Saturday, March 31, 2007

One Small Voice

One small voice can change the world
One small voice can still be heard
In the darkest place on earth
Music and Lyrics by J. Brooks and A. Kasha

I've been reading a number of blogs from Iraq recently, not the least of which is Iraq the Model by the now famous Iraqi bloggers (and, by some accounts, conservative shills), Mohammed and Omar Fadhil. I've also been reading posts by soldiers and other Iraqi citizens. It's curious but most blogs seem to avoid politics. And most don't discuss the fighting. Perhaps they are just too weary.

Recently Mohammed and Omar caught a lot of flack in the "Progressive" blogosphere for posting that they were about to go enjoy some barbecue and beers with friends on a Friday night. These so-called liberals (and these writers are a lot of things and liberal isn't any of them) simply insist that in real life all Iraqi's are scraping for food, cowering in corners or planning their next heroic Che Guevara style attack on the American occupiers.

Guess what, it's just not true. Even on the worst day of sectarian violence, 95% of all Iraqis' are going about their daily lives that are not a whole lot different from all the rest of us around the world. And frankly a whole lot better than the displaced millions in Darfur.

Of course there are terrible hardships and discomforts cause by both the American occupation and the sectarian violence. And there is fear in many areas because of the risk of al Qaeda violence.

There are areas of Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. where life and daily risks are comparable. That certainly doesn't make it right, and we need to fix both Iraq and the poverty stricken, gang infested parts of the United States, but real life does go on in both cases, barbecues and all.

This was really brought home to me because of the incredible success one young Iraqi

girl is having in bringing the entire country of Iraq together for two hours each Friday night. The young girl is Shada Hassoon (or Shatha Hassoun) and she seems to have more peace making ability than any member of the coalition or the Iraqi government.

The source of her incredible power? She is a contestant on a Middle Eastern version of American Idol, a television program called Star Academy, based in and broadcast from Lebanon.

When Shada made the Top Twelve contestants in the competition that includes singers from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and throughout the Middle East, the Iraqi citizens were overjoyed. No Iraqi had ever made it that far in the four years of the television series.

When Shada performs all Iraq comes together as one. Like American Idol, contestants success comes from votes phoned in (by cell phone). Iraqi's buy extra cell phones so they can vote more and more often.
And Shadamania crosses all sectarian divides with equal support from Shiites and Sunnis.

National Public Radio did a wonderful piece on her and the Star Academy phenomena Friday on Morning Edition. You can link to and listen to the broadcast

While I'm giving you links, here is a link to several
You Tube videos and a link to a story about Shada in USA TODAY.

Viewers can use their cellphones to send text messages that scroll across the bottom of the TV during the show. On one recent program, messages included "The swords of Al Mujahedin are in the hands of Shada," and "Al Mahdi Army fighters support Shada."

Sunni insurgents call themselves mujahedin, and the Mahdi Army militia is loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
At last, the warring factions seem to have found something they agree on.

Recently, Hassoon prepared to sing Baghdad, a famous old song by the Lebanese singer Fairoz that describes a great city of moonlight, riches and beauty. She wept during the televised rehearsal.

Text messages from viewers started scrolling across the TV screen. "Don't worry Shada," one said. "It will be beautiful again."

And the wonderful news today is that after all the outpouring of love and affection and all the purchases of extra cell phones and prepaid calling cards, Shada won the contest! Here's the news from REUTERS:
Shatha Hassoun, 26, fell on her knees on stage and wrapped the red, white and black Iraqi flag around her shoulders after learning she had garnered the biggest share of the public vote in the reality show, which is broadcast from Lebanon and is one of the most popular programs in the Middle East.

The announcement came shortly before midnight in Iraq. In Baghdad, a power cut meant many who had been following Hassoun's fortunes over the past four months were unable to see her beat her three remaining classmates, from Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt.

But in those areas with power generators,
cheering erupted from many homes along with the sound of celebratory gunfire, which began slowly at first and then intensified as the news swiftly spread by phone and text message.

While Hassoun, the daughter of a Moroccan mother and an Iraqi father, lives in Morocco, many Iraqis saw in her an opportunity to forget their own troubles in the war-ravaged country and restore some national pride.

"I voted for the government and they did nothing for us. She deserves the vote more than the government does," Um Farah, a store owner in Baghdad's dangerous, mainly Sunni Yarmouk district, told Reuters.

In an emotional interview with Iraq's al-Sharqiya television station shortly after her win, Hassoun said: "I thank Baghdad and I thank Iraq."

Members of both Sunni and Shi'ite sects claimed her as one of their own.

"Her win is evidence of the unity of Iraqis supporting each other," said Hassan Kadim, a cosmetics shop owner in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, referring to the public vote by paid text message and telephone.

Perhaps one small voice can change the world. And perhaps we're not all that different from one another after all. Kelly Clarkson, Shada Hassoon, Fantasia Barrino.... it is a small world after all.

You can hear some of Shada's music on Wizard Radio and we're working hard to get more of her performances.




Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is Iraq Really the Central Front in the War on Terror?

55 Million Blogs. President Bush was bound to like one fo them.

Cyberspace was abuzz today about President Bush's citing of two Iraqi bloggers in his most recent defense of his Iraqi strategy.

Here's the story from the
Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) - To back up his point that pulling out of Iraq would be a disaster, President Bush has quoted opinions from the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top U.S. general in Iraq—and now, two bloggers from Baghdad.

Bush made a surprising reference to the blogosphere during a spirited defense of his war strategy on Wednesday.

"They have bloggers in Baghdad, just like we've got here," Bush told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Then he began to quote: "Displaced families are returning home, marketplaces are seeing more activity, stores that were long shuttered are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now. Our people want to see this effort succeed."

His point was that Iraqi people are seeing signs of progress—and what better example of their unbridled expression than blogs.

They have bloggers in Egypt, too. But if those bloggers are critical of Islam or of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak they are sent to prison. But I digress.

Actually Iraq is a real beacon freedom and free expression in the Middle East. Now if only the Iraqi government and the American forces can bring a reasonable amount of peace and security, Iraq might become the success we all desire it to be. God knows the Iraqi people deserve it. But, once again, I digress.

If the President felt he should quote these two bloggers from Bagdad, I thought I might take a look at their blog. You need to know know that these Iraqi blogging brothers, Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, are part of
Pajamas Media. This tells you two things. First, they are quality writers with a quality product and second, they are on the conservative side of most issues.

This, finally, brings me to my point. I've always believed (and I still believe) that the Republican throw away line "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror" was just hyperbole to gather support for Bush's Adventures in Middle East Nation Building.

But in reading his blog, I discovered that Mohammad Fadhil has written one of the most intelligent and compelling arguments I've ever seen making a case for Iraq as the central front in the battle with al Qaeda. I urge you to read the entire post
The Real Front in the War on Terror. Below is an abridged version with my highlights of key points.

"When The Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell young men waited in lines to get a haircut and when Saddam fell barbers became targets."

My father offered this simple example during a discussion we had about war on terror the other day. Although the example is very simple but the idea behind it is deep and aims at identifying the change of the main battleground for war with terror.

I wanted to talk about this because recently we've been watching the debate in America about redeployment of troops and identifying the real front we must focus on.

I see that al-Qaeda and terrorists in general didn't hide their position in this respect—despite the fact that they still operate in many parts of the world, they are clearly redirecting most effort and resources to the war in Iraq.

There are greater examples than killing barbers of course so I'd like to include some more to remind those who try to naively oversimplify the issue in the context that the commanders of al-Qaeda are hiding in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan far away from civilization.

Al-Qaeda and its supporters are using most of the capabilities of their propaganda machine to cover their effort in Iraq, and so is the case with financial resources.

Let's not forget recruiting networks that are discovered constantly in many European and Arab countries; we rarely, if ever, hear that those networks were sending recruits to Afghanistan because recruits are being sent to Iraq all the time.

Even more telling, some of the prominent lieutenants of al-Qaeda left Afghanistan to fight in Iraq. One example I remember was Omar al-Farouk who escaped from Bagram to be later captured in Basra!

Al-Qaeda itself boasts about the great "sacrifices" of more than 4,000 "martyrs" to emphasize the importance of the war here. And the hundreds of suicide bombers preferred to blow themselves up in Iraq than anywhere else should remind us that if al-Qaeda considers this the main war then why talk about redeployment?

But why Iraq became the main front?

Iraq can simply not be equated with Afghanistan which the bulk of al-Qaeda largely abandoned after few weeks of battles—that doesn't sound like al-Qaeda!

Iraq, weak after a war that toppled the regime but rich-relatively-with resources and scientific base is a greater temptation than Afghanistan, and at the same time the possibility of a democracy arising in Iraq posed a great threat to the ideology of caliph state. Therefore al-Qaeda and whoever is backing it directly or indirectly felt they had to move the front to Iraq instead of staying in Afghanistan.

Let's imagine that the world left Iraq alone before the country is able to defend itself and let it fall in the hands of extremists, what would happen then?

Can we compare the opium fields with the massive oilfields of Mesopotamia? Can we afford to leave these resources in the service of the terrorists?

The other point is scientific infrastructure, especially when it comes to military technology such infrastructure almost doesn't exist in Afghanistan while Saddam celebrated 17 years ago in launching a rocket to space. The same "accomplishment' Iran claimed to have made just days ago.

An Islamic state in Iraq whether to be led by al-Qaeda or one of the local extreme religious parties would be an enormous threat to the security of the region and the world and a turning point that might encourage fence-sitters to join the terrorists…the tide would be much more difficult to stop then.

It's true that what's happening in Iraq doesn't meet the ambitions of Iraqis or Americans and everyone admits that many mistakes were made.

But abandoning this front or failing to recognize its priority is a terrible mistake that can lead to disastrous consequences to all of us.

I have two important observations. First, none of this would have ever happened if President Bush hadn't invaded Iraq and then totally destabilized the region. If everything Mohammad Fadhil said is true, the blame belongs squarely at President Bush's doorstep.

Second, this illustrates how very complex the situation in really Iraq is. Now is not the time for simplistic schoolyard solutions. We cannot simply take our ball home and refuse to play, as the Democrats in Congress propose.

The fact the Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are building an exit strategy timetable based on nothing but whimsy, without consulting with our allies, without the support of, or even consultation with, General Petraeus and without any discussion with the government or people of Iraq, illustrates how disastrous this strategy might be.




Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Potholes in Cyberspace

It's hard to believe this journal is over 11 years old. The word blog hadn't been invented. And few people ever published their thoughts on the Internet.

Email was just getting to be the next big thing. There were no instant messaging tools. AOL and their competitor Prodigy were largely non-web based publishing sites, a large compendium of information and tools for registered users only on proprietary software. AOL made the transition to the Internet as we know today, Prodigy did not.

The early Journal entries (many still available on-line) were about the new wonders of the Internet. Modern marvels. Many entries were actually programming hints, technical advice or links to new and wonderful websites.

Google didn't exist. And Yahoo only cataloged registered websites. It could take a month for Yahoo to add your website to their directory and, then, only if it met their editorial standards.

One of the first and most important objectives of this journal and my work on the web was to extend freedoms and rights that existed in the real world into the cyberworld. We needed to keep the Internet public and free. We needed free speech protection. Some web portals actually attempted to engage in censorship.

That was a long time ago... in cyberspace years.

Today, at least here in the United States, Free Speech is assured. The evolution of blogging has taken the list of those who publicly post their thoughts or ideas on the web from a few hundred to fifty five million. 55,000,000.

And the Internet provides a measure of anonymity. Most bloggers use pseudonyms or handles. It's just like the early days of CB radios, right Rubber Ducky?

And some actually are registered on blog sites like blogger with dozens of different user names. They even answer their own blogs! Sometimes even arguing with themselves! Schizophrenia in cyberspace.

The problem with blind, anonymous blogging and posting, combined with 55 million blogs, is that often no one listens. Most anonymous bloggers have little credibility. Their opinions just melt into the grand milieu.

So, in order to break through the clutter, they use attacks, foul language, graphic pictures or vile hatred. Occasionally such over the top language and graphic references work. But generally, as in the case of
Amanda Marcotte, it only works if the blogger actually has something important to say.

However, some posted comments and many bloggers are caught in a never ending spiral of hyperbole that can only lead to the most vicious hate attacks and then even death threats.

Since every reader here is on a wide ranging Journey through Cyberspace, you know I'm now referring to today's NUMBER ONE topic in the blogosphere (as determined by Technorati searches),
Kathy Sierra.

Kathy has been on the receiving end of a rapidly escalating barrage of hate mail, cross posted attacks, and x-rated, vile images that ultimately led to death threats so serious she has cancelled all public appearances and ceased writing in her blog. A technical computing blog!!

Could someone please explain to me how a technical blogger could become the object of such hatred? Those of us here in the Political blogosphere see such language and hate speech all the time. But we need to remember that Grandma always told us that neither politics nor religion was a topic of polite conversation.

But I've read Kathy's blog. What could she possibly have said? Back up your hard drive before leaving work?

I've discovered a blogger today who has captured my feeling exactly. The Blog is
Graceful Flavor, and the blogger is certainly not anonymous. His name is Jeff Ventura.

I suggest you read his entire entry:
Virtual life and real life share the same dark underbelly

Let’s talk about what happened to Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users. She recently had a small group of people, some of whom are very well known, make some downright vulgar comments about her. Things got dangerous when they crossed the line into death threats.

Yes, really.

Before you read my post any further, read Kathy’s story (linked above). Go. Do it now. Read the comments to her post too.

As sad and disturbing as this is, we bloggers have to face hard facts:

We work in an Internet medium that offers others the perception of anonymity coupled, in most cases, by comment pages that allow allegedly-anonymous people to write and say whatever they want.

In a medium this connected, this mature, and this instantaneous, the same shitty elements we deal with in real life can make their presence known more forcefully and quickly than in real life. In that sense, the Internet is a lens that can very quickly magnify both the good and bad regions of human behavior.

The difference is real life that there is (a) no public forum where they can comment on her, and, more importantly (b) no anonymity. But it doesn’t mean those people aren’t out there feeling the same sentiments as they expressed against her on It doesn’t mean that, somehow, the deviant assholes don’t exist. In real life, the only thing that doesn’t exist is an anonymous feedback mechanism that allows underdeveloped cowards to be underdeveloped cowards.




Saturday, March 24, 2007

One World

I believe this is one world. While there are diverse and varied local governments, local customs and local religions and regional languages, it is, in reality, one world.

And there is one human race. We are one people, separated only by those artificial barriers we have created, languages, customs, religions and governments. And fear.

No one person has greater worth than any other. An American life is not somehow greater, more valuable or more sacred than a Sudanese life, or an Iraqi life, or a Korean life.

From time to time we overcome our fears, we reach beyond our borders, we gaze past our religions and customs, and we ask our governments to recognize this universal truth.

December 10, 1948 was one of those rare moments. The destruction of the greater part of the world wrought by two world wars gave us a rare moment of sanity. The United Nations, in a really rare moment of accord, passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's entire text can be found at
this link.

But indulge me as I repeat just a few of the rights to be honored by all people and all nations. It's an indulgence because, since December 10, 1948 virtually no nation has been willing to sacrifice its blood and treasure to defend or to assure these rights to others.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.

A strong.... no, an overwhelming case, can be made against President Bush's foolish, reckless and disastrous invasion of Iraq and his bungled occupation of the country.

But, regardless of the stupidity that lead the otherwise moral American forces into Iraq, could we please stop and think before we condemn the people of Iraq into a certain political slavery devoid of virtually all of the rights outlines above? Do we just walk out?

The goal of delivering a humiliating defeat to the political enemy here in the United States is not worth the future of Iraq.

If Bush violated many of the rights outlined above, and I believe he did, it simply is twice as wrong to now abandon the fledgling Iraqi state just so we can shackle the errant President.

Do we lack the vision and courage and human dignity to reign in the President without abandoning the Iraqi people?

Do we not have, somewhere in our country, a leader who can reach out to the world and bring safety and peace to a troubled region?

Or is our vision so narrow, so clouded with hatred for the President, we can only walk out on the people we victimized, we defeated, we humiliated, we stripped of pride, munitions, defenses and structures and allow them to fall victim to the strongest swords or most powerful neighbors in the middle east?

Do we not have the moral and ethical obligation to leave Iraq stronger, more free, more stable than we found it?

President Bush may have brought about this destruction, but where is our Roosevelt, our Truman or our Eisenhower who will lead us into a Marshall Plan for Iraq.

Obama? Edwards? Clinton? Giuliani? McCain? It's time for someone to speak up. America and Iraq are crying out for a real leader.




Marching Through Hell

It's tough day.

In the immortal words of Stealer's Wheel (music and lyrics by Joe Egan and Jerry Rafferty),
I'm "trying to make sense of it all, Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."


I'm trying so hard to be fair to Nancy Pelosi and the rabidly anti-war fanatics. These folks are angry. In fact, they're mad as hell and determined to take on all comers in their quest to end the war now. Even though she is a true believer in the need to exit Iraq, she is also under extreme pressure from the anti-war mob. Democrats are no more safe than Republicans.

Still, the current bill narrowly passed by the House, and cobbled together through bribes and arm twisting worthy of a real Congressional investigation, is a nightmare. It's a nightmare for the military, who Pelosi completely and utterly ignores. It's a nightmare for our allies, who Pelosi completely and utterly ignores.

But it is hell on earth for the Iraqi people who will pay the ultimate price of war, death, destruction and, ultimately, a return to political slavery under the rule of another megalomaniac, one likely to make the Saddam Hussein look benevolent.

And just when President Bush finally got it right. Just when a real general, a brilliant strategist, is finally placed in control of Iraqi action. Just when the poor people of Bagdad are able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadly, the light is just Nancy Pelosi and the onrushing train to carry our troops home. Although not before she kills thousands by staging a political fight with a President who will not yield to her stupidity.

I'm personally praying there is a coalition of intelligent Democrats and Republicans who can usurp the Democrat House leadership and put together a real 218 vote majority of people who aren't determined to destroy both this nation and Iraq.

Sure, President Bush will ultimately get the blame because he started an unnecessary war and then failed miserably to manage the transition to peace. He deserves the blame. The nation should never forgive his arrogance and ignorance.

But Nancy Pelosi is falling to mob rule. And this mob is about to hang all the wrong people. It won't be George Bush or Dick Cheney swinging from the nearest tree, it's our soldiers and the innocent people of Iraq.

As the ultimate testimony of just how very much I disagree with Nancy Pelosi and the anti-war fanatics, I'm going to quote and fully endorse
President Bush's remarks Friday:

The purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding. Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq. They set rigid restrictions that will require an army of lawyers to interpret. They set an arbitrary date for withdrawal without regard for conditions on the ground. And they tacked on billions for pet projects that have nothing to do with winning the war on terror. This bill has too much pork, too many conditions and an artificial timetable for withdrawal.

As I have made clear for weeks, I will veto it if it comes to my desk. And because the vote in the House was so close, it is clear that my veto would be sustained. Today's action in the House does only one thing: it delays the delivering of vital resources for our troops.
A narrow majority has decided to take this course, just as General Petraeus and his troops are carrying out a new strategy to help the Iraqis secure their capital city.

Amid the real challenges in Iraq, we're beginning to see some signs of progress. Yet, to score political points, the Democratic majority in the House has shown it is willing to undermine the gains our troops are making on the ground.


I, for one, have always stood firmly against using the Olympics as a political tool. The Olympics bring the world together. It is a real shown of global peace and global unity. Mankind is one, at least for two weeks.

However, the entire world seems to have fallen into a peaceful sleep of near total ignorance about the continuing holocaust in the Sudan.

Talk about hell on earth. Ann Curry did an excellent report for the NBC nightly news from Darfur this week. Depending on when you read this journal entry, you might be still able to view it on MSNBC here.

So when French Presidential Candidate Francois Bayrou forcefully came out in favor of boycotting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it did give me pause.

I wear the green wristband that says "Not on My Watch." But am I doing all I can to end the suffering in Darfur. I'm certain I'm not doing enough.

The President, who has done much, is now hopelessly entangled with the hungry for political blood Congress. The Democrats, whom I have long loved, have totally forgotten about human rights. It's all Bush, all the time up on capitol hill. Investigate. Subpoena. And, maybe Impeach.

The public cares so much more about the paternity of Anna Nichole Smith's daughter than they care about dead and raped women in Darfur.

Reporters are sent to the Bahamas like the paid vacation it is. Only Ann Curry, who has made Darfur her personal mission, has the courage and clout to go to Darfur and then force NBC to devote two and one half minutes to the disaster that makes both Iraq and Katrina look like a school yard brawl.

So, perhaps we need to see what we can do to wake up the world. And, just perhaps, to distract the politicians in Washington from their perpetual and meaningless war of subpoenas and hearings into non-events designed only to reduce the presidency to rubble.

From the
Associated Press:

PARIS - Boycott the Beijing Olympics — over Darfur?

A major French presidential candidate has suggested just that, in hopes of pressuring China to stop protecting Sudan from sanctions over military and militia attacks on civilians.

French Olympic officials expressed surprise at Francois Bayrou’s boycott call at a pro-Darfur rally late Tuesday. At the same rally, the two leading presidential candidates joined Bayrou in pledging not to host any members of the Sudanese government in France.

That would mark a change in policy: President Jacques Chirac hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on the French Riviera at a summit of African leaders last month.

The Sudanese government is accused of funding militias and allowing its military to brutalize civilians in a conflict that has killed some 200,000 people and left 2.5 million homeless since 2003.

Chinese oppose sanctions

China — a U.N. Security Council permanent member with veto power — opposes any sanctions against Sudan, where it is the biggest foreign investor.

“If this drama does not stop, France would do itself credit by not coming to the Olympic Games,” Bayrou told the rally, his office said Wednesday.

“There is nothing easier than stopping this tragedy, this genocide,” said Bayrou, who visited Darfur on a private trip in 2005. “This is a political issue because China decided to bring its protection to the Khartoum regime.”

Political implications

Polls show Bayrou trailing a close third behind Socialist Segolene Royal and narrow front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy, of Chirac’s ruling conservative party, before the first round of voting on April 22. Chirac is not seeking a third term, and he endorsed Sarkozy on Wednesday.

Royal, Bayrou and Sarkozy signed an eight-point declaration on Darfur presented at the rally. In it, they promised not to host the Sudanese and pledged to “energetically denounce” countries that oppose sanctions against Sudan, as well as to enact “appropriate” sanctions by France alone.

China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil and sells it weapons and military aircraft. Beijing has taken a hands-off approach to political violence and human rights abuses in Africa, where China has been increasing its investment to tap Africa’s vast natural resources.

In a small but important step, Chinese President Hu Jintao traveled to Sudan last month and urged al-Bashir to allow a larger U.N. role in Darfur, where poorly equipped African peacekeepers have failed to defend civilians.

President Carter moved to keep Americans home from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Dozens of U.S. allies joined in, though not France. Four years later, the Soviets led a 14-nation boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.

Foreign political leaders and advocacy groups have previously sought to exert pressure on Beijing before the Games over China’s record on human rights, use of the death penalty, and curbs on press freedoms, among other issues.

"Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right,
Here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you."




Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Al Gore - Profile in Arrogance

Thoughts while watching MSNBC...... I hadn't intended to write a journal entry today, and certainly not about Academy Award Winner Al Gore. But he is making such an ass of himself this morning that I'm reminded once again of yesterday's journal entry profiling journalist and Free Speech advocate Flemming Rose.

As I watch Gore make himself the center of attention (and not the very real and important issue of global warming), I remembered that today is just the latest episode of Gore Egomania since his movie debut. It seems he and Mr. Rose crossed paths before.

Or, that is to say, they DIDN'T cross paths! It seems Vice President refused an interview with the tough and aggressive journalist, Mr. Rose and global warming skeptic Bjorn Lomborg. Even when Rose agreed to exclude Lomborg from the interview at the absolute demand of the Gore team, Gore abruptly cancelled an interview, fearing Rose would have been prepped to asked tough questions.

Flemming Rose writes about the near interview with Al Gore in an editorial in
The Wall Street Journal:


Will Al Gore Melt?

If not, why did he chicken out on an interview?

Sunday, January 21, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Al Gore is traveling around the world telling us how we must fundamentally change our civilization due to the threat of global warming. Last week he was in Denmark to disseminate this message. But if we are to embark on the costliest political project ever, maybe we should make sure it rests on solid ground. It should be based on the best facts, not just the convenient ones. This was the background for the biggest Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, to set up an investigative interview with Mr. Gore. And for this, the paper thought it would be obvious to team up with Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," who has provided one of the clearest counterpoints to Mr. Gore's tune.

The interview had been scheduled for months. The day before the interview Mr. Gore's agent thought Gore-meets-Lomborg would be great. Yet an hour later, he came back to tell us that Bjorn Lomborg should be excluded from the interview because he's been very critical of Mr. Gore's message about global warming and has questioned Mr. Gore's evenhandedness.
According to the agent, Mr. Gore only wanted to have questions about his book and documentary, and only asked by a reporter. These conditions were immediately accepted by Jyllands-Posten. Yet an hour later we received an email from the agent saying that the interview was now cancelled. What happened?

One can only speculate. But if we are to follow Mr. Gore's suggestions of radically changing our way of life, the costs are not trivial. If we slowly change our greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century, the U.N. actually estimates that we will live in a warmer but immensely richer world. However, the U.N. Climate Panel suggests that if we follow Al Gore's path down toward an environmentally obsessed society, it will have big consequences for the world, not least its poor. In the year 2100, Mr. Gore will have left the average person 30% poorer, and thus less able to handle many of the problems we will face, climate change or no climate change.

Clearly we need to ask hard questions. Is Mr. Gore's world a worthwhile sacrifice? But it seems that critical questions are out of the question. It would have been great to ask him why he only talks about a sea-level rise of 20 feet. In his movie he shows scary sequences of 20-feet flooding Florida, San Francisco, New York, Holland, Calcutta, Beijing and Shanghai. But were realistic levels not dramatic enough? The U.N. climate panel expects only a foot of sea-level rise over this century. Moreover, sea levels actually climbed that much over the past 150 years. Does Mr. Gore find it balanced to exaggerate the best scientific knowledge available by a factor of 20?

Mr. Gore says that global warming will increase malaria and highlights Nairobi as his key case. According to him, Nairobi was founded right where it was too cold for malaria to occur. However, with global warming advancing, he tells us that malaria is now appearing in the city. Yet this is quite contrary to the World Health Organization's finding. Today Nairobi is considered free of malaria, but in the 1920s and '30s, when temperatures were lower than today, malaria epidemics occurred regularly. Mr. Gore's is a convenient story, but isn't it against the facts?

He considers Antarctica the canary in the mine, but again doesn't tell the full story. He presents pictures from the 2% of Antarctica that is dramatically warming and ignores the 98% that has largely cooled over the past 35 years. The U.N. panel estimates that Antarctica will actually increase its snow mass this century. Similarly, Mr. Gore points to shrinking sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere, but don't mention that sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere is increasing. Shouldn't we hear those facts? Mr. Gore talks about how the higher temperatures of global warming kill people. He specifically mentions how the European heat wave of 2003 killed 35,000. But he entirely leaves out how global warming also means less cold and saves lives. Moreover, the avoided cold deaths far outweigh the number of heat deaths. For the U.K. it is estimated that 2,000 more will die from global warming. But at the same time 20,000 fewer will die of cold. Why does Mr. Gore tell only one side of the story?

Al Gore is on a mission. If he has his way, we could end up choosing a future, based on dubious claims, that could cost us, according to a U.N. estimate, $553 trillion over this century. Getting answers to hard questions is not an unreasonable expectation before we take his project seriously. It is crucial that we make the right decisions posed by the challenge of global warming. These are best achieved through open debate, and we invite him to take the time to answer our questions: We are ready to interview you any time, Mr. Gore--and anywhere.

I'm not at all prepared to agree with Bjorn Lomborg and certainly not ready to join the global warming skeptics. But, I'm disappointed to see Gore play such childish games like refusing to listen to the Republicans opening statements. If Gore wasn't so childish, he could make the Republicans look like fools. But instead, Gore looks like the fool and he is singlehandedly turning his mission into a fool's errand.




Monday, March 19, 2007

All Oboe Music, All The Time

I'm getting a lot of questions from the listeners at Wizard Radio. But the one question I just can't answer is "Why?" Why is the recording industry, particularly the large record labels, mounting a full charge against only one type of media? Why is Internet Radio the object of their ire?

It is a question that is impossible to answer. It makes so little sense, that a rational mind simply cannot fathom an answer.

Today Internet Radio pays more revenue to the recording industry than any other source.
Since big corporate radio, like Clear Channel's AM and FM stations pay absolutely nothing, why target the medium that is paying and paying handsomely.

Part of the answer may be that the record companies simply don't understand the medium. They are unsure where Internet Radio ends and theft by illegal downloading begins.

Curiously, they have it all backwards. Internet Radio does more to stop illegal downloading that promote it. When listeners have access to the music they crave (something AM and FM radio cannot and will not offer), it diminishes the need for downloading. With 20,000 to 30,000 stations, a listener can find any music choice they desire.

They can learn about artists that they would never hear on conventional radio. Perhaps that is the threat. The big labels need to sell the big artists. If you fall in love with someone NOT prepackaged by RCA or Sony, they potentially lose money.

Since big corporate radio is in the pocket of the big labels, it pays to protect them and drive out competition.

From today's
New York Times:

A Fee Per Song Can Ruin Us, Internet Radio Companies Say

Published: March 19, 2007

New-media companies and record labels are feuding again. But this time, it is the digital companies that warn they may be driven out of business.

Several Internet radio companies are arguing that a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board, a three-member panel under the Library of Congress, would make it almost impossible for them to stay afloat.

Under the ruling released on March 2, Web broadcasters must pay each time a listener hears a song, at a rate that began at 0.008 cent in 2006 (the ruling applies retroactively) and rises to 0.19 cent in 2010. Besides increasing the charge for each song, the ruling established a $500 minimum payment for each Web channel — making it difficult for companies like RealNetworks and Pandora to offer as many different kinds of music as they do now.

“We would have to provide less choice and less diverse programming,” said Robert Kimball, senior vice president for business and legal affairs at RealNetworks.

In the last few years, as broadband Internet connections became more popular, online radio offerings have proliferated. On Wednesday, Mr. Kimball testified to the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet that online radio played a greater variety of music, but that it was unfairly limited by restrictions that did not apply to conventional radio stations.

As the recording industry sees the matter, though, Web-based broadcasters are simply building a business with their content, which they deserve to be compensated for.

Companies that operate Internet radio channels are expected to ask the Copyright Royalty Board to reconsider the case.

Internet radio royalties have become a thorny issue in part because conventional stations do not pay to use recordings. Both online and regular stations pay royalties to songwriters. But under a 1995 law, companies that transmit music using the Internet, cable or satellite must compensate both. The money is split between the owner of the recording, usually the label, and the performers.

Until the end of 2005, Internet stations could pay royalties based on either the number of songs they played or the number of hours listeners tuned in, and small companies had the option of giving SoundExchange about 12 percent of their revenue.

For some Internet radio operations, the new royalty obligations would exceed annual revenue. Kurt Hanson, who publishes a newsletter and runs AccuRadio, a site with 320 channels, said he took in $400,000 in 2006, almost all of it from advertising. He estimated that under the new payment structure, he would have owed $600,000 for the year.

The $500 minimum for each channel is among the ruling’s more difficult aspects. Many Web radio sites offer thousands of channels, a strategy that would be impossible with this rate structure. AccuRadio, for example, offers one channel that consists entirely of classical oboe music.

“Among oboe players, it’s very popular,” Mr. Hanson remarked.

Many involved in Internet radio contend that the Copyright Royalty Board members do not understand the technology. At one point in the proceedings, according to the transcript, one member asked if the term “albums” could refer to CDs as well as vinyl records.

Internet radio operators also say it would not be in the interest of labels to stifle a business that is paying them fees to use their music, especially at a time of declining CD sales.

“That’s counterproductive to the copyright holders,” said Terry McBride, chief executive of the Nettwerk Music Group, a label and artist-management company, adding that
the ruling could be bad for performers whose music would not be played on conventional radio.

The decision comes as sites like Pandora are only beginning to explore the possibilities of personalized online radio, said Mike McGuire, a research vice president at Gartner. “One hopes the mind-set will be that nobody wants to see anybody go out of business,” he said.




Saturday, March 17, 2007

How Congress Got It Wrong

This article is a shortened and abridged version of an excellent overview of the current impending disaster in the brief history of Internet Radio written by Kurt Hansen in yesterday's Radio and Internet News (RAIN). I urge you to read the entire article.

Copyright Law and the CRB
What Went Wrong


Given the ruinous rates and terms laid down by the Copyright Royalty Board last week, many RAIN readers have been asking, what are the options available to webcasters? They include negotiating, appealing to the courts, asking for legislative relief, and, perhaps in combination with some or all of those efforts, asking for help from listeners.

But before that process begins, I think it might be useful to take a few steps backward and look at how we arrived at this potentially fatal situation.

The purpose of copyright law

Stanford Law professor and copyright expert Lawrence Lessig writes, "Copyright has never accorded the copyright owner complete control over all possible uses of his work. Its purpose instead is to secure a limited monopoly over certain ways in which creative work is exploited, so as to give the authors (i.e., composers and performers) an incentive to create, and thus, in turn, to 'promote the Progress of Science'."

In fact, it's beyond argument today that the U.S. copyright laws recognize no absolute right in authors to prevent others from copying or exploiting their work. Rather, copyright laws grant authors limited rights in their works solely to an extent that Congress believes that creation and dissemination of their works are encouraged.
In the long term, authors' intents and interests have always been secondary to that of the public.

Copyright law and music Congress' intent to encourage the creation and dissemination of musical works is based on those principles. Congress has wanted to insure that composers have an incentive to keep composing and performers have an incentive to keep performing, but also that third parties (i.e., those individuals and companies that disseminate those works to the public in new forms (e.g., Pandora)) would have an incentive to keep innovating -- in each case, remember, primarily not for those individuals' own good, but rather for the good of the public.

So, to that end, Congress over the past decades has seen fit to grant composers and performers a certain limited number of monopoly rights. Not unlimited rights, mind you, but enough to motivate them to keep composing and performing.

For example, in the case of composers, one of the monopolies that Congress granted them was a monopoly for a certain period of time to decide who could record their compositions -- specifically, they may determine the first person who may record it.
Of course, Congress could have granted composers additional monopoly rights regarding who could perform their songs. But they didn't. Congress felt that the bundle of various monopoly rights they did give should be enough to motivate composers to keep composing.

Copyright law and sound recordings

Now let's look at sound recordings. When Rod Stewart records Cole Porter's "Night and Day," there are two different creative works involved -- the song (lyrics and notes) and the performance of it (as captured on that recording). We're now talking about the latter -- the sound recording.

In the early days of cylinders and 78 RPM discs and so forth, state copyright laws granted owners of the master recordings various rights to manufacture and sell them, but it was an open question as to whether radio stations had the right to play those recordings.

In fact (as I was reminded recently in the excellent book "Something in the Air" by the Washington Post's Marc Fisher), top crooners of the era like Bing Crosby (pictured) and Paul Whiteman stamped "Not Licensed for Radio Airplay" on their records and hired lawyers to try to sue the radio stations that played them.

However, a federal court ruled in 1940 that once a record was sold, the buyer had the right to use it in any manner he liked, including broadcasting it on the radio. Recording artists had been granted several rights by Congress, the court concluded, but not that one. Thereafter, radio stations knew they were free to play the records they wanted to play.

And the relationship between recording artists and radio stations turned out to be a virtuous one! When radio stations played a Bing Crosby record, its sales didn't go down (as he was apparently afraid they might), they soared!

A healthy economy developed in which record companies and recording artists encouraged radio stations to play their records, knowing they'd mutually benefit. (In fact, record companies eventually went on to hire huge promotional staffs and establish huge budgets for things like trade publication ads and independent promotion companies to encourage more radio stations to play more of their recordings more and more often.)

From the record company's perspective

If you're Clive Davis or Andrew Lack running a record label, though, you might instinctively view this whole situation from a different perspective. You might think, "I paid for the making of these recordings. They're my property! They should be mine to do with as I please!"

But that's not historically correct. Historically, you started out with no rights at all. Anyone could copy or use anything you created for any purpose whatsoever that they desired. But government eventually realized that the public would benefit if the government granted you certain monopoly rights for a limited period of time. You'd be motivated to produce more art. And the public would benefit.

So government, using the mechanism called copyright law, gave you certain rights: For example, the government gave you a monopoly right, for a limited period of time, to determine who could use your recordings in TV commercials or in films, or put your best songs on a compilation disc and sell them, or use your album cover art on t-shirts. Those are all specific monopoly rights that legislators decided to grant you.

But they didn't grant you monopoly rights over radio airplay! The government felt it was unnecessary. Copyright law is designed to balance rights and freedoms for both copyright owners and copyright users, in such balance to maximize the benefit to the public.
Congress felt that they had given you, Clive or Andrew, a sufficient number of rights to keep you motivated to keep making recorded music.

Enter digital
Now let's jump forward to 1995. Technology is changing. Music is now being delivered to consumers in digital, as opposed to analog, form (i.e., on CDs) and is about to be transmitted in digital form on cable TV systems (DMX, MusicChoice, and Muzak) and via satellite radio (XM and Sirius).

...the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) lobbied Congress to pass a law called the "Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRA)."

Here was the RIAA's argument: Digital transmissions of music were about to allow consumers to make a "perfect digital copy" of the music being transmitted. Those
perfect copies were going impact revenues for recording artists horribly -- so horribly, in fact, that they might lack sufficient motivation to record music thereafter. Given that nightmare scenario, the RIAA asked Congress for an additional monopoly right regarding the "public performance" of sound recordings when a digital transmission was involved.

Congress bought it.
(In defense of legislators, the RIAA was very early on the curve here, and there was no organized "other side" to raise any effective objections.)

As for compensation to the copyright owner, Congress instructed the copyright owners and the copyright users to negotiate a royalty rate among themselves, but, if that failed, Congress instructed the Copyright Office to set up an arbitration panel called a CARP that would hold hearing to determine a royalty rate.

Congress also established the four criteria ("policy objectives") the CARP should use, if a CARP was needed at all, to set the royalty rate --

(A) To maximize the availability of creative works to the public;

(B) To afford the copyright owner a fair return for his creative work and the copyright user a fair income under existing economic conditions;

(C) To reflect the relative roles of the copyright owner and the copyright user in the product made available to the public with respect to relative creative contribution, technological contribution, capital investment, cost, risk, and contribution to the opening of new markets for creative expression and media for their communication;
(D) To minimize any disruptive impact on the structure of the industries involved and on generally prevailing industry practices.

Note that those four criteria are perfectly in keeping with the general concept of copyright law -- motivating both creators of artistic works (performers) and users of those works (music services) to keep doing what they do, with the ultimate beneficiary being the public.

Enter the DMCA

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (the "DMCA") (also here) contained a whole bundle of new provisions to add new protections and rights for various copyright owners...

Within that law, the RIAA got webcasting added as a form of digital transmission that would be covered by a "public performance" copyright.

The DMCA also changed the standard under which a webcasting CARP, if one proved necessary, was supposed to determine the appropriate royalty rate.

Where we stand today

So here's where we stand today based on the specific bundle of monopoly rights that Congress has granted the various factions:

Copyright owners of sound recordings have not been granted any rights to control which AM, FM, or HD radio stations play their recordings, because Congress felt that the copyright owners had enough other rights to keep them motivated to keep making records.

However, because of an alleged nascent threat of consumers being able to make "perfect digital copies" of songs transmitted digitally, Congress granted record labels a new monopoly right to control who plays their recordings, meaning effectively that...

Internet radio also has to pay a royalty for the use of sound recordings, but its rate is set by a trio of judges based on a single criterion that can, in my reading, anyway, be interpreted as "almost whatever the labels feel like."

And thus we end up with a situation in we're in right now, in which a trio of judges granted the copyright owners a royalty rate from Internet radio that is effectively, I believe, more than 100% of the total industry's revenues!

(I think this proves my point that the "willing buyer / willing seller" rule, when the sellers can operate as a group, works out to "whatever the sellerse feel like." It turns out that what the sellers feel like is "every penny you have...and more.")

So what do we do next?

Clearly the process has spun off the rails. Particularly if the CRB decision drives Internet radio off the air, the public clearly doesn't benefit, meaning that the purpose of copyright law is not being served.

The purpose of Congress granting copyright protections is supposed to be to maximize the availability of creative output to the public.

... it's supposed to encourage the development of new services like radio station's Internet simulcasts and "B" channels and LAUNCHcast and AccuRadio and Live365 and Radio Paradise and Pandora. When both sides are doing what they do, the public benefits. Copyright law is not supposed to shut down an entire industry.

There were two moments, historically, where things went wrong:

First, the logic that the RIAA gave Congress as the rationale for getting a performance royalty for sound recordings in the DPRA was faulty from the start. The lobbyists used a deceptive term -- they said a "perfect digital copy" was going to be available to consumers. In fact there's nothing "perfect" about the audio quality of an Internet radio stream at all.

For streaming to work, webcasters stream music at much lower than CD quality.

Second, the change in instructions to the CARP in 1998's DMCA -- from the four public policy-based criteria used for the other services' CARPs to the "willing buyer / willing seller" standard for the webcasters' CARP

-- has led to decisions, two out of two times (!), that may be potentially enriching for one of the sides but that clearly aren't in the public interest.

In the words of the great composer and lyricist Johnny Mercer, "Something's gotta give, something's gotta give, something's gotta give!"

We are running a series of informational spots and discussions (some very funny and all very informative) on both Wizard Radio (international variety of music) and our sister station ctrl alt vip (alternative rock and independent and experimental music). Follow this link to listen to any of our three fine stations: Wizard Radio