Saturday, June 26, 2004

Setting New Records

No, not jobs lost since Hoover:

Holed up in remote and romantic Dromoland Castle Hotel outside Shannon, the visiting president was defended by the largest security operation in Irish history. (Quite a distinction in a country that has faced decades of domestic terrorism.) Half the 500 members of the presidential entourage were U.S. Secret Service agents, armed with high-powered weapons, armor-piercing munitions and bombproof cars. All this security for only a couple of hours of actual meetings with EU leaders.

And this is the man who just yesterday, on that contentious interview, insisted repeatedly that the world is a safer place.

A big of cognitive dissonance, that.

Oh, and by the way, Bush did emerge from hiding behind the largest security operation in the history of Ireland to proclaim that all is well:

President Bush asserted Saturday that the bitterness over Iraq among European allies was "over" and that NATO had a responsibility to do more to help the fledgling government that will assume limited authority in Baghdad on Wednesday.

"I think the bitter differences of the war are over," Bush said at a news conference after a three-hour summit between the United States and the 25-member European Union.


Pakistan Shenanigans

So, the next Prime Minister of Pakistan used to work as a senior official of City Bank in the U.S. and is a personal friend of Wolfowitz. That sounds about right:

Pakistan's ruling party nominated Saturday a new interim prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, hours after the resignation of the incumbent premier.

Hussain heads the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party, which also announced in Islamabad that Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz will be elected the new regular prime minister in three months.

Aziz was a senior official at the City Bank in the United States before he went to Pakistan to become the finance minister three years ago.

"Pakistan facing a lot of challenges. We need to work together to move ahead and prosper," said Aziz while accepting his nomination as the prime ministerial candidate of the ruling party.

He is a personal friend of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitiz. Since he also has headed City Bank's operations in Saudi Arabia, Aziz also enjoys good relations with the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia has a major influence in Pakistan as the home of Islam's two holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina.

The "conspiracy theories" spun about this administration in Moore's movie sound just a bit more plausible, no?


On Fahrenheit

Ebert speaks up.


A Sorry Display

I have the feeling these films will be to Moore what Christian Rock is to rock:

After the film comes the film festival. The day after Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was released in American cinemas, it was announced yesterday that a festival devoted to films debunking Moore's own work will be staged later this year in Texas.
The American Film Renaissance has the backing of 'some big-time conservative donors', according to its organisers, and will feature up to 10 films, among them Michael Moore Hates America - a so-called exposé of the director's working methods, by filmmaker Michael Wilson.

'We want everyone to see Michael Moore's film,' said festival founder Jim Hubbard, a lawyer based in Dallas. 'But we also want everyone in America to see Michael Moore Hates America. Conservatives complain about institutional bias in Hollywood. But they need to stop whining and get out there and produce.'

The proposed anti-Moore festival is just the latest development in a widespread effort to discredit Fahrenheit 9/11, an excoriating attack on the presidency of George W. Bush and his decision to go to war in Iraq, which was released in the US this week.


Greens Give Nader the Cold Shoulder

This is very good news, both for the Democrats and for the Greens themselves. Associating themselves with this quixotic and egotistical presidential bid by Nader would only hurt the Greens in their long-term goal of building enough support to be a viable third party in this nation:

The Green Party on Saturday refused to back Ralph Nader in his independent run for the White House, a move that could reduce his chances of being a factor in this year's election.


Cheney's Catharsis

Once again, it's all about them. Just as when Bush said that attacking Iraq made him feel good, morality and mores simply hold no interest for these people:

US Vice-President Dick Cheney said yesterday he did not regret using the F-word in a confrontation with a Democrat in the Senate chamber last week.

"I said it... and I felt better after I said it," Mr Cheney said.

Mr Cheney approached Senator Patrick Leahy and challenged his recent criticism of Halliburton, the huge Defence Department contractor accused of profiteering in Iraq.

Senator Leahy reminded Mr Cheney that he had once called the senator a bad Catholic, to which Mr Cheney responded either "f--k you" or "f--k yourself."


Friday, June 25, 2004

North Korea: Nascent Market Economy?

This is very surprising news to me:

Mangoes, bananas and other tropical fruit displayed on market stalls. Women eyeing vendors' fashions and taking home groceries.

It sounds like a typical outdoor bazaar in Asia. But the U.N. point man for North Korea said he saw the scene recently in the isolated Stalinist state - and called it one of many signs the impoverished nation is making small but important steps toward a market economy.

"I was impressed that people were buying," Maurice Strong, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special adviser on North Korea, said Friday. "It is quite a significant sign that some of the reforms that they've enacted are becoming visible at the level of people, at the level of consumers."


Less Safe

I just returned from seeing Fahrenheit 9/11, which was of course very well done and which should be seen by everyone.

So, I am in the perfect mood to report that once again George W. Bush's incompetence has produced a more dangerous world to live in:

Iran and North Korea have made separate announcements that spurred concern they are heading towards confrontations with the United States over their nuclear programs.

European nations said on Thursday they had received a diplomatic note from Iran saying it would resume manufacturing equipment for its nuclear centrifuges, but not resume uranium enrichment.

"They've sent letters saying we haven't lived up to our commitments to normalise relations," said a spokesman for Britain, which received the note, along with France and Germany.
The US undersecretary of state for arms control, John Bolton, who has formulated much of the strategy to isolate Iran, told a committee of Congress on Thursday that Iran's stance was not credible. "Our view is that Iran is still pursuing a strategic decision to have a nuclear weapons capability," he said.

"This is not something that is accidental. It goes to a core of the strategy."

The note was interpreted by US officials in Washington as a sign that Tehran had chosen to defy the IAEA.

In Beijing, North Korean negotiators told their US counterparts that the North Korean Army was threatening to test a nuclear weapon.


After All, He Is The Terminator

So, what would you expect?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to repeal a state law that requires animal shelters to hold stray dogs and cats for up to six days before killing them.

Instead, there would be a three-day requirement for strays. Other animals, including birds, hamsters, potbellied pigs, rabbits, snakes and turtles, could be killed immediately.


Zell's Most Obvious Move Yet

We've all known him to be a Republican for a long time.

Sen. Zell Miller, a Democratic senator from Georgia and a frequent critic of his own party, will speak at the Republican National Convention, according to senior Democratic Senate sources.


Less Credible by the Minute

Loyal reader Rosie has brought a DailyKos story to my attention. It seems Nader, in his efforts to get the necessary signatures to get on Oregon's ballot, is using the phone bank of a conservative organization.

Check out the script, which specifically calls for the defeat of Kerry.

Quit now, Ralph.


This petition drive is not run by the Nader campaign, but by conservatives seeking to split the vote and beat Kerry. Which, I suppose, means that Nader is in this case less villain than willing stooge. The outcome is the same, of course.

(The error was entirely my own, not Rosie's. Thanks for setting me straight, Rosie!)


Media Freeze

The Court of Appeals provides a good first step. Now if we only had a real trustbuster to carry the fight to them:

A federal appeals court on Thursday dealt a setback to the nation's largest media companies by ordering the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider the rules it issued last summer, easing the way for them to grow and enter new markets.

The 2-to-1 decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia means that big broadcasting and publishing companies, which have lobbied and litigated for years in an effort to ease the rules, will have to hold off on any attempts to expand.

The decision was also a setback for the Bush administration, which supported easing the ownership limitations, and for Michael K. Powell, the chairman of the commission and the main architect of the new rules.



Has Iraq met the definition yet?

The store of anti-US resistance could be larger than Saddam's army, writes Paul McGeough.
The Iraq insurgency has more than enough bombs and guns - and a seemingly limitless reserve of willing fighters - but its greatest asset is the sympathy and co-operation of enough ordinary Iraqis, without which the American military might stamp it out in a matter of days in a gun-for-gun, man-for-man contest.
The sympathy is voluntary. But too often the co-operation is extracted as a tribal obligation, or demanded at the point of a gun. This is a harsh land and after decades of brutality that predate Saddam Hussein, people learn quickly. Co-operate with the occupation forces - work with or alongside them, take their Judas dollar for information, drive the truck that delivers their supplies or volunteer as an interpreter - and you're dead.
Before Thursday's revelation that 30,000 new Iraqi police officers would be sacked for incompetence, the US officer in charge of training the force, General Paul Eaton, was disarmingly frank when he told a reporter: "We've had almost one year of no progress."


Resistance Was Futile

Jack Ryan has dropped out of the race, as the result of embarrassing allegations of pressuring his wife, Jeri Ryan, to have sex in clubs while others watched.

Illinois Republican candidate Jack Ryan intends to abandon his Senate bid after four days spent trying to weather a political storm stirred by sex club allegations, GOP officials said Friday.

As Atrios points out, this victory over Republican hypocrisy is made all the sweeter if you look at Ryan's campaign website, which includes the following:


I believe that marriage can only be defined as that union between one man and one woman. I am opposed to same-sex marriages, civil unions, and registries.
I believe that we are all equal before God and should be before the law.

Homosexuals deserve the same constitutional protections, safeguards, and human dignity as every American, but they should not be entitled to special rights based on their sexual behavior.

The breakdown of the family over the past 35 years is one of the root causes of some of our society’s most intractable social problems-criminal activity, illegitimacy, and the cyclical nature of poverty.

As an elected leader, my interest will be in promoting laws and educating people about the fundamental importance of the traditional family unit as the nucleus of our society.

If you read the fine print, I imagine it really says "one man and one woman and an audience."


The Schism Deepens

The "coalition" is rather strained these days, as the British find it necessary to remind us of some very basic principles of democracy being willfully forgotten on this side of the Atlantic:

The transatlantic rift over Guantánamo Bay deepened today, as UK politicians and human rights activists seized on the attorney general's admission that George Bush's plans for military tribunals were "unacceptable".

After months of behind the scenes negotiations between London and Washington, Lord Goldsmith, in a speech in Paris, declared that the US plans were contrary to the principles of a fair trial.

The Liberal Democrats and Amnesty International used the hardening of the government's position to demand that the remaining four British detainees be now returned to the UK.

But the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, moved quickly to pour cold water on any moves to bring the British home, saying it was important to be "realistic" about UK influence with the Pentagon.

He told the BBC that the government would raise the concerns about the Guantánamo detainees with the US administration but warned that there was a limit to what it could achieve.

"It is very important to be realistic in the relationship between two sovereign states. We can certainly set out what is the position of the British government. We can certainly, as we do on a regular basis, affect the way in which the United States sees those issues.

"But we would have to be realistic. We are not always successful, nor would anyone realistically expect us always to be successful."

As anyone on the American Left these days knows, "be realistic" now means "bend over" when it comes to dealing with the Republicans.


Our Own Domestic Third-World Nation

While prison conditions are the topic of discussion (and it is depressing to ponder the fact that they likely will fade from the news without anything having been done to change them), we should again take a long hard look at the realities right here in America:

Jails run or funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are "a national disgrace" with many facilities having conditions comparable to those found in third-world countries, a federal investigator testified Wednesday to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Nearly 500 serious incidents, including deaths, suicide attempts and escapes, went unreported at the facilities, said Earl Devaney, inspector general of the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

"For many years, the BIA detention program has been characterized as drastically understaffed, underfunded and poorly managed," Devaney said. "Unfortunately, BIA appears to have a 'laissez-faire' attitude in regard to these horrific conditions at its detention facilities."

In Yakima, Wash., Devaney met a young woman who spent 12 days in a windowless cell. "I've never seen jails that were so prone to suicide," he said. In Virginia, by contrast, even death-row prisoners are allowed to go outside for one hour a day.

Other witnesses from the federal and tribal governments backed him up.

"This has been the most depressing hearing I have ever participated in," said the committee's vice chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who has been in Congress since 1959. His eyes were wet as he walked out of the room.


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Only in Texas

Just rather odd:

An exploding vending machine turned the coolant freon into phosgene, a poisonous gas used as a chemical weapon in World War I, and forced the evacuation of 10 people from a Texas hospital, officials said Thursday.

A food service employee was working on the refrigerated soft drink machine at the Park Place Medical Center in Port Arthur, Texas, when a small explosion and fire occurred inside it Wednesday morning, Port Arthur Fire Marshal Mark Mulliner said.

“When freon gas from the cooling system came into contact with the heat from the fire, it changed composition to a phosgene gas,” Mulliner said.

Phosgene irritates the lungs, eyes, mouth and nose and, in strong enough concentrations, causes fatal amounts of fluid to build up in the lungs.

Continuing karmic fallout from having treated Janis Joplin badly? You be the judge.


Sending in More Troops

The U.S. may be committing more soldiers, even as the supposed transfer approaches:

U.S. military planners are preparing to send possibly as many as 15,000 additional ground troops to Iraq if the level of violence increases, CNN has learned.

That word comes as nearly 100 people were killed in insurgent attacks in five Iraqi cities Thursday.

The frequency and intensity of attacks against coalition forces, Iraqi officials and civilians have increased in recent weeks as the June 30 date for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq nears.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Thursday, Gen. George Casey -- who will soon take over as the commander of coalition forces -- said U.S. Central Command is working on contingency planning for increased violence.


A Win for Defendants from the Supreme Court

Reining in judges, the Supremes decided that aggravating circumstances that can increase sentences have to be submitted to the jury and not just considered by the judge.

The Supreme Court today placed more limits on the power of judges to decide sentences for criminals, voting 5 to 4 to set aside a prison term in a Washington State kidnapping. The four dissenters predicted that the decision would wreak havoc on sentencing procedures in many states, and perhaps in the federal penal system as well.

The majority found that the term of more than seven years imposed on Ralph Howard Blakely Jr. violated his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury because the judge, in going beyond the usual sentencing guidelines, had relied on facts neither admitted by the defendant nor found by the jury.

"Our Constitution and the common-law traditions it entrenches," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, "do not admit the contention that facts are better discovered by a judicial inquisition than by adversarial testing before a jury."

I find this to be a good decision, especially given the nature of some judges.


No NY Death Penalty for Now

The nineteen-year-old death penalty statue pretty much railroaded juries into killing prisoners:

New York State's highest court today declared a central provision of the state's nine-year-old death penalty law unconstitutional, assuring that there will be no executions in the state for some time and continuing what has been a tortured legal road for the capital punishment law.

In a 4-3 decision, the state's Court of Appeals said the legislature improperly required judges to tell jurors in capital cases that if they deadlocked, the judge would impose a sentence that would leave the defendant eligible for parole after serving 20 to 25 years. The decision said that represented improper coercion of jurors to vote for execution.

Lawyers said the ruling left little ground for review by any federal court and they said it seemed clear that the state's death row would also be emptied of its four current occupants. The decision would also pose obstacles to prosecutors now seeking the death penalty in 12 cases around the state and, if the legislature fails to amend the law, would bar prosecutors from seeking capital punishment until the provision is repaired.

"Under the present statute, the death penalty may not be imposed," the decision said.

Critics maintained even during legislative debates about the law in 1995 that the provision coerced jurors to vote for death and the court majority agreed.


Republican Class

Cheney shows the depth of his maturity:

CNN is reporting that on the floor of the Senate yesterday, Dick Cheney told Sen. Pat Leahy, "Go fuck yourself." We agree! Go fuck yourself -- while it's still legal!

UPDATE: Speaking of sodomy. . . Wonkette operatives tell us that the fighting words sprang from an exchange in which Cheney told Leahy he didn't like what Leahy had been saying about Halliburton, to which Leahy replied that he didn't like Cheney calling him a bad Catholic. So you'd see how "Go fuck yourself" is the only appropriate response.

From Wonkette.


What She Said

Vanden Heuvel on DeLay:

DeLay's brazen attacks on democratic governance--a tangled web of truly scandalous behavior--are so outrageous that even conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has assailed the Republican leadership for fomenting an "anything goes" atmosphere: "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around.... It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict." Real conservatives like Hagel believe that they should take responsibility for their actions. These conservatives actually value the rule of law, and they understand that the ends don't always justify the means in the pursuit of a radical right-wing ideology that serves corporate special interests above all.

Tom DeLay has never understood these things. He is committed to his take-no-prisoners agenda, and he sees ethics, morality and rules as nuisances that must be flouted, disdained and ignored. DeLay has racked up a record that demands investigation and action in the ethics committee and the courts of law. His scurrilous misdeeds demonstrate the yawning gap between a former President's private indiscretions and DeLay's dangerous violations of the public trust.


Terrorist's Trial Delayed

Not till next year for the "pro-life" bomber:

Accused serial bomber Eric Rudolph will go on trial for the deadly 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic in 2005, not this summer as originally scheduled, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith said he postponed the trial to give lawyers more time to prepare for jury selection and to examine the millions of documents in the case.

"The court finds that the ends of justice served by continuance outweigh the interests of the public and defendant in a speedy trial," Smith said.

The judge said that jury selection would begin next March, followed by opening arguments two months later.

Rudolph, 37, who was on the run for five years before his arrest in North Carolina in 2003, is accused of planting a bomb that killed an off-duty police officer and maimed a nurse at the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham.

Rudolph, a survivalist, is also charged in three bombings in the Atlanta area -- one during the Olympics, one at an abortion clinic and one at a nightclub frequented by gays. He will be tried separately in Georgia on those charges.


"Our" Opaque Government

Once again, the Supreme Court rallies to the defense of the administration they installed:

The Bush administration won't have to reveal secret details of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force before the election, after the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a lower court should spend more time sorting out the White House's privacy claim.


Making Him Sweat

On the one hand, I doubt that Bush did much than repeat empty sentences the entire time; on the other, Bush does such a poor job holding it together even for short periods of time for reporters, it's hard to imagine him doing so for over an hour with federal investigators:

President Bush was interviewed Thursday morning by a special prosecutor investigating whether anyone in the administration disclosed the classified identity of a CIA officer, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

This is the first time Bush has been questioned in a criminal investigation involving his administration.

Bush was not under oath for the interview, which took place in the Oval Office for about an hour and 10 minutes and was conducted by Patrick Fitzgerald and "members of his team," according to the White House.

The president was joined by Jim Sharp, a personal attorney whom he retained for this case.


Heating Up

It looks to be quite a week leading up to the supposed transfer:

Insurgents today launched a wave of apparently coordinated car bomb and grenade attacks in several Iraqi cities, killing at least 69 people and injuring 270 more.

It was one of the worst days of violence since the US president, George Bush, declared the end of major combat in May 2003.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Pure, Unlawful Arrogance

The Bush administration once again enshrines and espouses unlawful behavior for Americans:

The Bush administration has decided to take the unusual step of bestowing on its own troops and personnel immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for killing Iraqis or destroying local property after the occupation ends and political power is transferred to an interim Iraqi government, U.S. officials said.

The administration plans to accomplish that step -- which would bypass the most contentious remaining issue before the transfer of power -- by extending an order that has been in place during the year-long occupation of Iraq. Order 17 gives all foreign personnel in the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority immunity from "local criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction and from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their parent states."

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer is expected to extend Order 17 as one of his last acts before shutting down the occupation next week, U.S. officials said. The order is expected to last an additional six or seven months, until the first national elections are held.


We Have Come So Far

Son of King:

A police officer pursuing the driver of a stolen car Wednesday was seen on videotape beating the suspect after he appeared to have surrendered.

Mayor James Hahn said the videotape jeopardizes reforms made in the wake of similar incidents and will test the "bond of trust" with the community.

Video shot from news helicopters shows the suspect running for a short distance before slowing to a stop, apparently opting to surrender to officers pursuing him on foot.

The suspect appeared to raise both arms and drop to his knees. The first arriving officer drew his weapon, but put it back in his holster and then tackled the suspect, forcing him to the ground.

The second officer also jumps on the suspect, who is on the ground in a prone position, while a third officer arrives and appears to kick him in the head. This same officer then drops to the ground, takes out his flashlight and beats the suspect 11 times about the head area and also appears to use his knee to strike the suspect.


Haphazard "Justice"

Just ridiculous. Shouldn't this process have been taking place all along? And would it be happening even now without the Abu Ghraib fallout?

The Pentagon said Wednesdaythat it would start reviews in a couple of weeks to decide the status of hundreds of terrorism suspects at the US Naval Base prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I would hope, expect that out of all of the cases there are some we can act on quickly, hopefully in a matter of a couple of weeks," Navy Secretary Gordon England, who has been named as the senior civilian official with final authority over the status ofthe prisoners, said at a press conference.

England will oversee a new process to review the status of most of the prisoners held at Guantanamo, with exceptions for those who US President George W. Bush has determined to face a military tribunal.

The new process, which the Pentagon devised apparently in response to international criticism of the open-ended detentions of prisoners without trial or charges, will gives a prisoner a once-a-year chance to go before a military panel of three officers to persuade them that he no longer poses a threat to the United States and should be released.

England said he expected the first review panel would meet with in the next two weeks, and that any suspected Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners would be released if they no longer pose a threat to the United States.

Nearly 600 prisoners from about 40 countries, mostly captured during the US-led war in Afghanistan, are still held at Guantanamo without charges or trial. Some 130 detainees have been transferred to their home countries for release or continued imprisonment.


More INS Rigamarole

The INS is one department that needs serious work. The regulations are knotted beyond repair and are not applied consistently. Many stories that I've come across seem to indicate that many of the agents don't know all the regulations themselves.

And now, there's a new one, designed to make life harder for people living and working in the United States:

Thousands of foreigners who work in the United States will have to go to U.S. embassies abroad to be interviewed and fingerprinted when they need to renew their visas under a U.S. policy announced on Wednesday.
Previously the people, who include entertainers, athletes, journalists, investors, executives and skilled and unskilled temporary workers, were allowed to renew their visas by mail.

The State Department said it would stop accepting applications for mail renewals of the visas on July 16.
Boucher said there were no plans to create an office in the United States to handle renewals, saying embassies were best placed to do the work. "We want to do interviews. We want to do fingerprints. We're best set up to do that overseas," he said.


A Stem-Cell Rebellion

The death of the Republican demigod Ronald Reagan seems to have fomented some dissent in the ranks:

The U.S. government would be forced to fund embryonic stem cell research, which supporters say can transform medicine, under legislation introduced in Congress on Wednesday.

Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representatives joined forces to introduce a bill that would require the Health and Human Services Department to press ahead with funding the research.

President Bush refuses to expand the use of federal funds for work on embryonic stem cells. In August 2001 he limited the use of federal monies on such research to the few batches of cells that existed at the time.

"Government policy -- not scientific limitation -- is now holding stem cell research back," Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette said at a news conference to announce the legislation.

"Now is the time for Congress and this administration to recognize that the current policy does not work."

This appears to be becoming a significant wedge issue on the right, and one that could prove profoundly embarrassing for Bush.


Good News!

Your friendly neighborhood oil millionaire says things are dandy!

U.S. gasoline pump prices near $2 per gallon are "really quite a bargain" when compared to historical levels, the chief executive of the No. 2 U.S. oil company said on Wednesday.

The current average pump price "doesn't look too bad," compared to 1981, when the average inflation-adjusted prices averaged $2.79 per gallon, said David O'Reilly, chairman and chief executive of ChevronTexaco Corp.

"By historical standards, today's energy prices are really quite a bargain," O'Reilly said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

I feel better, don't you?


No Exemption

Bush may think he's above U.S. law when it comes to torture and other war crimes, but the U.N. offers American troops no such immunity:

Facing strong opposition, the United States announced Wednesday it was dropping a resolution seeking a new exemption for American peacekeepers from international prosecution for war crimes.

U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham made the announcement after a U.S. compromise that would limit the exemption to one final year failed to get support from key Security Council opponents.

Several council members refusing the compromise cited the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers and Secretary-General Kofi Annan's opposition to renewing the exemption for a third year.


One Hurdle Cleared

Bad news for DeLay is, of course, good news for us:

The House ethics committee decided Tuesday to proceed with its own investigation into allegations filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston.

In a ruling that does not address the substance of Bell's charges that DeLay engaged in extortion, bribery and abuse of power, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said the complaint was filed properly and warrants a look.

The decision "in no way addresses, or constitutes a determination on the substance of any of the allegations," said Committee Chairman Joel Heffley, R-Colo., and ranking Democrat Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia.

Their announcement sets in motion a series of steps that could take months before a decision on whether the Republican leader from Sugar Land violated House rules. The panel could have held off until a related criminal investigation in Texas runs its course, and may still do so.
Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's house and hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He expressed confidence the House panel "will ultimately decide to proceed with the long overdue investigation into Mr. DeLay's illegal activities."

However some Republicans, including Rep. John Culberson of Houston, will press ahead today with an effort to disqualify Bell's complaint, arguing that he should not have the right to file ethics charges because he is a lame-duck congressman and has no stake in the House's future.



From the New York Times, today:

Under the American plan, North Korea would have to fully disclose its nuclear program, submit to inspections and pledge to begin eliminating the program after a preparatory period of three months.

In exchange, the reclusive regime of Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, would receive shipments of heavy fuel oil to meet its energy needs, be granted a provisional security guarantee by the United States, and see the lifting of some sanctions.
The administration appears to have eased its opposition to engaging in detailed negotiations with North Korea, which President Bush once labeled as member of the "axis of evil." Last summer, when negotiations first got under way, Mr. Bush said that providing any benefits to North Korea before it completely abandoned its nuclear program would be like submitting to blackmail.

From Front Page Magazine, January 3, 2003:

Democrats have begun a desperate-yet-predictable effort to blame North Korea's nuclear aspirations on President George W. Bush's strident rhetoric. Despite their leftist cant, they seem remarkably uninterested in the "root causes" of Pyongyang's current nuclear brinksmanship: Bill Clinton's eight years of appeasement and the gullible cordiality of the South Korean government.
The attempt to blame the current state of affairs on Bush's "axis of evil" speech is cowardly blame-shifting of the worst sort. It is holding the solution responsible for the problem. Clinton's coddling of dictators with a yearning for Weapons of Mass Destruction got us here. But North Korea is only one bloom from the seeds planted during his tenure as Commander-in-Chief, when he forged what one critic called an "astonishing reversal of nine previous U.S. administrations" and their refusal to negotiate with terrorists. It is a dangerous world, and one cannot imagine what future dictators will expect to negotiate for during future incidences of nuclear blackmail.


"Rumsfeld Processing"

This is just deeply disturbing:

Some of the detainees are released after a few weeks; others stay for many months; some are transferred to Guantánamo Bay; still others are subjected to what is referred to by one human rights organisation as "RPing", or "Rumsfeld Processing". These are the prisoners whom the Pentagon refuses to acknowledge, and whose names do not appear in the records kept at Bagram. Sometimes, according to this organisation, the detainees may be "rendered" to Egyptian intelligence or other foreign services for interrogation.

You do not ever want to fall into that man's clutches.


Sweet Sovereignty

Dr. Benjamin over at The Left End of the Dial asks, "Is it just me, or does this seem a bit weird?"

The US-led occupation authority in Baghdad has warned Iraq's interim government not to carry out its threat of declaring martial law, insisting that only the US-led coalition has the right to adopt emergency powers after the June 30 handover of sovereignty.

It's not just you.


See No Evil

Protecting us from harsh reality:

The Senate refused on Monday to change a Pentagon policy banning media coverage of America's war dead as their remains arrive in flag-draped caskets.

''It's an outrage,'' said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who had sponsored legislation to restore coverage of homecoming ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The New Jersey Democrat said the Pentagon directive that requires strict censorship, ''issued just as the Iraq war began, ... prevents the American people from seeing the truth about what's happening.''


Stalling the Media Monopoly

Some good news about corporate media, for a change. The government is trying to rein them in, after all:

The Senate voted on Tuesday to repeal rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission that make it easier for the nation's largest media conglomerates to expand and enter new markets.

The rules, approved last June by a divided F.C.C., largely removed previous ownership restrictions on media companies. They struck down the rule that in most markets had prevented one company from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city. In the largest markets, the new rules also enabled a company to own as many as three television stations, eight radio stations and a cable operator. And they allowed the largest television networks to buy more affiliated stations, although Congress later rolled back that provision.

The new rules have already been blocked temporarily by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, which is considering a challenge.

By a voice vote, the Senate approved a provision to repeal the rules and restore tougher restrictions. Supporters of the effort said that the Senate's decision provided them with a backstop in case the appeals court did not rule in their favor. But the legislation still faces formidable political obstacles - a similar measure was dropped from a different bill this year after encountering stiff resistance from both the Bush administration and Republican leaders in the House, which would need to reconcile the latest measure in a conference committee.



How long will it be before the Bush administration gets around to doing a little creative editing of this report?

Toxic chemical releases into the environment rose 5 percent in 2002, marking only the second such increase reported by the Environmental Protection Agency in nearly two decades, and the first since 1997.

Some 4.79 billion pounds were released in 2002, the latest for which figures are available, not including releases from metal mining, the EPA reports. The agency stopped including that data because of a recent court decision in an industry challenge.

The increase reversed a recent trend, and was a big turnaround from last year's report by EPA that chemical releases in 2001 had declined 13 percent from a year earlier.
Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the 2002 increase "proves that the policies of the Bush administration have moved us backward, not forward, on the environment."


Fear of a Gay Nation

The outbreak of gay marriage in Massachusetts is apparently as virulent as ebola, and we must take drastic measures to contain it, up to and including enshrining inequality in our Constitution:

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the U.S. Senate on Tuesday that a constitutional amendment is now the only sure way to stop legalized same-sex marriage allowed in his state from spreading nationwide.

"Massachusetts has redefined marriage for the whole country," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said same-sex couples who marry there, as allowed by its Supreme Court, and then later move away will force other states not only to decide whether to recognize their unions but how they will handle divorce, child support and tax benefits.

"For each state to preserve its own power in relation to marriage . . . a federal amendment is necessary," Romney said.

That's right, in order to protect the states' rights to define marriage, we need a federal amendment which will prevent states from defining marriage in such a way as to include same-sex marriage.

That makes perfect sense to me.


Seven Days and Counting

The murderous militants are doing their best to help the transition go smoothly:

Islamist militants have reportedly vowed to assassinate Iraq's Interim Prime Minister, just hours after they said they had beheaded a South Korean hostage in the violent run-up to a US handover to Iraqi rule.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Don't Hold Your Breath

Given that the Texas Republican Party's platform includes the phrase "the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society" and calls for making the performance of a gay marriage a felony, I doubt that the Anti-Defamation League stands much of a chance when it comes to this:

A leading Jewish group on Tuesday asked the Republican Party in President Bush's home state of Texas to stop calling the United States a "Christian nation" in its platform.

The Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism and religious discrimination, said it was dismayed about the platform plank and other language in the document that describes as "a myth" the separation of church and state, which is enshrined by the U.S. Constitution and court rulings.


A Terrorist Goes on Trial

May he rot:

Eric Rudolph, accused of the fatal 1998 bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic, will be tried in Birmingham before a jury selected from other parts of the state, a judge said on Tuesday.

The defense had sought a change of venue for Rudolph, charged with bombing the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, citing prejudicial publicity. The January blast killed an off-duty police officer and maimed a nurse, who was blinded in one eye by the nail-packed bomb.


A Twisted Argument

So, now that overfishing has wrought havoc upon fish populations, we apparently need to kill more whales:

The governments of Japan and Norway now claim that species such as the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) have rebounded to such numbers that they are a factor behind plummeting populations of fish hunted for human consumption the world over. The WWF last month said the global cod catch had dropped by 70 percent in the last 30 years and that cod could disappear completely within another 15 years if the trend continues.

"The logical extension of this idea is that whales should not be allowed to recover to environmental carrying capacity, but rather are in need of culling in the name of ecosystem management," Corkeron said.
On May 18 of this year, Norway's parliament passed a resolution calling for a threefold increase in the hunting quota for minke whales, to preserve cod and other prey for fishers.



No justice:

The murder trial of three young men accused of strangling a San Francisco-area transgender teenager ended in a mistrial on Tuesday after the judge described the jury as "hopelessly deadlocked."

Prosecutors said they planned to retry the case, which was prosecuted as a hate crime and had been closely followed by gay and transgender activists across the nation.

The Alameda County Superior Court jury had deliberated for 10 days but split on whether the three men were guilty of the Oct. 2002 strangulation death of the 17-year-old, who was born Edward Araujo Jr. but lived as a woman named Gwen or Lida.

Two of the defendants had been having sex with Araujo and plotted to murder the teen after a party at the home of one of the defendants, during which the three men learned that Araujo was biologically male, prosecutors say.

Jurors were deadlocked seven-to-five in favor of convicting one of the men of murder, and 10-to-two in acquitting the other two men of murder. The jury had not yet considered lesser charges of manslaughter or second-degree murder.

The three defendants -- Jason Cazares, Michael Magdison and Jose Merel, all 24 -- had faced 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Magdison's lawyer had argued that he acted out of passion after discovering that he had been having sex with a man, while prosecutors argued that Araujo was beaten, bound and strangled to death in an act of calculated murder by all three defendants.

A retrial is planned, said a representative of Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero.

Thank goodness they plan to retry.


Grand Old Party of Dangerous Racists

Here's a charmer running for state office in South Carolina:

Despite this very obvious appeal to the worst instincts in Americans, the GOP faces a quandary when admiring white supremacists take them at their word and run for office as Republicans. The latest to cause embarrassment is Ron Wilson, national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who is running for a seat in the South Carolina State Senate. The Southern Poverty Law Center has given Wilson the dubious distinction of being named one of the top 40 white supremacists in need of constant monitoring.


Contacts and Relationships

An anonymous quip sums it up nicely:

"When I was 15 and kept asking Mary Beth for a date, and she would always politely refuse, I think I would have been hard put to describe that as a 'relationship' as much as I wanted to brag about one," noted one Congressional aide this week.


Corruption and Incompetence

That phrase is the Bush administration's mantra. We aren't spreading democracy in the Middle East, we're spreading this:

The U.S.-led occupation is sloppily managing billions of dollars of Iraqi oil money and moving at a glacial pace to guard against corruption, an international watchdog agency charged on Tuesday.

The Coalition Provisional Authority has yet to award contracts for equipment to meter Iraq's oil production, leaving a door open to smuggling, despite earlier saying it had awarded the contracts, the International Advisory and Monitoring Board said.

The U.S.-led administration also has delayed completing audits of the State Oil Marketing Organization, the state-owned firm that markets Iraqi oil, the U.N.-mandated agency said.

In addition, authorities in Baghdad have put off for three months a request by the board that it turn over U.S. audits of sole-source contracts funded with Iraqi oil money and awarded to Halliburton last year without competitive bidding, the watchdog agency said.

Halliburton, the Texas oil services firm once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, has been accused by some Democrats of war profiteering after winning billions of dollars in sole-source contracts from the U.S. military in Iraq.

The U.S. audits of the Halliburton contracts paid with Iraqi oil money, initially requested in March, had not yet been handed over despite repeated requests, the board said.

As a result, the board said it was ordering its own audit "to determine the extent of the sole-sourced contracts."


Strong Leadership

That's what this President was or is supposed to be all about, right? No flip-flopping and wishy-washiness, yes?


Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration's new rules governing treatment of foreign prisoners have been contradictory and have sent mixed messages to American soldiers, according to military personnel and documents.

Six investigations are under way into abuses of detainees; none are expected to produce any conclusions soon. A close review of recently disclosed documents and interviews with soldiers, officers and government officials find a broader pattern of misconduct and knowledge about it stretching into the middle chain of command. But there is no clear evidence to date that the highest military or civilian leaders ordered or authorized the mistreatment of prisoners at American-run prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Still, the ever-shifting rules, in which lists of accepted interrogation tactics were widened drastically before being reined in over 17 crucial months, helped foster a climate in which abuse could flourish.

Starting with the 17 interrogation techniques approved in a standard Army manual, commanders at the Guantánamo prison doubled the permitted methods by late 2002, before shrinking the list. In Iraq last fall, directives on treatment of prisoners were changed at least three times in six weeks. Some of the procedures authorized in Iraq had been banned as too harsh months earlier at Guantánamo.

This is a catastrophic failure of the very leadership this man is supposed to be giving us, at the expense of civil liberties and international goodwill. It's quite simply unforgiveable.


Possession is Ten Tenths

Another meaningless gesture:

The United States plans to turn over legal, but not physical, custody of Saddam Hussein and some other prisoners to the Iraqi interim government soon after it takes over on June 30, a senior official said on Tuesday.


Another Lie

The lie that one of Saddam's men was also al Qaeda has given much fuel to the right-wing bloggers and commenters in the past couple of days.

I decided to wait a bit to see how it all played out. Why am I not surprised that it is yet another instance of deceit and/or incompetence?

The CIA concluded "a long time ago" that an al-Qaida associate who met with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers in Malaysia was not an officer in Saddam Hussein's army, as alleged Sunday by a Republican member of the 9/11 commission.

Commissioner John Lehman, who was Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, said "new ... documents" indicated that "at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen," an elite army unit, "was a very prominent member of al-Qaida."


Monday, June 21, 2004

Hypocrisy, in Fifty-Foot Tall Flashing Letters

He's trying to play the "compassionate" game again? After these four years of strutting about all butch and macho?

Campaigning in the battleground state of Ohio, President Bush sought to portray his domestic agenda as compassionate and aligned himself with a welfare measure enacted under Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Speaking at a center for people with drug and alcohol addictions, Bush also highlighted an initiative that would give grants to states to pay for counseling and other services for married couples receiving government assistance.

Single people, and gay people, aren't worth compassion, apparently.


First As Farce, Then As Tragedy

I long for the days when the "relationship" being minutely scrutinized and vehemently debated was that of a man (Clinton) and a woman (Lewinsky).

But now it's not about sex, it's about death:

For the past few days, the dialogue in this town has sounded more like "Sex and the City" than "The McLaughlin Group." Suddenly the question of what constitutes a relationship has come to the fore. We're not talking J. Lo here, we're talking about the Bush administration and whether its definition of "relationship" fits with everyone else's.

Last week, the 9/11 Commission released a report saying, among other things, that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The press jumped on the story, saying the Bush administration has been proven wrong. The White House, however, quickly countered that it had never said that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; it had simply argued that there was a connection.

"There was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda," President Bush said. "The evidence is overwhelming" that there was a relationship, Vice President Cheney said.

I just want to point out that there is a (spatial) relationship between me and the planet Jupiter and there is a (temporal) relationship between me and the Bubonic Plague.

The word "relationship" just cannot carry the semantic weight being demanded of it in this debate.

Which is, of course, precisely why it has been selected as the central term of the dispute.



I Really, Really Hope He's Not Lying

Because if he is, this will be a nightmare:

Congo on Monday denied claims by rival and neighbor Rwanda that it was massing troops for attack, and international diplomatic pressure built to avoid what one African leader called "potentially catastrophic war" in central Africa.

Congo's defense minister told The Associated Press that his country was sending a total of 5,000 troops east to provinces bordering Rwanda, Congo's chief enemy in a devastating five-year central African war -- but insisted the deployment was to quell ex-rebels on Congo's soil, not invade Rwanda's.

"We are not threatening the integrity of our neighboring country. We trust our neighbor, and we want them to trust us," Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Ondekane said in Kinshasa, the capital.

"Congo is not going to attack Rwanda," Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda told The AP.


A Handy Tool

Electoral Vote Predictor


Stupid Comparison of the Week

An otherwise reasonable review of Fahrenheit 9/11 begins thus:

Michael Moore has more in common with Mel Gibson than he'd probably like to admit.

Like Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which had both supporters and detractors in a tizzy before they'd even seen a minute of it, Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" has liberals and conservatives alike scrambling to spin the film's content for their political and personal purposes.


48 Geniuses for Kerry

This country is tremendously schizophrenic when it comes to science. On the one hand, we tend to put off doing anything drastic about environmental degradation or our unfortunate dependence on (foreign) oil, telling ourselves that American technological ingenuity will provide technological solutions. On the other, we have in office an incurious man whose administration relentless stymies and misrepresents actual science.

Time for some common sense. Listen to these men:

Democrat John Kerry, touting the endorsement of 48 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, has criticized President Bush for relying on ideology rather than fact in the pursuit of science and repeated his pledge to overturn the ban on federal funding of research on new stem cell lines..

"We need a president who will once again embrace our tradition of looking toward the future and new discoveries with hope based on scientific facts, not fear," the presidential candidate said in a speech prepared for a Monday afternoon appearance in Denver.
In those remarks, Kerry said Bush's anti-science initiatives included limiting stem cell research; removing information about the global warming threat from a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency report; ordering changes to a report that described damage that would be caused by oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and deleting information about condoms from government Web sites.

A Kerry campaign statement said Bush's proposed budget cuts in the National Science Foundation, the EPA and Veterans Affairs Department would "stymie important scientific discoveries."

Kerry also pointed to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that the administration distorts scientific findings and tries to manipulate experts' advice to avoid information that runs counter to its political beliefs.


Circling the Wagons

Bell's charges that DeLay has committed numerous breaches of ethics are rallying Republicans to his defense. Most egregious of all is that argument that Bell shouldn't be allowed to bring the charges since he is a "lame-duck" congressman. Of course, he is a "lame duck" as the direct result of DeLay's redistricting shenanigans in Texas. The Republicans always love heaping insult atop injury:

House Republicans are trying to block U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, with Democrats saying the GOP is trying to silence any criticism of its chief.

Republicans denied they were trying to muzzle allegations against DeLay. But in the escalating partisan warfare touched off by investigations into DeLay's political dealings, Republicans' maneuvers may prevent Bell's complaint from being examined by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., took steps Thursday to throw out the complaint by Bell, a Democrat whose Houston-area district borders DeLay's.

LaHood said that because Bell is a lame-duck congressman, after losing the Democratic primary this year in his freshman term, he "has no stake in the institution" and should be disqualified from filing the charges. Bell's term expires at the end of the year.
Bell's complaint, filed this week after a years-long unofficial truce in which lawmakers did not make formal ethics complaints against each other, rests with the ethics committee.

He planned to distribute a "Dear Colleague" letter to Democratic and Republican lawmakers outlining his charges against DeLay. But with the House under Republican control, its Administration Committee this week did not allow the letter to be sent.
A Travis County grand jury is investigating DeLay's political action committee and possible illegal use of corporate campaign contributions to Texas legislative candidates.

Prosecutors said they are looking into similar allegations against U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas.

Frost denied the accusation, calling it a retaliatory strike to deflect attention from DeLay. The issue against Frost was brought to prosecutors' attention by state Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville.

When Bell filed his complaint Tuesday, he and other Democrats predicted they would encounter the wrath of DeLay and his Republican allies.

Chris Bell, however, is fighting back, with a letter in the Houston Chronicle:

U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay is the most corrupt politician in America.

That will not come as news to those of you who have been paying attention in recent years. But it takes on added relevance this week in the wake of formal charges I have filed against him alleging criminal conspiracy, including bribery, extortion, fraud, money laundering and abuse of power.

Predictably, to try and deflect attention from those charges, DeLay and his associates have opened fire with personal attacks and threats of political retribution against me and many of my colleagues.

Read the whole letter.


Iraqi Civilian War Casualties

A web site to remind all of us that they are people, not numbers.


Another Small Step Toward a Police State

Not to be melodramatic, but this decision does call to mind old World War II movies, in which Nazis are constantly going around demanding people's "papers."

The Supreme Court has again given police greater power to stop and question suspects, ruling Monday that a Nevada cowboy could not refuse to give his name to officers who tried to question him along a roadside.

The case was the fifth victory for law enforcement this term in cases involving search and seizure by law enforcement.

The narrow 5-4 ruling was seen as a defeat for privacy advocates.
In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said that because Hiibel was the target of a police investigation, he "acted well within his rights when he opted to stand mute."

Stevens said, "There is no reason why the subject of police interrogation based on mere suspicion, rather than probable cause, should have any lesser protection."

And that's not all. The Supremes have been on something of a roll, ruling for greater police powers in a number of other ways:

In the other cases the court:

--Allowed police to kick down a suspect's door after only 15 seconds if they believed the suspect was dangerous, or that evidence could be destroyed.

--Upheld "informational roadblocks" where officers seek the public's help to solve crimes. A man was arrested at such a stop for driving erratically.

--Permitted drugs found in a suspect's car to be used as evidence after federal agents dismantled his car at a border checkpoint.

--Ruled lawful a suspect's arrest next to his vehicle after drugs were found inside the car. The court said it was not always necessary for the suspect to be inside his car to have evidence used against him.


More Bad News for Patients

Once again, it has been decided to place medical decisions in the hands of corporations, rather than doctors. And there is nothing you can do about it if the decisions are wrong:

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that patients cannot sue health insurance companies under state law for refusing to pay for doctor-recommended medical care, a decision that could affect millions of patients.

The justices ruled that a 1974 federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, completely pre-empted such lawsuits brought in state court by patients who seek damages over the denial of appropriate medical care.

The decision was a victory for the U.S. Justice Department and insurers, which warned that allowing the lawsuits would drive up health care costs. Millions of Americans have medical insurance through employer-provided health plans governed by the 1974 federal law.


Something Rotten in Kurdistan

Further reason for pessimism about the future of Iraq:

Israeli military and intelligence operatives are active in Kurdish areas of Iran, Syria and Iraq, providing training for commando units and running covert operations that could further destabilise the entire region, says a report in the New Yorker magazine.

The article was written by Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who exposed the abuse scandal in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail. Israel's embassy in Washington denied the claim, which was sourced in the magazine mainly to unnamed former and current intelligence officials in Israel, the US and Turkey.

Hersh says Israel's aims are to build up Kurdish military strength in order to offset the strength of the Shia militias and to create a base in Iran from which they can spy on Iran's suspected nuclear facilities.

"Israel has always supported the Kurds in a Machiavellian way - a balance against Saddam," a former Israeli intelligence officer told Hersh. "It's Realpolitik. By aligning with the Kurds, Israel gains eyes and ears in Iran, Iraq and Syria. The critical question is 'What will the behaviour of Iran be if there is an independent Kurdistan with close ties to Israel? Iran does not want an Israeli land-based aircraft carrier on its border."


Marching Against Creationism

I suddenly am nostalgic for England. Imagine living in a country where people have enough common sense and righteous indignation to actually take to the streets to defend the teaching of science against creationist chicanery:

Some 250 parents, teachers and pupils marched through the streets of Doncaster, in south Yorkshire, on Saturday to protest against what they say is a "takeover" of their school by a pro-creationist religious foundation.
The Emmanuel foundation, part of the Vardy Foundation, a charitable trust run by Sir Peter Vardy, the wealthy owner of a chain of car dealerships, is proposing to operate the school under the government's city academy programme, whereby a private organisation donates up to £2m, while the government provides the rest, and runs the school.

The foundation already runs two colleges in the north of England and one more is planned for September. It has met with controversy because its pupils are taught the Old Testament view of the creation of the world in six days.

Richard Dawkins, the Oxford University professor and leading campaigner against the teaching of creationism in schools, warned that it marked a "smuggling in of American-style creationist teaching" to British schools at the taxpayers' expense.

Matthew Bailey, the National Union of Teachers' representative at Northcliffe school, said the union was more concerned about the "privatisation" of the school, but added: "I'm a scientist and as such I teach the ideas of creationism alongside evolution, but I don't teach them as having the same status - one is a potion of faith and one a scientific fact. I would find it difficult to teach in a school which backed the creationist view."


Kiwi Vanguard

New Zealand is way ahead of us:

New Zealand's civil union bill, dubbed the gay marriage bill by its critics because it allows same sex couples legal recognition of their relationships, was introduced in parliament yesterday.

Under the new legislation, heterosexual and same sex couples will be able to enter a civil union if they are 18 years or more, or aged 16 or 17 with the consent of their guardians or the Family Court.


Lying about Guantanamo

It's really a shame about the detainees. If only there were some way this could have been avoided, I don't know, some sort of process that would be due to people before they could be imprisoned.

For nearly two and a half years, American officials have maintained that locked within the steel-mesh cells of the military prison here are some of the world's most dangerous terrorists — "the worst of a very bad lot," Vice President Dick Cheney has called them.

The officials say information gleaned from the detainees has exposed terrorist cells, thwarted planned attacks and revealed vital intelligence about Al Qaeda. The secrets they hold and the threats they pose justify holding them indefinitely without charge, Bush administration officials have said.

But as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legal status of the 595 men imprisoned here, an examination by The New York Times has found that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.

In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of Al Qaeda. They said only a relative handful — some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen — were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization's inner workings.


Art, for Our Sake

The repoliticization of popular culture is a very heartening trend, and one which, like the refreshing unity of the Democrats, we owe to the tremendous mendacity and idiocy of the Bush administration.

Michael Moore's latest offering is grabbing headlines for the moment, but coming up quietly behind him are other, lower profile offerings. Among these are the John Kerry biopic Tour Of Duty; Silver City, John Sayles' fictional account of an ultra-conservative political dynasty; The Hunting of the President, which investigates the impeachment of Bill Clinton; You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, a profile of historian and peace activist Howard Zinn; and Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War. Uncovered, which doesn't open in theaters until August, has already sold an astonishing 100,000 copies online.

Premiering at the Human Rights Film Festival is the anti-capitalist screed The Corporation and Persons Of Interest -- a hard-hitting look at the post 9/11 round-up of over 5,000 Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim men (of whom, only three men were ultimately charged, and two of those were acquitted). From the entertainment end of the spectrum comes a major studio release, The Yes Men, which follows the antics of a rabble-rousing crew of political performance artists who manage to crash WTO meetings disguised as entrepreneurs. In one scene they demonstrate an indispensible contraption for the modern CEO -- an outfit that includes a monitor for his/her overseas sweatshops.

Entering its second month in New York theaters is the searing Control Room, a documentary by Jehane Noujaim (co-director of another fly-on-the-wall masterpiece Startup.Com). Tracking the Al Jazeera TV network through the first phase of the Iraq invasion, the film provides a masterful dissection of modern media's role in fomenting jingoism, hiding casualties, and falling into obedient sycophancy. The action takes place in the U.S.-military-manned CentCom (Central Command), where information is disseminated on the war's progress. The Al Jazeera correspondents' suspicion and cynicism stands in marked contrast with their Western colleague's docile head-nodding. When an Al Jazeera correspondent is killed by US fire, in an incident perceived in the Muslim world as reprisal for showing footage of captured American GIs, all the reporters in CentCom are united in grief and anger. But when the cameras start rolling, CNN correspondent Tom Mintier's questions seem oddly restrained -- tacitly acknowledging an invisible line that can't be crossed.


Abu Ghraib Here to Stay, for Now

Yet another of Bush's promises has turned out to be ill-considered and ultimately empty:

A military judge on Monday declared the Abu Ghraib prison a crime scene and said it cannot be demolished as President Bush had offered, while defense lawyers in the prisoner abuse case indicated they want to question Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Womack said there was "a good chance" he would seek to question Rumsfeld. He said he doubted he would try to depose President Bush, although "certainly we will be considering it."

President Bush had offered to dismantle Abu Ghraib to help remove the stain of torture and abuse from the new Iraq an offer Iraqi officials had already dismissed, saying it would be a waste of the building. Saddam Hussein used Abu Ghraib to torture and murder his opponents.

Pohl declared the prison a crime scene and said it could not be destroyed prior to a verdict.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

A Bribery Indictment for Cheney?


A British lawyer is emerging as a key witness in a $180 million bribery investigation that could lead to the indictment of US vice president Dick Cheney.

Last week, US oil corporation Halliburton cut all ties with a former senior executive, Albert Stanley, after it emerged he had received as much as $5m in 'improper personal benefits' as part of a $4bn gas project in Nigeria. Halliburton also sacked a second 'consultant', William Chaudan in connection with the bribery allegations. At the time of these alleged payments, Cheney was chief executive of the corporation.

French investigating magistrate Renaud van Ruymbeke is examining a stream of payments surrounding the controversial project which was built during the regime of the late dictator Sani Abacha. The judge has uncovered a $180m web of payments channelled through offshore companies and bank accounts.

The Nigerian project to build a huge gas plant was signed with an international consortium that included Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root. Cheney retired from the chief executive post in 2000.

The French judge is considering summoning Cheney to give evidence in his probe to ascertain whether the US vice president knew about the alleged commission payments.


More War Crimes

From Juan Cole:

The US dropped two bombs on a poor residential district of Fallujah on Saturday, killing at least 22 and wounding 9. The F-16 destroyed two houses and damaged 6 others. Most of those dead, including 3 women and 5 children, belonged to the extended family of a local farmer, Muhammad Hamadi. The US maintained that the building hit was a safe house for the al-Tawhid terrorist group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Local Iraqis in Fallujah maintained that most of those killed were innocent civilians.

I don't mean to be a killjoy, but for an Occupying Power to drop bombs on residential neighborhoods is a war crime. The three women and five children killed are not "collateral damage." They are human beings. They were killed by the United States. There are no such things as "precision strikes" in residential neighborhoods. Bombs not only throw off shrapnel themselves, they create lots of deadly flying debris, including flying glass from broken windows, that can kill and maim. Dropping bombs on an tank corps assembled in the desert and intending to do harm is one thing. Dropping bombs on a residential district is another.


Undercover Evangelicals

I never thought I'd see the day, but evangelical Christians are realizing they need to be less overtly obnoxious and more subtle:

A national evangelical group is mulling guidelines that would warn the faithful against allying themselves too closely with any one political party, "lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature."

A draft of guidelines circulating in the National Association of Evangelicals advises believers to "be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism" while maintaining a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.

The framework, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, exhorts evangelicals to oppose "social evils" such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and stem-cell research.

The proposal shows that evangelicals have become more conscious of their political impact, experts told the Times in Sunday's newspaper.

"This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. "Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party - and that's traditionally the Republicans - it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful."


Some Good News

The fact that India and Pakistan both have substantial nuclear arsenals poses a very real threat to the world. If a nuclear exchange occurs in the next several decades, it will happen there.

But, they are trying, finally:

India and Pakistan on Sunday unveiled their first "confidence-building" agreement on nuclear weapons since 1999 in a largely symbolic move that will nevertheless send a reassuring message to the rest of the world.

The joint statement, in which the two countries announced the creation of a permanent hotline between the foreign secretaries, came after two days of talks in New Delhi between senior officials.

Sunday's statement - which concludes the first part of eight separate "channels" of peace negotiations between the longstanding rivals - was the first time in more than five years that the two countries had formally discussed the highly sensitive issue of nuclear weapons.


These Are Our Allies?

The continued tendency of the U.S. to embrace certain Muslim fundamentalists is deeply disturbing and nonsensical:

Police are continuing their search for Johnson's body and the militants involved in his death. Early Sunday, armored vehicles and a helicopter sealed off three neighborhoods of the Saudi capital, searching any cars that tried to leave the areas.

Earlier Sunday, an account of the kidnapping was posted on an Islamic extremist Web site that said Al Qaeda militants disguised in police uniforms and cars provided by sympathizers in the Saudi security forces set up a fake checkpoint to snare the American engineer they later beheaded.