Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Random News & Views Roundup

- The US house of representatives has been busy passing resolutions about other countries' behaviour this week. On Tuesday, it approved a resolution calling for Japan to apologize for its use of female sex slaves during WW2. And on Monday, it unanimously passed another resolution demanding that Canada end the seal hunt. Apparently this hectic agenda - wagging their collective fingers at other countries - is the reason Pelosi has determined that the Democrats are just too darn busy to take care of urgent American business like impeaching Gonzales, Cheney and Bush and ending the Iraq war.

- The UN security council has decided to send 26,000 African peacekeeping troops to Darfur.

The Bush administration welcomed the council's decision to adopt the resolution, but it declined to co-sponsor the resolution on the grounds that it was not tough enough, a U.S. official said. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for an expedited transition from the African Union to the United Nations.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Ban in recent days to press him to take over the mission by October [instead of December]. Ban refused on the grounds that his military planners would not be ready.

And we all know what a fine military planner Condi is. If Bush wanted "tough", he could have addressed the crisis in Darfur years ago. All hat, no cowboy - as usual.

- Uri Avnery: A Warning to Tony Blair

As an expert on the global economy, with a worldwide perspective, Wolfensohn could also point out that the importance of the U.S. in the world economy is gradually declining, with new giants like China and India rising.

We, the Israelis, like to think that we are the center of the world. Wolfensohn, a person with a worldwide outreach, sticks a pin into this egocentric balloon. Already now, he says, only the West considers the Israeli-Palestinian issue so important. Most of the world is indifferent. "I have visited more than 140 countries: you are not such a big deal there."

Even this limited interest will also evaporate. Wolfensohn rubs salt into the wound: "A moment will come when the Israelis and the Palestinians will be compelled to understand that they are a secondary performance. … The Israelis and the Palestinians must get rid of the idea that they are a Broadway performance. They are only a play in the Village. Off-off-off-off-off Broadway." Knowing that this is the worst one can tell an Israeli, he adds: "I hope that I am not getting into trouble by saying this, but, what the hell, that's what I believe, and I am already 73 years old."

I do believe him – and I, what the hell, am already 83.

- Chris Floyd: Why the Bush Administration Buries Accounts of Extremist Recantations; Good News is No News.

Last week, the Guardian's Ian Black reported on "a remarkable recantation" by one of the founding figures of the modern jihadist movement, Sayid Imam al-Sharif. A former comrade-in-arms of Ayman al-Zawahiri -- al Qaeda's own Dick Cheney, the "deputy" who actually runs the gang -- Sharif was the mastermind behind the Islamists' first great "spectacular": the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Now Sharif, imprisoned in Egypt, is finishing a new book "that undermines the Muslim theological basis for violent jihad" and is already creating fissures throughout the Islamist movement, the Guardian reports.
[...]
The fact that some major figures in one of these factions are now renouncing the use of "killing operations" to advance their odious ideas is surely a welcome development. If it saves only one innocent life from destruction, that is cause enough for rejoicing.

Yet this process -- which began in some quarters years before 9/11, and now involves hundreds of jihadist leaders and activists -- is being ignored by the very people who, ostensibly, have the greatest reason to trumpet it. But of course, such a development is actually bad news for the fanatical militarists of the Bushist faction. They ignore, reject or twist anything that undercuts their cartoonish myth of a vast, monolithic "Islamofascism" bent on world conquest at any cost -- and capable of carrying it out, unless stopped by multitrillion-dollar American war machine ranging over every continent.

- Via Dahr Jamail's Dispatches: Ali al-Fadhily's A Little Easier to Occupy from the Air

BAGHDAD, Jul 31 (IPS) - Many Iraqis believe the dramatic escalation in U.S. military use of air power is a sign of defeat for the occupation forces on the ground.

U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped five times as many bombs in Iraq during the first six months of this year as over the first half of 2006, according to official information.

They dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first half of 2007, compared to 86 in the first half of 2006. This is also three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data.

The Air Force has also been expanding its air bases in Iraq and adding entire squadrons. It is now preparing to use a new robotic fighter known as the Reaper. The Reaper is a hunter-killer drone that can be operated by remote control from thousands of miles away.

"We find it strange that the big strategists of the U.S. military have actually failed in finding solutions on the ground and are now back to air raids that kill more civilians than militants," former Iraqi army brigadier-general Ahmed Issa told IPS.

That's the same strategy they're using in Afghanistan and look how well that's turned out.
 

Video: Olbermann - Is Gonzo gonzo?

Let's hope so.



Related:
Cheney Hails His Pal Al

And what does Nancy Pelosi think about impeaching Gonzales?

In the first question of the morning, Pelosi was asked if she supported a proposal by Washington Rep. Jay Inslee to impeach beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The Speaker looked down and rubbed her temples wearily. "I would like us to stay focused on our agenda this week," she said. Today the entails finalizing ethics and lobbying reform. Tomorrow it will mean expanding children's health care and boosting Medicare benefits. By the end of the week the House will likely pass an energy bill and legislation will be brought to the floor that reins in the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

Pelosi's no fan of Gonzales or his bosses. "The Administration wants the Attorney General to sign off on what can be collected," she says of the wiretapping proposal. "Absolutely not."

She is greatly disturbed by the lawlessness of this Administration and its contempt for checks and balances. "I take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, so it is a top priority for me and my colleagues to uphold that." [not when it comes to impeachment though. -catnip] She notes the vigorous oversight hearings held by committee chairman like John Conyers and Henry Waxman.

But Pelosi sees impeaching Gonzales and his superiors as a distraction from the ambitious agenda she has crafted for the House. "If I can just hold my caucus together," she says, "I can take them to this progressive place."

Oh just go home, Nancy.
 

Monday, July 30, 2007

Random News & Views Roundup

- A happy puppy/Good News™ Iraq editorial in the NYT - "A War We Just Might Win" - is taken on by Glenn Greenwald:

The Op-Ed is an exercise in rank deceit from the start. To lavish themselves with credibility -- as though they are war skeptics whom you can trust -- they identify themselves at the beginning "as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq." In reality, they were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon's strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well. They are among the primary authors and principal deceivers responsible for this disaster.

Worse, they announce that "the Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility," as though they have not.

read on...

- Pollack and O'Hanlon have obviously not read this Oxfam report about the horrible plight of children in Iraq either. The humanitarian crisis there doesn't fit with their cheerleading talking points, obviously.

- While they're at it, they might also want to read this: "Misunderstanding Moqtada al-Sadr".

- Supreme court justice John Roberts had a "benign idiopathic seizure" (cause unknown) on Monday and has apparently "fully recovered". He had a similar seizure back in 1993. (h/t penlan)

- Sad news. Reportedly, (but not yet confirmed) a second South Korean hostage has been killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

- Condi and Sec Def Robert Gates are over in the ME handing over billions of dollars in "military aid". Fear not. It's not like they're aiming to start a full-scale ME war or anything. (cough cough)

- Senator Ted "The internet is a series of tubes" Stevens' (R-Alaska) home was searched on Monday "focusing on records related to his relationship with an oil field services contractor jailed in a public corruption investigation, a law enforcement official said." I wonder if Stevens cleaned out his tubes before the cops showed up.

- Via The Independent, the headline: " Britain will take troops out of Iraq regardless of US, says PM"

And a quote:

President Bush heaped praise on Mr Brown after their first meeting since he became Prime Minister, playing down suggestions that Mr Blair's departure would weaken the strong US-UK partnership. Revealingly, Mr Brown did not return the personal compliments, instead focusing on the historic links between the two countries and predicting they would get even stronger. This reflected his desire for a more business-like relationship with the President, instead of the strong personal bond forged by Mr Blair.

It also reflects the fact that Bush won't be making many new friends any time soon - except for those he can buy.

- Ujjal Dosanjh on the Conservative government's handling of the Afghanistan war: "“Canadians need to know who's in charge here,”. Well, with a useless defence minister like Gordon O'Connor, we know it can't (and shouldn't) be him.

In Ottawa, General Rick Hillier seemed to contradict Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's optimistic predication that the Afghans would be taking on most of the front-line combat by next spring in Kandahar province, where Canada's powerful battle group is waging a tough counter-insurgency war against the Taliban.

“It's going to take a long while,” Gen. Hillier told CTV's Question Period, referring to the training of the Afghan National Army. “We've just started the process.”

Umm...what??

Also of note, when Conservative mouthpiece John Reynolds was on Sunday's CTV Question Period he actually said that he didn't think the war would be a major issue during the next election. I think Reynolds has been getting just a little too much sun - or maybe not enough.
 

Summer Recess for the Iraqi Parliament

The Iraq parliament has begun its summer break.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament went into summer recess for a month on Monday after political leaders failed to agree on a series of laws that Washington sees as crucial to stabilizing the country.

Lawmakers said the government had yet to present them with any of the laws. The parliament had earlier signaled its intention to go into recess in August after cutting short its summer break that normally starts in July.

"We do not have anything to discuss in the parliament, no laws or constitutional amendments, nothing from the government. Differences between the political factions have delayed the laws," Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told Reuters.

The White House is in damage control mode because its warmongering, oil-grubbing base is unhappy:

White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, said the adjournment did not mean reconciliation work would halt.

"The process of reconciliation will not go on recess. Iraqi leaders will continue to work towards a political accommodation where Sunni, Shia and Kurd can all work together in the unity government."

And anyone who opposes that recess had better be prepared to demand that the US congress not take any more breaks while the Iraq war is going on because anything less is hypocritical, especially since this do-nothing congress is not only also taking a break - it's going to give itself a nice little pay raise too.

And let's face it, with the news of a "Big U.S. presence in Iraq until mid-2009" according to general Petraeus (and for years after that, of course), does it really matter if Iraqi politicians take a few weeks off? It's not like they're actually running their own country anyway since they are constantly under the Bush administration's thumb. And, speaking of Bush, I'll look forward to seeing him cancel his summer break at Crawford too. Oh right - he has brush to clear. Sorry.
 

How Not to Stop Killing Afghan Civilians

You have to wonder just who came up with the brilliant absolutely moronic idea that NATO should just drop smaller bombs on the Afghans to try and reduce civilian casualties.

Aid agencies say western forces have killed 230 civilians so far this year.

And those are the ones we actually know about.
 

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The New Cold War

Two newspaper articles from different continents on Sunday analyzed the new "cold war". In Haaretz, Aluf Benn follows on the news of US arms sales to the Saudis and the increase in military aid (which also consists of $150 million for a ballistic missile defence system) to Israel.

The massive sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors in the Gulf and the increase in military aid to Israel are the U.S. response to the Iranian threat, and the flow of arms from Russia to Iran and Syria. Each arms-supplying power has its own interests: the Russians want to deter the U.S. and Israel from bombing the Iranian nuclear facility - therefore, they have supplied the Iranians with advanced air defense. Such systems will also be supplied to Syria in the coming year. The Americans like to talk about democracy in the Arab world, but they believe that strengthening armies is the most efficient way to protect stability and maintain pro-Western regimes in the face of extremist Islam.

That is definitely the crux of the matter and it's also the reason why, in the midst of these crises, all Condi Rice is doing is talking about some sort of vague upcoming meeting to address the ME peace process. The Bush administration firmly believes in the use of force, not diplomacy or democracy, as was most recently evident in its funneling of money to Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to get rid of Hamas and its military aid to Israel during the failed 2006 Israel/Lebanon war.

The ME road map died a long time ago, and while Tony Blair is the latest in a string of envoys who is supposed to make sense of the situation, it seems he may have to start by addressing the problem of stray cats in Jerusalem first before he moves on to the bigger picture. (No, I'm not kidding.)

Meanwhile, back at the cold war ranch, some members of the US congress have said they'll try to block the arms sale to Saudi Arabia but they will obviously need to walk a fine line since the sales are included in the bill that increases aid to Israel as well. The majority of Republicans and Democrats would not risk alienating the Israel lobby or its supporters and if the bill is amended, Bush will probably veto it or create yet another signing statement to get what he ultimately wants anyway. In other words, Saudi Arabia will get the arms. It's basically a done deal.

Robin Wright, writing for the Washington Post in, U.S. vs. Iran: Cold War, Too, suggests a "Green Curtain" in the ME as opposed to the old Soviet-style "Iron Curtain", but the implications are the same.

When the first Cold War began, in 1946, Winston Churchill famously spoke of an Iron Curtain that had divided Europe. As Cold War II begins half a century later, the Bush administration is trying to drape a kind of Green Curtain dividing the Middle East between Iran's friends and foes. The new showdown may well prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Iraq conflict. The outcome will certainly shape the future of the Middle East -- not least because the administration's strategy seems so unlikely to work.

And this analyst's points simplify the current situation: the Bush administration has created a monster:

"The difference now is that Iran is feeling its oats because of the increase in oil prices, Iraq's weakness since the fall of Saddam, and the successes of Hezbollah and Hamas," noted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who ran the State Department's policy planning shop during Bush's first term. "In contrast, the U.S. is feeling stretched by the very same high oil prices and its difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The roots of Cold War II lie in the Bush administration's decision to remove regimes it considered enemies after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The first two targets were the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- coincidentally, both foes of Iran that had served as important checks on Tehran's power. The United States has now taken on the role traditionally played by Iraq as the regional counterweight to Iran.

And by doing so it has also weakened Israel's tenuous position in the ME, thus the need to ride in and pour even more arms into that country.

The neocon philosophy seems to be just arm everybody and let them sort it out. That attitude was also reflected in the recent US nuclear deal with India meant to be a buffer against China and a weakened Pakistani political position where Musharraf's (nuclear-armed) government has been the target of numerous attacks and protests - not to mention its ongoing failure to deal with the Taliban in the northern provinces, where the US military has threatened to intervene.

Keep in mind that behind of all this Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA and, more importantly, does not have nuclear weapons - unlike Israel, Pakistan and India. Mohamed ElBaradei must be banging his head against the wall as he watches the US follow the same strategy it did in the run up to the Iraq war - blustering, lies and fearmongering to justify a future military "intervention". Will we witness yet another Colin Powell-like moment at the UN? Time will tell. But this time, the world is that much wiser - or so we hope.

No matter what happens, one thing is certain: Smedley Butler must be rolling over in his grave because the modern day war profiteers - arms dealers, oil men, military-industrial complex businesses - will all walk away that much wealthier for Bush and Cheney having been in control of the American Empire.

And the wars will go on. And people will continue to die.

Related:
Putin threatens to target Europe
Israel declines to criticize U.S. weapons sales to Gulf Arab states
Armageddon - Bring It On
 

Sunday Food for Thought: Think outside of the Box

Think outside of the box...



about what they don't show you...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday Nite Video Flashback: Elvis Costello

Live at Glastonbury, 2005

One of my favs: Allison (My Aim is True) and an interesting arrangement of Suspicious Minds

NATO Saved the Lives of 40,000 Afghan Children?

That's the latest propaganda talking point from the Canadian military:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Canada's outgoing military commander in Afghanistan says Canadian and NATO efforts there have helped save the lives of 40,000 children.

And Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant says that's a "conservative estimate."

In an interview with The Canadian Press at the multinational base in Kandahar, Grant said he's handing his successor, Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, a country more "confident" than it was a year ago.

"There's 40,000 babies in Afghanistan more this year than . . . last year," said Grant, whose return to Canada is days away. "That's a big number."

He attributes the success to improvements in health care, which has led to a drop in the region's infant mortality rate.

Grant says the international community helped put a vaccination program in place and increased access to doctors, particularly for women.

Meanwhile, even as Taliban activity remains prevalent in Kandahar province, the level of confidence has surged among the city's inhabitants, he said.

"The town was empty," Grant said of Kandahar 12 months ago. "Now you go there, (it's) like Kandahar City is a successful little town.

"The shops are open, kids going to school, people have gone back to a normal life. We see farmers have returned in large numbers, thousands of people have gone back to live in their homes."

Grant appears to be using numbers from a World Bank study but Save the Children isn't quite that optimistic:

* The average Afghan household’s monthly income is $6.

* Child and maternal malnutrition remains pervasive because many families do not understand basic good nutrition and unfortunately, poverty prevents the ones that do from providing healthy meals to their children and women of childbearing age.

* There is limited access to quality health care throughout the country. For every 1,000 Afghan children born, 165 die within the first year, and one quarter of all Afghan children die before their fifth birthdays – the vast majority from preventable diseases.

* Women have little access to reproductive health services; the maternal mortality rate for Afghan women is one of the world’s worst.

* Access to quality education is limited, especially in rural areas. Although an estimated 6 million children are enrolled in school, attendance is uneven and drop out rates are high. Many millions of children are not enrolled in school at all.

* Although landmine education programs have been very successful in helping prevent disability, maiming and death, Afghanistan is still one of the world’s most heavily mined countries.

And here's the latest reality check via UNICEF:

The United Nations Children's Fund is urgently appealing for $7 million for emergency assistance for tens of thousands of women and children in Afghanistan. UNICEF says a combination of insecurity, natural and man-made-disasters is putting many of Afghanistan's most vulnerable people at risk. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

No time is a particularly good time for the people of Afghanistan. But, over the past six months, they have been going through a particularly difficult period.

The year started with a large number of early and unexpected flash floods that forced many people to leave their homes. The country continued to reel from other natural and man-made disasters such as heavy snowfalls, landslides, disease and, of course, armed conflict.

The U.N. Children's Fund reports the security situation in the country is deteriorating. It notes that fighting between the Taleban and Government and Coalition forces is spreading to more areas. It says civilians on both sides are victims of armed conflict. Thousands have been made homeless.

UNICEF Spokeswoman, Miranda Eeles, says as of May, about 41 percent of Afghanistan's districts have become no-go areas for the United Nations and this is hampering the delivery of aid.

"There are more than one-point-three million Afghan refugees living in Iran and a lot of those are being deported back to the country," Eeles said. "We also see an increase in school incidents and threats against students. We have pretty bad results when it comes to things like infant mortality rates. One child out of every four does not survive his or her fifth birthday. So, in general, it is not only the security situation, it is a whole host of problems that the country is experiencing."

UNICEF reports seven percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition and 54 percent are chronically malnourished.

Eeles says two million children of primary school age are out of school. About 1.3 million of them are girls. She says parents are fearful of sending their children to school because of the many threats made against students and teachers. Girls have been especially targeted by the Taleban which believes girls should not have an education and that they should be at home.

"Thirty one attacks have been reported against schools in the first six months," Eeles said. "We have had schools being torched. There are also explosions and there have also been deliberate attacks on girl students and women teachers. This has resulted in at least four deaths and six injuries. In the four southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul, out of a total of 740 schools, it is estimated that around 262 of them are no longer providing education services to students."

The moral of this story: Always look beyond the sound bite numbers trotted out by military and government spokespeople from war zones.
 

'UN investigator speaks out against torture, abuse'

That's the headline, but that doesn't exactly cover the whole story:

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Soldiers from countries whose armies are suspected of engaging in torture or other abuse should not be considered for peacekeeping duty, the UN's chief anti-torture investigator says.

UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak said in an interview for Monday's editions of the Austrian news magazine Profil that the world body's standards for selecting peacekeepers are too low, and suggested it should reconsider forming its own professional standing army.

Concerns about the quality, training and ethics of soldiers are growing as developing countries with questionable human rights records increasingly are tapped for troops for international peacekeeping operations, Nowak said.

"The criteria are not very high," he told Profil, which released excerpts of the interview on Saturday. "The UN must impose stricter standards in recruiting soldiers."

Nowak did not mention past abuses by soldiers from the U.S., Britain and other Western countries who have formed the bulk of many peacekeeping operations worldwide.

George Bush tried to fool the public when he issued his recent executive order supposedly banning torture but that's not what it actually does. As long as Bush permits so-called "alternative", classified interrogation techniques there is no guarantee that torture will not continue.

And today, The Independent reports:

The British Army is facing new allegations that it was involved in "forced disappearances", hostage-taking and torture of Iraqi civilians after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

One of the claims is made by the former chairman of the Red Crescent in Basra, who alleges he was beaten unconscious by British soldiers after they accused him of being a senior official in Saddam's Baath party.

The family of another Iraqi civilian claims he was arrested and kidnapped by the British in order to secure the surrender of his brother, who was also accused of being a high-ranking member of the party. He was later found shot dead, still handcuffed and wearing a UK prisoner name tag.

Both cases are being prepared for hearings in the High Court in which the Government will be accused of war crimes while carrying out the arrest and detention of alleged senior members of the Baath party.

So, why is the UN's "chief anti-torture investigator" refusing to acknowledge reality especially when he said this during an interview this past January?

Kanishk Tharoor: In what ways has the Bush administration directly or indirectly allowed for torture?

Manfred Nowak: The Bush administration has done quite a lot to undermine the absolute prohibition of torture, for instance by interpreting torture in a very restrictive manner and claiming they are not really torturing. To them, torture is only really something after which you suffer long-term mental disorder or organ failure. Everything else is called "humanely-degrading treatment" which needs to be balanced against the threat of terrorism - it's a trade-off between security and human rights.

One can employ these harsher interrogation methods against suspected terrorists because the United States feels itself to be in a war on terror. It's breaking a taboo and since the US was always a champion of human rights and democracy, and one of the oldest countries to have a bill of rights in their constitution, this negative example has many negative consequences for the US and many other states. If even the US considers these means of detention, these flights lawful then, other countries feel that they can do the same.

Kanishk Tharoor: With US actions, new sources of torture have come into place, most specifically the outsourcing of torture to countries like Syria, Egypt and Jordan. Is there any precedent for this? How has the Bush administration been engaged in it in recent years?

Manfred Nowak: I do not know any precedent for what they call "extraordinary rendition". There is a precedent for "ordinary rendition", of suspected terrorists abducted by the CIA, Israeli or other intelligence services in another country to be tried domestically. This has also been illegal but was at least done for the legitimate purpose of bringing someone to justice.

Extraordinary abduction is the opposite - depriving individuals of liberty without any legal remedies in order to send them to countries that are known for torture. This violates the absolute prohibition of refoulement: countries are not only not allowed to torture, but also not allowed to send suspects to countries that will torture them.

This was a systematic practice, and I'm afraid, an ongoing practice.


Kanishk Tharoor: What kind of incentives were governments given to allow rendition and to conduct the torture? Should equal pressure be brought to bear on the US as well as the cooperating governments, be they in Cairo, Damascus or Amman?

Manfred Nowak: Of course, this is also the responsibility of countries like Egypt or Syria who are well known for systematic practice of torture. They are the first ones violating international human rights law, even though they have ratified the United Nations convention against torture. They are thus obligated to criminalise torture. But also every state which sends suspects to torturing countries violates the convention.

Countries like the United Kingdom have tried to circumvent this problem by getting "diplomatic assurances" in which they ask those countries to be kind enough not to torture - These diplomatic assurances are a clear attempt to circumvent the absolute prevention of refoulement.
[...]
...the prohibition of torture is an "absolute right", which means that there is no proportionality to be applied. A little bit of torture doesn't make us safer, it's the opposite. As soon as you undermine the prohibition of torture, and you start in the "ticking bomb scenario" to apply torture, it very quickly spreads and creates new terrorism. We now have more terrorists since we are fighting terrorism by violating our own standards and the international rule of law.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Fun

- Scott Seegert's selflessness.

- Republicans Terrified of YouTube Debate:

Mitt Romney — who recently faced questions about his common sense for strapping his dog in its carrier to the top of his car during a 12-hour drive, causing the animal to defecate over his windshield — said the format is beneath his dignity.

“I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman,” Romney told the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader this week.

- Where are those cosmic cops when you need them? Probably hanging out in the Intergalactic Donut Shop.

- Speaking of cops, whoops.

- Ironic headline of the day: White House accuses Democrats of Gonzales "crusade"

- Need good weather? Find yourself a virgin.
 

Slave Labour at the US Embassy in Iraq

Via the Center for American Progress:

In building this lavish symbol of occupation, the United States subsidized the company First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting (FK), a foreign contractor with egregious labor abuses. In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, several former managers and employees of FK reported on the conditions at the embassy, which ranged from "deplorable" living conditions to "kidnapping" of employees. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded, "If what you are telling us is right, something appears to be seriously wrong with the management and oversight of this project."

SLAVE LABOR: Yesterday's hearing confirmed the serious abuses that have been reported for nearly two years. Because of the U.S. refusal to employ Iraqis inside the Green Zone, "most of the laborers were from such countries as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Sierra Leone, the committee was told." FK lied to the workers, as "all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai," testified an embassy technician, "adding that an FK manager instructed him not to tell any of the Filipinos that they were going to Baghdad." Rory Mayberry, a former subcontract employee of the FK, told the Committee yesterday: "Let me spell it out clearly: I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work at the U.S. Embassy." One worker signed up be a "telephone repair man," and when workers discovered they were headed to Baghdad en route, an FK manager waved an MP5 gun in the air to "settle down" the employees. In Baghdad, workers toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as little as $10 a day, according to John Owens, former FK manager. If a construction worker needed new shoes or gloves, he was told "No, do with what you have" by FK managers, Owens testified. "When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies."

(See their site for embedded links and more details about the controversial embassy.)

Here's more testimony about the abuse meted out by First Kuwaiti personnel against the labourers:


Transcripts of the testimony are available on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee's site.

These appalling conditions are not new, as CorpWatch reported on them back in 2005 and 2006. Yet obviously nothing has been done to address the abuses since they first came to light.

This was the State department's response standard denial on Thursday:

Howard J. Krongard, the State Department inspector general, strongly disputed the allegations in a subsequent session of the hearing. He testified that a "limited review" he conducted and inquiries by the inspector general of the U.S.-led military force in Iraq did not substantiate the abuse claims.

"Nothing came to our attention that caused us to believe that trafficking-in-persons violations" or other serious abuses "occurred at the construction workers' camp at the new embassy compound," Krongard said.

His "limited review" probably consisted of a quick phone call to First Kuwaiti. And we already know that the US military denies everything unseemly.

Colonialism - alive and well and on the march in Iraq.
 

Write Your Own Caption



Here's the caption from the White House site:

Runners Karen Dickerson of Springfield, Va., and Qiao Meili of Shanghai, China, hold up the lit torch during a Special Olympics Global Law Enforcement Torch Run Ceremony Thursday, July 26, 2007, in the Rose Garden. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

Here's mine:

Bush: "My hairs is on fire!!"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Random News & Views Roundup

- If you're Alberto Gonzales, you know you're in trouble when the FBI director contradicts your sworn testimony.

- Pat Tillman's mother has long thought he may have been murdered. New details published by the AP may help boost that claim. After all, you really have to wonder why the White House would use executive privilege to block the release of the relevant documents it has in this case which has been repeatedly spun by Bush's operatives.

- Karl Rove subpoenaed. I'd rather see the headline, "Karl Rove Convicted", but that will do for now.

- Remember Weibo Ludwig? He's ba-ack. Most retirees take up golfing or gardening. I'm just sayin'.

- Is that bottled water you're buying just expensive tap water? In some cases, yes.

- Reefer madness. It's real. But the movie was still hilariously bad.

- John Pilger: How Truth Slips Down the Memory Hole.

- Nucking Futs, or Crazy Like a Fox? (Hey, it's not my headline, but it is apropos especially when they're hailing losers like DeLay, Lieberman and Santorum). Much more on Hagee here.

- And, speaking of Israel, a US house subcommittee voted in favour of handing over $150 million dollars for its ballistic defence system. Armageddon, here we come.

- Another neocon wet dream: Bush Speechwriter Calls for Attack on Syria. I imagine they'd just choose to nuke the entire middle east if it weren't for Israel being there (and if they could find some way to recover the oil after the bombings.)

- Iraqi oil patch workers continue to protest the proposed US-driven Iraq oil law. Meanwhile, back at the al-Maliki ranch, Sunni lawmakers have walked out and:

...immediately suspended all participation with the government and gave al-Maliki one week to meet package of demands or it would completely pull out of the government.

Among the bloc's demands were a government pardon for all security detainees not charged with crimes, disbanding all Shi'ite militias, an opportunity for the front to have real participation in the decision-making process and the strict adherence to the International Declaration of Human Rights.
[...]
...more than one-quarter of the places in al-Maliki's 38-member cabinet are vacant due to protests.

And freedom still isn't on the march.
 

With friends like this...

Just one day after Brian Mulroney gushed about what a great job the Harper government is [supposedly] doing, we learn that Mulroney has been ordered to pay $470,000 to Karlheinz Schreiber.

Whoops.

In his statement of claim, Mr. Schreiber said the cash was to enlist Mr. Mulroney's help in establishing an arms factory in Quebec and a pasta-machine business.

I hereby dub this case the Rifles and Ravioli lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed Mr. Mulroney did not follow through on his business commitments.

The former prime minister, who had a deadline to respond to the lawsuit, did not do so, which meant that the court ordered him this week to pay Mr. Schreiber the $300,000, plus interest, which works out to about $470,000.

And Mulroney's reaction?

Asked this week whether his forthcoming memoirs would fully explain the $300,000 payments, the former prime minister simply urged a reporter to purchase the volume.

“Buy a copy. Buy a copy. Buy a copy.”

Guess he'll have to sell more than a few copies to pay that judgment.
 

Immigration Canada Backpeddles on the Sikh Name Change Policy

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is backing off what it told a Calgary woman after she revealed that her husband had been banned from entering Canada because he had the last name "Singh". In a news report yesterday, she also said that her husband did change his name so he could immigrate to be with his pregnant wife as soon as possible.

Here's part of the original letter that she got from CIC:

Jaspal Singh received a letter dated May 17, 2007 from the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi saying, "The name Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada.''

At the time, an immigration department spokeswoman said the practice of asking Singhs and Kaurs to choose a less-common surname had been policy for 10 years.

And the backpeddling:

However, the government changed its position on Wednesday, saying it was never the official policy.

"Asking applicants to provide a surname in addition to Singh or Kaur has been an administrative practice used by our visa office in New Delhi as a way to improve client service and reduce incidents of mistaken identity. This was not a mandatory requirement,'' said an email from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) sent to the Winnipeg Free Press.

"There is no policy or practice whereby people with these surnames are asked to change their names.''

The email goes on to blame the misunderstanding on the "poorly worded" letter sent to Singh last May.

But it obviously wasn't just a matter of a "poorly worded" letter since a department spokesperson repeated the same thing when asked to comment on the issue.
 

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Release of Censored Portion of Arar Inquiry Report Ordered


A judge has ordered the release of some censored material in the Maher Arar inquiry report.

Via the Ottawa Citizen:

Though the censored information represents less than one per cent of the 1,200-page report, Paul Cavalluzzo, the commission's counsel, said yesterday the issue goes to the heart of government accountability.

"Even though we're dealing with national security issues, this was a public inquiry called by the government and our view is that by bringing disclosure to the public, government actors become more accountable and the transparency of the process is an important part of making government actors more accountable.

But:

If either side appeals yesterday's judgment, the attorney general has the new power, under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act, to issue a certificate prohibiting disclosure of the information, effectively overruling any court judgment ordering disclosure.

"That's the draconian nature of Section 38," said Mr. Cavalluzzo. "We could go right to the Supreme Court of Canada and win and then, when we're carrying away the victorious judgment, they could slap us with a ministerial certificate saying, 'You (still) can't disclose it'."

I don't know how parliament let this language stand in Section 38:

* the requirement to provide notice to the Attorney General of Canada in circumstances where it is foreseeable that the disclosure of information in connection with or in the course of proceedings could be injurious to international relations or national defence or national security;

Just how do they decide what might be "injurious"? What's the standard? Is simple embarrassment of a foreign government enough?

One important point that the Ottawa Citizen's article doesn't disclose is that the Attorney General's decision can be appealed and overturned by a judge, so at least there is some protection from dictatorial powers being in the hands of a government appointee.

At issue are these matters:

"According to Mr. Arar, he has a right to know the facts relating to his detention, deportation and torture. Furthermore, he claims that the redactions within the public report may contain information which is necessary for the public to understand the actions of the RCMP and CSIS in the Arar affair.

"In particular, he believes that at least some of the redactions relate to the candour of certain CSIS operatives, who may have misled their superiors. Mr. Arar also argues that the redactions conceal the fact that briefings to numerous ministers were inadequate and that the RCMP's investigation and adherence to information sharing protocols was deficient.

If the Harper government decides to appeal this latest decision, there will definitely be questions raised about who they might be trying to protect and why. The utter incompetence of the RCMP in this affair surely doesn't end with the resignation of the now disgraced former commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli.

Related: Maher Arar's site

The Arar inquiry - Recommendations

British report on U.S. rendition echoes Arar experience

OTTAWA — A scathing new British report about how the United States has exploited British intelligence information to seize three individuals and fly them to secret prisons for terrorism interrogations echoes the troubling case of Canada’s Maher Arar.

An investigation by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee has found the U.S. ignored British security officials’ insistence that no actions were to be taken against the individuals based on information they shared with their American counterparts.

But three men with British connections were still swept up in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “rendition” program in 2002 and taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other “black” holding centres in Europe. U.S. officials, the report said, knew the British had no intention of arresting them.

Video: Olbermann on Gonzales' Credibility


Impeach the lying bastard and get it over with.
 

You're in contempt!

Okay. Well it wasn't quite as dramatic as it is in a Hollywood movie but the house judiciary did its job today (the Democrats, anyway) and voted to issue contempt citations to Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers (who seems to be hiding in one of Cheney's underground bunkers).

The vote represents the first overt step towards finding Bolten and Miers in criminal contempt of Congress. Next would come a vote of the entire House, followed by a referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

But the Bush administration has made clear it intends to block prosecution of any contempt charges, arguing that a presidentially-appointed U.S. attorney cannot legally be forced by Congress to flout the president's determination that the materials and testimony sought are protected by executive privilege.

Republicans on the panel argued strongly today against issuing contempt citations, and Democrats shot down two proposed GOP amendments before voting for the contempt findings.

"I believe this is an unnecessary provocation of a constitutional crisis," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.). "Absent showing that a crime was committed in this process, I think the White House is going to win an argument in court."

It's about time someone in DC realized there's a constitutional crisis going on and actually did something about it, especially since Bush thinks the constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper".

Contempt of Congress is a federal misdemeanor, punishable by as much as one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Bring it on.
 

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Random News & Views Roundup

Note: It seems I can post to my blog tonite but I can't view it. &%@%$$ Blogger. Update: they seem to have fixed the problem.


- So I was sitting on the step yesterday when I saw a Calgary Police Service car drive by with a "Support the Troops" ribbon and thought I should update last week's post about city council debating the issue of whether to allow those ribbons to be displayed on municipal vehicles. It turns out that the council did the right thing, imho, and refused to allow such a policy. I wonder if those cops got that memo.

- And, speaking of city council, I'd sure like to know what the big hold up is with approving secondary suites. Don't they know we have a housing crisis in this city?

On to international affairs:

- According to The Independent, Pakistan's Foreign Minister says the US military will not be allowed to go after al Qaeda in his country.

This response definitely echoes neocon sentiments about silly little things like sovereignty:

"You cannot stop the stream. You have to shut the camps, which are all in Pakistan," said Barnett Rubin, a senior fellow at New York University's Centre on International Co-operation. "If they were in Afghanistan they would have been bombed by now."

He added: "Up until now, the government of Pakistan has not authorised this except for some very small, deniable covert operations. Either Musharraf changes his policy, or the US carries out operations in Pakistan without the consent of the government."

Just send in the CIA "snatch or kill" teams, a NYT editorial asserts.

And, if you believe this, I have some nice swamp land to sell you:

The agency’s history of ill-conceived covert political operations from the 1950s through the 1970s may cause some to worry. That agency, however, no longer exists. Congressional hearings and legislation, as well as fear of casualties, have given the clandestine service its own case of risk aversion, though it seems less severe than the Pentagon’s.

Right. That's why CIA agents have immunity from prosecution for torture. Risk averse, my ass.

- US ambassador Ryan Crocker met with Iraq's al-Maliki and Iran's ambassador to Baghdad Hassan Kazemi Qomi on Tuesday in a lengthy meeting that was variously described in media reports as "heated" and "difficult".

Qomi maintained that Iran has no connection to insurgent groups, Crocker said, adding that the U.S. government "has no question" about the connection between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Shiite militias. Critics have pressed Crocker and other American officials for conclusive evidence of such ties, a request the ambassador dismissed Tuesday.

"This is not something we're trying to or we need to prove in a court of law," Crocker said, adding that insurgents captured by American troops have told investigators they are backed by Iran.

Get with the program, Qomi. Whatever the Bush administration says is true. They don't need no stinkin' evidence. You should know that by now.

- Meanwhile, the NYT reports what those of us (who aren't in denial) already knew: U.S. Is Seen in Iraq Until at Least ’09

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq.

So tell me again why the Democrats are waiting for Petraeus' September report as if it's going to say anything other than "we need more time"?

- Bush sucks (and blows), but we already knew that.

The historic depth of Bush's public standing has whipsawed his White House, sapped his clout, drained his advisers, encouraged his enemies and jeopardized his legacy. Around the White House, aides make gallows-humor jokes about how they can alienate their remaining supporters -- at least those aides not heading for the door. Outside the White House, many former aides privately express anger and bitterness at their erstwhile colleagues, Bush and the fate of his presidency.

Bush has been so down for so long that some advisers maintain it no longer bothers them much. It can even, they say, be liberating.

Well, at least freedom is on the march for somebody.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, the intertubes are evul:

"A lot of the commentary that comes out of the Internet world is very harsh," said Frank J. Donatelli, White House political director for Ronald Reagan. "That has a tendency to reinforce people's opinions and harden people's opinions."

So there you go, the truth sucks too.
 

Gonzales testifies; Bush cites al Qaeda 95 times in a speech

While Alberto Gonzales was, again, refusing to answer vital questions about the US attorney firings, what really happened at Ashcroft's hospital bedside, (C&L has the video) and insisting on dancing around the issue of torture in front of the senate judiciary committee today, his partner in crime, George Bush, gave a speech in which he referred to al Qaeda 95 times. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq and they're there for a reason," Bush said. Well, yes, they're there because you decided to illegally invade Iraq and invited them with your "bring 'em on" macho posturing.

And, as usual, Bush tried hard (it's hard work) to make the imaginary, debunked connection between 9/11 and al Qaeda in Iraq:

"I presented intelligence that clearly establishes this connection," said Bush. "The facts are that al Qaeda terrorists killed Americans on 9/11, they're fighting us in Iraq and across the world, and they're plotting to kill Americans here at home again."

Terror, terror, terror - but it's the same old story and certainly didn't stop the press from reporting on Gonzales' shady testimony.

Senators from both sides of the aisle attacked Gonzales:

"The attorney general has lost the confidence of the Congress and the American people," Leahy said. He said the administration "has squandered our trust" and told Gonzales bluntly, "I don't trust you."

Specter said there was "evidence of low morale" at the Justice Department and blasted what he described as Gonzales's lack of "personal credibility." He called the department "dysfunctional."

I imagine that what they're saying when the mics are off is much more scathing than that.

And the wrangling over the US attorney firings continues:

Gonzales again depicted himself as largely detached from controversial personnel practices, including the firings of the nine U.S. attorneys last year. But in a video message to Justice Department employees on Friday, he said, "I am sorry, and I accept full responsibility."

But that's the nature of most, if not all, of his answers - constantly contradicting himself. If he bobbed and weaved physically as much as he did verbally today, he would have collapsed from sheer exhaustion halfway through the hearings.

With his legal advisors in tow, sitting right behind him throughout the hearing, I got the sense I was watching a mob boss testifying. That's not much of a stretch considering the lengths Gonzales has gone to try to stretch and obfuscate national and international laws. And, even though he insists he's determined to stay on and "fix" the problems in the justice department (to which one senator responded that at least he's admitting there are problems), the best thing for all sane and law-abiding people involved would be to impeach the bastard and find someone who actually believes that the law isn't a partisan, political tool. Not an easy job in DC but, at this point, they couldn't do that much worse than the lying attorney general they have now. His arrogance knows no bounds and his disrespect for the law and international treaties out to be enough to disbar him for life.

CSPAN has the video of today's hearing.

Update: Code Pink was on hand at the hearings to protest against Gonzales. You can see a video of that protest here.
 

Refusing Immigrants Because of their Surnames?

That's part of Canada's immigration policy, as reported by the CBC, and apparently has been for 10 years.

A Calgary woman waiting for her husband to arrive in Canada is upset by a long-standing immigration policy that forces people with the surname Singh or Kaur to change their last names.

Tarvinder Kaur, who is pregnant, said her husband Jaspal Singh's application to become a permanent resident has been delayed for well over a month because of his last name.

He has no choice but to legally change his name in India so he can get to Calgary before she gives birth next month, she said.

CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter sent from the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to Singh's family stating that "the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada."
[...]
Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the policy preventing people from immigrating to Canada with those last names has been in place for the last 10 years.

"I believe the thinking behind it in this case is because it is so common. [With] the sheer numbers of applicants that have those as their surnames, it's just a matter for numbers and for processing in that visa office."

That is absolutely bizarre, not to mention discriminatory towards Sikhs.

They don't ban immigrants with common names like "Smith", "Johnson" or any of the 100 million Chinese applicants with the surname "Zhang"

This is one policy that definitely needs to change.

Related: Most common surnames in Canada and Quebec.
 

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sheehan and 45 Other Protesters Arrested in DC

Cindy Sheehan announced a few weeks ago that she would give house speaker Nancy Pelosi until July 23rd to put impeachment back on the table or Sheehan would run against her as an independent. During protests at Jonn Conyer's (D-MI) senate office today, Sheehan formally announced her candidacy.

She and 45 other protesters were also arrested (pics here). You'll see that outspoken Bush administration critic and former CIA officer Ray McGovern was arrested as well along with Colonel Ann Wright and Cindy Sheehan's sister, Dede.

Sheehan was taken into custody inside Rep. John Conyers' office, where she had spent an hour imploring him to launch impeachment proceedings against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Conyers, D-Mich., chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where any impeachment effort would have to begin.

"The Democrats will not hold this administration accountable, so we have to hold the Democrats accountable," Sheehan said outside of Conyers' office after the meeting. "And I for one am going to step up to the plate and run against Nancy Pelosi."

Sheehan and about 200 other protesters had walked to Conyers' office from Arlington National Cemetery. She said Conyers told her there weren't enough votes for impeachment to move forward on the issue.

Forty-five of Sheehan's fellow protesters also were arrested. Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said that after they are processed, the arrested activists could each pay a $50 fine to be released.

"Impeachment is not a fringe movement, it is mandated in our Constitution. Nancy Pelosi had no authority to take it off the table," Sheehan told her group of orange-clad activists before they began their march from the national cemetery.

That "we don't have the votes" canard has angered many online Democrats who have reminded their party leaders that when impeachment investigations began against Nixon, the Democrats didn't have the votes either. It's an empty response to a hugely important concern of the majority of Democrats (and millions of Americans) who want hearings to begin now to investigate the wrongdoing crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration.

Sheehan has been completely marginalized at Daily Kos (as she was again on Monday during the protest) and no longer posts at that large Democratic (party comes first!) blog hub (which has become an unbearably thuggish snake pit), but she obviously doesn't need their support to keep up her fight anyway. She's doing just fine.

She relentlessly continues (in spite of all of the venomous criticism she's received) to be the public voice of outrage against the Iraq war and this criminal administration. She gets out there and puts herself in peril in order to act on behalf of all ordinary American citizens who have been so gravely affected by Bushco's policies and many are thankful for the face she's given to the right to dissent.

She and all who protested with her today did their duty as citizens - refusing to sit back and wait for the Democrats to take action - any action - to hold Bushco responsible for at least something...one thing...is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Their refusal to do so is shameful.

Cindy now blogs at ImpeachBush.org. Please support her efforts.

(By the way, some Democratic party members are so desperate to believe that their leaders will do the right thing that they just make shit up about their "brilliant", "genius" leaders and try to sell it to others who, apparently, are quite willing to buy it. That's quite pathetic to watch. They ought to do much more than to tell each other fairy tales so they can actually crack that dangerous state of denial. It's bad enough that Bush lives in that world. It really is something to see members of the so-called "reality-based" community falling for that kind of self-deception too.)
 

Turkey, Northern Iraq & the US Military

The Independent reports that Turkey has stepped back from the idea of invading Northern Iraq:

As Turkey's government savoured an overwhelming electoral victory yesterday, regional analysts agreed that the immediate impetus for an invasion of northern Iraq had receded.

Sunday's clear mandate for the Islamic-rooted AKP of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been received as a snub to his secularist and nationalist opponents, who put the fight against Kurdish separatist guerrillas across the border at the centre of their failed campaign.

The US military has continually denied reports that Turkey has massed over 100,000 troops on the Iraq border while one general is now raising the possibility of moving US troops out of Northern Iraq and placing the entire region in the hands of the Iraqi government.

If put in place, Mixon's approach would not necessarily mean an overall reduction in U.S. troops early next year. It could mean shifting several thousand troops from Mixon's area to other parts of Iraq for some months.

That, however, could mark the beginning of a phased move away from the heavy combat role U.S. troops have played, at a cost of more than 3,600 U.S. deaths, for more than four years. That, in turn, could lead to the first substantial U.S. troop reductions beginning in the spring or summer — a far slower timetable than many in Congress are demanding.
[...]
There are nearly 24,000 U.S. troops in Mixon's area of responsibility. It stretches north from Baghdad to the Turkish border, including the semiautonomous Kurdish region where three provinces — Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniyah — already have returned to Iraqi government control.

Mixon said he might be able to reduce that total by one-half in the 12 to 18 months after beginning a transition in January.

But, via The Guardian, it's obvious that things aren't quite that simple:

It remains to be seen if the mandate will quickly dissolve the air of crisis that has enveloped Turkey in recent months.

The possible threat of a coup, deadlock between government and opposition over a new head of state, pressure for a military invasion of northern Iraq to crack down on Turkish Kurdish guerrillas sheltering there, poor relations with the US over Iraq, and near-paralysis in Turkey's efforts to negotiate membership of the EU - all these are issues piling up in the in-tray.

The multiple challenges have produced an outpouring of extreme nationalism, resulting in the parliamentary presence of the MHP, widely viewed as neo-fascist, with a paramilitary wing. Its leader campaigned with a hangman's noose, his preferred solution to the Kurdish insurgency in the south-east.

And, just as a side note, one army colonel who commented about repositioning US troops from al Anbar province said, "The police are the keys to maintaining security from al-Qaida," - interesting since many people like me believe that al Qaeda should have been dealt with from a police standpoint to begin with.

So, has the US government already received assurances from Turkey's government that its troops will stay out of Iraq or is the US military planning a pullout to avoid being trapped in that front of the war? Hard to say. Of course, considering how the so-called "surge" is working out, it's also possible that these redeployments to other areas of Iraq are just another move in the huge whack-a-mole game strategery they're now employing.

According to the Turkish Weekly, Turkey's PM warned before the election that "if the talks fail with Maliki Turkey will be left with no other option but to act against the PKK in northern Iraq." And:

Erdogan said Turkey conveyed its concerns to the U.S. over reports that the Americans were suspected of supplying weapons to the PKK in northern Iraq. He said the Americans had explained that they too had detected that such weapons had found their way into the PKK arsenal and that their investigation showed this could have happened as a result of corruption involving some U.S. personnel.

Now, I'll note that I don't know the reputation of the Turkish Weekly but it also published this warning from Turkey's PM which shows there is definitely tension between Turkey and the US government:

"As a strategic ally we are extending support to you (the U.S.) whenever you confront terrorism and ask for help. Afghanistan is the biggest example of this. It is not right to adopt an approach discriminating as 'my terrorist is bad, your terrorist is good.' All terrorists are bad. And we need to form a joint platform for combat this. We have situated ourselves against terror wherever it is encountered because we suffer from it. The number of martyrs we have given to terror has exceeded 15,000. Just as how you have alarmed the world when the twin towers were hit, you should show the same participation and cooperation in this now. If you do not fulfill your responsibilities in this, we will have to do whatever it takes. And that 'whatever' is obvious," said Erdogan.

It seems there aren't many countries left that want to call America "friend" - not that Turkey has been a US sockpuppet since it refused to allow US troops deployments from its soil into Iraq when that war began.

So I guess the waiting game is on and there aren't any particularly clear indications from Turkey about what it will do to deal with attacks coming from inside Iraq.

Related: The big question: What are the implications of the Turkish election result?

More on the PKK reportedly using US weapons from the Chicago Tribune.

(h/t to JJB over at Marisacat's blog for the link to The Guardian's article.)
 

Tales of a Gitmo Whistleblower

The New York Times tells the tale of Colonel Stephen E. Abraham's assignment at Gitmo and the disillusionment he has about the military tribunal processes as a result.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Stephen E. Abraham’s assignment to the Pentagon unit that runs the hearings at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, seemed a perfect fit.

A lawyer in civilian life, he had been decorated for counterespionage and counterterrorism work during 22 years as a reserve Army intelligence officer in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His posting, just as the Guantánamo hearings were accelerating in 2004, gave him a close-up view of the government’s detention policies.

It also turned him into one of the Bush administration’s most unlikely adversaries.

In June, Colonel Abraham became the first military insider to criticize publicly the Guantánamo hearings, which determine whether detainees should be held indefinitely as enemy combatants. Just days after detainees’ lawyers submitted an affidavit containing his criticisms, the United States Supreme Court reversed itself and agreed to hear an appeal arguing that the hearings are unjust and that detainees have a right to contest their detentions in federal court.

Some lawyers say Colonel Abraham’s account — of a hearing procedure that he described as deeply flawed and largely a tool for commanders to rubber-stamp decisions they had already made — may have played an important role in the justices’ highly unusual reversal. That decision once again brought the administration face to face with the vexing legal, political and diplomatic questions about the fate of Guantánamo and the roughly 360 men still held there.

“Nobody stood up and said the emperor’s wearing no clothes,” Colonel Abraham said in an interview. “The prevailing attitude was, ‘If they’re in Guantánamo, they’re there for a reason.’ ”
[...]
He expanded on that account in a series of recent conversations at his law office here, offering a detailed portrait of a system that he described as characterized by superficial efforts to gather evidence and frenzied pressure to conduct hundreds of hearings in a few months.

Most detainees, he said, have no realistic way to contest charges often based not on solid information, but on generalizations, incomplete intelligence reports and hints of terrorism ties.

“What disturbed me most was the willingness to use very small fragments of information,” he said, recounting how, over his six-month tour, he grew increasingly uneasy at what he saw.

more...

The article goes on to detail his criticisms while the response from the government is that he's "biased". I suppose anyone who had his access to those sham tribunals and the flaky evidence presented would certainly end up being biased against what is going on there. If they're not, they're just automatons who believe that due process of law ought to be some sort of luxury and that the so-called war on terror gives the boy king and congress the almighty right to hold people indefinitely while they try to make some sort of case against them. That's inhumane.

Abrahams will testify "before a house commitee", according to the NYT, on July 26th. (I'll see if I can find out which one, with the judiciary committee being the most likely). Hopefully, CSPAN will carry it live.

Just as there are overwhelming reasons to impeach Bush et al and to end the Iraq war, the absolute failures of the Gitmo gulag and its distorted measure of "justice" must finally bring its tenure to an end.

Just shut it down.
 

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday Food for Thought: On Being Disorderly

“One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.”
- AA Milne

And in honour of that quote, I'll direct you to one of Milne's essays: "My Library", (which I can definitely relate to.)
 

Quote du Jour: Impeachment

Jimmy Breslin via Newsday (the entire editorial is worth a read):

Say impeachment and you'll get your troops home.

That's where the disconnect is as far as the Democratic leaders go. It's either/or. They won't impeach. They won't defund the war. Perhaps if they squeezed the Bush administration hard enough and actually began holding impeachment hearings, Bush would stand up and take notice, but the Democrats are too afraid to even try.

Meanwhile, one of the "liberal" heroes of the left blogosphere, Russ Feingold, just wants to give Bush a slap on the wrist by censuring him. You'd think that toothless gesture would be something even the rest of the Democrats could get behind, but no:

Feingold's own party leader in the Senate showed little interest in the idea. An attempt in 2006 by Feingold to censure Bush over the warrantless spying program attracted only three co-sponsors.
[...]
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Feingold's proposals showed the nation's frustration. But Reid said he would not go along with them and said the Senate needs to focus on finishing spending bills on defense and homeland security.

"We have a lot of work to do," Reid said. "The president already has the mark of the American people — he's the worst president we ever had. I don't think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that."

They are incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Spineless, spineless, spineless, and nothing but a dereliction of duty as the Democratic party seems to have taken an oath to protect itself rather than the US constitution.

As for Feingold's intentions with his censure resolution:

This is an opportunity for people to say, let's at least reflect on the record that something terrible has happened here," said Feingold, D-Wis. "This administration has weakened America in a way that is frightful."

Yes. Let's "reflect". As thousands more people die in Iraq. Let's "reflect".
 

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saturday Nite Video Flashback - Joe Cocker at Woodstock

Getting by with a little help from his friends...

Quote du Jour: The French Think Too Much

Via the New York Times, apparently France's new right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy and his finance minister Christine Lagarde have decided their fellow citizens think too much.

“France is a country that thinks,” she told the National Assembly. “There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves.”

Citing Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.
[...]
Certainly, the new president himself has cultivated his image as a nonintellectual. “I am not a theoretician,” he told a television interviewer last month. “I am not an ideologue. Oh, I am not an intellectual! I am someone concrete!”

That prompted this blunt response from well-known French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy:

“This is the sort of thing you can hear in cafe conversations from morons who drink too much,”

Impeachment: The responsibility of the citizens

Via Bill Moyer's Journal, July 13, 2007:

JOHN NICHOLS: --back in 1974, after Nixon had resigned, and said, "We must continue the impeachment process." It's-- it is under the Constitution certainly appropriate to do so. And we must continue it because we have to close the circle on presidential power. And the leaders in Congress, the Democratic leaders in Congress at the time said, "No, the-- country has suffered too much." Well, this is the problem. Our leaders treat us as children. They think that we cannot handle a serious dialogue about the future of our republic, about what it will be and how it will operate. And so, you know, to an extent, we begin to act like children. We, you know, follow other interests. We decide to be entertained rather than to be citizens.

Well, you know, and Bruce makes frequent references to the fall of the Roman Empire. You know, that's the point at where the fall comes. It doesn't come because of a bad leader. It doesn't come because of a dysfunctional Congress. It comes when the people accept that-- role of the child or of the subject and are no longer citizens. And so I think this moment becomes so very, very important because we know the high crimes and misdemeanors.

The people themselves have said, if the polls are correct, that, you know, something ought to be done. If nothing is done, if we do not step forward at this point, if we do not step up to this point, then we have, frankly, told the people, you know, you can even recognize that the king has no clothes, but we're not gonna put any clothes on him. And at that point, the country is in very, very dire circumstances.

According to the latest American Research Group poll on impeachment, only ~46% support beginning impeachment proceedings against George Bush: 69% of Democrats; 13% of Republicans and 50% of independents.

Only ~46%.

“As citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the ruled, the law-givers and the law-abiding, the beginning and the end.”
- Adlai Stevenson

There is no doubt that the paternalistic aura of the American presidency, in which the president is viewed not as someone elected to serve the needs of the country's citizens but to forward his own agenda on behalf of his party with a "father knows best" approach, has continually relegated the citizenry to the role of subservient children. And, as has been seen with every power grab, every law the Bush administration has flagrantly and so brazenly broken, too many citizens accept what they seem to believe is their ultimate fate.

The fact that the new pseudo-mother of the Democratic party, Nancy Pelosi, and her senate mate, the kindly, soft-spoken Harry Reid have refused to initiate impeachment proceedings on behalf of party members who clearly wish otherwise also illustrates the parent/child dynamic that so pervades politicians in leadership positions. Although it's not as if Democratic party voters weren't warned when Pelosi made it blisteringly clear prior to the election that impeachment was "off the table". The moment she made that assertion was the moment there should have been a huge, public revolt against the Democratic leadership, but the idea of finally reclaiming congress (as if that meant much of anything, as we've seen with the Democrats' absolutely dismal performance since that happened) was more important than standing up as citizens to reclaim their country.

When your leaders tell you they will not work on your behalf or when they have the power and refuse to use it, the job of a citizen is to hold them accountable. That applies to all leaders. That has not happened in a very public way amongst the American citizenry and it's doubtful that it will in any meaningful way.

If the Democratic leaders had actually done their job and started impeachment proceedings when they gained subpoena power, perhaps the evidence they could have brought forth to this point would have convinced more than that 46% of citizens overall who are now in favour of impeachment. One would think, as I certainly do, that Bush's own statements about how he knowingly broke the law in the case of the secret CIA prisons and the illegal wiretappings of American citizens (not to mention the illegal Iraq war) would have been enough for a massive groundswell of support for impeachment. Apparently not.

Of those citizens who do favour impeachment, their voices are simply being ignored - especially the 69% of Democrats in that poll who favour the proceedings. But, at the same time, perhaps the citizenry isn't making enough of an effort to be heard. One only has to look at the amazing protests held in other countries when a leader goes astray. It's as if, and is likely the case as Nichols pointed out, that they have foregone using the power they have after being treated like and acting like unruly children who are just a nuisance to democracy. After a while, you believe that any effort is just futile when you're subjected to authoritarianism.

Add to that the fact that at the largest so-called "progressive" site on the internet which exists to get Democrats elected - Daily Kos - kos, the owner, stated last December that talk of impeachment was "impeachment porn" and that those who have supported impeachment there have continually been bullied into toeing the Pelosi/Reid party line that impeachment would just take time away from the other "important work" the congress has to do (which, as we've seen with their failure to force an end to the Iraq war with anything resembling strength, has been a lost cause) and it's no surprise that Republican/conservative-style authoritarianism has been accepted as being the norm by far too many citizens - across the political spectrum. The "children" must be controlled. Barring that, they must be silenced.

The Impeach Bush site is planning a September 15th protest in Washington as a follow up to their protest earlier this year in March. But two protests in an entire year are just not enough either to rally more widespread support among a citizenry that Nichols characterized as preferring to be "entertained".

It is very likely that the Bush administration members who should be investigated for impeachment: Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and anyone else suspected of deserving such punishment - will walk away scott free in the end. That failure will rest on the shoulders of all Americans: that the most blatantly criminal administration in America's history was never held to account for the crimes it perpetrated on its own citizens who chose to enable it rather than to confront it - and that the failure to demand justice on behalf of the citizens of other countries who have also been the victims of those crimes will certainly not be forgotten.

If you want your country back, take it.
 

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Nite Video: Cat Stevens - Oh Very Young



This is Cat Stevens' (now known as Yusuf Islam) website. And here's the link to his children's charity "Small Kindness".

This is just one of their projects:

IRAQ
As the chaos continues in Iraq, Small Kindness is one of only a brave handful of organisations concentrating its efforts amidst the skirmishes and terrible conditions of this war-torn country.

The lives of ordinary Iraqis have been turned upside down. What they need now more than ever is stability and real hope for the future. As fighting rages all around, children are having to dodge bullets to get to and from school. Small Kindness is supporting some three hundred orphans in the region with regular payments plus scholarships to over a hundred university students. In 2004 the charity opened the first EMTEC in the heart of Baghdad University under the auspices of Iraq’s Ministry of Education. The Centre has over three hundred Iraqi girls on roll, providing free tuition in information technology, management studies, language, and accountancy skills.