Friday, May 06, 2005


Talk about unceremonious

Just read this quote from the spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church upon the dismissal of Patriarch Irineos I:
"We decided to fire him and he left today and we don't know where he went," [church spokesman Attalah] Hanah said.
Wow, talk about harsh. The only thing missing from that is an "and don't let the door hit you on the way out."

It's an interesting story, you can read all about it here in the Guardian.


If this is democracy spreading, it's spread awfully thin

Friend-of-America Husni Mubarak's regime has proved once again just how democracy is spreading in the Middle East. After massive demonstrations, led by the Muslim Brotherhood and organized against Mubarak, in several cities on Wednesday garnered Egypt the Angry Arab's Very Precarious Regime Award, Egyptian police arrested three leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for ... (you better sit down to prepare yourself for the heinous nature of this crime) ... "planning to stage pro-Palestinian demonstration in Cairo."

Ahhh, nothing smells quite like democracy more than using the state's police force to quash an attempt to assemble and speak freely. Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators from the Wednesday protests are still being held by the police.
Police said 400 people were detained, but the Brotherhood claimed more than 1,500 were detained during nationwide rallies.

On Thursday, Egypt's prosecution ordered that 280 of the detainees be held another 15 days for further investigation.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian that I know told me that many Egyptians are bandying about the theory that two recent terror attacks in Cairo were orchestrated by the government to provide an excuse against elections and pro-democracy or anti-Mubarak movements, allowing Mubarak to crack down on demonstrators, dissidents, political organizations, etc. I don't subscribe to this particular theory myself, but the fact that this feeling is widespread in Egypt gives further credence to the Angry Arab's verdict.


So... how's that Monroe Doctrine working out?

In the pages of al-Ahram, Immanuel Wallerstein makes a compelling argument that the United States is slowly losing its grip on Central and South America.
In the last five years, on the other hand, many Latin American countries have moved to the left both via the ballot box and via popular demonstrations, but always less than totally left. The list is long: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela. Indeed, the only government in South America which the US government really likes these days is Colombia. Just recently, there was an election of the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States. And for the first time in the history of this organisation, the US candidate did not win. The Mexican government recently tried to eliminate from the next presidential competition the candidate of the left party. And it had to back down under popular pressure from within Mexico. Cuba is no longer isolated in Latin America. None of this is being celebrated in Washington.

Now these are all small cuts. None of these states, even Venezuela, have pushed too far. But Brazil did organise the G-20 revolt in the World Trade Organisation which has brought that organisation to a virtual standstill. And Argentina did defy the world financial community and reduce outstanding debts remarkably. And the Free Trade Association of the Americas (ALCA in Spanish initials) is getting nowhere, although it remains the prime economic objective of the US in Latin America.

Left intellectuals and some left movements are unhappy in each of these countries with all the things the supposedly left governments have not done. But the US is even unhappier with what they have done. The fact is that today the US no longer can be sure that it has control -- economic, political, or diplomatic -- of its backyard, the Americas.
No Cinco de Mayo celebration in the Oval Office, then? Also, what Wallerstein does not mention, but I think was equally important as a show of independence and defiance of U.S. interference in Latin American affairs, was Brazil's decision to reject 40 million dollars for Brazilian AIDS programs because of American conditions that would force Brazil to agree to a declaration condemning prostitution. You can certainly detect the resentment resulting from this kind of meddling in the statement of Pedro Chequer, the director of Brazil's HIV/AIDS program:
"I would like to confirm that Brazil has taken this decision in order to preserve its autonomy on issues related to national policies on HIV/Aids as well as ethical and human rights principles," he told the Guardian.
The importance of the decision is further elaborated in some reactions that are tacked on to the end of the Guardian story. Both quotes are from activist/NGO sources that are surely accustomed to working with and around government decisions like this (though I suppose not quite like this).
"The US is doing the same in other countries - bullying, pushing and forcing - but not every country has the possibility to say no," [said Sonia Correa, an Aids activist in Brazil and co-chair of the International Working Group on Sexuality and Social Policy.]

Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, said: "The importance of the Brazilian government decision can not be overstated."
Indeed, Brazil is not only the largest country in South America, and thus should not be ignored, but its decision is important precisely because its not Cuba, this isn't Hugo Chavez publically defying the United States. And so while, as Correa says, not every country is able to "say no" to the United States, there is the possibility, as Wallerstein points out, that Latin America is starting to "say no" in ways that it never would or could have before.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005



As is now being widely reported, Lawrence Franklin has been arrested and charged with passing classified material on to AIPAC employees. It seems like ol' Larry is in a heap of trouble here. I don't have much to add to the Post story, other than to point out one point that is buried in the bottom of the story:
They also searched his home in West Virginia and found "approximately 83 separate classified U.S. government documents" spanning three decades. "At no time was Franklin's house an authorized location" for the storage of such documents, the statement said.
Jeez, it doesn't seem that this is a one-time occurence. Eighty-three documents over three decades is some serious breach of security. Yet another success story for the Pentagon.


Morale? Are you kidding me?

Somehow, in the midst of a wave of insurgent bombings that have left 200 dead in the past week alone (this number is from: the Washington Post, which puts today's bombing's death toll at 45 and has the week's total at 185; the Guardian has today's bombing's resulting in 60 deaths, so by my math that pushes the week's total up to 200), the administration saw fit to try and float a letter as evidence of the declining morale amongst the insurgents--cold comfort indeed.
In Washington, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the letter was believed to be authentic.

"The letter gives the indication that his influence and effectiveness are deteriorating," Whitman said, referring to Zarqawi. "It describes low morale and weak and incompetent leadership." . . .

The military released a similar letter last year, allegedly by Zarqawi. The U.S. quoted that letter as saying the then-pending handover of power to Iraqis would force insurgents to "pack their bags."
I've noticed that the letter story has dipped in prominence in the wake of the bad news today, but it was on the front page of the Express (the Washington Post's free newspaper here in D.C.). I'm sure it also had a decent run in the 24-hour cable news alternate universe. I'm not disputing the letter's authenticity, but it seems illogical to weigh a single letter against the overwhelming reality of the ongoing violence (and surely the horrible bombings and killings have led to statements and proclamations of impending victory and great success from among the ranks of the insurgents). That this letter should somehow be taken to be representative of the attitudes of the insurgents in Iraq is quite frankly, at its core, insulting.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Woad (Isatis tinctoria) in an olive grove. (photo by my dad)


Gate and city walls at Sapinium, Italy. (photo by my dad)


Olive trees outside Viesti, Italy. (photo by my dad)


A handsome pair of Anacamptis pyramidialis in an olive grove. (photo by my dad)


Landscape near Campobasso, Italy. (photo by my dad)


Ahhh, Italy! (photo by my dad)

Monday, May 02, 2005


More Basquiat.


I went to see the Basquiat exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum this weekend. It was quite intense.


Custer Battles

There is an excellent article by AP reporter Deborah Hastings on the absolutely disgusting fraud taking place at U.S. taxpayer expense in Iraq, personified in its most rambunctious form by the Custer Battles contracting firm. The story of Custer Battles is not new, but it needs to be reiterated again and again, I think, because it's important that the people who are paying these mercenaries (that would be the American taxpayers) realize exactly what they are getting for their money. And it's not just Custer Battles.
Custer Battles is one of at least 60 private firms, collectively employing more than 20,000, living in a war zone. They have their own arms, their own vehicles, their own body armor. Some even have their own helicopters. Their security ranks include an assortment of aging warriors who believe they can still laugh at death.
Though Custer Battles did develop a reputation of being one of the most out-of-control group of U.S.-funded mercenaries operating in Iraq.
["Hank," a retired lieutenant colonel working for the firm] described a Baghdad hotel gunfight that erupted not long after Custer Battles security agents landed. It was started by a rocket-propelled grenade attack. When the smoke cleared, the guards – who'd leaned out windows and fired more than 3,000 rounds in the middle of a residential neighborhood – realized they had been shooting at each other.

Earlier this year, four former employees, all military veterans, said they quit after witnessing Custer Battles security escorts shooting indiscriminately at civilians, including gunning down a teenager walking along a road. The men also said guards in a truck drove over a car containing children and adults while trying to make their way through a traffic jam.
Unfortunately, most Americans are certainly not aware of this. They don't realize that their money is being paid to mercenaries with little real accountability and zero sense of accountability.

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