Adam Ash

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein, R.I.P. - you didn't kill as many Iraqis as Bush/Cheney, but you were way more honest about it

1. On the Gallows, Curses for U.S. and ‘Traitors’ – by MARC SANTORA/NY Times

BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 — Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped.

His last words were equally defiant.

“Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians.”

The final hour of Iraq’s former ruler began about 5 a.m., when American troops escorted him from Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad airport, to Camp Justice, another American base at the heart of the city.

There, he was handed over to a newly trained unit of the Iraqi National Police, with whom he would later exchange curses. Iraq took full custody of Mr. Hussein at 5:30 a.m.

Two American helicopters flew 14 witnesses from the Green Zone to the execution site — a former headquarters of the Istikhbarat, the deposed government’s much feared military intelligence outfit, now inside the American base.

Mr. Hussein was escorted into the room where the gallows, with its red railing, stood, greeted at the door by three masked executioners known as ashmawi. Several of the witnesses present — including Munkith al-Faroun, the deputy prosecutor for the court; Munir Haddad, the deputy chief judge for the Iraqi High Tribunal; and Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament — described in detail how the execution unfolded and independently recounted what was said.

To protect himself from the bitter cold before dawn during the short trip, Mr. Hussein wore a 1940s-style wool cap, a scarf and a long black coat over a white collared shirt.

His executioners wore black ski masks, but Mr. Hussein could still see their deep brown skin and hear their dialects, distinct to the Shiite southern part of the country, where he had so brutally repressed two separate uprisings.

The small room had a foul odor. It was cold, had bad lighting and a sad, melancholic atmosphere. With the witnesses and 11 other people — including guards and the video crew — it was cramped.

Mr. Hussein’s eyes darted about, trying to take in just who was going to put an end to him.

The executioners took his hat and his scarf.

Mr. Hussein, whose hands were bound in front of him, was taken to the judge’s room next door. He followed each order he was given.

He sat down and the verdict, finding him guilty of crimes against humanity, was read aloud.

“Long live the nation!” Mr. Hussein shouted. “Long live the people! Long live the Palestinians!”

He continued shouting until the verdict was read in full, and then he composed himself again.

When he rose to be led back to the execution room at 6 a.m., he looked strong, confident and calm. Whatever apprehension he may have had only minutes earlier had faded.

The general prosecutor asked Mr. Hussein to whom he wanted to give his Koran. He said Bandar, the son of Awad al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court who was also to be executed soon.

The room was quiet as everyone began to pray, including Mr. Hussein. “Peace be upon Mohammed and his holy family.”

Two guards added, “Supporting his son Moktada, Moktada, Moktada.”

Mr. Hussein seemed a bit stunned, swinging his head in their direction.

They were talking about Moktada al-Sadr , the firebrand cleric whose militia is now committing some of the worst violence in the sectarian fighting; he is the son of a revered Shiite cleric, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, whom many believe Mr. Hussein ordered murdered.

“Moktada?” he spat out, mixing sarcasm and disbelief.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, asked Mr. Hussein if he had any remorse or fear.

“No,” he said bluntly. “I am a militant and I have no fear for myself. I have spent my life in jihad and fighting aggression. Anyone who takes this route should not be afraid.”

Mr. Rubaie, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Hussein, asked him about the killing of the elder Mr. Sadr.

They were standing so close to each other that others could not hear the exchange.

One of the guards, though, became angry. “You have destroyed us,” the masked man yelled. “You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution.”

Mr. Hussein was scornful: “I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persians and Americans.”

The guard cursed him. “God damn you.”

Mr. Hussein replied, “God damn you.”

Two witnesses, apparently uninvolved in selecting the guards, exchanged a quiet joke, saying they gathered that the goal of disbanding the militias had yet to be accomplished.

The deputy prosecutor, Mr. Faroun, berated the guards, saying, “I will not accept any offense directed at him.”

Mr. Hussein was led up to the gallows without a struggle. His hands were unbound, put behind his back, then fastened again. He showed no remorse. He held his head high.

The executioners offered him a hood. He refused. They explained that the thick rope could cut through his neck and offered to use the scarf he had worn earlier to keep that from happening. Mr. Hussein accepted.

He stood on the high platform, with a deep hole beneath it.

He said a last prayer. Then, with his eyes wide open, no stutter or choke in his throat, he said his final words cursing the Americans and the Persians.

At 6:10 a.m., the trapdoor swung open. He seemed to fall a good distance, but he died swiftly. After just a minute, his body was still. His eyes still were open but he was dead. Despite the scarf, the rope cut a gash into his neck.

His body stayed hanging for another nine minutes as those in attendance broke out in prayer, praising the Prophet, at the death of a dictator.

(Ali Adeeb and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting from Baghdad.)

2. Justice, but No Reckoning – by NAJMALDIN KARIM/NY Times

MY personal battle with Saddam Hussein — which began in 1972 when I abandoned my medical career in Mosul, Iraq, and joined the Kurdish armed resistance — is at an end. To execute such a criminal, a man who reveled in his atrocities, is an act of justice.

The only issue for me is the timing — executing him now is both too late and too early. Too late, because had Saddam Hussein been removed from the scene many years ago, many lives would have been saved.

Killing Saddam now, however, for ordering the massacre at Dujail in 1982, means that he will not face justice for his greatest crimes: the so-called Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, the genocidal assault on the Marsh Arabs in the 1990s, and the slaughtering of the Shiite Arabs and Kurds who rose up against him, with American encouragement, in 1991.

The sight of a tyrant held to account, if only briefly, has been an important precedent for the Middle East. The shabby diplomacy that has allowed dictators to thrive is now discredited.

Sadly, however, we have not had full justice. Saddam Hussein did not confront the full horror of his crimes. Building on previous initiatives by Arab nationalist governments to persecute the Kurds, he turned ethnic engineering and murder into an industry in the 1970s. Hundreds of thousands were evicted from their homes and murdered. Swaths of Kurdish countryside were emptied of their population, men, women and children taken to shallow graves and shot.

Initially, the United States backed those of us who took to the hills to save our lives and freedom, but in 1975 (and here is an irony) Gerald Ford agreed to stop financing us in order to settle a border dispute between Iraq and Iran. As so many times since, human rights were no match for a desire to keep the oil flowing.

During the 1980s, entire towns, including Qala Diza in Iraqi Kurdistan and Qasr-i-Shirin in neighboring Iranian Kurdistan, were destroyed. To ensure that survivors would never return to their homes, the mountains were laced with land mines. The widows and children were detained in settlements lacking fresh water and sewage disposal; these were called “mujammat” in Arabic, which translates, with all the dreadful implications, as “concentration areas.”

While I escaped to America, my family was not so lucky. My brother-in-law and nephew were summarily executed. They never had anything remotely approaching a fair trial, never got to write a will, never got to say goodbye to my sister.

Saddam Hussein’s trial shed new light on these tragic years. Documents came to light revealing that his regime coordinated with Turkey in its efforts to isolate Kurdish villages in 1988, in which he used chemical weapons. This should lead to some important soul searching in Turkey.

But the failure to put Saddam Hussein on trial for the Anfal offensive itself will cheat us of learning the full details — of investigating whether the Turks suppressed evidence of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons by preventing foreign doctors from seeing Kurdish refugees; of knowing the extent to which Saudi Arabia and Egypt may have aided Saddam Hussein’s weapons production.

Kurds aren’t the only ones who will be cheated out of full reckoning. In 1991, as we all know, the retreating Iraqi army massacred Shiite Arabs as well as Kurds who had heeded President George H. W. Bush’s call to overthrow the Baathist regime. According to the 2004 report of the Iraq Survey Group, the dictator used chemical weapons against Shiite Arab civilians in 1991. Without putting Saddam Hussein on trial for these offenses, or for his campaigns against the Marsh Arabs of the south, will we ever know what really happened?

For all the mistakes that the United States has made in Iraq — and I feel the betrayal of 1975 was the worst — I am a proud (naturalized) American because this country brought the murderous despot to trial. Still, it is a great shame that he will not be held accountable for all of his crimes, and a far greater tragedy that he was allowed, sometimes with American complicity, to commit them in the first place.

(Najmaldin Karim, a neurosurgeon, is the president of the Washington Kurdish Institute.)

3. Feared and Pitiless; Fearful and Pitiable -- by JOHN F. BURNS

NOBODY who experienced Iraq under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein could imagine, at the height of the terror he imposed on his countrymen, ever pitying him. Pitiless himself, he sent hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to miserable deaths, in the wars he started against Iran and Kuwait, in the torture chambers of his secret police, or on the gallows that became an industry at Abu Ghraib and other charnel houses across Iraq. Iraqis who were caught in his spider’s web of evil, and survived, tell of countless tortures, of the psychopathic pleasure the former dictator appeared to take from inflicting suffering and death.

Yet there was a moment when I pitied him, and it came back to me after the nine Iraqi appeal judges upheld the death sentence against Saddam last week, setting off the countdown to his execution. As I write this, flying hurriedly back to Baghdad from an interrupted Christmas break, Saddam makes his own trip to the gallows with an indecent haste, without the mercy of family farewells and other spare acts of compassion that lend at least a pretense of civility to executions under law in kinder jurisdictions. From all we know of the preparations, Saddam’s death was to be a miserable and lonely one, as stark and undignified as Iraq’s new rulers can devise.

Many Iraqis, perhaps most, will spare no sympathies for him. However much he may have suffered in the end, they will say, it could never be enough to atone for a long dark night he imposed on his people. Still, there was that moment, on July 1, 2004, when Saddam became, for me, if only briefly, an object of compassion.

He had been brought to a makeshift courtroom in the grounds of a former presidential palace in Baghdad that became, as Camp Victory, the American military headquarters in Iraq. It was the first time he had appeared in public since his capture six months earlier in a coffin-like subterranean bolt-hole near his hometown of Tikrit when he emerged unkempt yet proclaiming himself to American soldiers who hauled him from his hiding place to be “Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq,” and ready to negotiate with his captors.

We know, from accounts given by his Iraqi and American interrogators, that the old Saddam quickly reasserted himself, heaping contempt on the new generation of Iraqi leaders who were taken out to a detention center near Baghdad International Airport the next day to verify for themselves, and for the world, that the man the Americans had seized was indeed their former tormentor.

So when the day arrived for his first court appearance, starting the process that led over the next 30 months to his two trials for crimes against humanity, there seemed little doubt to me which Saddam would show up to face the charges — Saddam the indignant, Saddam the self-proclaimed champion of Iraqi and Pan-Arab nationalism, Saddam the self-anointed figurehead of the insurgency that was already, then, beginning to look like a nightmare for the invaders.

His American captors had flown Saddam and 11 of his top henchmen to Camp Victory by helicopter, and led them hooded and shackled at the waist and ankles to the threshold of the mosque annex that served as a courtroom. Only at the door to the court were the hoods and shackles removed, clattering to the floor a moment or two before the door opened to show Defendant No. 1, Saddam Hussein al-Majid, standing clasped at the elbow between two Iraqi guards.

From 20 feet away on an observer’s bench, seated beside the late Peter Jennings of ABC News and Christiane Amanpour of CNN, I caught my first glimpse of the man who had become in my years of visiting Iraq under his rule, a figure of mythic brutality, a man so feared that the mention of his name would set the hard, unsmiling men assigned to visiting reporters as “minders” to shaking with fear, and on one occasion, in my experience, to abject weeping.

But this was not that Saddam. The man who stepped into the court had the demeanor of a condemned man, his eyes swiveling left, then right, his gait unsteady, his curious, lisping voice raised to a tenor that resonated fear. Quickly, he fixed his gaze on the handful of foreigners in the court, and I had my own moment of anxiety when it came to my mind that he was intent on remembering the faces of the non-Iraqis that were there to witness his humiliation, perhaps to get word through to his lawyers, and then on to the insurgents, that we were to be punished for our intrusion. It was only later, after I learned what he had been told before being taken from his cell to the court, that I understood that our presence meant something else to him entirely, that with foreigners present, he was not going to be summarily hanged or shot.

THE Americans who were his jailers in the first days after his capture — aboard an American aircraft carrier and then at a converted detention center known as Camp Cropper at the edge of Baghdad’s airport — had chosen, on that summer day, to give Saddam a taste of the fear that he exhilarated in imposing on others. All he was told was that he was being taken “to face Iraqi justice.” Small wonder, as the architect of a quarter-century of repression, that he should fear that he was about to suffer the torture and grisly death that he had inflicted on so many others.

At that instant, I felt sorry for him, as a man in distress and perhaps, too, as a once almighty figure reduced to ignominy. But the expression of that pity to the Iraqis present marked the distance between those, like me, who had taken the measure of Saddam’s terror as a visitor, shielded from the worst of it by the minders and the claustrophobic world of closely guarded hotels and supervised Information Ministry trips, and Iraqis who lived through it with no shield.

That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked as evidence of a profound moral corruption. I came to understand how a Westerner used to the civilities of democracy and due process — even a reporter who thought he grasped the depths of Saddam’s depravity — fell short of the Iraqis’ sense, forged by years of brutality, of the power of his unmitigated evil.

After that initial encounter with Saddam, I saw him many times walking within 10 feet of my feet in the glass-walled press gallery in the courtroom at the former Baath Party headquarters, chosen as a venue for his trials by the Regime Crimes Liaison Office, the unit created by the United States Justice Department , to help Iraqi judges and lawyers create what became the Iraqi High Tribunal, the special court designated to try high-ranking members of the old regime. But the Saddam who dominated that courtroom was another figure — haughty, defiant, often beside himself with anger, but, above all, remorseless. If the death penalty held any fear for him, when it was handed down in November, for the killing of 148 men and teenage boys during a systematic persecution of the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982, he never showed it.

Almost the only chink in his prideful armor showed when he demanded at the Dujail trial that he be shot by firing squad, the privilege as he told it, due to him as the — still legitimate, as he claimed — commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces. That plea was quickly denied by the chief judge. It was a point never again raised by Saddam, who took, at the end, to proclaiming his eagerness to die as a “martyr” for Iraq, and his belief that this would earn his passage to paradise. But the plea to be spared hanging suggested that fear — of humiliation, if not of death — was a close companion during the 1,000-odd days he spent in solitary confinement in Camp Cropper.

Of other strains of humanity there was little sign. During the Dujail trial, and just as much during the Anfal trial that followed, at which Saddam and six other defendants were accused of murdering as many as 180,000 Kurds in the late 1980’s, he showed no hint of remorse as survivors of the torture chambers and the desert internment camps and, in the case of the Anfal campaign, the chemical weapons attacks and the mass graves, told their pitiful stories. Head to one side, hand pressed to his head, fingers splayed, writing detailed notes on yellow legal pads, Saddam listened impassively to the accounts of women hung upside down to be beaten, of sons holding wet cloths to their faces and finding the twisted bodies of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers heaped in an agony of death from mustard-gas attacks, and of young men who scrambled back to life from beneath the bloodied bodies of fellow villagers in remote pits scraped from the desert wadis of Iraq.

LIKE some ghastly accountant with an obsession for detail but no morsel of pity, Saddam limited his questions to peripheral issues: What were the precise geographic coordinates of the mass graves? How could a boy no more than 10 at the time recall so precisely the details of a chemical attack? Why should anyone credit the testimony of a man — brother to seven others who were executed after the alleged attack at Dujail — who admitted he belonged to Dawa, an Iran-backed religious party?

Not once did he avail himself of what seemed like the expedient response of a man who had pleaded not guilty to involvement in any of these crimes: an expression of sorrow for the victims, albeit coupled with renewed denials of his responsibility.

Like many another dictator before him, Saddam so sealed himself off from his own people, in his scores of palaces, and on his carefully staged, video-recorded walkabouts among crowds of ululating citizens, that he seemed never to grasp, even in the extremities of his last weeks, how hated he was by his people. In the courtroom, he insisted, repeatedly, that he remained Iraq’s lawful president and thus immune to prosecution, even as the judges responded by calling him “ex-president” and ordering him to sit down. He was sustained in this make-believe world by his former acolytes, who would stand in the dark as he entered, greeting him with expressions of undying fealty.

Among the most insistent of these courtiers were two men who were scheduled to die with him on the gallows after their appeals in the Dujail case were denied, his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar, chief judge of the revolutionary court who passed the death sentences on the men and boys from Dujail, in a court hearing that lasted only hours with the dock too crowded for many of the condemned even to enter the court, and with no legal representation. This miserable precedent appeared to make no impact on Saddam and his fellow defendants, who protested at every opportunity during their own trials at the denial of what they claimed were their proper rights and comforts. The quality of the prison food — including American military rations known as meals-ready-to-eat — was one such issue; the quality of the cigarettes given to them another.

Saddam, prideful to the last, left much of the caviling over prison conditions to his erstwhile minions. And shortly before he was sentenced to death, he demonstrated, inadvertently, that in the shrunken world of his captivity he remained the leader who dare not be defied. An American official who worked closely with the Iraqi court told of watching on a closed-circuit relay as Saddam and other defendants in the Dujail trial waited one day in a holding room off the courtroom floor. At the time, Saddam had declared a hunger strike on his own and his associates’ behalf in protest of the Dujail case continuing after the walkout of the defense lawyers, who had been replaced by counsel appointed by the court.

At one end of the room, visible on the surveillance cameras, was a table laid with food, including cellophane-wrapped oatmeal biscuits of the kind available in every American military canteen in Iraq. Thinking his fellow defendants were distracted, one of the accused, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president renowned even among Saddam’s henchman for his brutality, slipped two pockets of biscuits into his pocket, only for Saddam to march on him demanding to know who gave him permission to eat. Mr. Ramadan, the American official said, denied he had taken anything from the table. “Empty your pockets, you betrayer!” Saddam demanded. Whereupon Mr. Ramadan lamely admitted his guilt and, with the sheepish deference born of two decades in Saddam’s inner circle, returned the biscuits to his basket.

4. Executing Saddam, Protecting The Rackets -- by Manuel Garcia, Jr./

What does the execution of Saddam Hussein mean to the public?

What has the execution of captured national leaders meant in the past?

Vercingetorix was the leader of the Celtic revolt against Roman rule in Gaul. He was taken captive by Julius Caesar after the Gallic defeat in the Battle of Alesia (in eastern France) in 52 BC, and spent the next six years in chains and publicly displayed as a war trophy. In 46 BC, he was taken from his cell and marched through the streets of Rome during a procession honoring Caesar, and then publicly executed by strangulation. Gaius Julius Caesar himself would only live another two years, for he was executed by a group of assassins with hand knives in 44 BC.

The overt US military involvement in World War II lasted three years and eight months, from early December 1941 to early August 1945. The war crimes tribunals of German (at Nuremberg) and Japanese (at Tokyo and Manila) political and military leaders occurred during 1945 to 1949. The major German war criminals were executed on October 16, 1946 -- 10 hangings within 3.5 hours. Seven major Japanese war criminals were executed by hanging on December 23, 1948.

What can we say to characterize the executions cited? Consider these four possibilities:

1. In some cases, a degree of justice and some recognition of historical "lessons" came about as a result of the trials and punishment of war criminals.

2. Such executions are triumphal rituals by a victorious power elite lording it over the defeated.

3. These executions are political theater for the masses, to distract them from their many sacrifices -- especially through wars -- to the power elite.

4. They are used by the power elite to remove discarded members of their own class who are now political liabilities.

The current Iraq War broke out in March 2003 and has lasted three years and eight months (like WWII). Victory in the form of a compliant Iraqi population and easy extraction of Iraqi natural resources -- oil -- has been elusive, so we have been presented with gestures of power: a string of "hits" on named "terrorists" leading up to the biggest show of this type, the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam's execution was a triumphal ritual by US power against an occupied -- though still unconquered -- Iraqi people, it was the political decapitation of the former Iraqi elite, a demonstration intended to show Iraqi subjugation to Western power. But, the abysmal failure by the US managers of the Iraq War has undercut any propaganda value Saddam's execution might have had with the Iraqi public.

Beyond its use as political theater for the masses, Saddam's execution was a spasm of pleasurable barbarism within the international club of the leadership class, a triumphal ritual by a victorious elite against a defeated adversary of its own class. It was an orgasm of power that aspired to be both primal and stylized like the delivery of the coup de grace -- whether by a cat biting through the neck of its prey, or a lieutenant firing his pistol into the temple of one dispatched by a firing squad -- but came off graceless and chaotic like the frenzy of a lynching.

Here, in the homeland of the would-be victors, Saddam's execution is used as another distraction for the public and the troops from their many sacrifices in paying for and manning this war by their elite.

And finally, Saddam's execution is a bit of necessary housekeeping by the managers of the war. It is the elimination of the possibility of damaging exposures by a former confederate. Donald Rumsfeld is not the only political operator who is relieved of any hazard of disclosures by Saddam.

Saddam's case makes it obvious what would be required to bring our un-indicted war criminals to justice. If Martians with vastly superior technology and military power invaded the Earth, as in H. G. Well's novel The War of the Worlds , and they set about reorganizing the United States because they knew themselves to be better able to allocate our natural resources and arrange our system of governance, what would be our proper response? Imagine they arrived in Flying Saucers indestructible even by our nuclear weapons, and they were armed with directed heat ray weapons of unearthly power. Imagine they saturated our radios and TVs with the message "We have come to liberate Earth from all warfare, to end all hunger, poverty and want, and to ensure humans live in harmony with Earth's natural conditions in a sustainable manner indefinitely." Then, imagine they put on war crimes trials of our political elite. What would our moral and patriotic duty be? To set off hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs) when Flying Saucer patrols passed through our neighborhoods? To fling rotting carcasses and produce at Alien Troopers, hoping to infect them with deadly-to-Martians Earth germs? To withstand the reprisals inflicted by searing heat rays vaporizing all in their path and yet continue resistance? Or would our duty be to make peace, to realize that warfare, mass killings and resistance were useless, that we should surrender to a greater power and accept our designated roles (and perhaps live in our designated reservations); and that we should implement the will of our new rulers including the prosecution and execution of our former Earthmen overlords? Who defines "duty," "honor" and "country?"

Saddam's execution was no victory for people outside the Washington D.C. imperial elite. There is no doubt that Saddam was guilty of great crimes, and any truly independent tribunal would have found him undeserving of retaining his liberty. A victory for the world public would have been a judgment requiring Saddam to reveal all the details of his career, during the course of a lifetime imprisonment. Historians and prosecutors in many countries would work from this record to winnow the truth from the lies, and to then enable the many agencies making up our international system of justice to pursue other perpetrators implicated in the tale.

The quick execution of Saddam Hussein is not simply "victor's justice," it is a demotion in a Mafia-style reorganization, the elimination of capo fallen from grace, to protect the power elite from any exposures that would threaten its control.

(Manuel Garcia, Jr. is an engineering physicist and can be reached at:

5. Dictator Hangs to the Warm Applause of Sycophants -- by Nathaniel Mehr/

Congratulations America. The UK and international press is today reporting the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with an affected solemnity which seems to say, "Alas, it is sad that it has come to this, but this is how it had to end." This approach is perhaps best summed up by the BBC's John Simpson , who confines criticism of the show trial which preceded the execution to the following extraordinary understatement: "It proved to be divisive, and certainly did not receive international approval," before reassuring the reader, in his usual inappropriate verboseness, that "These things will certainly continue to affect the way the world will see Saddam's death. But now that he has finally been swept off the political chessboard, the Iraqi government hopes that 2007 will be a better year as a result." The use of the "chessboard" analogy is appropriate enough in that it potentially provides an unintended insight into the mindset of the reporter himself, and his sympathy with the invading power -- perhaps he sees the Iraq situation as a game of chess in which all the key actors need to be physically removed in order to achieve complete conquest. However, let us not forget that this is the very same John Simpson who, in his excitement at entering Kabul alongside the "liberating" forces in 2001, declared that he felt as though he -- and the entire BBC -- were partaking in the liberation and carrying it out themselves. So Simpson's childlike enthusiasm for the mechanics of conquest can reasonably be attributed to a personal characteristic, and not necessarily signs of any political sympathy for the invading power, although there is an arguable case that such an outlook, perhaps achieved by many hours as a child spent playing "Risk" or more likely instilled by the detached chauvinism of the British public school system, might preclude objectivity and seriousness in reporting.

Of more serious concern is the obsequious tone of the article, which is quite typical of the reaction of the mainstream media generally. Simpson rather fancies himself as a dramatic storyteller, for although his article is thin on critical thought, there is plenty of unnecessary detail. For example, we are told the approximate time that the execution took place, and we are further advised that this was "just as the call to prayer was sounding across Baghdad," presumably on the basis that although discussion about the legitimacy of the court merits only a single dismissive line (see above), it is reasonable to speculate as to the possible religious significance which the pious people of Iraq might wish to attribute to the timing of the execution. The trouble with many mainstream journalists like John Simpson is that they do not credit either the Iraqi people or, for that matter, their own readership with the intelligence to consider questions of real importance, and instead bury the issues in a haze of Orientalist clichÈs.

Simpson's weak conclusion, "the Iraqi government hopes that 2007 will be a better year as a result [of Saddam's death]," is somewhat revealing. There is, of course, no Iraqi government to speak of, at least not a government whose "hopes", to the extent that they may differ from those of the US occupying power, are a relevant consideration for any journalist covering the present conflict. The Iraqi government is a proxy government controlled entirely by Washington, and therefore its hopes are Washington's hopes. What Simpson means to say, therefore, is that "the occupying power , and the Iraqi officialdom to which it has delegated some administrative responsibilities, hopes that 2007 will be a better year as a result of Saddam's death." By phrasing his conclusion in the manner in which he has chosen, Simpson is playing along with the charade, which is best summed up by George Bush's own ludicrous appraisal of the execution as "an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself."

A truly important milestone might have involved allowing the former dictator to be tried at the international court at The Hague, so that justice could be seen to be done in a neutral venue with respect for the rule of law. This could not be done for the simple reason that it was absolutely necessary for the US to control this trial. That the US armed Saddam to the teeth in the 1980s is reasonably common knowledge, but the notion that a court could peruse, in detail before the eyes of the world's media over a period of months and possibly years, a chronology of US and European support for the dictator, including shipments of the very gases used in chemical attacks against civilian and military targets even after the notorious Halabja massacre . . . this notion simply does not bear thinking about for the US planners. Amid much sanctimonious talk from politicians and journalists, of "holding people to account," the reality is that the people ultimately responsible for the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein will probably never be held to account. And this is of course not an accident, but the very purpose behind the show trial with which the US "convicted" their former agent Saddam Hussein.

The most appalling aspect of the news coverage of this event is the way in which the journalists have simply internalized the government position, as with John Simpson's understated reference to the international outcry over the show trial as some sort of unfortunate minor inconvenience, and the astonishingly inane conclusion that those in power will hope that next year is better than this year. When the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died earlier this month, it was noticeable that most mainstream UK media referred to him principally as "the former ruler of Chile," i.e. not "the former dictator of Chile." That man, a dictator, a mass murderer, a torturer, a rapist, a mutilator, was of course on our side, in that he was installed and supported by the US and a fervent ally of Margaret Thatcher. So even long after the end of his rule and long after the premierships of Reagan and Thatcher had ended, he is nevertheless referred to euphemistically by an obliging media, much as Saddam would have been in the 1980s when he was doing the bidding of the United States. The same can be said today of the Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf, a staunch supporter of the United States, who is generally referred to simply as a "President." Saddam, of course, is quite correctly identified as a "dictator" at almost every opportunity. By playing its part so obligingly, the mainstream media is nothing less than a knowing accessory to government policy, so that as unelected leaders and corrupt regimes sympathetic to the United States will continue to go about their business without serious challenge, the foundations are laid for future conflicts throughout the world -- a highly beneficial outcome for the armaments industry that is so heavily influential in Washington, but an outcome nonetheless which leaves Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki open to accusations of insincerity or, at the very least, incredibly naive optimism when he asserts that "Saddam's execution puts an end to all the pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship."

(Nathaniel Mehr writes for He can be reached at:

6. A Dance of Death: The Hanging of Saddam Hussein -- by Jack Random/

An American in the French Assembly before the Revolution became the Reign of Terror, spoke out against the execution of the royal monarch of France. Those who knew him were not surprised at his courage, conviction and strength of character. It was not a popular stance and he was no friend to the monarchy. He was in fact its greatest foe yet his principled position landed him in the Bastille and very nearly cost his life.

His name was Tom Paine, without whom it is unlikely that the great experiment we call democracy would ever have been launched on the American continent.

Saddam Hussein was hanged until the spark of life drained from his flailing limbs.

It is not politically astute to defend the fallen dictator any more than it was for Paine to plea for the life of the French monarch, yet there are occasions when principle must speak.

I am no more sympathetic to tyranny, despotism, oppression, brutality or crimes against humanity than Paine was to the monarchy, yet I felt only shame in observing the morbid dance of death surrounding the execution of Saddam.

Granted, the head of state is ultimately responsible for the crimes of the nation.

Saddam Hussein was executed for causing the death of 150 men and boys in the city of Dujail after an attempted assassination.

Only history can decide if he is accountable for genocide and other horrific crimes against humankind. The record is sufficiently clear that the great dictator was by no means an innocent man. The best that can be said, in light of what has transpired since the fall of his government, is that the divided, artificial and dysfunctional nation of Iraq required the brutal hand of a dictator if only to survive.

(I do not believe this is true. I cannot believe that tyranny and oppression are ever justified but the evidence is mounting with every corpse deposited on the streets of Baghdad or plucked out of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.)

Consider the actions of our government.

There is compelling evidence of a conspiracy to deceive the American people and extort Congress into a cause of war.

There is compelling evidence of that an aggressive act of war, in direct violation of the cardinal principle of international law, was committed against a non-threatening nation with premeditation and little regard for the bloody consequences of our actions.

There is compelling evidence that the tactics used in this war -- from Shock and Awe to Fallujah, where every man and boy of fighting age was prevented from leaving before the siege, from the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorous to spent uranium munitions -- were used with full knowledge of the massive civilian casualties that would result.

There is compelling evidence that over 200 Iraqis have died for every American soldier who has fallen during this war. Even without consideration for the events of Haditha, Abu Ghraib and countless other atrocities that have no names, the war itself is a crime of genocidal proportions.

So if the head of state is ultimately responsible for the crimes of the nation, why isnít our president facing trial?

This was not the heavy hand of justice. It was state sanctioned revenge. It was the justice of the conqueror, of emperors and kings.

For those who suggest that the dictator did not deserve a fair trial, I am compelled to remind you that justice is blind. That justice which is reserved for the good and virtuous is only a masquerade. It is the path to trial by drowning. Justice considers all who come before her with absolute equality. There can be no exceptions to the rule and process of law.

What we witnessed in the execution of Saddam was the killing of Iraqi justice by the poison of vengeance. It was a morbid dance of death.

The hanging of the dictator, however justified, however gratifying to those he victimized in a reign of terror that would not have been possible without the collaboration of western powers, was yet another crime against humanity for which our president must eventually be held accountable.

[Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II ( City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack]

US prez candidates - Hillary & Obama, McCain & Giuliani

1. Is America Ready for Hillary or Obama?
Hillary's hair and hemline won't be issues; her tough national-security approach and famous husband will.
By Jonathan Alter/Newsweek

It felt like the twilight zone in New Hampshire. The calendar still read 2006, but everything about the surging crowd of 1,500 pumped-up Democrats and 160 ravenous political reporters screamed 2008. Here was Barack Obama, less than two years into his Senate term, making his first-ever trip to the state in mid-December, and his sold-out performance before a tumultuous crowd impressed even the most hardened political operatives—though Conan O'Brien joked it was just because New Hampshire had never seen an African-American before.

For decades, the joke there has been that no presidential wanna-be can win support in the fabled primary without meeting each voter one-on-one in his living room. But the 45-year-old Obama, some-times described as "post-racial," was in a category of his own. As his team began to peel away longtime Bill Clinton supporters—former Commerce secretary Bill Daley is strongly onboard and will likely be a senior adviser—the Illinois senator's presidential rollout was working so well in New Hampshire that it raised concerns he could be peaking too soon. The mania, his aides know, cannot be sustained at this level when the real scrutiny begins.

Full of praise for Hillary Clinton, Obama handled himself with his usual offhand baritone cool. He explained that the hype has "less to do with me, more to do with you." His curious audience, he noted, was simply saying, "We are looking for something different—we want something new."

The question is, how new? For 220 years, Americans have elected only white male Christians with no hint of ethnicity to the White House. Even Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy seemed like a WASP to most people. By the time of Rep. Shirley Chisholm's brief run in 1972, then Jesse Jackson's in 1984 and 1988, the country was comfortable with barrier-breaking on the campaign trail, but not yet serious about electing someone truly different.

No one knows yet whether we are serious now, and we won't find out for sure unless it happens. But the record of white males in high places has not exactly been stellar of late, and voters might be in the mood to try something historic and possibly redemptive. A black president in a country that fought a civil war over race might even prove cathartic. And a woman president would show the rest of the world that the United States is not a sexist nation. Whatever happens, the process feels uplifting. If neither Clinton nor Obama wins, it won't necessarily prove the United States is closed-minded. Their failure would likely be the product of their own shortcomings—or the emergence of one of the several white (and one Hispanic) male Democrats who still have a shot at their party's nomination. Early primary states are so hard-wired for upsets that many Democrats could find themselves circling back to the pale males.

It's impossible to separate the abstract question of whether America is ready for a woman or a black from the concrete matter of whether we're ready for Hillary or Barack. Historically, the odds favor a woman over an African- American; psychologically and generationally, they may favor Obama over Clinton. Both are now expected to launch their campaigns early in the new year, which has created a level of political novelty and intrigue that goes beyond gender and race. "People don't view her first as a woman—they view her as a Clinton," says one of Bill Clinton's longtime advisers, who did not wish to be quoted assessing her candidacy. "And he looks like he may have the secret formula to unlock partisanship—a mixture that's broader than race."

First, they have to run the gauntlet. Hillary's big problem might be less her sex than her husband's—the risk that despite a powerful nostalgia for his intelligence and competence, Bill Clinton's sexual history and its myriad complications for her public persona will somehow intrude in ways that feel very yesterday. Will fatigue with the less attractive side of the Clinton years—the soap opera, sinning and self-absorption—resurface? Hard-core Hillary haters of both genders aren't going away.

Obama hasn't yet brought out the haters. "He's scarier than she is because nobody says a bad word about him," says a former senior aide to President Bush who doesn't want to be quoted speculating about Democrats. But that's partly because he's so untested. Obama's problem may be less that he's black than that he's green—the least battle-hardened major candidate in modern memory; "Obambi," as one Chicago columnist called him. Although lack of experience usually counts in politics only if it leads to serious error, his thin record could offer a handy excuse to those who consider President Barack Hussein Obama too exotic for their tastes. On the other hand, under what might be called the "dog years" theory of politics, a year of intense campaigning before the primaries might make the country feel as if it had known him for seven.

Theodore Sorensen, JFK's adviser and speechwriter, says, "He [Obama] reminds me in many ways of Kennedy in 1960. The pundits said he was Catholic and too young and inexperienced and wasn't a member of the party's inner circle. They forgot that the nomination wasn't decided in Washington but out in the field."

Polling on women and blacks in leadership suggests sharply improved prospects for both, though it's impossible to say how much respondents lie or are affected by their feelings about specific candidates. According to a new NEWSWEEK Poll, 86 percent of registered voters would vote for a qualified woman candidate for president if their party nominated one, and 93 percent say the same for a qualified African-American. These are much higher numbers than those of a generation ago.

But when asked about other people—whether "America is ready to elect a woman president"—only 55 percent say yes, with 7 percent fewer women than men answering in the affirmative. For an African-American presidential candidate, 56 percent of voters say America is ready, with more blacks than whites claiming not. This corresponds to anecdotal evidence of women's being among the most skeptical of Hillary's prospects and blacks unconvinced that Obama can go the distance. Their personal experience with obstacles leads them to lengthen the odds. The difference, which might favor Obama, is that women do not vote in disproportionate numbers for women candidates, while blacks tend to cast their vote for blacks, as long as they're viable Democrats.

In the abstract, the country seems disposed to elect a woman before an African-American. Women first won the constitutional right to vote in 1920, half a century after blacks (theoretically) received the franchise, but women have progressed further. In 1974, Ella Grasso of Connecticut became the first woman elected governor without having been the spouse or widow of one. The United States, where 51 percent of the population is female, now includes 9 women governors, 71 women House members and a record 16 women out of 100 in the Senate. Beginning in Sri Lanka in 1960, more than 40 nations have chosen women as heads of state (usually through the parliamentary system)—most recently in Chile, macho land of Pinochet, where voters in 2006 comfortably elected Michelle Bachelet as president.

By contrast, African-Americans represent only 13 percent of the American population, and minorities rarely serve as heads of state in any country. Only two blacks—Douglas Wilder of Virginia and, this year, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts—have been elected governor since Reconstruction, and only three have been sent to the Senate—Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and now Obama.

The benign interpretation of this disappointing history is that blacks are only one generation removed from the civil-rights movement. During that time, the argument goes, the most talented African-Americans gravitated more to business than politics, and those who did seek public office generally lacked the money to run statewide (the same problem held women back for many years). Black politicians concentrated instead on "majority-minority" House districts that have helped expand the Congressional Black Caucus to 43 members today.

While no analysts say electing a woman president is impossible, some still make that case about a black candidate. They suggest discarding analogies to the broad appeal of Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods: "There's a willingness to be entertained by African-Americans, but to be governed by them is a completely different story," says Lawrence Otis Graham, an African-American author. "White men have socialized and worked under women, but much more rarely under blacks. Whatever they say, when they go in the polling place, they won't go for it." Focus groups sponsored by Wilder during his abortive 1992 presidential campaign found that such hidden racial feelings continued to play a big role.

On the other hand, the population of racist voters is shrinking fast, for both actuarial and cultural reasons. During his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama was greeted by an enthusiastic white crowd in Cairo, Ill., the site of ongoing Ku Klux Klan violence as late as the 1970s. His top adviser, David Axelrod, recalls being stunned on the night of Obama's primary victory to find he had beaten several white candidates in an all-white Chicago ward that had nearly rioted over Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor.

The case for Obama's electability is strengthened by the example of Colin Powell, who might well have won had he run in 1996. (Powell declined partly in deference to family fears for his personal safety. Obama's family shares those concerns, and he will add a security detail if he runs. Clinton, as a former First Lady, gets Secret Service protection.) Unlike Powell, Obama has no military service to deepen his connection to core American values. But Powell and Obama share an immigrant heritage quite different from the descendants of Southern plantation slaves and a conviction, as Obama writes in his best-selling "The Audacity of Hope," that "rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America." By lifting that guilt, Obama, like Powell, has a way of making whites feel better about themselves because they like him. It's the politics of personal validation: voting as an act of self-esteem.

This taps right into the American Dream. The critic Stanley Crouch argued in a recent column titled "Not Black Like Me" that Obama—raised in Hawaii as the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas (both academics, both now dead)—is more representative of the uplifting immigrant experience than the grim African-American one: "He will have come into the White House through a side door—which might, at this point, be the only one that's open."

The same could be said for Hillary, who would become the first president to reach the White House at least partly through marriage. The marriage factor is less of a handicap than it might have been a few years ago, before she carved out her own solid reputation and the Bush crowd suffered such reversals of fortune. The willingness of so many voters to support Hillary because they admire her husband and think he would guide her is old-fashioned—even sexist—but still a powerful asset. Now Clinton partisans are happy to encourage the idea that a Hillary presidency would constitute a third term for Bill.

Even so, people remain uneasy about women in power. "A pollster once told me this issue doesn't need a pollster, it needs a shrink," says Melanne Verveer, a longtime Hillary friend and former chief of staff. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an African-American who committed to Hillary a year ago (but admits she would now be torn between her and Obama if she hadn't), worries about her candidate. "Women are harder on women," she says. "They demand a level of perfection they often do not from male candidates." Another African-American woman in Congress, who asked not to be identified for fear of offending the Clintons, says, "If her base is black women, it vanishes down to zero" if Obama gets in. The fact that Obama is married to an African-American woman (Michelle Obama, a vice president of the University of Chicago Hospitals) is critically important to this constituency.

The midterms were a mixed bag for women candidates. With the Democrats taking control in January, Rep. Nancy Pelosi will become the first woman Speaker of the House, making her second in line for the presidency. Two more women were elected to the Senate, and five women governors were re-elected. But on an otherwise celebratory election night, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, leader of Democratic efforts to take back the House, wailed, "What the f—- happened to my women?" Only three of 17 women challengers won, a much worse showing than for male candidates trying to win GOP seats.

No one has offered a full explanation, though the best theory is that women were more vulnerable than men to Republican attack ads claiming they coddled illegal aliens with taxpayer-supported benefits. It's apparently easier to make women candidates look soft, and there's not much penalty for beating up on them. "Too often when a woman runs, it's about being man enough for the job—and hair, hemline and husband," says Marie Wilson, director of a program to advance women candidates called the White House Project. Wilson says voters associate men with power and authority: "A female Obama would be questioned a great deal more about stepping forward with his level of experience."

Hillary's now-consistent hair and hemline won't be issues; her muscular national-security approach and her famous husband will. While Obama as an Illinois state senator opposed the Iraq invasion in 2002 as a "dumb war," she voted in favor of the resolution giving President Bush the authority he sought. Unlike John Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd, she has not said her vote was a mistake. Instead, Hillary has clung to a nuanced view that she was voting to get the United Nations inspectors back into Iraq. "Like it or not, I guarantee you that's her heartfelt position," says former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a Hillary supporter. Democratic primary voters won't like it, an advantage for Obama (and for Wesley Clark, the only other candidate who opposed the war). When you lack experience, it helps to have been right on the biggest issue of the day.

And what about Bill? The 42nd president is clearly a major plus for Hillary as long as he does nothing to embarrass his wife. One close friend of the family, who requested anonymity for obvious reasons, says the two now have a "loving marriage" and that his intense desire to see Hillary as president is helping him fight his longstanding "addiction": "He so wants her to get recognized for her fabulousness that he could live without a lot of things you wouldn't think he could live without."

But the voters' fear of an unwelcome blast from the past remains. "It's a subliminal thing," says another friend, also insisting that he not be named. "People don't want to be dragged back into their marriage when we're in a major crisis. People believe the right wing is loading up the cannons in anticipation, and even if what they have is not true, it will be printed, rebutted and will distract."

The former president will campaign separately from his wife across the country, almost as if he's a vice presidential candidate. This will multiply their impact, but it also avoids the direct side-by-side comparison that hurts Hillary, as it did when both spoke at the funeral of Coretta Scott King. Friends predict she will take speaking lessons (as he did some years ago) so that her speeches are less like policy-wonk laundry lists. They also believe she needs to show her sense of humor more in public, but in a way that's self-deprecating, not the sometimes sarcastic wit she wields in private.

It's hard to assess the strength of anti-Hillary sentiment in the country. Her advisers point to her huge re-election victory in New York, where she crushed her Palookaville opponent among independents and even scored well with Republicans, sweeping all but four counties. The national polls sponsored by "Hillaryland" (as her universe is known) are similarly encouraging. But the gap between what voters say they would do and how they think their neighbors would react raises suspicions. "It makes me think these polls are phony as hell," says former representative Pat Schroeder, who abandoned a possible presidential campaign in 1988. "There's a hard core out there who won't vote for a woman."

Or perhaps just not for Hillary. A recent Marist Poll showed that 47 percent of respondents nationwide "definitely will not consider" voting for her, a percentage that alarms some former aides to President Clinton. Those numbers will need to change for Democratic primary voters—now comfortable with assessing electability—to move her way.

A sobering message for Obama is the example of Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in the 2006 midterms. Ford ran a strong campaign for the Senate, but he lost by three points to Republican Bob Corker. The GOP sponsored an ad featuring a blonde cooing, "Call me, Harold," in reference to Ford's appearance at a Super Bowl party for Playboy. Ford's bachelorhood gave the Republicans the opening they needed to push age-old racist fears of miscegenation, but if that commercial hadn't worked, they would likely have found something else with racial overtones. (The producer of the ad now works for John McCain.)

As it was, a second, lesser-known attack ad was more troubling to Ford and could be used someday against Obama, too. It showed Ford in a church as the narrator tags Ford as a hypocrite on religious values. Then there was Ford's decision to ambush Corker in a parking lot. It may be that black candidates seeking white votes have less room than other politicians to go on the attack. That could leave Obama trapped between his positive tone and the need to be tough. If he loses his temper in the process, it might prove fatal politically. The margin for error for a rookie is small.

One piece of encouraging news from Tennessee is that the returns showed no signs of the "Bradley Effect," in which white voters tell pollsters they will vote for the black candidate, then go into the voting booth and choose someone else. (The phenomenon was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who in 1982 led in the final polls for governor of California but lost.) The final results in Tennessee actually showed Ford doing several points better than some election-eve polls suggested. "I don't know that a white Democrat would have done any better, and maybe even worse," Obama told NEWSWEEK. (Hillary declined to comment on the issues surrounding the prospect of a black or woman president.)

The electoral map might not be as daunting for Obama as it appears. Democratic pollster Joel Benenson points out that an African-American candidate on the ticket might make states like Virginia and North Carolina competitive for Democrats. Even Republican strategists concede that those who would vote against Obama purely on race are unlikely to vote Democratic anyway.

If he runs, Obama's real advantage may be in Southern primaries, where blacks now make up roughly half the voters. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the black South Carolinian whose support is important in that state's critical primary, told NEWSWEEK last week that he didn't think President Clinton's popularity would necessarily rub off on his wife. "Would my wife do as well as I did [running for office]? I don't think so," Clyburn says. "A lot of things can't transfer. You just can't pass that on." Obama plans to launch a huge voter-registration drive in 2007. He headed one in the Chicago area in 1992 that registered 100,000 new voters, mostly black.

Both campaigns would likely have ample funds for a protracted primary campaign. Hillary Clinton has $14.4 million on hand and a financial network in place to raise whatever it takes. And should Obama maintain his momentum, the money will almost certainly follow. "If Howard Dean raised $45 million on the Internet, that number is easily obtainable," says Bill Daley.

Obama's biggest challenge may be meeting expectations. Each time they have been raised—after his electrifying 2004 convention speech, upon his arrival in the Senate, with the publication of his book last fall—he has cleared the bar. But some Democrats are sure to be disappointed. Already, when he gives a policy-heavy, low-key speech, some in the audience—expecting convention-style oratory—leave underwhelmed.

Hillary is terrific at handling incoming artillery, but there may not be much—at least from Obama himself. His appeal is built at least partly around staying positive, a luxury he enjoyed in his 2004 Senate campaign, where he never had to go hard after his opponents. He beat several formidable white candidates in the Democratic primary, but the self-destruction of both the Illinois Democratic and the Republican front runners in sex scandals was a rare double gift. (Should Bill Clinton stray and blow up his wife's campaign, Obama could go 3-for-3 in that department.)

Obama insists that anyone who says Hillary is unelectable is wrong, though every time he makes this seemingly gracious remark—as he did recently in New Hampshire and New York— he cleverly raises the doubts again. On the surface, both candidates will likely hold their fire and wage relatively clean campaigns. Below them, of course, their operatives will be jabbing away in the 24-hour war rooms that are now a permanent part of big-time politics.

Hillaryland is in a "how dare he?" frame of mind, insisting that the wet-behind-the-ears senator doesn't have the standing to crash her party. Her operatives whisper about an Obama land deal with a Chicago fixer who was later indicted in an unrelated matter. Obamanians reply that the nominating process should not be a coronation, and that, after Whitewater, the Clintons are in no position to flog real-estate flaps into scandals.

At first glance, Clinton looks tougher than Obama, a big advantage in a bruising campaign. Obama isn't weak, just a blank slate. But if the standard is ease with people, the self-described "skinny guy with the funny name" has the edge. "There's not a room he walks into where he's uncomfortable, which causes other people to react the same way," says Axelrod. Anyone reading his revealing first book, "Dreams From My Father," can tell that Obama spent many difficult hours as a young man figuring out who he is, and that now he seems to know.

The campaign will likely have an intra-boomer subplot. Born in 1961 at the end of the baby boom, Obama and his cohort were shaped by a more ironic and less ideological sensibility than those who came of age in the tumult of the '60s. We cannot know yet how their different life experiences would play out in the presidency; that's what campaigns are supposed to help reveal. But it's a safe bet that both would use their global star power to repair America's image abroad.

Until then, these two celebrity candidates might end up helping each other, expanding America's sense of possibility. If either manages to win the White House, or even come close, 2008 will be remembered as the year when the last of the republic's old barriers to entry came tumbling down in one big, exciting presidential election.

(With Eleanor Clift, Susannah Meadows, Holly Bailey and Andrew Romano)

2. How America's Mayor can beat America's maverick -- by FRANK LUNTZ/NY Daily News

Pundits who have written off Rudy Giuliani are nuts. As he explores a 2008 bid for President, Giuliani sits atop the Republican pack in most polls - with support that will not quickly erode, despite his stance on some social issues.

But look who's right there with him in pole (and poll) position: another Republican with the gift of gab and a reputation for independent thinking. Enter Arizona Sen. John McCain, every bit as intelligent and irascible as Giuliani. These two good friends - both of whom appeal to moderate Republicans - are on a collision course for the nomination.

Differentiation is Job One of a successful presidential aspirant, and Rudy knows this. As a wordsmith, I have enjoyed watching him begin to draw distinctions between himself and McCain - claiming in a recent radio interview that "I'm more firmly committed to tax cutting than he is."

If he's going to outmaneuver McCain in the quest for the hearts and minds of a very demanding and often fickle Republican electorate, Giuliani will need to do much more of that - more than he might be inclined to consider. If I were advising his campaign (which I am not), here's what I might suggest.

Giuliani must begin by understanding that McCain has one advantage that no other Republican hopeful can match: a love affair with the American media. One reason why McCain has generated significant support outside the GOP is because of labels like "maverick" and "outsider" that those in the media use to express their approval, even as they harm him among the party faithful.

That is Giuliani's first, best opening: He's an outsider, and unafraid of The New York Times editorial page (an applause line in Iowa and New Hampshire). Though McCain may not sound like one or act like one, he's been a Beltway Republican, part of the Washington establishment for almost two decades. Giuliani can score considerable points by acknowledging McCain's willingness to buck the political system while subtly reminding Republicans of McCain's participation in that very system.

This leads to Giuliani's second great advantage: New York. While McCain is in Washington, a city of hearings and roll call votes, Giuliani is the embodiment of a city back on its feet. There was a time when being a New Yorker at a GOP convention was about as popular as being Dr. Kevorkian at an AARP convention. Times have changed, and so has the city.

In 1993, his campaign team wouldn't let me stay on Eighth Ave. because they were afraid that I (and my polling data) would be mugged. Today, I have an apartment on Eighth Ave. - and it's a great neighborhood. Even Giuliani's biggest detractors give him credit for cleaning up an ugly, ungovernable city. John McCain has tried to clean up politics, but he has no such visual accomplishment to whet voters' appetites.

That brings us to Giuliani's third big weapon: the triumvirate of results, success and solutions. My polling and focus groups make clear that Republican voters are not looking for the kind of "revolution" that swept their party into Congress in 1994. On the contrary, they are looking for what George W. Bush promised to be in 2000 - a "reformer with results."

If Giuliani can present himself as that man, he can win the nomination. It may open up a temporary rift in his relationship with McCain - but that can always be healed by offering the senator a spot on the ticket.

Stranger things have happened.

(Frank Luntz is the author of "Words that Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear." He polled for Rudy Giuliani in 1993, 1997 and 2000)

Why - and how - ghosts exist

Ghosts in the Machine – by DEBORAH BLUM/NY Times

THE human brain is, in surprising part, an appliance powered by electricity. It constantly generates about 12 watts of energy, enough to keep a flashlight glowing. It works by sending out electrical impulses — bursts of power running along the cellular wires of the nervous system — to stimulate muscles into motion or thought into being. We’re mostly aware of this when the machine falters, when it short-circuits into epilepsy or frays into the tremors of Parkinson’s disease.

So when scientists wrote in a recent issue of the journal Nature that they could induce phantom effects — the sensation of being haunted by a shadowy figure — by stimulating the brain with electricity, it made perfect neurological sense. One could even argue that the existence of such sensations explains away the so-called supernatural. In fact, as The Times reported, the researchers promptly concluded that ghosts are mere “bodily delusions,” electrical misfirings and nothing more.

The report does look like a kind of proof — albeit very small proof, as this was a study of two people — if one happens already to believe that ghosts are no more than biological quirks. But what’s fascinating is that it can also look like proof that ghosts are real entities, to those inclined to believe as much. And so the findings also present a case study in two very different perspectives.

The scientific study of the supernatural began in the late 19th century, in synchrony with the age of energy. It’s hardly coincidental that as traditional science began to reveal the hidden potential of nature’s powers — magnetic fields, radiation, radio waves, electrical currents — paranormal researchers began to suggest that the occult operated in similar ways.

A fair number of these occult explorers were scientists who studied nature’s highly charged circuits. Marie Curie, who did some of the first research into radioactive elements like uranium, attended séances to assess the powers of mediums. So did the British physicist J. J. Thomson, who demonstrated the existence of the electron in 1897. And so did Thomson’s colleague, John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh, who won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with atmospheric gases.

Rayleigh would later become president of the British Society for Psychical Research. And he would be joined in that organization by other physicists, including the wireless radio pioneer Sir Oliver Lodge, who proposed that both telepathy and ghostly appearances were achieved through energy transmissions connecting living minds to one another and perhaps even to the dead.

Lodge argued that the human brain could function as a kind of receiver, picking up signals at a subconscious level. These were powered by some undiscovered energy, traveling perhaps in waves, perhaps in currents. Such transmissions lay behind telepathic experiences, including shared thoughts. Along the same lines, he thought it possible that a spirit’s appearance was really just its specific energy signal stimulating a response from the receiver’s brain.

The theories developed by Lodge and his colleagues dovetail rather neatly with the electricity-produced hauntings that Olaf Blanke, a Swiss neuroscientist, reports in Nature. For example, he used an implanted electrode to send a current into a region of the brain called the angular gyrus. The test was focused on language processing. But as a side effect, one of the test subjects nervously reported sensing another person in bed with her, silent and shadowy. Her creepy companion came and went with the ebb and flow of current.

It would be compelling — and more convincing — if the same result could be exhibited in a few more subjects. But Dr. Blanke believes that even this one subject’s experience serves as an example of how we may mistake errant signals in the brain for something more. Humans tend, he points out, to seek explanation, to impose meaning on events that may have none. The pure rationalists among us suggest that our need to add meaning to a basic, biological existence easily accounts for the way we organize religions and find evidence of otherworldly powers in the stuff of everyday life.

The nonpurists suggest a different conclusion: willful scientific blindness. And there’s no reason Dr. Blanke’s study can’t support their theories of the paranormal. Perhaps his experimental electric current simply mimics the work of an equally powerful spirit. Much of the psychical research done today applies similar principles: brain-imaging machines highlight parts of the brain that respond to psychic phenomena, while other devices are used to search for infrared radiation or increased electrical activity in haunted houses.

The American psychologist and philosopher William James, also a leader in the Victorian paranormal research movement, remarked even then on the culture clash: “How often has ‘Science’ killed off all spook philosophy, and laid ghosts and raps and ‘telepathy’ underground as so much popular delusion?” he wrote in 1909. And how often, James wondered rhetorically, had such efforts stopped people from seeing ghosts and believing in supernatural powers? Because in the end, of course, the conclusion has nothing to do with science at all and everything to do with how one sees the world.

I suspect that we’ll dwell forever in the haunted landscape of our beliefs. To many people it’s a world more interesting — bigger, stranger, more mysterious — than the one offered by science. Why choose instead to be creatures of chemical impulse and electrical twitch? We would rather gamble on even a tiny, electrical spark of a chance that we are something more.

(Deborah Blum, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, is the author of “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Scientific Search for Life After Death.”)

The Africa you never read about

The Africa You Need to Know – by Gbemisola Olujobi/

What is disaster pornography? Africans define it as the Western media’s habit of blacking out Africa’s stock markets, cellphones, heart surgeries, soaring literacy and increasing democratization, while gleefully parading its genocides, armed conflicts, child soldiers, foreign debts, hunger, disease and backwardness.

I recently found myself making small talk with an airport official in the United States. “I hear in Africa, people are very poor and hungry, that they don’t have anything to eat,” he said. “I saw a documentary on Africa a few days ago on CNN, and there were all these hungry people, dying children, with flies all over their faces....”

Yeah, I replied hesitantly, not knowing exactly what a correct response should be. My situation was not helped by 22 hours of travel, which had considerably dulled my reflexes.

“But you look well fed,” he said, scanning my generous proportions.

I didn’t exactly like this attention to my physical details, but I had more patriotic worries. I had to let him know that Africa is not one huge expanse of waste, but 54 countries and two islands, in different stages of development, repair, disrepair and, of course, despair. Famine in Niger does not mean hunger in Nigeria, just as war in Liberia does not mean child soldiers in Lesotho.

My short lecture had no effect whatsoever on my “student.” His next question was, “But, what is the problem with Africa?” Clearly, nothing I had said could erase the “huge expanse of waste” picture of Africa from his mind.

I don’t blame him. Neither do I blame another official at a different airport who asked me if Africans keep their cowries in banks. [Editor’s note: Cowries are shells that were used as mediums of exchange in parts of Africa.] He was quite taken aback when I showed him a few naira notes [Nigerian currency]. I also don’t blame some of my American friends when they ask me how I “picked up such good English.” Far from picking up good English, I tell them, I have a background of solid British education. My country, Nigeria, was a British colony until 1960.

No one should blame these people or anyone else who displays such profound ignorance about Africa. Rather than educate and enlighten by disseminating fair, balanced and accurate information, all that the Western media seem to be keen on showing the West about Africa is backwardness, disease, hunger, want, deprivation, banditry, brigandage, slaughter fields, child soldiers, gang-raped girls, harassed mothers, wasted children, flies feasting on the living and vultures waiting to devour the near-dead. Goodness!

Africans of all leanings, from all walks of life and from every part of the continent, usually have only one question each time they are faced with these gory media depictions of Africa: “Where do they get these images?”

It is not only Africans who do not recognize their continent in the Western media. Michael Ledeen, contributing editor of National Review Online, laments this caricaturing of Africa in an article titled “Out of Africa: What the Western World Doesn’t Understand About the Continent.”

He says: “Those of us who love Africa almost never recognize it in the press or the movies. The racist stereotypes of Africans are so deeply ingrained in the guilt-driven worldview of Western elites that it is almost impossible to get to the truth.”

So what is the truth about Africa?

Africa is not a country. It is the world’s second largest continent and the second most populous, after Asia. Occupying 20 percent of the Earth’s land area, it measures roughly 5,000 miles from north to south and about 4,600 miles from east to west. This makes it about four times the size of the United States.

Africa’s population of about 890 million is slightly less than 14 percent of total world population. Its peoples belong to thousands of ethnic groups and clans. Some of the more widely known ethnic groups in Africa are Arab, Ashanti, Bantu, Berber, Dinka, Fulani, Ganda, Yoruba, Hausa, Kikuyu, Luba, Lunda, Malinke, Moor, Nuer, Tuareg and Xhosa.

Africans are by no means homogeneous. There is no African culture. Africans have diverse and varied ways of life. They behave differently from country to country, ethnic group to ethnic group and clan to clan.

There is also no African language. Africans speak about 2,000 languages. Among Africa’s most widely spoken languages are Swahili, Hausa, Yoruba, Bantu, Akan, Arabic, Koma and Songhai.

And far from being a perpetual laggard, Africa has made and still makes quite significant contributions to the world order. History 101 says Africa provided the slave labor that developed the New World and enriched the Old World. Today, Africa provides columbite-tantalite, the mineral from which the computer chips that drive the 21st century’s high-tech global economy are made.

Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Nigeria are the major petroleum and natural gas producing countries in Africa. They account for about 20 percent of the world’s petroleum needs. Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa together produce 50 percent of the world’s diamonds. Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe together produce nearly 50 percent of the world’s gold.

Africa also contributes 70 percent of the world’s cocoa each year, 34 percent of the coffee and 50 percent of the palm products. The United States imports 30 to 60 percent of key African products; French industry depends on Africa for over 90 percent of its uranium, cobalt and manganese, 76 percent of its bauxite, 50 percent of its chromium and 30 percent of its iron ore; and British industry depends on Africa for 80 percent of its chromium, 65 percent of its lubrication oil, 55 percent of its manganese and 54 percent of its cobalt. China imports nearly 30 percent of its oil and gas from sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa is the continent longest inhabited by human beings. There are two competing theories to explain how mankind spread across the globe from Africa.

The “Out of Africa” theory suggests that between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, modern man ( Homo sapiens ) emerged from Africa to slowly populate the rest of the world, replacing any human species that were already there.

The other theory suggests that modern humans arose simultaneously in Africa, Europe and Asia from one of our predecessors, Homo erectus , who left Africa about 2 million years ago.

Proponents of each theory, however, agree on one point—that all humans alive today could share common ancestry with a being in Africa who lived 120,000 to 220,000 years ago.

History is emphatic that Africa is the cradle of civilization. Egypt, Ethiopia and the ancient empires of Mali, Songhai, Kongo, Oyo, Kanem-Bornu and Ghana are among Africa’s early civilizations. The Nile Valley is also acclaimed for the inventions its African inhabitants bequeathed to modern civilization.

Africa boasts of having some of the best brains in the world. According to the United States Census Bureau, Africans are the most educated ethnic group in the United States.

But what do the Western media say Africa is?

Rod Chavis says in “Africa in the Western Media”: “Nouns and adjectives like hut, dark, tribe, King Kong, tribalism, primitive, nomad, animism, jungle, cannibal, savage, underdeveloped, third world, developing, etc., are pervasive when Africa is the story. Images of Africa in the Western Media, many times, are deeply troubling psychologically and emotionally, especially to those claiming her as primordial heritage, lineage, and descendancy. They portray a no there there: no culture, no history, no tradition, and no people, an abyss and negative void.

“With the stroke of a journalist’s pen,” Chavis continues, “the African, her continent, and her descendants are pejoratively reduced to nothing [but] ... a bastion of disease, savagery, animism, pestilence, war, famine, despotism, primitivism, poverty, and ubiquitous images of children, flies in their food and faces, their stomachs distended. These ‘universal’ but powerfully subliminal message units, beamed at global television audiences, connote something not good, perennially problematic unworthiness, deplorability, black, foreboding, loathing, sub humanity, etc.”

Hugh Hamilton in “Ownership, Diversity & Race: Confronting (Mis) Representations of Africa in the US Media” also highlights the same thread. “The dominant images of Africa in American mainstream media are of a dark and desolate continent, riven by tribal conflict, beleaguered by pestilence, poverty and disease, a place of fear and futility ...of despair and depression, of a lost people languishing in a lost land somewhere beyond the edge of modern civilization.”

This dehumanization of Africa has become a matter of concern not only to Africans, at home and in the diaspora, but also to teeming non-Africans who have suckled at Africa’s generous breasts.

Eleven former African heads of state from all over the continent rose from the African Presidential Roundtable, 2005, sponsored by Boston University’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center, with a common conclusion. While agreeing, though with nice words, that most African governments have been despotic, corrupt, capricious, inept and thoroughly useless, they lamented what they described as “Africa’s image in the American media.”

Their Excellencies examined the record of coverage of some of America’s most distinguished publications—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and U.S. News & World Report. They reviewed these publications over a 10-year period—from 1994 to 2004—and “found their coverage of the continent to be anything but fair and balanced.” Such an incredible labor of love, considering the fact that many of them had more than enough to do with Africa’s present sorry state.

They therefore concluded that “the findings of this (and other) surveys indicate that coverage of Africa, by the leading sources of American media is, at best, dismissive of the continent’s progress and potential, and thus leading to continued ‘exotification’ and marginalization of the African continent. At worst, coverage disregards recent trends toward democratization, thus betraying an almost contemptuous lack of interest in the potential and progress being achieved on the continent.”

How does this negative portrayal affect Africa’s fortunes? These former heads of state, who should know, because of their former and relatively still vantage positions, were unanimous that this negative portrayal “has profound relevance to everything— including the world considering Africa as a worthy investment venue and viewing Africa as a valuable trading partner is reasonable to posit that negative perceptions lead to negative outcomes, namely, lower levels of aid and lower levels of investment.”

Facts are sacred and the truth must be told. Despite generous human and natural endowments, Africa is home to 32 of the 38 highly indebted countries of the world and remains the only continent where the proportion of the population in extreme poverty is growing. Thirty-six and two-tenths percent of Africans live on less than a dollar a day. Most African countries are at the bottom of the United Nations’ overall human development index, which also measures education, life expectancy, gross domestic product and other indicators of development. The overwhelming majority of African countries are not on target to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon at the United Nations in 2000. Sad, but all true.

But those who make a living out of showing Africa’s soiled behind to the world should also be fair enough to show her fair side. Ignoring one side of the story means readers and viewers are getting only half of the story. And half-truth, as the saying goes, is half-lie. To bring it home, it is like saying all there is to America is Hurricane Katrina, Skid Row, the Oklahoma City bombing, congressmen and congressional pagers, serial killers, child molesters and snipers. It is like airing only “American Justice,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “Dark Heart: Iron Hand,” “Lock-Up,” “Skeleton Stories” and “To Catch a Predator” in Africa and implying somehow that this is America. Yes, bad things happen everywhere, not only in Africa!

Carol Pineau highlights this lopsidedness in the documentary “Africa Open for Business”: “Yes, Africa is a land of wars, poverty and corruption. The situation in places like Darfur, Sudan, desperately cries out for more media attention and international action. But Africa is also a land of stock markets, high-rises, Internet cafes and a growing middle class. This is the part of Africa that functions. And this Africa also needs media attention, if it is to have any chance of fully joining the global economy.”

Ezekiel Makunike addresses the same concerns in “Out of Africa: Western Media Stereotypes Shape Images.” “We hear about famines and coups, but not the rejuvenation of its cities and the cultural vitality of its village life ... about oppression and massacres, but not education, economic self-help and political development ... about poaching and habitat destruction, but not ongoing active efforts at conservation, reforestation and environmental awareness.”

The TransAfrica Forum, a body which aims to influence U.S. policy on Africa and the diaspora, surveyed two of the most esteemed newspapers in the United States—The New York Times and The Washington Post—between March and August 2000. Its study showed that the vast majority of news stories fell within only three categories—AIDS, development and conflict. The study found no reports on regional economic or political cooperation in Africa, nor one article on the private sector.

The study concluded that “one would have expected the New York Times and the Washington Post to make an effort to inform American citizens and policymakers in a much more balanced, detailed, and fair manner. Failure to address this issue will contribute to an increase in Afro-pessimism in America.”

The 2005 study by Boston University of Africa news coverage also revealed nothing about fewer civil wars, economic growth or increased access to education on the continent. Disasters in Somalia, Rwanda and West Africa dominated, while transitions to democracy in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and elsewhere were ignored.

Also grievously ignored by the Western media is the fact that a good number of African countries have made real progress over the last few years. In 2005 alone, Africa posted an unprecedented growth of 4.5 percent, which prompted Haiko Alfeld, Africa director at the World Economic Forum, to declare that the African continent has “emphatically and irreversibly turned the corner.”

In its review of 2005, a year widely acclaimed as “The Year of Africa,” the World Economic Forum reports “a new resolve [by Africans] to promote the African business and investment climate. Many African countries extended economic reforms and put in place structures to fight corruption.” Really? Will someone please tell the whole world that Africans are capable of helping themselves, and that they are not helpless, hapless and hopeless?

The report goes on to say: “A key development on the business front was the rapid increase in Chinese and to some extent Indian investment in African countries. In just a few years, trade and investment between China and Africa has tripled, with the pace of such engagement becoming particularly vigorous during 2005.

“The trend has continued into 2006, as has the phenomenon of South African business expansion into the continent.” And what is more, the report says, “These positive trends seem set to continue beyond 2006, given their long-term nature.” Is anyone listening?

Africa indeed has turned the corner. In the last five years, Mozambique has reduced its poverty level from 70 percent to 55 percent and has doubled the number of its children in school. Kenya has introduced free primary education, which has brought 1.2 million children back into school there. In Tanzania, 1,000 new schools have been built and 18,000 teachers recruited to enable the nation to achieve the goal of primary education for all in 2006—nine years before the target date of 2015.

Uganda has reduced HIV from 20 percent in 1991 to about 6.5 percent in 2001, showing that with political will, the tide of an epidemic can be turned. In 1973, only three African heads of state were elected. Today, 40 countries have had multiparty elections. Two years ago major conflicts affected 19 countries in Africa. Today they affect only three countries.

The World Bank reports that countries like Senegal, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Uganda and Ghana are on course to meet the target of halving poverty by 2010—five years ahead of schedule. Botswana, with soaring literacy rates, has doubled, some say tripled, its school enrollment figures. South Africa boasts of sustained economic growth. Rwanda has the highest number of women in parliament in the whole world. Even war-torn Liberia achieved the distinction of putting the first elected African female head of state into the global club of female heads of government.

These giant strides are, however, lost in what has been described as “disaster pornography,” a disturbing trend in Western media tradition, which tallies with Ezekiel Makunike’s assertion that “for American readers or viewers to be interested, news out of Africa must be negative. It must conform to the traditional stereotypes in its spotlight on grotesque and sensational events. It must show misery, corruption, mismanagement, starvation, primitive surroundings and, as in the case of Somalia, chaos and outright anarchy.”

Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal in “Disaster Pornography From Somalia” tell of “pictures of grotesque human degradation, with foreign angels of mercy ministering to starving children, juxtaposed with images of trigger-happy teen-age looters.”

Putting an indelible question mark on disaster journalism, they say, “Reduced to nameless extras in the shadows behind Western aid workers or disaster tourists, the grieving, hurting and humiliated human beings are not asked if they want to be portrayed in this degrading way.” Has anyone ever considered this?

They also reveal that “Somali doctors and nurses have expressed shock at the conduct of film crews in hospitals. They rush through crowded corridors, leaping over stretchers, dashing to film the agony before it passes. They hold bedside vigils to record the moment of death. When the Italian actress Sophia Loren visited Somalia, the paparazzi trampled on children as they scrambled to film her feeding a little girl—three times. This is disaster pornography.”

Richard Ngamba, in “Reporting Africa in Western Media Style,” also relates an interesting experience that he had while collaborating with some Western journalists during the filming of the documentary “Darwin Nightmare” in Mwanza City, on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. He says: “… in the documentary, it is claimed that the presence of the fishing industry has caused the outbreak of street children in Mwanza, with most of them eating packing materials used by fish processors to pack their fillets, because they can’t afford to buy fish.

“Yes, in this documentary you can see street children gathered at Kamanga ferry area in Mwanza, trying to cook their food with their faces showing sorrow and grief, but this is a fiction which was directed and paid for by the authors of this documentary.

“The facts is that all street children seen in this film cooking food were paid between Tshs 1000/- and Tshs 5000/- by the producers of the film and then directed to do what they are doing, paving the way for my guests to film what they then termed ‘striking images.’ ”

Strange and disturbing revelations indeed! Are these “striking images” of disaster actually man-made “pseudo-events,” planned, contrived, concocted and synthesized for believability? Daniel Boorstin describes pseudo-events as “more vivid, more attractive, more impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself.”

So what is the cost of these attractive, impressive, persuasive, enticing and highly believable “pseudo-events” to Africa?

Wilson Rutayisire, post-genocide director of Rwanda Information Services, says “the way Africa is covered in the international media is not only charged with a partisan view but also responsible, to no small measure, for the perpetuation of prejudices that exacerbate Africa’s problems.

“Although the media coverage Africa receives is not the principal cause of the problems Africa faces, it provides the superstructure within which Africa is perceived and foreign policies on Africa are prescribed.”

According to Carol Pineau, it “comes at a high cost, even ... the cost of lives. Stories about hardship and tragedy aim to tug at our heartstrings, getting us to dig into our pockets or urge Congress to send more aid. But no country or region ever developed thanks to aid alone. Investment, and the job and wealth creation it generates is the only road to lasting development. That is how China, India and the Asian tigers did it.

“Yet while Africa, according to the U.S. Government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, offers the highest return in the world on direct foreign investment, it attracts the least. Unless investors see the Africa that is worthy of investment, they won’t put their money into it. And that lack of investment translates into job stagnation, continued poverty and limited access to education and health care.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame says: “The constant negative reporting kills the growth of foreign direct investment. There has even been a suggestion that it is meant to keep Africa in the backyard of the global economy.”
According to Charles Stith, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, “One thing blocking a fuller perception of Africa’s progress may be implicit racism. There is a historic framework that by definition sees Africa ... and Africans as inferior and negative and makes most stories about the continent negative. By contrast, China has problems, but we see and hear other things about China. Russia has problems, yet we see and read other things about Russia. That same standard should apply to Africa.”

Bookplanet: the best-seller of all time comes in more flavors than icecream

Bibles Are Booming
These days the Good Book comes in hundreds of varieties.
BY JOANNE KAUFMAN/Wall Street Journal

Several weeks ago, Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc. received a curious submission, "sort of an alarmist Bible," recalled Wayne Hastings, a senior vice president of the Nashville, Tenn.-based company. "A lot of it had to do with what recently went on in Israel and Lebanon."

The offering featured headlines that had been snipped from the front pages of USA Today, then pasted below select New Testament verses. Also included was some newspaper boldface about the collapse of the Jessica Simpson-Nick Lachey marriage accompanied by relevant text from Scripture, presumably not Genesis' 2:24 dictum: "a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife."

Thomas Nelson, which produces 150 different editions of the Bible each year, arguably more than any other publisher in the world, "gets all sorts of interesting proposals," said Mr. Hastings. Some, like the alarmist Bible and a submission featuring 20 iterations of Scripture woven together--"It was confusing and overwhelming," he said--got a thanks but no thanks. The idea of tucking the New Testament between the boldly colored covers of what looked like a teen fashion magazine as a way of appealing to adolescents--Corinthians and Colossians for the Cosmo girl--and the notion of a water-resistant Bible, inspired by a leaf of paper sent to Thomas Nelson by a vendor--well, folks, start the presses.

Always a dependable seller, the Bible is in the midst of a boom. Christian bookstores had a 25% increase in sales of Scriptures from 2003 to 2005, according to statistics gathered by the Phoenix-based Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, a trade group. General-interest bookstores, while declining to give figures, have also seen increasingly strong sales. "Bibles are a growth area for us and we're giving them more space in our stores," said Jane Love, religion buyer for Barnes & Noble. "It's partly because of the way they've evolved over the last three or four years."

Indeed, publishers like Thomas Nelson; Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Zondervan; and Tyndale House in Carol Stream, Ill.--which together represent an estimated 80% of the Bible market--have gone far beyond offering the Scriptures between black, burgundy, navy or white covers.

"For a long time the Bible was just the Bible," noted Kevin O'Brien, director of Bibles at Tyndale House. "You put it out there and people bought it. They didn't ask about the options, because there weren't any options. But now, especially in evangelical circles, people are seeing their lives not just in color but high-definition color, and they want the Bible to fit in with that. This is not your mother's Bible."

Thus, following the gospel of Seventh Avenue, publishers are displaying their wares in the season's hot colors. "This year alone I've seen four shades of purple," said Ms. Love, whose stores have also done well with two-tone Bibles. The pink and brown model has been particularly popular. Bibles are also available in the colors of your college, with a fur cover, a flower-patterned cover, and to appeal to young adherents, with a camouflage cover, a metal cover and a duct-tape cover. Next spring Tyndale House will be bringing out a paperback Bible in a plastic case that looks like a flattened Nalgene bottle.

But Bibles are becoming as much personal statements as fashion statements. "What people are saying is 'I want to find a Bible that is really me ," noted Rodney Hatfield, a vice president of marketing at Thomas Nelson. "It's no different than with anything else in our culture."

Responding to such desires, publishers offer compact Old and New Testaments like Thomas Nelson's so-called checkbook Bible and Zondervan's Bible in a Bag, as well as myriad themed Bibles, among them archaeology, leadership and sports. "Sometimes what you have to work with seems quite inadequate," begins one section of the basketball edition. "Consider the plight of Rollie Massimino, the coach of the Villanova Wildcats . . . Villanova was ranked, well nowhere . . Several thousand years earlier there was another underdog group that didn't have much to work with. They were called the Israelites."

There are PDA Bibles; audio versions like James Earl Jones reading the New Testament and Zondervan's just released "Bible Experience" with the voices of such African-American stars as Angela Bassett, Denzel Washington and Cuba Gooding Jr. Coming soon from Thomas Nelson: Johnny Cash reading the New Testament. There are Bibles aimed at children and teens, Bibles aimed at women. There's that water-resistant version of the New Testament--"Immerse," from Thomas Nelson--for camping trips, days at the beach, and perhaps baptisms. "We had a customer test it by keeping it in a bucket overnight and it was fine," said Mr. Hastings. Prices range from $1 to almost $200 for a 2,400-page study Bible hand bound in calfskin.

Fortunately for Bible publishers, consumers seem to think that if one copy of the Good Book is good, two or more are even better. "Forty percent of my customers own three to 10 Bibles," said Mr. Hastings. "It's sort of like me and golf. I have Tiger Woods's book and Ernie Els's book. I want all those different approaches to how to play golf. It's the same with Bibles."

The expansion of outlets--Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Club--partly explains the uptick in Bible sales, believes Paul Caminiti, a vice president at Zondervan. "Our company has seen a 20% growth in the last 10 years because of that," he said. The large array of translations has also played a role, according to Mark Kuyper, president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. "It means there's more opportunity for them to appeal to groups with different theological perspectives," he said.

In some instances, spiritual leaders are embracing myriad translations and their flocks are following suit. "You go back 20 years and the pastor would stand in the pulpit and say 'you need to have this Bible, this translation. Go to the store and buy it,'" said Thomas Nelson's Mr. Hatfield. "But now pastors are reaching out and grabbing the translation that best suits their point for a particular sermon."

The parlous times are also a big motivator for people to open their wallets. "Part of what we see," said Mr. Kuyper, "is that when there is incredible unrest people are asking themselves existential questions and they're drawn to search Scripture. We saw a huge jump in sales after 9/11. We're not in that environment today, but we're certainly in an unsettled environment."

However interested they are in broadening their customer base, publishers say there is a very distinct line between the sacred and the profane. And don't even get them started on the "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" Bible that was distributed this past summer at an erotica convention in Los Angeles. "We're not going to do anything that is overtly seductive," said Mr. Hastings. "And we are not going to get into centuries-old arguments about denominational preferences between Catholics and Protestants. We're not going to do something to stir the pot. We'd turn down anything offensive to either side, that was either heretical or controversial."

"The question is always how do we create Bibles that people will pick up and use but that will not be too gimmicky," said Tyndale House's Mr. O'Brien. "If you get too trendy you've turned the Bible into a widget."

(Ms. Kaufman writes about the arts and culture for The Wall Street Journal.)