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March 17, 2004

Man...

I've mentioned this before, but it's awfully hard to satirize people who keep outdoing your best efforts.

And for the rest of you...

This one's for anyone who's concerned about electronic voting machines with no verifiable paper trail--which should be any rational person reading this entry. There's a bill in the works to address this one, and a strong show of support is vital. Go here for more info.

...if we don't get this straightened out quick, Florida 2000 is going to look like a test run...

Calling all freelancers

A group called Working Today is trying to demonstrate to policymakers that independent workers need to be included in any health care reform. To this end, they've got a survey for freelancers, independent contractors, temps, etc., here. They say they need 1,500 responses by next Wednesday. If you're in any of these categories, go help them out.

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March 16, 2004

Unbelievable

Just flipping unbelievable.

Credit where due

This space is often critical of mainstream reporters and commentators for their frequent misrepresentations of reality. So, as Ali G would say, big ups to Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healy for doing the right thing and setting the record straight.

Serious about terrorism

Pandagon makes a good catch, noting a buried paragraph in a Time article:

Administration sources tell TIME that employees at the Department of Homeland Security have been asked to keep their eyes open for opportunities to pose the President in settings that might highlight the Administration's efforts to make the nation safer. The goal, they are being told, is to provide Bush with one homeland-security photo-op a month.

Homeland Security, working to keep you safe from terror--one photo op at a time.

Spain in perspective

I don't claim to know much about internal Spanish politics, and I suspect many of the people leaping to conclusions about the Meaning of it All are pretty much in the same boat. For what it's worth, I got an email from a Spanish reader this morning, giving his take on the situation, and it doesn't make the Spanish people look like quite the cowardly appeasers some want to portray them as. I'm reprinting it in full below. (Usual caveat: I don't know the correspondent personally, on the internet know one knows you're a dog, blah blah blah.)

As you will know well, Islamic terrorists blew four commuter trains in Madrid in the morning of March 11th, 2004, three days before general elections. This trains were packed with workers and students going to their jobs and classrooms, and covered the route known as "Corredor del Henares", a collection of working-class suburbs. They killed 201 people (up to today). There were 1,500 wounded. There're still dozens of people in critical or very grave state, and some of them could die. When the bombs exploded, two of the trains were very near to Atocha central station, one was stopped in El Pozo del Tío Raimundo station (a very combative, traditionally leftist, working-class district) where many people was killed in the platforms, and the last one was very near to Santa Eugenia station, another working-class area. The explosive was a kind of industrial dynamite made in Spain used in mining and widely exported known as Goma-2, trademark Eco. The bombs were hidden in handbags with ten to twelve kilos of Goma-2 each one, and they were triggered using inexpensive cell phones. Given the trains and platforms were packed with people (it was about 7.40 in the morning), they caused an immediate and pavorous carnage. It is said that the terrorists attempted to sweep the Atocha station where the four trains ended their route, going for an 11S-sized massacre (ed. note: 11 September, i.e. 9/11) by killing several thousand people in this main station of Madrid. Only the traditional lack of punctuality in Spanish commuter services avoided this barbarous result.

The behavior of the people was of utter heroism. I must say it, I didn't expect it and I'm very proud of my people now. When the victims in the trains started shouting "neighbours, neighbours, please help us!" to the surrounding buildings, hundreds of every age and sex rushed downstairs to help, even understanding that there were bombs and could be more. Commuter drivers in nearby roads stopped their cars and took the horribly mutilated and burnt woundeds to area hospitals even before the first ambulances arrived. Even some people who were inside the trains stayed to help others instead of fleeing! Please believe me when I tell you that the people of Madrid behave EXCEPTIONALLY and with rare bravery and solidarity in these very hard minutes. I use to be quite cynic, but this defies any cynicism. It was epic, heroic, I don't have words. Those thinking that the Spanish people is being coward should reconsider their opinion in the light of this.

After more than 30 years of ETA terrorism, many people thought at once that this murderers well known to the Spanish people had caused the massacre. But well-informed people immediately noticed it was a classical "Chechen attack", completely different of what ETA has done up to today and essentially identical to the Moscow subway attack several weeks ago. This caused some turmoil, specially when a pro-ETA spokesman made the point. Some minutes later, Interior (Security) Minister Angel Acebes declared openly that the authors were ETA and anyone denying it was a "miserable".

Now let me explain to you this turmoil. ETA is an independentist Basque terrorist group who declares itself "marxist-leninist". The Conservative government of José María Aznar has fought hard to combat it while avoiding any concession to moderate Basque nationalists, saying that the only possible way to manage the issue is "the hard one". Some weeks ago, a member of the Socialist / Nationalist coalition Government in Catalonia met ETA representatives and the Aznar goverment used this to proclaim that Socialist weren't hard enough against ETA since they shared government in Catalonia with a guy that spoke to terrorists. If the authors of the carnage were ETA, Aznar government would have been reinforced in their opinion that against those beasts, only force can solve the problem and the Socialists and their Nationalist friends were too weak to do it.

But if the authors were Islamic, a very different panorama arose. The opposition in Spain against Bush's war in Iraq was very important. I don't know if it reached 90% as it has been stated in this groups, but there surely was a wide majority against a conflict that common Spaniards didn't buy. There were massive demonstrations, with several million people in them, against the involvement of Spain in the war. In despite of this, José María Aznar government went to war with Bush and Blair. Many people went home thinking "this guy is involving us in a madmen's war that we don't want and will provoke bloody consequences". If Islamics blew the trains, it was a strong confirmation of this position, something that could only focus anger against Aznar's Government.

So, many people began to ask "who did it?", "not all of us are here, we lack 200" and "we want the truth before voting" already in the mammoth antiterrorist demonstrations on Friday. The Government stuck to the ETA hypothesis trying to avoid this probable electoral damage. They must have thought that using their massive media control they could cover it up for four days, until election's aftermath. Government-controlled public and private televisions, radios and newspapers broadcasted once and again "it was ETA", but each minute less people was buying it. It has been said that workers of some of this media were near to revolt because of the pressures to avoid the Islamic hypothesis (today, EFE -Spanish state press agency- workers' unions have asked for the immediate resignation of their boss because of this). But then, media not controlled by the Government started broadcasting the Islamic hypothesis and how the controlled media were manipulating the whole issue. In a matter of hours, Spain was bipolarized, with thousands seeking information in Internet and sending it via SMS to their friends. IMHO, the Government went mad and commited suicide in this moment. They agreed there were "Islamic clues" but said once and again it was ETA although the mass crime was claimed three times by Al-Qaeda and there were several tapes (two or three, still unknown) with Islamic messages claiming "Operation Trains of Death" in Madrid and threatening "Smoke of Death" in Italy and "Winds of Death" in the USA. Millions began to think they were being lied, with the blood of 200 Spaniards still warm. SMS messages with the truth spreaded very quickly (I received about 50 from about 40 different sources). In workers' districts through the country, people began to protest beating pans in the windows and shouting "they make wars, we suffer them", "we are not puppets" and "Spain is not to be lied". Others demonstrated before Aznar's party offices in different cities singing "Liars, liars!" and "Culprits, culprits!". In Madrid, these demonstrations united over 3,000 people, probably many more according to the images seen on TV. When police started asking for ID's, they showed their ID cards to the international TV cameras deployed there shouting "Urdaci, look at my face!" (Urdaci is the information director in the channel 1 of Spanish public television, massively involved in the coverup). Sort of a lightweight civil revolt, as you can see. Nothing serious, but obviously damaging to the ruling party. As a last error, Mariano Rajoy (Government's party candidate, since Aznar was retiring) spoke on TV blaming these demos as "antidemocratic and illegal". For a Government widely perceived as too authoritary and non-negotiating, this sealed their fate.

And Sunday came, and it was election's day. I didn't see fear. I saw mourning. A strange feeling, believe me. Spaniards use to be very funny. People is continously laughing and making jokes about everything, specially the younger. Watching all that people lining up to vote without a laugh nor a smile was impressive. And there was something more in truckloads of eyes. Anger. Deep anger. No incidents.

Aznar-Rajoy's party lost about one million votes. Not much, it's true, given the situation. But three million voters arose essentially from disenchanted abstentionists to nail them. And almost all of these voters supported the Socialist Party, the main opposition group that had spoken openly against the Iraq war and was also denouncing the media manipulation. This inverted completely the results, where Rajoy had started as favorite. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, not Mariano Rajoy, will be the next president of Spain.

What will happen now? First, don't get confused. Although named "Spanish Socialist Workers' Party", the Socialist Party is a center-left organization that during their past Government period (1982-1996) brought Spain in NATO and faced several general strikes because of their pro-Capitalist economic policy. So "centrist" was their policy, that a truly Socialist leftwing party called Izquierda Unida could appear around the Communist Party (libertarian eurocommunists, not the totalitary ones) and is continuously supported by hundreds of thousands of disenchanted ex-Socialists. Even more, Rodríguez Zapatero is a very moderate politician usually perceived as too soft as opposer to the Government.
But since he leaded the majoritary opposition group, angry voters perceived him as the best option to oust Aznar and Rajoy.

In despite of this, the Socialist Party knows that these three million additional voters who have taken them to the Government, plus their traditional eight million voters, have voted saying "hey, José Luis, disengage us from that mad Bush (Bush is widely perceived in Europe as an illiterate crazy cowboy) and his terrorism-bearing war, take us again to our natural place in Europe, don't tell us lies and please don't screw it up or you'll pay it in the next elections". If they don't comply, people is going to reclaim their votes. Not a comfortable position, I'm afraid. This isn't a "free-handed, do what you want" Government. They have won with a clear popular pressure and expectative. The first of them, Spanish occupation troops out of Iraq before July 1st, period.

Has Al-Qaeda voted in these elections? Yes, obviously yes. How could I, a voter, stop thinking in my killed and maimed people, young students, hard-working fathers and mothers, pretty college girls, fragile elders and even babies? Hey, they're my people. As a citizen, I have an obligation to them. But let me tell you that I honestly think that we voted not guided by fear, but guided by anger. In the critical hours after the attack, Aznar's Government confronted and bipolarized the Spanish people lying and manipulating even when the truth was alreday obvious for millions. This caused an automatic reaction in the low and middle classes thinking "they make wars against our opinion, then it's our blood who pays them, and furthermore they're lying us and insulting our deads and our intelligence". Not a good cocktail for a Government seeking re-election, I'm afraid. The result has been obvious. I think that if they had told the truth, they would have lost votes, but perhaps won the elections by a scarce majority. When they decided to lie the impossible, they committed suicide.

Sorry for my English if it sounds a bit strange, I can't practice it often.

With my best wishes of peace, freedom and (real) democracy to everyone, from Spain the Brave.


--------------------

March 15, 2004

Max reads drivel so you don't have to

It is truly a public service.

Go read this.

It's worth a click.

Video news releases...

...are short news segments which appear to be actual stories, but are in fact produced by corporations touting their products and services and provided free to cash strapped local news stations. This is nothing new--if you've ever been watching the news and seen an unfamiliar reporter waxing enthusiastic about the benefits of some pharmaceutical miracle or vacation hotspot, there's a good chance that you were watching a video news release.

But even I was surprised to learn that news stations are running VNR's produced by the Bush administration:

Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines.

The videos are intended for use in local television news programs. Several include pictures of President Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd cheering as he signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8.

The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified. Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting."

But the production company, Home Front Communications, said it had hired her to read a script prepared by the government.

Another video, intended for Hispanic audiences, shows a Bush administration official being interviewed in Spanish by a man who identifies himself as a reporter named Alberto Garcia.

Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law "helps you better afford your medications," and the customer says, "It sounds like a good idea." Indeed, the pharmacist says, "A very good idea."

The government also prepared scripts that can be used by news anchors introducing what the administration describes as a made-for-television "story package."

In one script, the administration suggests that anchors use this language: "In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details."

The "reporter" then explains the benefits of the new law.

--snip--

"The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector," Mr. Keane said. "Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools."

Houses

I've heard a lot of stories about home ownership, since I started the house hunting process. My favorite comes from a friend, who bought a place which turned out to be infested--not with termites, or mice, or even rats--but with squirrels, who had apparently set up a cozy little nest in the walls. (Don't ask me how the inspector missed this.)

The place had previously been occupied by a renter, and my friend saw him one day and asked him about this and he said, as if this were a common household nuisance with which any homeowner should reasonably expect to contend, "Oh sure--the squirrels!"

I have a feeling that I am embarking upon a great and unpredictable adventure.

Deliberately obtuse

Okay, quick test of cognitive ability. John Kerry was recently caught on a live mike making the following comment:

"We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you. We're just beginning to fight here. These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen. It's scary."

To whom was he referring?

If you answered, "Why, obviously the crooked, lying sonsofbitches in the White House," congratulations! Your basic reading comprehension skills, at minimum, rival that of the average third grader--which is apparently more than can be said for William Safire, who asks:

Was it wise for a candidate for president to characterize Republicans — tens of millions of American voters, including even veterans — as thieves and liars?

Okay, I'm being a little harsh. I'm sure the former Nixon speechwriter's reading comprehension skills are at least at a third grade level. He's just a hack. There's no way that someone who spends as much time thinking about the meaning of words as he does could so blatantly misinterpret Kerry's comment. He's being deliberately obtuse in order to score a political point. He may have an independent streak, but as this site has documented on previous occasions, he's usually willing to carry water for the Bush Administration.

Kerry himself has subsequently claimed that his comment referred to "the attack dogs." It's too bad he can't just come out and say, "Yeah, I meant those crooked lying sonsofbitches in the White House, you wanna make something of it?"--but that's beside the point. It's painfully clear that he's not referring to "tens of millions of American voters...even veterans," and it's a cheap rhetorical trick to pretend otherwise. Safire should be ashamed, but I don't imagine that he is.

--------------------

March 14, 2004

Spain

Every time I've gotten on Amtrak over the past couple of years, especially during peak holiday travel seasons, I've had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. And every time I've gotten off one of those trains, I've done so with a palpable sense of relief.

Ultimately, there's probably not much you can do to prevent this sort of attack--rail travel is inherently porous; you just can't impose the kind of security net you see at airports. And in this country, Amtrak barely has enough money to keep the trains rolling, let alone to add layers of security.

Not happy thoughts, especially for those of us who live in the Northeast, where rail travel is still so much a part of daily life.

Incidentally, the demonization of the socialist party is probably starting as I write these words. (It's certainly not hard to imagine the inflection with which Fox News anchors will be pronouncing the word "socialist.") However, Kos provides an important reminder:

For the record, while the PSOE is called the Socialist Worker's Party of Spain, they aren't socialist in the "communist" sense. They are socialist democratic party such as have ruled France, Germany, and just about all of the rest of Europe on and off over the past decades.

The PSOE has ruled Spain in the past, and negotiated Spain's entry into NATO in 1986, and provided military support to the US during the Gulf War.

Electronic voting

Body and Soul summarizes Diebold's recent audacity.

Sunday shows

Presumably because we're at the one year anniversary of the start of the quagmire in Iraq, the big guns have been out today--Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice--and they're still arguing that the case for war was not overstated at all, because no one ever specifically used the word "imminent."

Sigh.

For the record, my post on this hair-splitting semantic nonsense is here; the Center for American Progress has one here.


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