Tuesday, January 06, 2004

It'll take more than extreme anger

An Israeli official admits that the “fence” will effectively annex 6% of the West Bank.

“Jordan's parliament yesterday rejected a proposal to allow the state to ban parents from giving their children names such as Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.”

The US will start fingerprinting visitors to the US from all but 28 countries. This isn’t just security, of course, this is building up secret dossiers on everyone in the entire world.

Brazil has decided to fingerprint Americans. Not for security, just out of pique, in retaliation.

Did you know that Mussolini had a cyst the size of a potato on the back of his neck? Neither did I. Evidently he personally censored every photo taken of him, weeding out those that showed the cyst, or him smiling, or with a nun or priest (bad luck).

Is the D race nastier than previous ones, or have I just forgotten? I know it was Al Gore who first brought up Willie Horton, but this year we’ve got this gem from Wesley Clark: “I didn't have as much practice skiing as the governor did. He was out there skiing when I was recovering from my wounds in Vietnam.” He now says this was a joke. Ha fucking ha. And Kerry attacked Dean for suggesting that the rule of law applied even to Osama bin Laden (who he nevertheless says deserves the death penalty). Dean himself says that all the other candidates have been “coopted by the agenda of George Bush.” And yet he said, “If I was the president and the troops had Osama in their sights, we would shoot to kill,” suggesting he’d been coopted by the cowboy hat of George Bush.

Kucinich was asked this brilliant question (from the editor of the Des Moines Register): “Given your personal decision not to consume animal products, how can you assure livestock producers you will be an advocate for them as president?” I don’t know what the answer was, I couldn’t google me a transcript.

John Cleese is considering running (or silly-walking) for mayor of Santa Barbara.

The Afghan loya jirga has agreed a new constitution, and it has been hailed as probably good enough. Or at least the closest thing to a democracy you’re gonna get out of a body of warlords. Being a body of warlords, there were more death threats than occurred in Philadelphia in 1787 (although who knows, those proceedings were secret), but they may collectively own fewer slaves. George Bush, showing that enthusiasm for Jeffersonian democracy he is so well-known for, said the constitution would “help ensure that terror finds no further refuge” in Afghanistan. I believe that’s from the preamble. And the American ambassador, reaching for the most condescending thing he could say, called it “one of the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world.” In other words, it’s close to being an elective dictatorship, and will fall apart the second Karzai is assassinated--the NY Times notes that he took a helicopter to the assembly, not daring to drive the one mile from his office. The precise degree of American input into the document is unclear, although I assume reserving a quarter of the seats in the lower house for them was not an idea that the warlords came up with on their own (what does it even mean--can only women vote for those seats, in which case what about the other ones?). The lower house is the house of people, which hopefully is not a statement about building materials, and the upper house is the house of elders. I haven’t read how the latter is chosen, but I don’t suppose that many people get to be elders in Afghanistan, and I don’t suppose we want to know what they had to do to get that way.

Here’s a piece you must read about the condition of women in Afghanistan. How did I miss the law banning women singing in public?

Lieberman has a new ad saying, “How do we defeat George Bush's extreme agenda? It'll take more than extreme anger.”

The US is going to privatize its military aid to Georgia, including security for the all-important oil pipeline.

If anyone’s interested in Osama’s latest missive, the Guardian runs it in the op-ed section.

From the AP: “The Labor Department is giving employers tips on how to avoid paying overtime to some of the 1.3 million low-income workers who would become eligible under new rules expected to be finalized early this year.” Tips include cutting salaries to make up the difference. “"We're not saying anybody should do any of this," said Labor Department spokesman Ed Frank.”

The British Parliament today discussed church insurance, leading one MP to ask whether churches insure against acts of God. The Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer writes
“But the Speaker used the poser to make another attack on MPs who ask overlong questions. His new guidelines are, I gather, that no one may ask a question that lasts longer than Britney Spears' marriage.

“Finally, the year began with a splendid new extended metaphor. Michael Ancram was giving a guarded welcome to the recent deal with Colonel Gadafy: "This pudding served up today shows promise, but the proof does not lie in the recipe, nor in the cooking, but in the eating, and it should be eaten with a very long spoon, accompanied by your choice of cream, ice cream or custard."

“I made the bit up after "spoon" but you get the idea.)”

Finally, some excerpts from George Monbiot’s latest column:
But foreign policy is also driven by commerce, and in particular by the needs of domestic exporters. Aid goes to countries that can buy our manufacturers' products. Sometimes it doesn't go to countries at all, but straight to the manufacturers. A US government website boasts that "the principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80% of the US Agency for International Development's contracts and grants go directly to American firms."

A doctor working in Gondar hospital in Ethiopia wrote to me recently to spell out what this means. The hospital has none of the basic textbooks on tropical diseases it needs. But it does have 21 copies of an 800-page volume called Aesthetic Facial Surgery and 24 volumes of a book called Opthalmic Pathology. There is no opthalmic pathologist in training in Ethiopia. The poorest nation on Earth, unsurprisingly, has no aesthetic plastic surgeons. The US had spent $2m on medical textbooks that American publishers hadn't been able to sell at home, called them aid and dumped them in Ethiopia.

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