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jueves, julio 24, 2008

Delgado Does It Again

Carlos Delgado, My Hero

This from the Mets:
For most of this season, Carlos Delgado was mired in a slump, with no reason to believe he could resurrect his past productivity at the plate.

Now, he's about as hot as a baseball player can be. And the Mets are cashing in.

Delgado hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning Thursday, leading the Mets to a 3-1 victory and a series win over the Phillies.

After pinch-hitter Robinson Cancel singled to lead off the eighth and Phillies reliever J.C. Romero intentionally walked David Wright, Delgado laced a pitch into the left field corner to plate both runners. Billy Wagner recorded the final three outs for the save.
Great. And if Carlos would only hustle in the field just a little bit, if he would run just a little bit harder on defense, if he would try just a little bit harder, I would be even more ecstatic. And the Mets might even look like a contender, rather than a bunch of superannuated, overpaid former stars.

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lunes, julio 21, 2008

100th Game Of The Season: Mets In First

Carlos Delgado. My Hero.

Tuesday evening the Metropolitans play the Philadelphia Philatelists in the 100th game of the season. The Mets are tied in first place with the Philanthropists, and both teams have identical records, 7 games over .500. The Mets are potentially a much better team than the Proctologists, but their season so far has been replete with underachieving, personality dramas, and lackluster, geriatric play. It's amazing that the team is in first place. In truth, with the exception of the last month, they've played like a third place, 4 games below .500 team.

And I have to say something about my aging hero, Carlos Delgado. I'm sorry I said mean things about him. He deserved it, but I'm sorry. In the past 10 games he is batting .471 and has had 16 hits. This is just excellent. And about time. His average is now up to .261 for the season, which gives you an idea of how extremely awful he was playing until recently. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: when Carlos plays well, the Mets win. When Carlos refuses to get his shirt dirty and swings like an old man trying to kill cockroaches with a frying pan, the Mets lose.

I'm remarkably confident the Metropolitans will play well in the second half of the season. I know they can beat the Philadelphia Pachyderms in this series. Please, Carlos, don't prove me wrong.

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domingo, julio 20, 2008

Stand Up And Oppose Pastor John Hagee

From Monday, July 21 through Thursday, July 24, Pastor John Hagee will be in Washington, D.C. to lead the national gathering of his infamous Christians United For Israel. The CUFI conference is studded with rightwing zealots and features workshops like "Radical Islam: In Their Own Words," led by neo-conservative Daniel Pipes and former right-wing Senator Rick Santorum; and "The Basics of The Arab Israeli Conflict," led by representatives of the pro-occupation David Project and StandWithUS and Gary Bauer, president of anti-choice, homophobic American Values.

Unbelievably, the Anti Defamation League (ADL), the supposed bigotry watchdog, has not condemned Hagee for his anti semitic, anti gay, anti Muslim rhetoric. To the contrary, ADL has given him a free pass. In fact, in a recent letter to Hagee, John Fox, president of ADL wrote, "We wholeheartedly support your efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism, including its historic antecedents in the Christian community. We especially appreciate your extraordinary efforts to rally so many in the Christian community to stand with Israel." This is utter, embarrassing nonsense.

As a result of ADL's unprincipled behavior, Jewish Voice For Peace and others have condemned the conference and are calling on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to stand up against Hagee's pervasive bigotry and to condemn his statements.

A very brief review of just some of Hagee's views, and ADL's supposed responses to them, make it clear that he is a virulent anti-semite, staunchly anti-gay, and completely anti-muslim, and that ADL should be forcefully condemning him. But they're not. Hagee's statements are obvious:

The anti-Christ is gay and Jewish. source
ADL has said, "the statement ... that the Antichrist, who is evil incarnate, is Jewish, borders on anti-Semitism at best and is anti-Semitic at worst." This is a remarkably tepid condemnation of a statement that is appallingly racist.

Jews control the federal reserve. source. ADL has said, "The charge that "Jews control the Federal Reserve" is a classic example of the hatemonger’s paranoid-style exploitation of legitimate concerns — in this case, the nation’s economy. Moreover, the wide appeal of this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory among all kinds of extremists strikingly demonstrates how the agendas of otherwise opposing hate groups meet on common ground: the scapegoating of Jews."

God caused the devastation of NOLA by Katrina to stop a scheduled Gay Pride parade. source, source.

"Those who live by the Qur'an have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews... it teaches that very clearly." source.

ADL's mission statement proclaims that it "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all." To repeat, "all forms of bigotry" and "protects civil rights for all." What am I missing here?

Don't Hagee's statements about Jews, the GLBT community, and Muslims in general qualify as forms of extreme bigotry? Why am I having to ask this question?

What to do: Please sign the petition at Jewish Voice for Peace urging ADL to condemn Hagee.

Please spread this petition widely.

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viernes, julio 18, 2008

Maryland Police Spied On Activists, Claim It Was Legal

WaPO reports that Maryland police infiltrated and spied upon peace and death penalty abolition groups in 2005. The information the cops gathered was apparently sent to other law enforcement agencies. No crimes were alleged to have been committed by the activists.

That crushing sound you hear is the crumbling of the First Amendment:
Undercover Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year while Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, documents released yesterday show.

Detailed intelligence reports logged by at least two agents in the police department's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal close monitoring of the movements as the Iraq war and capital punishment were heatedly debated in 2005 and 2006.

Organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils, rallies outside the State House in Annapolis and e-mail group lists were infiltrated by police posing as peace activists and death penalty opponents, the records show. The surveillance continued even though the logs contained no reports of illegal activity and consistently indicated that the activists were not planning violent protests.

Then-state police superintendent Tim Hutchins acknowledged in an interview yesterday that the surveillance took place on his watch, adding that it was done legally. He said Ehrlich (R) was not aware of it. "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state," said Hutchins, now a federal defense contractor.
Did you read that? The then state police superintendent says that the surveillance "was done legally." I feel so very assured and comforted by this conclusion about the law. And protected. Protected from what you might ask? And from whom? "To protect the general populace of the state" is a police goal that apparently does not include protecting the privacy and right of association of death penalty abolitionists and peace activists.

The WaPo article, after reporting this, turns to a "balanced" discussion of the "legality" of these activities. The ACLU properly says the infiltation and surveillance was illegal:
"To invest this many hours investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking," ACLU lawyer David Rocah said at a news conference in Baltimore yesterday. "It's Kafkaesque."

The ACLU contends that the surveillance was illegal, even under broader powers the federal government gave law enforcement agencies after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The police, of course, insist that this kind of surveillance is entirely legal and necessary:
But the police force defends its legality, and some legal experts said the program appears to be a constitutional tool available to authorities investigating threats to public safety.

"No illegal actions by State Police have ever been taken against any citizens or groups who have exercised their right to free speech and assembly in a lawful manner," Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the state police superintendent appointed last year by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), said in a statement. "Only when information regarding criminal activity is alleged will police continue to investigate leads to ensure the public safety."

State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who teaches constitutional law at American University, called the surveillance "extremely dubious homeland security work." But he added that it is probably a constitutional use of police powers to conduct undercover work.

Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's spokesman, said: "State law enforcement uses a variety of means to keep its citizens safe. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss them publicly." While in office, Ehrlich supported both the Iraq war and the death penalty.
This analysis is extremely fuzzy. Of course police may infiltrate and surveil groups that are planning on carrying out illegal activities. They can, of course, infiltrate groups they have reasonable suspicion to believe plan to blow up buildings and kill people. But to do that, they need to have some indication-- leave aside for the moment the level of suspicion they must have-- that something illegal is planned. However, according to Uebercop Sheridan, all it takes to infiltrate your weekly peace meditation group is just an allegation "regarding criminal activity." And of course, whoever made that allegation is a secret, as is the nature of the allegation that was made.

And if no illegal activities of any kind are observed after the tip and after time, do you stop the infiltration and surveillance and record keeping? Of course, not. You never know when groups advocating an end to various kinds of violence will suddenly turn aside from satygraha and decide to plunge into committing crimes of violence, do you?

And Ehrlich's mouthpiece says all is OK because this is just a "means to keep [the] citizens safe." This doesn't bear scrutiny either. How does keeping records about people who are trying to end state killing keep citizens safe? How does keeping records and forwarding them to other agencies about people who are opposed to war keep citizens safe?
It doesn't.

Of course, the illegally acquired information was shared with other agencies who keep records:
Reports of the surveillance were shared with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the National Security Agency and Anne Arundel County's police department.

The groups monitored include the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, which has many members from Takoma Park, and the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a peace group that has been vocal in opposing the Iraq war.
So now, whatever was written about the activists has been spread around and there are files in computers and many agencies about them. Their crime? Advocating peace and an end to state killing.

The article has more details about the spying.

There is no question whatsoever that the reported surveillance was completely inappropriate and illegal. And it has clear consequences in chilling protected activity. An example of this? Just notice, if you will, how even if you are entirely and completely non-violent the fact of this reported surveillance, and the possibility of similar surveillance elsewhere, deters you from signing up and participating in peace and death penalty abolition groups. Nobody wants their privacy invaded by the cops, even if they're doing absolutely nothing wrong. You don't need that. You might rather stay home.

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martes, julio 15, 2008

Omar Khadr: Growing Up In Gitmo

Omar Khadr at age 14 (in 2000)

Omar Khadr (born 9/19/86) is a Canadian who has been imprisoned in Guantanamo in connection with the alleged killing of a US soldier during a battle in Afghanistan in 2002. At the time of his capture by US forces, Khadr had been shot three times and was near death. Khadr was 15 at the time, a child soldier. He will be 22 in September. He has been detained in Gitmo for more than 6 years in essentially solitary confinement. Today some video of his interrogation was released in Canada.

The video is here via BBC. It is not of good quality, but the audio works. It is revolting.

Please join me in Gitmo.

The NY Times reports:
Video recordings released Tuesday showing interrogations of the only Canadian held at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba provided an unprecedented glimpse inside the compound.

The mood of the detainee, Omar Khadr, just 16 years old at the time of the interrogations, in February 2003, swings between calm and indifference to rage and grief in the recordings, which were released by his lawyers.

The video footage,... snip... shows Mr. Khadr pleading with a Canadian intelligence agent for help and, at one point, shows him displaying chest and back wounds that had still not healed months after his capture in Afghanistan. ...snip...

They show Mr. Khadr, who is accused of killing a United States soldier in Afghanistan during a battle in July 2002, being questioned by an unidentified member of the Canadian intelligence agency.

In all, about seven hours of recordings were given to Mr. Khadr’s lawyers, but the lawyers released a selection of only about 10 minutes of video recording on Tuesday.

Khadr has said he was abused by American interrogators both at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan. With regard to the videos released today, Khadr apparently thought that the Canadian agent had come to help him. Later, he realized that the agent was only there to extract information from him:
Much of the material released shows Mr. Khadr — who is wearing an orange uniform — sobbing and repeatedly saying, in a moan, “Help me, help me.”

In the interrogation, Mr. Khadr says he wants to return to Canada, but the agent suggests that the situation is so good in Cuba he might want to stay there himself.

“The weather’s nice,” the interrogator, whose face was electronically obscured, said. “No snow.” ...snip...

At one point, [Khadr] lifts his shirt to show the agent the wounds on his back and stomach that were still not healed.

The agent, however, is unmoved. “I’m not a doctor, but I think you’re getting good medical care,” he responded.

Later, a sobbing Mr. Khadr said: “You don’t care about me.”

That's quite an understatement.

Many details sure to provoke outrage and shock about what has happened to Khadr are here in a Wiki, which notes his factual innocence of the killing, a Rolling Stone feature story, and Lisa Lockwood's excellent essay yesterday.

The capture, detention, yes, torture, and long term, solitary confinement of a child soldier, Omar Khadr, is the face the United States has put on display for all the world to see. This is the face of the Global War On Terror. This was an utterly mortifying display of barbarism before the video was released. And now, a small part of a very long detention can be viewed across the world in all of its inhumanity and obvious brutality. If there were any justice at all, Omar Khadr would be released.

According to the Times:
Amnesty International and several Canadian groups have been pressuring the Canadian government to ask the United States to return Mr. Khadr to Canada from Guantánamo Bay. Last week, however, Prime Minister Stephen Harper again rejected those calls.

Nathan Whitling, one of Mr. Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, said that he hoped the airing of the videos, which were prominently featured on the morning new programs of Canadian television networks, would change the government’s mind.

“The only way to get him released is through a political process,” Mr. Whitling said from his office in Edmonton, Alberta. “So we are pleading in the court of public opinion.”
I'm disgusted by Khadr's further confinement at Gitmo and want it to be viewed and weighed across the world in the court of public opinion.

Maybe that's where we can be of help to Omar Khadr. Maybe by spreading the word and writing and sending emails we can do something to galvanize public opinion about this case and ultimately free Omar Khadr.

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sábado, julio 12, 2008

An Apology To The Metserati

The Aging Clean Head Himself

For some strange reason, after I wrote the Mets off and said their season was over and that I'd never write about them again until 2009, they woke up. They have now won 8 in a row and are suddenly 6 games over .500. They are in second place exactly .5 game behind the overachieving Philadelphia Philatelists. Tomorrow is the last game before the All Star break. Can the Metropolitans make it 9 in a row? Who knows? Can the Philadlephia Philanthropists not give away first place? Stay tuned.

And Carlos Delgado, my aging hero, the clean headed bellweather of this team? Since July 2, he's batting .325 with 2 honrons and 5 RBI. Much better. Much, much better. And his season average now stands at an almost but not really respectable .246. Things are improving. Maybe some time in the next month Carlos will get his jersey dirty. Then the playoffs are certain to be a lock.

And so, in fairness, I apologize to the Metseratti and the Mets themselves. I apologize particularly to Carlos Delgado. Lo siento. Mi culpa. I'm sorry. It was my fault. I was wrong about you.

I hope the team continues to play well and that it ends up in the World Series. In the possible and maybe even probable event that they don't, I'll retract my apology and write about how they stunk continually with a possible exception for their string in early July and that it was all somehow, though I love him, Carlos Delgado's fault. I wouldn't be a Mets fan if I couldn't do that.

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Three Years In The Dream Antilles

The third anniversary of this blog, The Dream Antilles, is in three weeks, on August 3, 2008. This is the 317th post. And this is a very brief introspection on the past three years.

What began as a way to promote my vastly underselling 2005 novel, The Dream Antilles, morphed first into a lit blog, and then took on aspects of a political blog, and finally blossomed into an eccentric collection of commentaries on whatever strikes me as something I would enjoy writing about.

When I initially began, I hoped there would be tons of comments on my essays. There aren't. In fact, there are hardly any comments at all. But I know that I'm not the unheard vox clamatis in deserto because there are two web counters in the right column of the blog, and they tell me there have been about 10,000 page views in the past year. Let me put this in perspective. Some blogs receive more than 10,000 page views in an hour. Those who read this blog around the world are far, far fewer. But they are nevertheless readers to whom I owe my thanks for reading and my appreciation when they bookmark the site and when they return, even if they generally don't stop to write comments.

Because I nevertheless wanted to read comments, I wrote diaries first at daily Kos, and then I began to write at my favorite group blog, docuDharma, cross-posting from The Dream Antilles. I found docuDharmaniacs a delightful, diverse, interesting, fun group. Kossacks not so much, though I sometimes still go against my instincts and cross-post there. Many of the resulting comments are disappointing to me. Regardless, docuDharma satisfies my desire to receive (and write) comments even if this blog doesn't.

Why do I keep on writing? You could ask as well why I keep on breathing. It's something I do. Unlike many of my favorite writers, Garcia Marquez, Roberto Bolano, Ricardo Piglia, I don't live in a place where there is an established, literary cafe culture. I can't go out this evening to my favorite cafe and find the other writers with whom I've been hanging out to discuss my latest ideas. Or theirs. So in a way, The Dream Antilles is a kind of substitute for that interaction. It's something that I do even though I'm working on another novel. Blogging is like a conversation that can always be resumed.

Will I continue? Of course. Going on and on isn't something new to me. Before I blogged, I began to write a long serious of essays on the death penalty and my opposition to it. I started in March, 2002, more than 6 years ago, and there have been 186 essays. Those essays are distributed by yahoogroups to more than 120 readers, but I have written fewer and fewer of them as I began to blog. Lately, I've been taking my blog posts on that topic and sending them to the listserve.

What's my favorite part? I just loved writing the recent essay about Salicornia. Stories like that just light me up. I learn something. I get to think about something new. I get excited. I hear the inside of my head say, "Wow!" I just love it.

Thanks again for reading. And special thanks for making the 3 Year Anniversary of The Dream Antilles possible.

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viernes, julio 11, 2008

A Candidate You Can Believe In

jueves, julio 10, 2008



Salicornia, believe it or not, is a plant that can grow in in hospitable, desert soils and can be watered with, of all things, ocean salt water. Never heard of this? Neither have I. I've sat on the beach and wondered what it would take to remove the salt from sea water to grow things in sand, but I never thought about reversing the process, leaving the salt in the water and finding something that would grow in it. In today's LA Times I found this "ah hah" moment:
A few miles inland from the Sea of Cortez, amid cracked earth and mesquite and sun-bleached cactus, neat rows of emerald plants are sprouting from the desert floor.

The crop is salicornia. It is nourished by seawater flowing from a man-made canal. And if you believe the American who is farming it, this incongruous swath of green has the potential to feed the world, fuel our vehicles and slow global warming. /snip

That's where salicornia comes in.

A so-called halophyte, or salt-loving plant, the briny succulent thrives in hellish heat and pitiful soil on little more than a regular dousing of ocean water. Several countries are experimenting with salicornia and other saltwater-tolerant species as sources of food. Known in some restaurants as sea asparagus, salicornia can be eaten fresh or steamed, squeezed into cooking oil or ground into high-protein meal.
Carl Hodges, who's featured in the article, has far, far bigger plans than just growing salicornia. The project is ingenious and it wastes nothing. The plan is breathtaking:
The enterprise recently planted 1,000 acres of salicornia here in rural Sonora, where Hodges has been doing preparatory research for decades. That crop will provide seed for a major venture planned 50 miles north in the coastal city of Bahia de Kino. Global Seawater is attempting to lease or buy 12,000 acres there for what it envisions will be the world's largest seawater farm.

The plan is to cut an ocean canal into the desert to nourish commercial ponds of shrimp and fish. Instead of dumping the effluent back into the ocean, the company would channel it further inland to fertilize fields of salicornia for biofuel. The seawater's next stop would be man-made wetlands. These mangrove forests could be "sold" to polluters to meet emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

"Nothing is wasted," Hodges said.
This is such an ingenious idea. And thinking about it is such utter delight. If this were still the '60's, you'd say, "Wow. Far out."

There's a story-- I don't know if it's apocryphal or not-- that until the 16th Century, people in Europe were unable to see the color blue. Then something happened in the Renaissance and then (I don't know if it was gradual or all of a sudden) they were all able to perceive it. I don't remember supposed reason for the shift. The reason in retrospect doesn't seem as important as the occurrence of the change in perception itself.

And now Salicornia. The Salicornia story has the same, huge, surprising quality of discovery. The cliche for this might be a "quantum shift of consciousness." It's that good.

Which brings me back to the mundane. This whole idea would be less wonderful if Salicornia didn't taste good. Apparently, salicornia is quite salty tasting, but there are favorable reviews of people who have enjoyed eating it. It also has it's own Wiki with this about eating it:
Salicornia europaea is highly edible, either cooked or raw.[4] In England it is one of several plants known as samphire (see also Rock samphire); the term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre, which means "St. Peter's Herb."[5] In the United States the edible species are known as sea beans.[6]

Samphire is usually cooked, either steamed or microwaved, and then coated in butter. After cooking, it resembles seaweed in colour, and the flavour and texture are like young spinach stems or asparagus, and despite its texture when raw, after cooking is not at all stringy or tough. Samphire is very often used as a suitably maritime accompaniment to fish or seafood.
And, of course, there are many, many recipes. Thank goodness. The whole idea wouldn't be as promising if people generally didn't like to eat it. Then it would be relegated to being like sawgrass, another animal feed and source of biofuel.

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sábado, julio 05, 2008

No More Mets Stories, Maybe

Swinging. And Missing.

Last night's 3-2 walk off, bottom of the ninth inning loss to Philadelphia might have canceled the post season for the Mets. They are now 2 games below .500, 5.5 games behind Philadelphia in the Division, and 6 games behind in the National League wild card race. The all star break is coming. Put another way, considering how they are playing, they are now too far behind to be in the playoffs. This "performance" also might have ended my writing about them. After all, what's to say about this team's repeated disappointments? How many variations are there on underachieving? frustrating? lackluster? And how many times am I going to suggest that instead of new manager they needed a new team psychologist?

Some statistics from last night: Carlos Delgado struck out 3 times and went hitless, Carlos Beltran struck out twice and went hitless. The Mets had a grand total of 4 hits. In other words, no offense. So when the mighty Johan gives up 2 runs-- if he were really as good as they claim, would he have given up only 1 run?-- the Mets lose. End of season. Wait till next year.


viernes, julio 04, 2008

Mets Yet Again Threaten To Be A .500 Team

Carlos Delgado

Well, here we are again. July 4. And the Mets are one game below .500. Tonight they begin a series against the Division Leading Phillies. They are now 4.5 games behind the Phillies in the lackluster Eastern Divison. This is an important series for the Metropolitans.

Doing well in the series might close the gap and lift them just slightly over .500. And doing as they've been doing, playing hapless, inept, miserable, frustrating baseball, will go a long way to eliminating them from any playoff possibilities. Worst case scenario: the Mets could easily leave the series 7.5 games out, 5 games below .500. That would make the Phillies 10 games over .500, more than enough to reduce the Metsies to rubble and eliminate them from contention for anything. Could this Mets team make up 7.5 games in the remaining half of the season? Playing as they've been playing? Don't be ridiculous. Of course not.

And Carlos Delgado, who seems to be a predictor of how the Mets will do? Batting .273 in the past 10 games with 9 hits in the past 10 games. Saying that he's turned it around is like saying that the Iraq War has turned around. Wishful thinking.

Can I stand to watch this series? I'll try. But as soon as the Mets show me that they're not up to the task, I'm taking clicking the remote.


Let The Games Begin!

Lost in the July 3 rush to start July 4th partying is the Commander Athlete in Chief's announcement that he will support the athletes by attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. This direct, single digit salute to people who care about human rights in China and who are concerned about the continuing genocide in Darfur, was delivered to avoid outcry. Put another way, it reeks of cowardice.

The New York Times reports:
The White House said Thursday that President Bush would attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics next month, a decision fraught with international political symbolism that quickly drew criticism from advocates for human rights.

The advocates have been pressing world leaders to boycott the Olympics or at least skip the opening ceremonies to protest China’s violent crackdown after riots in Tibet and its support for the government of Sudan, whose Darfur region remains enmeshed in violence.

The leaders of Britain and Germany have said they will skip the opening ceremonies. For some time, the White House has said that Mr. Bush will attend the Games, but has refused to provide further details.

That changed late on Thursday afternoon. With most of official Washington already gone for the Fourth of July holiday, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, issued a simple statement outlining Mr. Bush’s August travel schedule, including the notation that he would go to the opening ceremonies.

The president's press secretary mouthpiece, who gives frequent evidence of being both utterly tone deaf and unable to distinguish facts from opinions, explained in an interview:
“This is a decision by the president that he really wanted to go in support of our athletes,” Ms. Perino said in an interview. Asked if Mr. Bush was making a political statement, she said, “He does not look at it that way, but we recognize that others may.”
Support? At the opening ceremony? The opening ceremony is just a parade dressed up like a Super Bowl Halftime.

And he doesn't look at it as a political statement? I know the administration considers bike riding and brush cutting more important than foreign policy and genocide, but come on. This isn't an athletic event; it's a propaganda display. Someone more talented than I in inventing fiction should have a go at explaining this. Personally, I think it heralds a proliferation of magnetic ribbons in red, white and blue saying, "Support Our Troops Athletes." Were there huge, unsold surpluses? But I digress.

Other world leaders, of course, aren't attending. Gordon Brown of the UK will attend the closing ceremony to pick up the torch, which is headed next for London. Germany's Angela Merkel will not attend. France's Nicolas Sarkozy was thinking about it, until China told him not to bother. It goes without saying that the Dalai Lama isn't attending.

The reaction to the announcement, to no one's surprise, was negative:
The White House announcement drew a rebuke from officials at Save Darfur, a nonprofit organization that accuses China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner, of failing to use its influence to stop fighting between rebels and militias in Darfur, where at least 200,000 people have been killed, according to published mortality surveys, and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in what the White House terms a genocide.

“We are deeply disappointed,” the coalition’s president, Jerry Fowler, said.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers, led by two representatives — Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, and Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California — have urged a boycott of the Games. In a telephone interview from California, Mr. Rohrabacher accused the president of timing the announcement so that reaction from members of Congress would be muted.

“I think that a president who has said we are conducting warfare in different parts of the world in order to promote democracy and human rights loses credibility when he announces that he is going to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in a country that is the world’s worst human rights abuser,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

And what, you might want to ask, is attendance by the Athlete in Chief designed to tell the world? That the US is a wholly owned, corporate subsidiary of Wal-mart Beijing? That Disney-ification is more important than human suffering? That Human Rights is a meme the US will claim to invade and kill for, but only when there's oil or some other economic reason? That the Athlete in Chief remains a petulant fratboy who wants to go to the party, and that's all there is to it?

Personally, I'm ever so slightly outraged. I don't have to stand for this. Nor do you. The Fourth of July isn't about hiding and being sneeky. It's about independence and, dare I say it, human rights. Let's celebrate. Let's get out those credit cards and make lots and lots of small donations to organizations who really need our help to respond to this embarrassing set back:

Save Darfur

International Campaign For Tibet

Human Rights Watch

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miércoles, julio 02, 2008

BREAKING: Ingrid Betancourt Released

BBC is now reporting:
The Colombian authorities say they have rescued Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans held by rebels in Colombia.

Ms Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician, has been held for more than six years by the rebel Farc group and is said to be in very poor health.

She is the group's highest-profile hostage and the French government has made securing her release a priority.

The Farc group has been fighting to overthrow the Colombian government for more than 40 years.

The Colombian military said some 15 hostages had been rescued in total on Wednesday, among them 11 Colombian soldiers.
Please join me in Colombia.

You'll recall that Betancourt was being held by FARC and that FARC refused to allow a French medical team to see her. You'll also recall that the French left the country without seeing her.

Now this good news.

The background, there's this diary:
Ingrid Betancourt, while campaigning for the presidency of Colombia, was kidnapped by FARC on February 23, 2002. More than six years later, she remains a hostage somewhere in Colombia. She suffers from hepatitis B and leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by insect bites. She is also rumored to be losing the will to live. She is the public face of kidnapping in Colombia. She is the most famous of hundreds of hostages. Unlike most of the hostages, she has ties outside the country.

Photobucket Ingrid Betancourt In Captivity in 2007

Ingrid Betancourt, while campaigning for the presidency of Colombia, was kidnapped by FARC on February 23, 2002. More than six years later, she remains a hostage somewhere in Colombia. She suffers from hepatitis B and leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by insect bites. She is also rumored to be losing the will to live. She is the public face of kidnapping in Colombia. She is the most famous of hundreds of hostages. Unlike most of the hostages, she has ties outside the country.

Colombia has more kidnapping than any other country in the world. The Colombian Government itself estimates that someone is kidnapped every three hours. It estimates that every year 11 politicians are kidnapped. It does not estimate how many hostages there are at this moment, nor does it estimate how many disappearances or deaths there have been. Colombia, since 9/11, emphasizes that FARC is a "terrorist" organization. It does not discuss the human toll that Colombia’s US funded military, the billions in US aid for "counterinsurgency," the "war on drugs," and its many paramilitaries levy.

Colombia has a long, documented history of mass kidnapping and long term hostage holding. This apparently began in earnest with the rise of Pablo Escobar and Colombia’s emergence as the hemisphere’s dominant narco trafficker, and it was documented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1997 News of a Kidnapping. As a New York Times review explained about those kidnappings:

The object of these kidnappings was plainly to pressure the Government of Colombia, keep it from dispatching Escobar and his fellow drug billionaires to the chains that awaited them in the north. In fact, the drug bosses, as fond of their families as anyone, had been on the receiving end of a few sequestrations themselves, carried out by rebel groups like the M-19. They had dealt with them by forming an organization called Death to Kidnappers and, by a series of ghastly murders and horrendous tortures, discouraged the practice on the part of their enemies. Nor did the dignity of the Colombian state prevent the police from employing extremely arbitrary, brutal and even fatal methods in their treatment of individuals associated with the cocaine industry. Indeed, the suspension of these methods was among Escobar's demands.

Put another way, the kidnappings Marquez wrote about a decade ago had a plainly discernible, short term, political purpose. Is the same true of Ingrid Betancourt? After more than 6 years, apparently it's not.
Details (4 pm EDT): The Telegraph reports:
Colombian officials said they had rescued Ms Betancourt, as well as three American military contractors and 11 Colombian police and soldiers hostages, from the Leftist rebels, who had held her prisoner in secret jungle camps since 2002.

Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian defence minister, says nobody was hurt in the operation in eastern Colombia, which saw Colombian army commandos capture rebels who were manning a security ring around the hostages.

They forced the rebels to persuade their comrades to turn over the captives, without any loss of life.

Mr Santos said all the former hostages were in reasonably good health.

And, of course, Betancourt's son is absolutely delighted:
The son of Colombian-French hostage Ingrid Betancourt says her release after six years of captivity is "if true, the most beautiful news of my life."

Colombia's defense minister says the country's military has rescued former presidential candidate Betancourt and 14 other hostages from leftist rebels.

Betancourt's son Lorenzo Delloye-Betancourt said on France-Info radio Wednesday that he was "really surprised and happy" but he said he was waiting for more information about the release.
This is wonderful news for Betancourt and the 3 "contractors." And now, I also expect it to be played for all it's worth by McSame who today is in Colombia talking about how great the war on drugs and the proposed CAFTA is.

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