Saturday, November 27, 2004

Detainee Candidates?

This is an interesting idea for highlighting the failures and transgressions of the present administrations of the UK and the US:
Actress Vanessa Redgrave, her brother and the father of a Guantanamo detainee on Saturday launched a new political party devoted to human rights.

The Peace and Progress Party says it will field candidates and endorse politicians with strong human rights records in the next general election.

Organizers discussed the party's platform and strategies at a conference that drew several hundred people.

"Our goal is to ring the alarm bells about the human rights abuses our government is sanctioning, and to act as a focus for people who want to stand up against them," said Vanessa Redgrave's brother, political activist Corin Redgrave.

Redgrave suggested four British prisoners at Guantanamo Bay could run as party candidates, as a means of protesting against their detention and the alleged human rights abuses at the prison on a U.S. naval base in Cuba.


One Party Nation

For the GOP, it continues to be about nothing but power:
In scuttling major intelligence legislation that he, the president and most lawmakers supported, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.

Hastert's position, which is drawing fire from Democrats and some outside groups, is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.

Senators from both parties, leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and others have sharply criticized the policy. The long-debated intelligence bill would now be law, they say, if Hastert and his lieutenants had been humble enough to let a high-profile measure pass with most votes coming from the minority party.

That is what Democrats did in 1993, when most House Democrats opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Bill Clinton (news - web sites) backed NAFTA, and leaders of the Democratic-controlled House allowed it to come to a vote. The trade pact passed because of heavy GOP support, with 102 Democrats voting for it and 156 voting against. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the House GOP leader at the time, declared: "This is a vote for history, larger than politics . . . larger than personal ego."

Such bipartisan spirit in the Capitol now seems a faint echo. Citing the increased marginalization of Democrats as House bills are drafted and brought to the floor, Rep. David E. Price (news, bio, voting record) (D-N.C.) said, "It's a set of rules and practices which the Republicans have taken to new extremes."


Feeding the Nightmare

The lack of health care workers worldwide is just intensifying the pain:

Efforts to combat diseases such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and polio in the developing world are being thwarted by a critical shortage of 4 million health care workers, a new report has found.


Another Step

The day of the nation-state continues to wane, as capitalism eclipses sovereignty:

The World Trade Organization gave formal approval yesterday for Canada and seven other jurisdictions to punish the United States for refusing to withdraw controversial trade legislation.

The office of International Trade Minister Jim Peterson welcomed the news because the WTO's move sanctions retaliatory steps Canada is considering taking against the U.S.

Earlier this week, the government announced it would consult Canadian business on how it should deal with the Byrd Amendment, the 2000 legislation that provides money the U.S. receives from some import tariffs to American companies that support such trade action.

The legislation, named after the West Virginian senator who sponsored it, affects imports Washington considers unfairly subsidized in their country of origin.

Payment from duties on imports from Canada between 2001 and 2003 totalled about $17 million U.S., but this country is more concerned about the billions of dollars in payments from softwood lumber duties that American companies stand to begin receiving in 2007.



I hate that word. It just means imprisonment without any sort of process. We're doing more and more of it:

In the past two months, the number of Iraqi detainees held by the U.S. has doubled to approximately 8,300. The number is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Anxious to overcome negative perceptions caused by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the U.S. says it has turned over a new leaf:

Detainees in U.S. military custody are kept in recently constructed camps with climate-controlled tents, a visitation center and three hot meals a day. For the most cooperative prisoners, there are movies and a library.

The U.S. says the Red Cross is satisfied with the new procedures:

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which in the past was sharply critical of the handling of Iraqis in U.S. custody, has been "very positive" in its recent reports and expressed "no significant" concerns, Miller said. "We're down to talking about the type of toothbrush being issued to detainees," he said.

Just like the Holiday Inn? We'll wait to hear what the detainees and the Red Cross have to say when they speak for themselves.


Late Catblogging


Guerrilla Warfare Ongoing

Like Vietnam? No way:
Guerrillas attacked a U.S.-Iraqi base, a police station and a National Guard post in the town of Khalis north of Baghdad on Saturday but were driven back by U.S. and Iraqi forces, witnesses and the U.S. army said.

In a statement, the American 1st Infantry Division said the insurgents attacked before dawn with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. Local police said three people were wounded among the Iraqi police and National Guard.

I have yet to hear a single--and I mean even one--plan for how to stop insurgent attacks. We keep lashing out, and then saying the insurgents have "melted away," and then they attack again. And we are blowing out brains, not winning hearts and minds. So how will this end?


Friday, November 26, 2004

Killing Earth's Lungs

The massive oxygen-producing resource that is the Brazilian rainforest is in a worse way than previously thought:

About half of Brazil's original Amazon rainforest has been occupied by man, deforested or used for industry, and its destruction is worse than government figures show, an environmental group says.

A study using satellite photographs shows that land occupation and deforestation covers about 47 per cent of the world's largest jungle, an area bigger than the continental United States, the Brazilian non-government organisation Imazon said.


Fighting Back

The behavior of the authorities during the Republican National Convention was reprehensible; it is good to see action taken against them:

A group of protesters and bystanders who were arrested during the Republican National Convention in late August and early September on Monday announced the filing of a class-action lawsuit against New York City, Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and numerous police officials.

The announcement was made at the Center for Constitutional Rights at 666 Broadway in Noho. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the more than 1,800 people arrested during the convention, was put together by the Affirmative Litigation Committee of the New York Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The firm of Moore and Goodman LLP has taken the case.

Attorney Jonathan Moore said the city and N.Y.P.D. “trampled” citizens’ rights during the convention. The suit charges there were violations in three areas: unlawful arrests for peaceably exercising constitutional rights of free speech and assembly; imprisonment at an unsuitable facility — Pier 57 — where bus fluids had seeped into the floor, creating a toxic environment; and overly long incarceration.

Said Martin Stolar, N.L.G. New York Chapter president, “It’s truly unfortunate that the city sought to criminalize and demonize the people who came here to protest the R.N.C.”


Our Screwed Up Priorities

America has everything backwards, and such a warped view of the world that it truly is amazing:

A few days later, the LA Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic". In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: it's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood - John Wayne - who was himself channelling America's most powerful founding myth, the cowboy on the rugged frontier. It's like a song you feel you've heard a thousand times before - because you have.

But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro man as its president, Miller is an icon and, as if to prove it, he has ignited his very own controversy. "Lots of children, particularly boys, play army, and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of non-smoking soldiers?" A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers."

Yes, that's right: letter writers from across the nation are united in their outrage - not that the steely-eyed, smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. Better to protect impressionable youngsters by showing soldiers taking a break from deadly combat by drinking water or, perhaps, since there is a severe potable water shortage in Iraq, Coke. (It reminds me of the joke about the Hassidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up "because that could lead to dancing".)

On second thoughts, perhaps Miller does deserve to be elevated to the status of icon - not of the war in Iraq, but of the new era of supercharged American impunity. Because outside US borders, it is, of course, a different marine who has been awarded the prize as "the face of Falluja": the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of a two-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble.

Inside the US, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if they appeared at all.


The Answer

Wind farms are moving forward (with some difficulty) in Europe. And this is just one more area where our oil-soaked administration is lagging behind:
The European wind energy industry, thriving as climate change tops the global agenda, says it could eventually supply all the continent's electricity, but must first overcome public resistance over eyesore turbines.

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), which held its annual meeting in London this week, projected that offshore "wind farms" covering an area the size of Greece could meet Europe's electricity needs with no greenhouse gas emissions.

But sceptics cite pollution of another kind with giant wind turbines scarring the landscape, or blighting the sea horizon, deterring tourists and killing birds with their whirling vanes.

"The argument is reaching ridiculous proportions. Most people don't understand climate change and they don't understand wind turbines," Alison Hill of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) told an international meeting in London.

She said her organization was mounting a major publicity campaign in newspapers, with billboard posters and a photographic exhibition extolling what she called the beauty of turbines to inform and win over people.

"It is a long standing case of Not In My Back Yard. Where people have knowledge they give support. In this case familiarity breeds content," she said.

Imagine powering an entire continent without burning an ounce of fossil fuel. That's a dream worth pursuing.


Setting Their Sights on Korea

The PNAC's hubris seems to have no bounds:
The coalition of foreign-policy hawks that promoted the 2003 invasion of Iraq is pressing US President George W Bush to adopt a more coercive policy toward North Korea, despite strong opposition from China and South Korea.
Bush claimed on Sunday that his interlocutors, who include the leaders of the four other parties to the talks - Russia, China, Japan and South Korea - agreed with him, but Hu and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun have not backed down publicly from their strong opposition to a harder line toward Pyongyang.

Indeed, just before the weekend summit, Roh told an audience in Los Angeles that a hardline policy over North Korea's nuclear weapons would have "grave repercussions", adding, "There is no alternative left in dealing with this issue except dialogue." The South Korean leader also denounced the idea of an economic embargo against Pyongyang.

That the hawks back in Washington are indeed mobilizing became clear on Monday when William Kristol, an influential neo-conservative who also chairs the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), faxed a statement titled "Toward Regime Change in North Korea" to reporters and various "opinion leaders" in the capital.

PNAC issues statements relatively infrequently, so its formal statements are carefully noted. PNAC boasts Vice President Dick Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney's powerful chief of staff, I Lewis Libby, among a dozen other senior Bush national security officials, as signers of its 1997 charter.


Line Item

Bush is pushing once again for increased veto powers. For some reason, I doubt that he would have used it well in the case of this year's pork-filled budget:

President Bush on Friday backed the $388 billion price-tag of a bill to finance government programs this fiscal year, despite criticism that it was loaded up with pork-barrel projects.

Democrats complained that the omnibus spending bill contains last-minute, across-the-board cuts to agreed funding levels for their priority programs like education, health care and low-income housing aid.

Others accused lawmakers of loading up the bill with special items for their home districts.

Bush renewed his call on Congress to give him the power to delete those items on a case-by-case basis.

"The only way a president can affect that which is inside the bill, other than vetoing the entire bill, is to be able to pick out parts of a bill and express displeasure about it through a line-item veto. I hope the Congress will give me a line-item veto," Bush said.


Iraqis Call for Election Delay

But then, given the stealthy way we handed over "sovereignty," I'd be surprised if Bush listens to them:
Fifteen political groups called today for a six-month postponement of elections scheduled for Jan. 30, giving a huge boost to a movement largely led by Sunni Arabs aimed at delaying the vote.

The groups included some of the most prominent political parties in Iraq, including that led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and that of Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni. Those two politicians have been among the strongest backers of American policies in Iraq, and their support of an election delay adds great momentum to those arguing for a postponement.

The two main Kurdish parties also gave their support, marking the first time the Kurds, usually closely allied with the Americans, have taken a strong stand on the issue.


China's Getting Nervous

Bush's economic policies are enough to give anyone the jitters:
China has cut the size of its U.S. Treasury bond holdings in its foreign exchange reserves to $180 billion to avoid losses from a weakening dollar, according to a published report.



So much for our CEO administration. Can we fire them yet?
A third or more of the government property Halliburton Co. was paid to manage for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (news - web sites) could not be located by auditors, investigative reports to Congress show.

Halliburton's KBR subsidiary "did not effectively manage government property" and auditors could not locate hundreds of CPA items worth millions of dollars in Iraq and Kuwait this summer and fall, Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen reported to Congress in two reports.

Bowen's findings mark the latest bad news for Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites)'s former company, which is the focus of both a criminal investigation into alleged fuel price gouging and an FBI (news - web sites) inquiry into possible favoritism from the Bush administration.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that FBI agents have extensively interviewed an Army contracting officer who last month went public with allegations that the Bush administration was improperly awarding contracts to Halliburton without competitive bidding.


Medical Marijuana Still Under Attack

The waste of our government's time continues. It's worse than mere waste, actually. It's a criminal use of our resources to increase suffering:
Traditional drugs have done little to help 39-year-old Angel Raich. Beset by a list of ailments that includes tumors in her brain, seizures, spasms and nausea, she has found comfort only in the marijuana that is prescribed by her doctor.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether Raich and similar patients in California and 10 other states can continue to use marijuana for medical purposes.

At issue is whether states have the right to adopt laws allowing the use of drugs the federal government has banned or whether federal drug agents can arrest individuals for abiding by those medical marijuana laws.

California passed the nation's first so-called medical marijuana law in 1996, allowing patients to smoke and grow marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. The Bush administration maintains those laws violate federal drug rules and asserts that marijuana has no medical value.

But the drug eases Raich's pain, allows her to rise out of a wheelchair and promotes an appetite that prevents her from wasting away.

It "is the only drug of almost three dozen we have tried that works," said her Berkeley physician, Frank Lucido.

And let me just call your attention once again to paragraph four of this story. What the fuck business do they have saying "so-called" medical marijuana law? Is there something else it ought to be called, given that it is marijuana prescribed by medical professionals?


Thursday, November 25, 2004


Unsurprising, really. If only Canada would just go ahead and arrest him:
Protesters are frantically organizing to yank the welcome mat out from under U.S. President George W. Bush when he arrives here Tuesday.

Sporadic graffiti heralds what could be a nasty reception as he starts a two-day visit to Canada.

The black scrawl spray painted across a walkway near Parliament Hill uses a familiar obscenity to tell Bush to stay away.

A noon-hour rally Tuesday is expected to draw thousands of marchers anxious to vent their views on everything from the war in Iraq to plans for a U.S. anti-missile defence shield. Smaller events and candlelight vigils are planned in cities and towns across Canada.

Organizers say they hope participants will be peaceful but warn they can't control individual troublemakers or the police.

“We're organizing mass, inclusive demonstrations,” said Ottawa resident Jessica Squires of the No to Bush Committee.



These people don't even know how to behave like normal, polite human beings. Blumenthal writes about the Clinton Library opening:

Offstage, beforehand, Rove and Bush had had their library tours. According to two eyewitnesses, Rove had shown keen interest in everything he saw, and asked questions, including about costs, obviously thinking about a future George W Bush library and legacy. "You're not such a scary guy," joked his guide. "Yes, I am," Rove replied. Walking away, he muttered deliberately and loudly: "I change constitutions, I put churches in schools ..." Thus he identified himself as more than the ruthless campaign tactician; he was also the invisible hand of power, pervasive and expansive, designing to alter the fundamental American compact.

Bush appeared distracted, and glanced repeatedly at his watch. When he stopped to gaze at the river, where secret service agents were stationed in boats, the guide said: "Usually, you might see some bass fishermen out there." Bush replied: "A submarine could take this place out."


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

There are plenty of reasons to give thanks, and I will be doing so with friends tomorrow, away from my flooded house (let me pause to give thanks for the fact that we have hot water again! Yay!).

But let us not forget the base hypocrisy underlying the holiday. Here's a taste, but read the whole thing:
Thanksgiving is the day the United States celebrates the fact that the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony successfully avoided starvation during the winter of 1620-21.

But from an American Indian perspective, what is it we're supposed to be so thankful for?

Does anyone really expect us to give thanks for the fact that soon after the Pilgrim Fathers regained their strength, they set out to dispossess and exterminate the very Indians who had fed them that first winter?

Are we to express our gratitude for the colonists' 1637 massacre of the Pequots at Mystic, Conn., or their rhetoric justifying the butchery by comparing Indians to "rats and mice and swarms of lice"?

Or should we be joyous about the endless series of similar slaughters that followed: at St. Francis (1759), Horseshoe Bend (1814), Bad Axe (1833), Blue Water (1854), Sand Creek (1864), Marias River (1870), Camp Robinson (1878) and Wounded Knee (1890), to name only the worst?

Should we be thankful for the scalp bounties paid by every English colony -- as well as every U.S. state and territory in the lower 48 -- for proof of the deaths of individual Indians, including women and children?


Diseased Society

One of the curious and tragic things about AIDS is that this disease dramatically illustrates social disparity.

It was artist and writer David Wojnarowicz who wrote, "When I was told that I'd contracted this virus it didn't take me long to realize that I'd contracted a diseased society, as well."

It's all too true.
The AIDS pandemic rampaging around the globe will not be stopped without radical social change to improve the lot of women and girls, who now look likely to die in greater numbers than men, UN agencies said on Tuesday.

Infections among women are soaring, from sub-Saharan Africa to Asia to Russia. What began as a series of epidemics among men -- in some regions gay and bisexual men, in others men who frequented sex workers or male drug users -- has spread to their female partners who are biologically more easily infected.

In many countries, women's subordinate status, and their lack of education and economic power have made it impossible for them to negotiate sex with men or to ask for the use of condoms. Yesterday the UN agency set up to combat the pandemic, UNAIDS, called for all that to change in the interests of checking the spread of a disease which killed 3.1 million adults and children last year.

"We will not be able to stop this epidemic unless we put women at the heart of the response to AIDS," said UNAIDS' executive director, Peter Piot.



If this surprises you, you haven't been paying attention:
THE US is losing the war of ideas in the Islamic world, failing to elucidate its policies to Muslims wary of American intentions and "self-serving hypocrisy", a Pentagon advisory panel has found.

The Defence Science Board, in a report made available today, urged the creation of a "strategic communication" apparatus within the White House and an overhaul of public diplomacy, public affairs and information dissemination efforts by the Pentagon and State Department.

"If we really want to see the Muslim world as a whole and the Arabic-speaking world in particular move more toward our understanding of 'moderation' and 'tolerance,' we must reassure Muslims that this does not mean that they must submit to the American way," the report stated.

The toughly worded report said that while America's efforts to explain its policies have failed, improved public relations efforts cannot sell faulty policies.

"Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies," the panel stated.


Iraq by the Numbers

How well are things going? Let's see:
** 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein, according to a UN development report. Iraq's child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi--a war-torn central African nation--and is far above both Uganda and Haiti.

** 60 percent of rural residents and 20 percent of urban dwellers have access to nothing but contaminated drinking water.

** Hepatitis outbreaks have doubled since the war began.
** Iraqi civilian casualties range from 15,000-100,000. John Hopkins University estimates the figure at over 40,000 with 90 percent certainty.
** According to military statistics, the number of insurgents has quadrupled since last year, from 5,000 to 20,000. A British general places the insurgency at 40-50,000 fighters.
** Only 33 percent of Iraqis think they're better off now than before the war, as a Gallup poll discovered.

** Just 36 percent believe the interim government shares their values.

** 94 percent say Baghdad is more dangerous than it was before the war.

** 66.6 believe the US occupation could start a civil war.



More and more, what happened in Fallujah has the scent of "war crimes":
Allegations of widespread abuse by US forces in Fallujah, including the killing of unarmed civilians and the targeting of a hospital in an attack, have been made by people who have escaped from the city.

They said, in interviews with The Independent, that as well as deaths from bombs and artillery shells, a large number of people including children were killed by American snipers. US forces refused repeated calls for medical aid for injured civilians, they said.

Some of the killings took place in the build-up to the assault on the rebel stronghold, and at least in one case - that of the death of a family of seven, including a three-month baby - the American authorities have admitted responsibility and offered compensation.

The refugees from Fallujah describe a situation of extreme violence in which remaining civilians in the city, who have been told by the Americans to leave, appeared to have been seen as complicit in the insurgency. Men of military age were particularly vulnerable. But there are accounts of children as young as four, and women and old men being killed.


Homophobes Trash Catholic Church

The Lord, as they say, works in mysterious ways:
Police are investigating an informal exorcism at the Cathedral of St. Paul, which was directed at gay Roman Catholics and will cost thousands of dollars to clean up, police and church officials said.

They said the ritualistic sprinkling of blessed oil and salt around the church and in donation boxes earlier this month amounted to costly vandalism and possibly a hate crime.

The damage was discovered Nov. 7 after the noon Mass, and after words were exchanged between members of the Rainbow Sash Alliance, a gay rights group, and the opposing group, Catholics Against Sacrilege.


A Thanksgiving Prayer

Just a bit of holiday cheer, courtesy of William S. Burroughs:
Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream, To vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen, feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind the own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the memories-- all right let's see your arms!

You always were a headache and you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.


The Gay T-Shirt Threat

Thankfully, the authorities are on the case:
In Webb City, Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court today against a high school that twice punished a student for wearing t-shirts bearing gay pride messages and banned him from wearing the shirts to school again.

Attorneys for 16-year-old Brad Mathewson also asked for a court order to stop the school from further censoring his speech.

"Because I’m gay, my school is trying to take away my Constitutional right as an American to express myself, Mathewson said.

"The school lets other students wear anti-gay t-shirts, and I understand that they have a right to do that. I just want the same right," he said. "I think tolerating each other’s differences is a key part in teaching students how to become good citizens."

Mathewson was disciplined twice in October by Webb City High School officials for wearing t-shirts supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and was later suspended after school officials refused to meet with his mother without the Mathewsons’ attorney present.

Although Mathewson had worn one of the shirts to school at least six times before without incident, Principal Stephen P. Gollhofer now claims he was concerned the t-shirts might offend other students. Students with opposing beliefs on the same issues are allowed to express their views, as anti-gay t-shirts and bumperstickers are common in the hallways at Webb City High School, the ACLU said.


Impeachment Proceedings Begin

Alas, not on our side of the pond:
Parliamentarians and celebrity campaigners launched a bid on Wednesday to impeach Tony Blair for "gross misconduct" over his justification for the Iraq war.

The impeachment move, a symbolic parliamentary process rather than a realistic proposition in Blair's case, is the first since the mid-19th century.

Its supporters, including well-known figures like novelist Frederick Forsyth and actor Corin Redgrave, want to punish Blair for allegedly misleading the country over the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.


Military-Industrial Complex

And even as they are taking Halliburton to task (finally), there is this. Industry and the military are so thoroughly intertwined that this sort of thing is the rule, not the exception, however much Rumsfeld may protest otherwise:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld vowed on Tuesday to prevent a repeat of the case of a former top Air Force arms buyer who steered billions of dollars in contracts to Boeing Co. before taking a $250,000-a-year job with the company.

"Obviously, there's something (that) needs to be changed. I think a lot has been changed, but we're going to have to make sure that doesn't happen elsewhere," Rumsfeld told reporters. It was the Pentagon's biggest contracting scandal since the Ill Wind scandal of the late 1980s.

Darleen Druyun, the former No. 2 Air Force acquisitions official, was sentenced on Oct. 1 to nine months in federal prison for illegally negotiating the job with Boeing in late 2002 while overseeing its contracts with the Air Force.
She also admitted steering business to Boeing and accepting higher-than-warranted prices to reward the Chicago-based U.S. aerospace company after it hired her daughter and son-in-law in 2000.

She joined Boeing two months after retiring in November 2002.


He's Pushing It

Doesn't he know that messing with Halliburton's profits is a dangerous game?
The U.S. Army should withhold payment of 15 percent of Halliburton Co.'s future invoices in Iraq due to billing problems, said the chief auditor for U.S.-funded work in Iraq on Wednesday.

Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said in a memorandum to Army auditors and commanders he believes U.S. contract laws requiring a withholding when conditions are not met should be imposed on Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown and Root.



This order is, I think, a good thing, but coming in the wake of Goss's disastrous entrance as director, it just seems rather desperate:
President Bush has ordered CIA Director Porter J. Goss to increase by 50 percent the number of qualified CIA clandestine operators and intelligence analysts, an ambitious step that would mean the hiring and training of several thousand new personnel in coming years.

Bush also ordered the doubling of CIA officers involved in research and development "to find new ways to bring science to bear in the war on terrorism, the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and against new and emerging threats." In the presidential order, dated Nov. 18 and released by the White House yesterday, Bush also called for a 50 percent increase in the number of CIA officers proficient in "mission-critical languages" such as Arabic.

The directive comes as the CIA is under intense scrutiny and in a period of transition under Goss's new leadership, and as the administration is under pressure to show progress in addressing the shortcomings documented by the Sept. 11 commission this summer. Last week Congress was unable to agree on details of legislation to dramatically reorganize the U.S. intelligence community.


Spreading the Fear

They are pouring money into a new ad campaign:
Between spoonfuls of cereal, a little girl in pajamas looks across the kitchen table and innocently asks her mother some chilling questions: "What if something happens? Should I stay where I am and wait for you?"

She may not understand the implications, but she's talking about terrorism. Now the government wants parents to provide answers.

In a series of new TV, radio and print ads, the Department of Homeland Security is encouraging parents to talk to their children about what to do if disaster strikes. (Related video: Ad 1 | Ad 2 | Ad 3)

The public service ads, unveiled by the Ad Council on Monday, are aimed at parents. Stations are being encouraged to air them only during adult programming. "It is certainly not our goal that these run during Saturday morning cartoons," said Kathy Crosby of the Ad Council.

But some experts say the ads could frighten children who see or hear them. The ads could make children worry that a terrorist attack is likely, said child psychologist David Fassler of Burlington, Vt. "Parents need to emphasize that's simply not the case," he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said parents talk to their kids about other issues, including crime and speaking to strangers.

"We don't think this will be any different than anything else parents have been asked to do for a long, long time," Ridge said. "This is only a difficult subject if the parents make it a difficult subject."


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

AIDS Spreading

This makes Bush's political game-playing with anti-AIDS funding all the more criminal:

The number of women infected with H.I.V. has risen in every region of the world over the last two years as the global AIDS epidemic continues to expand, the United Nations said yesterday.

Women make up nearly half of infected adults worldwide, the United Nations said in issuing its annual report on AIDS in advance of World AIDS Day next Wednesday.

An estimated 39.4 million people are living with the virus, a record, up from 38.1 million in 2003.


Election Investigation

The GAO is getting involved now:
The U.S. Government Accountability Office plans to investigate complaints of several systemic problems with this month's elections, a group of Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday.

The investigation comes in response to two letters written by lawmakers to the GAO which address numerous media reports of irregularities in the 2004 vote and call for those to be reviewed.

The GAO said it will not investigate every charge listed by the Democrats, but will examine "the security and accuracy of voting technologies, distribution and allocation of voting machines and counting of provisional ballots."


Hang Up

Aside from not really liking to talk on the phone, I've never really had a reason to actively oppose getting a cell phone, but this will do, I think:
Curtis Sathre said it was like a bomb going off.

His 13-year-old son Michael stood stunned, his ears ringing, hand gushing blood and body covered in black ash.

In a split second last August, fragments from Michael's exploding cell phone had hit him between the eyes and lodged in the ceiling of the family's home in Oceanside, California.

Over the past two years, federal safety officials have received 83 reports of cell phones exploding or catching fire, usually because of incompatible, faulty or counterfeit batteries or chargers.

Burns to the face, neck, leg and hip are among the dozens of injury reports the agency has received.


Scolding Deserved

This isn't particularly cheery:
Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish.

But you should hear what he's saying in private.

Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity.

His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic ``armageddon.''

Press were not allowed into the meetings. But the Herald has obtained a copy of Roach's presentation. A stunned source who was at one meeting said, ``it struck me how extreme he was - much more, it seemed to me, than in public.''

Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that ``we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.''

The chance we'll get through OK: one in 10. Maybe.

In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants.

The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded.


Scolded by China

This is where Bush's economic schemes have led us:
In a mark of China's growing economic confidence, the country's central bank has offered blunt advice to Washington about its ballooning trade deficit and unemployment.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Li Ruogu, the deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, warned the US not to blame other countries for its economic difficulties.

“China's custom is that we never blame others for our own problem,” said the senior central bank official. “For the past 26 years, we never put pressure or problems on to the world. The US has the reverse attitude, whenever they have a problem, they blame others.”


Earle Speaks Out

You just gotta love Ronnie Earle:

It is a rare day when members of the United States Congress try to read the minds of the members of a grand jury in Travis County, Tex. Apparently Tom DeLay's colleagues expect him to be indicted.

Last week Congressional Republicans voted to change their rule that required an indicted leader to relinquish his post. They were responding to an investigation by the Travis County grand jury into political contributions by corporations that has already resulted in the indictments of three associates of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader.

Yet no member of Congress has been indicted in the investigation, and none is a target unless he or she has committed a crime. The grand jury will continue its work, abiding by the rule of law. That law requires a grand jury of citizens, not the prosecutor, to determine whether probable cause exists to hold an accused person to answer for the accusation against him or her.

Politicians in Congress are responsible for the leaders they choose. Their choices reflect their moral values.

The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay's supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure. Most of these officials - 12 Democrats and three Republicans - have accused me of having political motives. What else are they going to say?

For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it.

There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.

The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.


They're Acting Like...Democrats!

The much-vaunted Republican discipline seems to be one casualty of this election season:
Three weeks ago the Republicans won an impressive victory. So what have they been doing since?

First, they had an intraparty argument over whether to keep Arlen Specter as Senate Judiciary chairman. Then they had an anguished intraparty dispute over whether to bend their rules to protect Tom DeLay. Then on Saturday, they had a long, heated debate about intelligence reform, which ended with 80 to 100 House Republicans defeating or at least stalling a bill that was strongly supported by President Bush and the Congressional leaders.

Forget the Democrats. Bush's biggest problem over the next few years will be keeping his Republican majority together.

Republicans have banded together over the past few years because of the war and the need to re-elect the president. But that's over. The Congressional horses are spitting out the bits.


Over 9000

How many more will be wounded in Iraq? (And remember, this is just US troops. The number of wounded Iraqis is vastly higher.)
The number of U.S. troops wounded throughout Iraq (news - web sites) since the Fallujah offensive began Nov. 7 has surpassed 850, and the wounded total for the entire war has topped 9,000, the Pentagon (news - web sites) said Tuesday.

In its weekly report on casualties the Pentagon said 9,326 U.S. troops have been wounded since U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003. That's an increase of 370 from the previous week, reflecting not only the battles in Fallujah but insurgent attacks in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

The wounded total has increased by 868 since the outset of the Fallujah offensive and by 1,039 since Nov. 1. The Pentagon has not given a comprehensive report on the number of American forces killed and wounded in Fallujah alone, but officials said last week that at least 51 had been killed and 425 wounded.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Hawks Say What We've Been Saying All Along

They are not quick studies. We anti-war types have been arguing from day one that an American invasion of Iraq would be a disaster and would serve as the best recruitment campaign the Muslim fundies had ever seen:

A growing number of national security specialists who supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein are moving to a position unthinkable even a few months ago: that the large US military presence is impeding stability as much as contributing to it and that the United States should begin major reductions in troops beginning early next year.

Their assessments, expressed in reports, think tank meetings, and interviews, run counter to the Bush administration's insistence that the troops will remain indefinitely to establish security. But some contend that the growing support for an earlier pullout could alter the administration's thinking.

Those arguing for immediate troop reductions include key Pentagon advisers, prominent neoconservatives, and some of the fiercest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Washington's policy elite.

The core of their arguments is that even as the US-led coalition goes on the offensive against the insurgency, the United States, by its very presence, is stimulating the resistance.

"Our large, direct presence has fueled the Iraqi insurgency as much as it has suppressed it," said Michael Vickers, a conservative-leaning Pentagon consultant and longtime senior CIA official who supported the war.

These people are specialists, for God's sake?


No 9/11 in the UK

They seem to have averted another disaster. Or is it a set up for tomorrow's speech?

Britain's security services thwarted a September 11-style attack on targets including Canary Wharf and Heathrow Airport, according to reports.

The plot is said to have involved pilots being trained to fly into target buildings including London's famous financial centre and the world's busiest airport.

It is one of four or five al-Qaeda planned attacks, since 9/11, that have come to nothing, after the authorities intervened, reports claim.

The disclosure comes as the Government prepares to unveil a series of tough law-and-order Bills in tomorrow's Queen's Speech, setting out the legislative programme for what is expected to be the final session of the current Parliament.


Civil Rights: So Twentieth Century

But then, Ashcroft's DoJ had more important concerns, like medical marijuana and obscene topless statues:
Federal enforcement of civil rights laws has dropped sharply since 1999, as the level of complaints received by the Justice Department has remained relatively constant, according a study released Sunday.

Criminal charges of civil rights violations were brought against 84 defendants last year, down from 159 in 1999, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.


DeLay to Walk?

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, appears to have dodged a bullet.

The powerful GOP chieftain is unlikely to be indicted by a state grand jury probing alleged campaign finance violations in Texas, according to an official involved in the investigation.

"No, no, I really don’t think DeLay will be indicted," the official told "And to be quite honest, [DeLay’s] lawyers know that."

Anticipating a possible indictment by a state grand jury in Travis County (Austin) Texas, House Republicans last week took steps to protect DeLay's position by changing a party rule that would have forced him to step aside as majority leader if indicted on a felony charge. The change will leave it up to a committee of GOP House members to decide whether an indicted leader should step down.


Just Keep Screwing the Indians

It's the American way, and it just goes on and on:

The annals of Washington lobbying contain many grubby chapters. But in terms of sheer greed and exploitation of the unsuspecting, few can match the tale of two Republicans accused of milking up to $66m (£36m) from half a dozen Indian tribes, newly enriched by gambling revenues.

The story of Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon - both associates of the House majority leader Tom DeLay - is still unfolding, as a federal grand jury looks into some of their deals.

But two sets of hearings this autumn by the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee have laid bare much of the squalid affair. In essence the tribes were persuaded to part with vast sums to protect the casino gambling operations that are their financial lifeline, in return for empty promises of access to Washington's corridors of power.


Goodbye Korea, Hello Iraq

We continue to move resources away from the DMZ:
A US army officer in the Republic of Korea (RoK) on Sunday said that the US has begun to withdraw 100 M1A1 tanks from the border area with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and transfer them to Iraq.



Posts may very well be sporadic for the next few days, as I am using a very unreliable wireless network.

I awoke last night at 2 AM to find my house two inches deep in water. Massive destruction, and dirt everywhere. And phone lines out till after Thanksgiving.

Back to cleaning...


Sunday, November 21, 2004

My Hometown

Sometimes, it does me proud. I linked to a story earlier about an Oklahoma town pulling together to oppose Phelps; it's good to see that trend continue:
A handful of protestors from a Kansas church were vastly outnumbered when they tried to demonstrate in front of a Little Rock high school.

The group, followers of Rev. Fred Phelps who regularly travel the country to demonstrated against gays, carried "Gad Hates Fags" signs as they marched across the street from Fayetteville High. Several in the group were accompanied by small children.

But, dozens of students gathered in front of the school jeering at the demonstrators. Another group of people not connected with the school protested against the Phelps demonstration from a designated area across the street.


Amputee Army

This is absolutely incredible:
A state-of-the-art rehabilitation center opening next year at Walter Reed Army Medical Center seeks to return more amputee soldiers to a place once thought impossible: the battlefield.

Besides treadmills and stationary bikes, the $10 million Military Amputee Training Center will have weapons simulators, a climbing and rappelling wall and military vehicle simulators to help soldiers adapt their prosthetics to driving tanks and trucks.

``Our guys and gals, they don't want to just walk household distances, they want to be able to return to running, they want to be able to return to duty,'' Lt. Col. Jeff Gambel, clinical chief of the amputee clinic, said Friday at a groundbreaking ceremony.


In Memoriam

Our society is a brutal place for our transgendered brothers and sisters:
Communities across North America on the weekend remembered dozens of murdered transgendereds in the sixth annual Transgendered Day of Remembrance.

This was the sixth annual day set aside to draw attention to violence against the trans community.

On average, one transgender person has been the victim of a hate crime murder every month over the past 10 years. This year has been no exception.

The Day of Remembrance grew out the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a 34-year-old transsexual living in the Boston area. Hester's stabbing death has not been solved.

In 1999 a candlelight vigil in San Francisco which has grown to encompass memorials all around the world.

This year, San Francisco's transgendered and their supporters gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza Saturday evening and walked to the LGBT Community Center for a memorial service.

Among those remembered was Gwen Araujo. The teen was beaten, battered with a shovel and then strangled to death in October 2002. Her body was found in a shallow grave several days later. The trial of three men charged in her slaying ended in a mistrial in June. (story) It was the only case where a trial occurred in the killing of any trans person in the US this year.

"We know that discrimination and violence against transgender people is pervasive," said NGLTF executive director Matt Foreman.

"We know that law enforcement routinely ignores and fails to investigate and prosecute anti-transgender crime, including murder. We know that for every victim whose name we know there are dozens of others who will never be known or acknowledged. Let us all use this day to not only remember, but to rededicate ourselves to bringing and end to discrimination and violence against transgender people."


GOP: Against Gay Harassment

Not harassment of gays, but harassment by gays. The poor, homophobic Boy Scouts are feeling beleaguered these days:

The House on Saturday commended the Boy Scouts and condemned legal efforts to limit government ties to the group because of its requirement that members believe in God.

A nonbinding resolution, passed by a 391-3 vote, recognized the 3.2 million-member Boy Scouts for its public service efforts. But the main thrust of the debate was what the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said were the "strident legal attacks" on the group.

The Pentagon agreed last week to tell U.S. military bases around the world not to directly sponsor Boy Scout troops. (story) The warning resulted from legal challenges to government relations with a group that bans openly gay leaders and compels members to swear an oath of duty to God.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others say that direct government sponsorship of such a program amounts to discrimination.

The Pentagon's ruling does not prevent service members from leading Boy Scout troops on their own time. Also, Boy Scouts still can meet on areas of military bases where civilian organizations are allowed to hold events.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz. said the ACLU's challenge was a "nuisance lawsuit" and he was urging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to reconsider the Pentagon's position.


Holocaust Resource

Just FYI:
Israel's Holocaust museum on Sunday posted on the Internet for the first time biographical information about three million of the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany.

The database, at, is partly based on more than two million "pages of testimony" submitted to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem since 1950 by survivors or family members and friends of Jews killed in the Holocaust.


A Reminder

The School of the Americas is alive and well and training the next generation of torturers:

More than 10,000 activists from across the US--including actors Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon and musicians Amy Ray and Utah Phillips--will gather at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, this Saturday and Sunday to call for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

A combat training facility for Latin American soldiers, the school has served as a de-stabilizing force in Central and South America since its formation in 1946-- having trained more than 60,000 soldiers in courses such as counter-insurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Graduates of the facility return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for human rights violations throughout Latin America on behalf of repressive rightwing, US-supported governments.

From the slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989 to the continued human rights abuses in Colombia, many of the most atrocious crimes of the past 50 years have their roots in the US-operated School of the Americas. The inhumane--and in some cases illegal--tactics taught at the institute have repeatedly been used against union organizers, educators, and religious workers.


A Hard Withdrawal

Like junkies suddenly deprived of the needed fix, we are in for some unpleasant times in the not-so-distant future:
Today, even as global demand for oil, led by the economic boom in Asia, is rising far faster than anticipated, our ability to pump more oil is falling. Despite assurances from oil's two biggest players -- the House of Bush and the House of Saud -- that supplies are plentiful (and, as George W. Bush famously put it, that getting the oil is just a matter of "jawboning" "our friends in OPEC to open the spigots"), it's now clear that even the Saudis lack the physical capacity to bring enough oil to desperate consumers. As a result, oil markets are now so tight that even a minor disturbance -- accelerated fighting in Iraq, another bomb in Riyadh, more unrest in Venezuela or Nigeria -- could send prices soaring and crash the global economy into a recession. "The world really has run out of production capacity," a veteran oil analyst warned me in late August. "Iraq is producing less than a third of the oil that had been forecast, the Saudis are maxed out, and there is no place else to go. And America is still relying on an energy policy that hasn't changed significantly in 20 years."

Nor is it any longer a matter of simply drilling new wells or laying new pipe. Oil is finite, and eventually, global production must peak, much as happened to domestic supplies in the early 1970s. When it does, oil prices will leap, perhaps as high as $100 per barrel -- a disaster if we don't have a cost-effective alternative fuel or technology in place. When the peak is coming is impossible to predict with precision. Estimates range from the ultra-optimistic, which foresee a peak no sooner than 2035, to the pessimistic, which hold that the peak may have already occurred. In any case, the signs are clear that the easy oil is harder to find and what remains is increasingly difficult and expensive to extract. Already, Western oil companies are struggling to discover new supplies fast enough to replace the oil they are selling. (Royal/Dutch Shell was so concerned about how declining discovery rates would devastate its stock price that it inflated its reserves figures by 20 percent.)


Expanding the Underclass

That's the only possible motivation that could explain why they would do this, as far as I can see. They want to make sure Wal-Mart has a large hiring pool:
The federal government will be able to require millions of college students to shoulder more of the cost of their education under the new spending bill approved yesterday by the House and Senate.

The government moved to change its formula for college aid last year, but was blocked by Congress. Now, however, no such language appears in the appropriations bill lawmakers are considering, clearing the way for the government to scale back college grants for hundreds of thousands of low-income students.

Nearly 100,000 more students may lose their federal grants entirely, as Congress considers legislation that could place more of the financial burden for college on students and their families.


Ah, Plutocracy

Where education just isn't as important as a yacht:
The Senate voted 65-30 for the legislation late on Saturday that sets aside funds for a range of priorities including a presidential yacht, foreign aid and energy. It is one of the final pieces of work for the 108th Congress and they may return to finish a spy agency overhaul before the end of the yea

To fit into limits demanded by Bush as part of his effort to trim the record budget deficit, Republicans agreed to make an across-the-board cut in spending levels backed earlier by the House and Senate, provoking anger among some lawmakers.

"It's been a terrible bill to handle," said outgoing Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican.

Some last minute increases were allowed for favored White House projects like NASA space programs.

Democrats fumed that Republican leaders had cut crucial funding for education, health and the environment.