We have a new winner for the dubious honor of most cynical exploitation of 9-11: Newsday columnist Ellis Henican has it right when he writes that New York development mogul Donald Trump "towers in tackiness." He used the final episode of his sick reality-TV series "The Apprentice" to show off his model of a rebuilt Twin Towers (identical to the original but for armor plating) and assail the "Freedom Tower" now planned for Ground Zero as "the worst pile-of-crap architecture I've ever seen in my life." Now, we agree the proposed Freedom Tower is indeed hideous--but no more so than the unimaginitive dual monster-blocks the Rockefellers built and Trump would rebuild. And this criticism can only be considered pathetic coming from the man who has (as Henican puts it) "littered the skyline with his garish Trump Tower, Trump Place, Trump World Tower, Trump International Hotel and Trump-Almost-Everything-Else-He-Can-Think-to-Slap-His-Name-On."
As we noted yesterday, rulers in Uzbekistan and Belarus are worried that Bush is preparing a regime change offensive against them, encouraging dissidents to launch protest campaigns. Now it looks like the strategy is being applied in Cuba too. BBC reports May 20 that the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba held a public meeting of 200 Cuban dissidents in a private orchard in Havana in defiance of a ban on political opposition. At the meeting, U.S. diplomat in Cuba James Cason played a video message from President Bush. Praising the dissidents for coming out of the "shadow of repression," Bush said: "We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America."
The Pentagon is claiming to be very upset about the photos of a captive Saddam Hussein in his skivvies which grace the covers of today's NY Post and UK Sun, both owned by right-wing media magnate Rupert Murdoch. The tabloids claimed they had obtained the photos from "US military sources," who allegedly acted "in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq." The all-in-good-fun attitude is not shared in the Arab world. The Saudi-based Arab News wrote that the photos have "reignited the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal."
But the Pentagon, for its part, claims not to be amused either. "These photos were taken in clear violation of Department of Defense directives and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals," a military statement issued in Iraq said, promising an investigation. "The source of these photos is unknown at this time. It is believed the photos were taken a year ago." (NYT, May 20) Those in the habit of reading the Post over coffee and a donut in the morning will have reasons of their own to wish The Rupe had spared His Badness this particular indignity.
The May 19 Jerusalem Post reports that the Palestinian Authority pulled a link to the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the notorious 19th-century anti-Semitic forgery, from one of its Web sites. The link reportedly appeared on the site of the PA's State Information Service in a list of historical sources about Zionism. The removal of the link came after protests from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to the PA. The story also noted that PA Information Minister Nabil Sha'ath said that he had ordered the suspension of Sheik Ibrahim Mdaires, a Gaza Strip imam who told his congregation last week that "Jews are a virus resembling AIDS." Mdaires, whose statements were carried live on Palestine Television, also said Jews exaggerated the number of people killed in the Holocaust.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who leads a Moscow-aligned Soviet-nostalgist authoritarian regime, has got to be concerned about the recent unrest in Uzbekistan--especially coming on the heels of regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past year-and-a-half. However oppressive the situation in post-Soviet despotisms, it is clear Washington is seeking to exploit the situation to expand U.S. influence in the post-Soviet sphere, just as in the Arab world. (Of course this, in turn, allows the despots to potray all opposition as "American agents.")
With the world still trying to get a grasp of the magnitude of the violence that has shaken Uzbekistan over the past week, the Uzbek government claims to have retaken (with no bloodshed) the small eastern border town of Korasuv, where local authorities were ousted in a popular uprising. The regime is claiming the uprising there was led by Islamic militants, and has arrested Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, said to be their leader, and several others. The government has now also officially raised its estimate of the dead in the suppression of protests in nearby Andijan to 169--still a far cry from the estimates of opposition activists, who claim between 500 and 700. The government is also claiming the dead are overwhelmingly members of the security forces killed by "terrorists"; opposition leaders say they are overwhelmingly protesters killed by security forces. It does appear that armories were raided by protesters, and that firing came from both sides. Over 2,000 prisoners were said to be freed when protesters stormed the prison. (BBC, May 19)
U.S. Navy conscientious objecotr Pablo Paredes was sentenced to three months hard labor May 13 for refusing deployment to the Persian Gulf. He was also demoted from petty officer third class to seaman recruit, the lowest rank in the Navy. His lawyers call it a victory for war resisters around the country. Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Paredes to nine months of confinement and a bad conduct discharge. (Democracy Now, May 13)
The New York Times reported yesterday that Kuwait, at long last, has granted full political rights to its women citizens. Better late than never, eh? An interesting irony that during Operation Desert Storm women had the vote (for what it was worth, which was admittedly very little) in Iraq but not Kuwait...