Friday, June 15, 2007

Al Jazeera today

On Inside Iraq today on Al Jazeera English, Jasim al-Azzawi conducted a special one-on-one interview in London with Clare Short, a former minister in Tony Blair's cabinet who resigned in protest over the Iraq War. I don't have time today to transcribe the interview [watch part 1 and part 2] and , but her criticisms of Tony Blair were, if I can mix metaphors for a moment, both blunt and pointed. On the News Hour, the coverage was dominated by the situation in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has dissolved the parliament and fired the prime minister, Ismail Haniyah. Abbas is from the Fatah party, the successor to the P.L.O.; Haniyah is from the Hamas party, whose charter calls for the obliteration of the state of Israel. In a nutshell, Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, but Fatah controls the West Bank. It makes one wonder if the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might require a three-state solution. We can only hope that the former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, a political independent whom President Abbas has appointed as emergency interim prime minister, can live up to his first name, and bring a bit of peace (salam or سلا) to Palestine.

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P.S. Inside Iraq repeats on Al Jazeera English at 23:30 UTC/GMT; tomorrow at 04:30, 09:30, and 20:30; and Sunday at 01:30, 07:30, and 13:30. Subtract –4 hours for U.S. EDT, –7 hours for PDT; add +1 hour for Britain, +2 hours for Central European Time, or +3 hours for Baghdad.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy F(l)ag Day

Besides being the 25th anniversary of the British liberation of the Falkland Islands from the Argentinian occupation force, today has two other distinctions of note. First, it's Flag Day, commemorating the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the original U.S. flag. Second, it's the opening night of the Frameline31 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. The latter point means that for the next week and a half, I will be posting much more in my film festival blog, "Film Queen Reviews," than here on my political blog. See you after Pride!

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Two blasts from the past

I was watching the news on Al Jazeera this afternoon, and saw two stories that took me back to the 1980's: Austrian President and U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim died, and Argentina has been quietly stepping up economic pressure against the British territory of the Falkland Islands.

Kurt Waldheim was born in 1918, just after World War I. In 1941, at the age of 22, he was drafted into the Nazi German armed forces, the Wehrmacht. He claimed to have been given a medical discharge later that same year, but in fact he served until very near the end of World War II, deserting his post and surrendering to British forces in 1945. He consistently denied claims that he was actively involved in war crimes committed by his unit, including the deportation of 40,000 Jews from Greece and the brutal suppression of insurgents in Yugoslavia. However, since he had for many years lied about even being in the army at the time of the war crimes, his denials carry little weight.

After World War II, Waldheim completed his university education and entered the diplomatic corps. By 1956, he had risen to the post of Ambassador to Canada, and in 1964 he became the Austrian representative to the United Nations. In 1971, after losing the Austrian presidential election, he became Secretary General of the U.N., a post he held until 1981, when China vetoed his bid for a third term. In 1986, he was elected president of Austria, but it was during that campaign that many details of his Nazi past came to light, resulting in his ostracism in international circles. In 1987, he was placed on a list of persons forbidden entry to the United States. His distinguished career as a diplomat was completely overshadowed by the shame of his Nazi past.

The other news is from the Falkland Islands, or the Islas Malvinas, as they are called by Argentina, which has claimed them as part of its national territory since independence from Spain in 1816. However, the only periods during which Argentina exercised effective control of the islands were 1816–1833 and 1982-04-02 to 1982-06-14, twenty-five years ago today. In 1833, the British invaded and seized the islands, settling them with a few thousand people, but Argentina shook its fists in the air for 149 years, taking up the issue with the United Nations at its inception in 1945. In 1976, a military junta took power in Argentina, ushering in a period of economic decline and runaway inflation. To distract the people, the junta made an appeal to nationalistic fervor by "wagging the dog" with a military invasion of the Falklands. The sparsely populated islands had minimal defenses at the time, so the Argentinians easily took control, but the British navy responded in full force, removing Argentina in a mere 73 days. In spite of the decisive military defeat, and more importantly the near-unanimous will of the residents to remain British, Argentina still claims the Falklands to this day.

Argentina has little hope of ever retaking the Falklands by force, and is unlikely to try, given the humiliating trouncing they suffered in 1982. Furthermore, the period of Argentine control of the Malvinas in the early 19th century was tenuous at best. Spain and Britain had clashed over their claims from 1765, when Spain purchased the islands from France, until 1790, when Britain renounced its claim. (Britain retained the right to fish in the waters around the Falklands, though.) Spain abandoned the islands in 1811, and the newly independent Argentina claimed them in 1816, since the Spanish territory had been administered from Buenos Aires. However, Argentina did not build a permanent settlement until 1826, and it lasted only five years, largely as a penal colony. In 1831, the Argentinian settlement was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in retaliation for Argentinian interference with American seal hunters. Argentina tried unsuccessfully to re-establish control in 1832, but in 1833, the British navy retook the Falklands.

Since the 1982 invasion, the Falklands economy has involved increasing international tourism, and recently exploration for possible offshore oil deposits. Argentina has begun interfering with both industries, denying permission for Chilean charter flights to the Falklands to cross Argentinian airspace and threatening retaliation against any company that does business with the Falklands oil explorers. Two months ago, on 2007-04-02, the 25th anniversary of Argentina's invasion of the Falklands, the president of Argentina again asserted sovereignty over the islands. It seems some people just don't know when to give up; the islands are British, and have been British for more than 170 years. (It is for that reason that I refuse to use the name Malvinas, even though Argentina considers the use of Falklands to be offensive. Don't cry for the Falklands, Argentina.) The people are British, with full U.K. citizenship since 1983. The people have no interest in even discussing becoming part of Argentina.

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Relentlessly Unfunny

Comedy Central premiered its new animated alleged-comedy program Lil' Bush on Wednesday. The premise is a bit bizarre: George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton are students at Beltway Elementary School in Washington, D.C., in the present day, with George H. W. Bush [a.k.a. Bush 41] as the President, dealing with al Qaeda and post-Saddam Iraq. "Lil' Bush," "Little Rummy," "Little Condi," and the others are about the same age as the South Park kids, with most of the crassness and absolutely none of the humor. Not only did I not laugh once in an entire half-hour episode, only one thing in it even moved me to so much as a meager hint of a smile: the marquee outside the school proclaiming that Beltway Elementary has more vacation days than any other school. The real George W. Bush just hit a new low of 29% in his public approval poll numbers, but I expect Little Bush to outdo him in its rush to the ash-heap of TV series canceled after one episode.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Major realignment at Comedy Central

I'm sure that most of you don't even notice, but The Colbert Réport consistently gets about 1½ to 2 seconds more airtime than The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Explanations vary, but the most common themes areOn Monday's programs, though, that all changed. In an ending that would make Tony Soprano proud, Jon Stewart got 21 minutes and 31 seconds, while Stephen Colbert got only 21:30. Dip your cigar in that, Colbert!

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

The end of The Sopranos

I just watched the conclusion of HBO's long-running drama The Sopranos. I don't want to give any spoilers, but I'll say this: the last few episodes have set up a watershed moment in Tony Soprano's life. Tony might get whacked, Tony might whack the other guy, or Tony might get indicted. Some issues were resolved, some weren't, and the show takes a surprise turn at the very, very end. I liked it; I thought it was fitting.

HBO made a point of highlighting its returning shows, plus several new shows that are premiering this summer on HBO. One of them, John from Cincinnati, is about some aging surfer dudes, including Beverly Hills 90210 veteran Luke Perry playing a character named Linc. That was the show that HBO chose to take the slot immediately following one of the most anticipated TV moments in years, the red carpet with 24-karat gold trim. It was like my screen morphed from HBO to community access without my having to change channels. I was looking forward to a show with some cute surfer boiz — I think a form-fitting wetsuit can be incredibly sexy. Instead I saw a bad episode of Summerland, a show that was only watchable with liberal use of the fast-forward button in between shots of Jesse McCartney's dimples. It was so bad, I didn't even watch long enough to figure out which one is the title character.

Some of the returning series are worth watching, though. Big Love has me hooked on the story of a family of FLDS [Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, which is to say resolutely old-school Mormons] trying to blend polygamy with suburbia. Of course, Real Time with Bill Maher is top of my TiVo list, but it's on hiatus until August. I just hope that Flight of the Conchords gets a better start than John from Cincinnati.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ron Paul on The Daily Show

The 2008 Presidential race is shaping up with two real "wild cards," with an emphasis on wild. On the Democratic side is former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (gruh-VELL) (D–AK — wait! a Democrat from Alaska??), and for the Republicans there is Congressman Ron Paul (R–TX). Gravel made an appearance in the "Moment of Zen" segment at the end of Monday's Daily Show, but the featured guest was Ron Paul. Congressman Paul is challenging the candidates most directly on the issue of the Iraq War, but also on domestic policy, especially government spending.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, copyright ©2007 Comedy Central, airdate 2007-06-04
Jon Stewart: Welcome back! My guest tonight, a Republican Congressman from the state of Texas who is also running for President. Please welcome to the show Congressman Ron Paul. Congressman! Hello, sir. Nice to see you.

Representative Ron Paul (R–TX): Thank you. It's very nice to be here.

Stewart: Thank you for joining us. You have accomplished no small feat, which is, you're running for President, very much as an underdog, yet you've created a nice little buzz going about the Ron Paul candidacy. What do you attribute that to?

Paul: A good message. The philosophy of liberty, and people are still interested in being free people, living in a free country.

Stewart: But you're talking about America, not spreading that liberty to other areas such as Canada, right?

Paul: No, no, and I don't believe in trying to spread it. I think it's a good message, but I don't believe in spreading it with guns.

Stewart: Interesting.

Paul: We should spread it by setting a good example and get others to emulate us, but not to try to force it on other people.

Stewart: There was an interesting question — [audience cheers] and they're very pleased. Chris Wallace asked you at the Republican debate, "Why are you running as a Republican?" but really it's only your Iraq message that's somewhat different, maybe, from all your counterparts.

Paul: Well, I think that's the case, but I don't think they're very good conservatives, either. You know, they talk about balancing budgets and spending less, but they don't, really. You know, the Republican Party has been known to have a position where they didn't like going overseas. You know, they didn't especially agree with Clinton on going into Kosovo and Somalia, so they flip-flop around, but no, I've taken a very clear position that we shouldn't have gone in.

Stewart: That's what's so interesting about Congressman Ron Paul is, you appear to have consistent, principled integrity; Americans don't usually go for that. You seem to practice what you preach, you seem to preach it consistently. Even though people might disagree with the message, they can't argue that you're a man of consistent principles.

Paul: Yeah, and I like to think I've introduced a brand new idea into this campaign: I've even suggested that we follow the Constitution.

Stewart: I'm not familiar with that document, the Consti-tu-tion?

Paul: The Constitution, this thing we swear to uphold.

Stewart: See, I have found that the Republicans oftentimes will campaign against big government, but it seems, at least with this administration, they were against government they didn't control, but now that they control it, they find it to be very useful, and expand the power of it, as opposed to bring it down.

Paul: I think that's a temptation that most people yield to, once they get into power. I hope I'm different, and I hope I never yield to that temptation, and so far, so good.

Stewart: Now, you ran originally as a Libertarian.

Paul: I ran in '88 as a Libertarian candidate, but I've been in Congress for ten terms, in my tenth term, always as a Republican.

Stewart: You said something interesting before backstage: if you ran as a Libertarian, you wouldn't have gotten this platform.

Paul: No, no, you don't get into debates. You know, we're overseas, spreading the message of democracy, but here, if you're in a third party, you have a tough time. You can't get on ballots. You spend all your time getting on ballots. You have to be a Ross Perot to even get on ballots.

Stewart: To have some of the bucks.

Paul: But the two parties are very much in control of the system, and they exclude individuals who aren't in that mold.

Stewart: What about your domestic agenda? I think you've sort of made your bones on this idea about Iraq and liberty. You're a guy that really would get rid of a lot of our government.

Paul: Yeah, I think that would be true. I think a lot of our government is very wasteful.

Stewart: Right. Where would you go? Let's say — you won't accept, as a doctor, Medicare, right?

Paul: No, I never did.

Stewart: Right. But you stuck to that. Is that something you'd get rid of?

Paul: Yes, but that's not high on my agenda. Matter of fact, we've taught a couple of generations to be very dependent on government, and that's not my goal, because I think you have to have a transition period. I happen to think that the market can deliver any service better than the government can.

Stewart: Even — would you use that for defense, too?

Paul: No, we have defense, but this militarism isn't defense, this is opposite of defense.

Stewart: Right.

Paul: So I think it would be much better for the private market to deliver all ...

Stewart: Would you go Post Office? You'd stay Post Office. You gotta give the Post Office — 41¢ is a good deal.

Paul: No, I'd legalize competition. I mean, what the heck — let a private firm. You know, there's FedEx, a few other of those companies that do exist. I'd just legalize competition in First Class mail and let the market decide which is best.

Stewart: Right. But doesn't that in some respects trust corporations over, because there's always been regulation, or you would get rid of regulation for that as well?

Paul: Yeah, and there's a big difference between corporations who benefit from government largesse — that's corporatism and that's evil; you know, the Halliburton stuff —

Stewart: No, I'm familiar with that.

Paul: The Military-Industrial Complex.

Stewart: No, no, no, I've heard some things.

Paul: How about a Bill Gates, though? He's very wealthy because we buy his services, and I think that's okay. I don't think we should be afraid of people who make a lot of money, even in entertainment. We shouldn't be afraid —

Stewart: No! I agree. In entertainment, I think especially in entertainment. Now what about — you've got a debate coming up, tomorrow is the big debate. Anything you're gonna throw out there, any insight into the other candidates you can share? Is there anybody you find just unbelievably distasteful?

Paul: Well, ideas — I find some of their ideas very distasteful.

Stewart: Anybody that you literally go, like, "Don't make my podium next to that guy"?

Paul: No, I haven't said that yet, but I think what I —

Stewart: What do you think of this Romney cat? Has he talked to you?

Paul: Yeah, he said hello once.

Stewart: He did?

Paul: Yeah, he did.

Stewart: I don't go for him. He strikes me as the Republican John Kerry, in the sense of this sort of aristocratic bearing but playing the game of like, "Hey, look at me, I'm huntin', I'm drinkin' coffee, heh?"

Paul: Yeah, but he's on top of the polls! What does that mean?

Stewart: Well, what do you think that means?

Paul: That means I have to work hard and get my supporters out there and do a good job.

Stewart: Here's what I'm gonna do for you. Very quickly, I'm gonna give you a couple of zingers for these guys tomorrow, so when you're out there — okay, here's a good one for, let's go with Giuliani: "Hey, you love the War on Terror so much, why don't you marry it? Oh, wait — you'd probably then just divorce it a couple of years later." Okay. Here's one! "Hey, Tommy Thompson! What's your middle name? Tom?" I'll have this for you on cards, if you want 'em.

Paul: Okay.

Stewart: I'm here to help you.

Paul: Thank you. Me, too. "I'm here from the government, and I'm here to help you," too.

Stewart: Thank you. Thank you so much for coming by, and continued success, and continue to bring excitement to the process, because I think that's what's lacking sometimes, and it's nice to see guys just throwing their ideas out there for whatever it is and being principled.

Paul: Thanks a lot.

Stewart: It's nice to see.

Paul: I appreciate it.

Stewart: Thanks, Ron. Stay right there — all right, he's gotta go. Ron Paul, Congressman. They all leave!
Other transcripts you might want to check out:
  • Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi on Al Jazeera English Inside Iraq, 2007-05-25

  • Al Gore on The Daily Show, 2007-05-24

  • Al Jazeera English Inside Iraq, 2007-05-18, with a Centcom spokesman squaring off against a Sri Lankan "terrorism expert" and the editor of an Arabic-language newspaper in London

  • Al Jazeera English Inside Iraq, 2007-05-11, with Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations facing an Iraqi critic of the Iraqi government

  • George Tenet on The Daily Show, 2007-05-08

  • Colin Powell's former chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, discussing the fabrication of the case for the Iraq War, and particularly the machinations leading to Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council, 2007-04-27

  • Senator John McCain on The Daily Show,
  • Former Iraqi government minister Ali Allawi, brother of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, on The Daily Show, 2007-04-18
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