Monday, October 6, 2008

Moving to Indypendent

Hello All!

I'm moving my blog to The Indypendent website. I'm excited to be working with such a great group of progressive journalists...check it out here: http://www.indypendent.org/category/indyblog/

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We Stopped the Bailout! But It’s Not Over Yet


We stopped the bailout! Millions of Americans called congress and spontaneously organized protests, furious that Bush and Congressional leaders would move ahead with this disastrous, irresponsible, unnecessary and profoundly unfair plan.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Barack Obama has joined McCain in supporting this wildly unpopular and historically unprecedented give away—it could reach a trillion—to Wall Street. Bush and House leaders are preparing for another vote, and are most definitely engaged in some serious behind the scenes arm-twisting at this very moment.

MAKE TWO CALLS

- First call Obama’s Senate office (202-224-2854) or campaign office (866-675-2008). Tell him that you are a supporter and want him to oppose the bailout. Also remind him to get rid of Wall Street advisors like Robert Rubin and Jason Furman. They got us into this mess in the first place. KEEP CALLING UNTIL YOU GET THROUGH!

- Then please call your congressperson and tell them to VOTE “NO”: 1-800-473-6711 (capitol hill switchboard)

Michael Moore (http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php?id=236) notes that the new bailout “compromise” still does nothing for homeowners. Nor has there been sufficient research to show that this will actually be an economic help in the first place:

“The 95 brave Dems who broke with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd were the real heroes, just like those few who stood up and voted against the war in October of 2002. Watch the remarks from yesterday of Reps. Marcy Kaptur (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S27yitK32ds), Sheila Jackson Lee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwysnA7ZmE8), and Dennis Kucinich (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaF_MZVWM3E). They spoke the truth.”

These speeches are worth watching, because you won’t see their point of view—one that represents a majority of Americans—represented in the mainstream press. The media long ago jumped on the bandwagon of apocalyptic hurry, endorsing Bush-Pelosi’s call for an economically necessary evil.

MAKE TWO CALLS

- First call Obama’s Senate office (202-224-2854) or campaign office (866-675-2008). Tell him that you are a supporter and want him to oppose the bailout. Also remind him to get rid of Wall Street advisors like Robert Rubin and Jason Furman. They got us into this mess in the first place. KEEP CALLING UNTIL YOU GET THROUGH!

- Then please call your congressperson and tell them to VOTE “NO”: 1-800-473-6711 (capitol hill switchboard)

Moore lays out 5 reasons that this bailout doesn’t go far enough. They bear repeating:

“So the ball is in the Democrats' hands. The gun from Wall Street
remains at their head. Before they make their next move, let me tell
you what the media kept silent about while this bill was being
debated:

1. The bailout bill had NO enforcement provisions for the so-called
oversight group that was going to monitor Wall Street's spending of
the $700 billion;

2. It had NO penalties, fines or imprisonment for any executive who
might steal any of the people's money;

3. It did NOTHING to force banks and lenders to rewrite people's
mortgages to avoid foreclosures -- this bill would not have stopped
ONE foreclosure!;

4. It had NO teeth anywhere in the entire piece of legislation, using
words like "suggested" when referring to the government being paid
back for the bailout;

5. Over 200 economists wrote to Congress and said this bill might
actually WORSEN the "financial crisis" and cause even MORE of a
meltdown.”

This alert was created by Daniel Denvir (daniel.denvir[at]gmail[dot]com) for the Facebook group Progressives (Critically) for Barack Obama

Sunday, September 28, 2008

New Ecuadorian Constitution Approved by Strong Majority, President Correa Claims “Historic Victory”

From Upsidedownworld:

by Daniel Denvir

Monday, 29 September 2008

Quito, Ecuador—According to exit polls, between 63-70% of Ecuadorians voted to approve a new constitution on Sunday, scoring a major victory for President Rafael Correa. Correa hailed the results, saying that “today Ecuador has decided on a new country.” Constitutional provisions expand access to healthcare, social security and education while increasing state control over the economy.

Nearly 10 million Ecuadorians came out to vote—voting is obligatory—and the atmosphere was tranquil. Families quietly walked into polling places and quickly walked out. The only lines in Quito were at the ubiquitous food stands selling roasted pork or sugar cane juice.

The vote on the constitution was also very much a referendum on Correa’s presidency. Correa has maintained high approval ratings by seizing the property of elites responsible for a severe 1999 banking crisis, increasing public assistance funding, and terminating the U.S. lease on the coastal military base in Manta. Staying in office is no small feat in a country where popular mobilizations, fueled by opposition to Washington-backed free market economic policies, have overthrown three presidents since 1997.

The vote was a major blow to an already fragmented opposition. The Catholic Church and evangelicals bolstered the weakened traditional political parties’ “no” campaign, charging that the constitution would legalize abortion and gay marriage. While the new constitution does legalize same sex civil unions, there is no indication that it will allow for restrictions on abortion to be relaxed. Conservative bishops allied with Opus Dei, led by Archbishop Antonio Arregui, control the Church hierarchy. But the leadership’s position provoked widespread resistance among progressive lay activists and clergy who are powerful in many parts of the heavily Catholic country.

Business leaders also criticized the constitution, saying that it would give the state excessive control over the economy and endow the president with authoritarian powers.

In a serious upset, nearly 50% of the residents in the port city of Guayaquil appear to have supported the constitution. The metropolis is an opposition stronghold and, like much of the coast, has long been controlled by the owners of wealthy export businesses. Mayor Jaime Nebot, allied with the conservative Social Christian Party (PSC), has been Correa’s most high-profile opponent. Nebot had threatened to resign if the “yes” vote won in Guayaquil, urging his supporters to reject the proposal. It is not yet clear if he will follow through on his threat, but it seems doubtful, as he continues to enjoy high approval ratings. In his victory speech, Correa called for national unity and said that he was open to a dialogue with Nebot.

Most social movements supported the constitution, pointing to expanded indigenous rights, social welfare policies and environmental protections. But Correa has also come into increasing conflict with the country’s Left, who charge that his radical discourse is mere window dressing. Led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Leftists are unhappy with Correa’s support for large-scale mining and other policies that they see as too friendly to big business and foreign investors.

The conflict recently intensified when former Assembly Member Monica Chuji disaffiliated from Correa’s Alianza País party. Chuji is an indigenous activist and was Correa’s spokeswoman before her election to the Constituent Assembly, the body that drafted the constitution. And just last week, CONAIE President Marlon Santi warned of an indigenous uprising against mining activities. He stated that indigenous and anti-mining organizations will meet in the Southern Highlands city of Cuenca on October 13th to discuss potential actions.

And in a surprise move, Correa on Sunday publicly appeared with former President of the Constituent Assembly and long time social movement ally Alberto Acosta. Acosta and Correa had a falling out in June over procedural matters and substantial political differences. But with Correa empowered and the traditional Right weakened, it is unclear whether social movements will be successful in reasserting an independent political project.

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist in Quito, Ecuador, and a 2008 recipient of the North American Congress on Latin America's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is the editor in chief of caterwaulquarterly.com

Friday, September 26, 2008

LGBT Rights: Ecuador’s Proposed Constitution Causes Rift Between Left and Right


Will this 85% Catholic, Latin American nation ratify a gay-friendly constitution? After all, it was the first in the Western Hemisphere to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation ... and it decriminalized sexual activity between people of the same sex six full years before the United States.

By Daniel Denvir

In the lead-up to Ecuador’s referendum vote on September 28, some conservatives have labeled a proposed constitution a mariconada (faggotry), complaining that the constitution refers to “families” instead of the unitary “family” and allows for gay marriage. The proposal actually restricts marriage to heterosexual couples but legalizes same-sex civil unions. The new language for this heavily Roman Catholic nation would also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT activists are celebrating the proposed constitution as a major step forward, building off of a decade of victories. In 1997 the Constitutional Tribunal overturned a section of the Ecuadorian penal code that criminalized sexual activity between people of the same sex, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court voided sodomy laws. The next year, Ecuadorians approved the constitution that is currently in effect, becoming, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the first country in the Western Hemisphere to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

LGBT activists like Leticia Rojas, a leader of Fundación Causana, say the Catholic Church and other forces are trying to exploit homophobia to distract the public from pressing social and economic issues.

"The issues of abortion and homosexuality, gay marriage, are in my opinion just a front," she said. "They are using the referendum and the constitution to talk about moral issues, but in the end it has more to do with the church’s economic interests."

Activists also accuse the church of initially giving the Constituent Assembly a green light on civil unions -- and then turning on the proposal. In an April letter to the assembly, the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference said, "The stable union of a couple, regardless of their sex or sexual preference ... should generate the same rights and obligations [as marriage] under the law." And many Ecuadorian progressives say that the church has been hijacked by the right wing in recent years and is now closely aligned with political parties run by the economic elite, namely the Social Christian Party.

Many on the left, however, are critical of some of center-left president Rafael Correa's economic and environmental policies, particularly his support for large-scale mining. Correa was also criticized for intervening in the assembly to block proposals by leftist members of his party for increased indigenous rights and environmental protection. But most say that provisions such as increased access to education and universal social security make the constitution a clear step forward on issues of economic and social justice, not just gay and lesbian rights. For example, the article expanding the scope of "family" to "families" will benefit people outside of the LGBT population. It recognizes a variety of households, including those headed by single mothers, divided by immigration, or where the oldest sibling is the primary caretaker of his or her younger siblings.

But prominent supporters of the proposed constitution, led by Correa, are now downplaying the proposal's defense of LGBT rights. The government has run a number of ads emphasizing that the constitution limits marriage to heterosexual couples. Sandra Álvarez of the Ecuadorian Organization of Lesbian Women said that while groups are urging LGBT citizens to vote yes on the proposed constitution, they are keeping a low profile in front of the general public.

"We ... want to make our position clear but also don't want to weaken the process. This does not mean we are shying away from the debate -- we just don't want to generate headlines at the moment. Our struggle will be completely open and aggressive when it comes to the drafting of secondary laws."

The fight between President Correa and the leadership of the Catholic Church has also opened up fissures within the church. On September 15 the Ecuadorian Catholic Church, with evangelical preachers, held three open-air Masses in the coastal metropolis of Guayaquil to campaign against the constitution. Guayaquil archbishop Antonio Arregui, currently the leader of the Ecuadorian Catholic Church, is also an active member of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei. At the open-air Mass he said that God created heterosexual relationships as the basis of society.

"We ask that God's design is always recognized when man and woman were made, equally dignified and exactly complementary, so that they could help to strengthen society and become the source of new lives," he said.

But no open-air Masses took place in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Lay activist Xavier Guachamín said that dozens of progressive priests and laypeople promised a mass boycott if the leadership went ahead with a public mass to campaign against the constitution.

And on September 11 progressive priests from around the country released a statement denouncing “the actions of a sector of the church ... who have organized processions and open air masses, used religious images ... and taken advantage of the feelings and expressions of our people, supposedly as part of the teaching of the catechism, but really in clear alliance with the powerful sectors’ political interests.” Correa has called for churchgoers to stand up and denounce their priests if they lie about the constitution and say that it would legalize gay marriage.

Church officials declined an interview with The Advocate.

One major drawback of the constitution for LGBT people is a provision barring gay couples from adopting children. Activist Patricio Aguirre says that the state is essentially “institutionalizing homophobia.” But he and others say the new legal protections far outweigh the drawbacks. And with polls showing more than 57% of people supporting the proposal, it looks like one of the most pro-LGBT constitutions in Latin America could become a reality.

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist in Quito, Ecuador, and a 2008 recipient of the North American Congress on Latin America's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is the editor in chief of caterwaulquarterly.com.

Can Obama Solve Financial Market Meltdown?

From the Progressives (Critically) for Barack Obama Facebook group that I manage.

Can Obama Solve Financial Market Meltdown?

Obama is lying about his opposition to NAFTA. Obama makes populist promises to Ohio voters while quietly assuring corporate lobbyists not too worry. You know how it is, this is just campaign rhetoric. I’ve got to assuage these people who lost their jobs—they don’t understand globalization. Donate with a clear conscience; you guys can count on me. Our party has a big tent of voters but a small room of decision makers.

And his get tough on Wall Street rhetoric rings a bit hollow, too. While Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson have turned Marx on his head, socializing losses and privatizing profits, Democrats like Obama have been far too meek. And just why is that?

Introducing Robert Rubin, a former Goldman Sachs Chairman, current Citigroup Director and Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary. He was a major force for deregulating the financial industry and pushing “free” trade agreements like NAFTA. He is also one of Obama’s top economic advisors. Wal-Mart friend and Rubin acolyte Jason Furman is also a top advisor. Bad news for Main Street, I think.

More info on Rubin and Furman’s nefarious influence here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sirota/the-picture-of-obamas-min_b_127949.html

This financial crisis should be a GIFT to any Democratic candidate, yet it is not. Democrats cannot fully exploit this crisis politically because Democrats played a major part in passing the Wall Street friendly laws, like the repeal of FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act, that lead to this disaster in the first place. It is hard to talk populist when you receive $9,873,356 in donations from Wall Street, more than any other presidential candidate (http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/select.php?ind=F07)

In all of Congress, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the only person to have proposed something remotely reasonable. The crux of his proposal is that if a company is too big to fail, then it is too big to exist and that a new tax on the superrich—the people who have benefited from this debacle—is the way to pay for it. Check out my post (http://glocalcircus.blogspot.com/2008/09/sanders-if-it-is-too-big-to-fail-then.html) for more info. Maybe someone else in Washington is actually addressing the root causes of this nightmare, but I haven’t heard about it.

CALL OBAMA: DUMP RUBIN AND SUPPORT WORKING AMERICA

Call the Obama campaign and remind him that the American people want him to take a tough stance on Wall Street and dump his corporate economic policy advisors.

If Obama’s office gets 500 calls, they will notice. Your call makes a difference.

PLEASE CALL NOW: (202) 224-2854

Two Demands:
* Get rid of Robert Rubin and Jason Furman. These are the sorts of pro-corporate functionaries that caused the crisis in the first place. They cannot be a part of the solution.

* Any bailout should do the following

- shield the taxpayers from future losses and give us a stake in potential gains.
- reregulate the financial markets & break up companies that are too big to fail!
- help homeowners struggling with foreclosure
- cap CEO compensation—no golden parachutes.
- tax on the superrich to pay for cleaning up this mess.


LET’S GET BIGGER!

We currently have 752 members. Let’s get our numbers up to 1,000 by October 1st so we can generate some real pressure on the Obama campaign. If they don’t hear from us, we don’t exist.

Please take a moment and invite three friends to join. It will only take a minute and we can make some real change!

ANALYSES OF THE CURRENT CRISIS

- Dean Baker (http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/progressive-conditions-for-a-bailout/) lays down some solid conditions for a Wall Street bailout, including controlling banks lending more money than they have (ie, caps on leverage for financial institutions), the re-nationalization of Fannie and Freddie, support for people losing their homes and strong caps on executive compensation. He also deals with arcane but seriously shady practices like credit default swaps and why they must be regulated.

- A surprisingly good analysis of the crisis by NYT financial columnist ?? (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94928783). Surprising because it is the Times, not because I’m familiar with the writer’s work.

- Robert Kuttner discusses how deregulation got us into this mess: (http://www.alternet.org/workplace/99241/only_a_roosevelt-scale_counterrevolution_can_prevent_great_depression_ii/)

- And Dan La Botz has an interesting socialist analysis here: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/labotz240908.html

Ecuadorian President Comes Into Conflict with Both Right and Left



By Daniel Denvir, September 25, 2008

As Ecuadorians prepare to vote on a proposed constitution this Sunday, President Rafael Correa is coming into conflict not only with the conservative elite but also with the Left, including rebellious members of his own party. While social movements are by and large hailing the constitution as progressive, indigenous and other activists are concerned about what they see as Correa's increasing moves to the Right.

But coverage of Ecuador's president in the U.S. corporate media has primarily relied on caricature and political simplification, leaving most US readers the assumption that Correa is a "Leftist." He is thus usually vilified by U.S. conservatives and deified by progressives. This is true whether you're reading The Associated Press referring to Correa as a "socialist" or The New York Times facilely miming Colombian charges of FARC ties. The situation in Ecuador is far more complicated.

Monica Chuji, a former Assembly Member from Correa's Alianza País party, recently disaffiliated from the party, angry over Correa's support for large scale mining and attacks on the indigenous movement. Correa recently said that "infantile leftism, environmentalism and indiginism" pose the "greatest threat" to Ecuador's progress.

Correa and supporters of the proposed constitution are framing the vote as a stark choice between change towards a brighter future and a return to a past governed by a corrupt oligarchy. Concretely, backers point to the proposed magna carta's establishment of free access to education and healthcare, universal social security, and support for public and community media.

Ecuadorians (like Americans) want to believe that change is coming. Over the past 10 years, three presidents have been ousted by popular and overwhelmingly peaceful mobilizations against corruption and neoliberal economic reforms. People are overwhelmingly sick of the old guard elite (generally referred to as the oligarchy). Correa promises to end to the "long night of neoliberalism," an era of deregulation and privatization that culminated in the 1999-2000 banking crisis when Ecuadorian deposit holders lost $8 billion.

A number of moves have contributed to Correa's sky-high approval ratings. He recently seized the property of the Grupo Isaías, whose owners ran one of the banks responsible for the 1998 crisis. He has also acceded to popular demands and is closing the US military base in the coastal city of Manta when the contract expires in November 2009. And perhaps most importantly, he has increased "solidarity bonuses" for the poor urban and farmers.

The Right, on the other hand, has been trying to frame the debate around the issues of abortion and gay rights—sound familiar? While the abortion issue is a red herring—the new constitution retains the not too progressive status quo, allowing for "therapeutic" abortion to save the mother's life—there are significant advances for GLBT rights, namely the historic legalization of safe sex civil unions. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would also be prohibited.

The Right also opposes provisions that put restricts on large landholdings and increase the state's role in economic planning and regulation. They also smear Correa for his ties to Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba—a tactic similar to McCain's ad hyping a Castro "endorsement" of Obama.

Correa's election—and the conservative reaction against him—is, as the recent crisis in Bolivia reminds us, part of a broader regional phenomenon. Social movements across Latin America have been buoyed by widespread dissatisfaction with the orthodox free market model imposed over the past few years by Washington and the two lead International Financial Institutions, the IMF and the World Bank. And the U.S.' long history of heavy-handed political and military interventions have heightened demands for national sovereignty. This popular ferment has led to the election of a political and ideological smattering of new leaders, from Venezuela and Bolivia, to Argentina and Uruguay, to Brazil and Chile. Washington has been left with only a handful of governments willing to unquestioningly carry out its dictates, namely Colombia, Peru, Mexico and El Salvador. But the new leadership has challenged the status quo—or left it in place—to varying degrees, making it problematic to generalize about the "Latin American left."

Many social movements have called Correa's discourse mere window dressing, criticizing the government for, among other things, failing to reverse the privatization of natural resources and supporting agro-industry. Correa has also raised the ire of the country's powerful indigenous movement, led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), because of his support of large-scale mining and opposition to certain demands for indigenous cultural and territorial rights.

Nevertheless, the CONAIE is critically supporting the constitution since it declares Ecuador a "plurinational" state and makes the Kichwa concept of "good living" (sumak kawsay)—based on a harmonious relationship between individuals, community and nature—the philosophical underpinning of national development.

Environmentalists and the CONAIE are also pleased that the proposed constitution would recognize nature as a legal subject of rights and guarantees the right to water as a fundamental human right. But they worry that Correa, who successfully blocked a provision that would have given local communities veto power over mining and oil projects, is planning to pay the "social debt" through ecologically destructive mining and oil policies. This would pit the beneficiaries of social services against rural community members resisting resource-extraction projects.

It is overwhelmingly likely that the new constitution will be approved, with polls generally showing between 51 and 57% support. And the numbers continue to rise as undecided voters increasingly move into the "yes" camp.

The Left and social movements are in an awkward situation, defending the Constitution against the Right while opposing many of Correa's policies. A Leftist academic who publicly supports the government surprised me last week when he said that he hopes the constitution doesn't win "by too much." The Left is unsure whether Correa will credit social movements for a referendum victory or whether it will reinforce his attitude that he is the leader of a one man movement.

It is difficult to predict what will happen if—and probably when—the new constitution is approved. On the one hand, a fractured opposition is searching for new leaders with the capacity to take on a President with sky-high approval ratings. For social movements and the Left, the fight short-term fight will be translating a mostly progressive constitution into a set of progressive laws and norms. There is the possibility that if Correa fails to meet popular expectations around social and economic justice, his approval ratings could take an overnight dive. The long-term fight depends on Correa and the social movements. How hard will Correa push for more-of-the-same policies around large-scale mining and other issues? And will Ecuadorian social movements have the mobilizing capacity to resist?

Daniel Denvir (daniel.denvir@gmail.com) is an independent journalist in Quito, Ecuador and a 2008 recipient of NACLA's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is the Editor-in-Chief of www.caterwaulquarterly.com.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Funny Moments in Ecuador: Lucio, Liquor and Gringo Advisories


In the lead up to Sunday's referendum on Ecuador's proposed constitution, things are getting strange for me.

First, I had a breakfast interview with (popularly overthrown) former President Lucio Gutiérrez. Among the most entertaining things he said was that Correa wanted to have a homosexual love affair with his Political Coordinator Ricardo Patiño. Seriously. This was somehow part of a critique of legalizing civil unions for gay couples. This is the best that the opposition has to offer--along with shadowy Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot.

Then I got this from the US Embassy. They advise US citiznes to stay away from basically everywhere (!), which is hilarious given the total tranquility in the streets of Quito...I think the most important part of the announcement is reminding gringos to stock up on liquor now (Ecuador goes dry for three days starting tomorrow) before the election "dry laws" kick in.

I just got back from the store. If McCain doesn't get away with dodging the debate, I have an important American tradition to engage in tomorrow: drunkenly yelling at the television screen.

The U.S. Embassy Ecuador wishes to inform American citizens visiting or resident in Ecuador that today, September 25, is the final day of political campaigning associated with the referendum. It is anticipated that throughout the day there will be substantial political activity in the forms of marches, caravans, demonstrations, etc. The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid the downtown area, specifically the following locations: Plaza Grande, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Santo Domingo, San Blas, El Ejido Park, Alameda Park, El Arbolito Park, Shyris Avenue near Carolina Park, and the areas near the Central University. These locations are likely to see activity. The political campaigns officially end at 12:00am on Thursday, September 25.

A prohibition on alcohol consumption starts Friday, September 26,
at 12:00pm and ends on Monday, September 29, at 12:00pm. Additionally, the U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens maintain a low profile on the day of the referendum, September 28. American citizens are strongly urged to avoid large gatherings or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. While protests/demonstrations are generally nonviolent here in Ecuador, they can turn violent and require a police response. If you find yourself near a protest/demonstration, the U.S. Embassy recommends immediately departing the area. Foreigners are prohibited from protesting in Ecuador and may be subject to arrest for participating in demonstrations of any kind. The U.S. Embassy will continue to monitor the situation and keep American citizens apprised of any further developments.

Radio: Ecuador's Constitutional Referendum

A report for Free Speech Radio News on the Ecuadorian Constitution that I just did. One error--the person doing the voice over mistakingly referred to a "multinational" instead of a "plurinational" state.

In Ecuador, the debate over a proposed new constitution is heating up before a September 28th national referendum. The opposition right wing charges that the constitution gives the state too much economic power and undermines the traditional family. But most social movements support the Magna Carta, pointing to the expansion of social services. From Quito, Daniel Denvir reports.

Listen Here

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sanders: if it is too big to fail, then it is too big to exist


While Democrats and Republicans spar over whether the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street should include a few guarantees for the hundreds of thousands of people losing their homes, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) has taken the welcome step of proposing that we actually address the out of control financial markets that caused this problem in the first place.

Sanders proposes doing the following:

- a "surtax on the very wealthy to pay for bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and American International Group."

-
"stronger oversight of financial institutions, 'This Congress needs to put an end to the radical deregulation that we have seen under President Bush and even before him. We need to put the safety walls back up in the financial services sector. We need to regulate the electronic energy markets to end speculation in oil futures.'"

- "giant businesses like Bank of America should be broken up so no company in the future could bring the American economy down with it. Said Sanders, 'This country can no longer afford companies that are ‘too big to fail.’ If a company is so large that its failure would cause systemic harm to our economy, if it is too big to fail, then it is too big to exist.'"

- "an immediate economic stimulus package which would put people back to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and moving us to energy efficiency and sustainable energy."


And Vermont Public Radio had an interesting segment, too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stop the Execution of Troy Davis


The death penalty is always state-sponsored murder. But it is particularly horrific when the government kills an innocent man. From the ACLU:

Subject: Help save a life!

A man who is almost certainly innocent needs your help, and fast.

On Friday, September 12th, Troy Davis was denied clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. It is imperative that we respectfully ask them to reconsider this unfortunate decision. They have to power to stop this indefensible execution and we must implore them to make the right decision.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of the murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No physical evidence links him to the crime, and he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. His conviction was based solely on the testimony of witnesses. There was no other evidence against him. Since his trial, seven people who had previously testified against Troy changed the story they had told in court.

Some witnesses say they were coerced by police. Others have even signed affidavits implicating one of the remaining two witnesses as the actual killer. But due to an increasingly restrictive appeals process, none of this new evidence has ever been heard in court.

Can you take 30 seconds and help save the life of a man who is almost certainly innocent? You can learn more and take action here:

http://action.aclu.org/savetroy

Women United for a War Against Iran

Ah! Scary and a little funny.

The Dems' lead secular hawk faces down the Republicans' lets bring-on-the-end-times advocate over an anti-Iran rally.

Hillary pulled out of a planned speech when she heard that Palin had been invited and then protest organizers disinvited Palin. I guess this is good news for world peace. "Bipartisan agreement" can only lead to war or corporate trade agreements.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Correa says that if oil prices fall, social welfare comes before foreign debt


In an encouraging move, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has announced that if oil prices keep falling (even though today's rebound to $100 barrels make that uncertain), he will maintain current spending on social welfare projects and deprioritize repaying the foreign debt.

In other Ecuadorian news, Alianza País Assembly (in recess) Member and former Correa spokeswoman Mónica Chuji disaffiliated from the party yesterday. Chuji, an indigenous activist from the Ecuadorian Amazon, criticized the president for his move to the Right. Big news. From her press release:

*Por favor difundir.

==============================
==

*RUEDA DE PRENSA DE MÓNICA CHUJI*

Calle Buenos Aires 1028 y EE.UU, Quito

16 de septiembre de 2008

El día de ayer, entregué una carta dirigida al Coordinador y a los
compañeros y compañeras asambleístas del bloque de Acuerdo País, donde
expresé mi decisión de separarme de manera definitiva de esta agrupación
política.

Ante los reiterados pronunciamientos realizados por el Sr. Presidente de
la República, de deslegitimar a todas aquellas propuestas que de alguna
manera u otra discrepen con la política oficial, y ante las derivas que
está asumiendo la política pública que pone en riesgo la vigencia de los
derechos fundamentales de los pueblos, y de los sectores populares, por
el compromiso del gobierno con la visión extractivista, que continúa con
las viejas políticas de destrucción de la naturaleza, con políticas
agrarias que atentan contra la soberanía alimentaria, entre otras; y
luego de un profundo proceso de reflexión y análisis sobre la necesidad
de conservar la coherencia con el proyecto político de cambio por el que
hemos luchado, me veo en la obligación moral y política de separarme de
manera definitiva de Acuerdo País.

La decisión de separarme de este movimiento político obedece a la
constatación que he realizado de que existe un alejamiento de los
objetivos originales planteados con respecto a su práctica política,
especialmente en cuanto se refiere al proceso de la Asamblea
Constituyente del que fui parte.

Me remito a las informaciones públicas que dieron cuenta de la
intervención del ejecutivo sobre la Asamblea Constituyente, para limitar
y acotar derechos fundamentales en la transformación política, como
aquellos que dan contenido al Estado Plurinacional, como el
consentimiento previo, libre e informado, la separación del Estado y el
gobierno, el kichwa como idioma oficial, entre otros.

Empero de ello, debo indicar enfáticamente que yo suscribo el texto
constitucional aprobado por la Asamblea Constituyente y llamo a votar
por el SI.

El proyecto de la nueva Constitución no es propiedad de ningún individuo
ni de ninguna agrupación política, sino, es el producto de un largo
proceso de lucha de los movimientos populares e indígena contra el
poder, contra la imposición, la dominación, la explotación, el racismo y
la violencia que llevan siglos en nuestra sociedad. Esto debe terminar.

Como Asambleísta, yo creo firmemente que este texto constitucional, con
todos sus defectos, representa un momento histórico de cambio y de
esperanza para ir construyendo a futuro el Estado y la democracia
plurinacional. Para eso, el poder político democrático tiene que nacer y
sostenerse a base del diálogo horizontal, incluyente y plural para
llegar a consensos, y ello necesariamente implica la participación
directa de las organizaciones y la sociedad en general.

El referendo del 28 de septiembre no debe ser confundido como una
votación a favor ni en contra del Sr. Presidente Correa, como él y la
derecha quiere presentarlo.

El 28 de septiembre, independientemente de los intereses particulares y
las pugnas de poder entre este gobierno y la vieja partidocracia, el
pueblo ecuatoriano vamos a votar SI al cambio, SI a un futuro justo,
equitativo y ecológicamente sano para nuestro tiempo y para nuestras
futuras generaciones.

La lucha continuará, compañeros y compañeras.


Gracias.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Will New Ecuadorian Finance Minister Backtrack on Debt?


In Ecuador, the resignation of Finance Minister Wilma Salgado and the appointment of Deputy Finance Minister Maria Elsa Viteri has international creditors pleased. Salgado, who often spoke out against the foreign debt, is resigning because of a controversy over projected budget numbers for 2009. Correa accused Financial Ministry bureaucrats of manipulating data to make the social programs required by the proposed constitution look too expensive.

But activists are worried about President Rafael Correa's commitment to renegotiating the country's over $16 billion in foreign debt, which activists by and large consider illegitimate.

Nonetheless, it appears that Ecuador's debt audit group will declare some debt illegitimate in an upcoming report. It is not clear how the myriad political and economic ideologies and interests within the Correa government will play out once the report is released. While he campaigned against the foreign debt, Correa has long said that he would pay it as long as the country could also afford to pay the social debt--increased funding for education and healthcare, etc. He has recently reiterated that position, but warned that falling oil prices could change the equation.



Waiting for a little toughness; or, why Juno in Juneau is funny

Thoughtful people in the United States and around the world are waiting for Obama-Biden to finally go after McCain-Palin.

In the meantime, we'll have to content ourselves with hilarious parody videos on youtube.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Magic Laptops Are Resurrected As Bolivian Crisis Goes Global


The Crisis

After President Evo Morales' resounding victory (67%) in an August 10th recall referendum, the wealthy and white opposition from the Bolivia's lowland "media luna" (half moon) provinces have increasingly turned to violent tactics in a campaign to undermine the government. This past Thursday, opposition gunmen in the province of Pando massacred 25 indigenous activists.

The conflict--the elite are upset that Morales is using natural gas wealth to fund social security payments, as well as being motivated by other factors like virulent anti-indigenous racism--went global when Bolivia declared the US ambassador persona non grata, accusing him of offering support to the anti-democratic opposition. The US responded by expelling the Bolivian ambassador. Venezuela then expelled the US ambassador and recalled their own from Washington, declaring themselves in solidarity with Bolivia and accusing the US of fomenting a new coup against the Venezuelan government. Washington then accused Venezuelan intelligence officials of FARC ties--I´ll discuss this more below. [There is also a lot of hysteria over Venezuela's upcoming joint naval exercises with Russia.] Whew.

Bolivia is in a complicated position. It would be difficult to use the armed forces to restore order without further inflaming unrest. But dialogue is a difficult task when opposition leaders have called for a coup d'etat. And many are worried that the right wing's civil disturbances are a prelude to just that. Some have argued that using the military to impose constitutional order--putting lawbreakers behind bars--is the only way to preserve democracy.

On the Center for International Policy's Colombia blog, Adam Isacson argues that it was an error to expel the US ambassador. He writes that the expulsion strengthened the position of right wing, ideological cold warriors within the Administration and undercut relative moderates like Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon. He also argues that the move was merely an attempt to fabricate an external enemy to consolidate domestic support at a time of crisis.

I don't completely agree with that analysis. While the move may have had such a political effect in Washington, I think that Evo has good reason to be unnerved about the US ambassador meeting with violent and anti-democratic opposition members. We certainly wouldn't countenance a foreign representative in the 1960s meeting with, say, the Weather Underground. Let alone funding them!

Besides, both Venezuela and Bolivia's relationships with the US have been long, complicated and fraught with wrongheaded behavior on Washington's end--such as US support for the short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez. The reasons behind the ambassador expulsion extravaganza are a lot more complicated than a momentary need to wag the dog.

As Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote, it is possible that the US is funding opposition groups through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. “Washington has decided to keep its ties to Bolivia’s opposition shrouded in secrecy, and that’s not conducive to trust between the U.S. and Bolivian governments. If Washington has nothing to hide in terms of whom it is funding and working with in Bolivia, then it should reveal which groups those are.” He also notes that it was revealed earlier this year that the US embassy in Bolivia has asked Peace Corp volunteers to spy for them.

The Democracy Center has a very detailed and interesting analysis of the situation.

In fact, I was just reminded of how unenlightened some US foreign service functionaries are this morning. I was sitting in a cafe in a wealthy part of Quito, stopping for a coffee on the way home from an interview, when I overheard US embassy employees and an expat businesswoman say the following completely false things about the proposed Ecuadorian Constitution:


- "It is a socialist constitution. If you have have more than you need, they´ll just take it away.¨

- "Indigenous people will have their own justice systems. If I´m in one of their areas they could just execute me¨."


Wow. Had to bite my tongue so I could finish my latte in peace. But pardon the digression.

Regardless of one's conclusions, the overall situation is a serious crisis for Morales and the region as a whole--one in which the US has, at the least, not played an exceedingly helpful role.

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met today to discuss solutions to the crisis. Latin American heads of state have, across the board, publicly backed Morales. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, while giving his weekly Saturday radio address in Guayaquil, denounced media luna leaders and declared that "We will not allow another Pinochet in Latin America or the balkanization of our countries." He went on to warn that Ecuador's right wing coastal elite has similar separatist ("autonomist") ambitions: "Be careful, Guayaquil. The guayaquileño oligarchy is after the same thing.¨ In a transparent effort to maintain the privatization of wealth in the face of redistributive policies, so-called autonomy has become the watchword of the Latin American elite.


Magic Laptops Resurrected from Earlier Diplomatic Crisis

The US has taken imperial absurdity to new heights in reviving the "magic laptops" that Colombia ostensibly found in an Ecuadorian FARC camp after having bombed it on March 1st of this year. Following the State Department expulsion of the Venezuelan ambassador on Friday morning, the Treasury Department declared that two senior Venezuelan intelligence officials, Gen. Hugo Carvajal and Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, had sold weapons to the FARC. They claimed that evidence on the laptops confirms the charges.

The Colombian government used these same laptops to charge the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian government with FARC ties spring in an effort to show up Ecuadorian diplomatic victories and retroactively legitimize the bombing.

Some government sources are saying that this could be a prelude to designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, which would put an end to $50 billion in annual bilateral trade between the countries--for which reason the move still seems unlikely to this author.

But readers should be extremely suspect of any argument that relies on these laptops for evidence. Proof of the laptops' authenticity and origin, including in INTERPOL's politically charged report, are far from definitive.

I have documented weaknesses in the laptop evidence and pointed to likely fabricated photo evidence in previous articles. Mark Weisbrot has a good discussion of the ambiguities and contradictions in INTERPOL's report and the public statements of its Director, Ronald Noble.

And I am currently finishing an article for NACLA's Report on the Americas on the media war unleashed against Venezuela and Ecuador based on á la carte evidence supposedly procured from these laptops. The media--especially outlets in Colombia, the US and Spain--didn´t think twice about miming Colombia`s allegations. You've got to hand it to these stenographers.

Remembering el otro 11 de septiembre

In other news, 234 people were arrested across Chile as demonstrators marched against the 25th anniversary of the September 11th military coup against President Salvador Allende. 30 protesters and police were wounded.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ecuador Indicts Chevron Lawyers


In a new twist in the historic lawsuit brought by residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon against Chevron-Texaco, Ecuador's prosecutor general has charged Texaco's lawyers--Ricardo Reis Veiga and Rodrigo Perez Pallares--with criminal fraud.

The prosecutor charges that representatives of the Ecuadorian government and Texaco knowingly lied in certifying that the company (acquired by Chevron in 2001) had cleaned up sites contaminated during decades of oil exploitation. The indictment names 7 others who took part in the release agreement on either the government or Texaco's behalf.

If proven, the charge repudiates Chevron's central defense: that a 1998 agreement with the Ecuadorian government certifying the cleanup of contaminated sites freed them from all future legal liability.

Amazon residents have long contended that this cleanup was a total fraud. After personally visiting supposedly remediated sites, I would be inclined to agree.

Chevron is accusing the Ecuadorian government of intervening in the case. This charge smells like BS for a few reasons. First, these indictments are the culmination of years of fraud allegations. Second, the plaintiffs neither want nor need government intervention. The case is doing just fine on its legal merits.

Photos: Chevron CEO David O'Reilly has some explaining to do

Also, check out my Free Speech Radio News Story on the lawsuit.

Palin Teflon Offers Good Opportunity to Reflect on White Privilege


I've spent a lot of time puzzling over why the Dems seem so flummoxed about going after a highly inexperienced, kooky, anti-environmental, fringe Christian fundamentalist VP candidate. Writer Tim Wise looks into why Palin's whiteness helps her get away with such INCREDIBLE bullshit. How do you think the media would react if Obama had a 17 year old daughter who was pregnant, and, er, black? These are some highlights:
  • White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
  • White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
  • White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you. White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.
  • White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Latin America Reflects on the Other 9/11


just posted this on AlterNet...

Latin America Reflects on the Other 9/11

By Daniel Denvir, AlterNet
Posted on September 11, 2008, Printed on September 11, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/98484/

35 years ago on September 11th, 28 years before Al-Qaeda fighters crashed hijacked passenger planes into the World Trade Center's two towers, the Nixon Administration helped orchestrate a right wing military coup against democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende. As troops under the command of General Augusto Pinochet approached the presidential palace, Allende gave a farewell radio address to the nation and then shot himself in the head, refusing the military's offer of "safe passage."

Today in Chile, thousands across the country gathered, as they do every year, to remember that day.

A recent New York Times article discusses how many people in the Middle East believe that the U.S. government must have been behind the attacks on New York and Washington seven years ago. They don't believe that a guy hanging out in Afghanistan could get by the ostensibly foolproof security of the world's most powerful nation. While I think that it is certain that, for better or for worse, a group of Muslim fundamentalists carried out the attack, I also think that it worthwhile to consider about how 9/11 has turned into a contested symbol, a symbol that remains the point of departure for a long running political and military disaster.

The dominant image in the U.S., the one articulated by Bush and co-ideologues in the attack's aftermath, was that a great nation was attacked by horrible people who hated this great nation for everything that made it great. This sense of exceptionalism and ahistoricism, that our tragedy is qualitatively "unique," has buttressed eight years of cultural chauvinism and war that ranks as extreme even in the context of a rather checkered history of U.S. foreign policy.

The global propagation of this 9/11 image has caused some distress in Latin America and other parts of the world. In claiming that 9/11 was a unique tragedy, we belittle the tragedies of others. In claiming that 9/11 was a crime against an innocent nation, we render our support for brutal dictatorships in Latin America and other parts of the world invisible.

September elevenths took place on other dates throughout Latin America: Guatemala (June 27, 1954), Argentina (March 24, 1976) and the dirty wars in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador of the 1980s, to name some prominent examples.

In Chile, too, September 11th is a complicated symbol and an enduring political legacy. President Michelle Bachelet, whose father was tortured to death by the regime, today inaugurated a President Salvador Allende White Room in the presidential palace, La Moneda. The room, an exact replica from September 1973, will be a permanent reminder of what a small part of Chile looked like on the day democracy was overthrown.

But it will take more than a yearly ceremony to exorcise Chile's ghosts. The coup destroyed a dream of a democratic and socialist Chile. The "transition to democracy" that began 18 years ago was forged on the Right's conditions: a binomial electoral system that excludes the Left (akin to the U.S. two party system), a neoliberal economic system that favors private education, the privatization of natural resources, and so on.

According to Chilean professor Álvaro Cuadra, "September 11th has not ended in our country. It is present in every line of the constitution...In the Chile of today, there is peace neither for the dead nor for the living."

35 years later, the U.S. army occupies the countries of two toppled governments. Of course, neither the Taliban or Saddam's regime was progressive or democratic. Regardless, the pain and death inflicted is on some basic level the same, inflicted by a country with an unfortunate combination of limited geographical awareness and boundless military imagination.

Could September 11th instead be an opportunity to reflect upon the suffering and perseverance that unites us as humans? Putting aside the taunts such a suggestion would provoke from Bill O'Reilly and the like, wouldn't such a remembrance be a more human tribute to the dead, more human that having your name embroidered on an American Flag of Heroes?

We should not interpret overseas reminders of the existence of "other September elevenths" as insensitivity to the 2,974 people who died in the twin towers -- most of who were, unlike our government, innocent. Instead, we should take this opportunity to reflect on the need for a more just foreign policy and a world where no one has to suffer through burning buildings or torture chambers.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

And Who's the Elitist? Cindy McCain Outfit Estimated to Cost $300,000


A recent post on Vanity Fair's website estimates that Cindy McCain's RNC outfit cost a mere $300,000. I hope that a President McCain would spend our tax dollars as thoughtfully. According to Vanity Fair's sartorial analysis:

Oscar de la Renta dress: $3,000
Chanel J12 White Ceramic Watch: $4,500
Three-carat diamond earrings: $280,000
Four-strand pearl necklace: $11,000–$25,000
Shoes, designer unknown: $600
Total: Between $299,100 and $313,100


I find it fascinating that the husband of a woman following in Imelda Marcos' footsteps can claim to be a man of the people. God Bless America and our perverse take on class consciousness.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Residents from Ecuador's Amazon Challenge Chevron-Texaco


In Ecuador's Amazon rainforest, a coalition of residents and indigenous nationalities are suing US-based oil company Chevron-Texaco. They say that 30 years of the company's oil exploitation has resulted in severe environmental and health damages in the region, including 428 cancer deaths. A recent report issued by a court expert determined that Chevron might have to pay up to $16 billion in damages. FSRN's Daniel Denvir traveled to the Ecuadorian Amazon to file this story.

Listen Here

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bizarre AP Article On Ecuador



The article, written by Frank Bajak, relies on some particularly questionable sources to make some very serious charges.

While the FARC certainly has a presence around the Ecuadorian border--and so do right wing paramilitaries--why is it Ecuador's fault that Colombia's war is spilling over its borders? Or that Ecuador has twice as many soldiers along the border as Colombia? Or that Ecuador has taken in 18,000 Colombian refugees?

I'll point out a number of problems here:

- "Documents found in Reyes' laptop detailed close ties between the rebels and several prominent Ecuadorean leftists. They also indicate President Rafael Correa's 2006 campaign received $100,000 from the FARC." 

It is journalistically irresponsible to report these documents as conclusively proving ties between the FARC and Correa. There has been a large debate over the meaning and origin of these documents--check out 2 letters (here and here) by US academics criticizing Colombia's charges of FARC ties, the INTERPOL investigation and surrounding media coverage--also check out these articles that I wrote, 1 and 2). Further, INTERPOL did not even certify that the documents were authentic--they only verified that the documents were not tampered with by Colombia--even though they certified that they had been (I know, it sounds weird, read the analysis).

- He says that Colombia's March 1st attack "was an embarrassing indication of just how little control Ecuador had over its territory." Now that is certainly up for debate. Many in Latin America rejected Colombia's charges of FARC ties and thought that the bombing was by and large embarrassing for Colombia and a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty. I didn't meet any "embarrassed Ecuadorians" after the bombing--by and large they were pissed off. While the U.S. media spin implied otherwise, responsible on the ground journalism requires complicating this narrative a little.


-"Correa calls the documents bogus. But shortly after they were made public, he replaced most of the armed forces high command and stepped up military operations along the 400-mile border with Colombia." 
The stated reason for the reshuffling of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces was because of suspicions of Colombian and US intelligence infiltration of the military, not FARC ties. I have never heard of this analysis before. I wonder where Bajak got this.

"In Puerto Nuevo, men shoulder sacks of rice, propane canisters and jugs of gasoline down to long canoes, much of it for delivery to rebel encampments along the border."  
Given that no evidence is proffered, this just appears to be pure speculation.

"Eighty percent of the people in that town are FARC militiamen or communist party members," said Olbany, a 23-year FARC veteran who defected on May 13. In an interview with AP he asked to be identified only by his nom de guerre because his family still lives in the area."
Given the few times Bajak actually references a source (such as in the previous sentence), it appears that his evidence is largely based on interviews with defected or captured FARC soldiers--an obviously problematic source given that they are prisoners or charges of the Colombian government. 

But this is the same corporate media that thought Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress were legit sources in the lead up to the Iraq War. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To the NYT: Police Repression Not Newsworthy?


I emailed this to letters@nytimes.com

To the Editor,

I was surprised to learn that The New York Times doesn't believe that the arrest of five journalists outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul merits coverage. Videos show a number of these journalists clearly identifying themselves to police as members of the press. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman also reports that after their arrests, the secret service took RNC press passes off of her and show producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous before photographing them.

Police repression of the press constitutes a serious threat to democracy.

A second Democracy Now! producer was also arrested, along with photographers from the Associated Press and The New York Post. Hundreds of other peaceful demonstrators have also been arrested, including dozens in heavy-handed and baseless preemptive raids.

The Post photographer reportedly told police, "We're even a Republican newspaper!" as he was led away in handcuffs. Given the dismal coverage of police repression in St. Paul, it is not at all clear what kind of newspaper the Times is.

Sincerely,
Daniel Denvir
Quito Ecuador

Palin, pregnancy and why it matters


by friend and guest blogger Christopher Moses

It has been amusing to watch the media – especially its more conservative mouthpieces – bend contortionist-like with sensitivity and discretion over the Palin family’s travails. Every other day they struggle to come up with sultry gossip so rich as to generate hours of mindless coverage. But amidst the hoped for fanfare of the Republican National Convention, with one hurricane already passed, the matter of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy has become an elaborate hand-waving “there’s-nothing-to-see-here” routine as the McCain campaign stumbles to find some stable ground.

Claims to privacy should be taken with profound skepticism. Certainly the paparazzi shouldn’t accost this young lady nor should she be put on trial for behavior in which the majority of her peers engage. But there’s absolutely no excuse to refrain from putting Governor Palin under scrutiny for her views as they compare to the reality of her own life.

What can a politician be held accountable for if it’s not how they actually respond to their own ideological program? If it’s good enough for us, it ought to be good enough for them.

The biggest success for the McCain campaign will be to paint this as an exception to the rule, an unfortunate anomaly not to be pried upon. Yet they will still continue with their regressive social agenda, refusing women open and honest health care, circumscribing doctors’ and patients’ rights in end-of-life care, and countering reasoned approaches to sex education.

McCain and Palin: you can’t have it both ways.

Gender has and will play an enormous role in this controversy and in every subsequent chapter of the election—just as it did for the democratic primary. There’s no denying that perceptions of motherhood and a profound bias against female professionalism will stir questions of whether it’s worth letting her family go to hell in service of her own ambitions (men have wives to avoid this risk—and indeed, where has Mr. Palin been in standing up as the father figure who will proudly serve as second husband, looking after his beautiful children?)

Bill Clinton offered humorous fodder for jokes about the role of first husband. Though in the case of the Clintons, we never really had to confront the truly inverted role of traditional parenting because Chelsea is well established as an independent adult. With the Palins, diapers still need changing and bedtime stories still call forth nightly—will toddler screams in the background matter when that red phone rings at 3:00am?

All of this strains to the extreme the hip and with-it message McCain hoped to project by choosing a youthful, female reformer who might reinvigorate and compliment his maverick image. Now the novelty of a hockey mom who can do it all looks a lot like the everyday sort of family that is unexceptional in its problems.

So what is the proper response to teenage pregnancy? I’m doubtful that pressuring a seventeen year-old couple into marriage is the best solution. Reading between the lines, Bristol has been given credit for her own choice not to abort—we do note that, thankfully, a choice existed—yet not much direct attribution has been given to the decision about becoming a wife. Indeed, privacy concerns aside, what does the future father have to say for himself? If anything has been overtly sexist in this whole ordeal, it has been the assumption that all ought to ride on the shoulders of the dumb girl who’s gone out and gotten herself knocked up.

Liberals’ delicacy here mirrors the ironically newfound openness of conservative pundits towards premarital sex. The right has perfect the art of making the bedroom into a national political concern while the left cringes at what if anything can be said without appearing sexist in targeting the pitfalls of a woman candidate and her daughter.

We needn’t fear so much.

There’s plenty of worthwhile concerns that can be raised about women’s rights and teenage sexuality without tarring and feathering one young woman. Indeed, let’s celebrate youthful curiosity and promote widely accessible education—seventeen year olds need to grapple with the fact that they have the capacity to become pregnant, to realize that the hormonal confusion and erotic pleasure they’re beginning to feel should be a matter of open and honest discussion.

Letting the Republicans usher these issues off stage might be just the sort of political coup they couldn’t have otherwise orchestrated: letting them stick to their guns, unaccountable, because now these topics are too taboo in tending towards the immediate situation of the Palin family.

Hogwash.

When you get up on that platform and run for national office you invite another layer of scrutiny. What’s said in your church, what kind of car you drive, the schools your children attend—it matters, man or woman. Giving Governor Palin a free pass to this sort of scrutiny would be by far the most sexist and detrimental effect of her ceiling shattering endeavour. Opponents of affirmative action should be comfortable with a large part of the logic behind that argument, if nothing else resonates with the base.

If sex ed can only occupy so much time in our national political debate, then there are a number of other related issues that can easily be raised to highlight the ludicrous dimensions of the perverted social agenda symbolized by Palin’s candidacy. (Still, a thoughtful, nuanced and serious debate about adolescent health, from sexuality to obesity, probably does deserve a far more significant role than ever in this campaign.)

Perhaps the McCain-Palin campaign can reflect on the privacy concerns of the Terri Schivo case? Or matters of executive privilege and the impeachment of Bill Clinton? How about sexual harassment and Clarence Thomas’ relationship with Anita Hill? Our good friend Larry Craig could join the chorus as well: who has been gay, was never gay, can get married, should share health insurance—where can you play footsy with all this patriot act security? And if Senator Craig gets tired, I bet Mark Foley can be booked for an appearance.

So lets stop with the false compunction. There’s a scandal here that begins with McCain’s decision making ability and the rashness of his choice (if she was vetted, they were incompetent; if they chose not to vet her, even more so). And it ranges to the very base of the Republican party and the way they can excuse their own while using prejudice and hate to disenfranchise and abuse groups from single mothers to gays to blacks “profiled” because of their supposed criminal proclivities.

There’s a lot at stake here: abortion rights, healthcare freedom—not to mention basic civil liberties. There’s a serious battle to be waged against the wave of religious extremism that has been overtaking America’s political culture for the last few decades.

No seventeen year old should stop us from fighting as hard as possible to expose McCain-Palin for the truths they represent, not least their unwillingness to admit how crippling their own ideologies can be when problems arise close to home.

I would love the sort of privacy and freedom of choice the Palin family now desires—the ability to marry whomever I want, to respond to terminal illness as I choose, to practice whatever faith I have without fear of being targeted for un-American activities. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me: and that should be the story until the pregnancy of a candidate’s unwed daughter isn’t such a scandal.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

NYT Wrong on Latin America, Again


On August 22nd, The New York Times ran a startlingly misinformed (and misinforming) editorial crtiticizing President Uribe's decision to push through a law permitting another presidential reelection--along with his habit of attacking the judiciary and generally ignoring his country's laws. 

While all of this is true--Uribe does these things and they should be criticized--the Times makes the peculiar argument that these moves would "tarnish his legacy." Excuse me, but what legacy does the president with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere (ok, maybe after our own prez) who maintains close, historic ties with right wing paramilitary death squads, what kind of legacy does he have that can be "tarnished"?!

The Times also gives Uribe credit for recent blows dealt to the FARC. While the FARC don't need any help tarnishing their own record, it is a mistake to believe that Uribe's militarist strategy will lead to a solution to Colombia's long running internal conflict. The FARC have survived a lot of golpes in the past. Colombia needs leadership on both sides of the conflict willing to sit down and negotiate a peaceful solution.

The Times goes on to make the truly absurd argument that Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are the truly authoritarian governments in the region:

Colombia’s neighborhood has too many authoritarian-minded leaders. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, leveraged his enormous popularity to take control of virtually every aspect of his country’s political and economic life. Venezuela’s voters wisely blocked his plans for indefinite re-election. Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are also trying to amend their constitutions so they can run again.

While the Times is right that Chávez's proposal to allow for indefinite reelection was a bad move, they disingenuously and misleadingly suggest that Morales and Correa are trying to do the same.

As Ecuador's ambassador to the U.S. pointed out in a letter to the editor, the proposed Ecuadorian constitution would allow Ecuadorian presidents to run for reelection just once for a second four year term--um, urg, the same as here in U.S. The proposed Bolivian constitution also allows for one, just one, reelection.

Anyways, while I may disagree with the idea of indefinite reelections, it falls within the framework of electoral democracy and people have a right to vote to change their laws to allow for it. The U.S. didn't limit presidents to two potential terms until 1951. Remember FDR?

The Times insults the victims of state and paramilitary violence in insinuating that the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela are somehow more repressive than Colombia. While Venezuela's government was wrong to propose indefinite reelection--and that's why the people voted it down--it is not the Latin American country where opposition politicians and activists are regularly assassinated. That is Colombia. If it happened in Venezuela, trust me, it would be on the front page of The Times.

The Colombian state-backed machine of political violence doesn't make the front page as often as attacks on Chávez, Morales and Correa. And just why is that?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hezbollah in Venezuela? Elvis and Tupac in the Virgin Islands?


The most recent smear against Venezuela has been a charge that Chávez, because of his close ties to Iran, is opening a beachhead for Hezbollah in the Americas

Funny how these baseless attacks against Lefty Latin Americans, attributed to anonymous experts or government officials, tend to coincide with broader U.S. policy objectives on the other side of the world?

It is also amusing that a government that has long maintained close ties with Saudi Arabia can fault Venezuela for choosing some friends based on realpolitik rather than ideology. I mean, when a U.S. backed coup briefly overthrows your government and the Colossus of the North regularly blames you for every single thing that goes wrong (or right, depending on your politics) in the region, you might look for your friends where you can find them.

This hysteria also dovetails nicely with the regular U.S. accusations of Islamic terror networks in the triple border region between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

While agents of pretty much any power, nefarious or otherwise, are most likely in Latin America--as is clear from the deadly 1992 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires--it is a pretty cynical move to link it all to Chávez. 

In other news, the Venezuelan president just had a big meeting with the Latin American Jewish Congress, hoping to get past some past misunderstandings, namely those generated by a certain right leaning, LA based organization.