Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marxist Love

"Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune."

Karl Marx
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Obama: Old Wine In New Bottle

As I observe the moral implosion of the Democratic leadership, I keep thinking of an essay by Noam Chomsky commenting on the Clinton presidency. In the 1996 essay, titled "Old Wine in New Bottles: A Bitter Taste," Chomsky expands on Paul Krugman's assumption that "bad ideas flourish because they are in the interest of powerful groups." In this case, Krugman was talking about international economic development and specifically about New Zealand; but Chomsky extrapolated this conclusion and applied it to corporate capitalism in general.

In a way, Chomsky's insight presaged Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine," and today, it is easy to see how Obama is simply continuing the regressive policies systematized by Clinton, and put on hyperdrive by Bush. In the essay, Chomsky restates Krugman's conclusion by saying that "the "bad ideas" may not serve the "expressed goal," but they typically turn out to be very good ideas for their proponents." The current health care reform bill is a perfect example of such bad ideas.

The left is understandably dismayed at the form this health care bill is taking, but if we look at its unfolding under the prism of Chomsky's and Klein's analysis, we can see how, in the end, it is all according to plan. Sure, the "realists" will tell you that this is the best thing we can get in the current climate, but their thinking is predicated on an old dichotomy that sees the Democratic party leadership in opposition to the Republican leadership.

Unfortunately, such dichotomy is all for show and nothing more. And all we really need in order to expose the theatrical aspect of this purported opposition between the Republican party and the Democratic party is the following picture:


This is not a portrait of people who disagree with each other. This is the portrait of five masters of the universe showing unity of mind and purpose.

Returning to the health care bill and Chomsky's analysis, he goes on to point out some regularities in the policies imposed by international capital onto unwilling populations around the world, the first being that:

[T]he designers seem to come out quite well, though the experimental subjects, who rarely sign consent forms, quite often take a beating.

The current health care bill will do just that: let the designers (the health insurance companies) come out quite well with the government mandating 30 million new customers to purchase unregulated products from a cartel of colluding private corporations. In this case, we the people are also one of the "rare" examples where we did sign a consent form in the form of a ballot. Unlike other countries around the world who have no say in what the World Bank tells them to do, we actually put the people who are screwing us, and the rest of the world, in charge.

The fact that the current bill does not guarantee any real form of competition in the health care system brings me to another point that Chomsky makes later on in the essay:

Free market doctrine comes in two varieties. The first is the official doctrine that is taught to and by the educated classes, and imposed on the defenceless. The second is what we might call "really existing free market doctrine": For thee, but not for me, except for temporary advantage; I need the protection of the nanny state, but you must learn responsibility under the harsh regimen of "tough love." Those in a position to make choices typically adopt the second version of free market doctrine, the one that has been a prerequisite to development, so the historical record suggests, though not a sufficient condition for it.

This is not only what is happening now with the health care bill, but also what has happened with the TARP bill and the rescue of big banks. The common term would be corporate welfare, or corporate socialism, or corporatism (can you say, fascism?). Maybe, but you get the point. International corporations are getting their way in the world, and while until Clinton the American people where under the assumption that this system also benefited them, now it is clear that those days were simply a rehearsal for what is coming to pass now.

Once these bait and switch techniques have been refined in New Zealand, Latin America, Africa and such, they can be applied to the much more sophisticated western populations. And so, today we see Obama and the Democrats touting this health care bill as a great thing, when they can't even look at the camera with a straight face because they know that this will only drive more people into bankruptcy and destitution. Matt Taibbi has done a great job in this regard by exposing Obama and the Democrats in "Obama's Big Sellout."

This type of attitude of our political class goes also to show their hubris. The Democrats believe that working people and progressives have nowhere to turn to, and thus they are confident that no matter how bad they behave, people will eventually hold their nose and vote for them as the lesser of two evils. As Chomsky points out:

[D]emocracy is a nuisance to be ignored as long as possible, and that free enterprise means that the public pays the costs under various guises, bearing the risks if things go wrong, while profit is privatized. And in pursuit of these ends, decision-making is to be transferred as much as possible from the public arena to unaccountable private tyrannies, and "locked in" by treaties that undermine the potential threat of democracy.

AIG bailout, anyone?

This is exactly what is happening today, and while under Clinton it was still under most people's radar, and only perceptive people like Chomsky and some other few could see it, today is all done in the open, by dangling the specter of Depression in front of the American people. In the meantime, we are in a Depression; at least those of us who live in the real world. The real unemployment is probably close to 20% since the government, from Clinton onward, has been fudging the figures to the point that they are meaningless. The term jobless recovery is also something that is becoming an euphemism for the government bailing out the rich while letting everyone else hanging out to dry.

In conclusion, Chomsky's essay shows us how Clinton then and Obama now are simply new bottles for the same old wine. And if this wine tasted bitter in 1996, now it makes people want to puke. That's why people are getting mad, and throwing things at the likes of Bush and Berlusconi, or why there are clashed in Copenhagen as I write. People are sick and tired of vampire like corporations sucking them dry and they are speaking out. For this reason, while things seem to be going from bad to worse, and even though the political process is deadlocked, I see hope for the future. Not the Obama empty promise type of hope, but the hope that people are once more taking their destiny into their own hands as it happened during the Vietnam war.

On this, I'll leave the last word to Howard Zinn, who on Bill Moyers last week so eloquently said:

[T]hink for yourself. Don't believe what the people up there tell you. Live your own life. Think your own ideas. And don't depend on saviors. Don't depend on the Founding Fathers, on Andrew Jackson, on Theodore Roosevelt, on Lyndon Johnson, on Obama. Don't depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done... [P]eople should defy the rules if they think they're doing the right thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Charlie Banacos

Yesterday, I was saddened by the news of Charlie Banacos' passing on December 8. I studied with Charlie in the nineties for three or four years; first, in his studio on Abbot St. in Beverly, MA, and then, after moving to New York City, by correspondence. Charlie was one of the most inspiring mentors I've had in my life. His wealth of knowledge, his positive energy, and his humbleness were some of the traits that made him a truly exceptional teacher. Those who wanted to study with him had to sign up on a waiting list that could last from two to five years.

I guess I was lucky because I only waited about one and a half years before getting Charlie's call. Since then, I assiduously studied with him regardless of the fact that, in the beginning, I was a full time college student pursuing a dual major in Composition and Performance. The last summer break before graduating, I had the chance to stay in NYC for a couple of months and even then, I commuted eight hours roundtrip so that I could get my weekly half hour lesson with him. That's the type of mentor Charlie was. Wether you were Mike Stern, Jimmy Earl, or a college senior like myself, it made no difference to him, and he treated you as if you were his best and favorite student.

Charlie was also a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes, both about famous jazz musicians, other students, and teachers around the Boston and New York area. Every time I saw him, he always had some funny or interesting story. For example, one day he told me this story about Miles Davis calling this sax player he knew, because he was looking to start a new band after his hiatus in the late 70s. The sax player, incredulous that Miles Davis would be calling him, hang up on Miles thinking he was some kind of prankster. After a couple of tries Miles miles gave up and that was that. Today, many years after studying with Charlie, I still find myself relaying some of his stories to my own students.

These are some of the reasons why I am so grateful for the years I spent studying with Charlie, and also why his passing is a great loss for the jazz community at large. He was such a dedicated and indefatigable educator that sometimes I wondered if he was burning his candle from both ends. Once, I remember him telling me about how he would wake up every morning at 4 am and write music until 9 am, the time when his first student of the day would show up; from then on, he would teach for the rest of the day, sometimes until 9 or 10 in the evening only to repeat the same routine the following day. When I asked him how many hours of sleep he got on average, he'd say four, five hours at the most. Needless to say, I was amazed by the fact that someone who worked so hard and slept so little could always be so upbeat and energetic every single time I saw him, or every time I heard his voice on the cassette tape we used to exchange once I switched to snail mail lessons.

This positive, upbeat, and restless personality was probably one of the reasons why Charlie's students, including myself, were so fond of him. People would literally travel hours, and sometimes days, in order to study with him, wether it was by car, by train, or by airplane. Not for nothing, Charlie was already a legendary figure within jazz circles during his lifetime, and most of today's up and coming jazz musicians have either studies with him, or with one of his students. Simply because of the sheer number of people that have studied with him over the decades, his legacy is poised to grow exponentially in the years to come. I believe that some day, not so distant into the future, people will remember Charlie Banacos as the man who single handedly revolutionized jazz pedagogy in the 20th century.


Rest in peace, my friend and mentor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Save the Puffers

The puffer fish, in all its varieties, is one of my favorites. The porcupinefish is one such variety and it is very common in the Caribbean. No matter how many times I come across one, I can't help pausing and look for as long as it will let me before swimming out of sight. Turtles and eagle rays also have the same effect on me. Maybe it's because of the puffer's wide eyes which we, as humans, are genetically programmed to associate with infants in order to trigger our nurturing instinct. Or maybe it's because they seem so gentle and cute with their ET-like face.

One of the peculiarities of the puffer fish is its natural defense mechanism. Its body, is covered with spines, and whenever it feels threatened, the fish will suck in sea water and fill itself up until it turns into a balloon. As it does this, its spines become erect because of the body's surface tension and so, once puffed up, the fish will resemble one of those medieval spiked iron balls which would look pretty menacing to anyone who has ever seen one. Granted that the puffer fish is not made of iron and thus it wouldn't hurt anyone (with the exception of those puffers that have venomous spines), but its predators don't know that, and fish in general are not known for their intellectual acumen.

We humans, who possess such intellectual acumen, have figured out that the puffer is not really as menacing as it looks when puffed up. This is unfortunate from the puffer's perspective because some uneducated divers, and some uneducated snorkelers and aquarium owners alike, will simply try to trigger such a defense mechanism for their own amusement. Aside from the cruelty of a behavior that is tantamount to torture - just imagine a Kong like creature scaring you to death for its own amusement - the puffer's defense mechanism is not without drawbacks.

The main drawback is the fact that the puffer fish can only puff itself up so many times before it exhausts itself and dies. That's right, just think of a bee's stinger. The bee's stinger is a defense of last resort and the bee will sting if, and only if, it feels it has no other option. This is because the bee is aware, somehow, that when it does utilize its ultimate weapon, it will die as well. Sort of like: "I know I will die, but I will hurt you as much as I possibly can before I do."


Even though the puffer's defense mechanism does not have the same one-time-only finality of the bee's stinger, it still is the weapon of last resort in the puffer's arsenal, and because of the risks involved, this mechanism is reserved only for staving off an imminent threat. Like all animals when they sense danger, the puffer fish will first try to swim away first and will only resort to puffing up if and when it feels it has no other way out.

All in all, the puffer's puff is like the emergency brake on a subway car, or on a train, with its big red handle and its big red sign saying "Emergency!" Nobody in their right mind would pull that handle unless it was a real emergency - even though I am sure everyone has had the temptation of pulling it just to see what would happen. But aside from the few obsessive compulsive people or the remainder reckless ones, most people will not pull on the lever because of the predictable negative consequences - some people will get hurt, and the perpetrator will receive a substantial fine.

So the question is: why is that people who are smart enough not to pull on the emergency brake in a subway car just for kicks, will carelessly trigger the puffer's defense mechanism given that this could cause the fish's death? I have already hinted on the most likely answer to this question earlier in the blog, which is that I believe that people are simply unaware of the potentially deadly consequences of forcing a puffer fish to puff up too many times. So, it's not so much that people are mean but, simply, that they are ignorant; and this goes to show that ignorance, sometimes, makes people do some pretty mean things. I am sure that if anyone knew the unintended consequences of molesting a puffer fish, people would not do it.

For this reason, and per suggestion of my always inventive friend Laura, I have decided to start raising people's awareness on this issue. This blog, in its own little way, is the first step in what will hopefully evolve into a Don't Scare the Puffers campaign (the name is still a work in progress; feel free to make suggestions). Hopefully, with a little more awareness, people will refrain from molesting such a beautiful creature and will do what every properly trained diver is supposed to do: look but don't touch.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Without Today

Without today
I could not be
But today is
And so am I
Happy birthday
Mom

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Life Is Love

Recently, for some reason, I've been feeling as if I am surrounded by pessimistic people, who believe that the world is full of hate and that mankind is doomed because of it. Whether it's people I know, some talking head on TV, or a blog, I keep coming across predictions of thermonuclear war, global warming, or some other man made catastrophe. Many of the arguments I hear are based on fear: if we don't do this, some thing will happen, and if we do that, some other thing will happen. And while the reasoning behind this may be to fire up a sense of urgency, I believe that for many people, fear is ultimately paralyzing.

Even though I agree that there is a lot to be cynical about in this world, I have come to the conclusion that we would be better off if we weren't afraid so much, because if we look at life in terms of love and hate, at the end of the day love trumps hate hands down. I understand that what I am about to write will sound corny to some, but it is my way of countering these feelings of doom and despair which are so pervasive nowadays and which sometimes can put us in a state of paralysis instead of motivating us to act.

To start, I'd like to put whatever negative thing I can think of under the single umbrella word hate. For example and in no particular order: war, murder, usury, deceit, greed, fear, and jealousy, can all be considered pretty hateful things. For this reason, we can say that most things that people consider to be despicable, are in the end some expression, or facet, of the same hate.

Lets take this a step further and find a noun that can best symbolize hate. Personally, the first word I come up with when I think about hate is death. More specifically, the type of death that is directly and purposefully caused by another human being, such as in the case of premeditated murder or war; in other words, the type of death that is preventable and unnecessary.

Now that we have found a word to symbolize hate, can we find a word to define its opposite, love, that is equally and transcendentally powerful as death is? Life, you got it. And this is the gist of my argument: that love is life, and that life trumps death hands down.

And how is that? Well, just look around.

Life surrounds us: people, animals, plants, you name it. We actually have to constantly fight in order not to be run over by other organisms, be it other people, weeds, pests, or bacteria. Basically, every life form on earth is in a constant struggle to preserve itself and this fact alone, I believe, should be enough to prove my point.

Like life, love will fight to exist and affirm itself and it will grow in a desert if there is even a single a drop of water; it will flourish in the darkest depths of the oceans as long as there is some kind of chemical reaction to support it; and if unable to thrive, it will hibernate for eons until it can find the conditions to germinate once more.

So, next time someone tells you that there is too much hate in the world and that humans are doomed because of it, just ask them to take a look around and truly pay attention. And this is not to say that the world is the way it should be and that we should do nothing to alleviate people's misery. On the contrary, if we believe that love is life, we must affirm love in our daily lives by refusing to fuel the hateful cycles that create so much suffering in the world.

Because if life is love, then all aspects and acts of love such as compassion, respect, nurturing, and empathy are life. And if love is life, then all aspects of life such as birth, growth, and survival should be seen as acts of love. Ultimately, the simple fact that I am still here writing this blog, and that you are still here reading it, is proof enough that hate, thus far, has failed to overcome love.

But even if we do end up extinguishing ourselves with some foolish or careless act of hate, life will eventually take root again. If not here on earth, it will somewhere else in the universe; and if not in this universe, it will in some other universe, if we are to believe the most recent multiverse theories. In the end, and regardless of our fate as a species, life's enduring resilience is a testament to how powerful, obstinate, and patient love can be.

Life is love.

Squids

They are some of the most fascinating and mesmerizing creatures. I particularly love the way they change color as they change their luminosity, and how they float effortlessly by gently waving their undulating fins.

Last October I was lucky to encounter a pair of extremely friendly squids in Bonaire, and this allowed me to shoot some very good close-ups. The fifth picture in this series is my favorite.

















Friday, December 4, 2009

Horse-Eye Jacks

Every time I look through my Bonaire pictures, I keep pausing on this one for some reason. Maybe it's the red reflexes in those big eyes, or maybe it's the fact they are going for something but we can't see what it is.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Diving Friends

A couple of videos I made with footage taken while diving with people I met in Bonaire this past October.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Legalizing Coups d’Etat by Means of Spurious Electoral Processes Divides the Unity of the Nations of America

A Letter to the Presidents of the Hemisphere

By Manuel Zelaya Rosales
President of Honduras

November 22, 2009

Honorable Presidents
Nations of America
Dear Presidents,

I write you in my role as President of Honduras, valuing the excellent relations between our countries and in defense of the democracy violated in Honduras as consequence of the Military Coup d’Etat perpetrated June 28 of this year, when soldiers invaded my home and at gunpoint kidnapped and took me to Costa Rica.

The National Congress forged my resignation letter and, abusing its power, emitted an illegal decree which “separated me from the charge of Constitutional President” without Constitutional backing to do so. The same was the case for the arrest order that the Court had emitted without having received any legal complain and without my having been cited to appear before any tribunal or trial. It has been condemned and described by all the countries of the world as a violent and surprising rupture of democratic order, a Military Coup d’Etat.

At this moment in Honduras we are in a de facto State. There is no Constitution. Nor are there Constitutional powers because they have been destroyed by force by the military Coup d’Etat on that ominous day of June 28, 2009.

The Constitution of the Republic establishes in Article 3: “No one owes obedience to an usurper government, nor to those who occupy public positions or jobs by the force of weapons or using means or procedures that bankrupt or fail to recognize what the Constitution and the law establishes. Those actions by so-called authorities are null and void. The people have the right to insurrection to defend the Constitutional order.”

In reading that article, you can understand that the Honduran people are legally empowered to act using all means, styles and forms that they consider necessary to restore democracy. We have consciously taken the path of peaceful resistance, with the goal of establishing noncooperation and nonviolence like methods of civil disobedience and twenty-first century popular struggle against the rise of military force.

We thank the entire international community for your support for our labor to reconstruct the State of Law, that being the last effort of the poorly reached Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, backed by the OAS and the US Department of State. Its letter and spirit has as its proposal the “return of the title the executive branch to what it was prior to June 28.” And it was openly violated by the de facto regime which in which Mr. Micheletti pretends to head a government of reconciliation, refusing to convene the National Congress, in definitive noncompliance of the timeline and text.

Now, unilaterally, he seeks to utilize the aborted accord by convening the National Congress on December 2, a date upon which the political actors of the accord will have been substantially modified, in the sense that by then they will have already been submitted to the opinion ofthe voters without having restored Constitutional order.

The elections of November 29 and their use of public funds under a de facto regime, without having previously restored democracy and the State of Law as OAS and UN resolutions demand, without even having installed the government of unity and reconciliation, are illegal, illegitimate, and constitute a criminal act.

At the moment that the de facto regime with its soldiers convenes a spurious electoral process under repression, without legal guarantees, and without a political agreement, in which the military dictatorship is the guarantor of the law, it only strengthens its actions of force and impunity.

Precisely today, Channel 36, property of journalist Esdras Amado López, the only television chain that has opposed the regime, has had its signal blocked and taken off the air by the dictatorship.

The de facto regime has frontally disregarded the resolutions of the OAS, the UN and the European Union. It has also violated the Democratic Charter of the OAS and its resolutions while some of Honduras’ friends among countries demonstrate ambiguity and support for the electoral process without having restored democratic order and without political dialogue. That permits the de facto regime to impose its will by force.

As President of Honduras, I communicate with you to say that below these conditions I will not back the electoral process and will proceed to challenge it legally in the name of the men and women of my country and of hundreds of community leaders that suffer the loss of democracy, the repression, the unfair circumstances and the suppression of freedom.

These elections have to be annulled and rescheduled to when the sovereign will of the people is respected.

In these difficult moments for our brother countries of America, we ask for your solidarity with Honduras.

That you accompany us based on the facts that you know, reiterating the position of not supporting a unilateral intent to give validity to an accord that was quickly rescinded by the violations consummated by the dictatorship.

Reaffirming the condemnation of the coup d’etat of the military State and not supporting a de facto regime whose existence today shames all the peoples of Latin America Latina, that after all the attempts by the international community to reverse the coup d’etat have ended in a total failure for everyone.

Appealing to maintain your firmness in the execution of the resolutions passed by the OAS and the UN and not adopting ambiguous and imprecise positions like those displayed today by the government of the United States of America, with whose final posture has weakened the process of reversing the coup d’etat, demonstrating division in the international community. By feeding this coup d’etat the democratic security in the hemisphere and the stability of the Presidents of América is put at risk, with the resurgence of military castes over civil authority. Legitimizing coups d’etat by means of spurious electoral processes divides and does not contribute to the unity of the nations of America.

I ask for your cooperation so that this Military Coup d’Etat its bloody violations of human rights do not go unpunished. Already, the International Criminal Court has received complaints and allowed them to proceed to trial to obtain justice for our people and apply the corresponding sanctions to those who committed treason to the Nation and crimes against humanity in Honduras.

We voice our energetic rejection of those who support the maneuvers to launder the coup d’etat, covering up for the golpistas to leave their crimes protected.

With our full attention, we invite all the nations to recognize our government and that they abstain from supporting the actions of the illegal regime that usurped power by force of weapons.

We cordially demand and exhort your representatives to the OAS and the UN to continue defending and supporting the rights of the people and of the legitimately elected governments, since when one of our nations suffers an assault it is an affront to all America; and, each time a government elected by the peoples of America is toppled, violence and terrorism win and Democracy suffers a defeat.

In wait of your response, I appreciate the invaluable support demonstrated until now for these principles and I send you greetings reiterating my esteem and my highest consideration.

JOSE MANUEL ZELAYA ROSALES
President of the Republic of Honduras

cc: Sr. José Miguel Insulza, Secretario General de la OEA
Sr. Ban Ki Moon, Secretario General de la ONU
Sr. José Barroso, Comisión Unión Europea

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2012: A Review

The movie 2012 is one of the most chauvinistic movies I've seen in a very long time. Every main character in the movie that does anything other than looking after children and/or dogs is either a man or a boy. That's right; boys have more guts than women in this movie. Women's role is that of a prop: to scream, to worry, or to show their man how much they need their problem solving abilities and how grateful they are that their man is there for them even when he has to abandon them so that they can get things done.

The entire movie is a continuous litany of powerful men making life and death decisions or giving fatherly authoritative advice to youngsters: presidents, prime ministers, buddhist monks, etc. There is one token female prime minister which, as you may have guessed, is from some European country. I guess in its defense people would say that the movie is simply simply portraying the world we live in today, and while it is true that we live in a male dominated society, this movie takes such a state of affairs to an extreme that can only be characterized as misogynistic. For example, in one of the final airplane scenes the "boys," as grown men are referred to in this movie, are repeatedly summoned to the cockpit so that they can make the tough decisions away from women and children.

Another theme glorified in the movie is the role of the absent but for good reason father figure. This "sorry, but I got work to do" figure is exemplified in a scene where John Cusack tells his family that they will all sit together embracing each other until the plane they happen to be on lands safely. As he is uttering his last words, he gets summoned once more to the boys' room (the cockpit), and so he zaps away reneging on what he had just promised his wife and children a minute before. In a subsequent scene, Cusack talks to his son before embarking in a life or death mission. As he leaves, he tells his son that as long as he knows that his son is watching over his ex wife and daughter, he is confident they will be safe; in so many words, Cusack's character believes that his ex wife is not capable of taking care of herself, let alone their children.

Without need of going through every chauvinistic example, I would also like to mention the disturbing religious overtones that permeate this movie. In line with its male supremacy bent, all the religious figures depicted in the movie are, not surprisingly, men: buddhist monks, the pope, etc. Now, I understand that a movie about the end of the world must have some religious references, but as far as this movie is concerned, these religious figures seem to be there mainly to underlie a Christian male dominated worldview, with masses of clueless and frightened people needing to be led by strong, resourceful, yet compassionate elderly men. And while I don't wish to spoil the movie for anyone, let me just say that the ending is plucked right out of the Old Testament.

In conclusion, I really can't find a reason to recommend this movie other than as an example of the sorry state of today's Hollywood blockbusters. With movies like these, it's no surprise people don't go to the movies anymore. The underlying messages are horribly reactionary and unavoidably in your face; the special effects are overly digital and subpar overall; the acting is stiff and prosaic; and the plot is extremely predictable and uninteresting.

I went to see 2012 hoping to see something along the lines of Independence Day or even the not as good but still entertaining The Day After Tomorrow. Instead, I almost ended up walking out of the theater so that I could go home and watch the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves on HBO On Demand. Not such a good movie either, but still far superior to this one. In the end, I opted for watching the entire movie, so that I could write this review and warn those of you who may be tempted to see it to save your money and, most importantly, your time. Unlike me, you still have a choice.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where I stayed


A composite I made in Bonaire.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Life Is A Pool Table

I haven't been posting for a while; the main reason being that I was on vacation diving in Bonaire.

While on vacation, I had this though or, better yet, this "deep thought" that life is like a pool table where people are the balls. Just like a ball, one travels in one direction, unaware of when one will collide with another ball; and then, when that collision inevitably happens, one's direction changes as well as the direction of everyone else involved.

Such collisions are often slight, and thus they won't change one's direction by much. But sometimes, one hits another head on, and when that happens the consequences can be unpredictable. Occasionally, a whole lot of other balls get caught in the crossfire, and everyone ends up spinning in directions they never expected, let alone intended.

This is what life feels to me right now. And I can't help but wondering if the final purpose of it all is to end up in a hole. If so, I'd like to be the 8 ball.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Democrats Should Pay Attention to MSNBC August Ratings

[First published as a Daily Kos diary on Thursday, September 3, 2009.]

There has been a lot of discussion about the possibility that the White House may decide to stick it to its progressive base on health care reform. As the MSM conventional wisdom goes, Obama is losing support among independent voters who, in large part, are happy with their health care and don't want the public option. That couldn't be further from the truth. As Jed Lewison reports, a recent CNN poll shows a 55% support for the public option.

The other interesting piece of news, which is the subject of this diary, is that during the heated August health care debate MSNBC outperformed CNN by 61 percent and FNC by 4 percent in the key 18-34 demographic in prime time. Let me restate this, the cable news channel which has been the most vocal in support of the public option (Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Shultz) and, to a certain extent, single payer, was also the #1 news network among younger viewers during the month of August when all the kooks were supposedly coming out of the woods against health care reform.

TV by the Numbers just headlined: "MSNBC Beats CNN in Primetime in August Among Viewers 25-54". Further down, we find out that the news channel not only beat CNN but also FOX network among younger viewers, Adults 18-34, in primetime. Further more, we learn that “The Rachel Maddow Show” is "the fastest growing cable news show at 9 p.m, up a huge 92 percent in total viewers versus August 2008."

Is the White House paying attention to this?

We are told by the mainstream media that the reason behind Obama's sagging polls is that he is too liberal and that he is losing support among independents because of it. If that were the case, why are 55% of Americans still supporting the public option? Obviously it doesn't add up, and the truth is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama's polls are sagging because he is too corporate and not liberal enough and thus he is losing the support of his base.

The White House has been telling his base to suck it up since it came into office and before: support for the Bush bailout and subsequent Obama bailout of Wall Street, inadequate Stimulus Package, no Iraq pullout and escalation in Afghanistan, and now compromised health care reform. It is my sense that the progressive base of the Democratic party has had enough and for this reason, health care reform and specifically the public option has become the litmus test for progressive democrats.

Obama and the White House should pay serious attention to this and not make the mistake of throwing its base with the sausage scraps. While corporate democrats such as Rahm Emanuel may believe that the party has to bend over in order to maintain the support of pharmaceutical and health insurance corporations in 2010 and 2012, do they really think that such industries will desert the Democratic party now that they are in power for the foreseeable future and the Republican party is reduced to a pulp? I don't think so. Corporations are, by definition, apolitical. All they care about is profit and, for this reason, they will hedge their bets and support both parties as they have always done because they want to have a seat at the table no matter who wins.

Finally, the Obama administration the Democratic Congress have enacted the Wall Street bailout, the GM/Chrysler bailout, and the Stimulus Plan while brushing off overwhelming public opposition. Its line of defense has always been that they did so because they believed their actions to be necessary. Yet, on the health care debate, skewed opinion polls due to relentless corporate propaganda seem to become the all important metric to wether it is politically feasible to pass a strong health care bill.

Since none of this makes sense, it is fair to assume that the base will not be fooled by it and if Obama and the democrats renege on their promise to pass universal, affordable health care reform for all with a strong public option, they will most likely lose a considerable slice of their base: especially the young, 18-34 Democrats who watch MSNBC as they are the ones who have the most to lose from yet another corporate giveaway in the form of a private health insurance mandate without the choice of a strong, and affordable public option.

The only possible positive good outcome in this scenario would be if progressive Democrats in Congress finally accept the fact that there is no future for progressives and their causes in the Democratic party. If health care reform fails to deliver the three important aspects of affordability, accessibility, and cost control, they better start thinking about splitting the party and create a new truly progressive party to the left of the now corporate owned Democratic party.

The timing couldn't be more propitious as the Republicans are in shambles and they could be relegated to the far right for good. We would then have a three party system with the Democrats at the corporate center, and two parties to the left and right of it which may not be able to win a presidency, but could seriously impact the business of Congress. The top down creation of a progressive party which truly represents the American people would create real competition and keep the corporate party duopoly honest (pun intended).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whole Foods CEO Sold Company Stock Prior to WSJ Op-Ed

On August 6th, six days before his now infamous op-ed piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods CEO John P. Mackey sold 50,000 shares of WFMI stock worth $1.4 million. On the same day, Whole Foods Co-President and COO Walter E Robb IV sold 8,333 shares.

In light of this, a couple of questions arise: could the reason for the sale be that Mackey actually expected a backlash? Could n light of this, a couple of questions arise: could the reason for the sale be that Mackey actually expected a backlash? Could Mackey's op-ed simply be a scheme to induce a WFMI stock plunge as a result of a predictable backlash from its progressive customer base so that he could buy stock at a lower price later on?

So far the strategy doesn't seem to be working: WFMI stock has actually risen since Mackey sold it, but it's also too early to tell. The boycott is still in its initial phases and given all the coverage that it's receiving it could pick up steam over time.

Speculations aside, such a conspicuous sale right before Mackey's predictably backfiring statement is something that should be looked into by the Board of Directors and shareholders. If if turns out that Mackey manufactured the entire controversy for personal gain, and at the expense of the company's shareholders, it would be enough grounds for the CEO's dismissal.

John Makey is not new to this kind of antics either. In 2007, the New York Times reported that for seven years, Mackey had an online alter ego which he used to relentlessly promote the company’s stock as well as to attack competitor Wild Oats Markets in order to lower its stock price prior to acquiring the firm.


Update: thanks to ban nock for reminding me that on August 5th, a day prior to selling the stock, Mackey was quoted in the Guardian saying that Whole Foods sells "a bunch of junk." Maybe Mackey is simply unhappy with the direction the company has taken and these maneuvers could be an effort by the disgruntled CEO to push the company "back to its roots in selling healthy food."


Update II: according to insider-monitor.com, the August 6th WFMI stock sale by John Mackey was, by far, his biggest since 2005.

2009-08-06: Sale: 50,000 shares; value: $1,392,550 .
2008-02-25: Option Exercise: 16,000 shares; value $182,992.
2008-02-25: Sale: 8,000 shares; value: $291,416.
2007-03-23: Option Exercise: 16,000 shares; value $167,488.

(image source)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Whole Foods Boycott

Last week, Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey wrote an opinion piece in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal titled "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare," opposing President Obama's efforts to create a government-funded public healthcare option. He also criticized the single-payer healthcare system of countries such as Canada and Britain saying he doesn’t believe in “an intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter,” which he said are best provided through “market exchanges.” This is not very different than Bush's position on health care.

In the op-ed piece, John Mackey writes that a "careful reading of both The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter." Mr. Mackey either ignores or doesn't care about the fact that the United States has ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 of the declaration states:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
I used to spend around of $200 a week ($10,000 a year) at Whole Foods, but after reading Mackey's piece, I've decided to no longer shop there and buy my groceries somewhere else. Various organizations such as Single Payer Action have also called for a boycott of the chain.


Update I: there is now a Facebook boycott page with 20,000 members as of August 20, 2009. The Baltimore Sun reports that for every 7,700 customers boycotting, there is a 1% loss of revenue for the store chain. You do the math.

Update II: wholeboycott.com, a dedicate website for the Whole Foods boycott is now up and running.

(image source)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gringos For Micheletti

Some in the American expatriate business community in Honduras are apparently lobbying the U.S. Government to change its position on the Honduran coup. Davinci McNab, owner of Paya Bay Resort in Roatan, has posted a summary of a recent meeting between five American business owners in Roatan and U.S. Ambassador in Honduras Hugo Llorens. The summary was prepared by Mitch Cummins, the owner of Paradise Computers, a computer and communications related services firm in Roatan, and outspoken coup supporter.

I am reposting the summary in its entirety. My observations will follow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 11:39 AM

Summary of our meeting with US Ambassador, Hugo Llorens

There were 5 of us attending the meeting, Mitch Cummins, Russ Summerell, Lloyd Davidson, Gary Chamer, and Eldon Bolton. We spent about 1 hour and 20 minutes with the ambassador. I think that this was an extraordinary amount of time.

We began by introducing ourselves, establishing our credentials (between us there was about 85 years of experience in Honduras), and stating our position on the actions that led up to and have occurred since June 28. Hugo Llorens was polite and actively listened to our points. He then expressed his and the State Department's position. This did not vary from what we've all read and heard. A lively debate followed the ambassador's presentation. Neither side changed the other's opinion on the base issues.

Here are some key points of our discussion:

The US recognizes that Mel Zelaya committed various crimes. The US feels that there was time to pursue a more "normal" legalprocess to deal with those crimes. Our position was that the Hondurans didn't feel that there was time. They felt that the "poll" on that Sunday was the action that was going to cause the fall of their democracy. They felt that they HAD to act then.

The US believes that the resolution of the crisis must come from the negotiations in Costa Rica. This includes the NEGOTIATED return of Zelaya. I add the emphasis on "negotiated" because I believe that they are backing off the "unconditional" return that has been stated by other countries. During the conversation, Ambassador Llorens stated emphatically that the US would NOT allow Chavez or any other foreign power to invade Honduras. The US still sees Honduras as a friend and ally. We presented 155 signed letters opposing the US position regarding Honduras. THANK YOU TO ALL WHO SENT THE LETTERS IN!!! These 155 letters were collected in less than 24 hours - that response is amazing!

We asked for the Bay Islands to be removed from the travel advisories. The Ambassador was going to check with his legal team, but felt that could be done. I personally believe that will happen pretty quickly.

The US feels that their position has given Honduras the space to negotiate a way out of this crisis. They have not been very vocal against what's happened. By this I mean that they are not out slamming the current government every day. They are firm on their position, but are not beating Honduras over the head with that position. We believe that this may have been the first time that Hugo Llorens had discussed these issues with Americans that believed as strongly in an opposing view to his. He is sequestered in the embassy - he's not allowed to leave Tegucigalpa. I think that it was VERY good for him to hear a contrary opinion.

Hugo Llorens said that if there were other Americans that wanted to meet with him, he would make time for them. I think he was sincere about that. He also said that as soon as he was allowed, he would come out to the islands. As we were leaving we let his assistant know that we were going to be more vocal in our opposition to the US position.

After we left the ambassador we went back to the hotel and were debriefing over a beer. We received a phone call saying that the Honduran Foreign Minister had heard about our meeting and the petition that we presented. The Foreign Minister's office wanted to meet with us.

We spent well over an hour with 3 advisors to the Foreign Minister. We began by stating our solidarity with the Honduran people and the actions that were taken. We talked about the letter, what it said, who had responded, etc. They want to publish that information both domestically and internationally. We also talked about what we saw as issues that the government was facing. We talked about the fact that the debate on was it a coup or not is over. Don't spend another ounce of energy on that argument.

Honduras has to focus on the future. We pushed very hard to promote the idea that Herb Morici presented at the meeting on Monday. That idea was to get Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos to stand together and present a common front until the campaign starts. It's time for them to become the poster boys of the next government. They liked that idea and said that they would work to make that happen quickly.

We also talked about ways that the ex-pat community and the Foreign Ministry can interact and coordinate. I believe that we established a good relationship in that meeting and I'm positive that you will see some good work between the two groups.

At the end of the day, we made our voices heard to the US Ambassador to Honduras. I'm positive that he heard our message that we do not agree with the official position. I am confident that the Bay Islands will be removed from the US travel advisories. I think that we've opened a dialogue with the ambassador that should be continued until this crisis is resolved. I think that we've been able to impress upon the current government of Honduras, at a high enough level, that it is imperative that the 2 candidates step forward and begin to be the face of the Honduran future. I think that we've established a working relationship with the Foreign Minister's office so that we can help each other through the next several months.

All in all, it was a long but productive day. I think that I speak for all of us attending these meetings when I say that it was one of the most interesting days I've experienced in a long time.

- Mitch
Paradise Computers, S.A.
Roatan's #1 Technology Provider Since 1997
www.paradise-computers.com

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that Ambassador Hugo Llorens was the Director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council and the principal National Security adviser to George W. Bush on Venezuela at the time of the failed 2002 coup. For this reason, it is fairly reasonable to assume that Llorens is more sympathetic to the coup regime than to the restoration of President Manuel Zelaya. Llorens' sympathy for the coup can also be detected in the way he allegedly reacted to the expat's request to have the Bay Islands removed from the travel advisories. According to Mr. Cummins, Llorens said he "was going to check with his legal team, but felt that could be done."

The second item of interest in this summary is the apparent presumption of Mr. Cummins and, presumably, the other four Americans in his delegation, that five foreign businessmen from a foreign country should have a say in the internal political affairs of another country. Mr. Cummins seems to believe so when he writes that in a subsequent meeting with "3 advisors to the Foreign Minister" of the coup regime, his delegation "pushed very hard to promote the idea ... to get Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos to stand together and present a common front until the campaign starts."

He goes on by saying that it's "time for [Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos] to become the poster boys of the next government." And here, in a nutshell, is the colonialist and undemocratic mentality of Mr. Cummins and his cohorts in action: that somehow, it's ok for a group of foreigners to meet with representatives of an illegitimate regime and "interact and coordinate" with them in order to promote the perception legitimacy of such regime in the eyes of the people in that country. Mr. Cummins goes on with his contemptuous rant by saying that the advisors to the Foreign Minister "liked that idea and said that they would work to make that happen quickly."

This type of attitude is exactly what the people of Central America hate about the United States. It's that "backyard" mentality that has prompted many past American administrations to support and foment all kinds of undemocratic movements in the region: from coups, to assassinations, to guerrillas, to outright invasions. In my opinion, the American expatriate business community should follow Obama's lead and strive for a new type of relationship with Latin American and the rest of the world based on mutual respect, understanding, the rule of law, and respect for the will of the people and their democratically elected governments.

Unfortunately, Mr. Cummins and his compadres are intent in perpetuating the perception that when it comes to its backyard, American business interests always take precedence over the rights of the people in the region. For this reason, I sincerely hope that, for once, this type of mentality won't succeed, and that the constitutional government of President Zelaya can be restored as it would be a pity to return to the dark days when legitimate governments were toppled and undermined all over the hemisphere.

I believe that President Obama is right in staying firm on the demand to restore the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. Should the coup regime have its way, we could see the unfolding of a reverse domino theory, where the recent achievements of the people of Central and South America could be wiped out in a new wave of undemocratic regimes.

I also believe that Ambassador Hugo Llorens should explain what he meant when he allegedly said to Mr. Cummins' delegation that the U.S. "recognizes that Mel Zelaya committed various crimes." This doesn't seem the official position of the U.S. government, and thus Mr. Llorens should be careful before talking from both sides of his mouth.

(image source)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Media Health Care Reform Push Back

The mainstream media is mounting a serious push against health care reform and the reasons are fairly obvious. For starters, I won't even address Fox News as the entire channel is affected by ODS or, Obama Derangement Syndrome, and it can no longer be considered part of the mainstream (if it ever was). Fox News aside, the mainstream media is simply reflecting the political leanings of their corporate owners. That's also a given.

What is interesting about this push back is that the journalists and anchors themselves are starting to weigh in on the subject. This can be seen in the type of questions they ask, the way they choose to frame the issue, the type of people they choose to interview and not interview. It's amazing to me how, for example, the single payer option, which is the most favored by the American people, is not even on the table, let alone being discussed.

What we are left with then is the so called "public option," already a compromise position which, ironically, is being framed as the liberal, extreme left position; Andrea Mitchell (right), the sleeper right winger posing as a moderate on MSNBC, just labeled it as such while commenting on President Obama's remarks this afternoon. Who would have known that those who kept repeating that the United States is a center/right country, are now the ones accusing the majority of Americans favoring the public option as extremely liberal.

The main reason why these TV personalities (the Chuck Todds and Lou Dobbses), and political pundits (the David Brookses and Pat Buchanans) are beginning to push back on health care reform is because they, with their multi million dollar contracts, are the ones who will lose when health care reform is passed. They are the people with the wasteful cadillac health care plans, the ones who might have to pay the surtax to help cover uninsured Americans, and the ones who might end up losing their cadillac plans if their employer chooses to go "public."

Next time you hear those pundits and TV personalities frame health care reform unfavorably, please remember that they are doing it for their own narrow self interest, which is the interest of the top 5% of income earners who want to maintain the status quo. Never mind that the rest of America is getting crushed by the skyrocketing cost of health care; by a system that is designed to deny care rather than provide it; by an industry whose paramount concern is, as with all for-profit industries, maximizing profit instead of helping people stay healthy.

(image source)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Honduras Coup Leader Micheletti Exposed

By now, most of those who are aware of the military coup in Honduras are familiar with the main reason given by the coup leaders to justify President Zelaya's removal from office: that by calling for a non binding referendum to find out if hondurans would approve of a constitutional amendment extending presidential term limits, Manuel Zelaya abused his presidential powers.

A smaller number of people who, for one reason or another, have been following the situation more closely, are also aware of the fact that such accusation has been thoroughly debunked, which is why not one single government in the world has recognized the coup installed government of Roberto Micheletti (pictured right).

What most people are probably unaware of, given the absence of coverage in the mainstream media, is that coup leader Micheletti had once tried the same exact thing he is now accusing President Zelaya of. That's right! In 1985, the man who is now usurping Zelaya's presidential office, and who is calling him a "traitor", had once attempted to amend the Honduran Constitution to extend the mandate of then President Roberto Suazo Córdoba.

On July 9, 2009, Carlos Dada of elfaro.net reported that on October 24, 1985, two years after the current Honduran Constitution was approved, a few members of the Honduran Congress (including then congressmen Roberto Micheletti) tried to introduce a motion calling to immediately turn the Congress into a Constitutional Assembly. Ironically, these legislators requested the suspension of the same constitutional articles (373, 374, and 375) that are now used by the Micheletti regime to legitimize Zelaya's ouster.

Mimalapalabra has posted a scanned page from La Tribuna of Honduras, dated October 25, 1985 which recounts the attempt by congressman Roberto Carlos Echenique to read the motion which had been signed by 11 other congressmen, including Micheletti. The newspaper also printed the motion in its entirety with Roberto Micheletti's name clearly visible at the bottom.

As he was reading the motion, Echenique was interrupted by another congressman, Carlos Montoya, who said:

"No podemos permitir que un deputado alente contra el orden constitucional y pretenda generar un golpe tecnico para acabar con el sistema democratico en que vivimos."

Rough translation:

"We cannot allow a congressman to encourage an unconstitutional act which is seeking to generate a technical coup d'etat in order to end the democratic system we live in."

Upon the interruption, congressman Nicolas Cruz Torres called Echenique, Micheletti, and the other signatories of the motion "traitors." That's when all hell broke loose: people started screaming and insulting each other, a fistfight broke out, and another congressman drew a pistol. Finally, Efrain Bu Girón, the head of Congress, called upon the army to restore order in the chamber. Once order was restored, Girón censored the motion signatories and demanded that they withdraw their signature or be "indicted for attempting to subvert the democratic system." Micheletti, and four other signatories declined.

If this isn't a perfect case of the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is. Here is a person, Micheletti, who attempted to do exactly what he is now accusing President Manuel Zelaya of doing (even more so since the 1985 motion signatories never intended to consult the Honduran people on the matter), and who has now appointed himself as the defender of the Honduran constitution. It is obvious that this constitutional crisis, as tragic as it is for the Honduran people, is turning more and more into a farce.

(picture source)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mexico

There was a little bit of a pause with this blog due to a quick gateway to one of my favorite diving spots: Cozumel, Mexico. With the H1N1 flu scare in full swing, I was able to find an airfare that I couldn't refuse. Also, since there are currently more cases of H1N1 flu here in the NYC area than in Cozumel, why not go and support the local economy?

It seems like many people had a similar idea as both flights to and from Cozumel from Houston were completely full (unlike the Newark flights to and from Houston). The hotel was also practically full, and the weather was great for the duration of the trip. On the other hand, I did carry a box of very expensive Tamiflu ($100 for 10 pills) as a precaution.

Consistently with reports I had been reading prior to this trip, the lionfish is now established in Cozumel. I personally saw two specimens: one at Punta Tunich, and one (pictured below) right in front of my hotel during a night dive.


The lionfish is a very pretty fish if it wasn't such a biological nightmare. Some dive guides would capture the fish when they found one, but given the numbers, it seems like a pretty futile exercise.

It is also hard to believe that the lionfish is part the same family of this scorpionfish, found just a few feet away from it.


Lionfish aside, I saw some pretty great stuff as it's usually the case in Cozumel. The Splendid toadfish, for example, is very funny looking fish, and it's endemic of Cozumel. Unfortunately this picture is a little blurry.


The octopus is always an intriguing animal, especially when one catches it shooting ink!


I have to say that this was a pretty lucky shot as a diver on my left scared the octopus right as I was taking the picture.


Most of these pictures were taken during a single night shore dive in front of my hotel.

Here is another favorite: the porcupinefish, a cute, ET looking fish. This one in particular was very friendly kept getting closer and closer to me as I was trying to shoot a movie.


This trunkfish was also very pretty.


A spotted moray that looks like part of this cement block.


A pretty banded coral shrimp.


And finally, the always awe inspiring nurse shark.


Now that I'm back in New Jersey, I can't wait to get my new dry suit. This way I will be able to do some local diving without getting too cold, until the next tropical trip: Bonaire in October.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ortez Apologizes to Obama for Racial Slur

The Associated Press reports that Enrique Ortez, the coup appointed foreign minister, has sent a letter to Obama apologizing for the racial slur he used to address the U.S. President.

Ortez says the letter, read by him to reporters on Tuesday, expresses "his most profound apologies" for "an unfortunate comment."


Ortez also read a statement in Spanish from U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens that said:

"As the official and personal representative of the president of the United States of America, I convey my deep outrage about the unfortunate, disrespectful and racially insensitive comments by Mr. Enrique Ortez Colindres about President Barack Obama.

Statements like this are deeply outrageous for the American people and for me personally. I am shocked by these comments, which I condemn in the strongest terms."

In the meantime, another quote of Enrique Ortez has surfaced, this time on El Tiempo via cadejo4:

"He negociado con maricones, prostitutas, con ñángaras (izquierdistas), negros, blancos. Ese es mi trabajo, yo estudié eso. No tengo prejuicios raciales, me gusta el negrito del batey que está presidiendo los Estados Unidos."

Translation:

"I have negotiated with queers, prostitutes, leftists, blacks, whites. This is my job, I studied for it. I am not racially prejudiced. I like the little black sugar plantation worker who is president of the United States."

(photo source)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Congressional Coup Caucus

Mark Leon Goldberg reports that "Florida Republican Connie Mack (pictured) is circulating a congressional resolution that effectively supports the coup" in Honduras.

So far, the Congressional Coup Caucus, or CCC, includes:

Dan Burton (Republican from Indiana)

Jeff Fortenberry (Republican from Nebraska)

Connie Mack (Republican from Florida)

Dana Rohrabacher (Republican from California)

I will keep updating the list as it grows.

I believe it's good to keep track of those in government who, while drawing a paycheck and benefits courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers, are also intent in undermining democratic institutions around the world.

(picture source)

The Vacuity of TV News People

Just in case this wasn't clear enough already, the news coverage of the death of Michael Jackson has, once again, exposed TV news people for what they truly are: a group of wealthy, out of touch, vacuous people who think that Americans ought to share their obsession with tabloid news.

For the past week and a half, the American people have been relentlessly subjected to the Michael Jackson death story. Don't get me wrong. Unlike New York Representative Peter King, I believe Michael Jackson to be a victim, whose death is the ultimate corollary to a somewhat tragic existence (more on that in some possible future blog).

TV news organizations generally justify their obsession with tabloid news by saying that they just cover what the people are interested in. But in a late June poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 64 percent of respondents said news organizations provided too much coverage of Michael Jackson's death. And what was the reaction of TV news media to this unequivocal verdict? More Michael Jackson coverage.

What this goes to show is that the "people" that TV news people refer to is really not the people at large but, rather, themselves. They are the ones who are obsessed with the death of Michael Jackson and everything glamorous. I, for one, would like to hear news about what's going on in Iran, the coup in Honduras, the health care debate, and, why not, some Michael Jackson too. And talking about Iran, it was pretty astonishing to see how the news media switched from total Iran coverage to total Michael Jackson coverage without even blinking.

The problem, in my opinion, is that many TV news anchors are just plain idiots. They work in a business where their looks are paramount while intelligence is secondary. Actually, intelligence and critical thinking is discouraged as one is supposed to parrot the corporate line without questioning it. So, what seems to be happening in the corporate TV news media is that, as people get hired because of their looks and regardless of their wits, the line between TV anchors and supermodels is becoming more and more blurred.

And what happens when you put a quasi supermodel in charge of a TV news show? You got it, 24-hour Michael Jackson coverage.

(image source)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Honduras Regime Calls Obama "Black Boy"

In the following excerpt from an interview on Honduran TV last night, coup appointed foreign minister Enrique Ortez referred to President Obama as "negrito" or "black boy". While the interview is in spanish, at 0:19 seconds one can clearly hear Ortez call Obama a "negrito who doesn't know where Tegucicalpa is".





According to Wikipedia, the term negrito is a diminutive of the word "negro" and "is used, as a term of endearment meaning "pal", or "buddy" or "friend"," similarly "to the use of the word "nigga" in urban communities in the U.S.".

Here is a rough translation of the video:

Q: Do you think the "gringos," as you call them, would allow an invasion of Honduras promoted by Chavez?

A: They'll allow anything. The United States are not the defenders of democracy. First, the President of the [U.S.] Republic, the black boy, who I respect, doesn’t know where Tegucigalpa is. We know where Washington is and we’re obliged, as a small country, a democratic pygmy, to clarify these concepts for him and to tell him, maybe in his own language, what’s going on.

In the same interview, as reported by the Argentinean daily El Clarín (also in spanish), Ortez referred to Obama as "that know-nothing black boy".

"Con todo, los golpistas dejaron en claro su posición el lunes, por boca del nuevo "canciller", Enrique Ortez Colindres. Cuando en un popular programa periodístico de la TV hondureña le preguntaron por las reacciones internacionales frente al golpe de Estado, dijo sin reparos que no le atribuía importancia alguna a la OEA y a "los otros grupitos que andan por ahí", le pidió a José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero que "vuelva a sus zapatos" y aseguró que no iba a hablar de El Salvador "porque no vale la pena hablar de un país tan chiquito, en el que no se puede jugar al fútbol porque la pelota se cae a otro país". Pero fue por más al definir al presidente de los Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, como "ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada"."

Roughly translated:

The coup leaders made their position clear on Monday, through the new "foreign minister", Enrique Ortez Colindres. When asked by a popular Honduran TV journalist about the international reactions against the coup, Ortez said without hesitation that he believes the OAS and "the other little groups around here" to be irrelevant. When asked about Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Ortez said that he should "mind his own shoes," ["zapatos", a play on words that is lost in translation] and that he was not going to talk about El Salvador "because it is not worth talking about a country so small that people can't even play soccer without the the ball ending up into another country ". Ortez also referred to the President of the United States, Barack Obama as "that know-nothing black boy."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

BBC Live Feed From Tegucicalpa

The BBC has a live video feed on it's website directly from Tegucicalpa airport.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/7926658.stm

Today is the day that President Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras. The New York Times reports that at least "one person was killed and two were badly wounded."



AP: "30 people were treated for injuries, the Red Cross said, after security forces fired warning shots and tear gas."

The BBC live feed has now been interrupted (8:09pm ET). It was basically a live shot from a building overlooking the runway. One could see the runway with some military trucks. Far in the distance there were some police lights and what looked like a mass of people.

At one point, a helicopter flew over the airport and the cameramen begun to follow it. It hovered to one side of the runway, where there appeared to be some cars. It was so low, that I thought it was going to land but, instead, it took off again and left the frame.

I watched about 30 minutes of the feed until it was interrupted abruptly.

UPDATE: The BBC has now footage on its website of Zelaya's plane circling the Tegucicalpa airport before aborting the attempt to land while his supporters cheer for his return.

UPDATE 2: AlJazeera has exclusive footage of the protest, including footage of a teenage boy shot to death by the Honduran military. Viewer's discretion advised.





UPDATE 3: More footage from the Associated Press.





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Friday, July 3, 2009

Top Honduran Military Lawyer: Coup Was Illegal

Today's Miami Herald, published an interview with Honduran army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza who is the first top military officer in Honduras to admit that last Sunday's coup was illegal. While he goes on and on about how he can't stomach leftists here, and leftists there, he also admits, kind of in a Col. Nathan R. Jessep fashion, that the Honduran military made the decision to remove President Manuel Zelaya from office and then tried to create the appearance of legality (which also indicates some kind of collusion from the other constitutional powers in Honduras). From the Miami Herald:

"In an interview with The Miami Herald and El Salvador's elfaro.net, army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza acknowledged that top military brass made the call to forcibly remove Zelaya -- and they circumvented laws when they did it.

It was the first time any participant in Sunday's overthrow admitted committing an offense and the first time a Honduran authority revealed who made the decision that has been denounced worldwide.

''We know there was a crime there,'' said Inestroza, the top legal advisor for the Honduran armed forces. ``In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime. Because of the circumstances of the moment this crime occurred, there is going to be a justification and cause for acquittal that will protect us.''


Now that the jig is up, it's time to address the abysmal performance of the U.S. mainstream media which, while condemning the coup for the most part, has also been promoting the falsehood that President Manuel Zelaya was abusing his constitutional powers in a manner aptly exposed by John Nichols in The Nation:

"Outside of an Orwellian novel, or the mid-day slot on talk radio stations, some basic principles still apply:

Getting elected. Organizing referendums. Proposing constitutional amendments. These are the sorts of things that happen in a country that is experiencing democracy.

Kidnapping the president. Installing an unelected strongman. Suspending civil liberties. These are the sorts of things that happen in a country that is experiencing a coup."


Apparently, the U.S. mainstream media was caught in a bind on this. On one hand, they could not openly side with the coup given the immediate worldwide condemnation of the event (kudos to Obama on this for standing up for democracy). On the other hand, their visceral disgust for anything that is remotely on the side of the poor in America's backyard shows how old habits and allegiances are hard to break.

In today's edition of Counterpunch, George Ciccariello-Maher describes how the mainstream media paved the way for the coup, much like it did with the failed coup of 2002 in Venezuela, by distorting reality to fit Zelaya into their autocratic leftist strongman narrative:

"The faithful media sows the seeds: in both Venezuela 2002 and Honduras 2009, the national and international media prepared the ground for an eventual coup by distorting the truth and calling into question the democratic credentials of the president. In Honduras, this has taken the form of misrepresenting Zelaya’s constitutional proposal as a re-election bid, a line which was and continues to be shamelessly pushed in the media, when the referendum question had nothing to do with re-election at all, but was instead a completely legal mandate to transforming the existing constitution (itself a holdover from the far-right governments of the 1980s). Some nominally of the left repeated this tasty morsel of misinformation, while Fox News’ Shep Smith argued today that not only had Zelaya sought to extend his term, but to do so would have been “treasonous” (an interesting perspective on constitutional amendments, to say the least)."


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