kids play.

The article adds, While the extreme cases, such as occasional brawls among parents and coaches, grab headlines, the bigger challenge is educating the parents and coaches who stir up trouble with their good intentions.

Amen. Many otherwise good and decent parents don't even realize how totally lacking in perspective they are when their son or daughter is on a sports' field.

Jim Thompson summed it up quite well, "You can't teach life lessons if kids quit."

Kerry endorses aggression -- Sharon steps in it

Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry is intent on marking his differences with the president. He demonstrated by precently endorsing the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike against anyone who might possibly be a conceivable threat to America in 1 or 5 or 100 years. Assuming the intelligence is reliable. The doctrine is, of course, a new euphemism for a very old-fashioned concept: naked aggression.

**

The gang that couldn't shoot straight strikes (out) again. The Department of Homeland Security [sic] recently imposed a dress code on its air marshals. The idea seems noble.

Documents and memorandums issued by the Department of Homeland Security and field offices of the Federal Air Marshal Service say air marshals must "present a professional image" and "blend unnoticed into their environment" reports the New York Times. But Some air marshals have argued that the two requirements are contradictory.

The marshals fear that their appearance makes it easier for terrorists to identify them, according to a professional group representing more than 1,300 air marshals.

"If a 12-year-old can pick them out, a trained terrorist has no problem picking them out," said John D. Amat, a spokesman for the group, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

[...]

Federal air marshals must have neatly trimmed hair and men must be clean-shaven, the documents say. Some of the service's 21 field offices have mandated that male officers wear suits, ties and dress shoes while on duty, even in summer heat. Women are required to wear blouses and skirts or dress slacks. Jeans, athletic shoes and noncollared shirts are prohibited.


Why don't they just wear a big sign around their neck that says "I'm an undercover air marshal" so that potential terrorists know who to attack first?

**

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Bush's erstwhile ally, is adopting some of the president's tactics. Most notably, the old political axiom: when in trouble, change the subject.

Sharon is under pressure at home as his own Likud Party is abandoning him over his plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and from abroad for his plans to build an illegal wall separating Israel proper from the West Bank. His own governing coalition is so shaky he had to enter negotiations with his ideological opponents the Labor Party. Sharon was about to be indicted alleging that in his role as national infrastructure minister and as foreign minister, Sharon accepted bribes, and that this included "financial bribes in the form of a large sum of money paid to his son Gilad (Sharon) and through political support during the elections," the draft indictment said. However, the indictment was quashed by Sharon's attorney general.

Now, Sharon has inflamed relations with France by calling on all French Jews to flee the country. He told the American Jewish Congress "If I have to advocate to our brothers in France, I will tell them one thing, Move to Israel, as early as possible."

"We see the spread of the wildest anti-Semitism there," Sharon said. "In France today, about 10 percent of the population are Muslims ... that gets a different kind of anti-Semitism, based on anti-Israeli feelings and propaganda."

Though conceding, "I must say that the French government is taking steps against that."

Even the head of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism blasted Sharon's remarks: "These comments do not bring calm, peace and serenity that we all need. I think Mr. Sharon would have done better tonight to have kept quiet."

Sharon has adopted a favorite demagoguery of Bush apologists. Criticizing the Leader and his government's policies is equated to criticizing both the country, its military and all those who share the Leader's religion.

**

Not all accept Sharon's 'L'Etat c'est moi' demagoguery. Israeli paper Haaretz criticizes as 'racist' recent legislation approved by the country's parliament, the Knesset. The paper editorializes, Last summer, the Knesset revised the Citizenship Law in a manner that imposes draconian limitations on the freedom of Arab citizens of Israel to marry. That's not Arabs from the Occupied Territories, but Arabs who are citizens of Israel.

The government claims the law is only temporary (for "security" reasons, of course). But Haaretz doesn't buy it. If the reasoning for fundamentally damaging the basic rights of Israeli Arabs is, indeed, solely based on security considerations, the state could have been expected to avoid demonstrating an intolerable recklessness in changing one of the most important and equality-promoting laws on the books. The state could have been expected to institute a more fundamental security check for those who want to reside in Israel by force of their marriage. In addition, the 23 people whom the Shin Bet said were involved in hostile activity is a drop in the ocean, considering that nearly 100,000 Palestinians have settled in Israel in the last decade as a result of this law.

The editorial sums up the crux of the issue: The Citizenship Law is intended to balance as much as possible the discrimination that stems from the Law of Return [the principle according to which all Jews, anywhere in the world, have the right to settle in Israel], and every damage to it distances us from the basic principles on which Western democracies function. For as long as the Law of Return is intended to preserve the Jewish character of the state of the Jews, the Citizenship Law is intended to open a narrow gap for the entrance of non-Jews in specific personal circumstances.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Read what you vote on? Not in Albany

An update of an previous entry. A watchdog group tried to get New York state legislators to sign a pledge promising that they would take the radical step reading through the state budget before they voted on it (assuming they ever do). North Country Public Radio reports that only a quarter of legislators agreed to sign the pledge. And most of those who did were either from the minority party in their particular chamber or majority backbenchers with little influence.
 
When it comes to New York state government, that pretty much says it all.
 
They should be wary considering the example set in Virginia. Pols there were so distracted by budget battles that they accidentally revived the state's 'day of rest' law. This gave employees the right to take Sunday or Saturday off, or earn triple wages if they must work. Once the error was realized, pointed out by a furious Chamber of Commerce, embarassed legislators quickly repealed the statute but not without a considerable amount of egg on their faces.

They'd darn well better come home safely

It's official. I got an email from the 'little brother' I had in high school. He got deployed again to Iraq. For the second time. He got there safely. He darn well better come back safely. My fraternity 'big' is also in Iraq right now.

Both my best friend from high school and my best friend from college are over there fighting President Bush's imperial excursion. I'm going to continue act like this is a free country and criticizing the absurd policies of the man who's my country's president and my friends' commander-in-chief. And anyone who thinks I'm putting the lives of my friends or any other troops at risk by doing so can kiss off.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Becoming our worst enemy

The imperial mentality necessarily contains the seeds of its own destruction. One senior US intelligence official recently concluded that the Iraq invasion was "a gift of epic proportions to Osama Bin Laden," something which many Americans predicted BEFORE the war. Why? Because bin Laden's supporters now have more ammunition in "a spreading movement, powered by religion and also grounded in opposition to American policies." The Iraq war was fuel on the fire of anti-American rage, not water.

Americans should always remember that the Europeans made a conscious choice to get out of the Empire business because the costs far outweighed the benefits. And Europeans were far less uncomfortable with the fact of being imperial nations than Americans. Imperial wars in places like Kenya and Algeria were lost not because the European colonizers suffered overwhelming military defeats, but because the only methods available to defeat the nationalist insurgents were so repugnant so as to be unacceptable to the larger British and French societies.


In essay entitled "Becoming our own worst enemy" published at Public Newsroom, Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff echoes some of my thoughts in my essays The self-delusional nature of Exceptionalism and its followup 'We meant well' doesn't cut it anymore.

Resnicoff was a combat officer during Vietnam and recounts an experience: Serving in the Navy in the rivers of Vietnam, struggling against fear and rage, I had a commander who warned that we faced two enemies, not one. One external - there, the Viet Cong. One internal - the animal within, that war could unleash. Fight both enemies, he admonished, or we'd forget what we'd thought was worth fighting for. Fight both enemies, or no one could tell the players without a scorecard.

Fight both enemies, he concluded, or we'd be fighting neither - simply because he'd court-martial us and send us to the brig.

War is not only a danger to our lives; it is a danger to our humanity. So when we review words and documents to learn how things go wrong, we must not just ask what leaders said, but what they should have said but did not.


I've written several times that when you put people in extreme situations, they will react in extreme ways. Resnicoff concurs. We humans can do tremendous good or enormous evil. Native Americans teach that there are two wolves within our souls - one noble, one rabid - and which wins depends on which is fed. War can numb our sense of good and feed the beast within. The problem isn't that we don't have good people in uniform. The problem is that war can turn even the best into different people.

He notes that it's not the warmed-over 60s hippies but our own excesses give true aid and comfort to the enemy. Our enemies seek to expose our values as false. The war on terror is, in part, a war to defend an image of the US that gives hope to those who would be free. American values are our strength, and when they come under fire - as they most surely will - we must protect them as courageously as any other strategic stronghold we defend.

We condemn terrorism because we believe some actions cannot be justified, no matter what. But do we believe that claim, ourselves - and accept some limits even when innocent lives might be at stake? We must practice what we preach. The hard truth is that even tragic deaths are sometimes preferable to monstrous acts.


He concludes: Unless we understand the enemy within, then - as I learned long ago - we'll remember how to fight, but not what it was that was worth the fight. Neither Americans, nor their enemies, nor those they seek to help, will know the players without a scorecard. Then, even if we win the battles, we will lose the war.

The homogeneous pro-Bush military?

North Country Public Radio director Ellen Rocco reflected on her visit annual National Security Seminar of the US Army War College. Her report is surprising, considering the widely-held belief that political opinions in the ranks of the US military are fairly homogeneous.

She explains the point of the whole exercise. In a nutshell, the War College is a year-long course for mid-level officers who show leadership promise. It is from this pool of mostly colonels that the next generation of generals and strategic planners will be drawn... at the end of each year's course, the Army invites in about 150 people, from across the country and from all professions, to interact with the College attendees just prior to their graduation. The idea is to explore the key issues of the day. To tackle the thornier questions in a safe, no-holds barred environment. To talk about America's place in the world-strengths, threats, vision for the future.

She writes, the Army leadership and guest speakers we heard from and spent hours talking with were almost unanimously opposed to the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq. Two main reasons: terrorism was based in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other locations… not in Iraq. And, since the invasion, a new center for terrorists has been created. The other reason: there were no weapons of mass destruction or any other valid reason for pre-emptive attack.

She continues that speakers suggested The attack on Afghanistan seemed justifiable; that on Iraq, misguided and driven by an agenda that was being created by members of the Bush administration long before 9/11. This is what I heard from Army leadership at the College, from the students, from the speakers. Indeed, one colonel downloaded material from the mid-1990s that document Wolfowitz's and Rumsfeld's insistence on invading Iraq.

Rocco was impressed by the thoughtfulness and intelligence amongst these men and women who will be the next generation of generals and Pentagon administrative leaders. She also arrived at an interesting conclusion. foot soldiers-the privates and corporals-are more likely to accept unproven accusations and faulty policy decisions from the government than officers higher up in the ranks.

They know that supporting the Leader for its own sake, rather than based on rational reasons, is dangerous. That it costs lives.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Gays will destroy these people's marriages

The US Senate is about the defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would force states to define marriage as between one man and one woman. [Incidentally, reports suggest that the esteemed Sens. Kerry and Edwards likely won't cast a vote on this issue]

"If you support ... a mother and a father for every child, you are a hater. If you believe that men and women for 5,000 years have bonded together in marriage, you're a gay-basher. Marriage is hate. Marriage is a stain. Marriage is an evil thing. That's what we hear," said right-wing Sen. Rick Santorum.

I was a bit confused. I thought that gay marriage supporters were saying marriage is a wonderful thing. That they were saying "Marriage is such a great thing, we want gays to be a part of it." Maybe Sen. Santorum was hearing only what he wanted to hear. I wonder if he gave his straw man a name.

But, maybe the gay marriage opponents do have a point. So in honor of this proposed amendment, I will feature pictures of each and every married couple in America who would be harmed by the legalization of gay marriage. See below...


















































Look deep into their eyes and you'll see how concerned they are about how gay marriage would destroy their unions.

"Another f*ing arrogant white man"?

The ABB crowd is trying to make a big issue about President Bush declining an invitation to speak before the NAACP. That organization had a nearly century-long tradition of fighting for black civil rights but its current leadership makes it clear that the NAACP has become a Democratic Party organization.

"The election this fall is a contest between two widely disparate views of who we are and what we believe. One view wants us to march us backward through history -- surrendering control of government to special interests, weakening democracy, giving religion veto power over science, curtailing civil liberties, despoiling the environment. The other view promises expanded democracy [sic] and giving people, not plutocrats, control over their government."

This comment was not made by Sen. Kerry or Al Gore or some Democratic National Committee flack. It was remarks of NAACP Chairman Julian Bond to the organization's recent convention. Given that stark dichotomy, which sounds more like a partisan rant than anything else, it's little wonder the president saw no reason to attend the event. Minds were already closed. It would've made as much sense to attend this event as to attend the Democratic party convention in Boston.

Ralph Nader DID speak to the convention. And considering the abuse Nader was subjected to, the president was smart to avoid it. North Carolina Congressman Melvin Watt told Nader, "You're just another arrogant white man -- telling us what we can do -- it’s all about your ego - another f*ing arrogant white man."

The idea that the Democrats promise "expanded democracy," like Bond suggests, is silly. They do not advocate instant runoff voting. They do not advocate eliminating the electoral college. They do not advocate states having independent redistricting commissions to eliminate gerrymandering and create competitive electoral districts. They do not propose revising state electoral laws that are rigged against smaller party participation that would increase public interest and voter turnout.

Expanded democracy? As Nader points out, Just the opposite is true. Some members of the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus] were telling Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo, who were invited to this meeting, what to do -- withdraw their campaign and deny millions of voters the opportunity to vote for the candidacy of their choice. Nader was not telling the CBC what to do. Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo are acting in the best interest of the voting public by placing the progressive agenda before the American people and pursuing their campaign.

As Nader explained in a letter to the Black Caucus, also wished to discuss what Reverend Jesse Jackson told me, a few days earlier, that he did not think the Democratic Party was actively trying to register millions of African-American voters, or what Bishop Desmond Tutu replied when I asked him what he would want me to raise regarding U.S. foreign policy toward Africa, in any CBC meeting.
Instead, exclamations at the meeting descended into vituperative, (e.g., Congresswoman Kilpatrick’s tawdry, anatomical comment yelled loud enough so the press could hear it outside) and ending with the obscene racist epithet repeated twice by Yale Law School alumnus Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina. One member of your Caucus called to apologize for the crudity of some of the members. I had expected an expression of regret or apology from Congressman Watt in the subsequent days after he had cooled down. After all there was absolutely no vocal or verbal provocation from me or from my associates, including Peter Miguel Camejo, to warrant such an outburst. In all my years of struggling for justice, especially for the deprived and downtrodden, has any legislator--white or black--used such language?

I do not like double standards, especially since our premise for interactions must be equality of respect that has no room, as I responded to Mr. Watt, for playing the race card. Therefore, just as African-Americans demanded an apology from Agriculture Secretary Earl Butts and Senator Trent Lott--prior to their resignation and demotion respectively--for their racist remarks, I expect that you and others in the Caucus will exert your moral persuasion and request an apology from Congressman Watt. Please consider this also my request for such an expression--a copy of which is being forwarded directly to Mr. Watt's office.

Attached are the exact words of Congressman Watt's loud remarks ["You're just another arrogant white man -- telling us what we can do -- it’s all about your ego - another f*ing arrogant white man."], as heard by all in the meeting room without anyone admonishing him. In fact, some members rather enjoyed what he said judging by their outward demeanor.


If Nader, whose spent his career working for social justice causes, is going to be treated like this, the president would be a lunatic to go.

As long as the Democratic Party thinks that they "own" the black vote, that they have a God-given right to the black vote no matter how little they do, they will continue to ignore it.

The ABBers threw a snit fit at the vice-president's recent expletive. It'll be interesting to see if they criticize Rep. Watt's far more offensive remarks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Bush donors for Kerry

In the last few days, the Democratic attack machine has been targetting the charge that Ralph Nader's campaign has allegedly been helped by Republicans and conservatives. Democrats [sic] have never specifically charged that Nader solicited right-wing help or even that he was aware of what's going on. At least to my knowledge.

The party establishment was quick to seize on this as "proof" of Nader's hypocrisy and further evidence that they are the only real "alternative" to Republicans and that there are huge differences between the donkey party of the working man and the corporate-shills of the GOP.

So it was interesting to read a piece on Nader's website, For example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, five of Kerry’s top 19 donors have also donated to the Bush Campaign. These include people from major US corporate interests: Citigroup ($157,806 to Kerry, $557,275 to Bush), UBS Americas ($157,450 to Kerry, $431,850 to Bush), Goldman Sachs ($155,250 to Kerry, $350,875 to Bush), Microsoft ($104,663 to Kerry, $184,040 for Bush), Morgan Stanley ($101,954 to Kerry, $557,275 to Bush). Are the Democrats and the media going to ask John Kerry to return the nearly $700,000 he has received from these donors ­ as well as from the many others who are also supporting the Republican campaign?

Some are also trying to make it an issue that Nader's newest book is being published by a house owned by Rupert Murdoch's group, though their snit fits fail to mention that the same publishing house also released Stupid White Men by Michael Moore.

It shows how desperately they are grasping at straws.

Both members of the Democratic ticket supported the Iraq invasion and the Patriot Act, two of the most odious public policy decisions of the last quarter century. Sen. Kerry has said he might appoint an anti-Roe v Wade Supreme Court justice so long as "that's not the balance of the court" before later bragging, "I voted for Judge [Antonin] Scalia," the most far right judge on the Court.

I concede that Kerry is much less pro-theocracy that President Bush and less anti-science. And Kerry has promised that if the US invades a random country for dubious reasons under his administration, he will be more careful about kissing up to Europe and the UN.

But I still think the senator and his supporters should worry less about Nader. They have a far more challenging task on their hands: how are they going to sell their candidate as being vastly different from the incumbent when his positions on the three issues that most animate the anti-Bush crowd are far more similiar to the current administration's than either would like to admit?

Inertia as state policy

The Legislative Gazette website reported on what the New York state legislature did and did not do this year before adjourning in late June.

Passed:
Patriot Plan II, increasing benefits for New York National Guard members.
Expanding DNA collection for law enforcement.
Albany Convention Center Authority established.
Niagara River Greenway Commission created.

Not Passed:
An on-time state budget, [now a 20-year tradition.]
Education reform.
Rockefeller drug law reform.
Medicaid reform.
Long-term care reform.
Campaign finance reform.
Budget reform.
Municipal tort reform.
Pension reform.
Binding arbitration reform.
Wick’s Law reform.
Empire Zone reform.
Manufacturing tax reform.
Worker’s compensation reform.
Energy reform.
Racing and gaming reform.
Auto leasing, vicarious liability reform.
Procurement lobbying reform.
Anti-terrorism II.
Superfund technical amendments.
Linked Deposit Program.
MTA bus legislation.
Foster Care, ASFA.
Eliminating statutes of limitations for rape, other violent felonies.
Gun trafficking.
DWI reform.
Deadly drivers.
Civil commitment of sexually violent predators.
Megan’s Law enhancements.
Suzanne’s Law, school violence.
Gang sexual assault.
Repeat misdemeanors.
Child pornography.
Child endangerment.
Mathis’ Law, unintentional killing of a child.
Timothy’s Law, insurance coverage for mental health.
Tamiqua’s Law.
Methamphetamine labs.
Higher education capital improvements.
Election/HAVA reform.


Nevertheless, Albany's Times-Union newspaper noted that incumbent legislators have a 99% re-election rate. But gerrymandering is a topic for another day.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Where's the Arab outrage over Darfur?

Ethnic cleansing continues in the Darfur province of eastern Sudan. In one of the Bush administration's rare good moves, they are actually paying attention to this genocide, rather than playing the ostrich like the Clinton administration did during Rwanda. The New York Times noted that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Thursday demanded "dramatic improvements on the ground right now" in the Darfur region, where armed militias have routed more than a million Sudanese from their homes, adding that "Despite the promises that have been made, we have yet to see these dramatic improvements," Mr. Powell told a panel on African policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Only actions, not words, can win the race against death in Darfur. And we will not rest. We will continue to apply pressure."

Meanwhile, France signaled it would block UN sanctions on the Khartoum regime even if they do nothing to stop the ethnic cleansing. (More on this outrage later this week)

Over at Foreign Dispatches, Abiola raised an interesting question: why are Arab countries silent in the face of the Arab genocide against Darfur's black African population?

Abiola writes No amount of Arab or Muslim hypocrisy would ever justify shameful behavior on our side, and the point here isn't to say "Who are these people to point at us?", but to push the Arab and larger Muslim world to adhere to the same standards of conduct within its boundaries that it demands of outsiders. What would truly be shameful would be to turn our eyes away from the way in which "brother" Muslims mistreat each other for fear of offending their sensibilities, as we would in effect be saying "Well, one can't really expect any better of such people, can one?"

Although Lebanon's Daily Star did call for the Arab League to respond strongly to the Darfur crisis, they seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness. If Arab countries were to come out more strongly against the Sudanese regime's crimes against humanity, it would give them a little more credibility when they scream about Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or American conduct in Iraq.

But I guess they wouldn't want to shift attention away from their designated scapegoats.

More on the smear campaign

The website Salon.com has long been in the forefront of the Democrats' efforts to smear Ralph Nader. I'm not really going to get into another discussion about why Nader's candidacy is important (few Democrats bother engaging him on actual issues, just on the fact of his candidacy). Nor am I going to discuss the bizareness of "ABB"ers showing their disgust for the Iraq invasion and the Patriot Act by demanding everyone on the left of center vote for two guys who SUPPORTED the Iraq invasion and Patriot Act. Those are essays for another time.

But, Salon's latest contribution to the attack campaign was interesting. They reported (it was reporting in the same way Fox News [sic] reports) on the recent debate between Nader and former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. The choice of Dean was ironic since Dean himself was once the main target of the Democratic establishment for which he's now the token progressive.

When challenged about a right-wing Oregon group that's supposedly working to get Nader on the ballot, Nader answered, "We don't even know this group. Don't try and tar us with this." Dean urged Nader to simply renounce the Oregon group. "I'll renounce them," Nader said, quickly shifting the focus of the debate. "Do you renounce Pfizer and Chevron and other companies who were criminally convicted of crimes by the federal government for giving millions of dollars in the year 2000 to the Democratic Party?"

Salon then criticized him for accepting money from a prominent Bush supporter and then objected vigorously when Nader stated, "Republicans are human beings too." And Nader's the extremist?

In an interview with the Democracy Now! radio program, Nader spoke of some of the strategies Democrats (not to be confused with democrats) are using to keep Nader and his running mate Peter Camejo off the ballot. Now, some might contend, with a straight face, that the Democrats [sic] are just making sure everything's done legally and it's not about lawyering Nader out of the race.

Nader explains, When I talked to John Kerry, I talked basically about the dirty tricks that the Democratic parties at the state level are using to try to keep us off the ballot on technicalities, drain our resources. In Arizona, the democrats hired three corporate law firms. They filed suit against us. They had filed suit on such things like one of our signature gatherers-- it takes 14,500 signatures to get on the Arizona ballot. One of the signature gatherers collected 550 signatures. He happened to be an ex-felon who paid his debt to society. He had been on juries. He was a registered voter. They found that he did not pay allegedly a $400 fine to the state, and they wanted to knock off 550 signatures. That would have cost us long days in litigation, and we had to drop our effort. We have limited funds under Federal Election Commission regulation. The Democrats have unlimited funds outside of any regulation. That's what they're doing in Oregon and elsewhere. I told John Kerry to-- words to the wise. He may be presiding over a situation, whether he knows it or not, that can be a mini-Watergate.

I've been saying for four years that Democratic whining about the 2000 election was disingenuous. Neither they nor the Republicans advocated the ethically correct option in the Florida recount. Their machinations in Arizona and elsewhere only further bolster my theory that both parties tried to steal Florida in 2000, but only one could be successful. Apparently, "Democrats" want to make sure they don't repeat that failure to win the dirty tricks contest this year.

I'm not big on online petitions but you can sign one to protest the unethical campaign currently being waged. I'm not sure how much good it will do; when they want to, Democrats can be just as scummy as Republicans. Still, at least it will let them know that there are a few on the left who are not seduced by this garbage.

We need more than two parties in the political process, something that every other western democracy has. If you can go to the store and be offered 50 different versions of white bread, then surely you're mature enough to have more than two political choices for all offices.

And we don't need it next year or when "it's safe" or when it's convenient for the duopoly. All of which amount to never.

Otherwise, we'll continue to be stuck with two tickets who offered 100% support for such odious policies as the invasion of Iraq and the war on civil liberties. The right time to have a backbone is always now.