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Jaks View from Vancouver

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Dumb and Dumber...

In the month of January, Fox News -- the National Enquirer of TV journalism -- beat CNN in the ratings for the first time. As this Administration heads into a period where it will want to hide more and more from the public - the Enron scandal, erosion of basic civil liberties, allegations of war crimes overseas -- the world is not served by having Bill O'Reilly and his tabloid mob acting as watchdog.

If Democracy Is America's Mission ...

Islam Karimov has operated a brutally repressive dictatorship in Uzbekistan since 1989. At first he was the local Communist Party’s chief and, since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, he has held the “democratically-elected” position of President. Karimov’s current five-year term is set to expire in 2005, but a referendum this month extended presidential terms to seven years. With Karimov likely to be the sole candidate next time round, his rule over the Central Asian country is now set to last at least into 2012.

Elizabeth Andersen of Human Rights Watch in Washington has called the presidential elections in 2000 “embarrassingly illegitimate,” and even the U.S. State Department refused to send observers to the referendum this year because of Karimov’s history of rigged elections. "Unfortunately, past Uzbek elections were neither free nor fair and did not offer Uzbekistan's voters a true choice," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said

When voting was completed, Uzbekistan’s electoral commission announced that more than 90 percent of the voting population had cast a ballot, and that more than 90 percent of those were in favour of the changes. The old Stalinist counting system obviously still flourishes!

"At a certain stage of historic change in your country, you need a strong will and a certain figure," Karimov said during a photo op at a polling station. "And you have to use some authoritarian methods at times."

Why should we be concerned about what’s going on in some dusty Central Asian republic? Because it illustrates the situational ethics of American foreign policy: No matter how much the State Department may whine about it, if the U.S. needs your country for its own strategic purposes, you can literally get away with murder. As Human Rights Watch in Moscow has noted, the timing of the referendum was not a coincidence. "Karimov is testing the international community to see what he can get away with now that he is viewed as a critical partner in the war," the human rights monitoring group said in a statement issued last Friday.

Bush used the State of the Union speech to declare that certain things such as liberty and freedom, human rights and justice are, as he put it, “non negotiable.” That’s what he says. But what is it he actually does? Why, he forgets all the high-sounding idealism in his eagerness to negotiate a long-term lease on a strategic base in the dictator’s heartland, strengthening the regime both financially and by their very presence. Apparently the defeat of Osama bin Laden is more important than the basic rights of Uzbekistan’s tortured millions.

The State of the Union address is a solemn occasion. But no matter how important the setting in which mere words are spoken, actions always speak loudest.
Sources: Guardian; Moscow Times

Palestine Daily Log

Two Palestinian militants were killed last night in action against Israeli military in the Gaza Strip. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST January 31), the total number of Palestinians killed is 249. In the same period, 88 Israelis were killed. This year so far, 24 Palestinians and 16 Israelis have been killed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The Bully In Freedom's Disguise

Bush's State of the Union speech last night was full of the bullying that has come to characterize American foreign policy. The United States alone will decide who and what is a danger to the world, he said, and if the United States doesn't like the way a country is dealing with a "problem", the U.S. will come in with its bombs and troops and change the situation until the U.S. does like it. This is the lesson they have learned recently from Afghanistan and Somalia and Panama, and in the longer-term through their century long interference in other countries.

All of this is understandable braggadocio from the world’s leading military power. It doesn’t bother me: America will fall just as all the other Empires have fallen. But what does gall me and most others labeled as ‘anti-American’ is the self-righteous coating the Administration uses to cover over their naked aggression.

In the speech, Bush said America’s cause is liberty and freedom and justice and human rights and the rule of law – without defining a single one of the concepts. This is from the country where liberty means arresting a marijuana smoker every 45 seconds; where freedom means the ability to show death and destruction on TV but not lovemaking; where justice for rich people is not the same thing as justice for poor people; where human rights means that women earn 75 cents on the dollar if they are lucky; and where the rule of law is defined every day by the liberal use of lobbying dollars.

With this background, the U.S. claims the right to determine the liberty, freedom, justice, human rights and the rule of law for all other countries. Every country in the world is now obliged to follow American rules on these matters and, as Dubya said so forcefully last night: “Make no mistake about it: If they do not act, America will.”

Under the Bush doctrine, free will is no longer available to anyone other than the U.S. No more is this true than in the matter of economic and political systems. Private property was listed by Bush last night as a “non negotiable” demand, the equal of human rights and freedom of speech. No other type of economic system than capitalist-consumerism will be allowed.

British Columbians, for example, have already felt the wrath of this judgement. All standing trees are owned by the Province in the name of all the people, and blocks of such trees are licensed for cutting to forest companies. The U.S. has decided that timber must be available to the highest bidder, and be privately owned, and to achieve this political/economic end they have imposed draconian tariffs on B.C. wood, throwing tens of thousands of workers onto unemployment and welfare.

If a close ally and partner like Canada can be attacked in this way, what chance do smaller and less powerful nations have against the bully’s pressure?

In politics, democracy and only democracy is to be considered acceptable. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, launching his morals’ crusade a week ago, announced: "Our purpose, our mission is to share democracy with the world.” Missions, like crusades, are by definition one-sided, and it is reasonable to suppose that the U.S. will continue to treat anything other than western-style democratic procedures – regardless of whether or not they are acceptable to the people living under them -- as unacceptable to the U.S. and, probably, close to being part of the “axis of evil” that threatens U.S. hegemony.

All in all, the State of the Union speech showed the Bush doctrine in full flower: America rules, screw the world!

Palestine Daily Log

A Palestinian militant was killed this morning during an attack on Israeli special forces north of Tel Aviv. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST January 30), the total number of Palestinians killed is 247. In the same period, 88 Israelis were killed. This year so far, 22 Palestinians and 16 Israelis have been killed.

Dollars Better Than Prozac

A police detective in Sydney, Australia, has explained to a public inquiry how taking bribes helped lift his depression. Well, no shit, Sherlock! The detective doesn't want to resign from the force; instead, he wants a medical discharge based on mental illness. Sounds fair to me.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald

A Moment to Remember Ghandi

It was fifty-four years ago today that Mohandas K. Ghandi, the great teacher ("Mahatma"), was shot and killed by a fundamentalist Hindu assassin. The Mahatma's memory should be a constant goad to all of us that non-violent civil disobedience can bring forth great works.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Bodies With Bound Hands...

Last Thursday, 25th January, U.S. Special Forces attacked a small town in central Afghanistan. The town, about a hundred miles north of Khandahar, is called Oruzgan or Tarin Kowt, and at the end of last Thursday, it had 48 less residents than it did that morning: 21 townspeople were dead and another 27 had been seized and removed by the Americans.

There is considerable dispute as to why the Americans attacked the town in the first place -- it is probable the attack was ordered following some false intelligence supplied by one "allied" warlord in dispute with another "allied" warlord, but in Afghanistan, that sort of truth is hard to find. But what is less in doubt is that, after the US troops escaped in their helicopters and after the town compound was blown apart by rocket fire from an AC-130U gunship, two of the dead were found with their arms bound behind their backs.

A local farmer who helped move the bodies said he "never had seen anything like" the binding, adding, "It was very strong, and we couldn't open it and finally had to cut it off." The same farmer said that, during the raid, it was possible to hear people screaming in the compound: "For God's sake, do not kill us! We surrender!"

Has this become nothing more or less than a live-fire human-target training exercise for the Green Berets now? Why were the men's hands tied, and who tied them? Were they interrogated before they died? Were they dead before they were blown up?

Questions need to be asked and an inside page of the New York Times is not the place it should be happening.
Sources: Common Dreams; New York Times

Family Values....

It used to be the Kennedy boys, with their drinking and their fun and games with mostly consenting gals, that provided us with First Family leadership on the values front. Now, there are the Bushes.

First, there were George W. and Jeb, who showed us all the value that nepotism can add to a family. Then came Jeb, jr, who had sex in public with a 17-year old just days before his uncle's election. Later, Dubya's twin girls, Jenna and Barbara, learned all about under-age drinking. And now, Governor Jeb's girl, Noelle, has hit the illegal drug scene with a bang.

The Bushes are nothing if not entertaining.

Getting Bolshy in BC

As previously reported in this space, the British Columbia regime of Premier Gordon Campbell has ripped up contract law and labour relations agreements, and has decided that education and health services should be run on a for-profit basis. Yesterday, more than 11,000 of the most affected workers gathered to express their anger and outrage at the actions of the government.
"No government in Canada has ever taken such abusive actions against its own citizens as the B.C. government has over the last weekend,"
they were told. Other words were hotter and louder, with Campbell being called a "thief," a "liar," a "hypocrite", and a "jack-booted thug." It is hard to disagree with the words when the facts shout so loudly in their favour.
Source: CBC

Madagascar in Uproar

It is not often that Madagscar makes the news, but events are conspiring to change that. Most independent reports indicate that opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana won a majority of the votes in December's presidential elections. Unfortunately, President Didier Ratsiraka doesn't want to leave and has used the country's Constitutional Court to call for a run-off election.

Today, more than a million Ravalomanana supporters have flooded into the capital and surrounded a radio and TV station that the crowd believes is giving out false information. It appears that many police and army members are joining the protests, and it is said senior generals have offered their support. The days seem numbered for Ratsiraka, and hopefully he will accept the position before bloodshed taints that beautiful island.
Source: BBC

Monday, January 28, 2002

Support Breasts, Not Dictators!

The military regime in Burma (Myanmar) is among the most brutal and intransigent in the world. For many years now, anti-regime campaigners have focused boycotts and informational assaults on international companies that do business in the country, forcing many of the largest corporations to move their operations. The latest is Triumph International, one of Europe's premier lingerie concerns.

Triumph announced today that within the next few months they will be closing the 1,000-"employee" bra factory they have operated in Burma since 1996. The company has been attacked for using slave labour, and they were the target of a creative ad campaign featuring the slogan; "Support breasts, not dictators."

The Burma Boycott is becoming one of the most successful international campaigns ever run. More power to the organizers!
Source: BBC

Palestine Daily Log

In Israel last night, an over-enthusiastic but unarmed Palestinian car thief was shot dead by Israeli military. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST January 28), the total number of Palestinians killed is 246. In the same period, 88 Israelis were killed. This year so far, 21 Palestinians and 16 Israelis have been killed.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

In Israel today, an Israeli civilian and a Palestinian militant were killed in a bombing incident in Jerusalem. From September 11th until now (2:00pm PST January 27), the total number of Palestinians killed is 245. In the same period, 88 Israelis were killed. This year 20 Palestinians have been killed, and 16 Israelis.

It's official -- British Columbia is now a banana republic! The power-hungry regime of "liberal" Gordon Campbell recalled the Legislature over this weekend in order to declare war on the workers of the Province and to pass laws declaring that negotiated and signed contracts are not valid documents if they, in their sole judgement, decide them not to be.

Declaring that previously agreed public sector union agreements were too expensive now that the government has given away all the province's money, the government has unilaterally "adjusted" them in their own favour. This is not only "a grotesque abuse of political power" as described by one of the unions' lawyers; it throws away the very basis of consensual contract law, laws that have taken centuries to develop.

These spoiled children playing at being men also rejected the very notion of collective agreements. From now on, the unions can only discuss what the employers want them to. For example, under the new law, public sector unions are not even allowed to raise issues such as layoff notices and severance benefits. Only the employer will now govern such things as class sizes in schools (based entirely on the government's fiscal position and regardless of childrens' needs), which hospital wards will be open (again based solely on money and not need), and how involuntary layoffs are to be handled.

In addition, the government has established regulations that guarantee that the private sector will now come to dominate the health system in British Columbia. Not only is this against all the precepts of the Canadian health delivery system, but will involve thousands and thousands of people being made unemployed.

"There will be a significant number of layoffs," conceded Health Services Minister Colin Hansen. "The layoffs will certainly be in the thousands across British Columbia."

After centuries of hard fighting to gain the minimal rights of collective bargaining, workers in British Columbia have now been thrown back into the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution.

Campbell wants this to be a for-business-only Province; he wants to show the financiers of the world that he can break the workers. He will surely fail but, in the meantime, the Province will lose big time as this idiot forces labour relations to crash and burn for the sake of his ego.
Sources: CBC; Vancouver Sun

Saturday, January 26, 2002

I admit it: I love footnotes. I have always found value in the use of footnotes in my everyday professional writing, and I really like the discursive style of long footnotes during an enjoyable academic text. Still and all, a whole book about footnotes seems unlikely. But William McNeil's review of "The Devil's Details: A History of Footnotes" suggests that Chuck Zerby has pulled it off. Zerby traces the first printed footnote to an edition of the Bible published in 1568. Zereby goes on to declare that:
"Bayle is the Mozart of the footnote" while Gibbon's are "where the scholar pops out of his office to stretch his legs, and, meeting colleagues, gossips ... and feels free to offer opinions based on nothing but his prejudices and whims."
It has been downhill from there apparently. If I can find it in the library, I'll give this book a read.

CNN is reporting a serious breach within the Administration over the detainees in Cuba and Afghanistan. Colin Powell has formally asked Bush to classify them as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. This goes against everything Rumsfeld has been saying so loudly for weeks. This is probably just the normal State versus Defence spat, but it is odd that such an important matter in dispute has become public. The National Security Council will discuss the matter on Monday.
Source: CNN

Several times before in this space I have had occasion to mention my love of boxing. Unfortunately, the sport continues to move in a direction which challenges my support.

In my opinion, Lennox Lewis is the best heavyweight champion we’ve had in a long time. He deserves his position at the top of the heap. He’s made tens of millions of dollars and he’ll make tens of millions more. There is no need for him to chase the cash that a fight with the animal Tyson will bring: he’d make just as much in a couple of really worthwhile fights. It will be disappointing, therefore, if Lewis takes up any of the dubious offers (Denmark, Michigan, etc) that are floating around should Nevada do the honest thing and refuse Tyson a license.

Tyson has forfeited all right to profit from his animal behaviour. With a history of violent assaults outside the ring, with one rape conviction behind him and with other rape charges likely to come, and with unacceptable and illegal brutality in the ring (never forget Holyfield’s ear), Tyson is a danger to society in general and a disgrace to boxing in particular.

Lennox Lewis should recognize his own greatness and not be taunted by anything Tyson has to say. He should use his native good sense, not listen to self-interested mercenary advisers so gratuitously personified by Don King, and refuse to fight Tyson in any arena anywhere. Genuine boxing fans would thank him.
Sources: Australian Broadcasting Corp; NY Daily News

I love flowers, and we try to make sure there are always fresh blooms around the house. My favourites are tulips (I planted another 50 today) and freesias; but lilacs are high on my list too. So it was a pleasure to find a detailed article about their history in the Chicago Tribune today.
"Lilacs," Grandpa used to say, "are best appreciated on the bush." This is one of his few dicta that I violate--and with a certain glee. Although blossoms wilt within two days, few experiences are more heavenly than walking into a lilac-filled room.
I agree!

Once again the Administration is trying to confuse about U.S. imperialistic ambitions in Central Asia. After the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Washington won permission for bases and logistical support from four of the five former Soviet Central Asian states near Afghanistan -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. (The fifth, Turkmenistan, is officially neutral.) This has allowed the U.S. to build garrisons and post several thousand heavily armed troops in the heart of Asia, something that Cold War planners could only dream of just a decade and a half ago.

"We don't intend to have permanent bases in the region," General Tommy Franks told reporters on a recent visit to Kyrgyzstan. But Sergei Yushenkov, the liberal deputy chairman of the State Duma's security committee, is one of many who doubt that this is true. "I would not consider [Franks'] statement as the final decision of the United States," he said.

Throughout his trip, Franks was hounded by reports in the regional press that the U.S. had signed a long term agreement to use Uzbekistan's Khanabad air base, where more than 1,000 U.S. troops are already based. Franks issued the necessary denials, but agreed the United States has committed to help defeat the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group opposed to the Karimov regime, who’s leader was killed in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Taliban.

We described earlier [see 22nd January] how the Pentagon has begun regular replacement and rotation of troops into the Central Asian republics, institutionalising what were previously considered only emergency deployments. In addition, more recent reports indicate that Quaid-i-Azam International airport in Karachi, Pakistan, is being prepared as a staging post for onward transportation of personnel and supplies. And this week Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference that U.S. ground troops will be staying in Afghanistan for many months to come. “How long it will be, I just don't know,” he said.

Why should they ever leave? Having been handed this prime opportunity to move into the only strategic zone it doesn’t already control, it is beyond imagining that the U.S. will voluntarily surrender such an advantage. As Russia’s Yushenkov has correctly surmised: “If the United States were to decline to keep permanent bases in Central Asia, they would be behaving unpragmatically. I do not think they would behave unpragmatically.” This cannot make the world a safer place.
Sources: AsiaDaily.com; Dawn; EuropeDaily.com; Guardian; Moscow Times

In Poland, the public is being shocked by the emergence of a terrible scandal in the city of Lodz. It appears that many of the city's ambulance crews have been administering the muscle relaxant drug Pavulon to speed up patients' deaths and tipping off funeral businesses in exchange for cash. Worse, perhaps, some doctors are also involved. In these cases,
the patients were allegedly killed by lethal doses of a drug that causes asphyxiation, after the families of the victims had agreed to use particular funeral homes. The report said the funeral homes then paid the doctors more than $300 per corpse in return for the business.
The corruption of business is deep and terrible. Each capitalist economy has gone through such a vicious phase. It lasts only until the corporations find less messy ways to screw everyone.
Source: BBC

The Indian government, apparently arrogant in its belief in American support -- or maybe simply arrogant --, has conducted another test of a nuclear-capable missile. With more than 800,000 troops massed in battle formation on the disputed border, and considering that war with Pakistan seems only a breath away, the timing of this test can only be a deliberate provocation.

Friday, January 25, 2002

That ugly fascist dictator Kim Jong-il, in whose country more than 2 million children are in danger of death from low birth weight and chronic malnutrition, wants you and I (so long as we are not Americans) to visit North Korea as tourists. To that end, he is spending millions of dollars staging a singing, dancing, acrobatic extravaganza that will run and run between April and June this year.
Since last August, tens of thousands of children have gathered daily in Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square, braving sub-zero winter temperatures for gruelling rehearsals. Described by one observer as a "synchronised socialist realism extravaganza", the performances appear designed to upstage the World Cup soccer tournament, which is being jointly hosted by Pyongyang's arch-rival South Korea and sworn enemy Japan from May 31 to June 30.
I can imagine people wanting to go to North Korea to link up with relatives. But I can think of no other good reason for anyone to set foot in that country while Kim's family lives like billionaires and outside the law, and all resources -- including the food and oil that do manage to be imported -- are diverted to the Army, the sole source of Kim's power. A dynastic kleptocracy deserves no assistance from me.
Source: The Australian

Since Talk magazine folded, Tina Brown is seeing a lot of "home truths" about herself in that section of the media which feeds upon itself. And what was so wrong about Ms Brown? I believe Andrew Sullivan in the Wall Street Journal hit the nail on the head. Calling her the "Bill Clinton of journalism," he describes the problem:
"It was the crazed cult of contemporaneity, the insistent, relentless outer-directedness of an editor who saw what was hot as always and everywhere preferable to what is true, who believed that an article was nothing unless it had been spun and hyped, who, despite obvious razor intelligence, raw talent and prodigious industry, never seemed to have a view of her own, a politics, a guiding principle, a cause.
This view is widely held. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, for example:
"Talk was Tina Brown reductio ad absurdum. Talk was style without substance, and Tina Brown was the poster girl"
If Brown's fall is a sign that the decades-long cult of celebrity we have suffered under is over, then it should be cheers all round.
Sources: WSJ Opinion; LA Times

Molly Ivins is always worth a read, and her latest salvo hits the target. Why do foreigners "hate" the USA? Because the U.S. is, as Molly says, the "double standard nation."
This is why a lot of people hate us. For the sheer bloody arrogance of having it both ways all the time. For thinking that we are above the rules, that we can laugh at treaties, that we can do whatever we want -- we don't have to keep our word or behave like other civilized nations, and we can just tell people to bugger off when they raise questions.
Her article focuses on the double standards in the treatment of detainees, but the criticism is valid across the entire range of foreign policy and cultural policy. Well done, Molly!
Source: Common Dreams

In Palestine last night, the Israelis assassinated a Palestinian militant at Khan Yunis. Another militant was killed in action in Tel Aviv. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST January 25), the total number of Palestinians killed is 244. In the same period, 87 Israelis were killed. This year 19 Palestinians have been killed, and 15 Israelis.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Artists in Mozambique are taking weapons collected from the countryside -- more than 200,000 rifles, grenades, rocket launchers, etc -- and are turning them into sculpture. "No questions are asked, and the weapons are exchanged for tools such as ploughs, bicycles and sewing machines." Once disabled, the weapons are handed over to local artists. The Imperial War Museum in London has bought one of the pieces, and another has been sold to the Royal Armouries.

What a great idea. Clear the country of dangerous weapons and make art, too!
Source: The Art Newspaper

Previously in this space I have suggested the possibility that the detainees held by the US in Cuba may be treated differently depending on their nationality. Already we have seen John Walker Lindh in a civilian US court, with an attorney and with all the rights and privileges of the US Constitution, while the other detainees rot in cages at Guantanamo and Khandahar. Why? Because he is an American and they are not.

Now, the Brits are demanding that three of their citizens in detention be sent home. "It is far preferable, if they are British citizens, for them to come to the United Kingdom and face justice here," Mr Straw said on BBC radio.

There is also a Swedish prisoner at Guantanamo and the Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has called for "fair treatment." If the Brits get sent to England, it seems certain that the Swedes will demand the same. This would leave the Saudis and Pakistanis and Afghanis who have no governments that care to look after them.

Racial profiling in this case may not be deliberate (I suspect the US would like to treat them all equally badly), but it could well happen anyway.
Sources: Independent News; Canoe

Who killed Elie Hobeika? This was a man who had enemies to spare, but I'm placing my bet on that old-fashioned killer Ariel Sharon. Dumb thugs like him always kill the witness just before the trial as if no-one will ever think to link the two events.

Two Palestinian militants were killed in action near Kfar Darom overnight, and a Palestinian official was shot dead by the Israelis in Ramallah. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST January 24), the total number of Palestinians killed is 242. In the same period, 87 Israelis were killed. This year 17 Palestinians have been killed, and 15 Israelis.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Here in British Columbia -- Canada's Lotus Land -- we are ruled by a government of right wing zealots. New to governing, they are enjoying their power, to the enormous cost of the general public. Having been handed the largest budget surplus in BC history, they gave it all away in a tax cut (worth about $20 a month to the average punter) and now complain they are broke.

Their solution -- get rid of a third of government employees, cut welfare for the most deprived, and reduce services by a quarter across the board. They are closing courthouses and jails, hospitals and women's shelters. Now, they've decided to take away the concessionary passes that our seniors enjoy on public transit. The government will save the fabulous sum of $13 million by taking away the mobility of everyone's grandma. God saves us from such childrens' games.

I have written a very nice letter to Virgin Records advising them that for a little less than a million dollars I would be willing to promise not to sing for them ever again. I await their reply which I expect at any time.

The United Nations and NGOs have estimated that the traffic in human beings is one of the four largest trading businesses in the world -- along with oil, drugs and arms. Sometimes, this trade is purely the business of moving groups of (usually illegal) migrants from one site to another. Often, however, this comes close to being a genuine slave trade.

The International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental aid group based in Geneva, estimates that there are at least 300,000 people living in "slave-like conditions" in the southern borderlands of China alone, and that more than 10,000 Chinese women are trafficked every year into the richer economies of Soutrheast Asia.

Some of these women are physically kidnapped and taken away. Most, however, are tempted by what appears to be the "good life" seen on Thai TV.
"Most women are trying to better their lives, looking for the bright lights and big city. They don't start out being trafficked, but they end up being trafficked,'' said David Feingold, an anthropologist who has researched the traffic in women for the United Nations.
These women suffer lives of such horror that most people reading this simply cannot imagine it. They are yet more victims of the consumerist-capitalist hegemony, beguiled and betrayed by an economic system that doesn't accept them as anything but replaceable units.

Bradley Burston has an interesting piece in Ha'aretz today in which he argues that the U.S. has decided to allow Israel to be as militarily brutal as it chooses to be.
"Hardliners on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have issued repeated calls to turn a runaway spiral of escalation into full-bore military conflict. Although their war cries have often been been sounded in the past, Washington's tacit approval of recent IDF military moves, coupled with its continuing pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to crack down on militants in his midst, represents a marked departure from nearly two decades of nominal American even-handedness toward the battling sides."
Mr Burston will have to pardon me for not having recognized the "even-handedness" of the past. That being said, I can only agree with Ha'aretz commentator Akiva Eldar that this "new" policy will backfire.
"At the end of the day, when the fire gets out of control, it may hit American targets here and elsewhere. Then, the U.S. will have to do something. But it may be too late, because Arafat may by then have lost control."
Meanwhile, two Israeli civilians have now died as a result of the attack in Jersusalem yesterday. From September 11th until now (9:00am PST January 23), the total number of Palestinians killed is 239. In the same period, 87 Israelis were killed. This year 14 Palestinians have been killed, and 15 Israelis.

Most developed countries are ready to help the poorest 2 billion people in the world by increasing direct aid. However, the United States has vetoed all of these proposals in advance of a conference set to propose solutions to dire poverty. The Americans apparently want people living on less than $2 a day to become consumers of American products instead; to buy their way out of destitution by pursuing "further market liberalisation."

The United States is already the lowest per-capita donor of aid to poor countries, and it considers efforts by the UN to publicize its aid targets as "an infringement of national sovereignty."
"It seems the US will only tolerate multilateralism à la carte, and development, global redistribution and the interests of the poor are now off the menu," said Henry Northover, a policy adviser at Cafod, the Catholic aid agency.
This should come as no surprise. The word 'compassion' has not formed part of the US foreign policy vocabulary for decades.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

The media is once again allowing Rumsfeld and the Pentagon to divert attention from the real issue with the detainees in Cuba. Rumsfeld and his flunkies are deliberately focusing on claims that the prisoners are being physically mistreated, and tackling those questions head on. Conditions are tough and unpleasant, I am sure, but any deficiences are simple matters to fix under the watchful eye of the ICRC.

Meanwhile, all the time and energy we spend dealing with cages or no cages, ethnically-appropriate diets, and religious availabilities, is keeping us away from the most important issue -- the legal status of these men. By what right does the U.S. continue to hold them? And under what conditions are their futures to be disposed? Will John Walker receive considerations that are not available to the others? Will the British prisoners receive assistance not available to the Saudis and Pakistanis and Afghanis? Are the Geneva Conventions a dead letter?

These are much more difficult questions that can only be resolved satisfactorily if the media help hold the Administration's feet to the fire, and not let themselves be distracted by leaked pictures of jumpsuits and manacles.

The strategically-central position of Central Asia has been a prize for empire-builders for centuries. The British stopped the Russian advance for a while, without maintaining control themselves; and more recently Muslim-extremist movements have held the ground. Now it is the turn of the American Empire and its insatiable greed for oil, first, and hegemony if possible.

The assault on Afghanistan's Taliban has given the US the excuse it needed to move into the region and there is a lot of evidence to suggest they will not leave anytime soon. Khanabad, Uzbekistan, and Manas, Kyrgyrstan, already house U.S. military bases that look permanent with thousands of American soldiers. As the Guardian notes,"the Pentagon has begun regular replacement and rotation of troops, thereby institutionalising what were at the outset temporary, emergency deployments."

In Pakistan, the Nation this morning reported increasing pressure on the Musharef regime by the US to allow "permanent" bases in Pakistan. However, this article was quickly replaced with a brief noting a Pakistani spokesman's denial that any such discussions have taken place.

And what is this all about. Once again the Guardian spells it out:
"The potential benefits for the US are enormous: growing military hegemony in one of the few parts of the world not already under Washington's sway, expanded strategic influence at Russia and China's expense, pivotal political clout and - grail of holy grails - access to the fabulous, non-Opec oil and gas wealth of central Asia."
Oil and power. What more could a greedy imperialistic nation need?

On the 29th anniversary of Roe v Wade, Bush decided to speak publicly of his desire to overturn women's rights. This has to be a conscious decision by the Bush team. It is certainly against the tide of public opinion --
CNN's latest polling shows 20%+ in favour of abortion at all times, and another 50%+ accepting its use in various circumstances;
-- but that was handled by burying the story (visit the CNN Online site and you'd never know the speech happened at all.) And it allows Bush to stroke the right wing he needs so badly. He did that in spades by calling for a "great goal": that "unborn children" should be "protected by law."

If Bush believes he is politically strong enough to campaign on this issue, it could make for a noisy mid-terms come November.

The independent TV station TV-6 in Moscow has finally been closed. Despite all the evidence, Putin's government continues to insist that it had no role in the station's closure. Referring to the closing order issued by a Moscow judge,
"Press Minister, Mikhail Y. Lesin, professed surprise at the court order and said he had no choice but to revoke the network's broadcast license and give it to new operators. 'As of today, there are no legal opportunities for the TV-6 team to continue its work,' Mr. Lesin said Monday in an interview on ORT, one of three state-owned networks."
The frequency has been leased temporarily to an all-sports channel in a clear victory for the government's campaign against both tycoon Boris Berezovsky and a free media.
"This is horrible news for all of us,'' Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent member of parliament, said on Echo of Moscow. "In Russia, there is no independent, national television station.''
It seems unlikely that the managers and journalists of TV-6 (who had previously moved from NTV when that station was taken over by the government) will sit still. The key seems to be their ties with Berezovsky. If they break with the exiled businessman so hated by the Kremlin, can they operate a station that criticizes? We'll see.

I have just listened to the CBC Radio News for 8:00am here in Pacific time, but I know it could have been almost any North American news broadcast at that time. The lead story was about the shooting in Jerusalem in which a dozen or more Israelis have been wounded. Not once, not once in that story was it mentioned that the Israeli Army killed four Palestinians in a raid in Nablus this morning. Not once were those Palestinian dead mentioned. They were invisible, didn't exist.

A dozen wounded Israelis make headlines; four dead Palestinians are consigned to the dustbin of history. This is an abuse of a free press and the media should be disgusted at their own bias.

The incomparable Peggy Lee has died. This truly wonderful singer helped introduce me to jazz in "Pete Kelly's Blues." She is missed.

In Palestine, the Israeli killing machine continues its work. Two additional Palestinians were killed during the Tul Karm takeover two days ago; and another 4 Palestinian militants were killed during an Israeli incursion into Nablus today. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST January 22), the total number of Palestinians killed is 239. In the same period, 85 Israelis were killed. This year 14 Palestinians have been killed, and 13 Israelis.

Monday, January 21, 2002

The case of the detainees will be heard in an American court. U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz in Los Angeles has agreed to hear on Tuesday morning a petition of habeas corpus. The petition, filed by attorney Stephen Yagman on behalf of a coalition of clergy, professors and civil rights attorneys, alleges that the detainees are Prisoners of War, are being held in violation of the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution, and that as such they are being denied due process.
” ‘These individuals were brought out of their country in shackles, drugged, gagged and blindfolded, and are being held in open-air cages in Cuba,’ said coalition member Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of Southern California. ‘Someone should be asserting their rights under international law’."
Quite right. Action in the courts – even it takes prolonged efforts to get the process started – may be the only chance to get justice or, rather, due process. Concerted international pressure came from the International Red Cross
” ‘All people captured on a battlefield are assumed automatically to be prisoners of war,’ Mr. Darcy Christen of the ICRC said. ‘They should be considered prisoners of war until a tribunal, defined by the Geneva Conventions, decides otherwise.’
Mr. Christen said that the Geneva Conventions don't give immunity from prosecution for crimes, but added that ‘you cannot punish someone simply for being a combatant’."
… and the United Nations
”Secretary-General Kofi Annan, without referring directly to the prisoner transfer, said governments should not violate human rights in the war on terrorism. ‘In the long term, we shall find that human rights, along with democracy and social justice, are one of the best prophylactics against terrorism,’ Annan told the Security Council.
Even the British were obliged to protest after the publication of pictures of the prisoners – who include three Britons – shackled, handcuffed, masked, made to kneel in cages, led to editorials in serious papers, with titles such as “Real friends dare to tell the truth”.
If we want enlightened global interventions, ranging from international policing to policies on aid and global warming, Britain has to be part of the coalition that will bring them about. That means being ready to oppose policies of the Bush administration we don't like and being supportive of those forces in American politics with which we agree. To be selective and realistic does not mean being anti-American.
Jack Straw made the necessary noises, but the Brits backed off quickly enough with a wimpy statement redolent of subservience.
But how much of this international concern is effective within the United States. Not much so far as the Financial Times is concerned.
”Strikingly, in a US media obsessed with its government's declared "war on terrorism," almost nothing has been reported about the growing furore, particularly in Britain and other parts of Europe, and in Australia, over treatment of detainees.
There have been endless media debates over a controversial plan to set up secret military tribunals to try "unlawful combatants" or "battlefield detainees." These terms, however, do not exist in the full Geneva Convention. Very little has been said about whether the US treatment of detainees conforms to the conventions.”
For good or ill, the US judicial system has been called upon to solve a multitude of problems since the founding of the republic. Once more it needs to step into the breach.

Living in Canada, one hears often complaints from Quebec concerning the intrusion of the English language, invasive to the point of detriment to French. Complaints from other languages are heard less often and so it is of interest to read a piece from today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung concerning the irruption of English words and phrases into everyday German. The German Aacdemy for Language and Literature is worried
"... 'that one of the oldest and greatest scientific languages will become stagnant,' according to the academy. The unhostile takeover of English in trade journals, at conventions and in scientists' and economists' 'speechlessness' with regard to German have fostered 'a dilution of democratic discourse'."
The question is becoming politicized:
"The joint parliamentary group of the Christian Democratic Union and its smaller, Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union, have announced they will deal with the question, which they have called 'promoting, imparting and disseminating the German language,' in parliament this coming Thursday."
Europe has a vibrant history of multilingualism. I hope it survives.

Israeli occupation forces took over Tul Karm in Palestine last night, killing a 19-year old boy in the process. From September 11th until now (5:30am PST January 21), the total number of Palestinians killed is 233. In the same period, 85 Israelis were killed. This year 8 Palestinians have been killed, and 13 Israelis.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

The American Enterprise Online site includes an interesting debate regarding whether movies qualify as Art. Jonah Goldberg argues that some of them are, and that only the elite's exclusionary occupation of the term "Art" disqualifies them.
"Sculptors use clay to make art. Masonry supply houses use it to make bricks. Likewise you can make art out of celluloid or you can make junk. American Pie 2 is not art, but Breaker Morant may be. The medium must be separated from the message."
He is joined in this opinion by Josh Larsen (who christens movies, "art for the multitude"), but Chris Weincroft disagrees entirely.
"Movies are to art what TV news is to journalism: a co-opting of the fundamental ingredients, compromised and diluted in the service of entertainment (the ultimate goal, like it or not). 'Artistic' films are like informative TV news broadcasts—dull, tedious, and pretentious. It’s no coincidence that fans of both tend to belong to the same humorless black-turtleneck crowd.
Brandon Bosworth leans toward the Goldberg view, but considers movies to be more Americana than anything else.
"It’s easy to get trapped in endless discussions of the artistic quality of individual films, of the bad taste of the general public, or the warped perspectives of some prominent critics. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that movies are America’s greatest artistic innovation—and no matter what dreck Hollywood may sometimes churn out, it’s a contribution to the world we can be proud of."
Christopher Rapp and Jonathan Last both insists that trash is trash whether it be a Damien Hirst installation or a B-movie.
"Take a walk through Barnes & Noble and try to calculate the ratio of good books to bad. Drive out to the local art expo this weekend and look at the acres of assembly-line water-color landscapes."
Terry Teachout closes the debate, continuing the ambiguous trend:
"A medium capable of giving us Citizen Kane or The Searchers or Chinatown doesn’t have to apologize for Pearl Harbor.

Well, maybe just a little."
A good set of brief essays.

Much Bush Administration energy has gone toward persuading us all that disagreement with US policy on terrorism is tantamount to supporting terrorism. Obviously, only far-out malcontents would object to the rightness of Bush's policies. I guess that makes the leading contender to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury a "far-out malcontent."
"The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Rowan Williams, said the bombing campaign in Afghanistan had lost credibility and was morally equivalent to the terrorism it sought to defeat."
Bravo the Bishop!

Scientists from the Smithsonian have contradicted claims by the Brazilian government that Amazonian deforestation has been halted. In fact, their researches show that forest is being lost now more quickly than ever.
"Forest destruction from 1995 to 2000 averaged almost two million hectares a year,” said Team leader William Laurance. “That’s equivalent to seven football field a minute, and it’s comparable to the bad old days in the 1970s and 1980s, when forest loss in the Amazon was catastrophic.”
The report is timely because the Brazilians have announced plans to spend a further $40 billion on Amazonian "development" in the next few years; development which the government claims will have little or no effect on the forest. Jesus! I have no idea how this can be stopped, but I'll be as noisy about it as I can!

Hinduism is facing a crisis; a crisis caused by a book that suggests cow-worship was not an original feature of mainstream Hinduism. "The Myth of the Holy Cow", by the Indian historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha, apparently proves by use of ancient texts that beef was a featured item on the menu of early Indians. The book has been burned on the author's lawn and has created a controversy similar to that created by Rushdie's Satanic Verses a decade or more ago. The Government's 'cow protection wing' has even demanded his arrest. Jha, who is a vegetarian, has not yet decided whether to travel to Britain for the book's European launch.

Pirates Watch: I grew up reading stories of pirates and mayhem on the Spanish Main. Unfortunately, there are still pirates and what they do is not child's play. The Western Australia Sunday Times has a story about the prevelance of pirates in the seas north of Australia. Talking of just the first six months of 2001, the story notes that
"the crews of 120 ships were taken hostage, three people were killed and 19 seriously injured. The International Marine Bureau now rates southeast Asia and the Indo-China regions – both critical to Australia – as the two most dangerous places to take a ship."
And just a few days ago I noted that a Ukrainian-Libyan ship had been taken for ransom by pirates off Somalia.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Over the next weeks and months, the propagandizers of the consumerist-capitalist myth – including their paid hacks in Congress and in the mainstream media – will attempt to convince us that the collapse of the Enron Corporation was extraordinary, abnormal, the fault of either incompetence or criminal intent or both. They will personalize it, focusing on Kenneth Lay and Sherron Watkins and others yet to be discovered whom they will drag before the klieg lights and embarrass. And they will do all this in the name of getting the whole truth out there. But in fact they will be lying.

These peddlers of confusion will deliberately obfuscate the truth, muddy the waters, pitch red herrings and wild geese, in order that the public cannot grasp the big picture. Because the genuine truth is that the whole stinking bucket of scandal that goes by the shorthand of Enron is not unusual. It does, in fact, epitomize the essence of capitalism – inequality. And no-one wants that truth to come out.

How many times have we been told by business that the steady march of modern commerce across the earth – globalization, to use the shorthand – is the cure for all the world’s ills. Leave it to business, they say, and everything will be OK. Well, it ain’t so; and now there’s a definitive study to prove it. The World Bank has just published Branko Milanovic’s study of economic inequality around the world between 1988 and 1993. His exhaustive research, covering the period when western capitalism was sweeping across previously untouched territory, shows that by 1993, the richest 1% of the world (50 million rich people) earned more than the bottom 60% (2.7 billion poor people).

And it is getting worse.
”In the five years of the study, world per capita real income increased by 5.7%. But all the gains went to the top 20% of the income distribution, whose income was up 12%, while the income of the bottom 5% actually declined by 25%.
The study also shows that the poorest 10% of Americans are still richer than 2/3rds of the world’s population. However, that may not be much comfort to the millions of American McWorkers who are living proof that the high temple of modern capitalism, the USA, is home to the grossest inequities. It is probably no news to those folks that if
”the minimum wage had grown at the same rate as CEO pay since 1990, 571%, it would now be $25.50 an hour, rather than $5.15 an hour.”
All of these economic inequalities, whether in China or Zimbabwe or Kansas, are made up of individual instances of fraud and deceit, of theft and cajolery. And that brings us back to Enron, a company that lived and breathed a whole series of inequities.

They start with the very large
Twenty-nine Enron directors and executives profit from shares valued at $1.1 billion, while thousands of ordinary employees lose the $1.2 billion of retirement savings they foolishly invested in their own company.
… and deceitful …
In an online chat to employees in late September, weeks after Sherron Watkin’s memo warning of a potential implosion, Kenneth Lay told the staff that the company was rock solid, that the shares were “an incredible bargain at current prices, and we will look back a couple of years from now and see the great opportunity that we currently have.”
include the public
While you and I struggle to pay our taxes and get the forms in on time, Enron – despite being apparently profitable, and like many other major corporations – paid no income tax most years, seeking and receiving instead massive tax refunds from the Federal government.
… and may include the legally defensible but morally corrupt.
A number of reports from the Center for Public Integrity show the depth of Enron-related contributions and employment across a broad spectrum of politicians. Do you think that gave them a leg up over you and me?
Much more needs to be written about this, especially about rules that are written to allow large corporations to break those very rules. Enron was one of the great success stories of modern capitalism. It’s fall – against the will of most of the investigators – may allow us to peer under the cloak and see the vicious and corrupt machinery that kept it going so long.

Dr.Penny Kris-Etherton of Penn State has completed research that will gladden the hearts of many of us -- tea and chocolate are good for you!
"Since tea, without milk or sugar, contains no calories, it's an ideal way to add antioxidant flavonoids to your diet without increasing your weight. Having a chocolate cookie that also contains fruit and nuts along with the tea, if consumed in moderation, can be a heart healthy snack."
A diet of tea and cookies -- great stuff!

Does the American "intelligence" community really think it is so good it cannot be found out when it pulls dumb stunts like bugging the plane of the President of China? Jiang Zemin is said to be "furious" or "outraged," which is what I would be if someone was bugging my bathroom and the headboard of my bed! The Washington Post has a detailed account of the building and re-fitting of the plane. Dubya will have fun explaining this when he and Jiang get together next month.

Friday, January 18, 2002

With U.S. combat troops already in the Philippines, Dubya Dubya Three has officially expanded. As an opposition spokesman in Manila said, discussing Filipino President Arroyo:
“In one deceptive and treasonous move, she has succeeded in making the Philippines a virtual extension of Afghanistan.''
The “treason” comes because the Filipino Constitution strictly forbids the use of foreign combat troops in the country. Both Manila and Washington insist the US forces are there purely to “advise and consult,” (according to the Philippines spokesman) or “logistics” according to Rumsfeld) but no-one with any memory (or a shred of common sense) believes them. A former head of the armed forces says quite bluntly:
”All it will take is one bullet fired by an American soldier that would kill a Filipino civilian, such as what happened in Afghanistan, and the political stability of the country will be adversely affected.”
Senator Rudolfo Biazon has asked the Senate to probe the exercise, focusing on duration, proximity to combat and the ammunition issued to Americans. Meanwhile, some of President Arroyo’s statements indicate her understanding that she is indeed in breach of the basic laws of her own country, but that the ends justify the means:
“I will weather the criticisms because in the end, if we get the Abu Sayyaf, we would have been victorious."
I think it will be a long time before that part of the world is safe to visit again.

In an editorial yesterday, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz argues cogently against “the injustice and folly of Israel's occupation of the territories.
”The Israeli settlements and the military bases have expropriated - for construction, agriculture and security - about one-quarter of the Palestinians' lands. To enable freedom of movement for the settlers and to protect their fields, the IDF must restrict the movements of their Palestinian neighbors, destroy their homes and uproot their roadside plantations.

Brigadier General Dov Tzadka, who heads the civil administration in the West Bank, recently said in an interview to the IDF weekly, Bamahaneh, that such activities intensified anti-Israel hatred and increased violence against Israelis.”
The butcher Sharon, of course, refuses to listen to good sense from whatever source.

At the start of what is likely to be a bloody weekend in Palestine, 6 Israeli civilians and a Palestinian militant were killed at a dance hall in Hadera. In response, so far, the Israeli military has killed a Palestinian policeman and a young Palestinian rock-thrower. From September 11th until now (9:30am PST January 18), the total number of Palestinians killed is 232. In the same period, 85 Israelis were killed. This year 7 Palestinians have been killed, and 13 Israelis.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Volcano Alert: In the war-ravaged eastern DR Congo, tens of thousands of refugees are being forced to flee an enemy even more pitiless than the warring factions in the jungle as Mount Nyiragongo erupts.
"Lys Holdoway a spokeswoman for the charity Oxfam, which has a programme team in Goma, told BBC News Online there were now fears that debris from the volcano could cause the lake to turn acidic, endangering people as they cross it to escape."
Vicious fighting on one side, a burning volcano on the other -- some folks just can't get a decent break.

The Japanese love whaling. No idea why, but they do. It is, of course, a subject that pits Japan against all of the liberal environmental global movements that have arisen since the Second World War. These movements have used their political power to have whaling as nearly banned as possible. But, as Greenpeace is now reporting, Japan is using its wealth – maybe $320 million! -- to bribe poorer small countries to vote for a change to the ban.

I can understand poverty-stricken countries taking the money as opposed to supporting what, for them, can be sold as an abstract argument about species conservation, but I sure hope enough of them stand firm.

On his trip to Afghanistan, Colin Powell has assured the new government that the US will make “a significant contribution” to Afghani reconstruction.
” ‘We will be with you in this current crisis and for the future,’ Powell said at a news conference with Karzai after meeting the interim prime minister and some of his cabinet."
A reconstruction fund to set be launched at a donors' conference in Tokyo early next week. However, the US contribution will probably not come without a fight back home. So far as Rep. Tom Lantos of California is concerned:
“We carried the bulk of the military load. We are not going to carry the bulk of the reconstruction load … We believe in a division of labor.''
So, it was in the US’s decision to attack Afghanistan; it was the US’s decision to blow up everything there; but it is the rest of the world’s responsibility to put it all back together.

Oh, how I long for those carefree days when the US was isolationist!

A group of lawyers in Syria has formed a defence committee to assist political detainees in that country. It will be interesting to see whether President Bashir al-Assad allows this committee to continue and, more importantly, to perform useful work. If so, it will be a major sign that the President is willing to soften, even a little, the repression outstanding from his father’s regime.

The Norwegian Minister of Finance, Per-Kristian Foss, has married his homosexual partner in a move signifying a large measure of acceptance and tolerance by the conservative right in that country. What I thought was interesting was that, while much of the world’s press took this story as it was, the Washington Times felt the need to put the word “married” in quotes, as if Norway’s right to its own marriage laws was somehow in doubt without the Times’ blessing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

GM is to unveil a new Cadillac during Superbowl XXXVI. The national campaign will feature Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll"; the first to use the group's music. Not a bad idea, I guess. But I get a bit confused when Mark LaNeve, Cadillac's U.S. general manager, claims that "this will demonstrate that we're unafraid to lead in styling, performance and functionality." Leading? With a 1971 song?

The de jure status of the detainees behind held by the US in Cuba is becoming clarified. Both the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the International Red Cross have determined that they are Geneva Convention Prisoners of War, entitled to the protections and rights of those agreements. The de facto position, however, is that the US will lilkely just refuse to take any notice of international opinion (like that's never happened before!) and use racial profiling to determine the men's fate.

US POWs (such as John Walker) will be tried in US courts (presumably with all the protections allowed under the US Constitution); British and perhaps Australian, captives will be dealt with in cooperation with and protected somewhat by their national states; and the rest (of various nations and colours, none white) will be subject to illegal and unfair military tribunals with the prospect of indefinite detention or death.

To the winner goes the spoils, and their own peculiar forms of injustice.

In Palestine yesterday, Palestinian militants killed two Israeli civilians. From September 11th until now (noon PST January 16), the total number of Palestinians killed is 229. In the same period, 79 Israelis were killed. This year 4 Palestinians have been killed, and 7 Israelis.

"These will be the first war games with live targets." One can almost see the cruel smile on the lips of the Philippines presidential spokesman as he spoke those disgusting and dehumanising words. This follows an announcement that 650 US soldiers would join with the Filipino Army in a hunt for Abu Sayyaf rebels in the south of the country. The US wanted to send many more troops but were refused the opportunity -- at this time. The Filipino constitution absolutely forbids the use of foreign troops within the country, but Dubya and his boys have never been too partial to constitutional niceties even back home. Look out, folks, the Dubya Dubya Three train is bearing down on you!

Talk about a smoking gun! The feeding frenzy over the Enron collapse has brought forth an August 2001 memo from an Enron VP to her boss outlining in detail (at least so it seems) the irregular financial transactions that, presciently, she believed would cause the company to "implode in a wave of accounting scandals." The memo is a fascinating mix of 'you must tell the truth' and 'here's how we might cover it up,' but I think the real decision mechanism behind the actions of some mid-level executives is clearly stated at the very beginning of the letter:
"Has Enron become a risky place to work? For those of us who didn't get rich over the last few years, can we afford to stay?"
If the corrupt profits had been spread a little wider, perhaps ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

All serious advertizing attempts to push various psychic buttons in the potential consumer's mind. This campaign for soap pushes that button labeled "germs" really hard! Apparently consumers thought they were already getting clean enough: Bad news for the soap company.
"In focus groups, people would all say they thought they were clean or clean enough,' said Rich Tlapek, vice president of group creative director at GSD&M. 'That left us in a difficult situation of how do we increase the relevance [of the antibacterial position] if people think they're already clean?'
So they're reverting to the paranoia techniques they used in the 1930s when soap was marketed "to overcome your natural propensity to be a carrier of foulness." It will be interesting to see whether or not we can resist this siren call better than we did then.

Neve Gordon has written a fine piece describing the fascist state of mind that is gripping Israel under the administration of the terrorist-killer Ariel Sharon. She begins by reminding us that the military elite in Israel considers the attacks on the US of September 11th as a "Hannukah miracle". The death of 3,000 innocent US civilians is considered a good thing by Sharon and his brutal buddies because it cemented the Bush Administration into an anti-Arab stance that can only favour Israel.

She then goes on to describe the Gestapo tactics of the oppressors:
"During the past year, peace activists have been 'invited' to meetings with the secret service, where they are 'warned' about their activities. The secret service routinely intercepts the e-mails of peace groups, and often obstructs solidarity meetings or protests in the West Bank by declaring whole regions 'closed military zones.' For months, the Gaza Strip has been totally closed off to Israelis from the peace camp—including members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset—and only Jewish settlers, journalists and soldiers can now enter the region. The security forces’ ongoing attempts to frighten activists have surely affected the left, but their attack on civil liberties is only one manifestation of much broader social processes taking place within Israel."
The article continues by describing the deliberate silencing of the voice of opposition within the Israeli media.
"Adopting the nationalistic refrain, the Israeli media, which were once known for their critical edge, now silence all opposition, broadcasting almost solely those views conforming to the official line. TV crews pass by as if the peace groups—standing at peace rallies in front of government offices, chanting anti-war slogans—were thin air. By rendering the peace camp invisible to the public at large, the Israeli media helps make it powerless.
Once protest is silenced, all hope is gone and only violence can flourish.

According to a little-publicised report from the US Centers for Disease Control, our own cities are killing and disabling us at rates that any bio-terrorist would envy. The report lists a number of problems which, at first glance, seem so obvious as to not be worth mentioning. However,
" ... if the report’s conclusions are sometimes obvious, the statistics behind them are arresting. In Europe, up to 129,000 adults die each year from long-term exposure to vehicle-generated pollution. The annual health-related cost of such pollution is roughly $23.8 billion for Austria, France, and Switzerland combined.

Back in [the US], smog was responsible for more than 6 million asthma attacks in 1997, including 159,000 emergency room visits and 53,000 hospitalizations. Meanwhile, as many as 300,000 people die from obesity-related illnesses each year, and the health care costs of obesity and low physical activity were estimated at $100 billion in 1995. Oddly, although Americans make fewer than 6 percent of their trips on foot, 13 percent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians."
The author, Kathryn Schultz, makes the excellent point that Homeland Security needs to start at home. However, this all should be read in conjuction with E.O.Wilson's pessimistic view of the entire planet's ecological future if we carry on with our present economic systems.

I have long been an admirer of Lou Dobbs' ability to handle himself in front of a camera. The veteran financial journalist has always managed to maintain his on-air composure while still adding human touches to his reporting. I didn't see last night's CNN Moneyline, but from this report it seems he came close to losing his temper over coverage of the Enron story while trying to get his reporter to slant the political donations story away from the Republicans. It would be a shame if Dobbs' repuation followed that of Kenneth Lay and Arthur Andersen into the toilet.
[thanks to Romenesko's Media for the story]

The absurd follies of the obscenely rich continue to titillate and infuriate. The mother of 84-year old billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's three-year old daughter is requesting $320,000 per month in child support payments. Astonished that she should be refused, the aggrieved woman has detailed her minimum requirements (and remember, these are for a three year old girl each month):
"$14,000 a month for parties; $4,300 for food - that's food at home because there is also $5,900 for eating out; $1,000 for toys; $144,000 for travel; $2,500 for cinema trips and other outings; and $436 for caring for her rabbit and other pets. Then, of course, there are the three full-time nannies.

As proof that raising a child can be as expensive as is claimed, documents show that the child's first birthday party, attended by 20 children and 30 adults, cost $70,000.
As I said, absurd and obscene.

In a tit-for-tat killing yesterday, Palestinian militants killed an Israeli soldier. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST January 15), the total number of Palestinians killed is 229. In the same period, 77 Israelis were killed. This year 4 Palestinians have been killed, and 5 Israelis.

Joe Lieberman -- a man of grand insignificance made famous by one of Al Gore's worst mistakes of 2000 -- is calling yet again for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. I guess he knows he'll be creamed by either Al or Hilary in the primaries, so he'd better make a bunch of noise now while someone's still listening.

One of the long range problems that Dubya Dubya Three creates is what to do with prisoners of war that the US refuses to accept as POWs. As more and more detainees are held in barbaric conditions in a miltary colony, the outcrys can only become louder and more serious. Even Britain's Jack Straw is mouthing concerns.
"Whether or not technically they have rights under the Geneva convention, they have rights in customary international law, and all of us who are either involved as their representatives as their governments or those holding them have obligations."
It is worth repeating the link from a couple of days ago, in which the legal situation is discussed.

Monday, January 14, 2002

I love New Zealand. It is one of those places that goes its own way and tells the world to just take a hike. It was no surprise therefore that a New Zealand resort should be the first to use Osama bin Laden in its advertizing campaign.
"The Tourism Coromandel billboards - seen by 150,000 motorists a day - show what appears to be Osama bin Laden sitting on a deck chair on a beach reading a copy of Time magazine with a picture of the terrorist mastermind on the cover. The boards carry the slogan, "There's no better place to escape."
Great stuff, Kiwis!

The two biggest proponents of "genuine free trade" are the United States and Europe. Yet these two are also the world's worst cheats, shoring up their own corporations with billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Modern capitalist consumerism could hardly survive without these props. The two cheats regularly accuse each other of the most awful abuses and use their plaything, the WTO, as a sort of puppet arbitrator. In the latest round, the European Community has caught the US handing out $4 billion of illegal tax breaks to its friends. What's the resolution? The US threatens to countersue, and life moves on at increasing cost to you and me. Go figure.

During the middle-1980s I spent a year working in Kenya. I was able to travel from one end of the country to the other, spending time on the coast, in the mountains, by the Rift Valley lakes. It was a glorious experience in every way. Had it been possible to stay and make a reasonable living, I probably would still be there. But there was a dark side, too; a shadow of violence on the sun, ever present.

Arap Moi's dictatorship has done nothing to lessen the fear that lies heavy on the oppressed. This is confirmed by a recent report that 90% of all shooting deaths in the country are committed by the police. The BBC editor was certainly understating the truth when noting that Kenyan police "have a reputation for brutality." Combine this police malfeasance with the general stink of corruption in a rotten government, and hopes for immediate improvement in the lot of the ordinary person seem idealistic at best.

In Palestine today, Israeli terrorists assassinated a Palestinian militant by remote-controlled bomb in Tulkarm. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST January 14), the total number of Palestinians killed is 229. In the same period, 76 Israelis were killed. This year 4 Palestinians have been killed, and 4 Israelis.

Sunday, January 13, 2002

We have watched the drugged and beaten prisoners flown from Afghanistan to a military base in Cuba. What is their status? Will Court TV be allowed to televise their trials? Who are their lawyers? In a well-arged piece in the Observer, Peter Beaumont shows that these prisoners are being held in legal limbo, with no rights and no futures. He describes the terrible conditions under which they were held in Afghanistan and discusses consequences.
"What is most alarming are the potential consequences of those beaten and forced confessions in the context of the legal process that has been constructed for the al-Qaeda prisoners. For the torture, threats and humiliation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners in Afghanistan's jails pale into insignificance before the cynical acrobatics that Geroge Bush's administration has gone through to strip these prisoners of their most basic rights to a fair legal process."
He goes on to disect the US government's refusal to allow the detainees POW status, and indicates the legal minefields this will lead them into: If they are not POWs, then they must be regular prisoners with regular rights. Yes, but no.

Do you know where your tax money is going? Some of it is going to collect fingers and other body parts in Afghanistan to resolve someone's desperate psychic need to find out whether or not Osama bin Laden was killed in the carpet bombing of the mountains. From this gruseome business, we learn what some of the US's weapons can do:
"Investigations have shown that the ground around some of the entrances was simply vapourised. Fighters further inside the caves were torn to pieces by colossal pressure waves and incinerated by an onrushing wall of heat. 'In some places,' the source continued, 'there isn't much left to gather up' ."
This is modern "surgical" warefare.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

The Blair government in the UK is showing its true stripes (not that there was much doubt about their lack of principle) by pursuing massive arms sales to India during this time of crisis in Kashmir.
"Richard Bingley, spokesman for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said yesterday: 'It is diabolical that just days after Tony Blair was promoting peace in India, his government uses taxpayers' money to fund activity which could achieve the exact opposite'."
Not only would these sales be morally repugnant, and against the very essence of prohibitions established by the Blair government when they first came to power, but would be one more anti-Pakistan step in a path of many such steps. Neither Britain nor the US can stand as "honest brokers" in this conflict. Having raped Pakistan for what she could give in Afghanistan, the Bush boys have tossed her aside in her own hour of need.

Friday, January 11, 2002

The Guardian has an engrossing article about the stunning power and influence of the Yakuza, Japanese gangsters. Influence so great that they have helped deepen the recession in the country's economy.
"Raisuke Miyawaki, the former head of the anti-crime syndicate division of the national police agency ... says Japan has been in a "Yakuza recession" for the past decade. Using their strong connections in the the LDP as well as the property, construction and finance sectors, he says gangsters helped to ramp up the value of land in the 1980s and have since profited by covering up the scale of the bad debts and blocking attempts at a clear up."
And the scale of the problem?
"The scale of Yakuza involvement is as hard to quantify as the size of Japan's bankruptcy risk loans, which are estimated to range between ¥24 trillion, or £125bn, (according to the authorities) and ¥170 trillion (according to Goldman Sachs). An idea may be had, however, from figures released by the Resolution and Collection Corporation, the government body set up in 1997 to buy up and resolve bad loans. Between 1999 and 2001, the RCC collected just over one trillion yen's worth of bad loans, of which it says 18.4% were related to "antisocial elements ...

A senior Yakuza source says his organisation receives a 4%-5% cut of most public works projects, of which they pay about half to the [governing LDP]. "
Reports are that this mighty economy will suffer another major banking collapse later this spring, with one legislator suggesting that only two or threre banks will survice. And the Yakuza will be a significant element in the collapse. Bizarre.

The dumb Russians are selling nuclear power plants to the Myanmar dictators!
"Diplomats in Rangoon say authorities have trouble maintaining existing electricity generators let alone a nuclear reactor."
Talk about inappropriate technology!

With today's signing of the Pentagon's $318billion budget, the US right wing has just about completed its triple play: massive increases in defense spending, extraordinarily repressive police powers, and huge tax and subsidy handouts to large corporations. The far right must be thanking Osama bin Ladin every night in their prayers, for he has given them the excuse they have sought for decades.

The assault on a free press in Russia continues. Independent TV station TV-6 is being closed on a technicality in a campaign clearly directed by the executive branch of the Russian government.
"Russian opposition politicians and journalists have criticised the move, which they see as a further attempt by the government to smother Russia's independent media. The government denies any interference, but the BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow says the Russian public has developed a fairly cynical attitude to whatever comes out of the Kremlin."
TV-6 has become known for its stance against Government policies. Brutally free economic markets combined with a controlled press indicates bad times ahead for the average Russian.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

The US Army is testing a form of biological weapon to use in crowd control -- bad smells!
"The non-lethal 'odor bomb' is said to smell like rotting garbage, human waste and burning hair, according to the article’s author, senior editor Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D. Tests show the putrid odors 'are potent in making people want to flee in disgust,' notes the article. The odors also cause shallow breathing, increased heart rate and can lead to nausea, it adds.

The researchers focused on biological odors 'because we thought those had the best chance of being recognized universally,' says Monell researcher Pamela Dalton, Ph.D. 'People really hated these odors,' she adds."
I'm all for non-lethal weaponry, especially those based on childhood pranks like stink bombs!

No civilized nation on earth would use bulldozers to deliberately make 520 civilians homeless, including 300 children. Israel did that this morning in a Gaza refugee camp, proving once again that the fascistic military government in power in Jerusalem is one of the least civilized groups in the world. No criticism of this brutal act has been forthcoming from Washington, and none should be expected.

Herbs for health! New research shows that herbs -- most especially oregano -- have huge amounts of potentially healthful anti-oxidants.
"On a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano and other herbs ranked even higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables, which are known to be high in antioxidants. In comparison to the antioxidant activities of a few select fruits and vegetables, the potency of oregano ranks supreme: Oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries."
Bring on those pizzas!

One in four of you have used the Internet in the last little while to search for spiritual assistance or information. Or so says a new survey by Pew reported in Forbes. But this is probably not old time religion.
"While 27% of what the Pew Internet and American Life Project has dubbed "Religion Surfers" say the Internet has improved their spiritual beliefs, online religion is also a business. Astrology.com, which sells astrological forecasts and charts, was the top spiritual site for the week ending Dec. 16 with 870,000 visitors, according to Nielsen/NetRatings."
Commercial sites or not, the survey indicates that the Internet has proven a boon to folks with ideas that are not in the mainstream, helping them find like-minded congregations.

Regardless of whether bullets actually fly in the Kashmir conflict, the world now has another huge carpet of landmines to deal with as a result of this crisis.
"Indian troops have been evicting farmers and seeding large areas of arable land over the last month with anti-personnel landmines outlawed under the Ottawa mine ban treaty of 1997 ...

The minefields will be up to three miles deep in places. Along with accompanying Indian defensive installations this will create the longest, fully-fortified border in the world, running from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas. It will dwarf the western front of the first world war and the Maginot Line of the second and amount to south Asia's equivalent of the Berlin Wall."
This has highlighted the major problem with global landmine prohibition -- the refusal of the US to ban mines.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

The London Observer has an intriguing -- and ultimately very sad -- essay about marital sex, or the lack of it.
"There is some indication that sex within marriage is so moribund that the reluctance to study it is almost as pronounced as the reluctance to engage in it.
The most astonishing and depressing finding to me is that, in this 21st century:
"... a growing number of scholarly observers argue that, for many married women, sex is simply another form of wifework - another way in which women routinely service the physical and emotional needs of their male partners at the expense of their own. The historian Sheila Jeffreys argues that in contemporary marriage women do not experience sex primarily as a form of recreation or an act of intimacy, but as a form of work: 'a "skill", like housework, that women need to acquire'."
I must be living in some kind of dream world, because I thought that was the situation in historical marriage rather than a contemporary situation. Thank goodness and Mother Nature that my marriage is not "normal"!

Capital Punishment Update: The league tables for the 2001 U.S. Death Penalty Championships have been published, and the hot favourites, Texas – champions since 1996 --, were beaten out by underdog Oklahoma 18 to 17. However, they are certain they will re-capture the title in 2002 after delays in the appeals courts have been resolved.
”I liken it to a boa constrictor that has swallowed a pig for dinner," said prosecutor Roe Wilson, whose office handles capital case appeals. "You watch the pig progress down the boa constrictor, and that pig is the big glut that is in the federal courts right now."
Meanwhile, capital punishment opponents have won changes to the way Kansas handles the death penalty. It will just delay things until they rewrite the sentencing laws, but every little bit helps.

More substantively, perhaps, opponents are turning their attention to those companies and institutions that supply the means for committing state murder. In a web exclusive, Mother Jones has a fascinating article about this campaign. One success has come in Oklahoma itself, where the McAlester Regional Health Centre – the sole supplier of deadly potassium chloride to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections – has halted all such sales. The campaign will now spread to attack pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors who continue the practice.
”Activists acknowledge that this new campaign won't put an end to capital punishment. The goal, they say, is simply to make it more complicated -- and possibly more costly -- for states to carry out a death sentence.

‘Drug companies are in the business of making drugs for health and well-being, not to kill people,’ says Steve Hawkins, Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. ‘If a department of corrections wants to be in the business of killing people, let it be expensive, and let it be difficult’."
One of the primary arguments against capital punishment is that mistakes can never be rectified. If an innocent man is killed, he can never be revived, no matter how sorry we may be for the mistake. The mistake is final and therefore the mistake should never be allowed to happen. But mistakes do happen and one of the latest cases to emerge is that of Colin Warner who, at age 39, served 21 years for a murder he did not commit. His story is covered in detail in New York City Limits. Warner is now freely walking the streets hoping for well-deserved compensation. Had his been a death penalty case, the wonderful work of his friends and legal team would have finally acquitted a dead man. As Warner says:
“There are a lot of innocent people in prison, who were railroaded back in the ’70s and ’80s,” says Warner. “But many more are being railroaded today, and nobody in the [NYPD] or the district attorney’s office is being held responsible for this injustice. Until we get together and put some pressure on the system, then we will always be at the mercy of the system.”
Finally, let us all be grateful that most of the world no longer kills men for sleeping together. Alas, this is not the case in that great American ally, Saudi Arabia, where three men began and ended New Years Day by having their heads chopped off.