Sunday, April 30, 2006

American Boots on the Ground

The past few weeks have been good ones for American boots on the ground, not the boots that accompany combat fatigues, but the boots of millions of passionate protesters who've taken to the streets to make noise and bring visibility to their pet causes. And, those issues and their impact on the lives of ordinary Americans and their global comrades is enormous.

From the outrage over the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the lack of international will to deal with it to fears exposed by immigrants - illegal or not - and the continuing call for troops to be brought home from Iraq (somehow, Afghanistan is largely forgotten - at least in the US), Americans have had enough and they want their elected representatives to know it.

When letters, faxes and phone calls to congresspeople are met with a shrug and a canned reply and those same elected representatives of the people continue to act on behalf powerful lobbyists instead of their constituents, it's time for citizens to find more forceful ways to be heard. This blogger, unlike some other, more prominent names in the lefty blogosphere, fully supports these displays of dissent and concern because, even if their congresspeople remain unmoved, the broader public has an opportunity to feel empowered when they know others share their deeply held values and are willing to make powerful public statements on their behalf.

Genocide is not a value. Illegal war is not a value. Demonizing immigrants is not a value. And there's definitely one more thing that is not a value: torture. My only lament is that there are not more protesting boots on the ground to end American-sponsored torture.

It's safe to point the finger at foreign governments like Sudan's and insist that the US government act immediately to end the genocide because it absolutely needs to be done as soon as possible. But, when large numbers of American citizens do not equally stand up and speak out on behalf of all of the kidnap victims rounded up through 'extraordinary rendition' ie. torture flights; when Americans do not speak up daily on behalf of innocent victims of torture and horrendous abuse still perpetuated in their names at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and other US detention facilities who are now also systematically abused by factions of the new Iraqi government; when Americans turn away because the issue of torture is too painful to deal with - willfully denying the very real physical, emotional and spiritual pain of the people who must actually endure it, what value are they espousing?

Update: Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch provides his view of the many boots on the ground at the antiwar protest in NYC this past Saturday.

Perhaps such demonstrations are now not for the Bush administration, nor really for the mainstream media either, but only for us. Perhaps they are a reminder to all those who attend and to those numbering in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on the political Internet that we are here, alive, and humming. That is reason enough to demonstrate.

Speaking "Truthiness" to Power

The Colbert Report's Stephen Colbert hosted the White House correspondents dinner on Saturday nite and, apparently, Bush was not amused as Colbert used his sarcastic wit to launch several stinger 'truthiness' missiles Bush's way.

He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.”
Turning to the war, he declared, "I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."

Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, “photo ops” on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, melting glaciers and Vice President Cheney shooting people in the face. He advised the crowd, "if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly on into your table numbers and somebody from the N.S.A. will be right over with a cocktail. "

Observing that Bush sticks to his principles, he said, "When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday - no matter what happened Tuesday."

(and on and on it went...)

Colbert also went after the press:

Addressing the reporters, he said, "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction."

He claimed that the Secret Service name for Bush's new press secretary is "Snow Job."

According to E&P, "As Colbert walked from the podium, when it was over, the president and First Lady gave him quick nods, unsmiling, and handshakes, and left immediately."

I don't know about you, but that made me smile.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Suddenly Bush is Concerned About Torture?

Suddenly, Bush is concerned about torture? Not the torture his cronies perpetuate, obviously, but the torture committed by other countries to which Gitmo detainees may be subjected if they are sent back to their home countries after having been incarcerated without regard to basic human rights by the US for years.

In an infuriating and utterly hypocritical front page Sunday New York Times article, the Bush administration is now stating that it is having difficulty negotiating humane treatment for these detainees from countries such as Saudi Arabia (Bush's best friend) and Yemen. The United States is the same country that kidnaps innocent victims all over the world and sends them to 'friendly' countries with known torture policies and secret prisons to do their dirty work without public scrutiny.

After years of refusing to allow these Gitmo detainees proper access to legal counsel and humanitarian oversight, resulting in one of the most secretive atmospheres ever encountered in the so-called 'civilized' world, such complaints about the human rights records of other countries which the US consider allies in the war on terror are nothing short of incredible and, frankly, are just appalling.

The Bush administration instituted the Gitmo camp without proper planning or methods for dealing with those it would incarcerate. And, following years of flaunting international laws regarding how such prisoners ought to be treated which are meant to protect basic human rights, it now finds itself in this impossible position. The US cannot now pontificate that it has claimed the moral high ground after it has violated treaty after treaty, convention after convention. As a result, it has left these detainees in a nightmare state of limbo with no possible good outcome and yet it now asserts that its hands are tied because of the supposed actions of the countries these people need to be repatriated to?

In May, US government officials will have to face a UN panel investigating torture and other inhumane treatment of detainees which includes 'one of the longest lists [of violations] I have ever seen', according to one UN official. How the UN panel will deal with these atrocities is not yet known, but what is known is that the Bush administration is guilty of crimes against humanity - just as guilty as any of the countries it now seems to be so concerned about.

This is hypocrisy at its absolute worst. What's left for the Gitmo detainees? Unfortunately, the best they can hope for is to be accepted by third countries which will take them in. Meanwhile, they will most likely be permanently separated from their families in their countries of origin due to the suspicion heaped upon them by the US's actions of imprisoning them without adequate legal proceedings - leaving many to be perceived as terrorist pariahs no matter where they end up.

There is no justice.

Sidebar: As I write this, the movie 'Judgment at Nuremburg' is on television. Will there ever be a judgment day for the Bush administration?

Update: Sunday's Washington Post has a must-read story detailing the personal experiences of a Pashtun-American law student's visits to Gitmo with attorneys who represent the detainees.

At 80, Haji Nusrat -- detainee No. 1009 -- is Guantanamo Bay's oldest prisoner. A stroke 15 years ago left him partly paralyzed. He cannot stand up without assistance and hobbles to the bathroom behind a walker. Despite his paralysis, his swollen legs and feet are tightly cuffed and shackled to the floor. He says that his shoes are too tight and that he needs new ones. He has asked for medical attention for the inflammation in his legs, but has not been taken to a hospital.

"They wait until you are almost dead," he says.

He has a long white beard and grayish-brown eyes that drift from Peter's face to mine as we explain his legal issues to him. In the middle of our meeting, he says to me: " Bachay ." My child. "Look at my white beard. They have brought me here with a white beard. I have done nothing at all. I have not said a single word against the Americans."

Antiwar Protesters March in NYC

Hundreds of thousands of people marched against the Iraq war (and a possible Iran war) in NYC on Saturday:

The demonstrators stretched for about 10 blocks as they headed down Broadway. Organizers said 300,000 people marched, though a police spokesman declined to give an estimate. There were no reports of arrests.

"We are here today because the war is illegal, immoral and unethical," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "We must bring the troops home."

Among the protesters were Cindy Sheehan, Susan Sarandon, Rev Jesse Jackson and members of Veterans For Peace. The protest was organized by United For Peace & Justice.

I'm a huge supporter of people taking it to the streets to exercise their rights in the form of protests. I salute all of you who participated in today's march. What an excellent turnout.

Wingnuts and Neil Young

Over at the right-wing blog Powerline, Scott informs his readers that he's agreed to post some clips from Neil Young's new album, "Living With War" - which comes with a little paycheque and some conditions:

The publicist requested only that "you be respectful and make sure you don’t lead your audience to think one way or another...Also, please not a headline like 'check out this liberal piece of crap.'"

Other than noting that he has a little problem with Young's track, "Let's Impeach the President", Scott complies.

But, he also includes this opinion from one of his readers in his column:
TW writes: "Saying that Bush lied is on the same moral and intellectual plane as Holocaust denial. When I hear someone insist that Bush lied, that person becomes a David Duke to me. The list of entertainers I can watch, read, or listen to grows shorter every month."

Let's see...some 6 million people died during the Holocaust for which there is tremendous historical evidence. Anyone who denies that has got to be an absolute fool. Believing that Bush never lied and then stating that those who do are the equivalent of holocaust deniers? That person becomes flipping insane to me.

I wonder what Neil Young's publicist would have to say about that...

(By the way, you don't have to visit Powerline to listen to the clips. Just click on Neil Young's name above and you can visit his site. Neil also has a blog about the album.)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Fun

- Drivers deliberately running out of gas in LA to save money. 5 points for creativity.

- Once again, I present the must read Ponoka News police blotter. Here's a sample. Make sure you read the whole thing though!

A Ponoka Traffic Member stopped a high flying 16-year-old boy in his dad’s new Honda SUV. His speed was recorded at 160 km/h. What police found “fascinating” was that dad was seated in the passenger seat. It was some weird form of father and son bonding. Perhaps they were rushing to make happy hour at some strip club? Perhaps they needed to stop for a couple of packs of cigarettes on the way? Police sensed the theme and ticketed both of them.

- the judge who ruled on the case about the Da Vinci Code decided to write his own code into his judgment for fun. That code has now been cracked. You kind of have to be British to appreciate it though...

- seal pups - 1; kids - 0

- Nude carpenter arrested. He just wanted to stay clean, apparently.

- Canadian blogger with a big, red paper clip hopes to trade it for a house. No - really.

- Don't buy your Ecstasy pill lab equipment on eBay.

Bush on the Spanish Version of the National Anthem


"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English," Bush said, in response to a question at a Rose Garden news conference. "People who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

There you have it. "I'm the decider" Bush totally mangling the English language once again.

Rush Limbaugh Arrested

Limbaugh has been arrested on drug charges, "with his attorney saying he has reached a deal with prosecutors that will eventually see the charges dismissed if he continues treatment for drug addiction".

Limbaugh turned himself in to authorities on a warrant issued by the State Attorney's Office, said Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office.

The conservative radio commentator came into the jail at about 4 p.m. with his attorney Roy Black and left an hour later after posting $3,000 bail, Barbera said. The warrant was for fraud to conceal information to obtain prescriptions, Barbera said.

Black said his client and prosecutors reached a settlement on a charge of doctor shopping filed Friday by the State Attorney, which Black said will be dismissed in 18 months if Limbaugh complies with court guidelines.

As a primary condition of the dismissal, Limbaugh must continue to seek treatment from the doctor he has seen for the past 2 1/2 years, Black said.

Limbaugh entered a plea of not guilty in court Friday on the charge and Black maintained his client's innocence.

If he's innocent, why did he make this deal? Seems to me he has more than enough money to fight these charges for as long as it takes, especially with a tough lawyer like Roy Black.

He's just another right-wing hypocrite.

A trip down memory lane...

And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up. What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use. Too many whites are getting away with drug sales. Too many whites are getting away with trafficking in this stuff. The answer to this disparity is not to start letting people out of jail because we’re not putting others in jail who are breaking the law. The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river, too.”
- Rush Limbaugh show, Oct. 5, 1995

They all seem quite confused about this over in Freeperland. They can't seem to grasp the meaning of the word "arrested". Poor Rush was the victim of a "witch hunt".

Five Congressmen Arrested in Protest Against Sudan Atrocities

Breaking news from Washington:

(AP) WASHINGTON Two Massachusetts representatives are among five congressman[sic] arrested and led away from the Sudanese Embassy in plastic handcuffs today.

They were protesting the Sudanese government's role in atrocities in the Darfur region and were expecting to be taken into custody.

Representatives Jim McGovern and John Olver were among the eleven protesters willingly arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly.

Olver says the Sudanese government needs to be held accountable for attacks on their own citizens.

Dozens of demonstrators carried signs, some reading "Stop the slaughter."

The protesters called on the Sudanese government to accept a U-N peacekeeping force in Darfur and allow humanitarian relief organizations full access to victims.

Some of the lawmakers issued news releases in advance about their expected arrest.

But, on a day when ordinary people are outraged about gas prices and a new Republican sex scandal, I doubt the fact that the UN has had to cut food rations for Sudanese refugees due to a lack of funding will get much attention. After all, shady sex and issues about me, me, me and how bad off I am are just far more important to too many people. I know those gas prices hurt and are causing financial hardship. Imagine if one million people decided to use public transit for one day and gave the money they saved from doing so to help these refugees.

If you would like to help the people of Sudan and are able to afford to do so by making a donation, please contact The World Food Programme. They desperately need your help. Governments are not honouring their commitments and the only thing left is citizen advocacy and action. The Sudanese refugees do not deserve to suffer from malnutrition on top of all they have already gone through. We can and must do better as a global community. Put pressure on your government representatives to take emergency action today.

UPDATE: Politics TV has video of the arrests of the congressmen.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

So How Much Trouble is Rove Really In?

Lots, apparently.

Via Raw Story, Rove's stint in front of the grand jury on Wednesday was "grueling". If he thought that was tough, wait until he ends up in jail eating the gruel they serve.

The three and a half hour duration is considered highly unusual for a fifth appearance before a grand jury, Shuster reported. Also not boding well for Rove is the fact that the grand jury plans to meet tomorrow. Some are speculating that an indictment for Rove may be handed up tomorrow, though others have claimed such a fast turnaround time is unlikely.

A gal can dream...

From the MSNBC transcript of David Shuster's reportage of Rove's appearance: (it's in all caps - sorry)


"Developing" they say...

Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but absolute stupidity is just plain stupid.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case, is expected to decide in the next two to three weeks whether to bring perjury charges against Karl Rove, the powerful adviser to President Bush, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

Random News & Views Roundup

- US Rep. John Conyers is suing Bush over the budget bill. Fun times!

- Senator Russ Feingold made his virgin flight into Booman Tribune on Thursday to write about Iraq. Who doesn't love Russ??

- Two ROTC recruitment centers in North Carolina have been vandalized . Michelle Malkin hasn't blamed it on "evil liberals" I guess that counts as news.

- The New Republic has an article about the most boring man in congress, George Allen, titled "Pin Prick". Whether they think Allen's a prick who wears pins or if he was actually the victim of a pin prick in unclear.

- Jonah Goldberg thinks the left "blew it" in its response to the appointment of FAUX newsman, Tony Snow, as WH press secretary. Then again, Goldberg thinks the left has blown it on every issue out there, so who cares what he thinks? (He actually used the words "Bush" and "magnanimous" in the same sentence.)

- Senator Arlen Specter, that sometimes renegade Republican guy from PA, told the world today that he is threatening to cut off funds to the White House's illegal spying program until he gets some answers. Good luck with that, Arlen! Lucky for him, he's well known enough to not be suddenly extraordinarily rendered to Uzbekistan. (They boil people there that they don't like.)

- Rice and Rummy (Rice-a-Rummy?) visited Iraq this week but nobody really cared, so I won't even bother looking for a link.

- The John Fund v Juan Cole wars. Let's hope Juan ends up occupying John's ass. Wait, that didn't come out right...

- I'M THE DECIDER (Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo)

Harper Announces Softwood Lumber Deal

This afternoon in Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that a deal has been reached with the US over the long-standing dispute over softwood lumber. "No duties. No tariffs", Harper declared. Shortly before the announcement, BC Premier Gordon Campbell held a press conference in which he stated that BC was in favour of the deal. The federal opposition parties reacted swiftly and furiously.

One of the most contentious portions of the agreement is the return by the US government of only $4 billion of the $5 billion in duties that it has collected and that the opposition parties believe it owes our country. $1 billion is a huge amount of money and that will not be overlooked by many Canadians as we are left to wonder why the US was rewarded for its continual contraventions of NAFTA and WTO decisions in this matter.

Speaking on behalf of the Liberal opposition, Bill Graham chastised the NDP - predicting that their leader will now stand up and applaud this deal while they had joined with the Conservatives to bring down the Liberal government last year which had been working on this issue for years. Graham is also very skeptical of the details of the actual agreement since the Conservative government has not yet released it. He also spoke firmly about the fact that the US was allowed to keep the extra $1 billion in a giveaway to the US lumber industry. He stated that this agreement was reached to put an end to an "embarassing" issue for the Conservative government in its new, cozy relationship with Bushco.

NDP leader Jack Layton, in a press scrum outside of the house, actually called the deal a "sell-out" and harshly criticized the loss of the $1 billion, equating it with giving money back to a "thief" who had stolen it from you in the first place. "NAFTA is now a complete shell because the dispute mechanism said you weren't allowed to do this kind of thing", Layton said. In French, Layton said the agreement was "absolutely unacceptable".

Because Layton was speaking at the same time that Bloc Quebecois leader, Gilles Duceppe, rose to address the issue in the house, I missed the beginning of his response. Duceppe said, "The businesses have to be compensated for the loss of that $1 billion". Duceppe predicted job losses in many related industries and called for a look into the dispute resolution mechanisms in NAFTA. "The very purpose of NAFTA is being undermined by the US", he continued. In the end, Duceppe said, "We need to take our time to read this agreement. I have my doubts about it".

Layton then stood in the house to give the members his party's official rection. "It is an insult to those workers and [their family members who lost their jobs] that those issues were not adressed in this agreement". Layton berated Harper for treating this as a "celebration". He warned that this opened the door to concessions in disputes with other major US industries. "What a joke!", he declared, in referring to this agreement to allow $1 billion to remain in the hands of the US lumber industry. Layton reminded Harper that he and his party had brought forth "every kind of moral outrage" when they were in the opposition and the Liberals had gone down the same bargaining track that this deal has now concluded with. He also adressed the issue of changing market conditions in response to Harper's "no duties, no tariffs" claim. "We reject it", Layton concluded.

Welcome to the Conservative government's $1 billion boondoggle.

UPDATE: In defending the $1 billion giveaway to the US lumber industry, International Trade Minister, David Emerson, had the audacity to say that he believes some of the money will go towards "charitable works" by those US lumber companies - such as rebuilding in the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina. One reporter rightly asked Emerson what say Canadians had in this plan by US companies to spend our money on rebuilding those areas. Emerson did not directly respond to the question.

Who's Tired of What, Buchanan?

Responding to a question by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room today in which he noted that the senate report on the abolishment of FEMA was overshadowing Bush's latest visit to the region hit by Hurricane Katrina (ie. Bushy with his little carpenter's apron wasn't getting the press the WH thought it would), right-wing pundit Bay Buchanan had this to say:

"I think believe Katrina has worn its welcome."

"I think the American people are tired of it."

I have news for you, Bay. I think you have worn out your welcome and I certainly know that this member of CNN's audience is definitely tired of you - not Katrina.

UPDATE: Crooks and Liars has the video.

Chertoff on Abolishing FEMA

While speaking at George Mason University on Thursday, Homeland Security Chief, Michael Chertoff, said he thought abolishing FEMA was a good idea because he's bothered by the fact that Leno and Letterman constantly make fun of the agency on their late nite shows. Ergo, get rid of FEMA - end the jokes.

That's good enough for me! Ditch FEMA.

I don't know why that senate panel wasted its time for months putting together a report with 800 pages and 86 conclusions on the matter when Chertoff clearly had the best reason needed to make the decision months ago.

New Twist on the Flag Flap

Following Question Period on Thursday, Winnipeg-Centre NDP member of parliament, Pat Martin, rose on a question of privilege requesting that the Speaker of the House consider a rule in place that apparently gives the Speaker, not the government, the authority to decide what occurs with the physical structures on the hill. This may have an impact on the recent decision by the Conservative government not to fly the flags on the hill at half-mast when our soldiers perish in the Afghanistan conflict.

I have contacted Mr Martin to further clarify this issue since I don't yet have access to today's Hansard which would have the text of Martin's claims.

Predictably, the Conservatives simply laughed this off, but the Speaker has taken up the question and will provide a ruling.

Media Coverage of the Medicine Hat Murders

The residents of Medicine Hat, Alberta were shocked to discover last week that a mother, father and their 8 year old son had been murdered in their quiet little community. They were even more stunned when it was announced that the family's 12 year old daughter, along with a 23 year old man, had been arrested in another city and charged with the crimes.

Because the police had originally been concerned about the girl's disappearance, they put out media bulletins with her name and picture. Thus, when she then became a possible suspect, reporters were able to unearth her internet connections to the man charged with her whom she had apparently met on a site about vampires - just the kind of thing the media relishes - bizarre, dark connections. (Note: young offenders are not publicly identified by name in Canada).

When the RCMP made the arrests, they released the follwoing statement: “We don’t know the relationship between the two, we believe they are acquaintances,” Yet, when I watched Calgary's Global television news on Wednesday nite, they characterized the 12 year old as the young man's "girlfriend" as if the two were some new version of Bonnie and Clyde involved in some twisted romantic crime spree. They were careful to say that they didn't know if there was a sexual relationship between the two alleged killers.

"Girlfriend"? A 12 year old who met a 23 year old man online suddenly becomes known as his "girlfriend"? Every single week we hear stories about the very real dangers of kids meeting up with online predators - and that's exactly what they are: predators. Yet, somehow, because this girl may have been involved in the murder of her family, she now becomes the other suspect's "girlfriend".

She's 12.

Do 12 year old commit murders? Certainly. Can a 12 year old be seen as having a 23 year old boyfriend? Only in the minds of those who want to completely demonize her, even before they even know the full truth about the relationship beteen the two. In any other circumstance, this young girl would have been identified as a victim of this male adult.

The media has a responsibility to the public to report facts - not slanted conjecture or mischaracterizations. In this case, they certainly failed.

Straigthen Your Act Out, Daily Kos

At the time of this post, the top recommended diary at the so-called internet mecca of "progressive values" is a "furious" rant that begins with this:

I'm old. I don't know how to post a picture here and I get confused reading the how-to. But if I could post a picture, it would be one of George W. Bush tumbling over Niagra[sic] Falls and drowning.

And people wonder why we on the left get a bad rap.

Being "furious" may be cool - that diary has over 390+ comments. Publishing death fantasies online about Bush is not.

There's the "angry left" and then there's the "ignorant angry left".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Breaking: Senate Panel Wants to Abolish FEMA

10:25pm ET - CNN has just announced that a senate inquiry has concluded that FEMA should be abolished.

AP has the full story:

WASHINGTON - The nation's disaster response agency should be abolished and rebuilt from scratch to avoid a repeat of multiple government failures exposed by Hurricane Katrina, a Senate inquiry has concluded.
Crippled by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be fixed, a bipartisan investigation says in recommendations to be released Thursday.

Though short on specifics, such as funding levels, the 86 proposed reforms suggest the United States is still woefully unprepared for a disaster of Katrina's magnitude.

The recommendations, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, are the product of a seven-month investigation to be detailed in a Senate report to released next week. It follows similar inquiries by the House and White House and comes in an election year in which Democrats have seized on Katrina to attack the Bush administration.
The inquiry urges yet another overhaul of the beleaguered Homeland Security Department — FEMA's parent agency — which was created three years ago and already has undergone major restructuring of duties and responsibilities.

It proposes creating a new agency, called the National Preparedness and Response Authority, that would plan and carry out relief missions for domestic disasters. Unlike now, the authority would have a direct line of communication with the president during major crises, and any dramatic cuts to its budget or staffing levels would have to be approved by Congress.

It would also oversee efforts to protect critical infrastructure such as buildings, roads and power systems, as well as Homeland Security's medical officer. But the inquiry calls for keeping the agency within Homeland Security, waning[sic] that making it an independent office would cut it off from resources the larger department could provide.

Wonderful. Right in the middle of tornado season and just before the next onslaught of hurricanes.

Maybe if Bushco had left FEMA alone and had not put it under the auspices of its cherished Homeland Security Department, it would have had a hope of actually being productive and more lives might have been saved when Hurricane Katrina hit.

What a major catastrophe - all of it.

ACLU - "Tell the World: Torture is Un-American"

I just received word of the ACLU's latest campaign today in my inbox and it certainly is timely, considering the numerous posts I've written about American-sponsored torture recently.

The ACLU has written a letter to Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and has started a petition for Americans to sign online in advance of the upcoming action by the UN's panel dealing with issues of torture in early May when some 30 US government officials will be questioned about the country's horrific human rights abuses.

I'll reprint that letter here for those of you who may not take the time to follow the link:


TO: Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Secretary of State

Dear Madam Secretary:

Torture. Government kidnapping. Indefinite detention.

These are not ideas we associate with the United States of America. They do not represent who we are as Americans. By promoting and condoning these practices in our military and intelligence forces, your administration has broken faith with the American values of freedom and fairness.

This week marks two years since the world first saw the terrible images from Abu Ghraib prison. As human rights experts from around the world gather in Geneva to condemn torture, the U.S. must stand by its own time-honored principles.

Widespread evidence, including over 100,000 government documents released to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act, shows a systemic pattern of torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.

These acts go against our most cherished American ideals. When our leaders promote torture and fail to hold themselves accountable for illegal abuses, they no longer speak for me or for the America in which I believe.

We demand our country back.

To restore humanity, to defend the rule of law and to end one of the saddest chapters in American history, our government must:

* reverse the policies that permit torture and abuse, and honor the universal obligations that prohibit torture
* hold accountable all individuals, regardless of rank or high office, who have authorized, condoned or committed torture or abuse
* end the practice of secret C.I.A. kidnappings and the transport of individuals to secret detention facilities or to countries where torture is common
* grant full access at detention facilities to the Red Cross, human rights experts and legal representatives
* appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute as necessary all government officials who developed or implemented the policies behind the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, Iraq and in secret facilities
conduct a full review and assessment of torture and abuse in jails and other detention facilities at home and abroad

As an American, I will not stand for torture. The universal prohibition against torture must be upheld, and enforced, today.

The message is simple. The topic, however, is very hard to deal with. No one wants to believe that their government is systematically torturing people.

The fact that this is probably happening this very minute in some unknown location to another unknown person hurts me deeply. I find I'm just not even able to write much else at this moment. I'll regroup.

In the meantime, please read this 2004 post by my fellow blogger and friend, Ductape Fatwa, with whom I've had intense discussions lately about torture and the underwhelming response by many Americans since this was and continues to be exposed.

If millions of people can take to the streets to stand up for immigrants rights, why can't the same numbers show their opposition to these extreme human rights abuses perpetuated in their names? I'm trying to understand that. It's not easy. This isn't a partisan issue. Every single American should be demanding an end to this. Now.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The CIA has conducted more than 1,000 clandestine flights in Europe since 2001, and some of them secretly took away terror suspects to countries where they could face torture, European Union lawmakers said Wednesday.

Legislators selected to look into allegations of questionable CIA activities in Europe said flight data showed a pattern of hidden operations by American agents, and they accused some European governments of knowing about it but remaining silent.
"The committee deplores the fact that, as established during the committee's investigation, the CIA has used aircraft registered under fictitious company names or with private companies to secretly transfer terror suspects to other countries including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Afghanistan," according to a copy of the report obtained by The Associated Press.

The CIA declined to comment, as did European Union officials, who have said previously that there was no irrefutable proof of such hand-overs, which are known as "extraordinary renditions."

(hat tip to Man Eegee)

Two Quick Canadian Posts of Note

Via my buddies at Cowboys For Social Responsibility, the Conservative budget details have been leaked. Take note of the comments on that page - most of which are protests by Conservative supporters over Dear Father Harper's recent decision not to fly the flag on Parliament Hill at half-mast when our soldiers perish, along with calls for him to reverse his ban on media coverage of returning soldiers' coffins. Guess what? Even they don't like Bush and his controlling ways, which Harper is clearly mimicking as only a good sock-puppet can. Maybe there is hope for this country yet...

Weighing in on the flag flap is one of my favourite canuck comedians Rick Mercer who, when it comes to this issue, uses his sarcastic style of wit to make the very serious point that our soldiers deserve to be honoured just as much as the other Canadians who are covered by the half-mast protocol.

UPDATE: MP Garth Turner claims that he did not leak budget details. He stated in the house and on his website that he had only provided his "predictions".

Rove in the Hot Seat, Again

Karl Rove is testifying in front of the grand jury investigating the Plame Affair today in what will be his fifth appearance. Perhaps, most of those could have been avoided if he'd simply told the truth from day one. Maybe this latest appearance will result in obstruction of justice and/or perjury charges a la Scooter Libby if it can be shown through new evidence that Rove's so-called cooperation in the case has been less than forthcoming as he's attempted to cover his tracks.

People familiar with the case, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, said Rove was to answer questions about evidence that has emerged since his last grand jury appearance last fall.

That new evidence includes information that Rove’s attorney had conversations with Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak during a critical time in the case.

Months before Rove acknowledged speaking to Cooper about the CIA status of Plame, Novak told Rove’s lawyer the White House aide might have disclosed Plame’s CIA work to Cooper.

If Rove's lawyer knew that Novak had this information, yet it still took Rove "months" to reveal it to investigators, one can only ask why there would have been such a delay. The most obvious answer is that Rove and/or his lawyer thought it was incriminating. However, these are smart men. You'd think they would have figured out that Viveca Novak could just as easily, and perhaps did, contact prosecutor Fitzgerald with this revelation.

NBC News reported last week that the latest court filings refer to Rove as a “subject” of the ongoing grand jury probe, meaning he is still under investigation. But prosecutors have said Rove will not be a government witness, which leaves open the possibility of indictment.

In the end, the parallel to the Watergate scandal can't be overlooked: it's the coverup that will bring down these members of Bush's inner circle.

And, speaking of Watergate, the questions surrounding Bob Woodward's source in this case are still open. But, that is fodder for another post on this blog. Stay tuned.

Blogger Warning: Canada's Copyright Cops (almost) Always Get Their Man

The Canadian government's copyright police may be coming after you if you display our coat-of-arms or Canada's "wordmark", which I can't show here without being nailed. (It's the word "Canada" with the flag over the letter "a".)

To date, the coat-of-arms police have gone after websites (Sex Trade Workers of Canada), an immigration advice service, a shady online university, patriotic coffee mugs, someone selling model RCMP cars on eBay, the Transhuman Church of Enlightenment, a Canadian lawyer advertising in Korea, a fitness club, 40,000 baseball caps sold at Zellers, and Little Sister's Book Store.

Yes, Big Brother went after Little Sister. And many more.

You'll have to read the article to understand why the Sex Trade Workers of Canada were using the coat-of-arms.

The "Transhuman Church of Enlightenment"? Turns out they weren't that enlightened after all...maybe they are now.

One prominent Canadian blog, BlogsCanada, has also had to change its design.

When the federal phone call told him to get rid of the layout that imitated a federal government site, wordmark and all, he replied that "he had been waiting to be contacted on this issue for nine months and will resist complying with a cease and desist order until the last minute ... generating publicity in the meantime," according to records obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.

(The site has since been changed.)

As the Ottawa Citizen reports, perhaps the most bizarre use of Canada's symbols is that of Britain's Shepperton University, one of those places that sells degrees - cheap - which has poached our coat-of-arms and still refuses to stop using it. Now, how much can you trust a "university" that steals another country's official symbol?

(I can still use our Canadian flag here, right? I'll let you know if I get any "official" phone calls.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Racism and Hatred in North America"

Man Eegee has posted a must read article about this topic on his blog. I have left my comments there and hope that some of you will too. ManE is a young (to me) man who is incredibly insightful and is able to gather his thoughts in a way that evokes passion and enlightenment. On a daily basis, his posts are informative and thought-provoking. And, that's exactly what a blogger's job is - to make people think outside of their comfort zones and to hopefully create some real change in their readers and the world in general.

Please take the time to read the entire article he linked to about civil rights activist, Jim Zwerg, a man of real courage and an inspiration to anyone who ever thought about acting on their convictions. Sadly, there are so few like him and, in these times, we sure could use many, many more on so many fronts.

Head of Intel Committee Leaked Secret Information in 2003

If you've never read the excellent reporting done by Murray Waas of The National Journal, you need to start now. Waas has been the beacon of light in exposing the dark machinations of the Bush administration for some time now and he certainly doesn't fail us with his new article, "Is There A Double Standard On Leak Probes?", in which Waas reveals that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), disclosed "sensitive intelligence information that, according to four former senior intelligence officers, impaired efforts to capture Saddam Hussein and potentially threatened the lives of Iraqis who were spying for the United States."

On March 20, 2003, at the onset of military hostilities between U.S. and Iraqi forces, Roberts said in a speech to the National Newspaper Association that he had "been in touch with our intelligence community" and that the CIA had informed President Bush and the National Security Council "of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad."

The former intelligence officials said in interviews that Roberts was never held accountable for his comments, which bore directly on the issue of intelligence-gathering sources and methods, and revealed that Iraqis close to Hussein were probably talking to the United States.
After opening his speech with the information about human intelligence and Saddam Hussein's location in a Baghdad bunker, the senator said that President Bush had conferred with his top military advisers and had "authorized a pre-emptive surgical strike with 40 Tomahawk Missiles launched by ship and submarines and so called bunker bombs by F-117 stealth aircraft. I do not have a damage assessment. The Iraqi's report 14 killed and one wounded and are reporting damage in residential areas."

At the time, it was one of the most sensitive secrets in government that the CIA had recruited Iraqi nationals who claimed to have infiltrated Hussein's inner circle to be able to follow his movements at the onset of war. But after the bombs and missiles hit an Iraqi governmental complex known as Dora Park, located on the Tigris River south of Baghdad, Hussein either was not there, or escaped unharmed.

Whether or not Roberts' comments were inadvertent, former intelligence officials said, they almost certainly tipped off the Iraqi dictator that there were spies close to him. "He [Roberts] had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam's] inner circle," says a former senior intelligence official. "It was the worst thing you could ever do."

Waas and his sources contrast Roberts' actions and the shrug by the Bush administration with the swift investigation and allegations of leaking against the CIA's Mary McCarthy. He also interviews Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, about the current, chilling environment of threats by Bushco to aggressively pursue leaks in the press that they don't like or simply didn't authorize. It's well known that they have no interest in going after anyone who leaks for Bush propaganda purposes.

Is there a double standard? Absolutely. What will become of this news about Senator Roberts? Absolutely nothing.

The Myth of Zarqawi: Debunked

It was just a few weeks ago, while chatting over at Eschaton one nite, that I became aware of the so-called "myth of Zarqawi". A fake terrorist created by the Bush administration to incite fear? While I didn't doubt that Bushco would go to many lengths with its psyops operations, I had never even considered such a thing. I had just taken it for granted that Zarqawi was an actual person. I still did after that nite and, with the news about the release of a new Zarqawi propaganda video in which he actually shows his full face - a departure from his previous public appearances, this "myth" has now been debunked. Unless, of course, this man in the video is still believed to be some neocon operative by some - which is possible, I guess.

Regardless, in a week in which an audio tape by bin Laden is followed by a video tape by the number one wanted man in Iraq, the combination of those events seems to signal that something big may be in the offing soon. Call me paranoid, but there certainly must be some reason for both of them to come out during the same week other than it's springtime and they were just wanting to spend more time outdoors firing their guns at birds, like Cheney.

Breaking: Tony Snow Accepts White House Press Secretary Post

9:45 pm ET

CNN has just announced FOX journalist Tony Snow has accepted the White House's offer to be the new press secretary. The official announcement will be made on Wednesday.

I'm not familiar with Mr Snow, but I sure found this collection of his quotes about Bush at Think Progress quite interesting!

Don't expect Mr Snow, in his new role, to have much of anything to say about those thoughts though. He now becomes just another Republican bot, programmed for Bush Speak only.

Let the games begin. Sic 'em Helen!

Fun With Phallic Symbols

Straight from the White House website:

"Me and my big dicks gots some news for you..."

What's your caption?

The Spinning of the Mary McCarthy Story

Just as I wrote in my last post about alleged CIA leaker, Mary McCarthy, she is definitely innocent until proven guilty.

Newsweek has a more in depth look at the story behind the anatomy of this leak that goes beyond the accusation that since Mrs McCarthy reportedly failed a polygraph test, she was summarily fired.

Mrs McCarthy has denied being the leaker of the supposedly classified information about secret CIA prisons. Supposedly because, apparently, some of this information had already been declassified and was public knowledge:

A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to NEWSWEEK today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and “rendition” operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.

British freelance journalist Stephen Grey, who published the first detailed revelations of the CIA’s secret airline system for transporting terrorist detainees in the London Sunday Times in late 2004, affirmed to NEWSWEEK over the weekend that “almost all” of the information that he assembled regarding the CIA operations came from “unclassified sources.”

The article also states that Mary McCarthy had conversations with the Washington Post reporter who ran the secret prisons story, Dana Priest, but notes that they had actually known each other for years. So, personal contact between the two was not something that should have raised suspicion or in any way confirmed that McCarthy was Priest's source.


While acknowledging that information about the CIA operations was indeed available from unclassified sources, intelligence officials maintain that revelations like those made in the Post story about Eastern Europe could not have been put together without input from people who had access to classified information. These informants could confirm the stories and add detail to them. But the fact that McCarthy evidently is denying leaking the CIA prison story to the Post—and that other key information for stories revealing CIA detention and rendition operations originated with unclassified sources—does raise questions about how far the Bush administration will be able to press its crackdown on suspected leakers.

Mrs McCarthy's lawyer has stated that she did not even have access to such information that may have been classified.

And, doesn't it all come down to this?

The McCarthy case troubles some former U.S. intelligence officials, who note that the CIA, while aggressively pursuing leaks to the news media, has failed to take disciplinary action against any of its officials for the widely acknowledged intelligence failures of recent years. “Nobody got fired for September 11 and nobody gets fired for [mistakes about,] but they fire someone for this?” said one former U.S. senior intelligence official

I'll bet George Tenet polishes his Medal of Freedom every morning.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Random News & Views Roundup

Well, it seems I've managed to offend right-wingers and left-wingers all in the same day. "Disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed", as they say. So, with no compelling burning desire to write about anything at length right now, I'll post one of my regular roundups of issues that have caught my attention.

- Good news for some of you, at least those in the Chicago area: Judge rules Web surfing at work OK. Darn activist judges!

- Let me say just one thing about the concerns over rising gas prices. Back during the 70s, when I "graduated" from the eighth grade (and yes, I did go on to high school and beyond from there), the inserts in my yearbook had a funky, flowery picture with the word "ecology". That was the word for environmental action back then. Back then when we were worried about gas prices, when people were waiting in long, long lines to fill up their cars, when small cars were thought to be a Good Thing, when we knew there was only so much of this planet and its resources to go around. Fast forward more than 30 years later and where are we now? Hmmm...

- Cowboys for Social Responsibility have the goods on an incredible story about Canada's Conservative government muzzling one of its scientists who wrote a novel about global warming. They actually forbade him to talk about it in public. Which part of the word "novel" don't they understand? Unbelievable.

- although it was first thought to be a possible al Quaeda strike, coming so soon after the last bin Laden tape was released, it appears that the bombing in Egypt that has killed and wounded so many victims was the work of a "local" group without international ties. Please take a moment of silence to remember these people. Another incredibly sad day...

- The Vatican is apparently reconsidering its ban on the use of condoms. It's about damn time.

- more Libs are jumping into the leadership race every day. I'm predicting that, by the time the convention rolls around, there will be approximately 236 candidates to choose from.

- I could not believe my eyes when I read this one: Harper's Conservative government has banned the media from covering the return of our dead soldiers. Someone on another blog had predicted this just the other day when we found out the damn Conservatives were refusing to fly the flags on Parliament hill at half-mast to honour the soldiers and's actually happened.

CTV's chief political correspondent, Craig Oliver, said it appears the Conservative government is concerned that, with the mounting casualties in Afghanistan, the mission is losing the battle for public opinion.

"(The government) is afraid that Canadians, seeing the bodies, seeing the coffins, that the images are so strong it's turning people off on the mission," he said.

"This is very much in keeping with the decision by the George Bush White House to do the same thing in Washington, about the bodies of American servicemen coming back from Iraq."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not expected to travel to CFB Trenton to meet the coffins when they land in Canada. The Globe and Mail reports that O'Connor and Gen. Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, will likely be there.

This is it, folks. We no longer need to speculate about the now confirmed fact that Stephen Harper is just Bush Lite and that, my friends, is something this blogger will not tolerate.

- one more thing: some "prominent Republicans" are calling for Rumsfeld to be sacrificed for the good of the party. Sacrifice: it's not just for lambs anymore.

In The Whole Scheme of Things...

Since writing last nite about the new revelations of torture in Iraq, I find myself in a very familiar place. It's that place where no other news of the day can even begin to inspire in me the passion to write, because so much of it seems so inconsequential in comparison to this continuing inhumanity that is, for the most part, ignored on a very wide scale.

Just as people turn away from knowing too much about the catastrophe of genocide in Sudan, along with similar stories that reach us day after day about unholy uses of power around the world that leave our fellow human beings as mere shells where spirits once soared, we do so because our pain is just too great when we feel so incredibly helpless to effect any change. It's an understandable reaction. To immerse oneself in the reality to any great extent seems to be the luxury of those directly involved in providing aid to those who suffer.

The acknowledgment of suffering has its own saturation point. Witness the grief for the victims of the Indonesian tsunami or the horror after viewing the situation in NOLA after Hurricane Katrina. It seems that many think that once they have done their part by donating money or expressing their outrage, the only thing left is to let someone else sort out the details. Meanwhile, the survivors must cope for years as they literally get their houses back in order. More often than not, they rightfully feel forgotten.

And so it is with the victims of torture in Iraq.

In all of this, I need to remind myself that my fellow bloggers on the left may seem to have moved on at times when they simply post about the latest Republican scandal or the most recent poll numbers for candidates in the upcoming elections in the US but, in the whole scheme of things, the work that they do on a daily basis that contributes to support for greater human and civil rights via the push for true democratic values by aiming at retaking Democratic control of the congress cannot be seen in a vacuum. Their goal - my goal - is to inform people about the need for change and to encourage broader conversations about how that can be achieved.

The current power structure must be challenged and, while we must not rely too heavily on governments which move notoriously slowly - tangled in the bureaucracy they have created - we have to concede they have the power to effect policies that can and do reach the people who are suffering. Where they often fail is in their single-minded approach to grasping power for the sake of power itself - forsaking their duties as stewards of humanity and that is where individual citizen advocacy comes in.

No matter how hopeless or futile it may seem as we find ourselves wrapped in the pain of people we cannot ever personally know who live thousands of miles away, we all have a duty to express our deep concern and to support humanitarian organizations who do the direct work that we cannot. They exist not only to act on the victim's behalf, but to act on behalf of the rest of us as well and they often do so in relative obscurity as we fight amongst ourselves over our political differences.

If we are unable to come together to end inhumane treatment because we are so selfishly focused on claiming the moral high ground, people will simply continue to be tortured, abused, raped, molested, wounded and killed and their fates will have gone unnoticed.

We are too far removed - emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.

One of the great failures of the large, community-based blogs that have become so popular in the past few years is the huge amount of time simply wasted on discussing 'meta' issues - concerns about the community structure or the personalities involved. They really should be renamed 'me' issues. On any given day, you can find thousands of comments on blogs like Daily Kos, Booman Tribune and My Left Wing that only serve the participants themselves: arguments about who is or isn't on the 'recommended list', discussions about hurt feelings over ratings, intellectual exercises in 'community development', attacks on community members with differing viewpoints that challenge the conventional wisdom - all simply a colossal waste of time and energy.

None of these endless conversations has so far helped those communities to get beyond their problems. No one can know how these still new blogging communities will actually develop. What members fail to realize is that, simply allowing these forums to be what they are and to grow and change as they will - just as life ebbs and flows in unpredictable directions - would release them to focus on real life changes that directly impact the lives of the people they are fighting for who have been the victims of inhumanity.

There simply is too much emotional, spiritual and intellectual snobbery in these communities that diverts much needed focus from real world issues. The self-centered navel gazing comes at the expense of people who are subjected daily to horrific abuse in faraway countries and in their home countries as well. Before anyone chimes in with the idea that these communities can actually walk and chew gum at the same time, I'd challenge them to justify the imbalance of the energy expended on these meta issues as opposed to discussions about situations that impact peoples' daily lives. Each of us only has a limited amount of time and energy each day with which to impact someone's life. When those resources are wasted, they cannot be regained. Time is gone. Energy that could have been better spent can never be reclaimed.

What more would you have me do, you ask? I would respond simply by suggesting that some thought be given to the fact that all we really have is this moment. The only thing we really have control over is how we live this moment. The only impact we can measure is that affected by what we choose to do with this moment. And, if this moment is spent on insignificant issues about 'me', it is lost forever to those who need you to focus on them.

(crossposted from liberal catnip to Booman Tribune. I do not post on Daily Kos.)

New Proof of Bush's War Crimes

The Washington Post has this stunning report:

BAGHDAD -- Last Nov. 13, U.S. soldiers found 173 incarcerated men, some of them emaciated and showing signs of torture, in a secret bunker in an Interior Ministry compound in central Baghdad. The soldiers immediately transferred the men to a separate detention facility to protect them from further abuse, the U.S. military reported.

Since then, there have been at least six joint U.S.-Iraqi inspections of detention centers, most of them run by Iraq's Shiite Muslim-dominated Interior Ministry. Two sources involved with the inspections, one Iraqi official and one U.S. official, said abuse of prisoners was found at all the sites visited through February. U.S. military authorities confirmed that signs of severe abuse were observed at two of the detention centers.

But U.S. troops have not responded by removing all the detainees, as they did in November. Instead, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, only a handful of the most severely abused detainees at a single site were removed for medical treatment. Prisoners at two other sites were removed to alleviate overcrowding. U.S. and Iraqi authorities left the rest where they were.

This practice of leaving the detainees in place has raised concerns that detainees now face additional threats.
(there's much more...)

While insurgents are being blamed for the continual tension in the war on a daily basis and the presence of a civil war has been denied, there is no doubt that the Shiite-run Interior Ministry is another huge threat to the security of Iraq's citizens.

This news follows on the heels of a recent report by the UN that thousands of Iraqis are being detained illegally and the fact that the UN is set to question US officials about contraventions of the torture conventions in May:

The debate, set for May 5 and May 8, will focus on a report filed a year ago by the United States on its compliance with the Convention against Torture, which bans all forms of torture.

Washington said at the time it was abiding by the treaty and that any abuses of detainees in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were not systemic.

It seems they'll no longer be able to back up that claim, especially in light of this damning evidence.

These abuses cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the Iraq Interior Ministry:

According to the Iraqi official, the Americans initially said they would suspend their policy of removing prisoners from sites where abuse was found until after Iraq's national elections, which were held Dec. 15, because disclosures of Interior Ministry abuses were politically sensitive. The elections came and went, the official said, and the Americans continued leaving detainees at sites that held bruised, burned and limping prisoners.

That is the smoking war crimes gun against Rumsfeld and the military's commander-in-chief, George W Bush.

What is absolutely sickening about all of this - from the run up to the war in which intelligence contradicting the neocons' agenda was ignored, to these new revelations that detainees are still being horrendously treated - is the fact that this is all about politics. Period.

And, anyone who hasn't grasped that by now is simply beyond reality's reach.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Has bin Laden Become Irrelevant?

With the news on Sunday that Osama bin Laden has released another audio tape with new threats and missions for his followers, I get this feeling that western society simply shrugged it off and collectively said, in bored teenage fashion, "whatever".

It's this type of reaction that puzzles me:

"My initial impression is he is clutching at straws," said Michael Chandler, former head of the United Nations unit on counterterrorism. "If he really wants to show leadership, the way you show leadership is to show yourself. So why haven't we had a videotape?"

Now, perhaps "the way you show leadership" in the western world is to have your face plastered all over the teevee, but to claim that this new audiotape is any less a worthy propaganda tool by the master terrorist than a videotape might have been completely misses the point. Then again, we westerners tend to focus obsessively on the power of appearances, image and media flash, so maybe Mr Chandler is simply expressing what many would agree with.

Regardless, whether bin Laden uses smoke signals or a message in a bottle, he is communicating with his base on four very important issues: 1) the situation in Sudan; 2) western opposition to the Hamas-led Palestinian government; 3) a broader recognition that he holds the people, not just governments, responsible for the war in Iraq and 4) the Danish cartoon controversy. As a communicator, the fact that he has gotten the message out to his followers about his thoughts on these issues ought to be of paramount importance, not whether he showed his face on a video or not.

The White House reaction? "the Al Qaeda leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure."

Whatever happened to "he can run, but he can't hide"? Maybe they finally realize that he can actually do both and has been doing so for years - long after Bush gave up on him. It doesn't seem like bin Laden is under that much pressure to me.

Michael Scheuer offers a different, more realistic reaction:

Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's bin Laden unit, said the segments of the tape he had read about suggested that Mr. bin Laden "is at the top of his game" largely because of America's own foreign policy. "We cut off Hamas after we had a fair election," he said. "It looks like we are going to intervene in another Muslim country with oil, in Sudan; we followed Israel's lead with Hamas. His most important ally is American foreign policy."

Westerners seem to have fallen into "the boy who cried wolf" mindset with bin Laden, but we all ignore him at our peril. It's well known that al Quaeda often takes years between major attacks on western interests and, when you have an American president who seems to have almost given up on the hunt for the most wanted man in the world, it's no surprise that bin Laden propaganda is met with a collective shrug. His influence has been downplayed before, but there is no indication that his words are not still the driving force behind the very real possibility that another huge terrorist attack could be coming at any time.

Will we all look back at some future point and then finally concede that we had once again been warned and chose to ignore it?

"Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I--I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."
- George W Bush, 2002

60 Minutes: "A Spy Speaks Out"

The CBS show 60 Minutes successfully managed to condense the complex story of the controversy of the Niger forgeries which purported to be proof offered by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein was in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons in the run up to the Iraq war, thus making his regime a "grave and gathering threat".

In interviews (video available) with the man who headed CIA's European covert operations, Tyler Drumheller, during that pre-war period and with former Ambassador Joe Wilson who had been sent to Niger to investigate the claims and discovered they were baseless (and whose wife, Valerie Plame, was summarily outed as a covert CIA agent by authorized WH leaks to the press in 2003), 60 Minutes was able to get one simple message across to its viewers: the policy to invade Iraq was fixed and the administration cherry-picked the intel to support its claims, as was also revealed in the now infamous Downing Street Memo.

The White House, which refused to supply an interview for this show, responded to 60 Minutes with this:

"The President’s convictions about Saddam Hussein's possession of WMD were based on the collective judgment of the intelligence community at that time. Bipartisan investigations … found no evidence of political pressure to influence the pre-war intelligence assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs." And he added: "Saddam Hussein never abandoned his plan to acquire WMD, and he posed a serious threat to the American people and to the region."


Bush's convictions were based on his collective neocon fantasies of global domination.

Those "bipartisan investigations" were never charged to even look into possible political interference.

Hussein did not pose an immediately "serious" threat to the American people or the region.

For those Bush/Iraq war supporters out here who still believe that Bush's motive was to free or protect the Iraqi people, you'll note that the White House statement quoted above makes absolutely no mention of such a thing. So, while you find comfort wrapped in the delusion that Bush is some sort of Mother Theresa with guns who went blasting into Iraq on some sort of supreme humanitarian mission from God to rescue the suffering hordes from their tyrant - think again. Don't take my word for it. It's their official statement and it's quite clear to me that bombing in the name of compassionate conservatism certainly wasn't part of their justification for going to war.

Why the White House continues to peddle this bull is beyond me. It simply looks like yet another desperate effort to hang on to whatever it can in order to justify its continuing presence there after three very long years and thousands of deaths that could well have been avoided if diplomacy had been given more of a chance.

To those who would argue that there simply was no time left for diplomatic measures, even in the face of the lack of evidence we now have about Hussein's WMDs, I would ask them to ponder this: there is absolutely no doubt that North Korea actually has the technology that is a very real threat to the United States. Why has the Bush government insisted on diplomacy in that instance? Doesn't North Korea have a mad tyrant for a dictator who has also long suppressed his people to the point where many are starving to death on a daily basis? If humanitarian concerns were the real reason for the invasion of Iraq, why has Bush not acted similarly to save the people of North Korea?

No matter how Bushco continues to try to spin this, the majority of Americans no longer support his crusade and even his Republican-led congress is finally using the power of the purse to scale back Iraq war spending without proper accountability and a coherent long-term plan from the Pentagon.

I'll leave the final word on all of this to Tyler Drumheller:

"The American people want to believe the president. I have relatives who I've tried to talk to about this who say, 'Well, no, you can’t tell me the president had this information and just ignored it,'" says Drumheller. "But I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time."

Sunday Food For Thought

Pursuit implies humility, acceptance, openness, and appreciation, while possession suggests arrogance, close mindedness, and lack of appreciation. Herein lies the rub: if we persist in competing to possess the truth instead of working in unity to pursue it, we are going to face untold grief-and worse, violence.

-Arun Gandhi
Cofounder of The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
Memphis, Tennessee


Jason Kenney on the Flag Flap

My member of Parliament, Jason Kenney, defended his Conservative government's decision to not fly the Canadian flags at half-mast on Parliament Hill to honour the recent deaths of 4 Canadian soldiers by stating on CTV's Question Period that Canada should proudly fly its flag high at all times because we are at war. Somehow, this signifies the "confidence" of the country during this time, according to Kenney.

Kenney then went on to ramble about the thousands of war casualties during the past century as if that somehow added to his defense. He also reminded everyone to take a moment of silence on Remembrance Day to honour the soldiers - as if millions of Canadians don't already do so each and every year.

What all of this shows is that Harper's Conservatives have absolutely no rational reason for refusing to follow the tradition set by the previous Liberal government and have fundamentally admitted that their decision is purely political - an attempt to distance themselves from All Things Liberal. And that, during this time of mourning, has got to be one of the most despicable displays of partisanship this country has seen in a very long time.

It's absolutely disgraceful and is a slap in the face to one of the fallen soldier's fathers who publicly requested on Saturday that all Canadians fly their flags at half-mast in order to pay tribute to his son and the others who died so brutally at the hands of their enemies.

Beyond everything this Conservative minority government has done so far to further their rigid, uncompromising agenda, I sincerely believe that if Canadians were allowed to vote on this latest and most egregious outrage, an overwhelming majority would kick Harper and his morally-challenged sheep right to the curb - which is exactly where they belong.

The fact that they chose this moment to make this political stand, which is now distracting people from the conversation about the circumstances around these deaths and the grief that Canadians feel, shows how callous and politically tone-deaf this government truly is.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rumsfeld's New Power Grab

Sunday's Washington Post provides details of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's new plans for tackling terrorism globally and locally and they are definitely going to cause some power struggles between the Pentagon, other government departments and intel agencies.

The plans are contained in a "secret" report obtained by WaPo. (I wonder who's going to be fired next week for leaking that one? Then again, this is Bushco propaganda, so I doubt an investigation will even be forthcoming.)

they envision a significantly expanded role for the military -- and, in particular, a growing force of elite Special Operations troops -- in continuous operations to combat terrorism outside of war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Developed over about three years by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, the plans reflect a beefing up of the Pentagon's involvement in domains traditionally handled by the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.

Stepping on the already peeved off CIA's toes? Probably not a good idea at this point.

And in a subtle but important shift contained in a classified order last year, the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform -- rather than gain the approval of -- the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country, according to several administration officials. "We do not need ambassador-level approval," said one defense official familiar with the order.

Who needs intrusive ambassadors? I say we just fire the lot of them.

A third plan sets out how the military can both disrupt and respond to another major terrorist strike on the United States. It includes lengthy annexes that offer a menu of options for the military to retaliate quickly against specific terrorist groups, individuals or state sponsors depending on who is believed to be behind an attack. Another attack could create both a justification and an opportunity that is lacking today to retaliate against some known targets, according to current and former defense officials familiar with the plan.

This plan details "what terrorists or bad guys we would hit if the gloves came off. The gloves are not off," said one official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

And you thought being spied on illegally through Bush-approved wiretaps was a problem? Just wait until Rummy sends out his troops to a neighbourhood near you or, in fact, to your house.

In the meantime in related news, the Senate Appropriations Committee is using the power of the purse against the Pentagon over concerns that, although Rummy keeps going back to congress hat in hand asking for more money for his Iraq misadventure, he has yet to give them a clear plan about the actual length of the stay of US troops there. The vote on this emergency supplemental comes up next week and it looks like Rumsfeld will have some serious explaining to do.

Do you ever get the feeling that there are just too many intelligence cooks in Washington's kitchen? Maybe it's just me, but I see that as a sure sign of yet another recipe for disaster when the next big threat becomes a reality.

UN: Thousands of Iraqis Detained Illegally

Just when you thought things couldn't get much worse...

The UN's human rights official in Iraq has said the Iraqi authorities are illegally holding thousands of people.

Gianni Magazzeni said that of the 15,000 people held under Iraqi control, little more than half were under the jurisdiction of the justice ministry.

This is the only body with the right to detain suspects for more than 72 hours.

But he said thousands were also being detained by the interior ministry and hundreds by the defence ministry, in clear breach of Iraqi law.

More than 14,000 people are also being held by US-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Mr Magazzeni said the UN believed that number was far too high and he urged the US military authorities to either charge or release them.

He said the UN still did not have access to prisoners being held in unidentified coalition prisons, and called for them to be released or handed over to Iraqi authorities to be charged.

"We want them to speed up this process," Mr Magazzeni said. He added that the UN was "very concerned about ongoing violations" of human rights in Iraq.

"Torture and summary executions happen every day," Mr Magazzeni said.

We shouldn't be surprised that, along with the so-called freedom the US has brought to Iraq, they've also exported illegal detention methods and means.

Of course, it's unclear whether the US will even hear the criticism of this UN human rights official, since it's tended to ignore calls for years to end these abuses. The US simply sees the UN's function as one to prop up its foreign policy decisions. When it goes beyond that and turns the tables, it's obviously misbehaving and is in need of serious reforms a la John Bolton - code words for doing the bidding of the Bush administration without question.

In May, a UN panel on torture and abuse will question some 30 US officials. I'll reprint a quote from that previous blog post here:

"It is the longest list of issues I have ever seen," Mercedes Morales, a U.N. human rights officer who serves as secretary to the U.N. Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, told reporters.

And that list grows weekly as the public becomes more informed of stories like this one in which detainees have, once again, been denied their rights. The US may try to point the finger at the Iraqis, but there is no official government in place yet, so Bush and his minions certainly can't shift the blame that easily.

What do you do with a country with such a long laundry list of offenses? That is the question the UN must be prepared to answer and to take appropriate action on swiftly. Anything less would signal a cowardly deferment to the supposed 'greatest nation on earth'. And, if that happens, then no one can deny that the UN has simply become a tool of illegal occupiers who are answerable to no one.

4 More Dead Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan

... and a federal Conservative government that refuses to honour them by lowering the flags on Parliament Hill.


The newly elected Conservative government will no longer lower the flag to half-mast every time a Canadian soldier is killed, saying the automatic flag-lowering was a break with tradition by the Liberals.

"We have returned to the 80-year tradition of remembering all casualties of war or operations on one day - Nov. 11th," Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said.

"We've just returned to a tradition."
Before the Paul Martin Liberals were in power, it would be unusual for flags to be lowered when soldiers died in the course of duty, O'Connor said.

"For a few years . . . the previous government was inconsistent," the minister told an Ottawa news conference Saturday.

"We've gone back to the previous tradition."

"Within the Defence Department we are following our policies and you'll see, at the appropriate places, the flags are at half-mast."

Call your MP and demand that those soldiers be honoured on the federal level by the government who has been elected to serve all of us - not just their Conservative paranoia of being linked to a Liberal policy.

Canada is at war.

How dare they refuse to lower the flags at the symbol of the heart of our democracy - Parliament Hill? That place belongs to all of us, not just the Conservatives who are running it right now.

Those we've lost:

-Cpl. Matthew Dinning, of Richmond Hill, Ont., but stationed with the 2nd Canadian Mechanized Brigade in Petawawa, Ont.

-Bombardier Myles Mansell, of Victoria.

-Lieut. William Turner, of Toronto, but stationed in Edmonton.

-Cpl. Randy Payne, born in Lahr, Germany, but stationed at CFB Wainright, Alta.

May they rest in peace.

Leakers Inc.

The identity of the fired CIA's supposed leaker of the information about secret US prisons has been made public and has already evoked some strong reactions by those who worked with her. According to press reports, Mary McCarthy failed a polygraph test and was summarily turfed. Interesting, since polygraph tests aren't even admissable in the courts of the land.

Government officials said that after Ms. McCarthy's polygraph examination showed the possibility of deception, the examiner confronted her and she disclosed having conversations with reporters.

But some former C.I.A. employees who know Ms. McCarthy remain unconvinced, arguing that the pressure from Mr. Goss and others in the Bush administration to plug leaks may have led the agency to focus on an employee on the verge of retirement, whose work at the White House during the Clinton administration had long raised suspicions within the current administration.

"It looks to me like Mary is being used as a sacrificial lamb," said Larry Johnson, a former C.I.A. officer who worked for Ms. McCarthy in the agency's Latin America section.

You can read more about Johnson's opinion on this whole affair here.

The NYT piece, which includes responses from former colleagues and goes to great pains to prove that she was never covert (perhaps in order to cover the paper against any "outing" allegations) mentions that Mrs McCarthy "made a campaign contribution to Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004". That, in and of itself, will serve as enough so-called proof to some that she was obviously just a commie spy.

And, this is interesting:

If in fact Ms. McCarthy was the leaker, Richard J. Kerr, a former C.I.A. deputy director, said, "I have no idea what her motive was, but there is a lot of dissension within the agency and it seems to be a rather unhappy place." Mr. Kerr called Ms. McCarthy "quite a good, substantive person on the issues I dealt with her on."

Hmmm...let's see...the US has secret prisons all over the world in which they detain people they simply suspect of being "terrorists", who are then denied basic legal rights and are treated to who knows what kind of horrendous treatment and this former CIA director wonders why anyone would actually leak such information to the press? Ever heard of a "conscience", Mr Kerr?

There's more:

Some former intelligence officials who worked with Ms. McCarthy saw her as a persistent obstacle to aggressive antiterrorism efforts.

"She was always of the view that she would rather not get her hands dirty with covert action," said Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. official,...

And that's a problem because...? Could it be that Mrs McCarthy had ethical objections that were soundly based? No. Obviously she was on the side of the terrorists, right? Remember, you're either with them or against them.

What ought to astound everyone in this situation is the rapidity of these actions. It's been almost 3 years and we're still waiting to find out who leaked Valerie Plame's name. Bush knows who that person is and he hasn't fired whoever it was that we know of. Yet, the CIA seems to have wrapped up this investigation in no time flat. Why is that, I wonder? Could politics have something to do with it?

No matter what, Mrs McCarthy is innocent until proven guilty and proof of her guilt has not been forthcoming to this point.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Condi the Leaker?

Et tu, Rice?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed a lower-level Pentagon official a 12-year prison sentence, the lobbyist's lawyer said Friday.

Prosecutors disputed the claim.

The allegations against Rice came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas sought by the defense for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two are former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information.

Is there anyone in Washington who doesn't leak?

Defense lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss the charges because, among other things, they believe it seeks to criminalize the type of backchannel exchanges between government officials, lobbyists and the press that are part and parcel of how Washington works.

Sure, sure...everybody does it and I suppose they'd all jump off a cliff if all their friends were doing it too. Who needs that pesky Espionage Act?