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Aliens in America

Most fish-out-of-water stories are told at the expense of the poor fish. But not so with Aliens in America, which may well be the best television show you're not watching. Well, you'd first have to find that misbegotten offspring of the WB/UPN marriage, the CW channel.

Your efforts will be well rewarded with a very funny comedy that takes on racism, the war on terror, Islam, and that most hallowed of American institutions: high school. How can you resist a show that throws together a devout Pakistani teenager and small-town America?

Hollywood is usually at its excruciatingly racist worst when it comes to any plot that involves foreign exchange students of the non-white variety -- think Long Duk Dong slobbering over Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. The joke is always at the expense of the "fish."

But not so in Aliens in America. Raja's arrival in Medora, Wisconsin is an opportunity not to mock that weird Third World village kid, but the deep-set prejudices and endearing quirks of our American life. The writers handle a potentially difficult premise without ever preaching or veering into gross sentimentality. They do so by focusing the show on the friendship between Raja and the narrator, Justin Tolchuck, a 16-year old bona fide geek who has enough problems making it through the day at school without a Muslim exchange student in tow.

Yet the primary moral of this story is not about peace, love or tolerance, but self-acceptance. It's about Justin learning to like himself -- with a little bit of help from a most unlikely source.

You can read more about the show and catch up on past episodes here. Aliens in America airs every Monday, 8:30/7:30 central.

Cristina and Hillary

UPDATED--Her husband is a former governor and president who presided over an economic boom. She is a popular center-left senator--a tough, disciplined and savvy politician who has led voters to think that they will be getting two leaders for the price of one. No, not Hillary Clinton. She is Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina.

Kirchner cruised to victory Sunday, becoming the Western Hemisphere's second female president voted into office in the last two years, following Michelle Bachelet of Chile.

To critics who say Kirchner is simply riding the coattails of her husband, "she likes to point out that she has been a senator since 1995 and so was a national political figure when her husband was a mere provincial governor.

Senator Clinton, of course, is also confronted with the same charge -- one that unfairly makes short shrift of her own achievements and talent. But while her campaign is focused on her being "the most experienced and qualified" candidate for the job, while also providing the opportunity to "make history" with her election, it might be more accurate to say that -- in the context of world history -- Hillary's more of a transitional figure than a groundbreaking one. As historian Linda Colley recently wrote in the London Review of Books , "… If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president of the United States in 2008, this will – in terms of women's place in American politics – be a significant political milestone. In global terms, and in historical terms, however, her elevation would be less innovatory. Of the women who have been elected heads of state since the Second World War, a substantial proportion have been closely related to men who have themselves previously held high political office…. Looked at in this comparative context, a Hillary Clinton presidency would be an expression of old-style dynastic politics, and its persistence in the US, not simply a victory for postwar female liberation. If Hillary wins in 2008, and is granted a second term, people whose surname is Bush or Clinton will have presided over the Oval Office for 28 consecutive years."

In fact, Colley points out that from a global perspective, the state of affairs for women in politics in the United States is in some ways lagging. Only 16 percent of our members of Congress are women, compared to 45 percent in Sweden and 49 percent in Rwanda. 58 women have served as an elected prime minister or president, with only one coming from the Northern Hemisphere (Kim Campbell, prime minister of Canada for less than six months.)

So a win for Hillary in the US – like a win for Cristina in machismo Argentina – would represent a leap forward for women in both countries. But for the world as a whole it is a more measured achievement – no matter what Hillary's campaign would have you believe.

Matthews on White House Crime & Media Failure

Here's an important question:

Valerie Wilson has reminded us there was, in fact, a crime committed by the vice president‘s office, a multi-count crime that led to years of imprisonment, except the president commuted it. [But people] allowed the president to erase the blackboard and say it never happened, [as if] there has been no criminality in the vice president‘s office, or in the White House… That‘s the way people [sound], is everybody a jug-head now in politics?!

That's what Chris Matthews wanted to know last night. His guests posited two quick answers. Maybe other events sidelined the administration's criminal record (from The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut), or it was a "media failure" to stick with the story (from The American Prospect's Ezra Klein). But Matthews' response answered his own question:

I mentioned criminality in the vice president‘s office a few weeks ago, and some reporter said he didn‘t know what I was talking about. Is it amnesia? Is it just bad reporting? I think it‘s probably the latter. Anyway, according to a new field poll in California, Rudy Giuliani is only at 25 percent. But he‘s double digit over the pack. I‘m amazed by that, Anne, because here we have Schwarzenegger, a pro-choice, moderate Republican in many ways--many, many ways--Maria Shriver‘s husband in many ways…

And that was it. One meta-question about how the administration has suppressed accountability and scrutiny of its crimes, and then back to horse race politics. (The vast majority of the segment covered polls and political advertising.) And Matthews' entire show, which included an interview with Valerie Wilson, did not even mention the current White House attempt to grant amnesty to telephone companies that allegedly helped the administration break the law to spy on Americans.

 

It's not just Matthews, either. The New York Times is still ignoring the new face-off over the surveillance bill. When the Times thought the entire Democratic caucus would roll over, the news was trumpeted in a front-page story "Democrats Seem Ready to Extend Wiretap Powers," which reported that Democrats were "nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence." That turned out at least partially incorrect. The next day, October 12, the Times ran a more measured article, "House Panels Vote for More Scrutiny Over Foreign Eavesdropping," which it buried on A29. (Also note how "Democrats" turns to "House Panel" depending on the news.)

Does this mean that Chris Dodd, the leader of the fight against telecom amnesty, is getting no coverage in the Times?

Of course not. Today the Times published an article about his haircuts.

 

Senators Call For 'Sweatshop-Free Barbie'

Attention shoppers: With the holiday season fast approaching isn't it time to give your child a doll or toy-train not made in a sweatshop?

That's the message labor rights advocates are now trying to get across- that consumers fretting about unsafe toys should also be alarmed about unsafe toy-making conditions. And they are directing part of their energy toward supporting "The Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act", a bill with 13 Senate co-sponsors, including Hillary Clinton, that calls for a ban on importing all sweatshop-made products.

"If you move production to Chinese factories that cut every possible corner to lower costs," said bill co-sponsor and North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing today, "You end up with young women worked to death in China and products that end up poisoning our kids here at home."

But as The Nation pointed out in a recent editorial, the connection is still not being made between a lead-tained $29.99 Barbie and a worker paid 19 cents an hour to make that Barbie. Charles Kernaghan, Director of the National Labor Committee, said after the hearing that it's "very difficult for parents whose child gets a toy with lead to think about workers 5,000 miles away."

Kernaghan reported during the hearing on internal audits of Mattel, where the biggest toy company in the U.S. forced employees to work 80 to 90 hours a week. Kernaghan testifed that the Chinese Government gave Mattel a waiver that allowed them to disregard Chinese minimum wage and overtime rules. Mattel representatives declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.

China accounts for almost 90 percent of toys brought into the U.S. and 80 percent of all toys purchased in the country. So far American companies like Mattel have largely been able to seek the cheapest labor while preventing even the Chinese government from creating labor standards. "The United States Chamber of Commerce is telling the authoritarian Chinese government that they are giving workers too many worker rights," railed Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders. "Can you believe that?"

What Sanders called the U.S.-China policy of "unfettered free trade" shows signs of gradual change. Fast-track authority expired this summer, which means Congress no longer will vote yes or no on trade agreements without being able to offer amendments on, for instance, labor standards. And proponents of the Senate bill argue that if Mattel et. al keeps staying in the news, discussion will eventually move beyond the "Toxic Toys" headlines.

Bush, Cheney, Rice and Kucinich on Iran

Those echoes that Americans are hearing in the noisy-and-getting-noisier debate about Iran are from 2002 and 2003, when members of the current administration were busy spinning the fantasy that the United States needed to attack Iraq.

George "Uranium From Africa" Bush sure sounds like he wants to attack Iran. Just last week, the president said, "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from (obtaining) the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Dick "Greeted As Liberators" Cheney sure sounds like he wants to attack Iran. This week, the vice president declared: "Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions."

Secretary of State Condoleezza "Mushroom Clouds" Rice sure sounds like she wants to attack Iran. "Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon..." Rice said on Thursday, as she announced drastic new sanctions against the country that serious analysts say poses little threat to its neighbors and no real threat to the U.S.

And, as in 2002 and early 2003, the most rational response is coming from Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who says, "After the lies and deception used to lead us to war in Iraq, the belligerent Bush Administration cannot be given leeway with statements that suggest a preemptive attack on Iran is necessary," says Kucinich, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nod who deserves a much better hearing that he has been afforded so far by the media and Democratic power brokers. "We are systematically destroying every available route to restoring peace and security in the Middle East," he adds.

Kucinich may be running for the White House, but his message is most relevant to Capitol Hill. "Congress," he says, "must take back its exclusive authority to declare war from the Bush Administration."

He's right.

But being right is not always enough in tenuous times.

Being heard is what matters.

It could well be that the American experiment's best hope lies in the remote prospect that, having been proven right in 2002 and 2003, it will be Kucinich's counsel -- as opposed to that of Bush, Cheney and Rice -- that is heeded in this new moment of peril.

The point here is not a political one. This is not about whether Kucinich becomes president, or the Democratic nominee, or even a strong contender in his race with cautious Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is about the most fundamental question in a democracy: At a time when talk of war is growing louder, will we hear a real debate or merely the exaggerated echoes of those who have never gotten anything right?

The answer could well be measured by the extent to which Dennis Kucinich and those who stood with him in 2002 and 2003 are afforded the forums that their record of having been able to cut through the spin of the past should afford them in the present.

Are We Heading for a Slow-Motion Showdown over Iraqi Oil?

Before the invasion of Iraq, while millions demonstrated in the streets, often waving homemade placards with "No Blood for Oil"--or equivalents like "Don't Trade Lives for Oil" and like "How Did USA's Oil Get under Iraq's Sand?"--the Bush administration said remarkably little about the vast quantities of petroleum on which Saddam Hussein's regime was perched. The President did, however, speak reverently about preserving not Iraq's "energy reserves" but its "patrimony," as he so euphemistically put it. The American mainstream media followed suit, dismissing arguments about the significance of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil as the refuge of, if not scoundrels, then at least truly simpleminded dissidents who knew not whereof they spoke. Generally, in our news pages and on the TV news, with Iraq at the edge of a shock-and-awe invasion, Iraqi energy reserves were dealt with as if no more than a passing thought, as if the Middle East's main export was hummus.

Little has changed. When former Fed chief Alan Greenspan recently indicated in passing in his memoir that the war was "about oil," there was a brief firestorm of scorn in Washington; an administration spokesperson termed it "Georgetown cocktail party analysis" ("A refill of crude, please, straight up…") and Greenspan quickly began to backtrack under the pressure. Oil? Who us? The Bush administration's plans to protect the Oil Ministry in Baghdad and Iraq's major oil fields amid otherwise unchecked chaos in April 2003 were certainly noted in the news, but went largely uncommented upon (unless you were an Internet news jockey).

Here's the strange thing about the Iraq oil "debate" in our media world. Call me crazy, but if you were going to invade Iraq and oil wasn't right at the forefront of your brain, you would be truly derelict, even if you hadn't run a major energy services corporation or hadn't had a double-hulled oil tanker named after you. Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book God: A Biography, has just recently suggested that the oil endgame in Iraq is in sight -- of which, except in the Web world, there has largely been neither a beginning game. nor a middle game.

He begins dramatically this way: "The oil game in Iraq may be almost up. On September 29th, like a landlord serving notice, the government of Iraq announced that the next annual renewal of the United Nations Security Council mandate for a multinational force in Iraq--the only legal basis for a continuation of the American occupation--will be the last." If that was the first Iraqi shoe to fall, Miles suggests that terminating a little noticed companion Security Council mandate on Iraqi oil may be the second.

As he writes, the political half of the Bush administration's gamble in Iraq has already been lost, but it "has proven adamantly unwilling to accept the loss of the economic half, the oil half, without a desperate fight." He then offers a unique exploration of what may be a kind of "slow-motion showdown" between the Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which has, in the "Blackwatergate" affair and other matters, suddenly been flexing muscle that no one previously imagined it had. As Iraqi oil legislation--that "benchmark" of both Congress and the White House--flounders terminally in the Iraqi parliament, the question is: Will a fragmenting Iraq take back sovereignty over its oil resources, even on a regional basis? As Miles puts it, will "a new, Iran-allied, oil-rich, nine-province Shiite Iraq... match Kurdistan's deal [with Hunt Oil] with one of its own, perhaps even with ready-and-willing China. Will any combination of American military and diplomatic pressure suffice to stop such an untoward outcome?"

 

Everybody Look What's Going Down

There's somethin' happening here, What it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, tellin' me I gotta beware. I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down.
--For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills, 1966

It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1979, when Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) to fight against the use of nuclear power. They organized five exhilarating nights of No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden and led a rally of 200,000 people in New York's downtown Battery Park. Their efforts helped to channel public outrage in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident and strengthen opposition to Big Nuclear Energy.

Now, as Congress considers $50 billion in new loan guarantees to the nuclear industry over the next two years (it has already received nearly $10 billion from the Bush-Cheney Energy Debacle of 2005), as well as extended federal liability insurance, Raitt, Browne, and Nash have reunited to educate the public and a new generation about "what's going down" and advocate for a saner path. Along with Ben Harper and Keb Mo, the original No Nukes crowd cut a new music video based on Stephen Stills' For What It's Worth that links to a petition against the massive nuclear industry handout.

On Monday night, the musicians joined their MUSE co-founder -- now Congressman John Hall-- and performed for lawmakers who will be debating this critical Energy Bill that is intended to set us on a greener course. Tuesday, they were back on Capitol Hill lobbying against a "virtual blank check from taxpayers" to build new nuclear plants.

While Big Nuclear is touting a self-proclaimed "nuclear renaissance" and promoting the myth that nuclear energy will solve our climate change crisis, MUSE co-founder and Freepress.org/NukeFree.org editor, Harvey Wasserman, explains the top three reasons to oppose the "Nuclear Bailout" in this video. (A more extensive post by Wasserman on reasons for opposition is here).

In a nutshell, after fifty years since the first reactor was built in 1957, nuclear plants can't pay for themselves. Wall Street doesn't want anything to do with them --exorbitant cost overruns and construction problems continue to plague them -- so the industry is looking to Congress to foot the bill. Secondly, the risk of a terrorist attack -- or human error -- at these facilities is so great that the industry can't even get private insurance so, again, it looks to government to limit liability in case of a major accident. Finally, there is no safe way of dealing with high-level nuclear waste. Despite $11 billion public dollars spent on Yucca Mountain, there are still too many unanswered questions about how to safely contain waste that must be isolated for at least tens of thousands of years, if not longer-- according to Jon Block, nuclear energy and climate change project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Block concludes in a recent op-ed that "any glowing description of nuclear power's benefits ignores serious issues of nuclear plant safety, security against sabotage and terrorist attack and waste disposal."

As to the notion that new nuclear plants are the answer to the climate crisis, Wasserman notes that greenhouse gasses are created in the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium fuel; and that "huge plumes of heat" are emitted directly into the air and water by the reactors.

But, most importantly, one must completely ignore the devastating risks that these monstrosities pose to the environment, as the Natural Resource Defense Council writes, "The accidental release of radioactivity, whether from a reactor accident, terrorist attack, or slow leakage of radioactive waste into the local environment, poses the risk of catastrophic harm to communities and to vital natural resources, such as underground aquifers used for irrigation and drinking water."

Block also sees far better options than the nuclear one: "The most sensible strategy to reduce global warming is to quickly deploy the cleanest, fastest, lowest risk solutions first. Conservation and increased efficiency by energy producers and consumers are the cheapest and quickest measures by far. Likewise, a wide range of renewable energy resources, including wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power, have enormous potential and are inherently safe-and they would encourage economic development."

Thirty years after MUSE raised public-consciousness about the atomic madness of the 70's, it's good to see them back on the job fighting an absurd and illogical nuclear bailout in 2007. Like the song still says, "Stop-- everybody look what's going down." Don't accept the latest giveaway to corporate lobbyists, sign the petition today.

Maryland Judge: Some Domestic Violence Victims Like Being Hit

Domestic violence cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute.

But every once in a while, prosecutors get handed the tools for a conviction on a silver platter: An impartial eyewitness who just happens to be a police officer.

Such was the case in a domestic violence trial that made the local papers here in Maryland last week. A cop pulling into an Exxon station saw a man hit his girlfriend in the face three times, called in back-up and had the man arrested.

But according to Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, who is "probably as against domestic violence as anybody, when the case is proven," one can't simply assume that a woman who is being hit didn't consent to the attack. "Sadomasochists sometimes like to get beat up," the judge reminded the courtroom--then acquitted the man.

The judge appeared to be in a snit because the girlfriend, the alleged victim in the attack, had disappeared, even though she had been ordered to testify. Ignoring decades of research proving that domestic violence victims are often too afraid and intimidated to testify against perpetrators, the judge discounted the female cop's eyewitness account.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the judge's comments: "The state is stepping into the shoes of the victim when she obviously doesn't care," Harris told the prosecutor, according to a recording of the October 3 hearing. "It's that big brother mentality of the state....But I have to decide the case based on what I have and I think a crucial element is missing." Judge Harris, defending his position, asserted that to prove this was truly a second-degree assault, it had to be clear that "the defendant's actions were not consented to by the victim." He wondered, "How do you determine that without the victim?"

Hmmm.

"What would we do in a murder case?" Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, fretted to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The Capital of Annapolis and Baltimore Sun reporters thoroughly chronicled this miscarriage of justice, but silence greeted this dangerous precedent from the rest of the nation.

If a woman falls in a parking lot and no one is around to hear, does she make a sound?

Feingold Leadership Vs. Obama, Clinton Posturing

Russ Feingold stood on the floor of the Senate Wednesday to mark the passing of the fifth anniversary of President Bush's signing of the Congressional resolution that authorized his use of military force in Iraq -- and to declare that he would not rest until the dark deed was undone.

"I will not stand idly by while this mistaken war continues," the Democratic senator from Wisconsin announced, as he pledged to make the wrongheaded occupation of Iraq a day-in, day-out issue in the Senate for the rest of 2007 and into 2008. Refusing to be distracted by the coming presidential election, Feingold promised to remain focused on the work at hand: bringing U.S. troops home, taking honest steps to promote stability in the Middle East, and turning the attention of the U.S. intelligence and defense establishment toward real threats as opposed to the fantasies of Dick Cheney and the neocons.

Feingold's declaration was an essential act that, unlike the silly sparring of recent weeks between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton about who said what when and why, recognized the reality of the moment rather than the over-the-top demands of presidential posturing.

Of course, it matters that Obama trusted his gut instincts and spoke out against attacking Iraq in 2002, just as it matters that Clinton lacked the knowledge and the skepticism that her position as a member of the Senate required. But it matters a good deal more that, once the occupation began, Obama and Clinton began to sound an awfully lot alike. And it matters a great deal more that both contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have failed to lead in the way that Feingold -- who not only spoke right but voted right back in 2002 -- has in the struggle to bring the troops home and to hold the president and vice president to account.

By using the anniversary as an opportunity to refocus the discussion on Bush's responsibility for a war authorized on the basis of his administration's inflated and irresponsible claims, Feingold brought the discussion back to the reality of the moment. Almost 4,000 soldiers from the United States have died in an unwise and unnecessary occupation that threatens to claim thousands of additional lives. More than 27,000 soldiers from the United States have been severely wounded in an occupation that threatens to claim the physical and mental health of tens of thousands more. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed and millions displaced in a war that threatens to displaces hundreds of thousands more and to displace millions more.

Neither Obama nor Clinton is running as an anti-war candidate. They both continue to fuzz the margins, so much so that neither will commit to getting U.S. troops out of Iraq during their first term. They both continue to suggest that the way to end the war is to elect a new president in November, 2009, and hope for a change of course sometime in 2009 or, perhaps, 2013.

Neither Obama nor Clinton has spoken so bluntly about the duty of this Senate in this year as Feingold did when he informed his colleagues on Wednesday that, "I will continue working to end this war and bring our troops home, and I will continue looking in the days and weeks ahead for opportunities to debate and vote on ending the war – this year, and, if necessary, next as well. My colleagues may complain, they may be inconvenienced, they may prefer to focus on other matters. But this Congress has no greater priority than making right the mistake it made five years ago when it authorized this misguided war."

There is, of course, much interest in what goes on in Iowa and New Hampshire and other early caucus and primary states. The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is relevant to the debate about the war. But what goes on in Washington is more relevant. And, right now, Russ Feingold is showing a great deal more seriousness than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton regarding the need to save the thousands, the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, the millions of lives that are at stake.