Move over Oprah, here comes Hugo Chavez

POLITICS - Want to promote your book? Forget Oprah. Call Hugo Chavez.

Back in September 2006, Chavez flourished a copy of Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival during an anti-American speech to the United Nations, transporting the trenchant analysis of United States foreign policy to Amazon's No. 2 position and sparking a 25,000-copy reprint from the publisher.

And just recently, thanks to the flamboyant Venezuelan president, Uruguayan political writer Eduardo Galeano's 1971 'The Open Veins of Latin America' also shot to No. 2 on Amazon's bestseller list 24 hours after Chavez gave a copy to President Barack Obama. The same Chavez who once compared George W. Bush to the devil, added a tender note: "To Obama, with affection."

Galeano's book "analyzes the history of Latin America as a whole, from the time period of the European discovery of the New World to contemporary Latin America, arguing against European and later U.S. economic exploitation and political dominance over the region."

The gift – and the unexpected friendliness between the two leaders – sent Galeano's book to the top of Amazon's "movers and shakers" category for books that make the biggest 24-hour gains.

Sorry Oprah, you've got competition.

Obama's Family Values

FEMINISM/POLITICS - Thanks to Michelle Obama, balancing your career and work has suddenly become sexy and cool.

Traditionally some people have frowned on people who try to balance (dare we say juggle) work and kids, but the statuesque United States First Lady – with her global presence, Ivy-league education, law career and two young daughters – seems to do it with ease.

I disagree however. I think women who manage to find time for both work and family should be admired, not disliked. After all, what is a gal supposed to do with all that free time while the kids are at school?

Its not like we need women as dishwashers/etc any more. These days technology has replaced the role of the homemaker. We have robotic vacuum cleaners, automated dishwashers, frozen TV dinners, pizza delivery (yes, the White House has been ordering pizza since the 1970s) and if you're wealthy enough, in a position of prestige, meals prepared for you by servants.

Of course most of us don't have servants, but the point is still made. In modern America eating out or ordering in has become relatively normal, and there is now a lot more women can do than cooking and cleaning while the kids/husband are away at school/work, so why not have a career?

Well, lets look at what Michelle Obama has been doing. She has her beautifully sculpted arms, the Portuguese water dogs (including new pet Charlie-Bo), has become a fashion icon, and yet still manages to carve out lots of family time.

For women in the USA and around the world Michelle Obama is a role model, and no less a busy one. As a U.S. First Lady, Obama gets a staff, an office and is expected to champion a cause... in the past First Ladies have championed issues like literacy, health care and education.

Right now Michelle Obama seems to be championing family values.

The Obama family hardly live the life of the mainstream masses, walking the dog on the sprawling White House lawns and surrounded by a cast of thousands. She talks about "date nights" with her husband, the hassles of making healthy school lunches and why her daughters should make their own beds, Michelle Obama touches on the stuff of everyday life for ordinary families.

She is also growing a vegetable garden. She has spoken about how managing two careers and children put a strain on her marriage and how her mother has helped out with childcare (we've all done that, if anything the granparents enjoy it).

Its been a long time since there's been young children in the White House, let alone a First Lady who has young kids and a career, and Michelle Obama sends a powerful message that balance is important and also achievable.

It will likely be translated into domestic policy, too. Mrs Obama is pushing for more family-friendly leave policies from U.S. employers and incentives for community service. This is alongside her husband's priorities of investing in childcare, working families and education.

While Canada is far ahead of the United States on policies like health care, child care programs, maternity and parental leave, and flex-time, many countries will feel the effects if family issues move up the U.S. public agenda.

It comes at a time when lack of affordable childcare in the USA is stressing families, the post-Bush recession is pressuring workers, and boomers grapple with caring for aging parents.

For both working mothers and homemakers, Mrs Obama's role to play is to show that the "one-size-fits-all" approach for supporting parents and children doesn't work for everyone. Parents need more flexibility to work out their own needs and determine what is best for their kids.

There are those who despair of Obama's evolution from tough Harvard lawyer to a role Michelle Obama once described as "Mom-in-chief." Obama has put her career on hold while her husband takes over the running of a nation and tries to fix the mistakes of the past 8 years. Its a big role to fill actually, and frankly she will be far too busy doing political work anyway on behalf of America.

That's not something people should be slamming her for. Its something to be praised. True, its kind of sexist she had to put her career on hold because of her husband's career... but the Presidency isn't a normal career.

After all... its not what your country can do for you, its what you can do for your country.

And I believe Michelle Obama is going to give America her best.

Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle, an unemployed church worker from Scotland's West Lothian district has captured hearts after a single audition on Britain's Got Talent got another boost with an appearance via satellite on CBS's The Early Show.Talking about her journey so far, she told the morning show that she reacted to the titters in the audience during her audition by focusing on the performance.

"You have to take yourself seriously, so what I did was concentrate on the song."

The hosts asked her about people making fun of her as a child and she graciously answered:

"Well, the ones who made fun of me, they're now nice to me, so I may now have won them 'round."

She also sang a few lines from "I Dreamed a Dream" a capella and chatted a bit with Patti LuPone, whose original rendition of the Les Misérables song is considered to be the gold standard. LuPone told her she had "pluck" and admired her courage.

As a way of explanation for why she went on the show, Boyle said: "I wanted to make this a tribute to my mother, so it was something I wanted to do, so I had to get on with it. That's where the courage came from, my mother."

While Boyle is now considered the favourite to win Britain's Got Talent, her journey has only just begun. She's only appeared on an early, regional qualifying portion of the show. A spokesperson for the show said her next official appearance will not be until the end of May.

She lives alone with her cat, Pebbles, and previously cared for her ill mother, who died a couple of years ago.

This week, she has been inundated with media requests and, talking to the Associated Press, she admitted the instant fame has been an incredible experience.
"It has been surreal for me," Boyle said.

"I'm going to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS and other American networks. I didn't realize this would be the reaction, I just went onstage and got on with it."

Boyle's celebrity continues to grow as YouTube clips from her audition have already been watched more than 18 million times.

She also has a few Facebook fan pages and the most popular have already logged 93,000 fans. A Wikipedia page has even been dedicated to her and a fan page at has signed up more than 6,000 members.

Her newfound fame has also had a dramatic effect on the village of Blackburn, population about 4,800, 20 kilometres west of Edinburgh on the road to Glasgow.

Agnes Boyle, who lives around the corner from Susan Boyle(no relation), said she's been getting phone calls from people trying to find the Susan Boyle.

"This is the 10th phone call today I've had," Agnes Boyle said, adding she wishes Susan well. "I'm happy for her ... life's not been good to her actually."

Jackie Russell, manager at the Happy Valley Hotel on the village's main street, Bathgate Rd., where Boyle has sung karaoke on a regular basis, said she's "a very quiet person, very unassuming ... just a normal down-to-earth girl."

"People in the village – it's just a village, there's only 5,000 people in it – but everybody knew that Susan could sing," said Russell. "It just took a while for the world to hear her sing," she added.

Russell also expressed confidence that Boyle will win the Britain's Got Talent competition.

"I don't think she (Boyle) will need a job now. I think she'll just continue to do what her heart wants her to do and that's sing."

A Peek inside Zimbabwe's Prisons

POLITICS - What you are looking at is not starving people in Ethiopia.

Its not a country that is in the midst of a drought. Its images from Zimbabwe's prisons, a country with plenty of food to go around, but ruled by dictator Robert Mugabe.

And what is the crime of these prisoners? Its not stealing or murder. Its petty things like... speaking out against Robert Mugabe, helping foreigners, speaking to foreign reporters, helping Robert Mugabe's political rivals... or just voting against Mugabe.

The unlucky ones go to prison and die slowly. The more fortunate ones get killed and their bodies dumped in an unmarked grave. Difficult to say which is better.

The newly released images provide a rare look inside a Zimbabwean prison show emaciated inmates too weak to stand and eating as if they can barely bring food to their mouths.

Human rights activists and former prisoners have spoken of horrifying conditions in the country's jails and prisons but there has been little firsthand evidence available... because most of the prisoners die of starvation or organ failure.

Godknows Nare spent four months on the behind-the-walls documentary, training insiders to capture the footage. His documentary "Hell Hole" aired Tuesday on SABC, the South African state broadcaster, and is now being syndicated internationally by Associated Press Television News today. Nare says he hopes the footage will persuade foreigners and Robert Mugabe's new coalition government to step in to help.

But what is chances of Robert Mugabe helping people that disapprove of his government? Its a snowball's chance in hell.

In one scene from "Hell Hole" emaciated prisoners, wasting away because of vitamin deficiencies, are shown on mats in cells furnished with only blankets and the thin mattresses. The prison menus have been reduced to tiny bowls of corn porridge (one per day, and the inmates barely have the energy to bring the food to their mouths. The inmates are also given salt water to drink, to make them thirsty all the time.

Annah Y. Moyo, a Zimbabwean lawyer who works with the Southern African Centre for Survivors of Torture, said conditions in Zimbabwean prisons were "a form of torture." Moyo now lives in exile out of fear of being tossed in "Zimbabwe's Prisons of Death".

Moyo, who was not involved in making the documentary, says Zimbabwe's soaring inflation, supply shortages and rampant corruption have played a role, with prison officials taking food that should go to prisoners and selling it on the black market.

Knowledge of the bad prison conditions is actually common. Security officials make sure political activists know of the prison conditions as a bullying tactic.

"Everyone knows that if you're sent to prison, your chances of coming out alive are slim," says Moyo.

Lack of medical care in jails and prisons also has been an issue, with concern that cholera, at epidemic levels among free Zimbabweans, would take an even higher toll in crowded cells.

Many doctors in Zimbabwe have fled the country and now live in exile. Indeed anyone with wealth or education has pretty much left, becoming refugees in neighbouring countries. The few that remain are trying to fight against Mugabe's reign of terror.

Last year, the Zimbabwean civic group 'Women of Zimbabwe Arise' dedicated a report on the collapse of the country's health system to one of its political leaders, Thembelani Lunga, who died in prison after only four days.

Earlier this month, Roy Bennett, an opposition politician was released from prison after he was granted bail (he was essentially ransomed) and is now speaking out against the harsh prison conditions. Bennett was noticeably a lot thinner after his jailing and says five people died during his incarceration and it took prison authorities 24 to 48 hours to collect the bodies.

Starving political rivals, mass unemployment, a cruel dictator who cares only about wealth and power... its not just the prisons that are a hell hole.

Note: There are plenty of videos on this topic on YouTube. Some of them are pretty graphic.

See Also:
2024 people die of cholera in Zimbabwe
Ten Worst Places to Live
Tutu wants Mugabe out

Total Pageviews

Popular Posts