Monday, December 31, 2007
AOL to End Support for Netscape Browser
Once the dominant Web browser, AOL has discontinued development and active support for the Netscape browser.
Stephen Lawson, IDG News
Friday, December 28, 2007
An historic name in software will effectively pass into history in February as AOL discontinues development and active support for the Netscape browser, according to an official blog.
AOL will keep delivering security patches for the current version of Netscape until Feb. 1, 2008, after which it will no longer provide active support for any version of the software, according to a Friday entry on The Netscape Blog by Tom Drapeau, lead developer for Netscape.com. The Netscape.com Web site will remain as a general-purpose portal.
Netscape was the original mass-market Web browser and helped to popularize the Internet in the mid-1990s, but it has long taken a back seat to Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. Firefox itself traces its roots back to Netscape software that was made into open source. The Mozilla Foundation was founded in 2003, with support from AOL, and has released successive versions of Firefox while AOL continued to develop Netscape on top of the same platform, Drapeau wrote.
Groups within AOL have tried and failed to revive Netscape Navigator and gain market share against Internet Explorer, according to the blog entry.
"AOL's focus on transitioning to an ad-supported Web business leaves little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be," Drapeau wrote. "Given AOL's current business focus ... we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape branded browsers, hand the reins fully to Mozilla and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox," Drapeau wrote.
The Mosaic Netscape browser was posted for downloading in 1994 by Mosaic Communications, which later changed its name to Netscape Communications. That company kicked off the dot-com boom with its hugely successful initial public offering in August 1995 and was acquired by AOL in 1999. But Internet Explorer, introduced in 1995, eventually dominated the browser market. Microsoft's bundling of its browser with Windows operating systems was a key issue in antitrust lawsuits filed against it in 1997.
As of this month, Netscape had only 0.6 percent of the browser market, which was still dominated by Internet Explorer with more than 77 percent, according to Web application and analytics firm Net Applications. Firefox was gaining, however, with market share just over 16 percent.
Tech Predictions for 2008
We predict good times for Linux, Windows XP, and green vendors; challenges for social nets and mobile technologies; and some surprises in the new year.
Nancy Weil, IDG News Service
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The predictable flood of information technology prognostications for 2008 has been rolling in, and we have listened to analysts, vendors, consultants, and our geek friends, accepting some forecasts and rejecting others. Turns out we did pretty well culling the wheat from the chaff last year and gazing ahead, though maybe we weren't bold enough in our declarations. So, this year we'll stretch a little and predict:
Windows XP's Reprieve
Microsoft will announce an extension until the end of 2008 for Windows XP availability, instead of cutting it off on June 30.
In September '07, the company pushed the extension from the end of January until June after corporate users complained. Not to mention that many companies had decided to put off moving to Vista. The migration will continue to be slow for at least the first half of 2008.
Who's Hacking Whom?
A major international incident will erupt when Chinese hackers compromise the defense or security system (or both) of another government. Classified documents will be breached. Accusations will be traded. Relationships will be tense and ugly for a time.
The Greening of IT
"Green" IT will become a sustainable model in the enterprise. The bottom line will be the primary force in the greening of data centers and offices.
Environmental concerns (spurred by weird weather occurrences and alarming reports about polar bears) coupled with a woeful economic scene globally will be dominant themes in 2008, leading to corporate, consumer and government action that will include serious penny-pinching as more of us come together to try to save the planet and our budgets.
The European Union will again be the main governmental force behind pushing green regulations in 2008.
Mobile networks will not only open up to outside handsets, devices and applications, but will increasingly offer Wi-Fi and a plethora of location-based services. Media content, search, social networks, shopping and a variety of services will all be standard parts of the mobile network experience.
Networks "have to evolve in very radical ways," says Jake Seid, Lightspeed Venture Partners general partner, mobile. How radical has yet to be seen, but analysts aplenty envision 2008 as a watershed year for networks to be opened and for big changes on the mobile landscape, partly owing to the iPhone effect.
A Linux Year
As Vista continues to limp toward wider adoption, Linux will make major inroads into the enterprise, as well as in government IT. At the same time, the leaner OS will become a more attractive option for home users and in consumer electronics, spurred by the Open Handset Alliance and the advent of Google's Android mobile platform, which will be built on the Linux kernel. Jim Zemlin, the president of the Linux Foundation, sees 2008 as a "really interesting, breakthrough year for Linux," and we think he's right about that. Expect assorted open-source applications to follow along.
Growing Pains of Social Networking
Social networking will invade corporations by year's end. Services akin to the Salesforce.com offering that lets salespeople share leads and information will become standard in that market segment. But increasingly, social-networking applications will seep into all manner of companies, whether the IT department likes it or not. "It will be driven more by individual adoptions," predicts Konstantin Guericke, co-founder of LinkedIn and CEO of Jaxtr. "We're social beings -- we like to see what our peers are doing."
Privacy issues will have to be sorted out. The brouhaha over Facebook's Beacon ad system won't be the last situation to cause outcry by any stretch, because social-networking sites will continue to push the envelope. Users will push back. Legislation and regulations will be proposed and enacted. Which leads us to ...
Distinctions between consumer and corporate IT will continue to blur, and the social-networking phenomenon is but one element of that.
iPhone-buying employees will bring that device into the enterprise in ever-growing numbers, forcing IT departments to deal with it. Security and protection from hackers, spam, phishers, and the lot of cyber miscreants will continue to pose a huge headache for network administrators as home IT merges with corporate IT.
The Consolidation Drumbeat
Pure-play software vendors will increasingly be a thing of the past as Oracle and other monoliths swoop in on more acquisition targets in the new year.
And IDC has predicted for 2007 and again for 2008 that Salesforce.com will be bought (though '07 isn't over yet ...). That seems like a good guess. We don't expect Palm to make it through '08 without being bought, and that long-rumored Microsoft-RIM deal could come to pass, too.
Virtualization Comes to the Desktop
We didn't want to make a virtualization prediction, but we would be remiss not to. Many prognosticators are gazing into their crystal balls and seeing virtualization on desktops. While some analysts are predicting that will be a sort of Thin Client 2.0, Barry Eggers, Lightspeed general partner, enterprise infrastructure, envisions something different. "Thin clients were about reducing up-front capital costs with a slimmed-down hardware client. Desktop virtualization is about intelligently provisioning applications to desktop users," he says.
He envisions a more successful model will find IT shops using desktop virtualization in conjunction with virtualized servers. Early adopters are finding that users weren't so keen on that model because the "user experience [is] much less satisfying than a full desktop," he says, but that will start to change in the new year. How? And where will it lead? We'll leave that to the 2009 predictions.
Vote Early and Often
Although we realize that the U.S. is not the center of the universe, the upcoming election seems more important on a global scale than others in recent memory. So, we predict historic levels of turnout at the polls in November, and that will give rise to historic levels of problems with electronic voting. Ohio will be a mess in that regard. Florida won't be appreciably better. While the outcome of the presidential race won't be imperiled by e-voting issues, some state and local races will need manual recounts owing to problems with machines.
Sorting out how to regulate e-voting (again) will keep the new Congress (with Democrats in control of both houses) busy in the first quarter of next year. The new president might not directly affect IT, though the president's views regarding the use of technology have certainly had an effect in recent years. On that note, we'll make our boldest prediction for 2008: President Obama.
Most Literate U.S. Cities: Minneapolis and Seattle
Thu Dec 27, 2007
Residents of Minneapolis and Seattle are the most bookish and well-read, according to results from a new survey released today of the most literate American cities.
The survey focused on 69 U.S. cities with populations of 250,000 or above. Jack Miller of Central Connecticut State University chose six key indicators to rank literacy. These included newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources.
Overall, the top 10 most literate (and wired) cities included:
3—St. Paul, Minn.
6—St. Louis, Mo.
7—San Francisco, Calif.
Minneapolis, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Denver and Washington, D.C., have made the top 10 every year since 2003, when the survey first launched.
Some cities that didn't make it to the overall top 10, however, did strut their stuff in one of the six key literacy indicators. For instance, while Newark, N.J., was the 49th most literate city overall, it shared the top spot for newspaper circulation with Washington, D.C.
Plano, Texas, ranking 51st on the overall most-literate-city list, came in second for educational attainment. The education ranking included two factors: the percentage of the city's adult population with a high school diploma or higher and those with a bachelor's degree or higher.
Cleveland, Ohio, scored the highest for library resources, with St. Louis coming in second. The library category was a measure of five variables, such as the number of library professional staff and total branch libraries relative to library patrons.
Atlanta and Boston took the lead spots in the Internet resources category.
The District of Columbia and St. Louis reported the most large magazine publishers and large journals. New York City, which ranked 28th on the overall list, came in third in the periodical publishing category.
10 Worst Tech Products of 2007
Tue Dec 18, 2007
Would you be surprised to learn that a certain Windows upgrade made the list? Behold the worst tech of the year, including a pair of $7,250 speaker cables, ad-riddled video downloads that expire after a week, a much-hyped TV set-top box that's dying on the vine, and more.
So here we go...in alphabetical order:
Apple TV: Apple's foray into the living room seemed like a no-brainer, and this HDMI-packing, Wi-Fi- and Ethernet-enabled set-top box looked like a sure-fire success. From the beginning, however, Apple TV was hamstrung by the meager movie selection (and now dwindling selection of TV shows) on iTunes, plus the fact that you can't browse or buy videos directly over the box. Even worse, Apple seems to have lost interest in its home theater "hobby," with a full six months passing since the last Apple TV software update. Short of a sudden infusion of new features, look for this once-promising box to go the way of iPod Hi-Fi.
iPod Battery Replacement Kit: One of the chief complaints I hear about the iPod (and the iPhone, for that matter) is that the battery is sealed in the casing, with Apple adding insult to injury by charging $60 to replace out-of-warranty iPod batteries (or $86 for the iPhone). So here's Blue Raven's $30 iPod battery replacement kit, which consists of a new battery, a tiny screwdriver, and a plastic thingy that looks like a mini crowbar (similar kits are available for the iPhone). I tried it with my old iPod, and I replaced the battery all right, but I also managed wreck the crummy plastic tool and scratch the heck out of my once-shiny iPod in the process. Next time I want to scratch up my gadgets, I'll save $30 and use my own little screwdriver, thanks very much.
Microsoft Surface: Unveiled in May with great fanfare, Microsoft's jaw-dropping Surface computer—a touch-sensitive tabletop PC that immediately invited comparisons to Tom Cruise's mid-air dragging-and-dropping in "Minority Report"—whipped the tech press into a frenzy of excitement. But scratch Surface and you'll something a little shy of elegant, including a full-on Vista PC and five (count 'em, five) motion-detecting cameras mounted beneath the 30-inch touch-sensitive sheet. Oh, and then there's the $5,000-to-$10,000 price tag. And of course, in true Microsoft fashion, the first Surface systems (intended primarily as kiosks in retail and hospitality venues) have reportedly been delayed until spring. Something tells me it'll be a long, long time before we see these babies in our living rooms.
NBC Direct: Give NBC credit for trying a little of everything when it comes to online video, but here's a service that's got a few too many restrictions for comfort. Yes, you can download full, free episodes of shows like "Heroes" and "The Office," but you have to sit through commercials, and you can't transfer shows to a portable player or another PC, and the videos won't work on a Mac...and the shows expire in a week, rendering the files unwatchable. Great.
Palm Foleo: It was a two-pound sub-notebook—sorry, smartphone companion—that was supposed to connect to your phone via Bluetooth and let you type emails, surf the Web, and edit documents with a full-size keyboard and screen. As I've written before, the Foleo might be a good idea in a decade or so, when our supercharged smartphones become our primary computing devices. But when it was announced in June, reviewers dog-piled on the Foleo, complaining that the $500 gadget would be just another device we'd have to lug around. Smelling a flop, Palm benched the Foleo before it ever saw the inside of a store.
Pear Audio "Anjou" speaker cable: I'm sure this pair of 12-foot speaker cables sounds just fine—but the $7,250 price tag puts it in contention for tech rip-off of the year.
Ringles: The big music labels still think the CD can be saved, and the "ringle"—a a $5.98-to-$6.98 bundle of three songs, plus a ringtone, all in an eye-catching slip cover—was the latest in a line of painfully sad attempts to lure us back into brick-and-mortar music stores. Last time I checked, however, CD sales were still tanking.
SunRocket VoIP: More of a service than a gadget, mind you, but still one of the biggest tech debacles of the year (and one, as many readers pointed out, that I should have mentioned in my recent "10 Tech Train Wrecks" post). SunRocket was, in fact, a perfectly fine VoIP service—that is, until July 16, 2007, when the financially strapped company abruptly closed its doors and disconnected tens of thousands of customers without warning. Well, that's one way of handling customer service.
Windows Vista: Where to begin? Vista arrived in stores months late, forced untold thousands of users to upgrade their hardware, made mincemeat of software and drivers that worked perfectly well in XP, ended up lacking many of the bold-faced features we'd been promised, and came saddled with new and annoying set of video DRM schemes. At least Vista now boasts an option for downgrading back to XP. (Now, before you Mac fanboys out there begin gloating, let me remind you that Leopard shipped a full six months late, and that many users are still suffering from sluggish, buggy systems after upgrading.)
Wireless USB: Just imagine it—the convenience of USB, without all the wires. Sounds awesome! Too bad the first examples of Wireless USB technology have fallen flat. Case in point: the IoGear Wireless USB Hub & Adapter, a device that's supposed to deliver speedy wireless connectivity within a range of about 30 feet. Reviewers took a crack at the $200 IoGear hub (including our own Chris Null) suffered slow and spotty connections from only a few feet away, and promptly went back to their old, but reliable, USB cables. Wireless USB may well be the wave of the future, but "future" is the key word.
The Top 10 Gadgets of 2007
Mon Dec 17, 2007
It's been a banner year for tech—so much so that I've had a hard time whittling down my list of favorite gadgets to a mere 10. From a touch-screen phone that you've probably heard of to the latest stab at an e-book reader, I present to you (in alphabetical order) the top 10 gadgets of the year.
Amazon Kindle: It's pricey at $399, and with its so-so screen and uninspiring design, the Kindle probably won't spell the end for your garden-variety paper book anytime soon. That said, fellow blogger Christopher Null called the light, easy-to-read, and 3G-equipped Kindle a potentially "game-changing device" that gives the sleepy e-book market a swift, much-needed kick in the pants.
Apple iPhone: In his initial review, Null dismissed the iPhone as a "nifty little gadget" that's "filled with flaws," and I agree with many of his criticisms. (No 3G! No games! Can't replace the battery!) That said, I'd be lying if I didn't call the iPhone—with its intuitive (nay, fun!) touch-screen interface, top-of-the-heap mobile Web browser, and unmatched integration of music and video in a handset—one of the most exciting gadgets I've ever seen.
Asus Eee: Try this on for size: a two-pound, paperback-sized laptop that runs Linux like a dream. The hard-to-please Null gave the Asus Eee (which comes loaded with a 900MHz Celeron CPU, Wi-Fi, and a 4GB solid-state hard drive) a test-drive last month and called it "downright exciting." Even more impressive? The $499 price tag.
Ibiza Rhapsody: There's been a lot of buzz about Wi-Fi MP3 players this year, what with the new iPod Touch and the updated Zunes, but here's a no-name player that beats both those heavyweights at the wireless game. The Ibiza Rhapsody syncs with your Rhapsody music account over Wi-F, finds and updates your podcasts, plays MPEG-4, WMV, and H.264 video files, and even surfs the web—no PC syncing required.
Intel Classmate PC: Love it or hate it, we live in a Windows world, and Intel's Classmate PC is the only "One Laptop Per Child" device to run XP. Writing for Wired, Christopher Null reports that the "ultra-small keyboard" won't do for grown-ups, but the laptop's rugged case, cute looks, and snappy performance will make the grade in classrooms. And at $300, the price is right.
Nokia N95: No, it doesn't have a touch screen, but the N95 is one of the most feature-packed phones I've ever tested, including Wi-Fi, 3G support (new for the United States), GPS, a 5-megapixel camera, quad-band GSM support for world calling, a top-notch web browser (second only to the iPhone's), an Office document reader, and a music player with support for subscription music services such as Rhapsody. Unfortunately, at $750, the N95 won't be making any "Top 10 bargains" lists this year.
Pioneer "Kuro" Plasma HDTVs: Grayish-looking black levels are the collective Achilles' heel of flat-panel HDTVs, but here's a set that isn't afraid of the dark. Available in 720p and 1080p versions (depending on the size and model), Pioneer's line of Kuro sets blew me away with its deep, dark black levels—now this is what "Blade Runner" is supposed to look like.
Shure SE530 earphones: First things first: At $450, the SE530s are among the priciest earbuds you'll ever find. But when I crammed these babies (which come complete with a trio of "microspeakers" for each 'bud) into my ears... how shall I put this? Aural nirvana. Now all you have to do is talk yourself out of 450 big ones.
TiVo HD: The best of the set-top DVRs made the leap to HD in late 2006, but the $800 price tag for the new Series3 box was a bitter pill. Luckily, the $300 TiVo HD arrived in August. In the meantime, TiVo's been busy adding support for Amazon Unbox video downloads, the Rhapsody music service, and Picasa photo libraries.
Vudu: It's not the perfect TV set-top box—it lacks a subscription model, it's too expensive at $400, and video quality is shy of DVD levels (although it just launched its first HD movies), But with its peer-to-peer method of delivering a library of 5,000 movies (and now TV shows) instantly, Vudu is the closest thing I've seen to Netflix-in-a-box.
And there you have it. Jumping out of your chair with cries of "But he forgot the (fill in the blank)," or "How could you like the (insert hated gadget here)?" Sure you are. Fire away!
Locked Outside the Gates: Tasers, Pepper Spray, and Arrests in the Struggle for Affordable Housing in New Orleans
In a remarkable symbol of the injustices of post-Katrina reconstruction, hundreds of people were locked out of a public New Orleans City Council meeting addressing demolition of 4,500 public housing apartments. Some were tasered, many pepper sprayed, and a dozen arrested. Outside the chambers, iron gates were chained and padlocked even before the scheduled start.
The scene looked like  one of those countries on TV that is undergoing a people's revolution -- and the similarities were only beginning.
Dozens of uniformed police secured the gates and other entrances. Only developers and those with special permission from council members were allowed in -- the rest were kept locked outside the gates. Despite dozens of open seats in the council chambers, pleas to be allowed in were ignored.
Chants of "Housing is a human right!" and "Let us in!" thundered through the concrete breezeway.
Public housing residents came and spoke out despite an intense campaign of intimidation. Residents were warned by phone that if they publicly opposed the demolitions, they would lose all housing assistance. Residents opposed to the demolition had simple demands. If the authorities insisted on spending hundreds of millions to tear down hundreds of structurally sound buildings containing 4,500 public housing subsidized apartments, there should be a guarantee that every resident could return to a similarly subsidized apartment. Alternatively, the government should use the hundreds of millions to repair the apartments so people could come home. Neither alternative was acceptable to HUD. A plan of residents to partner with the AFL-CIO Housing Trust to save their homes was also ignored.
Outside, SWAT team members and police in riot gear and on horses began to arrive as rain started falling. Those locked out included public housing residents, a professor from Southern University, graduate students, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, ministers, lawyers, law students, homeless people who lived in tents across the street from City Hall, affordable housing allies from across the country, and dozens of others.
Inside the chambers, Revered Torin Sanders and others insisted that the locked out be allowed to come and stand inside along the walls -- a common practice for over 30 years. No one could recall any City Council locking people out of a public meeting. The request to allow people to stand was denied. The Council then demanded silence from those inside. Those who continued to demand that the others be let in were pointed out by police, physically taken down, and arrested. Ironically, some young men were tasered right in front of the speaker's podium.
This was a meeting the council had repeatedly tried to avoid. It was only held after residents (100% African American and nearly all mothers and grandmothers) got an emergency court order stopping demolitions until the council acted. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced long ago it was going to demolish 4,500 public housing apartments despite the Katrina crisis of affordable housing, no matter what anyone said. HUD had no plans to ask the council or anyone else for approval. The judge said otherwise, so the meeting was scheduled.
Leaders of the U.S. Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, asked that the decision be delayed 60 days so they could try to move forward on Senate Bill 1668, which would resolve many of the demolition problems. This request was backed by New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Presidential candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama.
Opponents cited the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans. Homeless people camped across from City Hall and for blocks under the interstate. The number of homeless people have doubled since Katrina. Thousands of residents in FEMA trailers across the Gulf Coast were being evicted.
More on the reasons to oppose demolition can be found here .
Solidarity demonstrations opposing demolition were held in Washington DC, New York, Oakland, Minneapolis, Houston, North Carolina, Maine, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New Jersey, and Boston. Thousands of people across the country contacted city council members. Dozens of community, housing, and human rights groups petitioned the Council not to demolish until there was an enforceable requirement of one-for-one replacement of housing.
But hours before the meeting began, a majority of the council publicly announced on the front page of the local paper that they were going to approve demolition, no matter what people said at the meeting. The paper, the developers, and others were delighted. Residents and affordable housing allies were not.
Inside, the council started the meeting surrounded by armed police, National Guard, and undercover authorities from many law enforcement agencies.
Outside, the locked out could see the people who had been arrested on the inside being dragged away to police wagons. A few of the protestors then pulled open one of the gates. The police started shooting arcs of pepper spray into the crowd. A woman's scream pierced the chaos as police fired tasers into the crowd. Medics wiped pepper spray from fallen people's eyes. A young woman who was tasered in the back went into a seizure and was taken to the hospital.
Inside and out, a dozen people were arrested -- most for disturbing the peace. They joined another dozen who had been arrested over the past week in protest actions against the demolitions.
The City Council meeting continued. Supporters of demolition were given careful, courteous attention and softball questions by council members. Opponents less so.
Despite pleas from displaced residents, dozens of community organizations, and federal elected officials, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to allow demolition to proceed. In their approval, the Council did promise to urge HUD to listen to residents and to work for one-for-one replacement of affordable housing. Several city council members read from typed statements about their reasons to support demolition: the deplorable state of public housing; the lack of available money for repair; the oral promises of all, the federal government and developers, to do something better for the community.
After the meeting, residents vowed to continue their struggle for affordable housing for everyone and to resist demolitions -- putting their bodies before bulldozers if necessary.
The struggle for affordable housing continues as does the campaign to stop demolition until there is a real right to return and one-for-one replacement of housing. Residents and local advocates applaud and appreciate the support of allies from across the nation. Critics label national supporters as "outside agitators" -- exactly the same charge leveled at civil rights activists historically. But people understand that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Public housing residents and local affordable housing advocates welcome the humble participation of social justice advocates of whatever age, of whatever race, from whatever place, who join and act in true solidarity.
Residents vow to make sure that the promises made by the Council and the Mayor are enforced. For example, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced that he would not allow HUD to demolish two of the four housing developments until HUD gave documentation of funded plans including one-for-one replacement of the housing demolished and details of the developments and their plans.
The Senate will continue to be lobbied to pass SB 1668 -- which would really guarantee one-for-one replacement of housing. It is currently stalled in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee because of opposition by Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter.
Litigation is still pending in state and federal courts to enforce Louisiana and U.S. laws that should protect residents from illegal demolitions. Investigations into the legality of locking people out of a public meeting, the legality of a law passed at such a meeting, the indiscriminate use of tasers and pepper spray, are all ongoing.
Padlocked and chained gates will only amplify the voices of the locked out calling for justice. Pepper spray and tasers illustrate the problems but will not deter people from protesting for just causes. Bulldozers may start up, but just people will resist and create a reality where housing is a real human right.
Stephanie Mingo, a working grandmother who is one of the leaders of the residents, promised to continue the resistance after the meeting: "We did not come this far to turn back now. This fight is far from over. We are not resting until everyone has the right to return home."
Those wanting additional information should look to: justiceforneworleans.org  or defendneworleanspublichousing.org 
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill is part of the team of lawyers representing displaced residents of public housing. You can reach him at Quigley@loyno.edu.
Technorati Tags: Guest Contribution, Bill Quigley, HUD, HANO, New Orleans, Katrina, public housing, Housing Authority of New Orleans
Police abandoned security posts before Bhutto assassination
Published: Friday December 28, 2007
No autopsy performed on body; docs say bullet wounds not found
Police abandoned their security posts shortly before Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday, according to a journalist present at the time, and unanswerable questions remain about the cause of her death, because an autopsy was never performed.
Pakistan's Interior Minister on Friday said that Bhutto was not killed by gunshots, as had been widely reported, and doctors at Rawalpindi General Hospital, where she died, say there were no bullet marks on the former prime minister's body, according to India's IBNLive.com. Furthermore, according to the news agency, there was no formal autopsy performed on Bhutto's body before she was buried Friday.
CNN is now reporting that it wasn't gunshots or shrapnel that killed Bhutto, but that she died from hitting the sunroof of the car she was riding in. The network said sources in Pakistan's Interior Ministry said nothing entered her skull, no bullets or shrapnel.
Apparently there was some kind of lever on the sunroof she was standing through, and she hit her head on that CNN reported Friday morning.
Earlier in the day Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz told a Pakistani news channel, “The report says she had head injuries – an irregular patch – and the X-ray doesn’t show any bullet in the head. So it was probably the shrapnel or any other thing has struck her in her said. That damaged her brain, causing it to ooze and her death. The report categorically says there’s no wound other than that," according to IBNLive.
Perhaps more shockingly, an attendee at the rally where Bhutto was killed says police charged with protecting her "abandoned their posts," leaving just a handful of Bhutto's own bodyguards protecting her.
"Police officers had frisked the 3,000 to 4,000 people attending Thursday's rally when they entered the park, but as the speakers from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party droned on, the police abandoned many of their posts," wrote Saeed Shah in an essay published by McClatchy News Service. "As she drove out through the gate, her main protection appeared to be her own bodyguards, who wore their usual white T-shirts inscribed: 'Willing to die for Benazir.'"
While some intelligence officials, especially within the US, were quick to finger al Qaeda militants as responsible for Bhutto's death, it remains unclear precisely who was responsible and some speculation has centered on Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, its military or even forces loyal to the current president Pervez Musharraf. Rawalpindi, where Bhutto was killed, is the garrison city that houses the Pakistani military's headquarters.
"GHQ (general headquarters of the army) killed her," Sardar Saleem, a former member of parliament, told Shah at the hospital.
Whatever the case, Bhutto's precise cause of death may never be known because of the failure to administer an autopsy. The procedure was not carried out because police and local authorities in Rawalpindi did not request one, according to IBNLive, but the government plans a formal investigation why this was the case.
Musharraf initially blamed her death on unnamed Islamic militants, but Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz told The Associated Press on Friday that "we have the evidence that al-Qaida and the Taliban were behind the suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto."
He said investigators had resolved the "whole mystery" behind the opposition leader's killing and would give details at press conference later Friday.
Bhutto Attack Probably a Taliban Plot, Ministry Says
By Khalid Qayum and Khaleeq Ahmed
Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- A Taliban commander linked to al- Qaeda is suspected of plotting the suicide attack that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's government said.
Authorities have a taped conversation of the Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in which he congratulates a friend for Bhutto's death, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters today. ``Very brave boys'' took part in the assault, Mehsud said, according to a government transcript of the tape.
The 54-year-old opposition leader was standing in the open sunroof of her blast-proof, bullet-proof car during yesterday's attack in Rawalpindi, Cheema said. She seemed to duck into the car, possibly to escape gunshots that preceded the bombing or because she was thrown off balance by the explosion. Bhutto's head hit the sunroof's lever, causing a fatal skull fracture, he said. She wasn't hit by a bullet, nor by any shrapnel, he said.
``We pray and wish that she had not come out of that sunroof to wave to the people,'' Cheema said. ``Police had advised her not to expose herself, that she might be harmed.''
Mehsud has orchestrated most of the suicide attacks in Pakistan, including a blast that Bhutto survived in October, the spokesman said.
The government had provided Bhutto with more security than for any other Pakistani politician, including 24 officers assigned solely to her, the spokesman said, denying Bhutto's repeated allegations that she lacked sufficient protection.
Other political leaders, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, are also at risk and must heed the government's security advice, Cheema said in the capital, Islamabad.
Bhutto was buried today, as troops were sent to quell riots across Pakistan. She was interred in the family mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Baksh, in the southern province of Sindh, about 480 kilometers (298 miles) north of the commercial capital, Karachi. Thousands of people were shown on television weeping and struggling to touch the coffin. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, her three children and her sister attended the burial.
As news of Bhutto's assassination spread, protesters poured onto the streets and set fire to cars, banks and government offices in Karachi, Larkana, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and dozens of towns in Sindh province. The government ordered a judicial inquiry into the killing.
Challenges for Musharraf
President Pervez Musharraf's immediate task is to restore order, and maintain his hold on power, amid allegations that the government might have been complicit in Bhutto's death or at least failed to do enough to protect her.
``This is putting Musharraf in a place where he won't want to be,'' said Christine Fair, a South Asia analyst at the RAND Corporation research group in Washington.
With Bhutto campaigning for the Jan. 8 elections, Musharraf was able to claim ``some legitimacy'' for his effort to stabilize his rule by including democratically elected civilians in government, Fair said. Bhutto's death ``will heighten the demand for him to go, both within and without Pakistan.''
Elections will be held as scheduled on Jan. 8, Interim Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro said. ``Any decision on a possible postponement'' will be discussed with political parties, he told reporters in Islamabad.
Musharraf allowed Bhutto to return to Pakistan to participate in the elections. She had lived in Dubai and London since 1999 after being charged in Pakistan with taking kickbacks on state contracts. She wasn't convicted on the charges. The Pakistani president appealed for calm yesterday after her death.
Bhutto was laid to rest in the same tomb where her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was buried two decades ago after being executed. Her brothers, one of whom was killed in France and another in a Karachi shooting, are also buried there.
The stock exchange, central bank and markets closed after Musharraf announced three days of national mourning. The interior minister said the government suspects al-Qaeda was involved in yesterday's suicide bomb attack, although he said he couldn't confirm reports the terrorist network had claimed responsibility.
Pakistan's military deployed troops in Larkana and the southern towns of Shahdadkot and Rohri, army spokesman Waheed Arshad said in a phone interview. As many as 12,000 members of the Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary force, were positioned across Sindh province, Dawn News reported.
Domestic flights were canceled and train services suspended, GEO television said. At least five people were killed in Karachi as demonstrators exchanged gunfire with police, according to the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan's biggest ambulance service.
Sharif said his opposition party will boycott next month's national elections, and called on Musharraf to quit as the nation's leader.
``Under the present circumstances and under Musharraf, neither is campaigning possible nor is a free election,'' Sharif told reporters in Islamabad yesterday. Police said at least 16 people died and more than 60 were injured in yesterday's attack.
Sharif postponed traveling to Larkana today after Bhutto's husband advised him not to attend the burial because of security concerns, spokesman Siddique-ul-Farooq said by phone.
``This is a definitive moment for Pakistan's future, and the only way I think the country can survive is for the forces of moderation to come together,'' Karl Inderfurth, a professor of international relations at George Washington University in Washington, said today in a telephone interview. ``I believe that President Musharraf will be a very important part of deciding what happens next, but so should the leaders of the political parties, and civil society in Pakistan.''
Condemned by Bush
President George W. Bush asked Pakistanis ``to honor Benazir Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.''
Bush, who condemned the attack as a ``cowardly act by murderous extremists,'' spoke to Musharraf yesterday from his ranch in Texas. The U.S. had backed a partnership between Bhutto and Musharraf, whose nation has been hailed by the administration as an ally in its campaign against terrorism.
The United Nations Security Council met and agreed unanimously on a statement that ``reaffirms that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.''
The U.K. government advised Britons against ``all but essential travel'' to Pakistan until further notice, according to a statement on the Foreign Office Web site. Travelers already in the country ``should remain in their lodgings and not go out until the situation becomes clearer,'' the Foreign Office said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Khalid Qayum in Islamabad at email@example.com ; Khaleeq Ahmed in Islamabad at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timeline shows conflicting reports on cause of Bhutto's death
Pakistani government now says Bhutto died after hitting head on sunroof lever
Reports early Friday said Bhutto died from a gunshot wound to the neck
Reports later Friday said flying shrapnel from a suicide bomb killed Bhutto
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- There have been conflicting accounts of how former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto died Thursday. Here is a timeline of the accounts reported by CNN.
Late Thursday, Pakistan time:
• Pakistani police say that a suicide bomber killed 14 people at a rally in Rawalpindi organized by Bhutto supporters. A Bhutto spokesman says the opposition leader was rushed away from the scene and was safe.
• Pakistan's Geo Television Network, quoting Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, reports the ex-premier was critically wounded in the bombing.
• Former Pakistani government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan says Bhutto was hurt leaving the rally, but there is no indication whether she was shot or hurt in the bombing. Reports from police and the Bhutto camp conflict over whether she was injured.
• Geo TV quotes Zardari saying his wife suffered a bullet wound to the neck after the suicide bombing.
• Khan and Pakistan's primary television networks report Bhutto is dead. Television reports indicate she died of bullet wounds suffered after the suicide bombing.
• Khan says it appears Bhutto was shot, but he adds it's unclear whether bullets or shrapnel caused her wounds.
• Doctors and a spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party confirm the ex-premier's death, but it remains unclear how she was killed.
• Police tell CNN that a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated himself near Bhutto's motorcade. She was rushed to nearby Rawalpindi General Hospital, where doctors pronounced her dead. Khan says it's unclear if a bullet or shrapnel dealt the fatal wounds.
Friday morning, Pakistan time:
• The Pakistani Interior Ministry tells the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan that Bhutto died of a gunshot wound to the neck. The suicide bomber fired shots before blowing himself up, the ministry tells the news agency. A photographer for Getty Images confirms hearing three shots before the blast.
• CNN quotes a witness who describes Bhutto's killer as a "thin young man jumping toward the vehicle and opening fire."
Friday evening, Pakistan time:
• The Interior Ministry tells the Associated Press of Pakistan that flying shrapnel from a suicide bomb killed Bhutto. The bomber also shot at her with a pistol, the ministry tells the state-run news agency, but Bhutto suffered no injuries from bullets.
• Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Javed Iqbal Cheema, citing a medical report, says Bhutto was hit on the right side of her skull with shrapnel.
• Another Associated Press of Pakistan report quotes Dr. Mussadiq Khan saying that Bhutto showed "no signs of life" on her arrival at Rawalpindi General Hospital and that she was pronounced dead about 40 minutes later.
• Cheema says Bhutto died after fracturing her skull on a sunroof lever in her vehicle. Contrary to previous reports, she did not die from bullet or shrapnel wounds and nothing entered her head, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.
• Cheema says that Bhutto "fell down or perhaps ducked" when gunshots rang out. She apparently hit her head on a lever, Cheema said, adding that it was stained with blood.
• Khan, the doctor who treated Bhutto before she was declared dead, says the former prime minister had a "big wound" on the side of her head "that usually occurs when something big, with a lot of speed, hits that area."
Friday, Dec. 28, 2007
Bhutto Conspiracy Theories Fill the Air
By Simon Robinson/Lahore
If you believe the rumors that zip around Pakistan in the aftermath of one of the country's depressingly regular outbreaks of violence, it's all America's fault. Or India's. Or Israel's. Or it's those Afghan-based militia who keep sneaking across the border. Fueled by cheap cell phone calls and the rise of 24-hour television news channels, gossip about who is to blame for Pakistan's woes runs from the reasonable to the ridiculous.
In the 24 hours since a lone attacker assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the rumor mill has again been working overtime. In Karachi, amid reports of rioting and sabotage, stories circulated that the city's water supply had been poisoned and people were afraid to drink it. There were also the conflicting accounts of how Bhutto died — from bullet wounds or from a bomb blast that followed or from fracturing her skull against her car's sun-roof as the assailant blew himself up. In the confusion of reports, many Pakistanis are pointing the finger of blame at President Pervez Musharraf and his allies in Washington.
There is no evidence to suggest that Musharraf or Pakistan's security forces were connected to the attack. On jihadi websites, al-Qaeda claimed the assassination was their work and intelligence officials in both Pakistan and the U.S. agree that Islamic extremists from al-Qaeda or the Taliban were probably responsible for the devastating attack. But as Musharraf's popularity has slipped badly, moderate and religious Pakistanis alike have begun to blame him for the increasing chaos in their country — and to trace every incident directly to his rule and his high-profile allies. "This assassination was fabricated by the present government," says Liaqat Baloch, a senior official in Jamaat-e-Islami, one of Pakistan's main Islamic parties. "It is part of the American strategy to scare people that Pakistan is falling apart."
At a time when Pakistan does indeed seem to be falling apart, it may seem absurd and even pointless to repeat such allegations. But the sentiments provide a powerful insight into how angry Pakistanis are at their President and how mistrustful they are of the U.S. At the least, says retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, the former director general of Pakistani intelligence organization Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), "it's very convenient for the security forces to call it a suicide bomber because they can cover up the possibility someone else was behind the attack." Gul, who has become a harsh critic of Musharraf over the past year, believes America is partly responsible for its current predicament. "If America continues to act selfishly and unwisely, well, there is hardly any good that has come out [of their help] either for the U.S. or Pakistan, and this will continue."
[As ISI chief, Gul helped run the Afghan mujahideen as a force to counter and eventually defeat the Soviet Union in the 1980s; later he helped establish the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also organized the guerrillas fighting the Indian army in the sections of Kashmir held by New Delhi.]
With such mistrust, rumors thrive. On the streets of Lahore Friday afternoon, many blamed Musharraf and the U.S. rather than Islamic extremists for Bhutto's demise. White-haired Mohamed Sharif, 61, who runs a sidewalk barber's shop using a rusty old metal table and a worn mirror, says the "rumor is that America is involved in this with Musharraf's help." A passerby butts in with his agreement: "America and the government are in the same direction, they are allies," says Sabir Hussain. "If the government is doing this it is on the order of America."
Lahore is a stronghold of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and is home to plenty of Bhutto supporters as well. In a place that's so heavily anti-Musharraf, innuendo seems to feed on itself. On the city's main street, lined with policemen holding batons and wearing anti-riot gear, two teenagers out for a walk say they have also heard about a possible government connection to the attack but cannot offer any evidence to back up the claims. "My mother told me not to talk about this topic on my mobile or telephone because the government may tape it," says Hafiz Jamshaid, 18, a computer science student at a local college.
Across town, in a park in the tony neighborhood known as Defense Housing Authority, or DFA, four business associates discussed Pakistan's future after their regular afternoon walk. "People are afraid to air their opinions but as far as I know America sent Benazir and later killed her with the help of Pervez Musharraf," says M.A. Mohamed, who runs a car parts company. "I can confirm this idea." His friend and colleague Talat Mumtaz interjects: "No, no. no, America likes Benazir. Why would they kill her? You're being ridiculous."
"No one knows what are the facts," complains Constable Jafar Hamid, proudly showing off his English as he guards a McDonald's outlet, closed against possible rioting. So where do all the rumors come from? "We don't believe in one thing, we don't think like a nation," he says. "Everybody has his own opinion and that is part of the problem."
With reporting by Khuda Yar Khan/Islamabad
Assassination of Benazir Bhutto is Likely to Remain as Unresolved as the JFK Assassination
Mark Karlin, Editor and Publisher, BuzzFlash.com
December 28, 2007
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
It all comes back again in a flood of sickening shock.
The despair that comes with violent political deaths -- attacks on the effort of us as humans to govern ourselves in an orderly and peaceful fashion – just breaks your heart and shatters your hopes.
Pakistan has been "Ground Zero" for the largely Saudi financed Al-Qaeda and fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. As one blogger noted, it says it all that Benazir Bhutto is being buried today in Pakistan – victim of an assassination – while Osama bin Laden (the mastermind of 9/11 that Bush swore to capture "dead or alive) is alive – and a "protected man – in the same country.
Elements of the Pakistani intelligence and military have been involved with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda since the rebel war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has long played a role of tolerating, at a minimum, and even cooperating with and sometimes "running," the Islamic extremists.
As a Los Angeles Times article written in the wake of Bhutto’s assassination notes:
Complicating the situation is the fact that many of the extremist groups have ties to Pakistan's political establishment, including elements of the government loyal to President Pervez Musharraf, as well as close ties to the military and its intelligence agencies. Bhutto had long criticized such links, and in the wake of her killing Thursday, some of her supporters accused the government of playing a role. One senior U.S. counter-terrorism official also said Washington suspected that rogue officials within the military or intelligence agencies could have been involved, noting that though there is no evidence, they have detested Bhutto for more than a decade.
U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies, and groups such as the Sept. 11 commission, have said that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency in particular has cultivated relationships with radical groups, using them as proxies to wage war against India while protecting Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan.
Given the murky area of relationships between the Pakistani military/intelligence infrastructure and the terrorists, the assassination of Bhutto is likely to remain as unresolved as the JFK assassination.
Someone will be blamed, probably Al-Qaeda or one of its many offshoots operating in Pakistan – and one of these groups may very well have provided the shooter – but putting Musharraf in charge of finding out if his own military command was involved is like having Bush investigate the Plame leak.
All we know is that such a murder assaults us all in a way that makes us feel horribly vulnerable.
We have known so much disappointment as a nation: the promise of the civil rights era and the empowerment of women in the ‘60s was whiplashed by a wave of assassinations against liberal icons.
The killing of Harvard- and Oxford-educated Bhutto just gives us that sinking feeling that whenever there is the hope of progress, someone steps in with a gun. These are indeed shots heard round the world because they threaten the very notion that we can be self-governing.
If it can all be taken away in a hail of bullets, how can one not be broken hearted?
BUZZFLASH EDITOR'S BLOG
As always, music can provide some small measure of solace. We recommend Joan Osborne’s emotionally stirring "cover" of the Motown classic, "Tell me, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?"
Technorati Tags: EditorBlog Bhutto Assassination Pakistan
Honey makes medical comeback
Potent type used as antibiotic amid fears of drug-resistant superbugs
The Associated Press
Wed., Dec. 26, 2007
TRENTON, New Jersey - Amid growing concern over drug-resistant superbugs and nonhealing wounds that endanger diabetes patients, nature's original antibiotic — honey — is making a comeback.
More than 4,000 years after Egyptians began applying honey to wounds, Derma Sciences Inc., a New Jersey company that makes medicated and other advanced wound care products, began selling the first honey-based dressing this fall after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Called Medihoney, it is made from a highly absorbent seaweed-based material, saturated with manuka honey, a particularly potent type that experts say kills germs and speeds healing. Also called Leptospermum honey, manuka honey comes from hives of bees that collect nectar from manuka and jelly bushes in Australia and New Zealand.
Antibiotics becoming ineffective
Derma Sciences now sells two Medihoney dressings to hospitals, clinics and doctors in North and South America under a deal with supplier Comvita LP of New Zealand. Derma Sciences hopes to have its dressings in U.S. drug stores in the next six months, followed by adhesive strips.
Comvita, which controls about 75 percent of the world's manuka honey supply, sells similar products under its own name in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, where such products have been popular for over a decade.
"The reason that Medihoney is so exciting is that antibiotics are becoming ineffective at fighting pathogens," said Derma Sciences CEO Ed Quilty.
Another big advantage, he said, is that the dressings' germ-fighting and fluid-absorbing effects last up to a week, making them convenient for patients being cared for at outpatient clinics or by visiting nurses. They also reduce inflammation and can eliminate the foul odors of infected wounds.
Since receiving FDA approval, Medihoney has brought in sales of $150,000 in 10 weeks and Quilty plans to nearly double his 15-person sales force in 2008 thanks to the two new Medihoney products.
Honey dressings and gels, as well as tubes of manuka honey, have been gaining in popularity overseas, fueled by scientific reports on their medical benefits and occasional news accounts of the dramatic recovery of a patient with a longtime wound that suddenly healed.
Regular honey can have mild medicinal benefits. A study published Dec. 3 showed it helps to calm children's coughs so they can sleep. But manuka honey is far more potent, research shows.
Dr. Robert Frykberg, chief of podiatry at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, said the Medihoney product has worked on about half the patients with diabetic foot ulcers who have used it.
He said the Medihoney dressing can also prevent the dangerous drug-resistant staph infection known as MRSA from infecting open wounds.
"It's been used on wounds where nothing else will work," said biochemist Peter Molan, a professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand who has researched honey and other natural antibiotics for 25 years.
He's found manuka honey can kill the toughest bacteria even when diluted 10 times and recommends it especially for people with weak immune systems.
"There's more evidence, clinical evidence, by far for honey in wound treatment than for any of the pharmaceutical products" for infection, Molan said. However, it won't work once an infection gets in the blood. "It's not a miracle."
Some U.S. hospitals and wound care clinics are already using Medihoney dressings to treat patients with stubborn, infected wounds from injuries or surgical incisions and nonhealing pressure ulcers on diabetics' feet, which too often lead to amputations.
Kara Couch, a nurse practitioner at Georgetown University Hospital's Center for Wound Healing in Washington, said it works well for patients who have "wound pain" or infected wounds.
One patient who had an open wound that didn't heal for a few years "healed 90 percent in three weeks," she said, adding that the usual rate for chronic wounds is barely 10 percent a week.
David Crosby, a retired insurance claims examiner from Hanover, Massachusetts, began using Medihoney two months ago on a 2 1/2-year-old burn on his leg after high-tech treatments did not help. The burn's size has shrunk by half and it continues to heal.
"At this stage, any improvement's better than nothing," Crosby said.
Dr. Craig Lambrecht, a North Dakota emergency physician, started using a paste version of Medihoney while serving with the National Guard in Iraq last winter.
At a military clinic for Iraqi children, he used it on patients with severe burns from cooking fuels, open fires and explosions. He said Iraqi families soon preferred the honey over other treatments because it was natural and because the honey dressings don't need to be changed as often as traditional ones. The children also healed more quickly and with fewer complications, he said.
After seeing its success in Iraq, Lambrecht, who has five children of his own, is a fan.
"I would use the Medihoney on burns on my children, as the first choice, without question," he said.
December 29, 2007
Zuma Corruption Charges Revived
By MICHAEL WINES
JOHANNESBURG — A South African anticorruption strike force revived and expanded criminal charges on Friday against Jacob G. Zuma, the new leader of South Africa’s dominant political party and the front-runner to become the nation’s next president.
The charges, confirmed in an e-mail message by Mr. Zuma’s lawyer, threaten to catapult the country into a political and legal crisis that could last well through 2009, when the next national elections are scheduled to be held.
The lawyer, Michael Hulley, said in the e-mail message that prosecutors delivered a summons to Mr. Zuma’s Johannesburg home on Friday ordering him to stand trial for “various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud.”
He did not elaborate, and a spokesman for the prosecutors did not return telephone calls. But the charges appear to stem from a lengthy investigation into bribes paid to secure a major military contract for a French arms maker in 2001. A court in Durban convicted Mr. Zuma’s business adviser last year of funneling roughly $170,000 to Mr. Zuma in exchange for help in winning contracts.
The corruption strike force, nicknamed the Scorpions, sought last year to prosecute Mr. Zuma on charges related to that case, but a judge rejected that effort on procedural grounds. With Friday’s summons, that effort appears to have been revived.
Mr. Zuma, reached at a ceremony on his home turf of KwaZulu-Natal Province where he handed out Christmas presents to children, refused to comment on the charges, according to news reports.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, which is taking up the charges, has long indicated that the corruption investigation of Mr. Zuma would eventually lead to a trial. But the timing of Friday’s summons raised tensions in an already heated political struggle.
Last week Mr. Zuma, 65, wrested the leadership of the African National Congress from South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, in a bitter showdown at a party conference. The victory capped a political comeback for Mr. Zuma, who had been deputy president and Mr. Mbeki’s heir apparent until he was ensnared in the arms scandal in 2005, and Mr. Mbeki fired him.
Since then, the charismatic Mr. Zuma has cast himself as the victim of a government-led vendetta, while a party rebellion against Mr. Mbeki’s more distant leadership has sent Mr. Mbeki’s fortunes into decline.
Mr. Zuma’s ascension to the presidency of the African National Congress effectively splits the leadership of the nation in half, with Mr. Mbeki heading the presidency and Mr. Zuma in charge of the machinery that has elected most of the nation’s municipal officials and 7 in 10 members of Parliament.
Right or wrong, said Karima Brown, the political editor of the South African newspaper Business Day, many will see Friday’s announcement of revived charges as an attempt to sabotage Mr. Zuma’s career before he can absorb what is left of Mr. Mbeki’s domain. “It’s going to be a very testy time politically,” she said. “It feeds into the notion that Zuma is being tried in the court of public opinion.”
Mr. Zuma’s lawyer, Mr. Hulley, seized on that notion in his e-mail message. The rush to indict Mr. Zuma during a Christmas holiday and after his election as the party president, he said, “is calculated to quickly redress the popular support and call to leadership of the A.N.C. which Mr. Zuma’s election so obviously demonstrates.”
“This lends credence to the long-held view that the Scorpions are influenced and their prosecution informed by political considerations,” Mr. Hulley added.
Sipho Seepe, a longtime critic of Mr. Mbeki who leads the South African Institute of Race Relations, said he believed that the summons signaled the start of a political endgame between the forces supporting Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Zuma. “What you have here,” he said, “is a declaration of war.”
Other political analysts have been reluctant to endorse Mr. Zuma’s suggestion that he is the target of a vendetta. The evidence that Mr. Zuma was bribed, outlined in an exhaustive trial of his business adviser, is compelling, they have said, especially since his business adviser has already been convicted of bribing him.
Mr. Zuma’s trial, should it occur, promises to be a signal event in South Africa’s 13-year-old democracy. The Constitution bars convicted felons from holding national office, so the trial could determine Mr. Zuma’s political future. Mr. Zuma has also hinted that he will compel testimony from other senior officials of the African National Congress, bolstering speculation that corruption in the party’s senior ranks was hardly limited.
Government inquiries into the arms deal in which Mr. Zuma has been swept up have proceeded glacially since 2000, when a gadfly legislator, Patricia De Lille, publicly called the $4.5 billion contract corrupt to its core. A parliamentary inquiry largely dismissed her complaints, but the subsequent years-long Scorpions inquiry pointed to Mr. Zuma, his adviser Schabir Shaik and a French contractor, Thomson-CSF, in a corrupt arrangement to sell ships to South Africa’s navy.
Other reports, from journalists and officials in South Africa, Britain and Germany, have indicated that other senior African National Congress officials were involved in the deals. Mr. Mbeki has denied any improper role in the arms purchases.
Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting.
Letterman And Writers Strike Deal, Giving CBS The Edge
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 29, 2007; C01
David Letterman will have some help being funny when his talk show returns to the air next week.
Letterman's production company yesterday became the first to cut a deal with the striking Writers Guild of America, enabling "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" to resume production with their writing staffs.
Letterman's Worldwide Pants, which owns both shows, worked out the agreement just days before late-night talk shows will resume after an eight-week hiatus. The disruption was caused by the writers' strike that has stopped production of dramas, sitcoms and talk shows. Almost all of the talk shows have said they will return Wednesday, but without writers. "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central will return the following Monday, Jan. 7.
The agreement gives huge leverage to Letterman and CBS, which will now have the only late-night shows with material written by professional writers. That will include topical monologues and other bits, such as Letterman's signature top 10 list. Other talk shows are still scrambling to patch together material without writers. Under union strike rules, the shows' staffs can't write anything that the writers would have written.
In addition, Letterman and Ferguson will be the only shows that can regularly attract big-name celebrities without fear of a picket line. Out of solidarity with striking writers, TV and movie actors have been reluctant to appear on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Last Call With Carson Daly," the two talk shows that have gone back on the air. The writers' guild has objected to both. Neither Letterman nor Ferguson have announced guest lineups for their first shows next week.
By creating a separate agreement with Letterman, the writers' union hopes to put pressure on all of the networks to come to a comprehensive settlement. Without writers or famous guests, the other shows will probably lose viewers to Letterman.
"I am grateful to the WGA for granting us this agreement," Letterman said in a statement issued by his company. "We're happy to be going back to work, and particularly pleased to be doing it with our writers. This is not a solution to the strike, which unfortunately continues to disrupt the lives of thousands. But I hope it will be seen as a step in the right direction."
A deal between the union and Letterman, who is a 30-year member of the writers' union, was possible because his company owns the two talk shows. The other talk shows are owned by the networks and the studio conglomerates against which the writers are striking.
A key issue in the dispute is how writers should be compensated when the networks and movie studios distribute films and TV shows over new media, such as the Internet. The WGA called its deal with Worldwide Pants "a comprehensive agreement that addresses the issues important to writers, particularly new media. . . . Today's agreement dramatically illustrates that the Writers Guild wants to put people back to work, and that when a company comes to the table prepared to negotiate seriously, a fair and reasonable deal can be reached quickly."
While CBS continues to hold the digital rights to Letterman's shows, a union representative, Neal Sacharow, said Worldwide Pants will "take full responsibility" for paying writers when CBS makes money from the shows in new-media formats.
The union said that Worldwide Pants "had accepted the very same proposals that the Guild was prepared to present to the media conglomerates when they walked out of negotiations on Dec. 7," adding, "It's time for NBC Universal to step up to the plate and negotiate a company-wide deal that will put Jay Leno, who has supported our cause from the beginning, back on the air with his writers."
Ancient pyramid found in central Mexico City
By Miguel Angel Gutierrez
Thu Dec 27, 2007
Archeologists have discovered the ruins of an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid in the heart of the Mexican capital that could show the ancient city is at least a century older than previously thought.
Mexican archeologists found the ruins, which are about 36 feet high, in the central Tlatelolco area, once a major religious and political centre for the Aztec elite.
Since the discovery of another pyramid at the site 15 years ago, historians have thought Tlatelolco was founded by the Aztecs in 1325, the same year as the twin city of Tenochtitlan nearby, the capital of the Aztec empire, which the Spanish razed in 1521 to found Mexico City, conquering the Aztecs.
The pyramid, found last month as part of an investigation begun in August, could have been built in 1100 or 1200, signaling the Aztecs began to develop their civilization in the mountains of central Mexico earlier than believed.
"We have found the stairs of this, much older pyramid. The (Aztec) timeline is going to need to be revised," archaeologist Patricia Ledesma said at the site on Thursday.
Tlatelolco, visited by thousands of tourists for its pre-Hispanic ruins and colonial-era Spanish church and convent, is also infamous for the 1968 massacre of leftist students by state security forces there, days before Mexico hosted the Olympic Games.
Ledesma and the archaeological group's coordinator, Salvador Guilliem, said they will continue to dig and study the area next year to get a better idea of the pyramid's size and age.
The archeologists also have detected a sculpture that could be of the Aztec rain god Tlaloc, or of the god of the sky and earth Tezcatlipoca.
In addition, the dig has turned up five skulls and a series of rooms near the pyramid that could date from 1431.
"What we hope to find soon should tell us much more about the society of Tlatelolco," said Ledesma.
Mexico City is littered with pre-Hispanic ruins. In August, archeologists in the city's crime-ridden Iztapalapa district unearthed what they believe may be the main pyramid of Tenochtitlan.
The Aztecs, a warlike and religious people who built monumental works and are credited with inventing chocolate, ruled an empire stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)
Rosie Named 'Most Annoying' Celebrity
(Dec. 28) - A recent online poll asked readers to weigh in on the biggest pop culture stories and personalities of the year and the votes have been counted.
Nearly 2,000 people responded to Parade magazine's questions and when it was all over, Rosie O'Donnell was voted the "most annoying celebrity?" by 44 percent of readers. What it is about O'Donnell is unclear, but she found herself at the center of several controversies in 2007.
Possibly Nominated For: Feuds with Donald Trump, Bill O'Reilly, etc.; frequent political outbursts
During a March episode of 'The View,' O'Donnell echoed the belief of 9/11 conspiracy theorists that World Trade Center tower 7 was imploded and in April she was accused of "anti-Catholic bigotry" for complaining about the number of Catholics on the Supreme Court.
She and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck got into an argument in April after O'Donnell criticized the Bush administration by asking, "655,000 Iraqi civilians dead. Who are the terrorists? ... If you were in Iraq and another country, the United States, the richest in the world, invaded your country and killed 655,000 of your citizens, what would you call us?"
After seeing the coverage of her fight Hasselbeck, O'Donnell asked for and received an early release from her contract with 'The View.'
Despite voters finding her "annoying," there's no denying that O'Donnell helped the show immensely, with ratings rising significantly during her tenure.
Review: 'Blood' is a masterpiece
AP's Christy Lemire: "There Will Be Blood" is brilliant
Paul Thomas Anderson's movie is about misanthropic tycoon
Daniel Day-Lewis gives incredible performance in muscular film
By Christy Lemire
(AP) -- Someday, we're probably going to look back at "There Will Be Blood," Paul Thomas Anderson's epic about greed, lies, manipulation and insanity, and call it his masterpiece.
Which is incredible because, except for the inescapable intensity, it's nothing like his previous films; if Anderson's name weren't on it, you'd never know it was his. It's thrilling to see him reinvent himself this way, applying his formidable directing talents in a totally different fashion.
Gone are the film-school tricks he made his name with in "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" (and this critic loved those movies). Anderson has moved out of contemporary L.A. and away from the histrionics of the carefully orchestrated ensembles he set there. He now seems more interested in storytelling and character development.
What a character he's created in Daniel Plainview -- and what a performance he's gotten out of Daniel Day-Lewis.
As a turn-of-the-century oil man, Day-Lewis gives one of the more terrifying turns of his long and eclectic career. He just completely dominates. He can be charming and cruel in the same breath, and with an accent reminiscent of John Huston, he says and does whatever he must to get his way.
That includes taking over a chunk of the central California coast and building a town there so that he can drill. (Anderson based his script very loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1920s muckraking novel "Oil!") A one-time silver miner, Plainview accidentally finds gold one day and sets his sights higher; this all takes place at the film's start, which stunningly lasts 15 wordless minutes.
"I hate most people," Plainview eventually confesses in a rare moment of introspection. The only one he connects with is his young son, H.W. (confident newcomer Dillon Freasier), who travels with him from town to town and tries to soften up the locals to get them to sell their land.
One person in Plainview's latest target of Little Boston who sees right through his tactics is the fresh-faced, seemingly innocent preacher, Eli Sunday, played with unexpected volatility by Paul Dano ("Little Miss Sunshine"). Eli comes off as soft-voiced, pious and ingratiating. He offers to give a blessing when Plainview opens his first derrick, for example, and won't take no for an answer. ("It's a simple blessing, Daniel, but an important one," he insists.)
But once Eli is on a roll, preaching in the town's crowded, makeshift church, he turns into a wildly charismatic evangelist -- and right then and there, Plainview knows he's met his match. They hate each other instantly; both recognize they're two sides of the same coin. And the ensuing, humiliating game of one-upmanship in which they engage is raw and riveting.
Just as Plainview enjoys his greatest success, though, he also suffers his greatest heartbreak. He gets his gusher but the spectacular derrick explosion leaves H.W. without hearing. This also marks the beginning of the end of Plainview's sanity, which at best was tenuous. The more money he makes, the more his mind and morals deteriorate.
Could this be Anderson's cautionary tale about the evils of greed and wealth? Hardly. He's never judged his characters before (porn stars, junkies) and he's not about to start now. It's more like a character study of a fascinating and deeply flawed man during a time of great change in our country. Reading much more into his intentions would be foolish.
One quibble: "There Will Be Blood" feels a bit too long, though it is shorter than Anderson's magnum opus "Magnolia," which ran just over three hours. Nevertheless, at the end -- and the climax is a jaw-dropper, one that hopefully hasn't already been ruined for you through news reports -- you may have a hard time getting out of your seat. It'll knock you out.
But please do take the time to see it on the big screen, for Robert Elswit's sprawling, dreamlike cinematography; for Jack Fisk's elaborate production design; and for the modern, dissonant score from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood that will grab you and set you on edge from the first frames.
It's worth the emotional investment. "There Will Be Blood," which is both a threat and a promise, is one of those movies that will stick with you and change your mood for days.
"There Will Be Blood" is rated R and runs 158 minutes.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
USA Today Squeezes Edwards Out of Race
In a good example of corporate media striving to narrow down the Democratic primary field (FAIR Media Advisory, 5/8/07), USA Today (12/18/07) had a story on candidates' electability that wrote all but two of them out of existence. The story opened with the statement that "Illinois Sen. Barack Obama fares better than New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton against prospective Republican rivals," and went on to report:
In hypothetical matchups for the general presidential election, Clinton and Obama each led Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and [Mitt] Romney, although at times narrowly. Obama was somewhat stronger, besting Giuliani by 6 points, Huckabee by 11 and Romney by 18. Clinton had an edge of 1 point over Giuliani, 9 points over Huckabee and 6 points over Romney.
Missing from USA Today's polling about electability was John Edwards--even though aside from Clinton and Obama, Edwards is the only Democratic candidate who consistently polls in double digits. And when other polls have included Edwards in questions about electability, Edwards generally does better than the other two, sometimes by wide margins. In a CNN survey of December 6–9, Edwards beat Romney by 11 points more than Clinton and 9 points more than Obama. He beat Huckabee by 15 points more than Clinton and 10 points more than Obama. Clinton lost to McCain in this polling by 2 points while Obama and McCain were tied, but Edwards beat him by 6. There's not as much of a difference with Giuliani, but Edwards still did 3 points better than Clinton and 2 points better than Obama.
If it's true, as USA Today's article reported, that "Democratic voters increasingly are focused on nominating the most electable presidential candidate," then the paper did those voters a real disservice by leaving Edwards out of the equation.
Like other establishment media outlets, however, USA Today seems to have difficulty providing a level playing field to a candidate who consistently attacks corporate interests--otherwise known as the media's owners and sponsors. An exercise in post-debate "fact-checking" by USA Today (12/14/07), for instance, took issue with this statement by Edwards: "One of the reasons that we've lost jobs, we're having trouble creating jobs...is because corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government."
The paper's "reality," as written by David Jackson and Fredreka Schouten, was this: "Edwards is wrong about job creation. There were 94,000 new jobs created in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since August 2003, 8.35 million jobs have been created."
Is USA Today unaware that the USA's population increases every year? In July 2003 the population was 290.8 million; the population now is estimated to be 303.6 million. So that's 8.35 million new jobs for 12.8 million more people. As a rule of thumb, the economy has to add 150,000 new jobs each month to keep pace with population growth. And the economy has lost about 3 million manufacturing jobs since 1998--most of them since 2000. But not, apparently, in USA Today's reality.
ACTION: Please write to USA Today to ask why Edwards was left out of the electability polling--and urge them to fact-check their fact-checking.
Brent Jones, Reader Editor
The Mad Corporate World of Glenn Beck
Media Beat (12/19/07)
By Norman Solomon
When I picked up a ringing phone one morning in mid-December, the next thing I knew a producer was inviting me to appear on Glenn Beck’s TV show.
Beck has become a national phenom with his nightly hour of polemics on CNN Headline News -- urging war on Iran, denouncing “political correctness” at home, trashing immigrants who don’t speak English, mocking environmentalists as repressive zealots, and generally trying to denigrate progressive outlooks.
Our segment, the producer said, would focus on a recent NBC news report praising the virtues of energy-efficient LED light bulbs without acknowledging that the network’s parent company, General Electric, sells them. I figured it was a safe bet that Beck’s enthusiasm for full disclosure from media would be selective.
A few hours later, I was staring into a camera lens at the CNN bureau in San Francisco while Beck launched into his opening. What had occurred on the “NBC Nightly News,” he explained, “was at best a major breach of journalistic integrity.” And he pointed out: “The problem isn’t what NBC is promoting. It’s what they’re not disclosing.”
A minute later, Beck asked his first question: “Norman, you agree with me that they should have disclosed this?” The unedited transcript tells what happened next.
Solomon: “It’s a big problem when there’s not disclosure. I’m glad you opened this up. And I wouldn’t want any viewers of this program to be left with the impression that somehow General Electric is an environmentally conscious company.
“On the contrary, they have a 30-year history of refusing and actually fighting against efforts to make them clean up the Hudson River, which GE fouled with terrible quantities of horrific PCBs, other rivers as well. People told they can’t fish in the Hudson River. General Electric still lobbying to not have to clean up.
“General Electric, even today -- and this report is very timely -- General Electric is lobbying to get Congress to pass $18 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for a huge GE product which is General Electric components for nuclear power plants. So we should not be fooled in any way by efforts to greenwash General Electric or any other company.”
Beck: “You know what’s amazing to me? GE has a bigger budget for -- special interest budget than all of the oil companies combined, and yet nobody says anything. Let me reverse this.
“Norman, do you think if I got on as somebody who says I don’t know what we can do about global warming, I’m not sure man causes it, and I certainly don’t want to have laws and regulations on this, if I got on and said that but I was being -- my corporate -- my corporate parent was Exxon Mobil, do you think I’d get away with that for a second without that being on the front page of the New York Times?”
Solomon: “Well, other networks, including General Electric’s NBC, have been very slow on global warming. And in fact, General Electric has major interest in components and products used by the oil and gas industry.
“I think if you look across the board, all the major networks, even so-called public broadcasting, which has Chevron underwriting its ‘Washington Week’ program every Friday, there is a problem, as you say. I think your words are very apt, ‘promoting’ but ‘not disclosing.’
“But let’s be clear about this, Glenn. I have a list here, for instance, that I jotted down.
“ABC, owned by Disney. ABC doesn’t disclose in their relevant news reports about Disney’s stake in sweatshops.
“Fox News -- and now as of the last couple of days now, Wall Street Journal owned by the same entity, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp -- they don’t disclose that the ownership is entangled with the Chinese government to the detriment of human rights but to the advancement of the profit margin of the parent company.”
Beck: “See --”
Solomon: “We would be remiss, Glenn, if we left out CNN, because CNN has a huge multi, multibillion-dollar stake in Internet deregulation and the failure of the Congress to safeguard so far what would be called net neutrality. So every time CNN does a news report on the Internet, on efforts to regulate or deregulate or create a two- or three-tier system of the Internet, CNN News should disclose that Time Warner, the parent company, stands to gain or lose billions of dollars in those terms.
“And one more thing.”
Beck: “Real quick.”
Solomon: “A major -- a major advertiser for CNN is the largest military contractor in the United States, Lockheed Martin. So when you and others --”
Beck: “I got news for you, Norman. Norman --”
Solomon: “-- promote war -- when you and others promote war on this network --”
Beck: “Norman -- Norman --”
Solomon: “-- we have Lockheed Martin paying millions of dollars undisclosed. So I would quote you --”
Beck: “Norman -- Norman --”
Solomon: “Promoting but not disclosing is a bad way to go.”
Beck: “Norman, let me just tell you this. First of all, Lockheed Martin is not a -- not a corporate overlord of this program.”
Solomon: “It’s a major advertiser on CNN.”
Beck: “That’s fine. That’s fine. Advertisers are different. But let --”
Solomon: “Well, it is fine, but it should be disclosed.”
Beck: “Norman, let me just tell you something. If you think that it’s warmonger central downstairs at CNN, you’re out of your mind. But that’s a different story.”
Solomon: “Well, upstairs, when I watch Glenn Beck, in terms of attacking Iran, it certainly is. It’s lucrative for the oil companies, as well as for the major advertiser on CNN, Lockheed Martin.”
Beck: “But we’re not talking about advertisers. We are talking about --”
Solomon: “Well, you don’t want to talk about it. So let’s talk about the Internet stake.”
Beck: “No, no, no. Norman --”
Solomon: “Let’s talk about the Internet stake that the owners of CNN have. Huge profits to be made or lost by the parent company of CNN depending on what happens in Washington in terms of Internet regulation.”
Beck: “Norman, let me tell you something.”
Solomon: “That should be acknowledged, don’t you think?”
Beck: “Absolutely. And if it was on this program, it would be acknowledged.
“I thank you very much for your time.
“That just goes to show you, you’ve got to beware of everybody who you’re getting your news from. Wouldn’t it be nice if once in a while somebody came on and said, you know, I don’t really have an agenda except the truth? It’s my truth. If you don’t like it, you should go someplace else.”
During the back-and-forth, I’d understated the present-day role of Chevron as a funder of key news programming on PBS. Actually the Chevron Corporation, which signed on as an underwriter of “Washington Week” last year, no longer helps pay the piper there -- but the massive energy firm does currently funnel big bucks to the most influential show on PBS, the nightly “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
The corporate funders of the “NewsHour” now include not only Chevron but also AT&T and Pacific Life. There must be dozens of journalistic reports on the program every week -- whether relevant to the business worlds of energy, communications or insurance -- that warrant, and lack, real-time disclosures while the news accounts are on the air. Meanwhile, over at “Washington Week,” the corporate cash now flows in from the huge military contractor Boeing and the National Mining Association.
And that’s just “public broadcasting.” On avowedly commercial networks, awash in corporate ownership interests and advertising revenues, a thorough policy of disclosure in the course of news coverage would require that most of the airtime be devoted to shedding light on the media outlet conflicts-of-interest of the reporting in progress.
And what about Glenn Beck? The guy is another in a long line of demagogues riding a bull market for pseudo-populism. Brought to you by too many corporate interests to name.
Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2007
Media Beat (12/22/07)
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
Many journalists qualified for the sixteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, but only a few were able to win recognition for turning in one of the truly stinkiest media performances of the year. As the judges for this un-coveted award, we have done our best to confer this honor on the most deserving.
And now, the winners of the P.U.-litzers for 2007:
SPINNING FOR ANOTHER WAR AWARD -- Michael Gordon of The New York Times
Continuing where he left off before the Iraq invasion, when he used unnamed official sources to produce wildly inaccurate page-one articles on Iraq’s alleged weapons threat, Gordon in February wrote a front-page story with the stunning claim that Iran’s Supreme Leader had approved sending lethal explosives into Iraq to attack U.S. soldiers. (Even President Bush soon backed away from the claim.) Readers might have had trouble assessing Gordon’s charges -- which were, as usual, almost entirely based on anonymous sources: “United States intelligence asserts ... Administration officials said ... Some American intelligence experts believe ...” After analyzing the article, blogger Jonathan Schwarz speculated that “Gordon is not an actual person, but rather a voice-activated tape recorder.”
“SOMETHING ABOUT A RETRO MACHO MAN” AWARD -- Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball
With a worshipful media wind pushing actor and former senator Fred Thompson toward the presidential race in June, Matthews lauded Thompson’s “sex appeal” and “star quality.” The hardballer was nearly rapturous as he said: “Can you smell the English Leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man`s shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of -- a little bit of cigar smoke? You know, whatever.”
Four years earlier, when George Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier to celebrate “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, Matthews had gushed at length about the president’s looks and how Americans love “a guy who has a little swagger. We like having a hero as president. We’re not like the Brits.”
“AMERICANS DON’T WANT UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE” AWARD -- Jeff Greenfield of CBS, et al.
Reflecting what became mainstream media’s conventional wisdom in the wake of Michael Moore’s SiCKO documentary, CBS correspondent Greenfield explained that the U.S. lacks a universal healthcare system not because of the powerful insurance lobby -- but because “Americans are just different.” He quoted an academic who said Americans, unlike Canadians and Europeans, don’t want government involvement in healthcare: “It’s a cultural difference.”
Actually, CBS’s own poll of Americans had found 64 percent supporting the view that the federal government should “guarantee health insurance for all” -- with 60 percent approving of higher taxes to pay for it. A CNN poll found 64 percent American support for the idea that “government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes.”
“3-H CLUB” PRIZE -- Too Many to Name
At the same time they’re imposing their own fixations on candidates, elite political reporters like to pretend that they have absolutely no idea why the candidates are struggling to overcome those fixations. A Dec. 11 Washington Post article deadpanned: “[John] Edwards has faced challenges of his own, namely ‘the three H’s’ -- his expensive haircut, his hedge fund work after the 2004 election, and his sprawling homestead.”
Dozens of news reports in major outlets have deployed the “three H’s” shorthand, many implying that Edwards -- unlike the wealthy candidates who never mention the poor -- is a hypocrite when he discusses poverty. In July, the Post’s John Solomon devoted an entire investigative article to Edwards’ pricey haircuts: “It is some kind of commentary on the state of American politics that as Edwards has campaigned,” mused the reporter, “his hair seems to have attracted as much attention, as say, his position on healthcare.” Gee, how did that happen?
RISKY DEMOCRATS AWARD -- L.A. Times, Washington Post
If you believe certain political pundits and reporters, Democrats are continuously pushing “risky” proposals that are off-putting to the American public. In November, a Los Angeles Times report -- headlined “Democrats Calculate Risk on Tax Hikes” -- called proposed Democratic tax hikes on wealthier Americans “a major political gamble.” (Unmentioned was the fact that Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich and was re-elected, or that a Gallup poll shows 66 percent of Americans think “upper income people” don’t currently pay enough taxes.) Days later, a Washington Post report was headlined “Climate is a Risky Issue for Democrats; Candidates Back Costly Proposals.” (Unmentioned was the Post’s own poll showing that 70 percent of Americans think the federal government “should do more” on global warming; only 7 percent said “it should do less.”) Listening to press corps cautions may heighten Democratic timidity -- but it hasn’t won many national elections.
SPINNING HAWKS INTO DOVES AWARD -- ABC, CNN, Fox, CBS and others
There’d be little news value in Iraq war boosters returning from a brief trip to Iraq and endorsing troop escalation. But by presenting two self-acknowledged Iraq war supporters -- Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon -- as doves, national outlets created a fictitious story line and major media push this summer in support of the war.
Few media “experts” had argued more relentlessly for war in 2002 than Pollack, author of “The Case for Invading Iraq.” Yet here was ABC anchor Charles Gibson this July: “A bit of a surprise today on Iraq. Two long and persistent critics of the Bush administration’s handling of the war today wrote a column in The New York Times saying that after a recent eight-day visit to Iraq, they find significant changes taking place.” CNN called them “two fierce critics.” A Fox reporter claimed the duo had “changed their views after seeing some of the military successes first-hand.” CBS spoke of how O’Hanlon “now believes [the troop surge] should be continued” -- even though he’d written a national column seven months earlier: “A Skeptic’s Case for the Surge.”
PUTTING CLOTHES ON THE EMPEROR PRIZE -- New York Times
After numerous inside accounts of the Iraq invasion and other policies had exposed Vice President Cheney as a true believer who often put ideology ahead of data and facts, readers may have thought The New York Times was joking when it reported in February on the impact that the perjury trial of Cheney’s chief of staff would have on the vice president. According to the newspaper of record: “The trial has chipped away at the public image of Mr. Cheney as a sober-minded policy architect.”
“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE WE SAID IT” AWARD -- CNN’s Lou Dobbs
To prove his claim that illegal immigrants were bringing “once eradicated diseases” into our country, Dobbs featured a CNN reporter in 2005 who claimed that the U.S. had seen only 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years -- but that “there have been 7,000 in the past three years.” This year, in May, Dobbs was challenged on the shocking statistic by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, who cited a federal report saying there were 7,000 leprosy cases over the last 30 years. Dobbs response: “If we reported it, it’s a fact.”
Stahl: “How can you guarantee that to me?”
Dobbs: “Because I’m the managing editor, and that’s the way we do business. We don’t make up numbers, Lesley. Do we?”
You do, Lou. The Centers for Disease Control report that new leprosy cases in the U.S. have been on the decline for close to 20 years (with 166 cases in 2005).
THE LOU DOBBS US-vs.-THEM AWARD -- Bill O’Reilly of Fox News
Talking to Sen. John McCain in May, O’Reilly said: “But do you understand what The New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part of, and so am I. And they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right.”
“WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLFOWITZ” AWARD -- Newsweek
As he was being forced out of his job as World Bank president in May, Paul Wolfowitz was described by Newsweek as “a man whose managerial talents do not appear to rise to the level of his analytical prowess. By most accounts, Wolfowitz is a genteel, brilliant figure ...” The Newsweek piece -- headlined “With the Best of Intentions” -- didn’t mention how the brilliant and analytical former Deputy Defense Secretary had insisted just before invading Iraq that the country had no history of ethnic strife, that the U.S. would not need to deploy more than 100,000 troops, or that the war might cost as little as $10 billion. (So far it has cost about $500 billion.)