Monday, October 30, 2006


The wives of incumbents are, for newsmakers, a special category of folk: they don't require the same protocol-dictated silk gloves, on the one hand, and on the other, they are likely to be more outspoken than their spouses.  This was brought home with a bang when Lynn Cheney spared with Wolf Blitzer this past week-end

The Vice-president's wife had no compunction about accusing CNN of left-wing bias, even, oh horrors, of presenting "the Democratic playbook"!  Why?  Because CNN picked up an interview Dick Cheney did with a right-wing radio host in which he confirmed that he favors water-boarding, in contradiction with the administration's stated policy of forbidding torture.

Poor Wolf was too rattled to point out that when CNN does (exceptionally!) present the Democratic Party's point of view, it is merely fulfilling its obligation of fairness.

His pusillanimity gave Cheney the opportunity to actually turn the tables on him: "Tell me Wolf (or so many words), do you and your colleagues want us to win or not," forcing him to defend his personal and professional attitudes!

Then she came in for the kill, accusing CNN of defeatism for airing a terrorist video of a US soldier being felled by a sniper.  Blitzer then had to defend the corporate decision to run the video,protesting lamely that they had made a point of telling their viewers that it was a terrorist propaganda tool.

When the interviewee becomes the interviewer, it should make journalists wonder whether the time has come for them to jump the corporate media ship and go where they can legitimately present the left's entirely legitimate point of view, even if it's for less money.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


2) China censors Google and Yahoo, Centcom censors soldiers' blogs.....

3) The Soviets built a wall between East and West Germany, the Israelis are building a wall to shut out the Palestinians, we're building a wall to shut out the Mexicans.

4) President Bush would  bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, Israel's new "minister for strategic threats", Avigdor Lieberman, would blow up Egypt's Aswan Dam.

(The United States and Israel seem to feed on each other when it comes to war tactics, a similarity, but equally worth mentioning.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Today I want to start an on-going rubric:  What's the Difference between the actions of so-called developed, liberal governments, and under-developed socialist or authoritarian governments?  Every day I'm struck by how, each in its own context, repressive or dishonest behaviors are basically the same, the differences being of degree rather than kind.

1) This week's Economist "reveals" that Vladimir Putin is hand-picking is successor for the 2008 presidential elections, in which he cannot run.  It notes: "The Kremlin wants to anticipate the public mood, and is testing its candidates and the ideas they embody on television and in opinion polls."

Apparently not flattered by this imitation, Condolezza Rice, the article goes on to say, "expressed concern about two of the Kremlin's methods: muzzling the media, and the haphazard application a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations. The voting (and counting) will not doubt be closely orchestrated too.  Russian liberals are helplessly depressed about their chances of disrupting the coronation.....Mikail Kasyanov, a former prime minister turned would-be opposition leader, predicts a national crisis following a manipulated election.

So much for differences between Russian and American elections.  But there's more:

"An unbridgeable split within the elite might yet allow a flamboyant authoritarian challenger to emerge.  Or more likely, it might encourage Mr. Putin to stay in power.  That does not necessarily mean changing Russia's constitution to  remain in office for a third term...there are other ways, such as a redistribution of powers between the presidency, government and parliament.  On October 25th, in a tsar-like (sic) televised phone-in Mr Putin bolstered that idea by saying enigmatically that "with you (the voters) we can influence the life of the country" after 2008.

That's Mr. Putin taking his cue from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Anyone who reads this should immediately cease all other activity to listen to today's Democracy Now broadcast on radio or webcast (Pacifica).

Amy Goodman interviews the US lawyer of a US citizen who has been SENTENCED TO DEATH by an Iraqi judge after a totally illegal intervention by US military officers alleging to speak for the Romanian government.  I will not go into details, it's crazier than fiction, but urge all readers to do whatever they can to prevent the US government from handing this person over to the Iraqis to be shot.

Also on this program, an interview with the writer Tariq Ali about his book "Pirates of the Carribean", about the Venezuelan revolution.

And also, a clip from the documentary "The Revolution will not be televised" about the failed coup against Chavez, shot by two Irishmen inside the presidential palace while the coup was being reversed.  Stunnning.

This brings me to a point I've been wanting to make for some time: Tariq Ali described the reaction of the UN General Assembly to Chavez' speech which of course was widely seen all over the world if not in the US, how the delegates applauded him and even Arab delegates told him afterwards that he was saying what they could no longer say about the U.S.

Tariq Ali described the Venezuelan people's reaction when the coup against Chavez was defeated, saying: "The people went wild".  He said it in admiration, but unfortunately, it's precisely the image of "the people going wild" that has prevented many liberals from realizing the sophistication of today's "people".  Underestimating the knolwedge, organization and determination of "the people" all over the world leads American politicians to cling to yesterday's solutions.

A prediction: the United States will undergo radical change as a result of the combined awareness of the poor (Katrina),  the immigrant community, and veterans of the horrific Middle East wars, and many will continue to wonder how it could happen here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


There's something I can't quite get my mind around when it comes to North Korea: we never signed a peace treaty with them after the Korean War, which ended, I think, in 1952; we have enough nuclear weapons to blow the entire world up, and we're telling them they can't even have a bomb!

Imagine a school yard where one big kid is holding a club and he's telling a little kid that if he picks up a stone, he'll clobber him.

As Martha pointed out yesterday, Communism is passe, nobody worries about the red menace anymore, so why can't we sign a peace treaty with North Korea, give them some help with development (other than nuclear) and generally behave toward them like their brothers, the South Koreans, who've tried to follow a "sunshine policy"?

It's true that the more countries have nuclear weapons, the more difficult it will be to rid the world of them.  But while we're threatening North Korea and Iran, we're not doing anything about drawing down our own arsenal, and setting up a serious mechanism to get other countries to do the same.

Karen Armstrong's latest book  "The Great Transformation" tells how when things got bad enough, previous civilizations realized that to renew themselves they had to abandon violence.  During the Axial Age, which stretched roughly over the thousand years before Christ, but which also includes Islam, she tells us that:  "The sages were all living in  violent societies like our own.  What they created was a spiritual technology that utilized natural energies to counter this aggression."

She seems to be speaking to our "compassionate" President when she says: "The most gifted of them realized that if you wanted to outlaw brutal, tyrannical behavior, it was no good simply issuing external directives."

The Hindus, the Chinese, the Jews, Christians and Muslims each went about this in a different way, but the starting point Golden Rule : do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  It was not a question of discovering God, and then living a compassionate life.  By eradicating egotism they found "a different dimension of human experience", which "gave them "ekstasis", a stepping out from their habitual, self-bound consciousness that enabled them to apprehend a reality that they called God, nibbana, brahman, atman or the Way."

Armstrong is as much a studious observer of the contemporary scene as she is a scholar, and she notes: "Fundamentalist religion has absorbed the violence of our time and developed a polarized vision,so that, like the early Zoroastrians, fundamentalists sometimes divide humanity into two hostile camps, with the embattled faithful engaged in a deadly war against 'evildoers'".

It's always gratifying to see that a respected figure shares one's insights.  In "The Case for Sacredness" I wrote:

"For some time, there’s clearly been less and less a world consciousness of immorality, and increasingly, a world example that cautions it. In earlier times, the catastrophes that took place in various parts of the planet were circumscribed to that time and place. If they affected other areas, no one was aware of it. Now, thanks to the media,  everything that goes on in the world is seen by almost all its inhabitants. And what people the world over see in the media inspires them to commit the unthinkable - to consider it normal to blow up a skyscraper with human ammunition in retaliation for a far-off conflict over territory - knowing that the entire world will witness the event.
Since the end of the Cold War, intolerance has become a worldwide phenomenon. The congruence of atrocities committed in the four corners of the world, and the similarities in the tirades of politicians from very different cultures, has been striking. We knew we could transpose Bal Thakery's diatribes against India’s Muslim minority to Milosevic in Serbia, or Le Pen in France, changing only proper nouns. But we didn’t realize that intolerance, and the breakdown of what conservatives like to call law and order, are linked, among other things, to the enormous increase in the world's population. And that’s only one of the reasons why we couldn’t imagine where all this would lead."

One of the many encouraging things I learned reading Karen Armstrong's 400 plus page work, is that for many hundred of years, the Chinese dynasties practised "courtly warfare", in which "victory revealed the righteousness of the winning side, but only if the battle had been conducted according to the 'li'." These prescribed rituals  consisted in "bullying the enemy with acts of kindness", letting him off if he paid a ransom.   Courtesy took precedence of efficiency, and "a gentleman lost status if he killed too many people."

At a time when our real challenge lies not in the Korean peninsula, nor even in the Middle East, but in the Middle Kingdom,  I hope some of the contestants in the up-coming power struggle will read Armstrong rather than Clauswitz.

Thursday, October 5, 2006


When I was a teenager people were fond of saying that love is what makes the world go round, evoking Cleopatra's nose.  Not long after that, an Egyptian scholar by the name of Qutb spent a couple of years in the U.S. and complained, in fiery writings, that in the land of machines and materialism, sex was a disgrace.  It took another several decades for our national fate to be decisively influenced by the dress of a White House intern: President Clinton's caper condemned Al Gore's candidacy, and we got the zealot George Bush - who, according to his wife, goes to bed at nine o'clock - to sleep.

It's suprising how similar are the views of morality held by Bush and Ahmadinejad, Iran's president. For these two zealots, all that's missing is a suit of armor.  Both tell us we're engaged in a what will be a long battle for civilization. The difference is this: George thinks that somehow unbridled capitalism plays no role in loose mores and Mahmoud thinks religion plays a bigger role than it does in restraining sexual license.

Personally, I think that the battle about decadence is about reasonably egalitarian development that does not worship Mamon.  Today's news is all about a congressman who while representing the convictions of the moral majority, was writing dirty notes to teen-age pages.  But as the ever-astute comedian Bill Maher made clear to (of all people) Wolf Blitzer, the important story is the war.

Alas, for the media, the UN General Assembly annual meeting was about Chavez calling Bush the devil.  As for  the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations that took place just before, they  paid it no attention whatsoever.  Had they done so, they would not have had to disgrace themselves by failing, for the most part, to mention that Chavez broke the UN applause-0-meter for his speech: they would have been able to link the delegates' reception to the Havana meeeting.  There, the leaders of the majority of the world's people - who hold the majority of the world's oil - decided to put mores at the back of a common front against a giant that has gotten to big for its boots.