Saturday, June 30, 2007

Enough malfeasance to make the head spin

I've bookmarked so many articles on malfeasance and incompetence in Washington that I've decided to condense them all into one entry for the purpose of saving time, even though each merits an essay of its own.

-From The Washington Post: The CIA has decided to release files about its covert, not-always-legal activities from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. There was warrantless domestic spying against political opponents ordered by Presidents Johnson and Nixon (the more things change....). The files also revealed details on the CIA's long suspected, but never confirmed, role in the assassination of then-Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba. The agency also apparently offered a Mafia boss $150,000 to kill Cuban strongman Fidel Castro. A decade later, then-director William Colby stated, "I can say, under oath if need be, that the CIA has never carried out a political assassination, nor has it induced, employed or suggested one which occurred." Perhaps his spirit was responsible for the 'Iraq has weapons of mass destruction' determination.

-From The Washington Post: yet another appeal to close the Guantanamo Bay kidnapee camp. Though the paper warned that shutting down the camp, however warranted, would not automatically undo the damage it caused to America's credibility and moral authority. It also cautioned the government against merely shipping the kidnapees back to their home countries, where they may be subjected to torture and other forms of abuse. The administration doesn't want them moved to American soil because then they might be subject to the rule of law, legality being something the White House has always been desperate to avoid.

-From The Washington Post. Where do I get off saying that the White House has always been desperate to avoid respecting the law? It's not exactly a secret. The president has openly flaunted this contempt. The Post notes that President Bush has asserted that he is not necessarily bound by the bills he signs into law, and yesterday a congressional study found multiple examples in which the administration has not complied with the requirements of the new statutes. Basically, if he doesn't like part of legislation that HE HIMSELF SIGNS INTO LAW, he just decides to ignore it. If this is the Iraqi government's model for how to conduct democracy, then that explains a lot.

-From Reuters: The CIA doesn't have a monopoly on abuses. FBI officials admitted that they may have violated the law or its rules more than 1,000 times since 2002 in collecting data about phone calls, e-mails and financial records while investigating terrorism or espionage suspects. Apologists told us that we should just give the executive (that's the presidency, not the vice-presidency, it seems) any power it desires without question because nothing wrong could possibly come of it. Privacy? That's sooooo 19th century.

-From Amnesty International: In the same vein, the human rights' organization took the CIA to task for kidnaping people. A practice euphemistically known as 'enforced disappearance,' a term that eerily invokes similar actions taken by fascist South American juntas during the 1970s and 1980s against that era's boogeyman: communists. AI also reports, even more sickeningly, that the CIA has kidnaped the wives and children of suspects for interrogations and... to 'secure the capture of their husband or father.' Click your heels twice and repeat after me: they only reason they hate us is because we're free.


-From Newsweek: Think Bush is the first president to invoke Divine Right in rationalizing a foreign military aggression? Not exactly. In 1898, President William McKinley was trying figure out an excuse to conquer the Philippines. "I walked the floor of The White House night after night until midnight," he recalled. "I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance. There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them ... " Newsweek pointed out that the Filipinos were already Christianized (Roman Catholic) and probably weren't to keen on being dominated by a foreign power. The brutal insurgency that followed cost the lives of over 4,000 Americans and more than half a million Filipinos. The weekly noted that this is where the torture technique of waterboarding, so eagerly championed by Vice-President Cheney (oops, I mean Senate president Cheney), was developed. This war (and Algeria with the French), not Vietnam, is no doubt the closest analogy to the disaster that's happening in Iraq.

-From: The Associated Press. Oh wait, Iraq is not a disaster. After four years, the world's most powerful military and its allies control a whopping 40 percent of Baghdad. At this rate, it'll only take until 2013 until we control the whole city and can declare once again Mission Accomplished!

-From: Democracy Rising. Maybe this is why the man who commanded US forces in Iraq for the first year said, "I am absolutely convinced that America has a crisis in leadership at this time." Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said that America should get real about its expectations. "I think if we do the right things politically and economically with the right Iraqi leadership we could still salvage at least a stalemate, if you will -- not a stalemate but at least stave off defeat." He must hate America and want the Evil Doers to win too!

-From: Alternet. Remember when the snake oil salesmen were trying to peddle us the aggression against Iraq? They promised us the war would be quick and relatively painless. We'd go in there. Iraqis would welcome us with open arms. We'd be in and out of there in a few years, just like after World War II. Now, Bush is saying that our troops will be in Iraq for another half century... or more. To Bush, the model is not West Germany or Japan, but South Korea, where US troops have been stationed since 1953 (earlier if you count the war). Alternet called it such a naked acknowledgement of America's long-term designs on carving out a strategic foothold in the region that even the milquetoast American press had to acknowledge it. Wonder why they didn't mention this in 2002?

-From Tomdispatch.com. But wait a second? America doesn't have 'long-term designs on carving out a strategic foothold' in the Middle East or anywhere else. The US military is only ever used for the sole purpose of defending American soil, not for any economic reasons. Tomdispatch.com adds As Chalmers Johnson has pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, the United States has, mainly since World War II, set up at least 737 [foreign military] bases, mega and micro -- and probably closer to 1,000 -- worldwide. An astonishing number when you consider there are only about 200 countries in the world. According to our national fairy tale, the US is a republic, not an empire. Well, our 'republic' that spends almost as much on 'national defense' as the rest of the world combined. So wouldn't you think that a country that by itself accounts for 48 percent of all global military spending should feel a lot more secure than Americans do right now? It makes you wonder when Americans will finally connect the dots and realize that our meddling, expansionist foreign policy has served to make us less safe, not more.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Choice and flexibility are bad for consumers

I know Cal Thomas is hardly our nation's foremost embodiment of intellectual honesty. But this column has to be one of the most Orwellian pieces I've ever read, even by his standards!

Thomas' argument in a nutshell: Allowing consumers to pick à la carte which TV channels they subscribe to amounts a "government official or bureaucrat deciding which cable shows are good for [you]."

Now maybe there is actually a legitimate argument about why such an arrangement would be bad for consumers, an argument more substantive than "Fox News could not have been launched in an a la carte environment." But Thomas sure didn't make it.

I want to pick which cable channels I subscribe to. Apparently, this constitutes the FCC controlling my entertainment choices.

Thomas wants it so I must decide essentially between two choices that Time Warner picks for me. That is the avenue of consumer freedom, according to him.

Just as freedom is slavery, choice and flexibility are bad for the consumer. So says one of our foremost advocates for the 'free market.'

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The governmental equivalent of Gitmo

The Washington Post has a chilling piece on the frightening amount of power accumulated by Vice-President Dick Cheney. It seems Cheney de facto has a good chunk of the powers of the presidency while avoiding most of the media scrutiny and resisting all attempts at accountability.

A telling quote on Cheney's belief in impunity:

His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either.

In other words, the vice-presidency is the governmental equivalent of Guatanamo Bay: a sort of limbo, a legal black hole asserted for the purpose of avoiding respect for the law and American values.

Judging from his actions during the last six years, it's no surprise to read that Cheney doesn't believe in the law or the Constitution since he hasn't shown much respect for either. It's just surprising to hear this admitted publicly.

Update: Apparently some in Congress thought it would be a good idea to call Cheney on his b.s. Some House Democrats tried to strip him of his executive branch budget. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee suggested that if Cheney were in fact part of the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, then that would mean the same body could also expel him. The vote to follow Cheney's contention to its natural conclusion failed 209-217.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Developmentalism as neo-colonialism?

New York University professor William Easterly has an interesting piece in Foreign Policy entitled The Ideology of Development. I've sparred with him in the past in FP's pages and take issue with some points he raises here but this essay is worth a read. Easterly offers a pungent critique of top-down of what he calls 'Developmentalism,' an ideology he claims is just as dangerous as fascism and communism.

He contends that a noble idea (the free market system) has been hijacked by bureaucrats of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These institutions were created primarily to advance the interests of corporations in donor (western) countries. As such, they have typically advocated policies to achieve precisely this end. During the 1980s, the cure-all-prescription was for poorer countries to completely deregulate their economies and to open themselves up to unrestrained foreign pillaging.

I'm generally in favor of more openness in trade. But I believe in this to the extent that it helps raise the standard of living of people in countries that do so. Raising the standard of living broadly, not just for the narrow elite. Where more openness hurts the broader population, I see nothing wrong with regulations, social programs, etc. I do not believe in government intervention merely for its own sake. I do not believe in deregulation and free trade simply for their own sake either.

Easterly echoes a criticism I've often made myself. These international institutions try to shove down the throats of poorer countries one-size-fits-all policies, regardless of any other considerations. These policies are conceived in air-conditioned offices in London or New York and completely disregard local realities on the ground, realities that are key to the success or failure of any reform. This is why most structural adjustment programs (the formal name for when a country hands over management of its economy to foreign bureaucrats) have failed.

He points outs out that this top down imposition of policies is the antithesis of free markets. Furthermore, he argues that these ill-suited foreign prescriptions have had a counterproductive effect by giving open markets a bad name. This disillusionment is what opened the door to a populist demagogue like Hugo Chavez who has become a mythical figure precisely by attacking laissez-faire capitalism. Most of the countries in South America, the continent most harmed by structural adjustment policies, are run by at least moderately left-of-center governments.

Easterly fails to mention another situation that further alienates people in the non-western world: hypocrisy. Western countries preach the gospel of the free market. But it's only a one way street. Africa is regularly encouraged to follow the laissez-faire prescription by opening its economies to foreign exploitation, something which has obviously garnered the continent's people such wonderful results during the last 200 years. But western countries reject the same prescription by refusing to eliminate huge agricultural subsidies to their farmers, subsidies which make African agriculture uncompetitive in relation. Free trade implies a certain reciprocity that western countries presently aren't willing to concede.

Laissez-faire capitalism is a fantastic ideology in theory but ideology doesn't fill your stomach.

And it's worth noting that developmentalism is not the sole provenance of the right-wing. Many moderate left-of-center folks, such as Professor Jeffrey Sachs, embrace these theories. They view it as a sort of benevolent update of old theories. Laissez-faire with a human face, you might say. But there's nothing particularly humane about any ideology that ignores the wishes and desires of the humans that it affects!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mediocrity perpetuated

Sadly, the once proud Boston Bruins have become a joke of a hockey club. The team made the Stanley Cup playoffs for an NHL record 29 consecutive years from the mid-60s through the mid-90s. But they have missed the playoffs for 4 of the last 7 and 5 of the last 10 seasons. They've won one playoff series since 1995. They'd won 12 series in the previous 7 seasons before that, making it to the Stanley Cup semifinals 4 times. Since the mid-90s, the Bruins have become mediocrity personified. A once great pro hockey town is now apathetic about the sport, thanks to a club run into the ground.

The Bruins fired head coach Dave Lewis earlier this month, but waited a good two months after the end of another pathetic regular season to do so. Most teams with common sense would've made that decision within a week or two.

But give the B's a little credit. They had a good reason for waiting so long. Rather than getting the organization's head out of its collective behind, the front office was concerned with far more important things: tweaking the team's logos.

Sure, it took them two months to figure out that their coach wasn't getting the job done, but how can you bet against a club that comes up with such breathtaking prose as this:


Each tweak and adjustment to the Bruins B-spoke is made for legibility, modernization and enhancement of a historic team and an icon of Boston.


Pathetic.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When will his belief translate into action?

"Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical." -President Bush, 6/20/07

I guess the question is will the president's professed belief ever translate into action? Sadly, one has every reason to expect that he'll continue to act in a way that is, by his own definition, grossly unethical.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

2007 Failed States Index

Foreign Policy journal published its annual Failed States Index. The two most unstable countries are genocidal Sudan and 'liberated' Iraq. Mission Accomplished!

Many of the 'leaders' have been devastated by war. Others have been hampered by corruption and bad governance. Zimbabwe and Guinea are the most unstable countries that have not recently suffered through armed conflict. Both received poor marks for public services, factionalized elites and delegitimization of state.

Recent conflict zones Liberia, the DR Congo and Bosnia are among the most improved from last year. Elected governments and rebuilding efforts helped bring state legitimacy to the two African countries, though challenges still remain, especially for the DRC.

The two countries whose stability deteriorated the most were Lebanon and Somalia. Each was a victim of a US-supported military invasion against purported Islamists which destroyed burgeoning stability in both countries: Lebanon by Israel; Somalia by Ethiopia (hardly a paragon of stability itself as the 18th most unstable country).

The US also launched air strikes against Somalia. Some believe that the military action is linked to Somalia's potential oil wealth, which was just starting to be realized. The US-backed Ethiopian aggression against Somalia occured after a broad coalition with Islamist components took control of all of Somalia and was starting to bring stability to a country that's had little in the last decade and a half.

The aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion was described as potentially Somalia's 'worst crisis ever'. The invasion also provoked the world's worst refugee crisis, according to relief agencies.

Strong stuff when describing a country that's seen more than its fair share of bad times in the last 16 years.

Liberia is a great example of what can happen outside nations engage a fragile country with subtlety, respect and cooperation. Somalia is a great example of what happens when it's done with brute militarism and naked aggression.

Note to readers

I will publish comments from people without a Blogger account for the sake of expanding the debate. But if you don't have a blogger account, at least please sign your name or your first name or a nickname and use it consistently so I can follow a person's line of argument. I will not publish completely anonymous comments due to problems I've had in the past. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reconciliation in Rwanda

This essay is part of a (more or less) 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, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

13 years after a national nightmare, the Anglican Bishop of Rwanda John Rucyahana says that 'wonderful things' are happening in his country.

He doesn't shy away from the difficult path his countrymen have followed and he wishes that France and Belgium* had "asked for forgiveness. That would have been enough contribution to help us rebuild [Rwanda].”

Rucyahana, who fled the country during the genocide, says the aftermath of the horror has united the different ethnic groups in Rwanda, and there’s a new spirit of hope and reconciliation in the country.

The Voice of America has a long story on Rucyahana and his new book Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones. He said he was moved to take pen to power after 'fatigue' in reading despairing, hopeless stories of post-genocide Rwanda. In the book, the bishop tries to make sense of the horrors of 1994, how it shook people's faith and how Rwandans today are dealing with its aftermath.


Note: a broad look at the role of France and Rwanda in the genocide is explained here. More recently revealed complicity is explained here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

There's no reasoning with some people

I've always said that the greatest threat to the western world and to global security is not Islamic extremism, but religious extremism. I see no fundamental difference between Islamic extremists and Christian extremists. Both are clearly a threat to western values and to global stability. I see no fundamental difference between terrorism and wars of aggression. They are merely different ways of using violence to get what you aren't good or patient or civilized enough to obtain via the art of persuasion.

There's more than enough Islamophobia in the western world that I'm usually hesitant to appear to fan the flames. But some things are so outrageous that they beg for commentary. Condemning radical Muslim extremism doesn't detract from the threat of radical Christian extremism.

Hence, I was disgusted to read the sickening reaction to the British knighthood awarded to author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie outraged many in the Muslim world with his 1989 novel The Satanic Verses.

Pakistan's religious affairs minister Ejaz-ul-Haq told parliament that "If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act is justified."

He warned that, "If Britain doesn't withdraw the award, all Muslim countries should break off diplomatic relations."

Sayonara!

So we have a cabinet minister from purported ally in the so-called war on terror justifying homicide bombings over a work of fiction published 18 years ago

He whined that the knighthood "hurt Muslim sentiments." If he's so concerned about feelings, how exactly does Minister Warm and Fuzzy think homicide bombings would help the self-esteem of Britons?

The left-wing British daily The Guardian reported that In the eastern city of Multan, hardline Muslim students burned effigies of the Queen and Rushdie, chanting "Kill him! Kill him!"

The cabinet minister sniffed, "The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism."

Why? It's a mystery.

I spent two years living in a pair of overwhelmingly Muslim countries, just as I've spent all the rest of my life living in overwhelmingly Christian America. I know that most Christians and Muslims are moderate people who only want to decent, peaceful lives for themselves and their families.

But I also know that when very devout people, regardless of religion, get a persecution complex, rational or not, there's a good chance that the resulting siege mentality will result in violence.

If the minister thinks diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Britain should be broken off because of a novel, then maybe he's right. Religious fanaticism is immune to reason.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Democrat amnesia

Upstate Blue is a blog for establishment liberal Democrats in upstate New York. I wrote earlier about how they misrepresented one of my blog entries. So it's no surprise they misrepresented another issue too.

In this entry they sniffed about how the GOP is pushing to abolish term limits in Glens Falls. The issue is question was whether the term limits stipulated in the city charter applied to county supervisors from the city.

The Democrat activist site was playing fast and loose with the facts. It was telling the truth, just not the whole truth. It omitted, for example, that former councilman and one-time mayoral candidate Bill Loeb also came out in favor of no term limits. Loeb is a Democrat.

The resolution clarifying that term limits don't apply to county supervisors passed the Glens Falls Common Council by a UNANIMOUS 6-0 vote.

Blue seems to have forgotten a not-insignificant little fact: five of the six members of the Glens Falls Common Council are Democrats.

Upstate Blue claims that the GOP's action shows the need for effective two-party politics in Warren County. In fact, it demonstrates why we need MULTIPARTY politics to make sure that both Democrats and Republicans tell the whole truth and are held to account when they don't.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Norway most peaceful country; 'liberated' Iraq least

"It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them." -Alfred Adler

A new study ranked 121 countries based on 24 factors to determine how peaceful each nation was. Norway is the most peaceful country in the world, according to the study. Followed by New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and Japan. Interestingly, none of the top five peaceful countries has ever been targeted by an Islamist terrorist attack.

The US is ranked as the 96th most peaceful country of 121 and is judged to have the same 'state of peace' as Yemen, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iran; and below Libya, Egypt and China.

'Liberated' Iraq is at the bottom just below genocidal Sudan. Israel (whose long-term occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was supposed to make things so much more peaceful) and 'democratic' Russia and Nigeria filled out the bottom five.

On a related note, the BBC World Service is running a good new documentary series called Winning the Peace. As is fairly well known, winning peace is much harder than, but just as important as, winning war.

"When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."



Update: The Accra Daily Mail boasts that Ghana was ranked as the most peaceful democratic country in Africa.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Majority of deaths on NYC roads are pedestrians and cyclists

Adirondack Almanack blog had a good essay on 'The Dangers of Americade.'

Anyone who lives in a tourist area knows that embracing tourism is like making a deal with the devil. Residents of Lake George, where Americade is held, often complain about the four scourges tourists bring with them: noise, traffic, garbage and general rudeness and self-absorption. But residents never complain about the money (and thus jobs) generated. A deal with the devil indeed!

Almanack's focus was on the physical dangers faced by motorcycles in the car-centric culture. He scolds Americade's organizers for burying their head in the sand to this problem by focusing more on the family-friendly aspect of the rally. Almanack writes:

The promoters of Americade need to be reminded that it isn't the rebellious who are the danger at Americade. The danger is that Americaders, and others, have to share our common roadways with highway hogs.

Americade's promoters and participants have the perfect opportunity to engage us in serious ideas about sharing the roadway with people using other forms of transportation - bikes, cars, trains, buses, and feet.


Almanack cites a very astonishing and disturbing fact. Not only does New York City have the highest number of pedestrian and (bi)cyclist deaths in the entire nation. But on roads suffocated by automobiles, [p]edestrian and cyclist deaths make up a majority of traffic deaths.

I don't own a car. While I sometimes use public transportation in the winter, biking and walking is pretty much how I get around. I've dodged many an idiot driver who was distracted by yacking on their cellphone or by opening their car door without even taking a glance. Frankly, I've always thought it was amazing that I've never been injured while biking. When I read disturbing stats like this, even in a far away place like New York City, I think it's a miracle.

And then I think of the odds and the future and suddenly the glee wears off.

We need a more sane transportation system in this country. I recognize that cars will be the primary form of transportation for the foreseable future, at least oil starts running out. But planning authorities and governments must stop being so overtly hostile to people who want to use alternative forms of transportation.

I don't want to ban cars. I just don't want to risk life and limb biking down (US) Route 9. I just want sidewalks to walk on (this means you Queensbury, NY). People will use these saner alternatives if it's feasible and safe to do so. They just need a little cooperation from the powers that be.


Recommended reading:

-Transportation Alternatives: 'Advocate for cycling, walking and environmentally sensible transportation.' New York City-based but still worth checking out.

-League of American Bicyclists.

-James Howard Kunstler: Author of 'The Geography of Nowhere.'

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pakistan regime's assault on freedom

I'm no fan of Venezuela's democratically elected leader Hugo Chavez. My most recent criticism of his regime generated quite a bit of flack. But my friend Mark, far more anti-Chavez than myself, pointed out an interesting hypocrisy.

Chavez's assault on Venezuelan broadcasters, press freedom, the judiciary and the political opposition has rightly generated him an avalanche of international condemnation. From conservatives and from the Bush administration, but from many progressive quarters (including myself) and human rights groups as well.

Eight years after stealing power in a military coup, Pakistan's dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf has also launched an assault against the media, the press and the judiciary. American press coverage of this crackdown has been negligible. Outrage has been virtually nil. Particularly in comparison to the cacaphony of anti-Chavez tirades that still ring in the ear.

The State Department's comment: "There have been advances in bringing greater freedoms, including greater freedom of the press, in Pakistan over the years under President Musharraf's government. There have been some openings in that regard. Certainly nobody would want to see those openings reversed."

A pathetically meek reaction, especially compared to the hysterical response to anything Chavez says or does.

I guess freedom (said breathlessly) only applies to anti-American regimes. Regimes who claim abhorr America's enemy of the week are exempt from basic standards of liberty (also said breathlessly).

But anyone familar with the history of First Cold War already knows this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blair turns on the media

It was interesting to read about Tony Blair's hysterical rant against certain segments of the British press. The UK prime minister referred to the media as, "feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits."

(The full text of the speech is available here)

If you completely ignore the identity of the speaker, a good chunk of his analysis is spot on. The media is a "feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits." Britain is probably the only western country whose media is more in the gutter than the USA's. He spoke of how the media fosters cynicism (but not politicians, of course). He spoke, as I've written about before, of the increased blurring between news and commentary; he neglected entertainment but his point remains valid.

But of course, you can't completely ignore the identity of the speaker. Blair and his Labour Party were elected in 1997 in no small part due to his assiduous courting of previously anti-Labour segments of the British media, most notably Rupert Murdoch's empire. This man headed of a government that was, for so long, obsessed with PR and spin; style over substance.

Take this passage:

"When I fought the 1997 election - just 10 years ago - we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening the agenda had already moved on."

Blair is turning on the beast that made him. But is he doing so because he's truly repelled or because he can no longer control the animal he once conquered?

What's most telling is the objects of his tirade. In what was portrayed as a broad analysis of the British press, he could only find two media outlets as examples of the ills he spoke of: the BBC and The Independent.

Not surprisingly, these media outlets have refused to carry his water over his and Bush's unconscionable actions in aggressing and occupying Iraq. The BBC and The Independent are two of the most intelligent, in-depth, professional media outlets in Britain.

Blair didn't attack The Sun, for example. Britain's top selling rag runs hysterical headlines that would make The New York Post blush. Nor did he attack any other parts of the Murdoch empire, despite them being the very epitomy of trash journalism. Of course, the Murdoch empire endorsed Blair-led Labour multiple times as well as the Iraq Aggression. The BBC doesn't do endorsements. The Independent opposed the Iraq debacle from the beginning.

This commentator doesn't see it as a coincidence.

Neither do I.

It's too bad he focused only on media critical of him. His analysis otherwise might have been credible.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sucking air

In one of the more idiotic moves of an often idiotic organization, the international soccer federation FIFA has banned all international matches from being held at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet. The ban primarily hurts Bolivia and Ecuador, but also affects Colombia (who can't play in their capital city) and Mexico. The decision outraged most Latin American soccer federations.

FIFA's claims that the high altitude harmed the health of visiting players who weren't acclamated. In reality, FIFA caved in to the demands of Latin America's two most influential federations, Brazil and Argentina. These federations didn't like their precious stars, more used to Madird and Milan, to have to travel to the sticks. Brazil and Argentina didn't like the fact that they actually lost games in Quito and La Paz and want to strip their fellow South Americans of home field advantage.

FIFA's rationale is a joke and everyone knows it. High altitude is hardly the only risk. Mexico holds most of its home matches in the choking pollution of Mexico City; ex-US national teamer Eric Wynalda described a 1997 game in the Mexican capital, "I once saw Cobi Jones cough up something that looked like a brownie." Honduras holds some home contests in a tropical steam bath known as San Pedro Sula. I guess 'health conscious' FIFA doesn't care that Costa Rican fans have thrown bags of urine at American players on visits to San Jose.

FIFA will ban venues based on altitude, but don't seem to be particularly bothered by racist abuse or fan violence. But I guess some federations are more equal than others.

But FIFA is hardly the only soccer organization prone to politicization and corruption. Consider the case of CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Jack Warner has been president of CONCACAF since 1990.

Just for the heck of it, Google the following:

CONCACAF Jack Warner corruption scandals

and see how many pages of results you get.

A good concise account of Warner's sleaze can be found at this article from the Trinidad Business Guardian.

Then again, anyone who's seen the state of officiating in CONCACAF matches already knows that competence isn't exactly a priority in the organization.

(Exhibit A: one of the linesmen in the US-Trinidad & Tobago incorrectly signaled offside on the US four different times in the first half of Saturday's game. Only one of them was even remotely close. This constitutes continental championship caliber officiating in CONCACAF)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Class

As some of you may know, I coach youth soccer. A few days ago, one of my players was injured during the game. It wasn't intentional. Just one of those accidents that sometimes happens at higher level soccer. Anyway, I received an email earlier today from the other team's coach inquiring about the state of my player.

You often read tales in the media of players, coaches and parents who are, to say the least, badly behaved. Sadly, I've experienced such situations myself. Sometimes we're so inundated with the idiots, that we forget there are many good people out there as well. It's easy to succomb to corrosive cynicism. But it's nice to be reminded that there are still coaches with a lot of class working with young people.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ralph Nader pays local visit

Matt's Totally Biased Commentary offers a good write-up of public citizen Ralph Nader's recent visit to Glens Falls. He also offers rare praise to both the local daily Post-Star newspaper and the regional NPR affiliate and liberal establishment radio station WAMC.

He mentions the abhorrent lawsuit filed against him and his 2004 presidential running mate Peter Camejo by Pennsylvania Democrats. The progressives were incomprehensibly ordered to pay the costs of the lawsuit because some of Nader's petition signatures were ruled invalid, hardly a sign of malfeasence as anyone who's tried to collect signatures or is familiar with electoral law will know. This was only one of many lawsuits filed by Democrats [sic] trying to sabotage the Nader-Camejo campaign. Yes, these were the same Democrats, not to be confused with democrats, spent four years snivelling about alleged electoral disenfranchisement and 'making every vote count' following the 2000 elections.

One of Nader's visits was to speak with students at the local high school. One thing that struck many was how respectfully Nader treated the students and how he spoke to them as young citizens rather than little kids. Instead of patronizing them, he challenged them to become socially engaged and to not be complacent or discouraged.

I think this is one of the fundamental differences between a true public servant and an ordinary politician. Nader didn't mouth the saccharine "You're the future" stuff which is well-meaning but vague to the point of meaninglessness. Instead, he told students, "You're the present, so get to work." He challenged them instead of fluffing their egos. In reports I've received, both from the press and from several students I know personally who attended his Q&A session, Nader's tone impressed many in the audience.

One of the most telling comments comes from a student I know who's the son of a local city councilman. He told me, "I agreed with what he had to say but I still don't think he should've run for president." Naturally, this begs the question: why not?

Which of course shows that as persuasive as Nader was, there remains work to do.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Transcription journalism

One of the topics I write about quite a bit is the news media. It's obviously very influential in shaping our perception of local, national and international events. While hardly homogeneous, certain trends seem to prevail in the mainstream US news media. One that I've written about before is the difference between objectivity (the mainstream journalistic ideal) and neutral journalism (the mainstream journalistic reality).

Essentially, mainstream journalism is now less about investigation and skepticism and more about transcription; less 60 Minutes and more CSPAN. The typical wire service or TV news piece on social or political issues follows the same formula: intro, standard liberal politician point of view, standard conservative politician point of view, conclusion. Once in a while, they'll include a quote from a university professor, think tank fellow or some other 'expert.'

Rarely do mainstream journalists include the point of view of 'non-standard' political figure such as Ralph Nader or Ron Paul. Rarely do they bother interviewing anyone outside of Washington's political elite; after all, it's not like federal policies affect states, counties or municipalities. Rarely do they call the 'standard' liberal or conservative on their obfuscation or deception. Why? Because then they'll be accused by hysterical activists of 'bias.'

Common Dreams has a good essay on how journalism morphed into transcription. Though it doesn't mention a key fact in the press' rising meakness: increased consolidation of media outlets in the hands of risk-averse multinational corporations.

Then again, some members of the 'unbiased' media don't let facts interfere with their editorializing. A good example is CNN's 'news' anchor Lou Dobbs, who relentlessly
pushes a populist anti-immigrant, protectionist line. Dobbs not only cited a debunked scientific study to further his anti-immigrant crusade, but refused to back down when shown that the study was wrong. He waved away questions about the study's accuracy with a dismissive, "If we reported it, it's a fact." No surprise that the self-appointed watchdogs don't like being watched.

Another good example is New York Post columnist Ralph Peters. Now, I know that opinion columns have different editorial standards than purported news pieces; and at least Peters, unlike Dobbs, is overt about his trying to be neither objective nor neutral. But even a paper with New York Post's standards shouldn't allow its columnists to outright lie.

In this column, Peters slams the group Human Rights Watch. He wrote:

After the Fatah al-Islam terrorists holed up in a Palestinian camp carried out a wave of bombings, bank robberies and assassinations, Lebanon's struggling democratic government ordered its army to stop them. The Palestinian refugees themselves applauded the army's efforts, stating that few of the terrorists were local and most were fanatics from other Muslim states. The terrorists ruled with the gun and sought to enforce Sharia law. Their victims want them gone.

The response from Human Rights Watch [HRW]? Ignore the crimes of the terrorists and criticize the Lebanese army for attacking them "indiscriminately."


I was astonished that they would do such a thing so I decided to check it out the HRW report myself.

The report's very title included implicit criticism of the group: "Lebanon: Fighting at Refugee Camp Kills Civilians -- Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam Must Protect Civilians in Nahr al-Bared."

Additionally, HRW's spokesman explicitly said, "Fatah al-Islam militants must not hide among civilians... The Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam fighters should establish a safe passage to allow the civilians to leave the camp and let humanitarian supplies for civilians in."

The report added that: Using civilians to shield one’s own forces from attack is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. Placing forces or weapons in the vicinity of heavily populated areas can also result in violations of international humanitarian law.

This is a pretty odd way to 'ignore' them.

Yet another example of why I'm skeptical of paraphrasing.

Peters also claims, "There are real human-rights tragedies unfolding every day, from Harare to Havana, but activists don't give a damn about the average Joe or Miguel or Ali."

Even a cursory look at the websites of activist organizations like HRW and Amnesty International shows that this is still more b.s.

Like many others on the far right, Peters seems to think that anything the US government does should be immune from criticism because somewhere else, someone is doing something worse.

I'll remember that assinine argument the next time I try to rob a bank.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Muslim countries more opposed to terrorism than Americans

The Christian Science Monitor had a good article on the myth of Muslim support for terror. It explored a study by University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes. It found that almost twice as many Pakistanis than Americans opposed wanton violence against civilians than Americans.

86 of people in Pakistan, seen as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, felt that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" were "never justified."

74 percent of people in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, agreed.

Only 46 percent of Americans felt the same way.

By contrast, 24 percent of Americans felt that such attacks were "often or sometimes justified."

Furthermore, hard core ideologues in this country perpetuate the myth that not only are Muslims more predisposed to supporting wanton violence than 'civilized' westerners, but also the myth that Muslims ignore the good deeds done by Americans.

The study found that 71 percent of bin Laden supporters in Indonesia and 79 percent in Pakistan said they thought more favorably of the United States as a result of American humanitarian assistance in their countries.

The article pointed out that their professed support of terrorism/bin Laden can be more accurately characterized as a kind of "protest vote" against current US foreign policies, not as a deeply held religious conviction or even an inherently anti- American or anti-Western view.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Decency hijacked

Every year, I go to my town's Memorial Day parade and ceremony. It's something I've always done. When I was younger, I went because I was in the school band and we marched during the parade. Now, I go by choice. I'm a big fan of traditions (incidentally, I'm also reading Ralph Nader's excellent new book The Seventeen Traditions). And this is one of our great community traditions.

The Memorial Day parade is one of the things that just about everyone in my town participates in, either as a marcher or a watcher. The ceremony is much less well-attended, which is a bit surprising considering how gung-ho people around here have been about military service in general and the present war in Iraq in particular. Although I am against both this war and militarism in general, I still go the ceremony.

The last few years, I've started to wonder why. Since 2002, the ceremony has been hijacked by those with a conservative ideological agenda. Some of the speeches still talk about honor and sacrifice. But many more talk about fear and enemies lurking and how we need to kill them before they kill us. Many of the talking points seem taken directly from some neo-con think tank's website.

The Memorial Day ceremony should be a sacred affair that is respectful of those who were killed in military service. The one in my town has been turned into an ideological pep rally. And yet this 'supports the troops'?!

I believe Monday's ceremony in my town had three original speeches. Two were from students who won an essay contest. Since the contest is sponsored by, I believe, the local VFW, you know what kind of speech is likely to win. The first student speech was a prototype of that. It talked about freedom and liberty and how our brave troops are fighting the evil enemy who want to destroy our freedoms and how they must prevail and crush crush crush. Not much different from the kind of speech the president might give.

The second student speech was even more menacing. It essentially called on the audience to wage a Christian holy war against the Muslim infidels who want to destroy the American way of life.

The first student speech merely made me roll my eyes. The second student speech made me want to scream in outrage.

The keynote speech also played up the fearmongering aspect that we're so used to in addresses nowadays. It talked about how great America was because we weren't content with giving our own people democracy and freedom. We were great because we used our military to shove our way of life down the throats of other people, whether they want it or not.

Huzzah!

I didn't clap at any of these speeches. The only words worth listening to were those of the clergy member invited who praised the service of not only the troops, but of diplomats, humanitarian workers and others who contribute to improving humanity.

The master of ceremonies read a poem, which many of you may have read. I will not post it here but it says that we owe freedom of the press not to journalists but to soldiers; freedom of religion not to priests, but to soldiers; etc. Basically, it says that we owe all of our freedoms to soldiers and no one else so we should get down and kiss their boots.

I have always been extremely offended by this poem, as I think it's antithetical to the American spirit. In our country, we are all responsible for defending our freedoms. It wasn't a professional army that rose up against the British, but a group of ordniary men defending what they felt was right. Protecting our rights is the responsibility of all citizens, not just those in khaki.

Giving soldiers sole responsibility and credit for our way of life allows us to abdicate our own obligations as citizens. What scares me most about the sentiments in this poem is this very simple fact: if the soldiers gave us our freedoms, they can just as easily take them away.

Soldiers help protect our freedoms. But they are not the only ones. Honor the troops, but not by slapping in the face other engaged citizens.

When this poem was read, I turned my back in protest.

But I shouldn't have to. I shouldn't have to bit my tongue during a fearmongering speech at what should be a solemn ceremony. I shouldn't have to turn my back in protest at an outrageous poem. This ceremony should be solely dedicated to honor the sacrifices of deceased servicemen, not to advance Rudy Giuliani's campaign themes. This is not merely tacky, but profane. And it disgusts me that no one else seems to be bothered by this.

Then again, given attendance at the ceremony, maybe others are making their displeasure known with their feet.

I keep going to the ceremony even as it's been increasingly hijacked by militaristic sentiments, rather than reverent ones. I feel is important to show my respect DESPITE the speakers; despite the increasing divisionism and decreasing decency. I feel like I didn't want to abdicate a perfect noble holiday to the militarists. In addition to paying my respects and to the tradition aspect, I feel my presence there is a little jab at those who would claim that patriotism and honor only belongs to the right-wing or to supporters of this particular war of choice.

Each year, I ask myself if this is worth subjecting myself to the increasing vitriol and divisionism. So far, the answer has always been yes. But each year, the answer becomes less clear.