Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Survey

1. Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?
-Color


2. What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?
-Abortion. In this country, it's not a debate but a shouting match. A dialogue of the deaf. (The Israeli-Palestinian shouting match is a close second)


3. MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?
-MP3s.


4. You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going … Ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?
-No point in having great experiences and lots of money if you have no one to share them with.


5. Seriously, what do you consider the world’s most pressing issue now?
-Extreme poverty. I know it's a broad issue but it's at the root of so many other serious problems.


6. How would you rectify the world’s most pressing issue?
-By a more equitable distribution of wealth and social democracy.


7. You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?
-No comment.


8. You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?
-The colonization of Africa. It and the slave trade were arguably the two worst crimes against humanity in centuries (at least). I would rather the region have succeeded or failed on its own merits.

9. A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole’ Opry – Which do you choose?
-Opera, by default.

10. What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you’d like to solve?
-How the Yankees won so many World Series titles.


11. One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?

-Chinua Achebe. And probably my lasagna because it's good. :-)

If you've lost Buckley...

Here's yet another radical, America-hating leftist hippie (COUGHtheinventorofmodernamericanconservativismCOUGH) who's concluded the Iraq aggression has been a failure.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Old wine, new bottle

Today, I disagreed with Human Rights Watch, disagreed with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and agreed with US ambassador to the UN John Bolton. It's rare that any of those things happen and almost unprecedented that they happen on the same issue. I knew then that it was going to be a very cold day indeed. Then I looked outside at my thermometer. Appropriately enough, it read -11 degrees F (-24 C).

The UN General Assembly is debating a plan to revamp the now discredited UN Human Rights Commission. The new Human Rights Council was supposed to be smaller and more effective and members were supposed to be subject to reviews of their own human rights record before being accepted to the Council. That's what human rights organizations wanted. The Bush administration wanted a Council that was more pliant to its will and uncritical of its actions.

However, the new proposal barely seems to make any progress in those directions.

The proposal calls for a council of 47 countries instead of the commission's 53, with new restrictions on membership, means for timely interventions in crises and a year-round presence with three meetings a year lasting a total of at least 10 weeks. The Geneva-based commission meets once a year for six weeks.

Some had called for a much smaller Council with 8-12 members, the smaller number making it easier to exclude human rights abusers.

The smaller Council would've also give it the means to respond more quickly to human rights crises. It's almost inconceivable that a 47 member Council will be significantly less unwieldy than the present 53 member Commisssion.

The General Assembly rejected Secretary General Annan's proposal that new members to the Council must be approved by 2/3 of current members.

Additionally, the resolution maintains the right of regional groups to put forward a slate of candidates which makes it easier for human rights abusers to sneak in (in much the same way Congressmen append unpopular proposals onto more popular, but unrelated, bills).

The compromise proposal stipulates that each country will also be subject to a review of its rights records at least once during its three-year term. But by whom? Presumably by the rest of the Council. If human rights abusers make up a significant portion of the Council, it will be much easier for the abusers to unite in order to protect each other. It will also be easier for the major powers to protect its allies privately while pretending to stand up for human rights publicly.

For once, Ambassador Bolton is actually right when he said the proposal had too many "deficiencies" and should be renegotiated.

"Based on conversations we've had with other governments, the strongest argument in favor of this draft is that it is not as bad as it could be," Mr. Bolton said.


I'm not sure he and I agree on what the right way forward is. I suspect his involves a proposal that reads, "The United States government shall be judge, jury and executioner in all matters of human rights and international law." But we both agree that the present proposal is basically no change to the lamentable status quo.

There should be a much smaller Human Rights Council. There should be one seat each for Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe and Oceania. And anywhere from two to six 'at-large' seats. That's it. There's no need for one-quarter of the UN's membership to sit on this Council. This would allow (though not guarantee) the Council to be accountable and to expeditiously address any situations that need attention. And it must have the authority to investigate all human rights violations brought to its attention, even those committed by member states, even those committed by powerful countries.

I was suprised that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who are on the right side of most human rights issues, decided to endorse this charade.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "This is less than we hoped for, but it is clearly better than the Human Rights Commission, and we are supporting it."

How is this proposal significantly, or even moderately, better than the present Commission structure? I've seen no evidence that it is.

Yvonne Terlingen, United Nations representative of Amnesty International, called on governments to adopt the resolution without delay. "This is an historic opportunity that governments must not squander for selfish political interests," she said.

This is a historic opportunity, but one that the proposal wastes completely but putting the same old wine in a new bottle.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The quest for the oil-free economy

After my essay last week on America's energy future, two articles caught my eye.

Sweden plans to be world's first oil-free economy.

Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years - without building a new generation of nuclear power stations, according to the UK Guardian daily.

Apparently, Iceland has the same goal.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Neo-conservatism 'in shambles,' says one of its architects

How much has the Iraq aggression discredited neo-conservatism? So thoroughly that even a primary architect of the ideology has disavowed it.

Francis Fukuyama, who wrote the best-selling book The End of History and was a member of the neoconservative project, now says that, both as a political symbol and a body of thought, it has "evolved into something I can no longer support". He says it should be discarded on to history's pile of discredited ideologies.

In his new book, Fukuyama wrote:

"The most basic misjudgment was an overestimation of the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism," he argues.

"Although the new and ominous possibility of undeterrable terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction did indeed present itself, advocates of the war wrongly conflated this with the threat presented by Iraq and with the rogue state/proliferation problem more generally."


He said it, not me.


Update: Fukiyama explains his transformation in this NPR interview. Apparently, he complains that his ideal of neo-conservativism has been over-militarized by its current practioners. While his change of heart is certainly welcome, it was a bit naive of him to have believed otherwise. The use of military force to achieve foreign policy objectives has been a staple of American affairs in the world as far back as the Barbary Wars of the 1790s.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

An unseemly alliance

The political storm of the week is swirling around attempts by a company owned by the government of Dubai to operate the ports in New York, Baltimore and other cities.

(Dubai is the richest of seven fairly autonomous emirates that comprise the country called The United Arab Emirates)

The deal has come under attack from both the left and the right. Liberals and leftists see this as a golden opportunity not only to bash Bush, but also to purport to bolster their national security credentials by pandering to nativism. They think they can use this to trump the Republicans on the fear-mongering scene. Those on the far right see this as a further example of the Bush administration selling out this country's security to foreigners, the alleged invasion of the country by Mexicans being another. They're sick of what they see as Bush being soft on foreigners. 'Send em all to Gitmo,' you can almost hear them chanting.

Progressives have been leading the way in fighting the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment that has been stoked by some since 9/11. Frankly, it's detestable that many on the left have decided to engage in an unholy alliance with the isolationists and xenophobes just because they see it as a convenient way to pile it on the president.

Throwing your principles of tolerance and fair-mindedness out the window just to take a few cheap shots at Bush. Bravo!

By all accounts, actual security of the ports would remain in the hands of the US Coast Guard and the US customs.

Let me repeat that: actual security of the ports would remain in the hands of the US Coast Guard and the US customs.

Now, this deal was badly handled by the administration. The president claims he didn't know of the deal until after it was approved. It demonstrates how tone-deaf his entourage is that they didn't think there might be any reason to brief the president of such a deal. The flap may be tawdry but it was hardly unforseable.

And when pressured, the president resorted to his usual line of 'I know what I'm doing. Just trust me.'

The problem is that he's given Americans more than ample reason to not trust his judgement. Even Republicans realize that line has become a loser.

Some charge that al-Qaeda money has been funnelled through UAE financial institutions; no precisions have been made if the banks were based in Dubai or other parts of the UAE. Regardless, Swiss banks have been infamous for holding money from various dictators, crooks and thugs, yet no one has proposed banning Swiss companies from doing business with the US. Why the different standard between white, Christian Switzerland and swarthy, Muslim Dubai?

Presumably the 9/11 hijackers who lived in the US kept some of their money in American banks while residing here. Should be ban American companies from running the ports?

Some have argued that the real problem with the deal is cronyism. I don't know if it's true or not but it seems like a criticism more worth examining than one that panders to our most base instincts.

Many of the left have rightly argued that all Muslims or Arabs should not be tarred with the same brush just because a few extremists happened to share their faith. They are right. According to this doctrine of fairness, the Dubai company should be accepted or rejected on its merits. In rejecting this company simply because of the coincidence of geography, liberal critics of the deal are adopting the very same type of 'profiling' they would scream bloody murder about if Republicans had done.

An editorial in The Washington Post rightly points out:

If members of Congress really want to burnish their "tough on terrorism" credentials, they should start by focusing on real presidential lapses, which are sufficient, and forget about the phony ones.

As [Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon] England said yesterday, the war on terrorism demands that the United States "strengthen the bonds of friendship and security . . . especially with our friends and allies in the Arab world." That means allies should be treated "equally and fairly around the world and without discrimination," he said.


Besides, as this article in The New York Times pointed out, ports' security faces far big problems than the nationality of the company is operating them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

America's energy future

President Bush claims to have joined the group of citizens concerned with America's energy future. If he's sincere, it's certainly a welcome addition, however belated. The old oil man famously said the US was 'addicted to oil' in his recent State of the Union address.

He also recently called for tapping renewable energy sources like wind and solar power to contend with surging energy costs.

That America is addicted to oil is not really news; it's been the case for decades. And Bush is hardly the first president to call for increased support for renewable energy sources; Jimmy Carter did the same thing.

While the 2003 State of the Union address focused primarily on justifying the impending Iraq aggression, Bush tossed a bone to pre-empt left-leaning critics by proposing a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative.

What's been lacking is consistent, systematic and comprehensive government support for research into these alternative energy sources. Interest always picks up in times like ours when energy prices are high, but interest collapses as soon as the prices do. I've heard Bush mention that hydrogen fuel initiative not one single time since the State of the Union.

Adirondack Musing blog wonders:

Buy a gas-electric hybrid car and you could be eligible for up to a $3150 tax credit. But if you are a business owner and buy an SUV that weighs over 3 tons you get a deduction of up to $25,000. And, you can depreciate the entire remaining amount over 6 years.

If the government wants to positively influence energy policy, it can start by at least offering the incentives for desirable behavior rather than rewarding undesirable energy choices.

This guy has some other ideas.

Monday, February 20, 2006

European double standard on freedom of expression

The rioting and other violence purportedly against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were a hysterical overreaction and almost certainly manipulated by malefactors.

The main concept invoked by defenders of the cartoonists and the newspapers was freedom of expression. Such a defense was based on the principle embodied by Voltaire's famous quote: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

However, one charge made by many angry Muslims was absolutely true: that of western double standards.

As I mentioned earlier, the British government is pushing a bill that would ban the 'glorification' of terrorism. The words glorification and terrorism are not defined.

This despite the fact that Britain already has laws against incitement to murder and incitement to terrorism.

Would it a phrase like "The US sowed the seeds of 9/11 by its foreign policy over the course of several decades" become illegal in Britain if this bill passes?

It seems quite probable.

An infamous British 'historian' was today sentenced to three years in jail in Vienna for denying the Holocaust. He pleaded guilty for the crime based on a speech he gave in Austria some 15 years ago.

(Even many of the political enemies of the 'historian' opposed his prosecution for fear of making him into a free speech martyr.)

Austria is one of 11 European countries with anachronistic laws banning Holocaust denial.

So many Muslims surely wonder: why is one form of offense vigorously defended under 'free expression' by Europeans but another form will land you in jail?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Comments on the local media

I've been critical of the local media in this blog before, so it's only fair I should give them a tip of the cap when they deserve it.

Let's start with the local weekly The Chronicle.

As I explained before:

The Chronicle is an excellent paper for coverage of arts and culture. And they did a great job letting political candidates express their views in the most recent election.

But news coverage is generally not its strength due to its small budget and staff. I do not hold it against the paper. I think it does a much better job than [the daily] Post-Star of publishing and respecting opposing opinions.

[...]

(Though yes, I do object to the fact that The Chronicle's editor regularly criticizes The Post-Star's news coverage and then publishes little news blurbs based on that journalism. Ones that begin, "This week, The Post-Star reported that...")



I read The Chronicle every week. I think it's a nice community paper. Though I think I could nominate it for the Pulitzer Prize and one reader of this blog still would still find a way to divine anti-Chronicle sentiment.

A few months ago, the weekly hired Gordon Woodworth as its news editor. He has adopted the editor-in-chief's unfortunate habit of making snide references to 'the chain daily,' something which should be excised from purportedly objective news articles. But Woodworth's hiring has brought a welcome improvement to the paper: we're starting to see some more in-depth news pieces. For example, a recent issue ran a piece on how outgoing Glens Falls mayor Robert Regan was able to keep his post as head of the Greater Glens Falls Development Corporation. This is the sort of solid reporting that I hope to see more of in the paper.

However, the article suffered from a problem: it was buried on page 11. And 12. And 13. And it was hard to notice amidst huge ads.

The front page featured human interest stories like a coach fighting lung cancer, the new addition to the local YMCA and a saxphone quartet. But a promo for this piece of good journalism was nowhere to be found.

I have no objection to teasers for the sorts of arts, community and human interest stories that The Chronicle has always excelled in. And I realize that a free paper requires a lot of ads to survive. But if The Chronicle wants to gain a reputation as a serious source of local news or as an alternative that might keep The Post-Star on its toes more, it should do a better job promoting the good journalism it does produce.

While I've criticized the daily The Post-Star in the past, one thing I must commend them on is their continuing coverage of the Hadlock Pond controversy.

Last summer, a dam on Hadlock Pond in Fort Ann (NY) burst. It caused significant damage to local homes and roads, though fortunately no one was killed. The dam was built only two months prior, when the previous dam was deemed unsafe.

From the beginning, the Fort Ann town government's response has ranged from ham-fisted to overight coverup.

The ham-fisted part was exemplified by the Fort Ann town lawyer who pooh-poohed the dam breach and millions of dollars of resulting damage as 'just one of those things.'

The coverup part is more serious. According to reporting in The Post-Star, the town never submitted a certificate of completion for the dam to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). As a result, the DEC never conducted a final inspection of the new dam nor did it authorize the town to re-fill the pond.

The Post-Star filed a freedom of information request from the town for documents relating to the dam's construction and re-filling, but was denied. The request was denied based on 'security' reasons, with the town supervisor apparently having the unmitigated audacity to invoke 9/11.

The Post-Star has consistently criticized the town government for this shameful coverup... and rightly so. Even if one accepts the absurd premise that terrorists in an Afghan cave might want to bomb a dam in some little upstate New York farming town that they've surely never heard of, the dam isn't even there any more!! The town government's incompetence got to it first!

But maybe the town wasn't incompetent or negligent. Maybe there is some legitimate reason for their course of action. A release of documents would prove this. The fact that the town so angrily refuses to release any information leads people to naturally assume they are as guilty as sin.

The only thing the town government's secrecy is intended to protect is their own rear ends. And the daily is right to hold their feet to the fire.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Further assault of the freedom of expression (and not just by 'them')

Many westerners watched perplexed as the Prophet Mohammed cartoon flap exploded into World War III. Many did not understand why this was such a big deal. Angry Muslims needed to understand that freedom of expression is a core value in most western countries, they said to themselves. When two Algerian editors were arrested for publishing the controversial cariciatures, many in the west were outraged. But at least something like that could never happen in a western Christian country.

Or so they thought.

The Russian regime has ordered the country's media organizations to not to publish anything that could be construed as offensive to any religion or risk losing their licences.

"Measures envisaged in Russian legislation, including the cancellation of registration, will be taken if any Russian media issue materials insulting religious feelings," said a spokesman for Russia's Federal Service for the Oversight of Legislation in Mass Communications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

Bizarrely, prosecutors are investigating a Volgograd newspaper which published a cartoon that depicted Jesus Christ, the prophet Muhammad, Moses and Buddha watching TV pictures of two groups of people preparing for a fight. The caption under read: "We did not teach them to do that..."

The prosecutor offered this incoherent explanation: "Given the realities of the complicated inter-religious situation in the world and Russia, publications of such cartoons may provoke an inappropriate reaction from believers, may give extremist forces cause to incite religious discord and have very negative consequences."

"Russia may be a Christian country but it's a dictatorship. Countries that follow western norms would never do such a thing," one might respond.

Wrong again.

The British House of Commons recently approved a controversial bill that would ban the 'glorification' of terrorism.

But as with any such autocratic proposals, its most insidious quality is vagueness: neither 'terrorism' or 'glorification' are defined.

This is particularly shocking when you consider that Britain already has laws against both incitement to murder and incitement to terrorism.

The bill now goes to the upper House of Lords, which has previously revolted against some of the more extreme provisions of the bill.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The strong economy of social democratic Denmark

This essay is part of a weekly feature on this 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.

If you can understand French, La Première Chaîne of Radio-Canada has a fascinating radio report on Denmark. No, not about those cartoons but about the Danish economy.

So-called conventional wisdom tells you that the social democratic (which some ideologues mislabel as 'socialist' or 'Marxist') policies are necessarily ruinous on the economy. Liberals and progressives usually point out that while such claims may be true, economics is not only factor people consider when determining that ephemeral characteristic known as quality of life.

Turns out they both might be wrong.

As Radio-Canada's report explains (my translation):

Denmark, a small country of only 5.5 million residents, is one of the most evolved societies in the world, with one of the most generous welfare states on the planet. It also has a very dynamic economy, based overwhelmingly on small and medium businesses.

The descendants of the Vikings have become conquerors of a new genre: they have made their place in Europe and in the world due to their sense of innovation and creation, all while remaining ferociously attached to their values of consultation and egalitarianism.

But the Danes are also pragmatic: they made a major change to their system of unemployment insurance, which links economic liberalism and social generosity. Thanks to 'flexecurity,' employers are free to hire and fire employees according to economic fluctuations.

The employees, for their part, can receive unemployment payments for up to four years, for sums equivalent to up to 90 percent of their original salary
.


The report also noted that the Danes are able to maintain such a vibrant economy with low unemployment with a workforce that's 80 percent unionized.

Of course, that well-run 'welfare states' have good economies shouldn't be that shocking to those who pay attention.

According to the very capitalist Davos World Economic Forum, the top four most competitive economies in the world are respectively: Finland, the US, Sweden and Denmark. With Norway and Iceland also ranking highly, it means that five of the nine most competitive economies in the world are Scandinavian social democracies.

In addition to having competitive economies, Scandinavian social democracies also have high quality of life, with the five countries all ranking in the top 14 of the UN human development index. Then again, having a strong economy is PART of the quality of life equation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

If an enemy is tying their own noose, don't take away their rope!

Today, I read an article which claimed that: The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again.

This begs the question: does the Bush administration actively try to come up with most counterproductive course of action in every situation or are they just that ignorant of the most basic tenets of psychology? I suppose harsher critics would attribute this to malice. But given their infamous lack of curiosity and world awareness and their notorious inability for seeing things from anyone else's point of view, the more generous of its critics would suspect ignorance.

The martyr/persecution complex is the most important element in any populist movement like Hamas. Hamas needs enemies to villify in order to get people to rally behind them. Mostly, the enemies are external: primarily Israel and the US. But also internal: the corrupt Fatah regime.

But like any puritanical, populist movement, they will find being in government a vastly different proposition to being in opposition. Being in opposition, simply means saying 'no' and blaming everything on the enemy fo the day. Governing requires you actually do something. Governing means you can't just blame others for all the problems; you're expected to find solutions.

The best thing Israel and the US could do is to let Hamas fail on its own terms. This would result in the Palestninian people rendering a harsh judgement on the organization.

But if Hamas fails because of US/Israeli meddling, then Hamas can easily blame the Zionists and the infidels. Even if foreign meddling isn't the reason Hamas fails, the PERCEPTION of outside interference will remain.

And what if, by chance, Hamas succeeds in cleaning up the corrupt Palestinian bureaucracy and improving the standard of living for its citizens? That would be good as well. It would benefit Israel by mitigating some of the misery and desperation that is the breeding ground for terrorism. And these better living conditions would either weaken Hamas or moderate it. By diminishing the persecution complex and empowering Palestinians, Hamas would be faced with the choice of maintaining its decreasingly credible hard line and losing support or moderating its hard line in order to keep a grip on power.

I'm sure Hamas is absolutely thrilled to read of these destabilization plans. It will allow them to play the nationlist card to STRENGTHEN their support. And it will give them a ready-made excuse in case of failure.

This really gets to the heart of why the Bush administration's decision making process is so disastrous: their first instinct when faced with a problem is always one of belligerence. This overreliance on chest-beating prevents them from realizing that sometimes subtlety and backing off is the best course of action. When an enemy is tying their own noose, the last thing you want to do is take away their rope.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cartoonish behavior

After the Danish newspaper published those controversial cartoons on the prophet Mohammed, Arab embassies in Copenhagen lobbied the Danish government to do something about it. Since the country has freedom of expression, the government couldn't do anything about it so the embassies sent the cartoons back to their own countries to make Mount Everest out of a molehill.

For a while, I wondered what it was the ambassadors wanted done about it. Now, we have been given some idea.

Two Algerian editors were arrested for publishing cartoons. The journalists face three to five years for 'insulting the prophet.' Even though the magazines are moderately pro-Islamist and the cartoons were published to demonstrate why Muslims should be upset about it.

Interestingly, The caricatures of Prophet Mohammed have been condemned by political and religious leaders in Algeria, but the controversy has not sparked a lot of reactions within the wider public, according to the BBC.

Perhaps the ambassadors don't realize that 'insulting the prophet' may be a crime in Algeria, but it's not in Denmark.

Another BBC article wonders about the hypocrisy of this whole debacle. Mass hysteria erupted at the publication of a couple of Danish cartoons supposedly insulting Islam, while there's a flood of anti-Semitic propaganda available in Cairo and many other Arab capitals.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Intelligence all but irrelevant in Iraq aggression decision (newsflash!)

So now a high-ranking CIA veteran, Paul Pillar, accused the Bush administration of publicly misusing intelligence "to justify decisions that had already been made."

When intelligence analysts refused to give the answers that the administration wanted to hear, they were accused of "trying to sabotage the president's policies."

Since the weapons of mass destruction rationale (the primary stated basis for the Iraq aggression) was discredited, the administration has consisently shift blame the intelligence community. 'It's not our fault,' they sniff. 'Blame the spooks!'

Pillar rubbishes this passing of the buck.

"What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in decades," he said.

Pillar will certainly be attacked for this by people who think any critic of the administration should remain quiet. But fortunately Pillar remembered that he swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, not to the man who temporarily lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

There's something rotten, but it's not in the state of Denmark

The more I listen to reporting on the cartoons of Mohammad flap that threatens to explode in the World War III, the more my opinion evolves.

I originally placed part of the blame of the Danish cartoonists who drew the images. But after seeing the cartoons (which are available here), I'd like to officially retract that blame.

The cartoons seemed to me to lampoon extreme intrepretations of Islam but not necessarily Muslims as whole. And I say this after honestly having tried to see the cartoons from someone else's point of view. One of the cartoons even mocked the paper that published it. Two were somewhat stereotypical but at worst, they merited a few annoyed letters to the editor, not embassy burnings and kidnapping threats.

I was listening to an interview with a Dutch Muslim woman activist on Radio Netherlands. She argued that far from being gratuitous, the cartoons were absolutely necessary to expose the profoundly narrow-minded, reactionary nature of radical Islam. She said the cartoons did exactly that. The mass hysteria shows that there is something rotten, but not in the state of Denmark.

Far from being a battle between Islam and the west, what we may be seeing is an internal battle for the heart of Islam itself. Western progressives need to support the moderate Muslims in that battle in any way they wish. And invading or threatening military action against any Muslim country who crosses the West bolsters the reactionaries, not the moderates.

Instead, we should praise and actively support people and institutions like the Jordanian newspaper that not only published the cartoons but courageously asked, "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"

I am convinced I am that this 'crisis' has been engineered by malicious people with an interest in stirring up trouble. I alluded to this at the end of my my previous essay on the controversy.

If the anger had been truly spontaneous, wouldn't it have erupted last September or October? The idea that it took four months for this anger to be generated makes one suspect that the eruption of anger was not spontaneous at all, but carefully provoked at a specific moment in time to suit certain ends. While the fury is certainly legitimate, the violence is completely deplorable. All this makes one suspect that the hysteria was conveniently whipped up by a handful of demagogues eager for a scapegoat to change the subject is what I wrote earlier this week.

What I've heard about and read since then has only confirmed my suspicions. The cartoons have been exploited by zealots for the hearts and minds of Muslims.

In an NPR interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Andrew Higgins noted that the for a few weeks after publication, Arab embassies in Copenhagen tried to get the Danish government to act against the papers for publishing the cartoons. When the Danish government properly refused, the Egyptian ambassador sent the cartoons back to Egypt. Why, if not to stir up trouble? If not to create a problem that wasn't there? He even noted that in some places, a flood of Danish flags magically appeared in the shops. How could anyone have known in advance that the Danish emblem would be the next burning hot item? How could anyone have known that this 'spontaneous' eruption of fury was going to occur?

In my essay, I wrote:

Just look at where the worst protests happened: Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. All three regimes have come under fire in recent months. Syria faces intense international pressure for its alleged role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian-backed Lebanese political establishment is under pressure at home for countenancing Syrian interference in the country's domestic affairs for decades. The Palestinian movement Fatah, the ones who threatened to kidnap EU citizens, has been raked over the coals by its own members for its humiliating loss in the recent elections to Hamas.

And then I noted that such violence was completely absent from moderate Muslim countries like Senegal, Guinea and Mali.

An article in Salon.com echoed my thoughts. It noted the conspicuous ABSENCE of extremist reaction to the cartoons in the North African kingdom of Morocco.

What's the difference between the first group I cited (Lebanon, Syria, Palestinian) and the second (Morocco, Guinea, Senegal, Mali). The countries where there was violence have governments that are under serious domestic or international pressure. The countries where there was no violence have governments which are relatively stable. The first group I cited has governments which have to deal with violent Islamist opposition. The second group's governments do not.

By fanning the flames of sectarianism, the governments of the first group are trying to blunt the appeal of the Islamists and burnish their (pseudo-)religious credentials.

There has also been violence in Iran and Indonesia. Indonesia also has violent Islamist opposition groups. In Iran, the zealots ARE the government.

And as if to demonstrate that the actual cartoons are becoming almost incidental to this furor, a senior Iranian cleric told his followers that their anger against Denmark should be re-directed at the United States.

“The United States and European states are taking advantage of human rights, freedom of speech, disarmament, and the International [Atomic Energy] Agency. All of these are being misused. They want to force their rule upon the world through these methods”, the senior cleric said.

In a march today in Iran's capital, protesters threw firebombs at the French Embassy and chanted "Down! Down with France! Down! Down with Israel!"

What do the United States and the IAEA have to do with Danish cartoons about the prophet Mohammed?

Nothing.

Unless you're looking for irrelevant links to make a broader point.

What does Israel have to do with Danish cartoons about the prophet Mohammed?

Nothing.

Except Israel is the scapegoat for everything and the bad weather in the Arab world so it's no surprised they were thrown in here.

Gunmen in the West Bank searched hotels for random European civilians to kidnap. (If this doesn't diminish a certain leftist romanticism for armed Palestinian groups then I don't know what will. Then again, such romanticism has survived homicide bombings of restaurants and other civilian locations.)

But one thing that the protesters must recognize is that if you want someone to respect you, you have to be willing to extend the same courtesy. Arabs must realize that if Arab social norms should prevail in the Arab world and southeast Asian norms should prevail in the southeast Asia, then European norms should prevail in Europe. In Europe, freedom of expression, even against revered figures religious, political and sporting, is acceptable.

And protest against the content of such expression must also follow certain norms. When Iran's president recently denied the fact of the Holocaust, there was international condemnation. But no one proposed invading Iran (at least not for that reason). No one threatened to kidnap any Arab citizen living in Europe or North America. And that was the actual head of state making those comments, not a simple newspaper.

An Iranian newspaper recently sollicited cartoons mocking the Holocaust. Again, there was condemnation but no Iranian embassies have been torched, no anti-Iranian riots in New York or Tel Aviv.

I've been a long defender of Muslims against the bigotry and stereotypes that have prevailed since 9/11. But frankly, that's gotten a lot harder in the last week or so. I know the whackos are a minority, but extremist minorities, of any religion, are usually louder than the moderate majority. I would certainly encourage the moderate majority to find the courage to speak up, and loudly.

The cartoonists and newspaper did a service by exposing something that needed to be exposed, because only after it's exposed can it be rectified. I praise the Danish government for not apologizing for the newspaper; it would've had no business doing so. And I salute Muslims like the Dutch activist and the Jordanian newspaper editor who've had the courage and honor to speak out against this hysteria even at the threat of violence against themselves. It's their battle more so than ours.

supportdenmark.com

Friday, February 10, 2006

Impeachable offense?

Yesterday, President Bush revealed details of an alleged plot to target the tallest building in Los Angeles that was allegedly foiled. Not taking the president's actual claim at face value, it begs an interesting question. The foiled plot could've been revealed any time since it was foiled in 2002. It could've been revealed last year, last month or even last week.

So one wonders: is it coincidence that this alleged plot was revealed on the very same day as the vice-president was fingered for an impeachable felony by his former chief of staff?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Subsidizing unhealthiness

Last summer, I mused about why fast food was so cheap in the US while making dinner from scratch with fresh ingredients can be comparably expensive. As compared to Africa, where fast food and processed food are relatively expensive and fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are extremely inexpensive. This is why obesity is a particular problem among poor Americans whereas being overweight is a sign of affluence in Africa.

There are other choices that make unhealthy food and drink less expensive.

My company, like many others, provides free coffee to employees. Several years ago, non-coffee drinkers complained about this and the company agreed to subsidize some of the cost of other beverages.

As a result, soda now costs $0.90 for a 20 oz bottle. Bottles of Gatorade, iced tea, syrupy 'fruit' drinks and bottled water cost the same. Given what the same distributing company charges for the same product at its other vending machines, I think the company is kicking in $0.45, or about a third of the cost of each bottle.

Yet the same size bottle of orange juice or apple juice in the same vending machine costs $1.50.

What this means is that my company is subsidizing the cost of soda, Gatorade, iced tea, syrupy drinks and bottled water (and coffee of course), but not juice. They subsidize the unhealthy and neutral drinks but not the ones that actually offer vitamins.

Yet they put a quarterly newsletter in the box of every employee telling us how to make healthier lifestyle choices.

If the company has decided to spend its money subsidizing drinks for employees, maybe it can rearrange its priorities to help employees make those healthier choices more cheaply.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Freedom is not free but it's the citizens who have to fight for it

WOMAN: Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: A Republic, if you can keep it.


(source)




One thing that's becoming increasingly clear is that the enemies of freedom are divided into two camps: foreign and domestic. Much has been written about the foreign group, but little has been written about the other group. The more dangerous group are those who threaten freedom at home.

I was reminded of this while reading Adirondack Musing blog.

He wrote about a resolution debated by the Plattsburgh city council calling for the impeachment of President Bush. The vote failed 3-2, which was surprisingly close for a town in conservative upstate New York. Though I'm not convinced that a local government body is the best place to debate national issues, I suppose a compelling case could be made to the contrary.

But what's really interesting is some of the reporting from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican article on the 'debate' before the vote.

The most emotional voice against the impeachment idea came from Ron Long.

Long, his voice rising and face twisting with anger as he spoke, said the president has the right and responsibility to do whatever he has to in order to deal with enemies without and within.

"Hang the traitors, death to the left," he shouted as several in the crowd wearing veterans hats cheered.


One of the city councilors, William Provost, immediately stood up and denounced Long's comments.

"You are clapping at a call for death," he said.

"That's un-American and you should be ashamed of yourself."


Provost is absolutely right: Long should be ashamed of himself.

A man named Rodney Wright, who's not even from Plattsburgh, offered an echo of a comment heard frequently throughout the country, "I know you're not happy, but you are sending the wrong message to the troops who are over there."

Even this seemingly more moderate voice completely misses the point. The city council is sending EXACTLY THE RIGHT MESSAGE to the troops: they are fighting for freedom and we are exercising it.

They are also sending the right messages to Iraqis. Such as, democracy does not get suspended when it becomes inconvenient. You can criticize the leaders of your country and not get thrown in jail. In a democracy, debates are settled via a clash of ideas, not with violence (unless extremists like Ron Long get their way).

While one could make a shaky argument that US soldiers in Iraq are fight for the freedom of Iraqis, I do not accept for one second that they are fighting for the freedom of Americans. And this is due in part to scum like Ron Long. People who insist the soldiers are fighting for our freedom and yet seize every opportunity to denounce Americans who actually exercise those freedoms.

And even more disgraceful than Ron Long are the veterans in the crowd who cheered his Fatwa. If anyone should respect freedom, like the freedom to disagree with the Leader, it should be those who wore the uniform of the United States military. Those who swore an oath that began "I,(name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States..."

Freedom is not free but it's the citizens who have to fight for it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Are you now, or have you ever been, a homosexual?

This essay is part of a weekly feature on this 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.

Wherever activists fight to ensure that gays are afforded the same human rights as everyone else, the inevitable backlash follows.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of a hideous attempt by the Nigerian government to ban not only gay rights, but any form of expression in favor of gay rights.

Now, tabloid newspapers in neighboring Cameroon have started a gay witchhunt to 'out' prominent homosexuals who engage in 'deviant behavior,' according to the tabloids.

"We could not remain silent. We had to ring the alarm bell," ranted the editor of one of the rags.

His paper offered the headline (insert menacing music): 'Gays are among us.'

But the campaign has been condemned by the state communication council for invading people's private lives.

The country's communications minister was one of those named.

Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon are three of the most corrupt countries in the world. But while Kenya is in an uproar over graft scandals, Nigeria and Cameroon are scapegoating gays and those who support human rights for gays.

Monday, February 06, 2006

World War III over a cartoon?

Last September, a Danish newspaper published controversial cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed. The most controversial image is one of Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban.

This naturally provoked indignation throughout the Muslim world. Even some Christian organizations denounced the cartoons as unnecessarily provocative.

Some Danes seemed surprised by the outrage. Apparently, there is a tradition in Denmark whereby satirists lampoon everything and anything, with no taboos.

Let's start by saying that this isn't an issue of freedom of speech. Neither the cartoonists nor the editor should be thrown in jail for the cartoons, nor should the newspaper be fined.

But with freedom comes responsibility. And to publish such a provocative cartoon with no point except to insult an entire religion was highly irresponsible..

I'm a connoisseur of political cartoons and one of the most important elements that distinguishes good satire from poor or downright offensive satire is subtlety. This cartoon was about as unsubtle as you can get; it's purpose wasn't political, it was offensive.

What if an American cartoonist had depicted Jesus Christ waving an AK-47 with blood dripping from his mouth? Or the Virgin Mary as a prostitute? Do you think there wouldn't be protests? And would would the point of such cartoons be, except to offend all Christians?

In response, an Iranian newspaper is holding a contest for cartoons to lampoon the Holocaust. Though it begs the question how you can lampoon an event that, according to Iran's president, never occurred.

The Danish cartoonists invited a reaction, as all satirists do, and were surprised to get one.

Unfortunately, some other European newspapers chose to fan the flames by reprinting the cartoons. One could have done a good job reporting on the controversy without reprinting the cartoons. But I suspect the papers chose to reprint the cartoons not based on good news judgement but out of defiance.

The message of the cartoon was: Muslim is an inherently violent religion. Sadly, some Muslims felt the need to live down to that stereotype. The overreaction in parts of the Muslim world is nothing short of obscene.

I have no problem with marches and demands for the paper to apologize. Freedom of speech works both ways, remember. I think burning the Danish flag and the call to boycott all Danish goods are a bit over the top, but still within the bounds of civilized protest..But much of the rest of the reaction went well beyond this to irrational hysteria.

An angry mob torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the Syrian capital (a Norwegian paper reprinted the controversial cartoons). Another mob invaded the Danish embassy in neighboring Lebanon. Protesters tried to attack an American airbase in Iraq and others protested in front of a US mission in Indonesia, even though no US paper reprinted the cartoons. Palestinian militants threatened to kidnap any citizen of the European Union (not just Denmark) they could find in 'protest' of the cartoons.

I wonder how many of them understood the irony of protesting against the depiction of Islam as a violent religion by rioting, burning buildings and threatening to kidnap innocents.

I've spent some effort in the last several years trying to get people to realize that most Muslims are decent, moderate folk, just like most Christians. Lunacy like this makes such efforts significantly more difficult.

Two reasons lead me to suspect some sort of political manipulation in the hysteria.

First, it's worth noting that the most violent protests occurred in the Middle East. Contrary to popular belief, that region is not the extent of the Islamic world, though it clearly seems to be the most radicalized part. For example, were few if any violent protests in majority Muslim countries that practice a moderate brand of the faith. West African countries like Guinea, Senegal, Mali and Niger were conspicuously free of violence (I don't even think there were any street protests). Even in the Muslim-dominated region of northern Nigeria, there was a surprising restraint in a part of the country notoriously suspectible to rage whipped up by sectarian demagogues.

The other thing that makes me intensely suspicious is the timeline.

The cartoons were published on Sept. 30, 2005. It took three weeks for the Muslim ambassadors in Copenhagen to protest to the Danish government. And over four months before the 'spontaneous' expressions of outrage started appearing in parts of the Muslim world.

We live in an age of instant communication. An age where text messages zip around the world in seconds. An age where people blog their thoughts daily from Baghdad to Teheran. An age where every American misdeed in Iraq is exposed to the world in days or less. An age where Fatwas can even be found on the Internet.

Just look at where the worst protests happened: Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. All three regimes have come under fire in recent months. Syria faces intense international pressure for its alleged role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian-backed Lebanese political establishment is under pressure at home for countenancing Syrian interference in the country's domestic affairs for decades. The Palestinian movement Fatah, the ones who threatened to kidnap EU citizens, has been raked over the coals by its own members for its humiliating loss in the recent elections to Hamas.

If the anger had been truly spontaneous, wouldn't it have erupted last September or October? The idea that it took four months for this anger to be generated makes one suspect that the eruption of anger was not spontaneous at all, but carefully provoked at a specific moment in time to suit certain ends. While the fury is certainly legitimate, the violence is completely deplorable. All this makes one suspect that the hysteria was conveniently whipped up by a handful of demagogues eager for a scapegoat to change the subject.


Update: this interview from NPR with a Wall Street Journal reporter who explains some of the deception and manipulation used to help spread this furor.

Further update: Is this what anyone really wants World War III to start over?

3rd update: It's easy to wonder how protesters intend to counter the stereotype of Islam as an inherently violent religion by holding signs like 'Butcher those who mock Islam' and 'Europe will pay. Demolition is on its way.'

Friday, February 03, 2006

A tacit admission that the spy program is illegal?

Next week, Congress is scheduled to hold hearings on the administration's domestic spying without a warrant program, which many critics claim is illegal. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, brushed off such criticism.

"Congress, by statute, cannot extinguish a core constitutional authority of the president," Roberts wrote, in a 19 page letter, according to the Associated Press.

This is a bit confusing on two fronts.

Sen. Roberts claims this presidential power grab is not statuatory but constitutional. However, most defenders of the controversial programs have cited past Congressional legislation and resolutions as the legal basis of the spying without a warrant program.

If Congressional legislation gave the presidency this power, a contention which many legal scholars do accept, that means the presidency didn't have that power previously. Which means that the authority is NOT inherent in the Constitution.

Some Bush allies say Congress gave the president this power; Roberts says the Constitution gave the president this power. Which is it?

Perhaps Roberts specious claim of a constitutional basis for this authority is a tacit admission that the previous argument of it being Congressionally-authorized simply has no legal credibility.

Additionally, I'd invite Roberts to show the Constitutional passage which gives the president the authority to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Article II of the Constitution, which deals with the powers of the president, doesn't seem to mention anything to that effect.

Conservatives normally champion a restrictive intrepretation of the Constitution and denounce 'activist judges' who diverge from that dogma. Isn't it ironic that many of those same conservatives are so eager to use the most creative, nay the most liberal, constitutional interpretations imaginable when it comes to the power of this president?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The dogma of economic growth as poverty reduction

One of the main tenets of neoliberal economics is that main purpose of government is to facilitate economic growth, specifically by reducing regulations, marginalizing unions and promoting freer trade. The principle behind this is that economic growth necessarily reduces poverty and raise living standards. The simple analogy commonly used is "A rising tide lifts all boats."

There was a problem with that analogy. If you add water to a lake or a swimming pool, the water level rises in a more or less equal fashion. Government policies from the Great Depression through the 1970s constituted modest attempts, not to completely equalize wealth among all citizens, but to smooth out capitalism's roughest edges. If 'a rising tide lifts all boats' is a result of the laws of physics, progressive governments attempted to have a similiar impact on the laws of economics.

However, the "Reagan Revolution" started to dismantle these policies. President Bill Clinton essentially accepted the basic tenets of these policies, even if he used nicer rhetoric in selling it. When a Democratic president essentially completed the agenda of the most economically and socially regressive president in generations (before the present one), it marked not Clinton's triumph but Reagan's.

The ultimate success of Reagan is not economic, but linguistic. He changed the basic assumptions that had underpinned American society for a half century. Economic growth is now the be all and end all. It is now heretical to suggest that there is any other component than money to that amorphous ideal we call 'quality of life.'

Reagan's linguistic triumph has become so thorough that few bother to examine whether its main premise is actually true in practice. Specifically, does economic growth necessarily reduce poverty and raise living standards?

In 2003, the gap between the rich and poor was the widest for 70 years. Not coincidentally, 70 years before 2003 was the beginning of the New Deal.

This research was not done by some liberal activist group or union-funded organization with an axe to grind. But by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

It showed that that the top 1% of Americans - who earn an average of $862,000 each after tax (or $1.3m before tax) - receive more money than the 110m Americans in the bottom 40% of the income distribution, whose income averages $21,350 each year.

It also noted: The income going to the richest 1% has gone up threefold in real terms in the past twenty years, while the income of the poorest 40% went up by a more modest 11%.

And it's not just the situation in the US that's casting doubt on the 'growth=higher living standards' dogma.

The UK-based New Economics Foundation issued a report that noted that the world's poorest received almost no benefit from economic growth.

They gained only 60 cents for every $100 of growth in the world's income per person between 1990 and 2001, a 73 percent drop from the $2.20 they had gained during the 1980s.

And In Asia, the proportion of income generated by economic growth which contributed to poverty reduction fell to 2.9 percent in 1990-2001 from 10.2 percent in 1981-1990, the NEF said.

It's not coincidental that the positive effect of economic growth on the world's poor was significantly reduced if not eliminated, in the 1990s. It was during that decade that the International Monetary Fund really pushed Asian, Latin American and African countries to blindly and hastily implement neoliberal economics, known as structural adjustment policies. These policies forced governments to pretty much privatize everything, open up their industries to foreign investment (or exploitation, depending on your perspective). Governments, who wanted IMF money, obliged. The US and Britain also used their foreign and aid policies to pressure governments to the same ends.

With the markets forcibly opened, multinational corporations, in turn, pressured governments to weaken environmental and worker safety laws and to either smash unions or change laws to allow the multinationals to do it themselves.

Many governments who who followed the IMF's diktats were thrown out of office, especially in populist Latin America. Latin America and Asia suffered a serious economic crash in the late 90s, after those policies were implemented. Structural adjustment was hardly a pancea to African countries either, even though they were touted as key to the continent's revival. In fact, some argue that the policies had a particularly devastating effect on African women.

The group also pointed out the effect of climate change on the poorest. This can be seen many once fertile African countries which now suffer drought and thus hunger emergencies due to vanishing or erratic rains.

The report said relying on growth to lift the poorest out of poverty was economically and environmentally inefficient.

Until I looked at the report, I was not completely aware of just how economically efficient this quest for growth at all costs was, but I knew how environmentally devastating it was. From the rape of the Niger Delta by oil companies, to the destruction of Liberia's environment to fund the former (one hopes) warring parties, to the vanishing oil money in Congo-Brazzaville and many other countries, the quest for unrestrained economic growth at any costs has caused unquantifiable devastation with limited benefit to ordinary people.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A world less dangerous

While some argue that we live in the most dangerous time in the history of the world, some researchers beg to differ. The Atlantic's Primary Sources column offers some interesting statistics from the Canadian Human Security Centre, which concludes:

The number of ongoing armed conflicts is 40 percent lower now than in 1992, and the number of deadly conflicts—defined as wars leading to 1,000 or more combat deaths—is 80 percent lower. The number of military coups and attempted coups was 60 percent lower in 2004 than in 1963. And the annual number of victims of genocides and mass killings fell by 80 percent from 1989 to 2001, even taking such places as Bosnia and Rwanda into account. The exception to this generally positive trend, of course, is terrorism. To explain the overall decline in violence, the report cites the end of the Cold War and the proxy conflicts that it fueled in developing nations; the end of the often bloody process of decolonization; and UN diplomacy, sanctions, and peacekeeping missions.

The difference, of course, is proximity.Al-Qaedaism targets the US and other western countries while proxy conflicts and war of decolonization occurred thousands of miles away from places. So while the world is not more dangerous, to westerners, THEIR world seems that way.

I bet Salvadorans and Angolans don't think the world is more dangerous than it was 20 years ago.

Capitol Hill gone to the dogs

Anti-Bush protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, was invited to attend yesterday's State of the Union address by a California congresswoman.

She was wearing a t-shirt that read "2,245 - How many more?"

I'm sure Sheehan did this to get attention and, instead of ignoring her, the authorities graciously obliged.

She was ordered to remove the shirt and when she refused, she was arrested and later changed to unlawful conduct.

(I imagine she would've been charged with lewd conduct if she HAD removed her t-shirt)

Her protest violated Congressional rules. Of course, if such rules were applied universally, then most of the audience would have joined Sheehan in handcuffs since, as The Miami Herald noted, Congressional rules prohibit any type of demonstration, even applause, in the House gallery, although the applause rule is ignored on State of the Union night.

But while Sheehan was evicted for wearing a t-shirt, a German Shepherd was allowed in the audience.

I realize that Sheehan is good at getting media attention, like any well-organized protester. And that her arrest probably gained her more attention than if she'd been allowed into the hall; claiming martydom makes for good PR. And unlike other anti-war folks, I've never canonized her or put her on a pedestal or given her words any special weight. And I don't like her schmoozing with Venezuela's populist dictator.

But there's something symbolic about letting a canine "listen" to this speech and evicting a citizen for simply wearing a t-shirt. Maybe if Sheehan had been an obedient animal, well-trained to follow orders unquestioningly, she would've been able to stay too.

I'm glad she didn't. Imperfect as she may be, she's performed an invaluable service: helping expose this closed-minded, secretive, hyperdefensive administration for what it is.


Update: I've been informed that the wife of a Republican Congressman was also denied entry to the speech for the same heinous crime of wearing a t-shirt. Her shirt's message: Support Our Troops.


Further update: the charges against both Sheehan and the Congressman's wife have reportedly been dropped