Thursday, June 30, 2005

GOP former senator criticizes the party's direction

A few weeks ago, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean was pilloried for calling the Republican Party "pretty much a white, Christian party."

(He also said that many in the GOP had "never made an honest living," which is a pretty stupid thing to say and probably just as applicable to his own party)

Yet John Danforth is now saying pretty much the same thing. The former Republican senator from Missouri notes that, "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians."

Danforth's comments are noteworthy because he's a moderate and civilized, a species increasingly rare both within his party and in politics in general. In addition to being well-respected in Republican circles, he also had the unenviable task of serving the current president as ambassador to the UN; so he can hardly be dismissed as anti-Bush.

As well-respected Republican, a Bush appointee and a retired Episcopal priest from the heart of Red America, his warning against the theocratic aims of some in his own party can't be easily waved away as the incoherent ramblings of a so-called atheist, Christian-hater from the coast.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Environmentalism "versus" economics, pt. 239

Two weeks ago, several roads in the southeastern part of upstate New York's Adirondack Park were severely damaged by mudslides provoked by heavy rains. Conservationists are trying to determine how much ecological damage to Lake George was caused by all this.

The chairwoman of the Lake George Fund suggested that better regulations "would have protected the stream banks, our shorelines, the whole stream corridor. And the trees would have stabilized those soils and kept them from eroding the way that we saw them change so drastically."

In other words, she claims that cutting down the trees for commercial or residential development made the destructive mudslides much more likely and more damaging when they did occur. Heavy rains are not unheard in this part of upstate New York. Yet, the level of destruction and devastation was unprecedented; one state Transportation Department official said he'd never seen anything like it in his 25 years.

Some peddle the simplistic dichotomy that environmental and economic concerns are mutually exclusive, but fair-minded people know otherwise. Sometimes environmental and economic considerations are at odds, but more often than most people believe, the two are complimentary. The destroyed roads crippled many businesses in the Warrensburg/Bolton area, a region almost entirely dependent on fresh air tourism like camping and hiking. A tad more concern for the area's environment might've prevented, or at least significantly mitigated, the mudslides as well as the big financial hit many small businesses took as a result.

Adirondack Almanack blog wonders why the mainstream media in the region hasn't explored this question.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Soccer cheats and why they do it

There are many reasons cited why Americans don't like to watch soccer. Admittedly, Americans like to watch soccer a lot more than they used to, as decent attendances in Major League Soccer The creation of two soccer-only television channels, Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV, show that there's some interest in the sport out there. But the sport is not yet as popular in the US as it is in much of the rest of the world.

The main reason most Americans think they don't like soccer is because there's supposedly not enough scoring. Strange, though, that a 1-0 baseball game is lauded as a pitchers' duel that true fans appreciate. Even a 14-7 NFL football game, really only 2-1 in terms of touchdowns, is praised as a defensive struggle. But 1-0 and 2-1 soccer games are derided as borefests.

However, one reason cited by many Americans for not liking soccer IS worth commenting on. Diving, or simulation as it's officially referred to, is a true blight on the sport. This commentary at Matchnight rightly refers to diving as cheating.

The author properly mentions other forms of cheating, particularly diving's evil twin: shirt-pulling.

As a youth coach, I tell my kids that if they dive, I'll yank them out of the game immediately. It's not only cheap, but it's counterproductive. If you dive and don't get the call, you're taking yourself out of the play. Fortunately, I've never had to act on this threat.

(My other biggest pet peeve, besides bad sportsmanship, is when defenders stop and wave their hands in the air like fools appealing for an offside call. Again, players should do their jobs and let the refs do theirs. I actually did bench one of my players last week for doing it.)

But while I'm not one to eagerly jump on the 'it's all the ref's fault' bandwagon, some blame for this scourge has to be placed with the officials. One of the dirty little secrets of diving is that sometimes it's the only way to get a deserved call. Sometimes, it's an illegitimate method to get a legitimate call. That's why it's done.

When you see a defender foul a forward, if the forward merely stumbles, he probably won't get the legitimate call. If the forward flops to the ground theatrically (but not too theatrically), he's far more likely to get the call. The refs assume that if the attacking player merely stumbles, then whatever happened must not have been a foul. In essence, this is the mentality that encourages diving.

I remember watching a Kansas City-Metrostars Major League Soccer game earlier this year. A through-ball was played to a KC forward. The Metros defender pushed the KC forward. The KC forward stumbled but stayed on his feet and the ball went out of bounds for a goal kick. Amazingly, the referee awarded a penalty kick anyway for KC. This was the right and proper call according to the rules, but one that is almost never made in the absence of a player flopping to the ground like he was gunned down with an AK-47.

The Matchnight column referred to a far more pathetic incident. In a Columbus-New England match, NE's Marshall Leonard elbowed a Columbus player Mario Rodriguez. It was clearly a yellow card offense on Leonard's part. However, while Rodriguez was elbowed just above the belly button, he collapsed to the ground clutching his THROAT. Leonard was properly given a caution, but Rodriguez was unjustly spared the yellow card he merited for his shameless display.

Two years ago, Metrostars' midfielder Amado Guevara infamously collapsed to the ground clutching his face after an opposing player (who was on the bench) inexplicably snapped Guevara in the back with a towel. He was widely condemned and has been mostly a good boy ever since.

The Matchnight columnist noted some of the absurdities surrounding the pronouncements coming from FIFA, the international soccer federation.

It's hard not to laugh at FIFA's 'Fair Play' posturing when they introduce farcical new guidelines, as at the current U20 World Cup in Holland, whereby players are pompously booked for toe-poking the ball a couple of inches after a free kick has been given. Sure, it's not good, but it's hardly the greatest problem soccer's facing right now. Meanwhile a player like Rodriguez can get away scot-free with trying to have an opponent sent off. Even if he's not penalized during the game, the MLS Disciplinary Committee could finally defy its past record and show some spine by retroactively fining and cautioning him (and all others who do the same) for blatantly bringing the game into disrepute.

'Simulation' will only be eliminated if referees start calling legitimate fouls when players don't dive.

Monday, June 27, 2005

African Union: we have no time for 200,000 (400,000?) homeless

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

You really have to wonder what sort of incriminating photos Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has of South Africa's otherwise respectable president Thabo Mbeki. How else to explain Mbeki's disgraceful sycophancy to the dinosaur who's destroying South Africa's neighbor?

Earlier this month, I deplored the Mugabe regime's mass razing of poor townships in the capital Harare (not coincidentally, an opposition stronghold).

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called on the African Union and other African leaders to speak out against the atrocity. After all, denouncing such idiocies as this is precisely what was supposed to separate the AU what its predecessor, the Organization for African Unity (often derided as a social club for dictators).

Well, the AU rejected the call by Rice and a similiar one by British Foreign Minister Jack Straw. An AU spokesman said the organization had more important things to consider. Apparently it couldn't even spend a few minutes to speak out against this disaster which has left 200,000 homeless and two young children dead. (The UK Independent puts the number at 400,000)

That's at least 200,000 homeless in the city of Harare alone. By contrast, the entire country of Liberia, which recently ended its second devastating civil war in the last 15 years has only 150,000 internally displaced people, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

A spokesman for President Mbeki, whose failed 'quiet diplomacy' in the Zimbabwe crisis has earned much criticism, bristled at Rice's and Straw's calls.

"South Africa refuses to accept the notion that because suddenly we're going to a G8 summit, we must be reminded that we must look good and appease the G8 leaders," the spokesman said.

Ah yes, the old 'blame the westerners and the opposition (the "westernized")' card that Mugabe himself has so perfected. After all, it's been clearly demonstrated that when bad things happen in Africa, the key point according to some is not the skin color of the victim, but the skin color of the perpetrator.

Consider the regime's of apartheid South Africa, Iain Smith's racist Rhodesia and Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The primary victims of all three regimes were black. Two earned widespread condemnation from the continent's leaders, while one provokes avid defenders.

I wonder how Mbeki and his spokesman would explain the condemnation as 'inhuman' of Mugabe's destruction by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Harare. The archbishop is black, since it apparently matters.


Update: The UK Independent puts the number of homeless at 400,000. And as though the creation of possibly 400,000 homeless wasn't enough, Mugabe's regime is ignoring a famine, according to The Independent. Unofficial estimates obtained by [the paper] suggest the death rate is already outstripping the birth rate nationwide by 4,000 a week. 4000 a week times 52 weeks... I can't even bear to do the math.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

CIA agents arrested in Italy

I've written several essays (such as here and here) criticizing the premises underpinning the Guanatamo Bay detention center.

As I wrote earlier: Let's say it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single action of every single soldier were acting in a way that was not only in accordance with international law but in a way that would make their mothers proud. Even if that happened, Gitmo would deserve a scathing rebuke. My objections are based primarily on the abhorrent political and (extra-)legal principles on which the internment camp is based.

Specifically I object to the fact that Gitmo detainees were arrested by American forces outside of lands subject to American jurisdiction and detained against their will, yet the administration refuses to either classify them as prisoners of war or as common criminals. I object that this is the policy of the US government.

Instead, the Bush administration decided to invent a pseudo-legal classification called 'enemy combattants,' so it could avoid both presenting evidence (like for common criminals) or treating them according them Geneva Convention (like for prisoners of war).

They did so based on the fiction that the suspected terrorists represent a class of combattant unprecedented in history. In fact, the suspected terrorists are non-state combattants, just like mercenaries and just like rebel groups. The former are dealt with via the traditional justice system; the latter are usually treated as prisoners of war.

Since the suspected terrorists were captured in what the president calls the 'WAR on terrorism,' it wouldn't be unreasonable to call them prisoners of war. Since other terrorists like Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman or Timothy McVeigh were tried and convicted via the traditional justice system, it wouldn't be unreasonable to treat them as regular criminals. But clearly, they must be one or the other.

Some say that Gitmo detainees are being treated like they were in Club Med (or 'Club G'itmo' as Rush Limbaugh calls it). For example, this CNS News article offers a headline more appropriate to a satirical publication like The Onion: Conservatives Tout Guantanamo Bay's Cuisine.

"For Sunday, they're going to be having -- let me see -- orange glazed chicken, fresh fruit grupe, steamed peas and mushrooms, rice pilaf -- another form of torture for the hijackers," huffed a California congressman.

Kidnapping people in a foreign land, detaining them without charge, having to present evidence against them or allowing them a chance to defend themselves and holding them indefinitely on the arbitrary whim of US authorities would normally be considered outrageous and un-American. After all, these were some of the objectionable tactics cited in America's own Declaration of Independence.

But as long as you give the detainees rice pilaf, it's perfectly acceptable to deny them their freedom (said breathlessly) without even the pretense of due process, the rule of law or any other kind of civilized justice.

But if detainees ARE indeed being treated so luxuriously (even putting aside gastronomy), one has to wonder why the US administration has been doing everything possible to prevent UN observers from visiting Guanatanamo. After all, if the UN folks tasted our orange glazed chicken, they might not be so 'anti-American'!

Yet the really interesting news come from Italy, whose government was one of our government's closest collaborators in the Iraq aggression. A few days ago, an Italian judge ordered the arrest of 13 CIA officers for secretly transporting a Muslim preacher from Italy to Egypt.

The officers are accused of kidnapping a Muslim preacher in Italy and sending him to the north African country where he was reportedly tortured (presumably with something stronger than steamed peas and mushrooms).

The US embassy in Rome and the CIA in Washington refused to deny the allegations.

First off, this is an example of how the Bush administration spits its allies... even on those who backed it to the hilt on the Iraq aggression.

This isn't exactly unprecedented, however. Only last week, the administration was accused of lying to the British government, its closest ally, over the use of Napalm in Iraq. So much for the vaunted 'special relationship.'

Normally, the Bush administration could've asked Italy to extradite the preacher to Egypt. Except that would've required the much-detested due process and European countries are usually hesistant to send suspects to countries that practice torture or the death penalty.

What's interesting is this. Kidnapping is one of the most common tactics commonly used by terrorists. So does that make the CIA agents terrorists?

Italy could've simply thrown the CIA agents in prison without trial, charge or evidence and call them... well... I'm sure the Italians could've come up with some scary sounding classification for them. They could've then kept the agents in detention indefinitely, perhaps even force feeding them fresh fruit grupe, until the Italian government felt like doing something with them.

Italy could've done that, according to Bushian logic, but it didn't. The alleged CIA kidnappers were charged through Italy's regular justice system.

Nevertheless, don't be surprised if a less friendly country invents some kanagaroo procedure to deal with American POWs (or whatever classification is invented instead) while cleverly citing the precedent of our commander-in-chief.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The childlike administration

The president's political maven Karl Rove is in the news after he charged liberals as being soft on terrorism.

Granted, Rove didn't go quite as far as right-wing icon Ann Coulter who's made millions of dollars with a book whose entire theme was: liberals were and continue to be traitors. No hyperbole here. The exact title of her book is: Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. But Rove's comments are perhaps more insidious precisely because they are less blunt.

This isn't entirely surprising: Rove merely enunciated what has been the underlying theme of Republican political strategy ever since 9/11. After all, smearing opponents as 'soft on [enemy du jour]' served Republicans quite well during the Cold War, so they see no reason to change it now.

According to The Washington Post, Rove cited a petition which called for 'moderation and restraint' following the 9/11 attacks.

Rove fumed, "I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the twin towers crumble to the earth, a side of the Pentagon destroyed and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble," according to a text provided by the White House.

And this pretty epitomizes what's wrong with the administration: they pander to our basest, most savage emotions.

The purpose of government in civilized countries should be to MODERATE the most extreme instincts of the masses; that's why we have representative, not direct, democracy. In a time of crisis, the purpose of government is to offer a cool, rational analysis of the situation and offer well-thought solutions that make sense, rather than decisions arrived at hastily and blinded by anger and emotion. The Founding Fathers often warned of the tyranny of the majority and designed a system designed to RESTRAIN the majority's most extreme impulses.

Essentially that's the difference between adults and children. Children act on their natural impulses. Adults, hopefully, learn to MODERATE and RESTRAIN them.

When angry, children often lash out irrationally after everyone around them, including those who didn't directly cause the anger. In the same situation, we expect adults to show a little, yes, restraint. We expect the adults to more intelligent, reasoned response to a provocation. Imagine if everyone who got punched in the face took an AK-47 and gunned down each person within a three-block radius. What prevents that from happening? Moderation and restraint.

Moderation and restraint are why we send kids to time out. Moderation and restraint are why we often count to ten when angry, before opening our mouthes or clenching our fists. Moderation and restraint don't necessarily imply inaction, but they do imply INTELLIGENT action. Moderation and restraint give you the opportunity to use the gray matter in your head.

Perhaps Rove's and the administration's hostility toward moderation and restraint explain the debacle that resulted in the badly planned, nonsensical aggression against Iraq that now even the CIA suspects might have become counterproductive. Those of us practiced in moderation and restraint feared before the aggression that it would prove counterproductive.

Children often stomp their feet, snivel uncontrollably, hit people (you might call it 'unleashing their power') and throw their toys when something bad happens. We expect adults to show moderation and restraint when something doesn't go their way. We should expect that of our president and his advisors too.

After all, isn't 'moderation and restraint' precisely what we're preaching to the Arab world?

No wonder they don't believe us.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Supreme Court ok's government-imposed land redistribution

Yesterday, a divided US Supreme Court authorized government-imposed land redistribution in a controversial and much-followed ruling.

The case involved a Connecticut municipality's use of eminent domain. Eminent domain is a process by which the government can take private land for public use, provided the owners are compensated. Typically, this is done so that roads or bridges or other public infrastructure can be built.

Eminent domain is actually authorized by the US Constitution's 5th Amendment which concludes: nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The key question in this case was the definition of the phrase 'public use.'

The town of New London, CT wanted to use eminent domain on a number of properties so it could pave the way for a large private commercial development complex including a riverfront hotel, health club and offices that would attract tourists to the Thames riverfront, complementing an adjoining Pfizer Corp. research center and a proposed Coast Guard museum.

This case is an excellent example of why our democracy is constitutionally limited. Or at least in theory.

Connecticut state Rep. Ernest Hewett, who as a city council member approved the development, said, "I am charged with doing what's best for the 26,000 people that live in New London. That to me was enacting the eminent domain process designed to revitalize a city ... with nowhere to go."

In other words, the government can seize your home if it's supposedly in the best economic interests of a majority of your fellow citizens.

In fact, the right to private property, like any other right, is utterly meaningless if it can be removed by a simple majority vote.

"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, in his majority opinion.

But is seizing the homes of ordinary, middle class folks to give to rich private developers a traditional and long accepted function of government? Perhaps in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, but I didn't think it was so here in the United States.

In dissent, [Justice Sandra Day] O'Connor criticized the majority for abandoning the conservative principle of individual property rights and handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled.

"The specter of condemnation hangs over all property," O'Connor wrote. "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."


This decision must confuse some conservatives. The Court trashed the whole concept of private property rights and ok'd government-imposed land redistributions but at least it wasn't 'activist.'

This is particularly relevant to my city. Right near our downtown hockey arena, there is a Burger King with an ugly sitting area in front of it. It is indeed a concerte eyesore. In fact, it's a reminder of the failed dream of a previous administration to build 'another Rockefeller Center' in the plaza. That area was razed several decades ago during the city's disastrous and misnamed 'urban renewal' program that destroyed so many historic buildings and erected blight in their place.

Now, some have floated the idea of eminent domaining the BK property for some new grandiose scheme to revive downtown. BK's owners don't want to sell the property.

Nevermind that the slow but steady progress our downtown has made in the last decade has been driven by small business owners, while the magic bullet approaches to big chains have fallen through.

I'm sure the region's big developers are salivating at the prospect, following the New London decision. My city's experience with disastrous magic bullet schemes in the last half century should give residents pause for thought. Making downtown more pedestrian friendly will do far more to help downtown shops, restaurants and museums than pie-in-the-sky nonsense like replacing BK with another Rockefeller Center or further money-sucking eyesores like a parking garage. Besides, if they can seize BK to give to someone richer simply because it's not fancy, schmancy enough for sophisticated tastes, then why can't they seize your home to do the same?


Update: The Green Party of the United States, the country's third largest and only major progressive party, has also come out with a statement denouncing the Supreme Court decision.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Iraq jihadists potentially worse than al-Qaeda: CIA

Remember back in the day when the Bush administration claimed that the Iraq war would make us safer? Remember how they said that the aggression was essential to the so-called war on terrorism, how it was critical to eliminating Islamist extremism?

Like so many other things, they were wrong.

The war in Iraq is creating a new breed of Islamic jihadists who could go on to destabilise other countries, according to a CIA report, reports the British daily The Guardian.

Of course, this is precisely what many of us predicted BEFORE the war, but saw our warnings dismissed as the rantings of 'wimpy lefty peaceniks.'

No one likes an 'I told you so' but given the almost profane eagerness many Americans had for this aggression, it's worth reminding that discresion is the better part of valor. Maybe the next time our Leader proposes a controversial war, we can have a real debate, like they had in Britain, rather than poor substitutes like flag waving and ribbon wearing.

Worryingly, the extremists are becoming more sophisticated in their methods to maximize death and destruction, especially against civilians.

While the number of Iraq attacks have diminished, they have become more deadly. More than 1,000 Iraqis and 120 US soldiers have been killed since the new Iraqi cabinet was formed in April.

Insurgents once again demonstrated their capacity for inflicting carnage on civilians when they detonated four cars bombs in western Baghdad last night, killing at least 23 people and injuring around 50. At least one was driven by a suicide bomber.


Most disturbingly:

The CIA believes Iraq to be potentially worse than Afghanistan, which produced thousands of jihadists in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the recruits to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida had fought in Afghanistan.

So the Iraq created by President Bush has the potential to be even more dangerous than the Afghanistan that breeded Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

Could someone please explain again to me the logic of this invasion?

Given the extremely dangerous situation in the Iraq created by our commander-in-chief, it's nice to know that Congress is focused on non-issues like flag burning.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The southwest's 'virtual Taliban'

Recently, I read a very disturbing story of a polygamous sect in the southwest that is reportedly driving hundreds of teenage boys out of twin border towns in Arizona and Utah.

The story interviewed a boy named Gideon Barlow who is one of the "Lost Boys," a group of more than 400 teenagers — some as young as 13 — who authorities in Utah and Arizona say have fled or been driven out of the polygamous enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City over the last four years.

His stated offenses: wearing short-sleeved shirts, listening to CDs and having a girlfriend. Other boys say they were booted out for going to movies, watching television and staying out past curfew.

Some say they were sometimes given as little as two hours' notice before being driven to St. George or nearby Hurricane, Utah, and left like unwanted pets along the road.


Though some contend that those weren't the real reasons for the expulsions.

Authorities say the teens aren't really being expelled for what they watch or wear, but rather to reduce competition for women in places where men can have dozens of wives.

"It's a mathematical thing. If you are marrying all these girls to one man, what do you do with all the boys?" said Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff, who has had boys in his office crying to see their mothers. "People have said to me: 'Why don't you prosecute the parents?' But the kids don't want their parents prosecuted; they want us to get the No. 1 bad guy — Warren Jeffs. He is chiefly responsible for kicking out these boys."


Well that makes me feel better.

But what about their education?

The children are told that dinosaurs came from another planet, and man never walked on the moon. More important, they learn the outside world is wicked and salvation comes through obedience to the prophet [Jeffs], who channels God's will.

Some other crimes committed by the expelled kids:

Tom Sam Steed said he was put on "religious probation" at 15 for sneaking off to see the film "Charlie's Angels." Shortly after, he said he was ejected from the FLDS, living temporarily in a tool shed. When he begged to return to the church, he said he was refused.

[...]

He said he made a personal plea to Jeffs, meeting him in a Colorado City print shop.

"He told me I wasn't welcome," Steed said. "And on the way out he said: 'Just to let you know, when the final devastation comes, you will be destroyed.' I believed it completely. If you are told your whole life the Earth is flat, what else would you believe?"

[...]

Once children are expelled, the FLDS forbids parents from visiting them, and violating the rule can result in eviction from their church-owned homes, say state authorities and former town residents. Many parents sever all ties to their sons.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Soccer update

Interesting doings in the African World Cup qualifying zone, as most of the continent's giants are struggling in their efforts to qualify for Germany 2006. If qualifying were to end today, the following surprises would make it to Deutschland...

-Togo (ahead of Senegal by two points)
-Ghana (tied with South Africa, but ahead on head-to-head tiebreaker)
-Ivory Coast (ahead of Cameroon by two points)
-Angola (tied with Nigeria, but ahead on head-to-head tiebreaker)

Morocco and Tunisia, who are fighting for a single spot, are the only continental giants who are in good shape. Though Ghana and Ivory Coast are not exactly minnows on the African stage (a combined five continental championships between them), neither they nor Angola or Togo have ever qualified for the World Cup finals.

There are still two matches left for the giants. It's a bit of a quandry. Part of me wants to support the underdog. But part of me also wants African teams to represent themselves well against the world's best. Somehow, I think Nigeria would give Brazil or the Netherlands a better match next year than Togo.

***

Yesterday was the end of the 2005 European women's soccer championships, held in England. Germany beat Norway 3-1 in a brilliant final. It followed Norway's equally brilliant semifinal win over Sweden.

A lot of soccer fans don't like women's soccer. It's slower, they say. Less skillful. There's more of a disparity between the best and the rest. I must admit, I don't watch women's soccer nearly as much as men's. But I do enjoy watching the big tournaments.

I mentioned some of the differences between big-time men's and women's soccer. Here are a few more differences I've noticed while watching Euro 2005 and other women's matches.

-If a woman player gets knocked to the ground, she doesn't writh melodramatically in pain (real or pretend) as though she's been shot four times in the back; when her 'injury' subsides, she doesn't scream at the ref for a foul or penalty kick. She usually quickly gets back up and rejoins the play. You rarely see players flopping around like pathetic fish in the women's game. Apparently, they are more manly than the male players.

-In the final, a Norwegian equalizer right before halftime was controversially disallowed due to an alleged offside. After the dubious call was made, you did not see ten of Norwegian players surrounding the linesman, screaming at him, questioning his parentage, demanding his expulsion for the officiating fraternity. The players simply turned around and prepared to defend.

-Women players don't yell at the ref for a yellow card every bloody time they get fouled.

They're more manly than the male players. They get knocked down, they suck it up and get back up. In other words, they just play the game instead of all the other extraneous garbage that tarnishes the men's game.

Another notable thing is that big matches in the women's game are... and you'll never believe this... they are often exciting. Yes, exciting. Interesting. Worth watching. Women's teams tend to play positive, attacking soccer... even the Germans!

There were four goals in the Euro 2005 women's final. And they were good goals; goals that were the result of good play, skill and creativity, not poor defending or bad goalkeeping. And there were many more chances that were just missed or stymied by good goalkeeping.

The last time a European men's final had at least four goals was... way back in 1976.

***

The US under-20 men's national team is in the second round of the World Youth Cup in Holland. They finished first in their group by beating Egypt 1-0. Their reward for winning a group with record champions Argentina and European powers Germany, all without conceding a goal? A round of 16 match against Italy.

Tuesday, 2:30 PM ET on Fox Soccer Channel.

Watch it!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Irony is dead

"Today, Iran is ruled by men who suppress liberty at home and spread terror across the world. Power is in the hands of an unelected few who have retained power through an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy," -President Bush


Writers of The Onion and Jon Stewart's Daily Show have one of the hardest jobs in the world: doing satire when real life is so darned absurd.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Crooks, the unloved and other political musings

Perhaps you heard about the spat between Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

First, Dean had the lack of grace to refer to the Republican Party as "pretty much a white, Christian party" and said many in the GOP "never made an honest living."

Even if the GOP is a white, Christian party (apparently it's increasingly popular with Hispanics), so what?

Are white Christians any less American than black Muslims or Hispanic atheists?

His comments echo the same obnoxious mentality, held by many conservatives, that people who live in the so-called Heartland ('red America') represent real American values and, by implication, anyone who lives on the east or west coasts ('blue America') represents fake American values.

Like it or not, a comfortable majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian. It's one thing not to pander to a certain group. It's one thing to say you object to the theocratic aims of a small group of extremists. But to go out of your way to insult the majority of the electorate isn't the smartest thing.

As for the assertion that many in the GOP have "never made an honest living," perhaps that's true. But probably no more true than it is of the Democrat Party.

Plus, the remark ignores the real point: a lot of people in the working class who DO make an honest living are increasingly being taken in by the Republican Party. Perhaps if Dean and others like him tried tried figuring out why, rather than wallowing in self-indulgent snideness, the country might be better off by having real opposition party.

It's true that the Democrats need to fight for their ideas. But first, they need to develop ideas to fight for. Something beyond 'Bush is Evil incarnate.'

No wonder I quit the party.

It's too bad because Dean was a great governor. And he was a great governor by being straight-forward yet pragmatic. A concrete result of this approach: universal health care for Vermont's kids (and the sky didn't even fall, but that's another essay). Now, he's just an ordinary partisan yap dog.

But if Dean's descent is sad, the vice-president's response was laughable. Cheney decided not just to match Dean in the juvenile name-calling department, but to top him.

Cheney said of Dean, "I've never been able to understand his appeal. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does."

At this point, it would be appropriate to insert an analogy involving pots and black kettles.

Now, the vice-president's mastery of facts is not rock solid. After all, he not only peddled such myths as Iraq tried to get uranium from Africa and conclusive CIA evidence of collaboration between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda and conclusive evidence that Iraq "did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction," he did so long after those myths were discredited even in official administration circles.

So perhaps it's not surprising that Cheney said of the former GOVERNOR Dean, "He's never won anything, as best I can tell."

Howard Dean was elected governor of Vermont five times, lieutenant governor three times and to the state's House of Representatives twice.

Five plus three plus two equals ten. Ten is not only more than eight (the number of times Cheney has been elected), it's significantly more than 'never.'

Thursday, June 16, 2005

'Re-orientation' or child abuse?

The Blog of the Moderate Left pointed to a disturbing piece at Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Sullivan's quote of the week:

"I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle. In a physical death you could still have a spiritual resurrection; whereas, returning to homosexuality you are yielding yourself to a spiritual death from which there is no recovery." - John Smid, Director, Love In Action (LIA), San Rafael's "ex-gay" organization.

Sullivan adds:

The quote is denied by Smid, but asserted by a former inmate of the "Straight Camp" run by Smid who said Smid told him exactly that. Smid runs "camps" where gay kids and teens are sent by their parents for compulsory "re-orientation" toward heterosexuality.

Here's the most disturbing part. Sullivan quotes a note from one of the children abused in the camp, abused by the mere fact of being forcibly subjected to such despicable garbage:

I haven't been on a computer, phone, nor have I seen any friends in a week almost-- Soon. Soon, this will be all over. My mother has said the worst things to me for three days straight... three days. I went numb. That's the only way I can get through this. I agree, if you're thinking that these posts might be dramatized.. but the proof of the program's ideas are sitting in the rules. I pray this blows over. I can't take this... noone can... not really, this kind of thing tears you apart emotionally. To introduce THIS subject... I'm not a suicidal person... really I'm not.. I think it's stupid - really. But.. I can't help it, no im not going to commit suicide, all I can think about is killing my mother and myself. It's so horrible. This is what it's doing to me... I have this horrible feeling all of the time... I wish this on no person...

Just more proof that Muslim extremists are the only dangerous nut cases that can target innocent people and ruin their lives.

So if two parents are not allowed to expose their kids to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals," how can such disgusting camps be anything other than child abuse?

I can only hope the lunatics fail in their attempt to break the spirit of these poor kids, who are guilty only of being born a certain way. Because of such crap, many gay youth DO follow Smid's suggestion and attempt suicide rather than deal on a daily basis with the venom (or worse) spewed by Smid and millions of others.

While Smid and his ilk may think homosexuals don't deserve to live, one can only hope that the tide in America is changing, however slowly, toward civilized treatment of gays.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

You will take your freedom and you will like it! (pt.587)

Iraq is no safer than it was in 2003, when Saddam Hussein's dictatorship was overthrown.

That's not according to some Bush-hating liberal hippie or even one of those dastardly intellectually honest Republicans like Sen. Chuck Hagel or Rep. Ron Paul.

It's according to none other than the very guy who planned the aggression in the first place: Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld.

Too many Iraqis risk life and limb simply by leaving their home, but hey, at least they have a nominally elected government!

Security (as long as you keep your political mouth shut) is one thing that authoritarian regimes regularly appeal to in order to gain or remain in power. Until the US occupation and Iraqi provisional government can provide even an approximation of security, then the risk of a return to authoritarian rule is a distinct risk. One only needs to look at how the chaos of Russia in the 90s paved the way for Vladimir Putin's rise to elected czar... and the Russian people's embrace of that status quo.

Kidnappees treated humanely, says VP

Vice-President Cheney claims that the people held at Guantanamo Bay are 'bad people.' How does he know?

He doesn't say for sure.

My guess is that most of them are too.

But it's just a guess. I don't know either.

How come I don't know? How come the vice-president can't say how he knows?

Our Republic has a long-established procedure for 'bad people' who try to do harm. We charge them with a crime. We present evidence against them in a court of law. And a judge or jury or some other legal tribunal finds them guilty or not guilty. If found guilty, they are usually sentenced to prison time as punishment.

None of this has happened to the Guantanamo Bay kidnappees (which I will continue to call them until they are given the most basic justice of being charged with a crime).

Yet, the vice-president insists that, "I think these people have been treated far better than they could be expected to have been treated by virtually any other government on the face of the Earth."

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel is a Bush supporter but one who is somewhat independently-minded and who appreciates the damage the president's reckless foreign policy is having both on America's image and on its national security. He pointed out, "It's not at all within the standards of who we are as a civilised people, what our laws are... This is not how you win the people of the world over to our side, especially the Muslim world."

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy noted, "We want other countries to adhere to the rule of law. And in Guantanamo, we are not,"

The Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee raved about how well kidnappees are treated. "We supply every one of them with the Quran. We supply them with oil. We supply them with prayer beads. Five times a day on the prison system, we do the call to prayer with arrows pointing in the direction of Mecca and assist them in their prayer ritual."

We supply them with everything except a formal accusation and a chance to legally defend themselves.

They were captured, detained by someone outside their jurisdiction, not given a chance to defend themselves to secure their release. They remain totally at the mercy of their captors. No legal procedure is involved. How is this different from a kidnapping?

Ok, so they're probably fairly well-treated kidnappees. I'll concede that point. But since the administration insists they're not prisoners of war, then they must be kidnappees.

In typical fashion, the vice-president imperiously waved away any criticism. "And my own personal view of it is that those who are most urgently advocating that we shut down Guantanamo probably don't agree with our policies anyway."

What about those who simply want kidnappees to be given basic justice? If they're really guilty, give them a trial, let the evidence speak for itself and then lock 'em up and throw away the key.

Being detained without trial, without accusation and indefinitely until your kidnappers get around to feeling like charging or releasing you, no decent American should consider that humane. That the vice-president and his apologists think that it is humane says more about them than it does about the 'bad people.'.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

African corruption and debt relief

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

There has been a cautious welcome for the recent deal agreed by the G8 (group of the world's seven largest economies and Russia) to offer debt relief to some developing nations.

The G8 will write off $40 billion owed by 18 mostly African countries; 9 more are expected to qualify for debt relief (totalling another $15 billion) within the next year and a half. The 18 countries will save an estimated $1.5 billion a year in debt repayment.

Though it's a positive development, it's worth remembering that the move is a good first half step.

The Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu noted, "It is a splendid start and one hopes that they will, from here, go on to cancel all debt for most of the countries - I gather it is about 62 countries - who are heavily indebted."
He acknowledged the continent had seen many corrupt leaders who had squandered aid but he told BBC News 24: "Remember the West had a hand in promoting some of those leaders because it suited them at the time.", reports the BBC.

Even with full debt relief occurs, there are still other steps that need to be taken to facilitate African development. As I explained earlier, merely cancelling the debt doesn't guarantee the money will be used for useful purposes.

The most prominent African leaders are campaigning for a reduction or elimination of western tariffs and agricultural subsidies. Those trade barriers will die hard, particularly in countries like France, Japan and the United States, which have very vocal farm lobbies.

Other problems that need to be addressed internally in Africa include winner-take-all politics and investment in infrastructure (particularly in maintenance).

But clearly the biggest impediment to African development is corruption. The G8 debt write off will total $55 billion; the total external debt of all African countries is around $300 billion. So even with the write off, remaining African debt will still be some $245 billion.

Sounds like a sum so huge as to be inconceivable.

But consider this.

According to Business in Africa online, Transparency International conservatively estimates that corruption drains a mind-blowing $100 billion from Africa... $100 billion per year.

That's many times higher than the amount African countries spend on debt repayment.

Conventional wisdom portrays the issue in stark terms: 'If African countries don't have to pay back debt to rich countries, they'd spend the savings on education, health care and other good purposes.'

With $100 billion ($100,000,000,000) being wasted on corruption every single year in Africa, what evidence is there to suggest that such an assertion?

Though the World Bank, IMF and western creditors certainly deserve their fair share of blame, but massive corruption has a far more devastating impact on African development than those convenient targets.

This is why I proposed that once full debt relief is granted, all future loans and aid MUST be conditioned upon a demonstrable record of money being used for its declared purposes. Failing to impose such conditions will only guarantee yet another cycle of crushing debt burden and aid dependency.

$100,000,000,000 a year.


Update: a graphic from this piece from BBC News shows that contrary to one might expect, African countries aren't simply deadbeats shirking their responsibility. From 1970-2002, African countries borrowed about $540 billion. In that period, they repaid some $550 billion. But they still owe nearly $300 billion. So Africa has collectively repaid the principle on what it owes; comprehensive debt relief would simply be forgiving the interest.

Monday, June 13, 2005

US Soccer update

Good times for the US men's soccer program. The main national team took two big steps last week toward qualification for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany with consecutive 3-0 wins against Costa Rica in Salt Lake City and against Panama in Panama City. The US is the first team to win in Panama during this qualifying cycle. For my money, goalkeeper Kasey Keller was the man of both matches. His excellent performance in the 2nd half against Costa Rica kept the US ahead when it was only 1-0; he pulled off a ridiculous triple save midway through the first half against Panama when they were putting the US under tremendous pressure. Having a world class keeper like Keller is a tremendous advantage.

With their next two games at home (against weak Trinidad & Tobago in Hartford and against death rival Mexico in Columbus, OH), the US could qualify for Germany before Labor Day. That would be good since the pair of games after that are in Costa Rica and Guatemala, two of the most difficult places to play in Latin America.

The US under-20 national team pulled off a huge upset at the World Youth Cup in Holland. The Yanks stunned holders Argentina. I watched the game and the 1-0 result was certainly deserved. The US certainly was not intimated by a program that had won three of the last four Youth Cups and was far more dangerous in attack for most of the game. The U-20s next two games won't get much easier as they play Germany and African powers Egypt.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Great Game in central Africa

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

Uganda's strongman Yoweri Museveni, until recently a darling of the west, has blamed 'meddling' by donor countries for his failure to end 19 years of conflict in the country's north. This was after Britain cancelled $9.52 million in aid to his government in the first sign of concern among donors over delays in Uganda's return to multi-party politics. Museveni also criticized western exploitation of Africa's natural resources.

So foreign 'meddling' and exploitation of natural resources is the main cause of Uganda's problems?

While foreign 'meddling' and exploitation of natural resources is the main cause of problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) too, I suspect Museveni's complaints would receive little sympathy for his Congolese neighbors.

Former guerilla leader Museveni and his Ugandan military have been a main culprit in the 'meddling' and exploitation in the DRC. In the late 90s, Uganda and Rwanda invaded the eastern DRC under the pretext of security. However, it quickly became clear the purpose was to suck dry the eastern DRC's gold and other mineral wealth. When then-allies Uganda and Rwanda wanted the same mineral-rich areas in the eastern DRC, they turned on each other, with the poor Congolese caught in the exploiters' crossfire.

The group Human Rights Watch issued a report stating: It is absolutely no coincidence that some of the bitterest fighting in the DR Congo conflict and some of the most abominable treatment of civilians has taken place near Bunia in Ituri District, the site of one of Africa's richest goldfields, notes the BBC.

Ugandan and Rwandan troops and a whole range of armed factions and militias fought over the area. One local resident told Human Rights Watch: "Every time there was a change of armed group, the first thing they did was start digging for gold."

The report also detailed rape, summary executions, ethnic killings and forced labor that occured in the mines.

The sheer scale of Ugandan exploitation is staggering. The report points out the profits made by Uganda, which exported nearly $60m worth of gold in 2002. Yet Uganda only produced $25,000 worth of gold itself that year, and recorded no legal imports.

Astonishing when you consider that the $60m figure is almost 10 times as much as Uganda was exporting in 1998... before its invasion of the DRC for 'security' reasons.

The Ugandan government has always denied any looting in the DRC. But for obvious reasons, no one believes them.

The good news?

A Swiss-based gold refining company, Matalor Technologies, says it has now suspended gold imports from Uganda following United Nations and Human Rights Watch investigations into the gold trade in DR Congo.

Now let's hope other refining companies follow suit.

Unfortunately, many western countries have a fixation on the sole fact of conducting supposedly free and fair elections while overlooking how those elected governments conduct themselves once installed. It's telling that British aid to Uganda was suspended not because of its looting of the DRC, but because Museveni was dragging his feet in authorizing political parties. In other words, it's okay to pillage a neighbor so long as you have the facade of democracy.

Further sanctions should be applied to Museveni and his government so long as it's perpetuating continental instability by its own 'meddling' and exploitation in foreign lands.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Treason

A great example of how some far right-wingers view dissent as treachery (and yes, many left-wing extremists have the same mentality).

The New York State GOP voted to give the Log Cabin Republicans group a seat on the state's executive committee. Log Cabin Republicans is a group that advocates pro-gay rights positions within the GOP.

State Sen. Stephen Maltese told the Associated Press that he feels a group shouldn't be given special treatment based strictly on sexual orientation. The conservative Republican also says Log Cabin Republicans were disloyal to the party for criticizing President Bush during last year's election for his opposition to same-sex marriages.

Now, I don't want to get into the issue of gay marriage per se. But the wording was quite revealing. Sen. Maltese didn't simply say that Log Cabin criticism of Bush was wrong or misguided. He didn't simply say that Log Cabin's position on gay marriage was a bad idea. If he'd limited his criticism to the content of Log Cabin's positions, it would've been fine. Instead, he said that the criticism was disloyal. DISLOYAL.

Log Cabin endorsed President Bush in 2000 after he spoke to the organization and led them to believe he would be friendly to, or at least not comtemptous of, gay rights issues. He obviously betrayed them in his first term to pander to a larger constituency. Fine. That's politics. But actions have consequences.

It would've been absolutely ludicrous of Log Cabin to endorse him in 2004. For a gay rights' organization to endorse a man who'd gone out of his way to pander to least common denominator homophobia would've rendered Log Cabin's endorsement meaningless.

Excluding Log Cabin for a GOP party committee might've been more justifiable if the group had actually endorsed or actively campagined for John Kerry or one of Bush's other opponents... like Democrat Sen. Zell Miller did for Bush. But they simply refused to endorse a candidate that had shown himself overtly hostile to their vision for the country.

According to Sen. Maltese, Log Cabiners should've placed a higher premium on loyalty to the person of Mr. Bush than to their perception of what's in the best interest of the nation.

Then again, this is precisely the style of governance preferred by the Bush administration itself, so it's not that surprising that some local party hacks are trying the same strategy. I will give a rare tip of the cap to the NYS GOP as a whole for actually doing the right thing.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Concern for the 'culture of life'? My foot!

New York Times regular Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent column on the genocide in Darfur, Sudan and President Bush's deafening silence this year on the mass slaughter.

Kristof notes that presidential attention doesn't necessarily mean the committing of American troops.

Darfur will never be a Somalia or Iraq, because nobody is talking about sending in American combat troops. But simply an ounce of top-level attention to Darfur would go a long way to save lives. In 1999, Madeleine Albright traveled to Sierra Leone and met child amputees there, wrenching the hearts of American television viewers and making that crisis a priority in a way that eventually helped resolve it. Ms. Rice could do the same for Darfur if she would only bother to go.

Albright's trip to Sierra Leone focused international attention on the horrors of Sierra Leone. The US got fully the effort to slap sanctions on the rebels who were committing the worst atrocities in the country and to set up an international tribunal. Many in Washington also got behind efforts to regulate the 'blood diamond' trade that funded the rebels. The US also supported Britain's sending of a small contingent of troops to Sierra Leone that ended up stabilizing the country. As a result, Sierra Leonians no longer have to fear drugged up child soldiers chopping off their arms or hands with machetes. War criminals (with the notable exception of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor) are in prison awaiting trial rather than spreading terror throughout West Africa.

Kristof's last paragraph on Darfur hits the nail on the head:

Mr. Bush values a frozen embryo, he writes, not even mentioning a lone woman in a vegetative state in Florida who galvanized presidential and Congressional outrage. But he hasn't mustered much compassion for an entire population of terrorized widows and orphans. And he is cementing in place the very hopelessness he dreads, by continuing to avert his eyes from the first genocide of the 21st century.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

This blog endorses: Esmond Lyons for mayor of Glens Falls

I recently received a press release promoting the candidacy of independent progressive Esmond Lyons for mayor of Glens Falls. I've known of Esmond for several years and was thrilled to hear of his mayoral candidacy.

One of my main issues on the local level is transportation. As many of you know, I do not own a car. I get around entirely on foot, bike and on the so-so bus system (though very occasionally, I hitch rides). The city of Glens Falls is certainly less unfriendly to non-automobilists than most municipalities in the area; the city actually has sidewalks, unlike the town to its immediate north.

But there's certainly plenty of room for improvement, particularly in downtown Glens Falls... an area about to get even more hostile to pedestrians with the inclusion of a foolish roundabout. How are pedestrians supposed to cross busy streets if traffic never stops? In order to flourish, downtown needs to become MORE friendly to pedestrians, not less. After all, the instant a driver leaves his car to walk toward a shop, he becomes a pedestrian.

However, it's easy for forget that Glens Falls is a city of neighborhoods that are often overlooked by the politicians' near-exclusive focus on downtown. Other issues that non-automobilists face, which hopefully Esmond will discuss, include:

-Almost non-existent street lighting in the neighborhood around East Field

-Sewer repairs that take infinitely longer than promised (Warren St., Chester St., Walnut St.); perhaps a reversal of the Water Department's privatization is in order.

-The proliferation of dangerous unleashed dogs since the abolition of the city's animal control officer.

Below is the press release from Esmond's campaign:


Local Independent to Run for Mayor of Glens Falls

The Adirondack Progressives, along with a broad coalition of local citizens, business owners and artists, are pleased to announce the candidacy of Esmond Lyons for Mayor of Glens Falls. Mr. Lyons is a longtime resident and businessman and is the owner of the Glens Falls Mural School. He lives with his wife, Danielle, an artist and yoga instructor, and their three children, in a restored church blocks from downtown.

Mr. Lyons is running to offer the citizens of Glens Falls an alternative to continued environmental decline and rising taxes by creating a beautiful, working city which offers affordable housing in safe and pleasant neighborhoods, livable wages, excellent schools, and a quality of life unsurpassed in North America. He feels that these goals can be accomplished by focusing on making the city less dependent on automobile traffic, more conducive to walking and cycling, and consequently making a vastly improved environment for social, cultural and business arrangements.

Some of the specific items Mr. Lyons will address as Mayor follow; a citizen’s contribution program in which everyone can donate ten hours a year for the betterment of our city; repair and proper maintenance of all city sidewalks; establishment of a community garden; the amendment of the City’s Master Plan to include a year round Farmers’ Market; active promotion of the connection between preserving our farmland and buying from local farmers; create an integrated transportation zone downtown where pedestrians, cars, and bikes are all accorded equal status; an internship program for artists to produce outdoor murals depicting the city’s history and current challenges; establishment of an architectural review committee with specific focus on enhancing and fostering the architectural heritage of the city; making on-street overnight parking an option in those neighborhoods which desire it; promotion of local business by educating the public about the benefits of buying local; use the mayor’s office as a bully pulpit to endorse a livable wage; make public transportation more efficient and desirable as an alternative to vehicle use; revive the DPW and restore public confidence in the ability of government to get the job done; join with almost 400 hundred other towns and cities throughout the United States in declaring Glens Falls a Patriot Act Free Zone.

This campaign is citizen-driven and is looking for additional ideas, aid and resource. The public may access the campaign website at: “esmondlyonsformayor.org”. Adirondack Progressives is an organization of residents of the Adirondack region working to set a progressive framework for a peaceful, just, and environmentally sane world for the generations to come.

For More Information:

Matt Funiciello (518) 745-4083

mattfuniciello @ earthlink.net



Another press release from the campaign, regarding a festival in Glens Falls' City Park on Saturday July 2.

To all of you who joined with us to celebrate the announcement of Esmond’s campaign for Mayor of Glens Falls at Rock Hill Bakehouse on May 22 - Thank you!! What a great way to begin this exciting campaign. We welcome you all to continue supporting this effort toward a healthier and happier Glens Falls through November 8th and beyond by letting your voice be heard! Given the community-oriented focus of this campaign, your creative criticism and moral support is essential.

We will be holding several events this summer and fall to raise awareness of the issues on Esmond’s platform and would love to see you at all of them! Bring friends, family, strangers … anyone! The more positive energy we can gather the better.

The first event will be held on Saturday, July 2nd! So, gather your friends and neighbors and join us from 11:00am – 4:00pm at City Park (adjacent to Crandall Library). The event will be free and open to the public with highlights including live music from “The Mathematicians” (Metroland’s Best New Band 2004), and several other local bands, as well. We will also have face painting for children of all ages, even the retired ones! Esmond will be speaking more specifically about his platform and the issues he plans to focus on. We will be offering voter registration and campaign information accompanied by High Peaks Java and Rock Hill Bakehouse Biscotti – with any donation – no matter how small! Bring your family! Bring a picnic! This will be a chance to support your community and have a blast at the same time!

We will also be holding a “Flea Market” every Sunday during the next few months to raise money for this citizen-driven campaign. If you have any items that you would like to donate or if you would like to volunteer to help please call Danielle Lyons at 792-0843. The “store” will be open every Sunday from Noon to 4:00 pm. This will be a great opportunity to pick up campaign information and talk to campaign staffers and Esmond, himself, about issues that are near and dear to you.

You can also let your inner artist out with our “create your own” lawn sign program. In place of mass-produced signs made of plastic and wire, we decide to create unique, environmentally-friendly, lawn signs. We're going to make our signs with reused lumber and other recycled materials! Donate a little something for the materials and create-your-own to support the campaign!

See you at City Park on the 2nd!





Also see: esmondlyonsformayor.org, campaign website

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Don't let facts get in the way of pre-conceived notions

Probably my biggest objection to the Bush administration is its style of governance. It's true that its members and agenda are extremely right-wing and I was never be likely to be thrilled by their conduct. But even more galling than their ideology is their style. A style which places a premium on personal loyalty rather than competence, on yes men rather than vibrant debate, on making sure decisions drive the 'facts' rather than the other way around.

Take this article on the president's nominee to be UN ambassador John Bolton.

A former Bolton deputy says the U.S. undersecretary of state felt [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons chief] Jose Bustani "had to go," particularly because the Brazilian was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to Baghdad back in 2002. That might have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and undermined a U.S. rationale for war.

Bustani, who says he got a "menacing" phone call from Bolton at one point, was removed by a vote of just one-third of member nations at an unusual special session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), at which the United States cited alleged mismanagement in calling for his ouster.


Now, clearly this was yet another example of unacceptable conduct by Bolton. I won't even harp on the likelihood that the Bush administration didn't want inspections to proceed because they might reveal what is now obvious: Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program was either dead in its tracks or a pale shadow of anything that could menace the world's largest superpower.

But really, this is less about Bolton and more about the way the Bush administration handles things.

The administration claimed we needed to invade Iraq because Saddam's regime allegedly had dangerous weapons of mass destruction. If that was the case, then why would it have so vigorously objected to sending inspectorss to verify these claims that, if true, might have vindicated Washington's primary rationale for war?

Perhaps the inspectors might have been blocked or obstructed by Saddam. Then the US could've proceded anyway, under the pretext that it tried to resolve the situation peacefully.

But the administration was so hell-bent on this invasion that it didn't want to give the slightest delay. It didn't want to give the slightest opening to anyone whose work might've called into question their dubious (even then) rationale for war.

The administration was so determined to proceed with this aggression and they weren't going to let the legitimate work of Bustani, Hans Blix or anyone else stand in their way. It had it mind made up and they weren't going to risk letting facts interfere with the pre-determined conclusion.

This mentality, far more than any left-right ideology, is what makes the Bush administration so dangerous.


Update: an example of how counterproductive the Bush administration's belligerence is even to its own agenda. The administration tried to force through a proposal to the Organization of American States (OAS) to monitor democracy in Latin America. Sounds great in theory, but the method didn't impress OAS members, who rejected it overwhelmingly. This came after Washington's candidate to head the organization was also rejected. A Mexican editor of Foreign Affairs Rafael Fernandez de Castro said it showed the region was fed up with a US administration that asked for much, gave little and seemed more intent on imposing than on negotiating.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

'The Gulag of our time'

Amnesty International caused quite a stir last week when it issued its report on the state of human rights in the world during 2004. Headlines like 'Amnesty slams U.S. on human rights' blared through the mainstream media. One might be forgiven for not realizing that Amnesty's report dealt with the human rights' situation in some 149 countries.

Its criticism of "serious human rights abuses" at the US camp at Guantanamo Bay got the most attention, criticism which "offended" the US vice president Dick Cheney.

Now, the alleged abuses Amnesty refers to are not a GI accidentally dropping a Koran, but rather "torture and widespread cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" (of human beings).

In the wake of similiarly serious allegations against US-run prisons in Afghanistan, it makes it laughable to read Vice-President Cheney's comment, "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously."

Some Americans commit human rights' abuses. While this may not be directly ordered from the top, the lawless, anything-goes mentality of the Bush administration facilitates a climate condusive to excesses. Cheney brushed off the criticism pointing 20th century history, as though that has anything to do with the price of tea in China.

[It's worth noting that the Bush administration cited Amnesty reports quite extensively when it was trying to justify 'regime change' in Iraq. It has also backed Amnesty's criticisms of Castro's Cuba.]

Amnesty criticized US conduct at Guantanamo Bay in 2004 and in 2003 as well as in 2002. This report made particular headlines because Amnesty used the word 'Gulag' in reference to Gitmo.

This is one of tricks pressure groups use. Advocacy groups often use language laced with hyperbole to try to get attention to their cause. Often, this succeeds but at a cost. There are a lot of things legitimately wrong with the whole concept of Gitmo. That's what the public should be discussing.

Instead, the public is arguing about whether Guantanamo Bay is exactly like the Soviet Gulag, similar enough to make the comparison or a patently absurd analogy that discredits Amnesty's entire analysis. The public is not talking about the real issue: what's going on at the internment camp.

My objection to Gitmo is based not so much on what US soldiers are actually doing inside the camp. My guess is that most of them are acting in a reasonably humane way under incredibly difficult circumstances and some of them are not. Let's say it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single action of every single soldier were acting in a way that was not only in accordance with international law but in a way that would make their mothers proud. Even if that happened, Gitmo would deserve a scathing rebuke. My objections are based primarily on the abhorrent political and (extra-)legal principles on which the internment camp is based.

As of last summer, the Guantanamo Bay camp housed some 1000 kidnapees. The Bush administration would refer to them as suspected terrorists. The kidnapees can't be called accused terrorists because, to my knowledge, none of them have actually been formally charged with any offense.

This is particularly insidious since in our normal justice system, one is innocent until proven guilty. In Gitmo, they aren't even guilty until proven innocent, because they don't even get a chance to prove their innocence. They rely on the goodwill of their captors to finally decide to get around releasing them. Since they were arrested by American forces outside of lands subject to American jurisdiction and detained against their will without trial or charge, it's hard to call them anything other than kidnapees.

While none have been formally charged, Sixty-four detainees innocent of any terrorist connection have already been released, and officials admit there may be many more to come. The method of interrogation now in use at Gitmo -- a formal system of escalating bribes in return for confessions -- is almost certain to produce bogus testimony, experts say, and the camp's interrogators are mostly young and inexperienced.

This gives like to the argument that such kidnappings are valuable because they provide information that might prevent future terrorist attacks. If you can't rely on the testimony of the kidnapees, then even the purely utilitarian justification for the Gitmo outrage is discredited.

Now I see that the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is expected to start this summer.

This begs the question: If Saddam, who almost everyone agrees is as guilty as sin of gross atrocities, is given formality of being charged and tried within a specific time frame, then how come that same basic justice is being denied to Gitmo detainees? Detainees who've been imprisoned for far longer and whose guilt is far less obvious than Saddam's. Especially considering the dozens of other detainees who've been released.

If the Bush administration or US military has evidence against the detainees, then they must present the evidence to a court or whatever tribunal the administration has concocted. The detainees must get a chance to defend themselves. That's how we really show the US values freedom and liberty, not by some self-righteous presidential discourse. Talk is cheap.

If the detainees are found guilty by a court or tribunal, they should be locked up. If they are not guilty, they must be released. This process must start now.

Gitmo is too powerful a recruiting tool for terrorists, as Sen. Joe Biden noted. The way it's run is antithetical to everything we think America stands for. It makes the kidnapees, some of whom may indeed be guilty of crimes, into martyrs. Refusing them justice validates their martyr status in a way that does no favors to America's reputation. Giving detainees trials would show that the US don't suspend justice when it becomes inconvenient, that we don't kidnap people for random and capricious reasons.

As it stands, people assume we afraid of putting the detainees on trial because we might be embarassed by a not guilty verdict. In fact, we should welcome the possibility for our justice system to show itself independent of politics. We should welcome the chance to demonstrate that this whole war on terrorism is not an anti-Muslim witchhunt but rather a fight against people who are trying to do harm against us. If they are trying to do harm against us, then a trial would be a perfect place to prove this.

This editorial from The New York Times said it best:

Over more than two centuries of peace and war, the United States has developed a highly effective legal system that, while far from perfect, is rightly admired around the world. The shadowy parallel system that the Bush administration created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has by now proved its inferiority in almost every respect. It does not seem to have been effective in finding and prosecuting the most dangerous terrorists, and it has been a disaster in undermining America's reputation for fairness, just treatment of the guilty and humane treatment of the innocent. It is time to return to the basic principles of justice that served America so well even in the most perilous times of the past. Shutting down Guantánamo is just a first step. But it is a crucial step that would pay instant dividends around the world, not only toward repairing America's reputation but also toward enhancing its overall security.

If one of this generation's most despicible megalomaniacs can be formally charged, given a trial and be confronted with evidence, then surely the ordinary Mohammed, who may have simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time, can be afforded the same.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Bush snubs Blair on debt relief

Poor Tony Blair. The British prime minister threw his lot in with President Bush's ill-conceived aggression against Iraq. Blair essentially threw away his credibility with the British people to cozy up to Bush on a war based on discredited rationale. It was a gamble and he lost. His party won re-election earlier this year only because of the weakness of the main opposition Conservative Party but Blair's legacy is in tatters, his reputation in shreds. He stayed loyal to Bush much longer than common sense would have dictated presumably because he felt it in his government's or Britain's interests to have a good relationship with the US president.

Decent men like Kofi Annan, Scott Ritter and Hans Blix have suffered vicious character assassinations by American conservatives because they dared say the Emperor has no clothes... even though they've all been vindicated by the course of events. Bush's style of governance values personal loyalty over competence, forethought or rigorous analysis. Blair seemed to feel that by backing the president to the hilt on Iraq, he could avoid being victim of the same smear campaign as Blix and company. Perhaps even it might buy Blair some credit with Bush for one of his pet initiatives.

How wrong he was.

As part of a poverty reduction effort, Blair and his chancellor (finance minister) Gordon Brown are pushing a plan to eliminate 100% of the debt of African countries. As I explained before, I support such an effort provided it be structured in such a way to prevent another debt crisis from reoccuring in a decade or two. Specifically, future loans should be conditioned on criteria like good governance, democracy, human rights, respect for private property and the loan money being spent on its state purpose.

In order for such comprehensive debt relief to occur, Blair and Brown's plan needs the support of the United States, who has decisive influence in the main international financial institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But Blair's ridiculously excessive loyalty to Bush on Iraq has proven worthless on this issue. The administration in Washington has expressed its strong opposition to the British plan.

The British want to sell some of the IMF's take advantage of a rise in the price of gold by selling off some of the IMF's reserves to fund debt relief. The US, along with a few other key economic players, is cold to the idea.

The US has already pledged to increase development aid through its own Millennium Challenge Account but little of the money has been spent so far, reports the BBC. And as I mentioned before, increasing development aid and erasing debt, as laudable as they may be, are unlikely to have any significant impact on the lives of ordinary Africans by themselves.

Critical to the British plan is the coupling of debt relief and development aid with an end to many trade subsidies, an idea which France and other European Union members have always strongly opposed. The British have also proposed funding a mass immunization campaign in Africa against communicable diseases.

The real question is this: does Washington oppose debt relief in principle or simply the mechanism proposed by the British? I can't believe that the Christianity-based Bush administration would really advocate a status quo that enslaves hundreds of millions of people in poverty. If the Bush administration really supports debt relief for desperately poor countries but think that the British plan is technically flawed, then perhaps it's time they provide an alternative.

Friday, June 03, 2005

No pension for you!

National Democratic chairman Howard Dean launched an attack on President Bush yesterday on private pensions.

Dean sought to broaden the debate over Bush's proposal to restructure Social Security to include the issue of private pensions, citing Labor Department statistics estimating that private companies underfunded their pension plans by $450 billion last year, reported The Washington Post.

The only solution that Dean suggested is to make pensions portable, saying pension plans "ought not to be controlled by companies, they ought to be controlled by the people who those pensions belong to." Pension portability was not a major issue in the Democrats' 2004 presidential campaign.

If Social Security (which has worked well for three-quarters of a century and which many believe is not in crisis) is privatized like the president wants and private pensions are massively underfunded, then what will the next generation of senior citizens live on?

But I'm sure President Bush won't have to worry. Something tells me that presidential pensions are properly funded and that former chief executives won't be reduced to eating cat food in their old age.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Language bias, Live 8 and sustainable development

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.


An intriguing story from the Inter Press Service (via AllAfrica.com). Jan Egeland, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs claims that language bias affects the way UN appeals are responded to.

Egeland said that both French and Portuguese-speaking countries "are systematically lower on our funding tables than many of the English-speaking countries."
"We urgently appealed for help to Niger (a French-speaking country). But we still have zero commitments," he added
, describing Niger as "the number-one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world."

Echoing a regular theme of my own (thus the note that opens this entry), Egeland added "it's a tremendous dilemma that 90 percent of the attention is focused on 10 percent of the affected disasters and wars in the world."

Oxfam's Caroline Green suggested that lack of donor committment (or just as often, lack of donor follow through) also applies to English-speaking African countries.

"Yet the majority of rich donor countries continue to fund on the basis of news headlines, not need," she told IPS. She described the nightmarish situation in northern Uganda, where Christian (in name only) rebels have been terrorizing civilians for some two decades.

"Yet donor countries have given just 34 percent of the 54 million dollars the United Nations appealed for in November. Nations are shutting their eyes to what is going on in Northern Uganda, preferring to focus on high profile crises that are guaranteed public and media attention," Green said.

Green called for things such as increased development aid, African debt cancellation, increased and targeted funding of basic education, health systems, and reducing HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

These are noble ideas that really won't address the roots of Africa's problems. The biggest single flaw in these programs (save the anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns) is that they don't address the critical question of sustainability. Sustainability is only possible when the affected populations feel invested in the programs.

When I lived in Guinea, the German organization GTZ was very active in building roads, water pumps, health centers, schools, etc. But it was up to the locals the maintain that infrastructure. The government wasted its meager revenues on corruption. As a result, roads went unmaintained (a deteriotated paved road is worse than one that was never paved at all!), health centers were understaffed, many schools lacked sufficient teachers.

Roads were used mostly by merchants. Relying on medical professionals is not yet part of the Guinean culture. Guineans appreciate education because they know they are supposed to, but they don't see how it will benefit their children in any concrete way; corruption, cronyism and other un-meritocratic plagues don't help that perception.

Water pumps, on the other hand, WERE well maintained, for the most part. They were well-maintained because clean water is something tangible. If your kids get sick much less often than they did before the water pump, that's something you notice, something you appreciate, something you want to maintain. The people feel invested in this improvement so they are motivated to maintain it. As a result, water pumps represent sustainable development.

In my earlier essay A Marshall Plan For Africa?, I explained other barriers to sustainable development.

War and instability are obviously the two biggest ones. But also lack of democracy, human rights abuses, contempt for the rule of law, non-respect for private property and bad governance.

Yesterday, Bob Geldof, of Live Aid fame, disclosed plans for a series of Live 8 concerts to be held next month in Philadelphia, Paris, Rome and Berlin.

The purpose of the concert is not to raise money, but to raise awareness.

The aim will be to raise awareness of Make Poverty History, a campaign to get the richest nations to cancel debt and increase aid to developing countries, and to promote fair trade, notes the BBC.

'Fair trade' is a controversial topic which I will save for another time. I've already commented in my Marshall Plan... essay on the futility of increased aid without conditions.

I have no problem with the concept of debt cancellation. I consider it compensation for colonialism. However, anyone who believes that debt cancellation would seriously improve the lot of ordinary Africans is tragically naive. Often, you hear stats like "Cameroon spends more money servicing its debt than it does on education."

Jubliee USA is more dramatic: Debt costs lives.

These countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens. The lives of 19,000 children could be saved every day if the debt of these countries was cancelled and savings put to good use.

This is a very disingenuous way to portray the problem. Sure, lives could be save IF debt money was used for useful purposes. The problem is that merely cancelling the debt doesn't guarantee the money will be used for useful purposes.

A program of 'drop the debt' could translate into better education and health services. But it could just as easily translate into more money for high officials to siphon off. The simplistic mentality of blaming the bankers ignores the fact that the bankers aren't the problem: irresponsible, corrupt, unaccountable government officials are the problem.

I don't object to blanket debt cancellation for African governments. As I said, I consider it compensation for colonialism. However, future loans and aid MUST be conditioned upon a demonstrable record of money being used for its declared purposes. Failing to impose such conditions will only guarantee yet another cycle of crushing debt burden and aid dependency. Ordinary Africans are the most creative, ingeneous people on Earth; they have to be or else they die. They deserve better from their leaders. While the rest of the world shouldn't remove bad African leaders by force, we should under no circumstances be accomplices to or otherwise facilitate their malfeasence.


This column in the UK Independent notes some other barriers to sustainable development in Africa.

The author points out some of the things I've mentioned above.

He also notes the brain drain of educated Africans to Europe and North America. There are said to be more Malawian nurses in Birmingham than in Malawi, a country ravaged by Aids.

But can you blame the nurses? What are working conditions like in Malawian hospitals and health centers? Forget the AMOUNT of salary, are Malawian nurses even paid regularly? Are they properly trained?

As long as there is miniscule investment by African governments' in building or at least MAINTAINING domestic infrastructure, like health facilities and universities, the brain drain will only continue. I suspect many of those nurses would've stayed in Malawi near their families, even for lower wages, if they knew they would get regular paychecks and be afforded decent working conditions.

He also notes agricultural subsidies in Europe, America and Japan that keep world prices low and squeeze African commodities out the market. And end the export subsidies that allow cheap food to be dumped in Africa destroying African markets. High tariffs keeping out African goods need to be cut, but African countries need a bit of time before reciprocating the removal of trade barriers, as they have no safety nets to protect workers who lose their jobs.

The author echoes some of my comments on internal conditions on the continent. He derides the illusion that the hungry African child they [aid agencies] use in their fund-raising propaganda can be directly reached by your money. Give, and the child will receive. In this world there are no cynical rulers, no corrupt governments, no nasty armies. Instead there are governments whose only constraint are the funds which, if they did not have to spend them servicing debt, they would spend on food, medicine and school books for that child.

He underlines the damaging nature of the winner-take-all mentality of African politics. Many people in the US accuse President Bush of winning only 51% of the vote in the last election; in many African countries, it's much worse.

Africa's winner-takes-all politics lies at the heart of everything that has gone wrong with Africa. It is the reason why it has fallen behind the rest of the world economically, the reason for its wars and poverty. Its roots go back to the creation of African states themselves, the lines drawn on maps by the European powers at the end of the 19th century, that became 40-odd states overlaying some 10,000 societies and political entities... With a few exceptions African states have no common understanding or experience of nationhood. Their flags, their national anthems, their identities were created by outsiders. Patriotism in the good sense is in short supply.

The effect?

If you want power, you play the ethnic card or rubbish your religious rivals. And when you have power, you bring your own people into government, and - even more importantly - into the army. The state treasury increasingly becomes a private bank account and when you run for election the entire state structure and all its officials are at your disposal. If anyone inside the continent says anything, you accuse them of interfering in internal affairs. If anyone outside Africa criticises, you accuse them of racism and neo-colonialism. It's a simple formula that has worked brilliantly for Robert Mugabe and many others.

In no place on Earth can you find a greater contrast between the rules and the governed.

Those new to Africa are often struck by a paradox. Firstly how individualistic and cynical African politicians are. Secondly how communal and hopeful most Africans are. There seems to be little connection or even shared values between rulers and ruled.

Africa's a great place and its people are, for the most part, amazing. They deserve better. Westerners, especially progressive-minded westerners, need to think seriously about how their noble ideals fit into messy universe of African politics. Solutions can't work only in theory, they have to work in reality. Westerners shouldn't be shackled to a methodology fundamentally rooted in the western world to deal problems in a very different world.