Global Notebook 8-10-05


Factions fighting over Mexico presidency candidates

MEXICO CITY – Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who left his job as Mexico City‘s mayor in July to run for president, is currently favored to win the nomination of the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). But the party, originally formed through the alliance of several small leftist parties and dissidents who split from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as well as the candidate himself, have been charged with corruption by Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). 

According to Mexico Labor News, Marcos said that a vote for López Obrador would be little different than a vote to bring PRI back to power, and vowed that his organization would strongly oppose the candidacy. Marcos called the López Obrador a “traitor” and charged the PRD with responsibility for attacks on the EZLN. López Obrador responded by suggesting that an irrelevant leftist group had about as much to offer as did right-wing groups.

The National Action Party (PAN), which broke PRI’s 71-year presidential stranglehold in 2000 to elect Vicente Fox, has yet to select a candidate, but the likely nominee is Santiago Creel, if he survives a challenge by Felipe Calderón, Fox’s former energy minister. Fox is supporting Creel, his former interior minister, who resigned in June, but polls suggest that support for him is weak.

Meanwhile, PRI is involved in a struggle between supporters of Roberto Madrazo, former party president, and those who oppose him, who have formed TUCOM, Todos Unidos Contra Madrazo (All United Against Madrazo). The opposition has chosen Arturo Montiel, former governor of the state of Mexico, as its candidate. Montiel will face Madrazo in a nationwide primary in November or December.

Former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda also is attempting to run, but without the endorsement of a political party, a possibility not foreseen in Mexico‘s election laws.

In a bid to capture the support of their country’s newest constituency – Mexicans living abroad who have been granted the right to vote by mail – the leading contenders, including López Obrador, Madrazo and Montiel, will campaign in Los Angeles this fall, aides have told the Los Angeles Times. There are an estimated 10 million adult Mexicans living in the United States. Experts say a third or less are eligible to vote, but no one knows how many will actually cast ballots.

Chavez solidifies Cuba connection 

HAVANA – Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro hosted a tour of the country last week for his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez. Defying critics who already view him as too friendly with those out of favor with the United States, Chavez made a joint TV appearance with Castro, praising a program in which 100,000 Venezuelans suffering from eye diseases will receive eye surgery in Cuban hospitals.

Chavez said there is a huge need for eye surgery in Venezuela. The program has been extended recently to citizens from other Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Prensa Latina reported that Chavez referred to the growing hostility toward Venezuela from the Bush administration, and said that his government will do everything possible to avoid military aggression. But if “some mad person decides to invade us,” the country has more than enough committed young soldiers to defend itself, he added.

During the visit, Chavez attended a ceremony with Castro and Panamanian Pres. Martin Torrijos that marked the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Venezuela and Cuba. Along with 20 regional leaders, Chavez also attended the first graduation of the Latin American School of Medicine.

Responding to the Castro-Chavez friendship during a surprise trip to Paraguay and Peru, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speculated that the two countries may be interfering in Bolivia‘s internal affairs. In Paraguay, the United States is carrying out the longest military exercises in the history of that South American country.

As reported in the Vermont Guardian (Aug. 19), the exercises could be a step toward establishing a military base close to Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay. 

Jehovah’s Witness jailed for refusing to serve

XANTHI – A military court in northern Greece has sentenced conscientious objector Boris Sotiriadis, a Jehovah’s Witness, to three and a half years in prison.


On Aug. 1, Sotiriadis, who had served in the army before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, reported for a three-month tour of duty, but refused to serve, citing conscientious objection based on his religious beliefs. According to War Resisters International, he was detained and later sent to a military camp in northern Greece, where he again refused to serve and asked to perform a substitute service instead. At that point, he was charged with disobedience.


After his conviction, Sotiriadis was sent to the military prison in Thessaloniki. War Resisters’ International is urging letters of protest be sent to the Greek authorities and Greek embassies abroad.


Despite Gaza pullout, Israel cementing control


GAZA – Many Palestinians are excited about the pullout of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. But according to human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the celebrations are premature.


Writing for, he reports that while Palestinians are holding nightly street celebrations, the Israeli military is redeploying troops to Gaza‘s borders and cementing its control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. “Even though settlers are leaving Gaza, the occupation, arbitrary arrest, house demolitions and expanding settlements continue in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” he writes.

Despite claims of disengagement, “Israel remains in control of the land borders (including the only access point from Gaza to the outside world), the sea (preventing fishing, pleasure boating, or travel for work or holidays) and the air (ensuring that the airport runway remains bombed-out and inoperable),” he adds. “This ‘disengagement’ is not designed to bring peace, but rather to institutionalize the effects of war.

Mauritania coup alters West Africa dynamic


DAKAR – Soldiers who overthrew Mauritania‘s president in August may have ended 21 years of authoritarian rule, but they also have deprived the United States of a key ally in its “war on terror.”

Toward the end of his rule, Maaouyia Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya curried U.S. favor, shifting support from Iraq‘s Saddam Hussein to Israel and the United States. He also leapt at the chance to jail Islamist critics. But the strategy may have backfired, infuriating many people in a country that straddles black and Arab Africa, and helping set the stage for his ouster.

At first, the Bush administration called for his return, but changed course once it realized the extent of popular support for the opposition, led by twice-jailed Cheikh Ould Horma. Fearing militant Islamic groups could be broadening their base in West Africa, Washington has been courting nations in the region, offering military training in return for help. The United States has a permanent presence in Djibouti, where troops control access to the Horn of Africa.

Mauritanian authorities had claimed that the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a movement allied to al-Qaeda, was recruiting Mauritanian youths to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and the Palestinian territories. But some analysts, who warn that Pres. Taya was exploiting the U.S. battle with Islamic militants to target his opponents, claim there is little evidence of a terrorist threat.

Burned by the loss of an ally, U.S military officials are being cautious. “We’re waiting for a return to constitutional order. We’re very much following the lead of the African Union on this,” a U.S. official told the Jordan Times.

The 53-nation African Union suspended Mauritania after the takeover, but is ready to work with the new government to ensure a return to constitutional rule. The military junta that seized power has appointed a civilian prime minister and promised democratic presidential elections within two years. The new prime minister told Reuters that Mauritania, which is due to start pumping oil next year, values its relations with the United States

But the new rulers have also made clear that being an Islamist activist who voices a strong political opinion is not tantamount to extremism. Days after taking power, the junta ordered the release of around 20 Islamist activists jailed by Taya. “Islamist politicians are very popular in Mauritania,” said Mohamed Limam Ould Sidi Mohamed, a university student who watched the release. “They are centrist, not violent.”



Widespread 2004 vote tampering documented


POMONA, CA New research has revealed extensive manipulation of non-paper-trail voting machines in several states during the 2004 presidential election. According to material compiled by California State Polytechnic University professor Dennis Loo, in 2004, George Bush far exceeded the 85 percent of registered Florida Republican votes that he got in 2000, receiving more than 100 percent in 47 out of 67 Florida counties, 200 percent in 15 counties, and more than 300 percent in four counties.

Bush "won" Ohio by 51-48 percent, but statewide results were not matched by the court-supervised hand count of the 147,400 absentee and provisional ballots in which Kerry received 54.46 percent of the vote. In Cuyahoga County, the number of recorded votes was more than 93,000 greater than the number of registered voters, the study notes.

National exit polls showed Kerry winning in 2004. Yet, in precincts where there were no paper trails on the voting machines – and only there – the exit polls ended up being different from the final count. According to Steve Freeman, a statistician at the University of Pennsylvania, the odds are 250 million to one that the exit polls were wrong by chance.

Loo writes, "A team at the University of California at Berkeley, headed by sociology professor Michael Hout, found a highly suspicious pattern in which Bush received 260,000 more votes in those Florida precincts that used electronic voting machines than past voting patterns would indicate compared to those precincts that used optical scan read votes where past voting patterns held."

In fall 2001, after an eight-month review of 175,000 Florida ballots never counted in the 2000 election, an analysis by the National Opinion Research Center confirmed that Al Gore actually won Florida and should have been president. More recently, Black Box Voting has reported that in 2004, voting machines used by more than 30 million voters were easily hacked by relatively unsophisticated programs and audits would not show the changes.

No love lost between Bush, San Francisco


SAN FRANCISCO – Since Pres. Rutherford Hayes lunched at the Cliff House in 1880, presidents have regularly visited San Francisco, traveling there on everything from stagecoaches to jets. In all, 20 presidents have visited the city, including every chief executive for the past 75 years.


That was before George W. Bush. In his fifth year as president, Bush has yet to set a foot in the city that was home to his childhood baseball idol, Willie Mays, and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, shows no inclination to do so. Although Bush is planning a California visit by the end of August, San Francisco isn’t on the itinerary.

With about three-quarters of a million residents, San Francisco is the only city among the nation’s 25 largest that hasn’t seen a Bush presidential visit. If he avoids San Francisco for the rest of his term, he will be the first president not to visit since Calvin Coolidge, and only the second in more than a century.

The Chronicle report claims that the reason is plain: San Francisco is as politically, culturally and geographically distant from Bush as anyplace in the country. Eighty-four percent of city voters rejected him in 2000, and 85 percent voted against him in 2004. The city has voted Democratic in 12 consecutive presidential elections. 

According to Gladys Hansen, curator of the Museum of the City of San Francisco, which has documented many of the city’s 62 presidential visits, "He [Bush] would be crazy to come.”

Marines hunting down Vietnam deserters

TARPON SPRINGS, FL – Corp. Jerry Texiero served on active duty with the Marines from 1959-65. But 40 years ago he refused deployment to Vietnam because he was opposed to U.S. military action there. On Aug. 16, 2005, at the request of the Marine Corps, the Marines finally caught up with him.

According to Citizen Soldier, a GI/veterans rights advocacy group, Texiero’s arrest by local police was orchestrated by a special unit, the Marine Absentee Collection Center. Chief Warrent Officer James Averhart, the unit’s commander, told reporters in Florida that he was pushing the group to aggressively pursue some 1,200 deserters. Of 70 technically AWOL for decades, Averhart claims to have apprehended 27 since September 2004.

Citizen Soldier Legal Director Tod Ensign has two main criticisms of the new legal dragnet. "First, the Vietnam war ended 35 years ago and most Americans today accept that GIs had a right to resist this illegal war,” he said. “Second, why are the Marines spending scarce public funds prosecuting this peaceful senior citizen while some of our troops in Iraq go without Kevlar vests or safe drinking water?"

Texiero, 64, is being held on desertion charges. He ill be transferred to Camp Lejeune, NC, for possible court martial action in the near future. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for five years and given a dishonorable discharge. Citizen Soldier is supporting his efforts to win a discharge without prosecution.

Humor ed is new kids TV gimmick


ATLANTA – The Cartoon Network claims that Tickle U, its new block of preschool programming, will help develop a child’s sense of humor. But the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) calls it a cynical ploy to get young children to watch more television, and urges parents to keep their children away.

“Children don’t need TV to develop a sense of humor. It comes from play and their natural interactions with the world around them,” argued Wheelock College Professor Diane Levin, author of Remote Control Childhood. “This is a classic case of marketers trying to create a need where none exists and to dupe parents into thinking that watching more TV is good for their children.”

The educational benefits of Tickle U, which premiered Aug. 22, are being touted through aggressive marketing, including partnerships with hospitals and mom-based “viral” marketing. The latter involves asking moms, in exchange for a Kenneth Cole bag filled with gifts, to promote the show on parent blogs and online discussion sites. The network is a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting, a Time Warner company, reaching 88.1 million U.S. homes and 160 countries around the world.

CCFC says that there is no evidence that television aids in humor development, but substantial evidence that it can be harmful to young children. Research suggests that TV viewing is a factor in childhood obesity, and that preschoolers who are heavy television viewers score lower on academic and intelligence tests later in life and are more likely to become bullies.

In addition to running the usual on-air commercials, several of the Tickle U programs plan to license their characters to toys, games, apparel, and food products. Hospitals are partnering with the series to hold humor workshops to introduce parents and young children to the show’s characters.

Psychologist Allen Kanner, co-editor of Psychology and Consumer Culture, commented, “Given the negative impact of advertising and media on children, health professionals should be working with parents to limit the amount of television kids watch. Hospitals should be promoting public health, not the Cartoon Network’s fall lineup.”

Iraq withdrawal call splits Democrats

WASHINGTON – A recent revival of the antiwar movement, aided by the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who set up camp near the Texas ranch of Pres. George Bush, has accentuated a growing division within the Democratic Party.

Last week, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-WI, broke with his party leadership to become the first U.S. senator to call for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by a specific deadline. But other leading Democrats say that criticism should focus on the need for more aggressive foreign policy and threats being neglected by the Bush administration while avoiding a deadline on Iraq withdrawal. Amid rising casualties and falling public support for the war, Democrats of all stripes have grown more vocal this summer in criticizing Bush’s handling of the war, according to the Washington Post.

Feingold has proposed a Dec. 31, 2006, deadline for withdrawal. In delivering the Democrats’ weekly radio address on Aug. 20, a former senator, Max Cleland of Georgia – a war hero who lost three limbs in Vietnam – added that "it’s time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out."

Although critical of Bush, leading senators including Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, Joseph Biden Jr., D-DE, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, reject Feingold’s proposal, arguing that success in Iraq is too important for the country.

Pre-war warnings given on security gaps


WASHINGTON – In early 2003, before the Iraq war began, government experts warned the U.S. Central Command about "serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance," according to newly declassified State Department documents obtained by the National Security Archive.

In a Feb. 7, 2003, memo to Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, three senior State Department officials noted CENTCOM’s "focus on its primary military objectives and its reluctance to take on ‘policing’ roles,” and warned that “a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally." The memo added, "We have raised these issues with top CENTCOM officials."

Nevertheless, a December 2003 report to Congress, also released by the State Department, offered a relatively rosy picture of the security situation, saying U.S. forces are "increasingly successful in preventing planned hostile attacks; and in capturing former regime loyalists, would-be terrorists and planners; and seizing weapons caches."

The document did acknowledge that "challenges remain."