Archive for August, 2004

Between Venezuela and Nothingland

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

By Eduardo Galeano

Strange dictator this Hugo Chávez. Masochistic and suicidal: he created a Constitution that permits the people to throw him out, and he risked this occurring in a recall referendum. This referendum that took place in Venezuela was the first of its kind in Universal history. He was not cast out. And this makes it the Eighth election that Chávez has won in five years, with a transparency that would have sent dear Bush on a holiday.

Obedient to his Constitution, Chávez accepted the referendum, promoted by the opposition, and subjected himself to the will of the people: “You all decide”. Up until now, the presidents interrupted their rule only for death, a putsch, an uprising or parliamentary decision. The referendum has inaugurated an innovative form of direct democracy. An extraordinary accountability: How many presidents, of what countries of the world, would be enthusiastic to allow for that?  And how many would continue being president afterwards?

His tyranny, invented by the large media corporations, the fearful demon, just gave a tremendous injection of vitamins to democracy, which in Latin America, and not only in Latin America, frailly stumbles along in need of energy.

One month before, Carlos Andrés Pérez, the little angel of God, democrat adored by the large media corporations, declared a coup d’état to the four winds. Smoothly and flatly he affirmed that “the violent path” was the only possible in Venezuela and he despised the referendum “because it does not form part of the idiosyncrasy of Latin America”. The idiosyncrasy of Latin America, that is to say, our precious heritage: the deaf and mute peoples.

Until recently, Venezuelans went to the beach when there were elections. Voting was not, and is not, obligatory. But the country has passed from total apathy to total enthusiasm. The torrent of the election, enormous lines waiting until dawn, standing firm, for hours and hours, overflowed all the structures of the voting apparatus. The alluvium of democracy also made difficult the application of the latest model of technology created to avoid fraud in this country where the dead have a bad custom of voting, where some of the living vote many times in each election perhaps due to Parkinson disease.  

“Here there is no freedom of expression!” claim the television screens, the radio waves, and the daily pages with absolute liberty of expression. Chávez has not closed even one of the mouths that routinely spit insults and lies. Unpunished the chemical war continues destined to poison public opinion. The only TV channel that has been closed in Venezuela, channel 8, was not a victim of Chávez but of those who usurped the presidency, for a couple of days, in the fleeting hours of the coup d’ etat of April 2002.

And when Chávez returned from prison, and recovered the presidency amid crowds of immense multitude, the large media corporations themselves did not disseminate the news. The private television spent all day running cartoons of Tom and Jerry.

That exemplary coverage earned the king of Spain’s prize for quality journalism as the king rewarded the filming of those turbulent days of April.  The filming was a scam.  It showed wild Chavistas shooting against an innocent assembly of unarmed opponents.  That assembly did not exist, according to what has been shown with irrefutable proof, but apparently this detail did not have importance, because the prize was not withdrawn.

Until just very recently, in the Saudi Venezuela, petroleum paradise, the census officially recognized a million and a half illiterates and five million undocumented Venezuelans without civil rights.

These and many other invisibles are not willing to return to Nothingland, a country inhabited by nobodies. They have conquered their country that was so alien: this referendum has proven, once more, that here they will remain.

Translated by Dawn Gable

The Team White America Loved to Hate: USA Basketball in Black and White!

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

By Dave Zirin

How many times do we hear fans try to assign wild-eyed political symbolism to sports teams? My friend Zeke is convinced that “If the Yankees win that’s good for Bush!” I’ve also heard, “The Detroit Pistons beating the LA Lakers will give confidence to blue collar workers around the country.” Or my favorite irrational analysis, “I bet they fixed the Super Bowl so the ‘Patriots’ would win–you know….because of the war.”

But the Olympics are a different beast. The US as the world’s lone superpower lord over the Olympics like Alexander the Great. Our defeats are celebrated as dents in the armor. Rooting against the US outside this country becomes as natural as cheering for Rocky Balboa.

But a new layer of people inside the Unites States rooted against one US team in particular this Olympics, and for all the wrong reasons. The bronze medal winning US basketball squad became the team fans in the United States loved to hate. According to a national poll, 54% of fans said they wanted to see the team of NBA superstars lose–with another 20% reporting that they “kind of” wanted to see them taken down.

Some of this animosity is more racist than a Bob Jones University course syllabus.

Full Article:

French Minister Attacked, Rebels Take Haitian Town

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – A gang chased a French minister out of a Haitian slum under gunfire on Monday, while former soldiers who helped oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took control of a southern town and defied U.N. forces to remove them.

One French gendarme was wounded and a French diplomatic source said he saw at least one person killed in the attack.

The reminders of the impoverished Caribbean country’s chronic instability came six months after Aristide, regarded as a champion of the poor, was driven out by an armed revolt and U.S. and French pressure amid allegations of despotism and corruption.

The French diplomatic source said the country’s junior foreign minister, Renaud Muselier, had to be bustled out of the Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince after his entourage was attacked by rock-throwing youths.

When Haitian police fired into the air, gang members pulled out shotguns, pistols and other weapons and shot at the visitors, who had been planning to visit a hospital in the slum that still seethes with anger over Aristide’s departure.

“We are very surprised that we came under attack when we went to help the hospital,” the source, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

The violence in the capital, where most of a 2,755-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is on patrol, came after a weekend of trouble in the south that bore echoes of the revolt against Aristide.

Ex-soldiers from the army Aristide disbanded in 1995 attacked a police station in Petit-Goave, 40 miles south of the capital and proclaimed themselves in charge of security.

Full Article: Reuters

Fanning the Hysteria About Iran: NPR Leads the Charge to War

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

by Mike Whitney

“We are ready to do everything necessary to give guarantees that we won’t seek nuclear weapons.”
President Mohammad Khatami

When did “liberal” NPR become a champion of American aggression against Iran?

Listeners to National Public Radio are increasingly apt to criticize the “rightward shift” in the station’s news coverage. The August 30 “Morning Edition” program, however, reached a new low for slanted journalism and for making the Bush Administration’s case for war with Iran.

The commentary titled “US Presses UN Agency on Iran Nuclear Program” was a textbook example of propaganda dressed up to look like unbiased reporting.

All three interviewees were charter members of America’s “far right” establishment; haling from the American Enterprise Institute, the Nixon Center and the Project for the New American Century. All three of these groups were “front and center” in facilitating the unwarranted attack on “unarmed” Iraq. The Bush Administration is looking for an excuse to attack Iran; that much is clear.

Full Article:

Burning Slaves at the Stake

Monday, August 30th, 2004

by Thomas St. John
Rev. Jonathan Edwards delivered the hellfire and brimstone “spider” sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741. This topical sermon is a bitter jeremiad against the “New York Negro rebels” who were then being executed for plotting to burn the village of New York to the ground.

From late May to August 1741, in the public market place that later became known as “the Five Points”, thirteen slaves were burned at the stake, sixteen were hanged, hundreds were jailed, and seventy-two were transported to certain death in the West Indies. Contemporaries compared these events to the Salem witch hysteria of 1692. When Edwards preached in early July, twelve slaves had already been burned, and nine were hanged; the minister had no way of knowing how many more would be tortured.

Vast Anti-Bush Rally Greets Republicans in New York

Monday, August 30th, 2004

New York Times
A roaring two-mile river of demonstrators surged through the canyons of Manhattan yesterday in the city’s largest political protest in decades, a raucous but peaceful spectacle that pilloried George W. Bush and demanded regime change in Washington.

On a sweltering August Sunday, the huge throng of protesters marched past Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention opening today, and denounced President Bush as a misfit who had plunged America into war and runaway debt, undermined civil and constitutional rights, lied to the people, despoiled the environment and used the presidency to benefit corporations and millionaires.

The protest organizer, United for Peace and Justice, estimated the crowd at 500,000, rivaling a 1982 antinuclear rally in Central Park, and double the number it had predicted. It was, at best, a rough estimate. The Police Department, as is customary, offered no official estimate, but one officer in touch with the police command center at Madison Square Garden agreed that the crowd appeared to be close to a half-million. full article

The G.O.P. Arrives, Putting Sept. 11 Into August New York Times
Republican leaders said yesterday that they would repeatedly remind the nation of the Sept. 11 attacks as their convention opens in New York City today, beginning a week in which the party seeks to pivot to the center and seize on street demonstrations to portray Democrats as extremist.

Party aides said the convention would begin with an elaborate tribute to Sept. 11 victims, with speeches by Senator John McCain and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, reminding voters of Mr. Bush’s role in leading the nation after the attacks, which took place a couple of miles from Madison Square Garden, home of the convention. full article

Suspected Pentagon Spy Reportedly Served in Israel

Sunday, August 29th, 2004
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Pentagon analyst suspected of passing classified information to Israel served as a U.S. Air Force reservist in Israel, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

The newspaper quoted a former colleague at the Defense Intelligence Agency who said the analyst may have been based at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, but was never permanently assigned there.

Quoting unnamed officials and others familiar with the inquiry, the Post said an FBI investigation had been broadened in recent days to include interviews at the State and Defense departments and with Middle Eastern specialists outside government.

Officials at the Justice and Defense departments declined comment on the report.

U.S. government sources said on Friday the FBI is investigating whether the analyst gave classified documents to Israel via the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

Israeli officials denied the allegations on Saturday and insisted Israel had not spied on the United States since an espionage scandal involving U.S. Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, who was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli embassy.

The Post said the probe was focused on a career analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who specializes in Iran and had risen to the rank of colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

Early in the Bush administration, the analyst moved to the Pentagon’s policy branch headed by Undersecretary Douglas Feith, where he continued his work on Iranian affairs, the newspaper said.

It was unclear whether the case would result in espionage charges or lesser charges such as the improper release of classified information or mishandling of government documents, the report said.

As if Israel needs a ‘spy’ in the Pentagon to give them intel on Iran.
What’s going on here?

In Western Iraq, Fundamentalists Hold U.S. at Bay

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

by John F. Burns and Erik Eckholt New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 28 – While American troops have been battling Islamic militants to an uncertain outcome in Najaf, the Shiite holy city, events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq.

Both of the cities, Falluja and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are now controlled by fundamentalist militias, with American troops confined mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert’s edge. What little influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs that obliterate enemy safe houses identified by scouts who penetrate militant ranks. Even bombing raids appear to strengthen the fundamentalists, who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths.

American efforts to build a government structure around former Baath Party stalwarts – officials of Saddam Hussein’s army, police force and bureaucracy who were willing to work with the United States – have collapsed. Instead, the former Hussein loyalists, under threat of beheadings, kidnappings and humiliation, have mostly resigned or defected to the fundamentalists, or been killed. Enforcers for the old government, including former Republican Guard officers, have put themselves in the service of fundamentalist clerics they once tortured at Abu Ghraib. full article

This article reflects the disastrous situation. It also fails to make explicit the difference between these Sunni fundamentalists and al Sadr, who is neither Sunni nor particularly fundamentalist. The press is fond of calling him a ‘firebrand’ and ‘rebel’ and ‘radical’ a la Hugo Chavez, but the fact is that at the end of the day, he is viewed as a heroic freedom-fighter by the large majority of Iraqis, who are not a fundamentalist people by and large. The alliance between the former Republican Guards and the fundamentalists is a toxic mix, and apparently while everyone was focusing on Sadr and Najaf, this crew gained control of a large part of the country.

How new Africa made fools of the white mischief-makers

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

by Raymond Whitaker Independent UK
The days when white mercenaries could walk into small African countries and take them over appear to be gone. The coup plot against Equatorial Guinea, with its cast of old Etonians, adventurers and shady money men, failed because of its leaders’ incompetence – and because of a new spirit of co-operation among Africans.

“Things have changed in Africa over the past few years,” said a friend of Simon Mann, the old Etonian now awaiting sentence in Zimbabwe for attempting to buy arms illegally. “The days are gone when you could recruit a bunch of moustaches, load up some ammunition and take over a country – especially if you are a white man.” full article

Aw shucks.

Magazine: U.S. Soldier Says Torture Encouraged

Sunday, August 29th, 2004
BERLIN (Reuters) – A U.S. soldier expected to plead guilty to charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners told a German magazine he deeply regretted his actions but said the abuses were encouraged by military intelligence services.

Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick told the weekly Der Spiegel conditions in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib jail were a “nightmare” with no clear line of command and conflicting demands placed on junior soldiers with insufficient training.

“I didn’t know at all who was actually in charge,” he said, according to a German translation of his remarks.

“The battalion wanted one thing from you, the company wanted something else and the secret service had their own ideas. It was just chaos,” he said.

The abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib caused worldwide outrage when photographs of the incidents emerged earlier this year.

A special army investigation acknowledged last week that torture had occurred and more soldiers may face trial, although so far only Frederick and six other military police reservists serving at Abu Ghraib have been charged.

Frederick said after a pretrial hearing in Germany last week he would plead guilty to some charges including assault, cruelty and indecent acts at a court martial on October 20.

“I want to apologize to the victims and their families. And in the trial, I will accept responsibility for my actions. But I hope others will follow my example,” he said.

He said a notorious incident in which he was involved where naked Iraqi prisoners were photographed piled up into a pyramid occurred after a female U.S. soldier was struck in the face with a stone by a prisoner.

“First we searched them, got them stripped naked and then pushed them into this pyramid — and then everything got out of control,” he said. “One of the methods was to humiliate them so that they would break down and talk.” full article