Saturday, June 19, 2004

No Stop-Loss for Some Soldiers

The bad news for American troops is that it is Canada that cares about its fighting men and women:

Canada has turned down a US requestto delay the withdrawal of its 2,000 troops from Afghanistan, the Canadian Defense Department said Friday.

"A determination has been made that we are going to rotate our troops back," a spokesman for the Defense Department said.


Re-Stating the Obvious

It needs to be said over and over, and I am glad it's being said by so many insiders. Bush is playing into al Qaeda's hands:

A senior US intelligence official is about to publish a bitter condemnation of America's counter-terrorism policy, arguing that the west is losing the war against al-Qaida and that an "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war in Iraq has played into Osama bin Laden's hands.

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, due out next month, dismisses two of the most frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida are "on the run" and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer.

In an interview with the Guardian the official, who writes as "Anonymous", described al-Qaida as a much more proficient and focused organisation than it was in 2001, and predicted that it would "inevitably" acquire weapons of mass destruction and try to use them.

He said Bin Laden was probably "comfortable" commanding his organisation from the mountainous tribal lands along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army claimed a big success in the "war against terror" yesterday with the killing of a tribal leader, Nek Mohammed, who was one of al-Qaida's protectors in Waziristan.

But Anonymous, who has been centrally involved in the hunt for Bin Laden, said: "Nek Mohammed is one guy in one small area. We sometimes forget how big the tribal areas are." He believes President Pervez Musharraf cannot advance much further into the tribal areas without endangering his rule by provoking a Pashtun revolt. "He walks a very fine line," he said yesterday.

Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment.

Isn't it about time for the U.S. to start setting the rules for this game, rather than playing along?


From the About Bloody Time Department

I mean, really:

U.S. prosecutors are expected to ask a federal grand jury to indict former Enron Corp. chairman Ken Lay within two weeks on charges related to the company's 2001 collapse, a newspaper reported Saturday.


Moore in the Hot Seat

Inevitably, the slime machine is gearing up against Michael Moore in anticipation of his movie's release here in the states. In my opinion, Moore himself sums it up nicely towards the end of a rather antagonistic interview with Lauer:

"You know I've been sitting here for like the last 20 minutes thinking, man, if he would have only asked Bush administration officials these kind of hard questions in the weeks leading up to the war, and then when the war started, maybe there wouldn't be a war. Because the American people, once given the truth, you know the old saying from Abraham Lincoln, give the people the facts and the Republic will be safe."


Friday, June 18, 2004

Sweet Freedom

Or, perhaps not so much:

Less than two weeks before the U.S. coalition is set to transfer sovereignty to Iraq, the country's interim interior minister would not rule out the declaration of martial law if insurgent attacks on Iraqis continue.

Falah al-Nakib was speaking at a news conference just after 35 people were killed in a car bombing on Thursday in Baghdad.

"If we need to do it, yes, we'll do it. We won't hesitate," said al-Nakib, responding to a question about a possible declaration. "This is the security of our country. This is the security and life of our people."

Coupled with the defense minister's recent statement that insurgents would have their hands and heads cut off, this is truly heartwarming.


Drawing the Short Straw

Condi was the unlucky one today, so she was the one out there spewing the obvious lies all over the media:

In publishing a report that cited no evidence of a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the September 11 commission actually meant to say that Iraq had no control over the network, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.

If I want to know what the commission meant to say, I think I will ask the commission, and not the gang of liars in the White House, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, the commission has some questions of its own:

The leaders of the Sept. 11 commission called on Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday to turn over any intelligence reports that would support the White House's insistence that there was a close relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

The commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, and its vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, said they wanted to see any additional information in the administration's possession after Mr. Cheney, in a television interview on Thursday, was asked whether he knew things about Iraq's links to terrorists that the commission did not know.

"Probably," Mr. Cheney replied.

What can I say, except, "Well, let's have it. Dick."



The Catholics won't stop the nonsense:

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops approved a statement on Friday on "Catholics in Political Life" that brands politicians who support abortion rights as "cooperating in evil" and leaves the door open for bishops to deny communion to such lawmakers.

The bishops, meeting outside Denver, stopped short of saying that those lawmakers should be forbidden to take communion. But they reminded all Catholics that they were not worthy to receive communion until they had examined their consciences, including their "fidelity to the moral teaching of the church in personal and public life."
Just have to keep on saying it: What about the death penalty? How is that not "cooperating in evil"?


Nation-States on the Wane

Even as the United States stomps around the globe, ostensibly "nation building," the sovereignty of our own nation is less than it once was, as can be seen today:

In a landmark decision, the World Trade Organization ruled against American cotton subsidies in a case brought by Brazil, officials from the two countries said on Friday.

The decision could eventually lead the United States to reduce subsidies for its entire farm sector and encourage other countries to challenge such aid in wealthy nations, analysts said.

The W.T.O. report, which was not made public, upheld a preliminary ruling in April that supported Brazil's claim that the more than $3 billion in subsidies the United States pays its cotton farmers distorts global prices and violates international trade rules.

"We are very satisfied with the panel's decision," Roberto Azevedo, who heads the trade disputes department at Brazil's foreign ministry, said in a phone interview from Brasília. "Once this is all over with, we expect the United States to comply with the ruling."

In Washington, Bush administration officials criticized the decision, arguing that the best way to address distortions in world agriculture trade was through negotiations, not litigation. The officials also said the United States would appeal, a process that could drag on for months, and possibly more than a year.

That the U.S. will kick and scream about this a bit is to be expected. The important point, to my mind, is that there is an international body, the WTO, that has been granted authority that trumps the laws enacted by the government of the United States.

For all that the right trumpets patriotism and all that, and periodically lambasts the pernicious United Nations, they are very much in favor of the international trade fostered by such organizations as the WTO. An interesting bit of schizoid thinking, revelatory of the fundamental contradiction between national authority and the logic of capitalism.

Anyway, I am by no means an advocate of nationalism, nor an opponent of globalization. However, the way in which globalization is being enacted is utterly backwards. Even as people (or labor, or workers, however you want to say it) are facing stringent restrictions to their movements, capital is freer than ever to flow hither and yon, enacting serious social consequences as it does so.

Globalization should work for people, not for capital.


A Sliding Scale of "Truth"

Matthew Rothschild lays it out:

The report from the September 11 commission was clear. "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," it said. And there appears to have been no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, it added.

This finding undercuts one of the major rationales the Bush Administration put forward for the war against Iraq. Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and George Bush himself all played up the alleged links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. But the links, in any operational way, did not exist.

In October 2002, Bush said, "Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases." That was false.

Bush said, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda." That was false.

Bush said, on February 8, 2003, "Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training." That was false.

Powell, in his U.N. speech prior to the Iraq War, talked of the "sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network." False again.

On May 3, 2003, in his infamous end-of-major-combat-operations speech, Bush said, "We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda." False again.

On September 14, 2003, Vice President Cheney repeated Bush's claim that Iraq and Al Qaeda were involved together in training with chemical and biological weapons, and added that the Iraqis were "providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the Al Qaeda organization." False again.

On October 10, 2003, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, Cheney said, "Saddam had an established relationship with Al Qaeda, providing training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional weapons." False again.

This Monday, June 14, Cheney said Saddam "had long established ties with Al Qaeda."

And Bush on Thursday, June 17, said, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."

Note how slippery Bush and Cheney are getting. Now they are talking about amorphous "ties" and "a relationship." But before they were talking about specifics, scary specifics, like joint work on chemical and biological weapons.

All of their falsehoods served a purpose: to scare the American people into going along with the Iraq War.

Now that their falsehoods have been exposed, they are way out on a limb of lies.


Yet Another Reason to Vote Kerry

While Bush is all about tax cuts that help the tiny sliver of Americans who are very wealthy, Kerry is saying things like this:

Democratic White House hopeful John Kerry proposed on Friday raising the minimum wage to $7 by 2007, a hike he said would allow struggling families to pay for 10 months of groceries or eight months of rent.

His plan to phase in an increase of $1.85 an hour would most benefit women, an important constituency in the Nov. 2 presidential election, his campaign said.

"You put in a week's work, you ought to be able to take care of your family," Kerry told an invited audience at Northern Virginia Community College. "You ought to be able to pay your bills."

Considering that the new jobs (finally) being created by Bush are minimum wage, one would think that Kerry would win by a landslide with such positions. We can only hope.


The How-the-Hell-Can-They-Stand-It Republicans

A significant faction within the GOP, in my opinion. Colin Powell certainly belongs to it. As does McCain:

With one-time rival John McCain at his side, President Bush on Friday rallied troops headed for Iraq and Afghanistan and said their sacrifices helped both countries make steady progress toward freedom.

Bush was introduced in the key election state of Washington by McCain, his bitter rival in the 2000 Republican presidential primary, whose appearance drove a stake through any lingering Democratic hopes he would become their presidential candidate John Kerry's running mate.

"He heard the call to action on that terrible morning in September," the Republican senator from Arizona, a strong supporter of the Iraq war, said of Bush's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "He has led this country with moral clarity."

McCain, a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam who is a friend of Kerry, admits talking to the Massachusetts senator about becoming his vice presidential running mate but says an offer was never made.

His campaign swing with Bush -- he also was scheduled to introduce the president at a later rally in Reno, Nevada -- was a blow to Kerry and a coup for Bush, who would love to capture some of McCain's popularity and independent appeal.

Bush told thousands of soldiers packed into a hangar at Fort Lewis in northwest Washington that it was a "privilege" to be introduced by McCain.

"When he speaks of service and sacrifice, he speaks from experience," Bush said.

Bush did not go on to add, "When I speak of service and sacrifice, I have no idea what the hell I am talking about, and I invariably have an obnoxious smirk."


Credibility Gap

Now, why do I have a hard time believing him?

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in comments sure to help President Bush, declared Friday that Russia knew Iraq's Saddam Hussein had planned terror attacks on U.S. soil and had warned Washington.

Putin said Russian intelligence had been told on several occasions that Saddam's special forces were preparing to attack U.S. targets inside and outside the United States.

"After the events of September 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services several times received information that the official services of the Saddam regime were preparing 'terrorist acts' on the United States and beyond its borders," he told reporters.

This just has the feel of Bush calling in a favor.


That Other Deficit

Yes, it's setting new records too:

The U.S. current account deficit grew to a new record in the first quarter of 2004, reaching 5.1 percent of the size of the U.S. economy, as Americans' insatiable appetite for foreign goods continued to grow, government figures showed on Friday.
The current account deficit has been blamed for weakening the dollar against other currencies, as Americans import more than they export and borrow from the rest of the world to make up for the shortfall in their domestic savings.

Insight's Wood pointed out the U.S. needs to borrow nearly $1.5 billion per day in order to finance this shortfall.

Much of this gap has been filled by official foreign purchases of U.S. government bonds, as countries like China and Japan snapped up dollar-denominated assets during massive intervention campaigns to weaken their currencies against the U.S. currency.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Suing Massachusetts

This is as it should be, since the law Romney is invoking was passed primarily to prevent mixed-race marriages legal in the state at the time, but illegal in more backward states.

Katy Gossman sees a striking irony in any attempt to keep her from marrying her partner.

After all, Ms. Gossman, a 40-year-old agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, figures she has given her country a lot. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, she was away on assignment for six months, and her partner, Kristin, "took care of everything at home," Ms. Gossman said.

"If she takes care of me so I can take care of the protection and security of our country, why can't she be protected in case something happens to me?" Ms. Gossman said of the tax, pension and other benefits typically enjoyed by spouses.

But though Ms. Gossman wed her partner in May, when Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, their marriage has been effectively invalidated by the state, because they are not Massachusetts residents.

And so on Thursday the Gossmans (Kristin took Katy's last name), who live in Meriden, Conn., became plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the decision of Gov. Mitt Romney to bar out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts.

The Gossmans are suing along with seven other couples, including New Hampshire innkeepers, Connecticut dairy farmers, and a New York City film director and her partner, a stay-at-home mother. Their suit, being filed Friday in a state court in Boston, maintains that to deny marriage to couples who live in other states is unconstitutional, largely on the ground of discrimination.


Senate Opts Not to Keep Screwing the Military

This, of course, comes in spite of Bush's desires:

Defying the Bush administration, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to add 20,000 troops to an Army stretched thin by the war in Iraq and other commitments around the world.

The 93-4 vote in the Republican-led Senate -- following a similar action by the House -- reflected the anxieties lawmakers have been hearing from families of service personnel whose tours in Iraq keep getting extended and whose return to civilian life is repeatedly postponed.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said the lack of troops at the end of major combat in Iraq cost the military an opportunity to stop the violence that continues today.

"We didn't have enough people on the ground, and now we are paying a very, very heavy price for that incredible mistake on the part of the civilian leadership in the Pentagon of the United States of America," he said.


The Sad, Strange Death of the American Way

Paul McGeough sums it up nicely:

There is a growing sense that Americans have become victims of September 11 in a way that has blinkered their democratic instincts.

So now the hard questions are being put in a pre-September 11 context. Would Americans ordinarily tolerate a president who lies and exaggerates? A leader who uses fear to manipulate his people to his own ends? A president whose staff blow the deep cover of a CIA agent as political payback? A president whose Administration channels billions of dollars to crony corporations on false pretexts? A president who deems torture acceptable?

Would they accept a president who seems to agree with his advisers that he is above the law?

The commentator William Rivers Pitt poses them all before concluding: "The time has come, bluntly, to get over September 11; to move beyond it; to extract ourselves from this bunker mentality which blinds us while placing us in moral peril. It happened and it will never be forgotten, but we have reached a place where fear and obeisance can no longer be tolerated."
Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney can't help themselves. Only hours before the September 11 reports were published, Bush was talking up the sketchily known activities of the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi as the "best evidence" of a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It was another lie. Cheney was at it a few days earlier, claiming there were "long-established ties" between Saddam and bin Laden.


Draft Bruce

A great idea. Go sign the petition.

On September 1, the Republicans will hold their convention in New York City and will nominate George Bush for President. Many people will see this event as it will be broadcast on all the major television networks. However, an opportunity exists at that time to make it clear to Americans that they can choose an alternative to George Bush.

I have put Giants Stadium on hold on September 1 in the hope that you will lead the music industry in coming together and perform in a concert for change. Once it is known that you are involved, many other artists will want to perform with you. Together your collective voices and music will send a clear message to all Americans that our country needs their vote to create change. The event is called VoteAid: "Concert for Change" and we think that it has the potential to become the largest concert in history. We would like the money that this concert generates to go to support voter registration and participation throughout the country, but more importantly your decision to play at exactly the same time George Bush is being nominated will focus all Americans on the importance in this election for their future as well as the future of the world.

I have asked the undersigned to join me in signing this letter.


A New Day Dawning in Iraq

Thank heavens Saddam and his brutal tactics are history.

A suicide car bomb in central Baghdad ripped into a throng of men waiting at a recruiting station to sign up for the new Iraqi army today, killing at least 35 people and wounding at least 138, hospital officials said.

Another car bomb exploded this afternoon in front of a city council building in a village north of Baghdad, killing six members of the Iraqi security forces and wounding four others.

The bomb in Baghdad went off this morning in the upscale Mansour neighborhood and sent a thick plume of smoke over the city skyline. The explosion threw bodies into the air and scattered them across a four-lane road. Cars burst into flames. Charred shrapnel rained from the sky.
Iraq's new defense minister, Hazim al-Shaalan, promised a bloody crackdown on the insurgents. "We will cut off their hands and behead them," he said.

Link via digby.


I'm with Alterman on This

Although Kerry is meeting with Gephardt today, and Gephardt's union support would be helpful, I think what it needed is Edwards's charisma and his Southernness.

All things considered, I’d go with Edwards. Not only does he help you in battleground states, and improve your chances of retaking the Senate, all of which is argued here (if you scroll) but here’s the key argument: the media love him. Their disdain for Kerry is almost equal to their contempt for Gore. This was one of three factors that made 2000 close enough for the Supreme Court to steal the election for Bush—the other two factors being Nader and Gore’s own crappy campaign.

Anyway, Kerry is going to go through much of what Gore went through but with Edwards, he can fight back in many ways simultaneously: with genuine populism; incredible charisma, and lots of good old fashioned Southern charm.


Good Eatin'

I wish they'd set up a franchise in my neighborhood:

A total of 215 eateries across Guizhou, a landlocked province in southwest China, have been ordered to shut down for amendment after a recent inspection found they had mixed poppies into soup or used them as seasoning.

Zhang Xing, deputy head of the investigation section of the narcotics control force with the Guizhou Provincial Bureau of Public Security, said they inspected 2,640 places offering breakfast meals or hot pots in cities such as Guiyang, the provincial capital, Bijie and Liupanshui during a recent joint action in cooperation with three other departments.

They found 251 restaurants were mixing poppies in soup or using them as seasoning for hot pots. Relevant departments ordered 215 restaurants considered to be very seriously committing the illegal practice to stop business for amendment, and reprimanded 36 other eateries believed to have less seriously committed the illegal practice.

They also confiscated 3.2 kg of poppy seeds and 1.7 kg of poppyhull from the joint action, according to Zhang.

Wei Tao, deputy chief of the Food Institute with Guizhou Provincial Center for Disease Control, said varying degrees of morphine were found in soup materials sent for inspection in the joint action.


Gulag, Continued

I've been harping on this for some time now, but it really is the sort of thing that requires continuous, loud protest until it stops. America is behaving in direct contradiction to its supposed principles:

The United States is holding terrorism suspects in more than two dozen detention centers worldwide and about half of these operate in total secrecy, said a human rights report released on Thursday.

Human Rights First, formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said in a report that secrecy surrounding these facilities made "inappropriate detention and abuse not only likely but inevitable."

"The abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib cannot be addressed in isolation," said Deborah Pearlstein, director of the group's U.S. Law and Security program, referring to the U.S. Naval base prison in Cuba and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where abuses are being investigated.

"This is all about secrecy, accountability and the law," Pearlstein told a news conference.

Accountability and the law. Remember those?


Bumbling Idiots

Worse and worse:

"U.S. experts still have not been able to determine the meaning of three secretly taped conversations that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell played to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 in making the case for war. Investigators have been unable to identify who was speaking on the tapes or precisely what they were talking about."

Read that again, slowly, one more time and it still won't make sense. But, wait, there's more:

"U.S. analysts also erred in their analysis of high-altitude satellite photos, repeatedly confusing Scud missile storage places with the short, half-cylindrical sheds typically used to house poultry in Iraq. As a result, as the war neared, two teams of U.N. weapons experts acting on U.S. intelligence scrambled to search chicken coops for missiles that were not there ... (A) U.N. team printed 'Ballistic Chicken Farm Inspection Team' on 20 gray T-shirts to mark the futile hunt."


A Voice of Reason

I saw Reich on The Daily Show last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think his new book pretty much nails it, though the term "radcon" is likely not euphonious enough to enter common usage:

In his timely book, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America, Robert Reich calls the forces of darkness who have taken over America "Radcons." That's because the Bush breed of "conservatives" aren't conservatives in the traditional sense at all. They are radical ideologues who are committed to a Darwinian notion of the "reign of the rich" and unbridled corporate greed. Add a slathering of Victorian moral posturing, religious zealotry, and a view of rule by powerful elites.

True democracy is an obstacle to the goals of the Radcons. While pandering to the cultural wars to attract blue collar and church-going voters, the Radcons are deeply suspicious of democracy. Who needs democracy when you can rule by divine will and Supreme Court intervention?


Getting Warmer

Just saw the first television ad for Michael Moore's movie, and I have to say that I cannot wait till it gets here...


Standing by His Man

I have to admit, this sort of misplaced loyalty is rather impressive, considering that Rumsfeld is clearly guilty of war crimes:

President Bush voiced support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday after the Pentagon said Rumsfeld ordered the detention of a terrorist suspect in Iraq who was held for more than seven months without notifying the Red Cross.

"I'm never disappointed in my secretary of defense. He's doing a fabulous job and America's lucky to have him in the position he's in," Bush told reporters at the White House when asked if he was disappointed at Rumsfeld's move.


Nervous Breakdown?

They just sound as though they have a dysfunctional fixation:

President Bush on Thursday disputed the Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network responsible for the attacks.

"There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," Bush insisted following a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House.

Perhaps now we will know the answer to the age-old question: What happens when you have a delusional megalomaniac in charge of a nuclear arsenal?

My bet: Hijinks will ensue.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Cheney to Reality: "Hell, No!"

I stand in awe of the purity of Cheney's will to lie:

Vice President Dick Cheney, who took the lead in pushing the idea of long-standing links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, has no intention of backing down despite a finding to the contrary by the Sept. 11 commission, aides said on Wednesday.

Administration officials stood by Cheney, who critics accuse of using faulty intelligence about alleged weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to al Qaeda to push the nation to war.

A White House official said Cheney's assertion, which he repeated this week, that the ousted Iraqi leader had long-established ties to al Qaeda, were based on "facts."

"Hell no!" another administration official said when asked if Cheney would retract his statements after the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks found no evidence that Iraq aided al Qaeda attempts to strike the United States.


A Break in the Silence

Here's a story the likes of which we seldom see:

A U.S. soldier died of wounds sustained during a rocket attack on a military base north of Baghdad on Wednesday, bringing the number of American troops killed in the strike to three, the U.S. military said.

One soldier was killed at the scene of the attack while the other two died of their wounds at a field hospital, according to a military statement issued on Thursday.

I think this is, in fact, the first time I have heard of a wounded American dying in Iraq. If this is the first time this has happened, then I stand utterly amazed at the skill of our medics.


Another Loss

First Joey, now this:

The guitarist with pioneering punk rock band the Ramones is fighting a losing battle with cancer in a Los Angeles hospital, Rolling Stone magazine reported on its Web site on Tuesday.

Johnny Ramone, 55, whose real name is John Cummings, was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, and it has now spread throughout his body, quoted the band's drummer, Marky Ramone, as saying.

"Johnny's been a champ in confronting this, but at this point I think the chances are slim," Marky Ramone said in the report. "John never smoked cigarettes, he wasn't a heavy drinker and he was always into his health. It just proves when cancer seeks a body to penetrate, it doesn't matter how healthy you are or how unhealthy you are. It just seeps in and there's nothing you can do."

Long live the Ramones.


The Word from the Street

All those right-wingers who argue that the Iraqis want us there can officially shut the hell up:

More than half of Iraqis would feel safer without American troops in the country, according to a leaked poll showing that a mere 10 per cent now backed coalition forces.

The poll, commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority last month but not released, found that confidence in the coalition had fallen from 47 per cent to 11 per cent since November.

Just 10 per cent supported the forces, while 92 per cent of those asked said they considered troops as occupiers. Only two per cent saw them as "liberators".

Sadly, the first I heard of this poll was from a misguided few seconds of my life spent looking at O'Reilly's show, during which he citing the 92 versus 2 numbers and immediately stated that these numbers prove two things: the Iraqis don't appreciate all that we have done for them and the Iraqis are unwilling to fight for their own freedom.

Despicable. O'Reilly's take is classic colonial-speak. The victim is guilty of ingratitude, and is at the same time too weak and pathetic to stand up and fight. Also sounds rather reminiscent of the reasoning of the battering spouse.


Vive La France

If only we could do this here; we have much more cause, given the manipulation of energy in the West:

French power workers cut electricity to the Eiffel Tower and President Jacques Chirac's residence in western Paris on Wednesday to protest the government's plans to partially privatize state utilities in an effort to raise money, China Daily said.

Electricity was shut down at the presidential Elysee Palace, several government ministries and the Champs-Elysees avenue for about 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon. Some stores evacuated shoppers.


Just What We Need

Bush just made it easier to pour more weapons into Pakistan:

US President George W. Bush on Wednesday designated Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, which makes it easier for Pakistan to acquire US arms.

"I hereby designate the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally of the United States for the purposes of the act andthe Arms Export Control Act," Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

The announcement was regarded as a reward to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for supporting the US-led war on terrorism.

The status of major non-NATO ally will make Pakistan have an easier access to advanced US military hardware and loans of military supplies for research and development projects.

Oh, by the way, here's another report, from today's New York Times:

When the worshipers at the Mirwaiz mosque in this summer capital heard gunshots on May 29, they ignored them. This was Kashmir, after all, where Islamic insurgents have been battling the Indian government for 15 years. They assumed that militants had attacked the police bunker outside.

But when they finished praying, one man did not rise with the rest.

"Save me," Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmad said slowly, and then they saw the blood.

Mr. Ahmad had been in the second of two rows of about 25 men in all. As he and the others bent their foreheads to the floor - the most emotional moment of prayer, when a Muslim believes that he comes closest to God - someone fired three bullets at his back. The assailant escaped. Mr. Ahmad clung to life for more than a week, then died June 7.

Even by the violent standards of the conflict here, which has left 40,000 to 80,000 people dead, the killing of an unarmed 61-year-old man at prayer seemed to set a new standard of venality. People have been killed entering or leaving mosques, said Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of the Sunni Muslims in the Kashmir Valley, and a political leader as well. No one, as far as anyone knows, had ever been killed while offering prayers to God.

"He bowed down his head to the Almighty, and then he got shot," Mr. Farooq said.

This region does not need more weapons.


Dead vs. Retired

So the election is morphing into a grotesque freakshow, in which Zombie Reagan takes on Retired Clinton.

I suppose I have seen worse movies, though none spring readily to mind.


A Proud Day

The government of America (well, one branch, anyway) is dragged by overwhelming evidence to state that we shouldn't go around torturing people:

Confronting new doubts raised by government memos, the Senate voted Wednesday to make clear that the United States will not use torture against detainees.

The voice vote, on an amendment to a defense spending bill, followed disclosures last week of Bush administration memos contending the government may not be bound by international anti-torture principles in the war against terror.

"The world is watching us," said the legislation's sponsor, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. "They are asking whether the United States will stand behind its treaty obligations in the age of terrorism."

The measure says the United States "shall not engage in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment ... a standard that is embodied in the U.S. Constitution and in numerous international agreements which the United States has ratified."

The amendment also would require the secretary of defense to issue guidelines to ensure troops comply with the standards and report to Congress on any suspected violations. There is no equivalent legislation in the House defense authorization bill and the two chambers would have to decide whether to include it in the final version.


America's Shadowy Gulag, Continued

This isn't just "happening," okay? It is a systematic policy being enacted globally by our government. The orders are coming from the top.

Pentagon officials tell NBC News that late last year, at the same time U.S. military police were allegedly abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered that one Iraqi prisoner be held “off the books” — hidden entirely from the International Red Cross and anyone else — in possible violation of international law.

It’s the first direct link between Rumsfeld and questionable though not violent treatment of prisoners in Iraq.

The Iraqi prisoner was captured last July as deadly attacks on U.S. troops began to rise. He was identified as a member of the terrorist group Ansar al Islam, suspected in the attacks on coalition forces.

Shortly after the suspect’s capture, the CIA flew him to an undisclosed location outside Iraq for interrogation. But four months later the Justice Department suggested that holding him outside Iraq might be illegal, and the prisoner was returned to Iraq at the end of October.

That’s when Rumsfeld passed the order on to Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, to keep the prisoner locked up, but off the books.

In the military’s own investigation into prisoner abuse, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said efforts to hide prisoners from the Red Cross were “deceptive” and a “violation of international law.”

Pentagon officials claim it’s entirely lawful to hold prisoners in secret if they pose an immediate threat. But today, nearly one year after his capture, he’s still being held incommunicado.

In fact, once the prisoner was returned to Iraq, the interrogations ceased because the prisoner was entirely lost in the system.

Human rights critics call it a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said, “If they thought he was such a threat that he could not get Red Cross visits, then how come such a threatening prisoner got lost in the system?”

Pentagon officials still insist Rumsfeld acted legally, but admit it all depends on how you interpret the law.

So, "immediate" means "up to a year." And "threat" means "we don't care where he is." And "it all depends on how you interpret the law."

Tell me again how horrible it was when Clinton parsed the word "is."


My Hopes Are Dashed

With yesterday's announcement by the Southern Baptists that them foreigner Baptists are just too durn liberal, I was led to hope that they would stop pestering not only non-American Baptists but also non-Baptist Americans.

No dice:

Southern Baptists called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Wednesday, a day after President Bush promised the largest U.S. Protestant denomination he would press his fight for one.

The endorsement of Bush's stance was a notable gain for the president on an issue which has not attracted widespread support, and it came from a conservative group whose 16 million members are likely to be major supporters of his re-election bid.

Church leaders overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for the U.S. Constitution to be amended to define marriage as "exclusively the union between one man and one woman."

The church has a long history of opposing homosexuality.

The vote came a day after Bush addressed the gathering via satellite from the White House. He described the union of a man and a woman the most enduring of human institutions and reiterated his commitment to work for a constitutional amendment that would prevent state and federal courts from legalizing same-sex marriages.


Iraq as Lazarus?

Unmitigated arrogance. Yes, of course, I am talking about Bush, who is now not merely a builder-of-nations, but in fact a resurrector-of-whole-civilizations:

Appearing in the election battleground state of Florida -- home to many military families -- Bush also tried to reassure the soldiers that the mission in Iraq was yielding progress despite the persistent violence.

"We're bringing back a 5,000 year-old civilization to life," Bush said.


Senator Granny D

I would absolutely love to see this woman go to the Senate:

If the voters of New Hampshire approve, "Granny D" would like very much to become "Senator D."

The 94-year-old activist, who won national attention and acclaim from the likes of US Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold when she walked 3,200 miles across the United States to promote campaign finance reform in 1999 and 2000, is preparing to take another unprecedented journey--on the campaign trail.

Doris "Granny D" Haddock will formally announce Thursday that she is challenging Republican US Senator Judd Gregg, who is seeking a third term representing New Hampshire. And her "down home" campaign could well turn out to be one of the most provocative and inspired candidacies this country has seen in years. She is already assured of the Democratic nomination, and calls are coming in from young activists who want to trek to New Hampshire to help the nation's oldest political newcomer.

"We're moving things around in the house to make it a headquarters," Granny D. said from her Dublin, New Hampshire, home. "And we're setting things up in the yard so that the young people who want to work on the campaign can pitch tents."



It's hardly surprising that Bush finds a welcoming audience among the Southern Baptists. They share common ground in thinking the rest of the world is inferior and should just leave us alone with their strange and frightening ways.

Seriously, though, the way things are shaping up, religion is going to play a very large role in this election. Since I am an atheist, this distresses me. But no matter what your creed, if you realize that the primary conflict today is not the West vs. Islam but modernity vs. fundamentalism, this has to distress you too. It just doesn't bode well for reason, enlightenment, or democracy.


Kicking Them When They Are Down

New York's mayor feels that homeless shelters are just too cushy:

In an effort to reduce reliance on the municipal shelter system, New York City is seeking to increase resources to prevent homelessness and to eliminate longstanding practices that may encourage people to enter the shelter system. It may also ask single people and families to pay part of the costs of a shelter if they are financially able.

A draft of the Bloomberg administration's new homeless plan suggests an end to the priority given to homeless families over other poor people seeking to receive a federal subsidized housing voucher. In addition, the city is considering asking single people whether they have other options, like living with relatives, before giving them a long-term bed. Currently, no questions are asked.

I'm sure the question-asking will have tremendous impact, as homeless people by the dozens slap their foreheads and exclaim, "You are right! I never thought of that! I just automatically chose to come to the shelter, without even thinking about all my other options! Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg!"

And the supposed measures for reducing homelessness, certainly an important task, do not look promising:

As fewer people are drawn into the homeless system, the city plans to redirect money toward preventive measures such as legal services for families facing eviction from their homes and one-time rental assistance.

Since landlords have extraordinarily broad discretion to evict whomever they want, I don't see the former approach as having much impact. And the latter will just delay homelessness for a month.


Safire Is an Idiot

I'm not even going to post anything from his latest column. Suffice it to say that the piece takes the form of an interview with Nixon, in Purgatory, about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the elections.

He gets paid for this drivel?


A Convincing Argument

It's hard to see how anyone could disagree that the interim government has almost no chance at all of maintaining any real control over the country after June 30. Bush has been holding up Afghanistan as a model, and in the sense that huge swaths of that nation are outside of the government's influence, the comparison holds up pretty well.

With all Iraq's oil exports halted by sabotage, gunmen killed a top Iraqi oil official on Wednesday in a new blow to an interim government reeling from violence two weeks before U.S.-led occupation formally ends.

The shadowy guerrillas who have choked Iraq's oil lifeline have also intensified a campaign of assassinations and suicide bombings intended to prove that the new Iraqi government cannot hope to assert control after the June 30 handover.

To repeat: All of Iraq's oil exports have stopped.

The Republicans have had dozens of plans for Iraq, but I do not recall that being an element of any of them.


Bad News from the Cherokee Nation

It looks like some members have learned Republican tactics: if the issue is very important, sneak it in at the last possible moment.

TAHLEQUAH -- The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council passed a law banning same-sex marriages Monday night, a spokesman for the tribe said.

The council's agenda was amended at the last minute to make room for the ban, Mike Miller said.

The ban passed 15-0, but several members were not pleased with the last minute addition.

"We've been meeting (all afternoon) and none of us got a chance to look at it until after the council meeting started," said Don Garvin, who represents Muskogee, McIntosh and Wagoner counties on the council. "Linda (O'Leary, the law's sponsor) sure keeps a good secret. As a Baptist deacon, I support it ... but next time, let me know."

Jackie Bob Martin, who represents Adair County, said members should've had time to consider the legislation in committee.

"I don't like having something dropped in our lap at the last minute," he said.

Todd Hembree, the attorney for the council, said it is his legal opinion that Cherokee Nation law defines marriage between a man and a woman.

"The law clears up any ambiguity, if there is any."


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Attacking the Attack Dog

Finally, it is official. I hope they take him down hard, especially after the role he played in the re-redistricting of Texas and the absurd manhunt for the Killer D's:

A freshman Democrat filed an ethics complaint on Tuesday against House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom Delay, a Texas Republican, ending an informal seven-year ethics cease-fire between the two parties.

Rep. Chris Bell of Texas accused DeLay of soliciting campaign donations in return for legislative favors and using a political action committee to launder illegal contributions.

In what DeLay dismissed as a rehash of unsubstantiated and old newspaper clippings, Bell also charged that he had improperly used a federal agency to track down Texas Democratic legislators in a partisan battle last year.

"It is my opinion that Mr. DeLay is the most corrupt politician in America today," Bell told a news conference.


two people who have seen the complaint say it will allege, among other things, that DeLay:

· Improperly accepted campaign contributions from Kansas-based Westar Energy Corp. in exchange for help securing a special exemption from federal regulation.

· Funneled illegal corporate contributions, including from Westar and others, through the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee to GOP candidates for the Texas House.

· Solicited the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration to track more than 50 Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled from Austin to Ardmore, Okla., in 2003. Their exodus denied the state House a quorum and temporarily stalled work on the DeLay-backed redistricting program.


Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

So, they are breaking it off with non-American Baptists. Now, if only we can get them to leave us non-Baptist Americans alone, too.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, voted on Tuesday to cut its links with the Baptist World Alliance, saying the global group is too liberal on gay rights and other issues.

Leaders of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention voted by a two-thirds majority at the group's annual meeting to split from the world body, capping a decade of growing theological differences.

Some Baptist denominations within the Alliance endorse the ordination of women and inclusion of gays and lesbians, positions the conservative-dominated Southern Baptists strongly oppose.


Bizarro World

Just when you think you know somebody. Read this review; it's from the FoxNews website!

The crowd that gave Michael Moore's controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11" documentary a standing ovation last night at the Ziegfeld Theater premiere certainly didn't have to be encouraged to show their appreciation. From liberal radio host/writer Al Franken to actor/director Tim Robbins, Moore was in his element.

But once "F9/11" gets to audiences beyond screenings, it won't be dependent on celebrities for approbation. It turns out to be a really brilliant piece of work, and a film that members of all political parties should see without fail.

As much as some might try to marginalize this film as a screed against President George Bush, "F9/11" — as we saw last night — is a tribute to patriotism, to the American sense of duty — and at the same time a indictment of stupidity and avarice.


Resistance Is Futile

The world of penis enlargement, barely legal teens, and Nigerian investment opportunities will be with us for quite some time, it seems:

The Bush administration will not immediately create a national do-not-spam registry to discourage unwanted e-mails, saying using current technology to do so might generate even more unsolicited sales pitches across the Internet, according to documents obtained Tuesday.

The Federal Trade Commission, expected to announce its decision later in the day, said it feared that unscrupulous senders of unwanted e-mails would mine such a registry of e-mail addresses looking for new victims, according to a summary of the FTC's decision obtained by The Associated Press.



It just keeps getting more bizarre. I'm not disputing that a lack of security could have disastrous consequences once Saddam returns to Iraq, but something about Bush asking his newly-installed, weeks-old government to reassure him about the security that American forces have failed to produce in months and months strikes me as surreal:

President Bush said on Tuesday he was seeking security assurances from the interim Iraqi government before giving it custody of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Bush would not commit to handing over Saddam by the June 30 transfer of power, as asserted by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, but Bush did not rule it out.

He said the United States would not allow "lax security" to jeopardize plans to bring Saddam to trial.

"We want to make sure that he (Saddam) doesn't come back to power. And so therefore, it's a legitimate question to ask of the interim government: 'How are you going to make sure he stays in jail?' And that's the question I'm asking. And when we get the right answer, which I'm confident we will -- we'll work with them to do so -- then we'll all be satisfied," Bush said.

At this rate, I think Saddam is going to stay put, no matter what the Iraqis want or the Red Cross thinks:

Insurgents stepped up pressure on Iraq's new interim government on Tuesday with another blow to the vital oil industry just two weeks before a formal end to the U.S. occupation.

Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban confirmed saboteurs blasted an oil pipeline feeding storage tanks at Basra in the Gulf, cutting exports by a third. "There were two sabotage cases," he told Reuters.


War Profiteering

That's what they used to call this, back in more honest and more outraged times. Why doesn't this have people protesting in the streets? The vice-president intervened to give vast amounts of government money to his company, which is overcharging the government for just about everything, as Americans die left and right.

Pentagon auditors took aim at Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton on Tuesday and said they found "significant deficiencies" in its handling of billions of dollars of work in Iraq.

In testimony at a hearing on Iraq contracts on Capitol Hill, the head of the Pentagon's audit agency cited problems with the Texas-based firm's billing system and sub-contracts and potential over-charging for meals served to troops.

Every last penny of profit that Halliburton sees is bloodstained.


Common Sense

Of course, with this administration in charge, it is not likely to happen:

The largest U.S. doctor's group on Monday endorsed efforts to increase access to the "morning after" contraceptive pill and urged federal regulators to reconsider a ban on over-the-counter sales of the drug.
The recommendation to boost the availability of the so-called Plan B pill -- which terminates a pregnancy if taken within 72 hours -- was one of several advisory resolutions passed by the American Medical Association's House of Delegates at the annual meeting.

"The (Food and Drug Administration's) own advisory committee determined emergency contraceptive pills were safe," yet the FDA decided to forbid sales without a prescription, said Dr. Ronald Davis, who headed the AMA committee looking into the matter.

He said physicians would pre-write prescriptions to the drug to make it more readily available and encourage ways to quickly respond to women who want it.

The AMA delegates also voted to urge the Bush administration to reestablish funding to United Nations-sponsored population and family planning programs.



They just keep lying, and this time the lie is an old, tired lie that everyone knows is a lie:

Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Saddam Hussein had "long-established ties" with al Qaeda, an assertion that has been repeatedly challenged by some policy experts and lawmakers.

The vice president offered no details backing up his claim of a link between Saddam and al Qaida.

"He was a patron of terrorism," Cheney said of Hussein during a speech before The James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida. "He had long established ties with al Qaeda."



Monday, June 14, 2004

Legal Homophobia in Virginia

Deeply disgusting:

The act -- really an amendment to an earlier law -- was passed in April, over Gov. Mark R. Warner's objections, and it takes effect July 1. It says, "A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage is prohibited." It goes on to add that any such union, contract or arrangement entered into in any other state, "and any contractual rights created thereby," are "void and unenforceable in Virginia."

When gay marriage came up, Virginia was among the first states to preemptively ban it, in 1997. Moreover, Virginia is the only state to forbid even private companies, unless self-insured, from extending health insurance benefits to unmarried couples. That provision affects cohabiting straights but works a far greater hardship on gay couples, who cannot marry.

Those steps, however, impinge on the power of third parties (corporations and the government) to recognize gay couples. In the Marriage Affirmation Act, Virginia appears to abridge gay individuals' right to enter into private contracts with each other. On its face, the law could interfere with wills, medical directives, powers of attorney, child custody and property arrangements, even perhaps joint bank accounts. If a gay Californian was hit by a bus in Arlington, her medical power of attorney might be worthless there. "Sorry," the hospital might have to say to her frantic partner, "your contract means nothing here. Now leave before we call security."


This Just In: Gay Marriage Is Smart

Same Sex Marriages Should Not be Prohibited Says Winner, Robert Lerose

Robert Lerose was the winner of tonight's Great American Think-Off arguing that same-sex marriages should not be prohibited. He said that marriage is the one enduring institution common to all societies throughout history and pointed out that it can change, and in fact has changed, without diminishing its meaning. The 44 year old writer from Uniondale, New York convinced the small town audience of New York Mills, Minnesota that the exclusive commitment of two people to each other, regardless of gender, could only strengthen the custom of marriage. His opponent in the final round of the debate was Jim Schantz, a 68 year old retiree from Luxemburg, Wisconsin. The other contestants were Christy Hicks, an educator from Ferndale, Michigan and Sonja Hathway a college student from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The Great American Think-Off is produced by the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center as a way for ordinary people to express their opinions on important issues. Now in its 12th year, the Think-Off has asked provocative questions in the past including "Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?" "Is the Death Penalty Ethical in a Civilized Society?" and "Does God Exist".


Richard Clarke, Gadfly

Clarke continues to remind us: this administration is a national security disaster:

America is "massively vulnerable" to another big terrorist attack because of President George W. Bush's insistence on diverting much needed resources from internal security to the war in Iraq, according to Richard Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism chief.

He said the war in Iraq had taken away focus and financing not only from the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda supporters but from homeland security programmes inside the US.

"America is massively vulnerable, massively vulnerable," Clarke said. "Its chemical plants are vulnerable, its train systems are all vulnerable.

"We are a target-rich environment. There are lots of targets that could be made harder to attack but we are not doing that."

Clarke said the invasion of Iraq - which he believes presented no threat to the US - had created three serious security problems.

Insufficient aid was being given to countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, where there were known to be terrorists, to help them strengthen security measures.

Troops and resources had been moved from the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to help the troops in Iraq.

Finally, the billions of dollars spent in Iraq have used up money that could have been spent on boosting internal security.


Fundamentalist Stupidity Abroad

Raging denial:

Hard-line Hindus hurled stones and damaged movie theaters in India Monday to stop the screening of a film about a relationship between two women, saying it violated Indian culture.
Nearly 100 activists of the student's wing of the Shiv Sena group smashed window panes, ripped up posters and burned effigies at a hall screening the Hindi film "Girlfriend" in Bombay, capital of India's prolific movie industry, witnesses said.

The film show was stopped after the attack.

Shiv Sena members also attacked a hall screening the film in the northern Hindu holy city of Varanasi, police said. There were no reports of any injuries in either incident.

"The film has some lesbian scenes and we got many complaints from the public, especially women, so we decided to take action," Nitin Amberkar, a member of Shiv Sena's student wing, said in Bombay, minutes before tearing up posters of the film.

About 20 Shiv Sena activists were detained in Varanasi after the incident. The cinema proceeded to screen the film under tight security, police said.

Arun Pathak, the Varanasi unit chief of the hard-line Hindu group, said the film violated Indian traditions.

"This film is out to degrade Indian culture. We will not allow anyone to do this," he told Reuters. The director of "Girlfriend" said his film did not violate Indian culture but merely reflected a slice of society that has long been brushed under the carpet.

"If my film doesn't not offend any religious or spiritual sentiments, then why the breakage?" Karan Razdan told Zee News television. "I'm just trying to show what's happening in society."


American Gulag

The United States is now a global purveyor of injustice:

The United States government, in conjunction with key allies, is running an 'invisible' network of prisons and detention centres into which thousands of suspects have disappeared without trace since the 'war on terror' began.
In the past three years, thousands of alleged militants have been transferred around the world by American, Arab and Far Eastern security services, often in secret operations that by-pass extradition laws. The astonishing traffic has seen many, including British citizens, sent from the West to countries where they can be tortured to extract information. Anything learnt is passed on to the US and, in some cases, reaches British intelligence.

The disclosure of the shadowy system will increase pressure on the Bush administration over its 'cavalier' approach to human rights and will embarrass Tony Blair, a staunch ally of President George Bush.

The practice of 'renditions' - when suspects are handed directly into the custody of another state without due process - has sparked particular anger. At least 70 such transfers have occurred, according to CIA sources. Many involve men who have been freed by the courts and are thus legally innocent. Renditions are often used when American interrogators believe that harsh treatment - banned in their own country - would produce results.

The Observer has obtained details of two incidents in which men have been detained by the US despite being found innocent by courts in their own country. In one, a British businessman called Wahab al-Rami, an Iraqi living in the UK and a Palestinian seeking asylum were arrested by US and local officers in Gambia in November 2002 as they stepped off a flight from London.

Their seizure, which followed a tip-off from the UK security services - came just days after they had been arrested by British police on suspicion of terrorism and then freed by a British court.

Two were transported from Gambia to Guantanamo Bay - where they remain today - without any legal process. In the other incident, two Turks, a Saudi, a Kenyan and a Sudanese man were arrested in Malawi in June 2003 on suspicion of funding terrorist networks. Though freed by local courts, the men were handed over to the CIA and held for several months. Campaigners say these incidents are 'the tip of an iceberg'.

Few escape the ghost network of detention facilities, which range from massive prison camps such as that at Guantanamo Bay to naval vessels in the Indian Ocean, so accounts of life inside the new gulag are rare.

One of the most harrowing stories concerns a Syrian-born Canadian, Maher Arar, who was arrested by US authorities in late 2002 during a stopover in New York, on suspicion of terrorist activities.

After several days of questioning, the 34-year-old IT specialist was flown to Jordan, where the CIA passed him on to local security officials. He was repeatedly assaulted in Jordan before being driven to Syria, where he was kept in solitary confinement in a 6ft by 3ft cell for several months and repeatedly beaten with cables. All charges were dropped on his release. Arar said last week that he was 'trying to rebuild [his] life'. 'I never did anything to make me a suspect. I could not believe they would send me back to Syria, but they did,' he said. 'They sent me back to be tortured.'

The ghost prison network stretches around the globe. The biggest American-run facilities are at the Bagram airbase, north of Kabul in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, where around 400 men are held, and in Iraq, where tens of thousands of detainees are held. Saddam Hussein and dozens of top Baath party officials are held in a prison at Baghdad airport.


Toxic Stupidity

One more example of faith-based governance.

A huge debate has gone on for decades about removal and disposal of this menace. The government designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a national repository for most radioactive wastes.

But it turns out that removing the hard-to-get-at radioactive sludge at the three nuclear reservations will be massively expensive.

The problem could be avoided if Congress insisted that the price of every new weapon included the cost of cleaning up wastes from its production. The resulting sticker shock would have the additional virtue of curbing the Congress' appetite for wave after wave of exotic weapons.

But last week, the clever Senate came up with its own way to "solve" the waste problem. It supported South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham's amendment to ease clean-up requirements for underground tanks by deeming the wastes to be harmless enough to stay in place - despite scientific findings showing serious risks to the environment if they remain.

Link via BlogJosh.


Compassionate Conservativism in Florida

Short version: Screw blind people.

Longer version: A very important program providing books on tape for the blind and visually impaired is being slashed in Florida.

The library board of the Orlando County Public Library has voted to no longer fund the NLS subregional at its library. According to librarians in Florida, this dispute erupted shortly after Mary Anne Hodel became director. From the Florida regional (Tallahassee) viewpoint, Hodel has made it very clear that she has no interest in supporting services for disabled readers. Just recently, the library board passed a budget that diverted all funds (including staffing) from the talking book library to other things. Interested patrons and supporters plan a protest march at the convention center on Saturday, June 26, during the ALA conference.

What really gets the goat of the Tallahassee staff is that Hodel has insisted on still receiving NLS materials and equipment but refuses to send anything to patrons. As one Florida librarian angrily summed it up, Orlando wants the appearance of serving the disabled reader without actually doing so. Tallahassee has been providing services to the patrons, while everything just stacks up in Orlando. NLS did not cut off shipments while Orlando was still officially an NLS subregional, but that is about to change. It will be interesting to see if Florida regional will be able to retrieve NLS property.

Please feel free to let Ms. Hodel know what you think of this.


The Truth about Unemployment

Numbers get tossed about all the time, and all the more so during election years. This is just a reminder that the statistics generally cited ignore hordes of jobless people:

Buried inside the official U.S. employment report each month is a little-known figure that gives a much less rosy picture of the labor market than the headlines.

The government agency that produces the data also publishes an alternative measure that tries to capture the hidden unemployed, those who are not included in the official unemployment rate for various statistical reasons.

That broader measure is dramatically higher, at 9.7 percent in May, compared with the official level of 5.6 percent.

That's an extra 5.96 million people, in addition to the 8.2 million "officially" unemployed, who are waiting on the sidelines and may at some point step back into the labor force.

Although it receives little notice, the adjusted jobless rate has important implications for Federal Reserve policy-makers because it suggests the job market will not tighten as quickly as some in the financial markets believe.


Copping Out

The Supreme Court has opted not to judge whether or not it is unconstitutional to force atheists to pledge allegiance to "one nation, under God," because the man bringing the case apparently has no legal interest in his daughter:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that California atheist Michael Newdow lacked the right to bring a constitutional challenge to the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, avoiding a decision on the key church-state issue.

By an 8-0 vote, the justices overturned a controversial decision by a U.S. appeals court in California that reciting the phrase amounted to a violation of church-state separation.

The ruling by the justices was based on the technicality that Newdow could not bring the case before the court because he did not have legal control over his daughter, on whose behalf he was arguing.

The ruling came down on the 50th anniversary of the addition of the words "under God" to the pledge. The U.S. Congress adopted the June 14, 1954, law in an effort to distinguish America's religious values and heritage from those of communism, which is atheistic.

Three court members -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas -- disagreed with the ruling that Newdow could not bring the case. They said they would have ruled that the words "under God" do not violate the Constitution.

Newdow, an emergency room doctor who has a law degree and acted as his own attorney in the case, sued because he objected to his daughter's saying the daily ritual at her school in Elk Grove.

The girl's mother, Sandra Banning, a born-again Christian, has custody of the 9-year-old girl on school days, when the pledge is recited, and supports her saying the pledge.

The U.S. Justice Department and the California school district had argued that Newdow lacked legal standing or the right to bring the case.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, agreed. He said the problem became apparent when Banning filed her motion declaring she has sole legal custody and is authorized to exercise legal control over her daughter.

Millions of American students every day "pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The case generated a political uproar after the appeals court ruling declared the "under God" part unconstitutional.

A California law requires the pledge to be recited every day at public elementary schools, although no child has to join in.

Newdow argued that having school children recite the pledge amounted to coercion, daily indoctrination and a government-imposed religious exercise, almost like a prayer. He wanted the "under God" phrase removed.

Solicitor General Theodore Olson of the Justice Department argued the pledge was not a state-sponsored prayer, not a religious ritual and not the teaching of religious doctrine.


More to Come

The guilt of the Bush administration just refuses to be silenced:

New evidence that the physical abuse of detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay was authorised at the top of the Bush Administration will emerge in Washington this week, piling further pressure on the White House.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph reported that four confidential Red Cross documents implicating senior Pentagon civilians in the Abu Ghraib scandal have been passed to an American television network, which is preparing to make them public.

According to lawyers familiar with the Red Cross reports, they will contradict testimony by senior Pentagon officials who claimed the abuse in the prison was an isolated incident.

"There are some extremely damaging documents around, which link senior figures to the abuses," said the former chairman of the New York Bar Association, Scott Horton, who has been advising Pentagon lawyers unhappy at the Administration's approach. "The biggest bombs in this case have yet to be dropped."


Soothsaying in Texas

I've lived in Texas for a couple of years now, and been against the death penalty for much longer than that. But I never knew until now just how bizarre the situation here really is:

Texas juries in capital cases must make a prediction. They may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant will probably commit more violent acts.

Other states look backward, asking juries to consider the moral blameworthiness of the crime. Texas, which leads the nation in executions, wants to know the future: Will the killer kill again?

"The fact is," said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston, "you're being punished for something that you haven't done."


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Powell: We'll Try, but Fail

These words must be very reassuring to the new Iraqi leadership:

Top U.S. officials warned on Sunday that attacks against new Iraqi officials would continue and Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged to do "everything we can to defeat this insurgency."

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" amid a new spate of assassinations in Iraq, Powell acknowledged the difficulty of protecting the new leaders who are slated to take over on June 30.

Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke in separate U.S. television interviews as a suicide car bomber killed up to 12 Iraqis near a U.S.-Iraqi base in Baghdad and gunmen killed a senior Iraqi civil servant and a university professor. A similar precise attack on Saturday killed a senior Foreign Ministry official.

"It's hard to protect an entire government ... it's very difficult," Powell said. "It is going to be a dangerous period and these murderers have to be defeated."

Meanwhile, the same article reports an interesting snub of Bush:

[Interim Iraqi President Ghazi] Yawar also said he had no plans to destroy the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, despite an offer by President Bush to tear down the jail where some U.S. troops abused Iraqi prisoners.

"If they choose to keep it, then they will keep it," Powell responded on ABC's "This Week."

I really am at a loss to imagine his motivations for this statement, or what message this is sending to the Iraqi people.


Comedy of Errors

Except for the fact that there's nothing funny about it.

Can we finally ban the use of the term "surgical strike" as being hopelessly inaccurate and misleading?

The United States launched many more failed airstrikes on a far broader array of senior Iraqi leaders during the early days of the war last year than has previously been acknowledged, and some caused significant civilian casualties, according to senior military and intelligence officials.

Only a few of the 50 airstrikes have been described in public. All were unsuccessful, and many, including the two well-known raids on Saddam Hussein and his sons, appear to have been undercut by poor intelligence, current and former government officials said.

The strikes, carried out against so-called high-value targets during a one-month period that began on March 19, 2003, used precision-guided munitions against at least 13 Iraqi leaders, including Gen. Izzat Ibrahim, Iraq's No. 2 official, the officials said.

General Ibrahim is still at large, along with at least one other top official who was a target of the failed raids.


Sadr for President?

He's starting his own party for the elections:

Shiite radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will form a political party to join Iraq's national elections in January, a top aide to Sadr said Sunday.

"We are planning on founding a party to express the views of the people because they have placed their confidence in us," said Qais al-Khazaali to reporters.

"We have this idea and we are discussing it. If we found this party, it will participate in elections and it will be built on our popular base," he added.

Sadr's militia has battled the US-led coalition forces throughout southern and central Iraq since April.


To Be in Dublin

I admit it, I think that Ulysses is one of the greatest works of literature even written, and I'd love to be celebrating it in style:

A mass open-air breakfast has been held in Dublin to mark the centenary of Bloomsday, the day on which James Joyce's novel Ulysses is set.
Around 10,000 free breakfasts were served on O'Connell Street in the city.

June 16 is the actual anniversary of central character Leopold Bloom's walk around the Irish capital.

But celebrations formally got under way on Saturday when poet Seamus Heaney delivered a special reading to begin the Rejoyce Dublin 2004 festival.

Around 70 events are being staged to commemorate the centenary during the next week or so.

Readings of Ulysses will take place around Dublin and Irish broadcaster RTE will show a series of Joyce-themed programmes.


Insult and Injury

That the military put young, undertrained soldiers in such a stressful position as the Abu Ghraib prison and didn't keep a close watch on them for this sort of behavior from day one is amazing. The result, of course, is unsurprising:

Senior U.S. military officials tried to crack down on alcohol abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq weeks before investigators uncovered prisoner mistreatment there, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing soldiers.

Commanders instituted a series of measures in December and January to stem illegal activity such as the procurement of alcohol and prostitutes at the prison outside of Baghdad, the newspaper said. Alcohol abuse was so prevalent there was an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter at the prison.

Some officers say alcohol may have played a part in the behavior of guards who have been charged with beating prisoners, stripping them naked, and stacking them in pyramids on the prison floor. At least one prisoner has told investigators he frequently smelled alcohol on the guards' breath in the cellblock where most of the abuses occurred, the paper said.

Possession of alcohol is prohibited under General Order No. 1 issued by U.S. Central Command, the paper said. Some members of the military police at the prison -- including Master Sgt. Greg Rayburn, a medic who was stationed at Abu Ghraib from September 2003 until this April -- have acknowledged alcohol abuse was a problem but dispute the prostitution claim, the paper said.

What this piece doesn't mention, but should, is the most egregious sort of alcohol abuse that occurred in the prison:

The abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison continued yesterday with the publication of fresh pictures and sworn statements that detailed a teenage boy being raped, prisoners being ridden like animals and other Iraqis being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in contravention of their religion.