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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

October 1, 2007



"It's still too high, but the trend is in the right direction,"
-Military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox

What Admiral Fox (as in "Fox" News) is referring to is the lowest US Military death count numbers since July, 2006. And while 63 soldiers killed is not a "good thing", especially for their mothers, fathers sons and daughters, it certainly is better than 64 soldiers killed in action, the 88 killed in August of this year or the 126 US troops killed in June.

But before we actually do consider this a trend, as Admiral Fox suggests, we should take a look at a couple of other trends:
-Over the last 12 months, 307 more US troops lost their lives than they had during that same span the previous year, a 39 percent increase
-In ten of the past 12 months, only last month (September) and November 2006 saw a decrease in the number of deaths from the same period the previous year

Can there be any doubt that in November 2006, someone in the Military or in the white House pointed to the change in deaths from the previous year and said the same thing that Admiral Fox did today?

In their zeal to put out any - and I do mean any - good news about the war in Iraq, our leaders seem to have forgotten that a trend must happen over a long period of time. If we're using months as our basis, then the current trend is more troubling than the previous years.

In fact, with a 39 percent increase in the death toll over last year, the trend, if it continues, will be the worst thing we've heard out of Iraq this year.

But as long as President Bush has his moment of "good news" to shower down on us, all will be okay, right?

-Noah Greenberg

Judge Thomas

Justice Clarence Thomas tells a story of a smart young rebel who went to Holy Cross College followed by Yale law school. He stated that, because of his race (which he stated helped him on his admission to Yale) he couldn't get a good paying job after graduation. But what Thomas doesn't realize is that he had the advantage which many other poor children didn't have: He had a strong father figure, albeit once removed. His maternal grandfather (Myers Anderson) and grandmother, at his mother's request, took both he and his brother in. The father figure, a member of the NAACP, but a realist who lived in the South, made Thomas into the man he is today.

Thomas now states that the black man will never be equal as long as extra advantages are given to them in the form of programs such as Affirmative action. And it's a sentiment that the "I got mine, now go get yours" community which many of the Bush "base" of "haves and have mores" subscribe to.

But we all aren't "A" students, Clarence. And Thomas used "the System" which he now attempts to destroy when it suited his needs. When Anita Hill got up in front of the senate and told of the unwanted sexual advances made by her boss, Mr. Thomas, The Justice-elect fired back with accusations of bigotry and racism of his own:

"It (the proceedings and the Anita Hill questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee) is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks,"

Clarence Thomas is, indeed, a hypocrite. As I watched the 60 Minutes interview so obviously designed to sell his book My Grandfather's Son, I thought I'd see a different Clarence Thomas than the one I did. But I got just what I thought I would: A man with a thought process so changed by his success and so wrapped up in himself that there was no room left for anyone else to graduate from a similar position as he did.

While it's true that Thomas changed from the self described militant to a Reagan Conservative, it happened because of circumstances. By his own admission, Thomas said he felt that his appointment to the Supreme Court, just one year after he was appointed to the lower federal bench, was because of his race. And he took it not because of the good he might do in changing the system, but to end the part of the system which was aimed at making all equal.

Instead of championing fair education in the urban areas and poor farm areas where the schools under-perform, Thomas' idea is to take any help away. And he says he does it for the benefit of the African-Americans who followed him.

All Thomas has done was to put a sign on his back saying, "This lane closed". After all, he got his.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

You can tell the new fall season has arrived. New shows, new controversies. Laughter, tears and surprises.

We begin with the “it-would-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-true” segment.

Fox’s Bill O’Reilly had a revelation after being in Harlem at the famous Sylvia’s with Rev. Al Sharpton. “It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun,” O’Reilly said on his program. "And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, `M.F.-er, I want more iced tea.’”

*Wow.* O’Reilly really thinks that’s how all African Americans order in a restaurant? Screaming. And using profanity. We can just see the Obama family out together for Sunday dinner and speaking like that with their two little girls. Or Oprah out with “I-*told*-you-we-are-* not*-lovers” BFF Gayle.

*What planet is O’Reilly living on?*

Perhaps it’s the same one Sherri Shepherd, one of the new hosts of ABC’s *The View,* lives on. Now we like Shepherd a lot because she’s funny (and, fyi for O’Reilly, Shepherd never uses the MF word in her comedy routines, despite being, you know, *black*) and we thought she would be a welcome addition to the tiresome foursome.

An exchange this week between Shepherd and Whoopi Goldberg revealed that Shepherd doesn’t believe in Evolution.

Okay, as Joe E. Brown told Jack Lemmon at the end of *Some Like It Hot,* “Nobody’s perfect.”

But Whoopi, who’s the new Rosie, asked Shepherd if she thought the earth was flat, and Shepherd couldn’t answer.

No, *really.* She wasn’t *sure.* Apparently all those globes all over are the same as those graphs with apes turning into humans. Something to ignore because it’s not in the Bible.

Just for the record, the earth is *round.* Even the theologians finally agreed on that one. Only a couple of centuries ago, but nevertheless. Done.

Speaking of denial, another fun moment on the tube was watching Iranian bobblehead–oops, *President*–Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia. (Sorry we keep forgetting he’s president, but only the Bush Administration and France’s new Vichy government, the Sarkozy Administration, think Ahmadinejad is in charge. He’s not. The Ayatollahs are. Try reading, folks, it will be a revelation. And we don’t mean the book in the Bible.)

With Ahmadinejad it was the usual Holocaust denial, nuclear denial and overall denial while smiling his goofy, “I really shouldn’t have smoked so much weed before I came out here” smile. The audience was basically respectful, but they could not control themselves when Ahmadinejad was asked about his repression of homosexuals in Iran.

He said there were no homosexuals in Iran, which brought a thunderous round of laughter from the crowd. (It *was* Columbia *and* NYC.)

So he repeated it, saying he didn’t know where people got the idea there were homosexuals in Iran (possibly from homosexuals in Iran?), and he didn’t know who told them that, but there was no such *phenomenon* (yes, *phenomenon*) in his country, like there was in the U.S.

Which made Craig Ferguson photo-shopping Ahmadinejad at the podium in nothing but a leather body harness and a leather cap all the more hilarious.

None of the late night comics could ignore the homosexual comment or the next most likely place to take it: Ahmadinejad would dress better if he didn’t put all the queers in prison. Ferguson refers to his “member’s only jacket” as does Jimmy Kimmel. Leno calls him “I’m-a-nut-job” and Ferguson calls him “I’m-a-dinner-jacket” and “Evil Borat.”

Of course it *is*difficult to ignore the high lunacy factor when watching and listening to Ahmadinejad. (Kind of like when one watches and listens to Bush.) Oh, and just for the record, as blacks in America are not all sociopaths like O’Reilly seems to think and as the world is actually round as Shepherd has now been told, the Holocaust is not a subject for debate. It’s history. It happened. It’s not theoretical, it’s not hypothetical, it’s not political cant. No matter what Ahmadinejad and Mel Gibson have to say.

Every time Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust because of his pathological hatred of Jews, he *also*refutes the killing of the other ten million assorted people the Nazis annihilated over and above the six million Jews. (Like the homosexuals. Hitler made sure there weren’t any of them in his Reich, either.)

When Ahmadinejad was asking to go to Ground Zero (which of course he should have been allowed to do; this *is* still America, folks), someone should have suggested taking him down to the Holocaust Museum. If only for the claustrophobia.

The most poignant and disturbing moments on the tube this week came from Burma, or Myanmar as the military junta insists on calling it. (Those fighting against repression there call the nation Burma. International news agencies like BBC call the country Burma. Why do U.S. networks call the country Myanmar? Seems to contravene everything Bush said at the U.N. last week.)

For weeks there have been rumblings among the populace in Burma which is considered by most human rights agencies to be the most repressive regime in the world. Although Burma is one of the world’s richest in terms of natural resources, the junta has subverted all the money to itself–leaving the Burmese among the poorest in the world. NGOs feed two million Burmese annually.

On September 24th, things came to a head and thousands of Buddhist monks took to the streets in the torrential rain, protesting the government repression. A stunning sight. By the next day the numbers had swelled to include tens of thousands of Burmese, all of whom were marching to the home of the titular leader of the opposition and democracy movement, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung Sung Suu Kyi, a beautiful, haunting figure of strength and purpose.

Foreign reporters have been banned from Burma since the uprising began and the majority of news has been sent out of Burma by dissidents with cell phone cameras operating through the internet and the Voice of Burma, which is run by Burmese expatriates out of Olso, Sweden. Most journalists have been reporting from across the border in Thailand.

ABC’s Jim Sciutto got into the country on September 27th, but his cameras were immediately confiscated and he has been shadowed by police. Nevertheless, he has filed reports–which are grisly–via his concealed cell phone.

Monks have been killed–beaten to death as well as shot. A Japanese cameraman was shot to death–in the back. Ordinary citizens have been killed. Members of the military are now dressing in plain clothes and attacking the protestors.

The official news of “Myanmar” as reported by BBC, states that citizens are being coerced into protesting. Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the years since the 1988 coup, was remanded to prison. Monks were rousted from their monasteries and as many as 500 were taken to prison. The monasteries have been under armed guard since September 27th. Students took up the protests after the monks were restricted to house arrest in their monasteries, but on September 29th, as a UN envoy was on his way to Burma, the government seemed to have once-again gained the upper hand through brute force and the streets were, according to Sciutto “eerily empty.”

Reporting on a situation as volatile as the one in Burma takes guts. Sciutto, who has always been a tough and ace reporter, deserves accolades just for being there, as do the BBC reporters who have been reporting on the situation since it began heating up in the beginning of September.

Hopefully the West will not merely continue to simply mouth the word “sanctions”–which have proven to have no effect on the junta. Ignoring the human rights calamity in Burma as the West has the one in Darfur will result in similar casualties. The Burmese people deserve a reprieve from constant fear and repression.

Fear and repression were at the heart of the report on the work First Twin Jenna Bush has been doing with UNICEF in the Caribbean for the past year.

Were it not for the tube (and ABC’s Diane Sawyer’s determined reportage), we wouldn’t know that there is actually a member of the Bush family trying to do something meaningful and decent in the world.

We were totally ready to dismiss Jenna as just another prop in her Daddy’s arsenal of dirty tricks, but she seems genuinely concerned with making a positive footprint on the world.

Sawyer tracked her through the grim streets of AIDS shanty towns–Jenna has been working primarily with children with HIV/AIDS and issues of discrimination in her role as a teacher for UNICEF. The cognitive dissonance was hard to take: here’s a 25-year-old who looks like she really cares about what happens to these kids and young adults with HIV/AIDS and the stigma they endure (which was presented in all its ghastly, violent detail) but whose father is responsible for part of the problem, because of his abstinence-not-condoms policies.

Sawyer tried to get to the heart of that dissonance, but Jenna Bush was declarative: She is not the Administration. She is not her father.

When asked how she felt about those who said she and her twin sister Barbara should be fighting in Iraq, she said she understood why people would say that, but that she was serving her country in a different way.

The *20/20* hour with Jenna Bush on September 28th (it can be viewed in its entirety at ABCnews.com) was a surprise, if not a revelation. Jenna Bush is no Mary Cheney. She’s not an apologist for her father’s bad policies, nor does she appear to embrace them. But regardless of her politics–which remained unrevealed–she clearly is dedicated to the job she’s currently doing and no one can say that job isn’t valuable. We were prepared to loathe her, but came away with a grudging respect for her.

Speaking of respect, Oprah’s new season has been one showstopper after another, including a show on intersex people and one on transgender teens (still available at Oprah.com). Both shows were superb–insightful, moving, shocking. On October 12th she is doing another transgender show, this one about married men who transition and then remain in their marriages.

Oprah’s definitely got her groove back. Set your Tivo for her.

Set the Tivo for *As the World Turns,* as well. The soap is just breaking ground left and right (mostly left) with the college kid love triangle of Luke, Noah and Maddie. *ATWT* is not flinching when it comes to showing kisses between Luke and Noah. No sponsors have pulled their advertising and fans seem to have adjusted to the shock of the new. And the threesome is engaging, real and brings issue-oriented TV front and center.

This week Noah’s father–the colonel–will be stalking Luke. With a gun. Stay Tuned.

There’s a lot of News You’re Not Seeing: Following the protests in Jena, LA, white supremacists have begun calling for retaliatory violence against the African American teens. Threats include posting the names, addresses and phone numbers of the Jena Six and their families on a neo-Nazi website. In an interview, the Mayor of Jena, Murphy McMillin, "praised efforts by pro-white groups to organize counter-demonstrations.” For shame!

A suicide bomber in Iraq blew himself up on September 24th at a banquet intended to be a reconciliation feast between provincial officials and former Sunni insurgents in Diyala Province, killing 16 people and wounding at least 28.

So much for burying the hatchet...Looks like things aren’t going quite as fabulously as the Bush team insists.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 Iraqis have contracted cholera and thousands more are expected to be affected, according to the World Health Organization. The reason: restrictions on the use of chlorine, due to security concerns.

For those of you who don’t have cable or don’t watch Keith Olbermann’s *Countdown* on MSNBC, *do* check out Olbermann’s outrage over Bush’s outrage over MoveOn.org’s Petraeus ad, which is, unbelievably, still an issue.

We’d be fine with Bush’s outrage if his folks hadn’t put out ads linking a triple amputee from Vietnam (former Sen. Max Cleland) with bin Laden or invented Swiftboating to trash John Kerry’s war record because Bush was a deserter. But given the facts, it’s a tad disingenuous for Bush to slap the Democrats for MoveOn’s ad when his team invented the dirtiest of tricks.

Stay tuned. Olbermann’s rant against Bush available at the following links: See the video at Crooks and Liars. And http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20896378/

In response to, "The Iranians are upset. They're upset that their President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was treated like any other person on the planet who denies human rights to half (if not more) of his people would be treated by an American University and their students," Alan McConnell writes:
Mr Greenberg, you seem to think that Ahmadinejad is the dictator of Iran. Why do you believe this?

And I respond:
He is the mouthpiece for Iran, and its president. He is willingly front-and-center on the world stage and I can't believe that words are being put in his mouth, involuntarily. His references to the Holocaust and his want for the destruction of the Jews is an insult to me, my eastern European ancestors (most of whom died in the Holocaust) and the memories and stories my mother and my aunt tell heir grandchildren.
Saying the Holocaust didn't happen, which Amahdinejad did, in fact say originally, is akin to saying the oppression which occurred under the Shah never happened (like who are you going to believe - me or your own eyes?)
You and I are on the same team, believe it or not. I chose to see it all. For example, I am a supporter of Israel and their right to exist, but I don't ignore the bad they have done. I'm not blind to the fact that both sides are right and wrong at the same time.

And in response to: "Iranian universities, all employees of the state, have issued a letter to Columbia's President, Lee Bollinger's stating his 'insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with ... a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful.'
The letter went on to say that 'You can be assured that Iranians are very polite and hospitable toward their guests. I remember some of their "guests" between 1979 and Ronald Reagan's inauguration day of January 20, 1981,'" Alan McConnell writes:
I'm glad you have such a good memory. Perhaps you can remember even further back, when the CIA spent millions of dollars to sponsor a coup that drove out the legitimate and elected president of Iran, Dr Mossadegh, and brought back the Shah, with his Savak.

And I responded:
My point was (and still is) that 2 wrongs don't make a right. It's how wars start. However, I see no difference in the failings of one nation as opposed to another.
The colonialism and downright taking over of middle eastern nations (or elsewhere) are wrongs that, I hope, will be corrected. But to ignore one's own failings and tell of all the good one had done; and extol the virtues of 7,000 years of civilization without stating the other side of the argument is just as damning in my view.

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-Noah Greenberg