Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gaming the Afghanistan War for Political Power

So, Stephen Harper is putting on a grand show of political theater by "threatening" to pull our troops out of Afghanistan if NATO allies won't commit the 1,000 more troops recommended by the Manley panel. In response to Harper's efforts (at least that's how the media is spinning it), Robert Gates sent a "strongly-worded letter" to NATO allies pushing them to send in more troops - one day after a report has concluded that "NATO is not winning in Afghanistan" and after Gates had already said the US would not contribute any more troops. The phone call to Bush by Harper was just for show.

As per that new report:

NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a "strategic stalemate," as Taliban insurgents expand their control of sparsely populated areas and as the central government fails to carry out vital reforms and reconstruction, according to an independent assessment released yesterday by NATO's former commander.
"Afghanistan remains a failing state. It could become a failed state," warned the report, which called for "urgent action" to overhaul NATO strategy in coming weeks before an anticipated new offensive by Taliban insurgents in the spring.

A second, newly-released report comes to the same conclusion.

Defence secretary Robert Gates also had this to say:

In the letter, Gates warned of a looming division of the NATO alliance and of a loss in its credibility, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.

During Bush's State of the Union speech earlier this week, he announced that some 25,000 US troops would be withdrawn from Iraq this year yet he won't send any more than the 3,200 troops he recently announced will be sent to Afghanistan (1,000 of whom are going into the south where Canada needs help) but, let's take a bigger look at the political game going on here that's costing our soldiers their lives over there.

Back in 2003, neocon Bill Kristol wrote this piece for PNAC warning that NATO had to be reformed. In it, he bluntly stated this:

When President Bush came into office, common wisdom held that, if NATO did expand again, the expansion would be quite limited in scope and number. But it was the president's vision of a "Europe, whole and free" that has led NATO to this day. Moreover, this past summer, at Prague, the administration put forward a number of constructive proposals for reforming and re-energizing NATO. And, finally, and principally at the behest of our European allies, President Bush went to the United Nations in September 2002 and secured U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. The Bush Administration is not responsible for the current crisis in the alliance.

But he then goes on to note the power struggle between the major EU countries and the US, placing the blame squarely on them for NATO's possible demise.

It's quite obvious that political power in the world is shifting. To think that Bush's illegal war in Iraq and his neocon posturing had nothing to do with diminishing American power and, now, its currency, is typical neocon reasoning.

Kristol continued:

Who, or what, is [to blame]? The answer to "who" is France-and secondarily, Germany. The answer to "what" is the new post-9/11 world to which the U.S. has reacted in one way, and France and Germany in another.

This is not the place for France-bashing. But it is the place to tell the truth. At best, the government of France is uninterested in the trans-Atlantic alliance. At worst, it wants to weaken it. France's priority lies with the European Union and/or the UN-not NATO. And there is no question that many in Paris desire to see a France-led European Union as a counterweight to U.S. power. Germany, a troubled nation with economic and demographic difficulties, and an understandable aversion to the exercise of military and nation-state power, has followed France's lead. The European Union as a whole has embraced a view of the world that is post-nationalist, post-historical, and extremely reluctant to use military force even in a just cause.

The United States is different.
The "distinctly American internationalism" the president has articulated in speeches and in the White House's National Security Strategy-and with which I am in basic agreement-is quite far removed from the "European" view of the world in both the nature of the threats we face and certainly what strategies to employ to deal with them.

Kristol then proposed his vision to deal with the differences but if you look at how the Bush administration has acted since that time (if it truly believed that strengthening NATO would work as a counterbalance to the new EU coalition) its behaviour - especially its abandonment of the Afghanistan mission which was supposed to be the central front in the so-called war on terror as it cozied up to Musharraf - its actions have been anti-NATO. And now, with Canada's request for just 1,000 more troops being met with Bush's refusal to send them in, one can't help but conclude that our soldiers are just pawns in a larger geopolitical struggle.

The question is: how long will we allow to to be used a such while the US and the EU play their political games?

And, as this Canadian Press article notes:

There is a three-letter answer for those searching for a simple, cold-hearted, calculated interest Canada holds in Afghanistan - a dusty, isolated backwater some 10,000 kilometres away.

It all revolves around the U.S.A. After 79 deaths and hundreds of wounded since 2002, Canadians could be forgiven for setting aside the laudable desire to help the Afghan people for a moment to ask: what's in this for us?

Canada has many altruistic reasons for being in Afghanistan, but the one unifying thread that passes through many clear-eyed examinations of Canadian self-interest is its vital relationship with the giant neighbour to the south.

Many experts agree: anything that adds to an American sense of security and puts Canada firmly on side as an ally translates into billions of dollars in benefit for Canadians.

"The reason we're in Afghanistan today is that's where the Taliban supported Al-Qaida as they hatched up the September 11 attacks on the United States," said Bill Graham, a former Liberal foreign affairs and defence minister who played a key role in decisions to deploy Canadian troops.

"We have to help the Americans have a sense that Canada is part of their security solution, and not a part of their problem, or the economic consequences to Canada are significant."

So, just how much are our soldiers' lives worth in the whole scheme of things and what gives our government the right to use them for economic assurances?

The bottom line is that they're being used and our commitment there needs to end sooner rather than later.

McCain/Romney Food Fight at Wednesday's Debate

And then, Ron Paul was up:

I would never vote for Ron Paul but if there's anyone who injects much-needed reality into these extremely boring, coma-inducing Republican debates, it's him.

And Anderson Cooper did a horrible job of shutting up the two mouthpiece twins. He should have just turned their mics off.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Video: Bush's State of the Union '08

So, Ted Kennedy has Endorsed Obama

Today is brought to you by the word "torch" and the letter "K".

WaPo: Passing the Kennedy Torch
TPM: Kennedy Passes The Torch to Obama
HuffPo: The Torch Has Passed to Barack Obama

Wow! What a momentous day. Not just anyone can get that torch!

Wait a minute...what's this? Obama wasn't Kennedy's first choice?

Jan 9, 2007: Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) told Chris Matthews he will back John Kerry for president in 2008.

Suddenly that torch isn't burning quite as brightly. But that certainly won't stop the press and Obama supporters from claiming that he's the new JFK.

(Bonus for my fellow Canadians: who does this remind you of?)

Coderre Says McKay Has 'Chronic Pinocchio Syndrome'

The approved PMO talking points about the bungled Afghan detainee situation were out in full force during Monday's Question Period as the Cons who spoke to the issue went to great lengths to again blame the Liberals for their "flawed" detainee transfer agreement that the Cons supposedly improved upon. (Remember when they said the Red Cross was monitoring those detainees and the Red Cross staunchly denied it?. So much for the Cons' assertions and so much for their defence.)

In response to one opposition member's question, Peter McKay pulled out this old line as well:

"We're not going to talk about the details...because that only helps the Taliban."

How, exactly? No one really knows, but it's a handy talking point that once again infers that the opposition parties are only interested in helping the Taliban and don't care about Canadian soldiers. What he fails to get, obviously, is that when allegations of torture result from the actions of our soldiers while his government completely mishandles the issue, he puts our soldiers at risk.

And Harper had the audacity to say, after being challenged with the point that even the secretive Bush administration announces its operational handling of detainees, that at least the Canadian government doesn't send its transfers to Gitmo. If that's what he thinks about Gitmo, why isn't he doing anything to free Omar Khadr from that gulag?

When confronted by Stephane Dion about the fact that those sacred "operational details" about the transfers were released to the court (in the case the BC Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International are involved in surrounding these allegations) and not to the house, Harper had multiple choice answers. Initially, he said that is was revealed in court to "show clearly that the Canadian forces and authorities in the Canadian government at all levels always respect our humanitarian and international obligations". But, when pressed further by Dion who wondered aloud why information that is "good to be disclosed in court" isn't good to reveal to Canadians Harper said, "for their only legal reasons, the lawyers in that case chose to disclose this information". And that is exactly what did happen: the government's lawyers had no choice but to disclose it. It wasn't about them trying to show how wonderful we are. It was a court-mandated release of information.

On top of that, the current status of the agreement has now been muddied with Harper stating that the military has the "discretion" about whether to turn over detainees now. So, first the Cons stated the transfers had stopped and now they're saying that they haven't really. When pressed about where these detainees are now ending up, the government refused to respond. "Operational security", you see.

But the best line of the day went to Dennis Coderre who said McKay has "chronic Pinocchio syndrome". At the rate his nose is growing (along with the rest of his partisan liars), he'll soon end up poking somebody's eye out. In response to that accusation, McKay said, "Nobody has said that I had no information about what was happening...". Pardon me?

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, said the military did not tell the government about the suspension [of the transfer agreement].

Ms. Buckler called Friday to say she “misspoke” but would not say whether the military had or had not informed the government.

Can you lie just a little bit more, Mckay?

Radwanski of the G&M reported this quote today from Harper's press conference during which he supported Manley's so-called "blue ribbon" panel on the future of Canada's role in Afghanistan:

"There has been no issue that has caused me as Prime Minister more headache, and quite frankly more heartache..."

Hmm...that sounds familiar:

During an interview on NBC's Today show Wednesday concerning Malaria Awareness Day, Laura Bush talked to Ann Curry about "other challenges her husband is facing."

"You know the American people are suffering watching --," Curry said to the first lady.

"Oh, I know that very much," Laura Bush responded. "And believe me, no one suffers more than their president and I do when we watch this, and certainly the commander in chief, who has asked our military to go into harm's way."

Curry then asked, "What do you think the American public need to know about your husband?"

"Well, I hope they do know the burden, the worry that's on his shoulders every single day for our troops," Bush said. "And I think they do. I mean, I think if they don't, they're not seeing what the real responsibilities of our president are."

Pity the warmongers!

As Radwanski asked upon hearing the same kind of mush from Harper: "Who is this guy"?


When all else fails, channel Bush and hope it works. (You'd think Harper would take a look at Bush's approval numbers to see how effective that particular strategy is.) What's next? Dressing up like Commander Codpiece?

According to a new poll, it looks like the Conservatives might not even manage to keep the pathetic numbers they currently have if they continue to spin this issue the way they've been doing. One thing is certain: Harper's restrictive communications strategy, in which you couldn't pull the truth out of his ass with a tractor, is failing.

Photo credit: Canadian Press

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Robert Fisk on War

“War is not about victory or defeat. It is about the total failure of human spirit. When you see the things I see, you would never support war ever again.”

- Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk's archive at The Independent. Democracy Now! also has archived interviews (use the search function), including video and audio streams and here's the You Tube link for his videos posted on that site.

His latest article: Robert Fisk: A lesson in how to create Iraqi orphans. And then how to make life worse for them

If you have the time, I'd suggest that you watch this 2007 Democracy Now! interview in 4 parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Fisk talks about his life's work:

Saturday Nite Video Flashback: California Dreamin'

And that's probably where Hillary is wishing she was right about now.

Me too, but for different reasons.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Quote du Jour: Hell Edition

Via the G & M:

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP said it's up to the Prime Minister to decide whether to fire his chief spokeswoman for making false statements about Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

The government sent out two designated speakers Saturday — one English, one French — to defend Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director Sandra Buckler.

Other Conservatives grumbled privately that her misleading remarks are the latest example of how a potential good-news story about the Afghan mission has been plunged into the bowels of public-relations hell.

Enjoy the heat, Cons.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Quote du Jour

Via the New York Times story: Egypt Tries to Plug Border; Gazans Poke New Hole:

The police ordered local hotels not to take in Palestinians, but residents and mosques provided beds. “We’ve been sleeping in the Rifai Mosque. It’s nice they let us in,” Mr. Hirakly said. He was interviewed in a line to ride the bumper cars at a little amusement park. “We’re angry at the Egyptians, who try to rob us with overpriced stuff,” he said. “But it’s the most fun we’ve had in years.”

Afghanistan Detainees: Buckler says she "misspoke"

Sandra Buckler, the PMO spokespuppet, now claims she "misspoke" the other day on the issue of the transfer of Afghanistan detainees. As a Globe & Mail commenter wrote on reading that news:

mispoke (mis spok), vb. 1)the past tense of misspeak; 2) Conservative Idiom, to have lied about something of which their is proof of the contrary. eg. the Conservative gov't. misspoke when it blamed the military for its screw up.

From The G&M article:

OTTAWA — The Harper government's position that it was not aware the military had suspended the transfer of prisoners to Afghan custody fully unravelled Friday as the Prime Minister's communications director retracted comments she had made to that effect, while the Opposition claimed it was briefed on the policy change two weeks ago.

Mr. Harper made no mention of the controversy late Friday in a speech for party supporters to celebrate the Tories' second anniversary in power.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, said the military did not tell the government about the suspension.

Ms. Buckler called Friday to say she “misspoke” but would not say whether the military had or had not informed the government.

“I should not have said what I said to you, I misspoke, and I wanted to make sure you were aware of that,” she said. “I made a mistake…what I said was wrong.”

In other words, Harper blamed the military and when that didn't fly, he had his spokespuppet come out to claim she was wrong. The most overused phrase in the next few months will be "operational details".

When the house resumes next week, we'll be bombarded with continuing Conservative party spin and lies. I'm not sure if I'll even be able to stand watching them pose during question period. It's been nauseating enough to this point. No matter what they say however, if it can be proven that these bastards lied in the house, there will be absolutely no reason for them not to face a vote of no-confidence. And, even if that can't be proven, how can anyone in their right mind think they should be trusted to keep running our part in the Afghanistan war?

Would you buy a used car from this bunch of liars?

And yet we're talking about peoples' lives being at risk.

If the opposition parties can't break through on this issue, our democracy is nothing but a farce.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dennis Kucinich: Good News/Bad News

First, the bad news (for those of us who appreciated the wider dialogue Dennis contributed to the Democratic presidential race): Dennis will be dropping out of the race on Friday.

But, here's the Good News™: He announced on the floor of the house today that he "plans to introduce Articles of Impeachment against President Bush on Jan. 28 — the day of Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speech."

Accusing the administration of lying about the need for the war in Iraq, Mr. Kucinich said he did not need to hear the president’s assessment. “We know the State of the Union,” he declared. “It’s a lie.”

He also fired a volley at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California who has maintained that impeaching Mr. Bush is not on the table for Congressional Democrats. “If impeachment is off the table,” Mr. Kucinich said, “truth is off the table. If truth is off the table then this body is living a lie.”

Amen. And that's exactly what it's been doing by refusing to pursue justice for the American people through impeaching the president of 935 lies.

Dennis' announcement:

Ever since the Democrats regained their dominance of congress, we've heard excuse after excuse about why they won't impeach these war criminals. Enough is enough.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Canada's Government Secretly Suspended Afghan Detainee Handovers Last Fall

The minority Conservative government was under heavy fire from all of the opposition parties last year over reports of the alleged torture faced by some Afghan detainees who had been turned over to Afghan authorities. Anyone who followed those House of Commons debates during Question Period or the resulting media covergae will recall the standard talking point: The Taliban & al Qaeda lie about torture just to get attention - the same line used by Donald Rumsfeld when he was confronted about similar torture allegations.

You'd think that if the Conservatives actually had a real defence to those charges - something to back up their claim that they were investigating them - they would have presented it. Instead, they held their ground and defended the detainee transfer agreement that had been signed by General Rick Hillier in 2005 and then modified the agreement in an attempt to make Canadians believe that they were on top of the situation.

We now learn that the Conservative government secretly stopped the transfer of detainees to the Afghan government last November - in the midst of the entire mess. In other words, they've lied to all of us yet again.

OTTAWA–In a secret policy shift almost three months ago, the Canadian government stopped transferring Afghan prisoners to local authorities upon witnessing evidence of torture, according to a bombshell letter.

The revelation comes a year after the Conservative government ridiculed its opponents for raising torture allegations and Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused them of being pro-Taliban.

The abrupt shift was divulged in a letter submitted this week by federal lawyers to a pair of human rights organizations that have launched a case in Federal Court.

A prisoner told Canadian officials he'd been beaten unconscious, whipped with electrical cables, belted with a rubber hose, and he told the Canadians exactly where they could find the torture instruments.

After showing them a bruise, he led the Canadians to his prison cell where they discovered the hose and cable under a chair.

That Nov. 5 account is one of numerous allegations of torture included in government documents filed in advance of a Federal Court appearance Thursday. Another one describes electrocution.

Civil libertarians and opposition parties have warned that Canada could be violating the Geneva conventions by turning over captives to Afghan authorities with the knowledge they could be tortured.

Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association have sued Ottawa in an effort to block further transfers – and the resulting court documents are the only reason Canada's policy shift has come to light.

When Amnesty International pressed for details about the Nov. 5 incident, government lawyer J. Sanderson Graham sent the group a letter this week explaining what happened next.

Graham said Canadian authorities were informed of "a credible allegation of mistreatment " during that visit with prisoners in an Afghan detention facility.

"As a consequence, there have been no transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities since that date," said Graham's letter.

"The allegation is under investigation by the Afghan authorities. Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations."

And this ought to be the final nail in this government's coffin after all of the ranting and raving they did last year against anyone who dared to bring up the torture allegations:

The Conservatives did not officially confirm the policy change, calling it an operational military matter that is the sole responsibility of the Canadian Forces.

"The government will not provide any comment on operational matters," said Harper spokeswoman Sandra Buckler.

Suddenly it's an "operational military matter"? Just how obtuse does this government think Canadians are? It wasn't an "operational military matter" when the Conservatives went out of their way day after day to try to reassure Canadians that the detainee agreement was being followed. (Remember when they said the Red Cross was checking in on those detainees, only to have to admit later that they were wrong when the Red Cross contradicted that so-called "fact".)

Just what else is this government lying about and, more importantly, how on earth can they continue to do so while peoples' lives are at risk? They were told repeatedly that allegations of torture resulting from Canadian soldiers handing over suspects to the Afghan government also put our soldiers at risk. If Harper and his worthless cabinet had actually been thinking, they would have realized that a public announcement regarding the suspension of the detainee handovers last fall could have helped to minimize that possibility. Instead, they said nothing - other than to continually insult anyone who brought up the concerns. Once again, they've backed themselves into a corner and Canadians are left to bear the brunt of what they have done as they further tarnish this country's reputation with their reckless disregard for human life.

How long will we allow this to go on? Are we supposed to trust these lying bastards to properly investigate what's happened?

A spring election can't come soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.


CBC News has more on files released to the BC Civil Liberties Association in this case outlining the torture allegations as a result of their FOIA request.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association says it obtained the heavily censored documents as part of its court case in conjunction with Amnesty International demanding that the Canadian military stop the transfer of prisoners.

The association said the documents, made available on its website on Monday, are an exchange between diplomatic and Foreign Affairs Department personnel who visited various facilities in Afghanistan.

The diplomatic communiqués — marked "secret" — disclose that Canadian officials were aware that the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) engaged in forms of torture of prisoners after they were transferred into NDS custody, the rights group said.

The documents contain summaries of interviews with detainees, who report being whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and beaten unconscious while in Afghan custody. One detainee interviewed showed fresh welts on his body, then led Canadian investigators to discover a hidden electrical cable and rubber hose he said was used to strike him.

Dates and other key information on the documents have been blacked out, making it difficult to determine the time frame of the exchange. The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that the reports were filed six months after the Canadian government put in place what it said was an improved transfer agreement with Afghan authorities to monitor detainee treatment.

Among the several prisoners who declined to give their names to Canadian officials, one who said he was beaten with electrical cables while blindfolded said he wanted to remain anonymous "as to avoid any possible repercussions," one of the documents said.

The documents also describe the sometimes poor record-keeping by Afghan authorities, as well as the difficulty Canadian officials encountered in trying to determine whether the detainee they were visiting at facilities was captured by Canadian forces, or was even the person they were seeking to interview.

The BC Civil Liberties Association has a pdf file of these documents on their site. I'll post updates on the court case as they come in.

Update: 78th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan

Gazans Break Free

This is truly remarkable:

It took explosives to do what diplomacy couldn't: allow Palestinians to go on a shopping spree. The siege of Gaza, imposed by Israel and the international community after Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory last July, ended abruptly before dawn on Wednesday when militants blew as many as 15 holes in the border wall separating the territory from Egypt. In the hours that followed, over 350,000 Palestinians swarmed across the frontier, nearly one fifth of Gaza's entire population.

Some Palestinians craved medicine and food — goats appeared to be a hot item — because Israel had cut off most supplies from entering Gaza as punishment for militants' firing rockets into southern Israel. Students and businessmen joined the throng heading for Egypt. There were scores of brides-to-be, stuck on the Egyptian side, who scurried across to be united with their future bridegrooms in Gaza. And some, like teacher Abu Bakr, stepped through a blast hole into Egypt simply "to enjoy the air of freedom."

The previous day, President Housni Mubarak faced the wrath of the Arab world when his riot police used clubs and water hoses to attack Palestinian women pleading for Egypt to open the Rafah crossing in Gaza. And despite pressure from Israel and the United States, Mubarak wasn't about to order his men to use force to restrain Palestinians rendered desperate by Israel's siege. The Egyptian President said he ordered his troops to "let them come to eat and buy food and go back, as long as they are not carrying weapons."
Many carried heavy suitcases and said that they were never coming back to captivity in Gaza.

But most Gazans were in a mad scramble to go shopping, and they returned with everything from goats to tires to jerricans full of gasoline. One stout woman in a veil threaded nimbly through barbed wire with a tray of canned fruit balanced on her head. The Palestinians cleaned out every shop on the Egyptian side: By afternoon, there was nothing to buy within a six-mile distance of the border; and even the Sinai town of El-Arish, three hours drive away, had been sucked dry of gasoline. One taxi driver who brought back cartons of cigarettes and gallons of gas to resell for a profit in Gaza said, "This should help feed my family for several months."

I can't even remember the last time I felt anything resembling a sigh of relief for the plight of the Palestinians.

The reactions:

Olmert continues his warmongering while the US expresses 'concern'. Hamas wants the Egyptian/Gaza border to be controlled by the Egyptians and the Palestinians. Egypt's president Mubarak said Gazans were allowed to cross the border because they were starving. The EU had accused Israel earlier in the week of collective punishment when it cut off fuel and supplies to Gaza while the UN security council stalled while considering a resolution condemning Israel because the US and France were concerned that it didn't include a fair and balanced view of the situation ie. it didn't address the rocket fire from Gaza. Same shit, different resolution. Israel has been in violation of UN security resolutions for years without consequence.

And here's one presidential candidate's response:

Barack Obama wants a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Gaza Strip to mention rocket attacks on Israel.

The Democratic presidential candidate in a letter sent Tuesday to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged the United States not to allow the resolution to pass unless it notes the rocket salvos.

The Security Council is in emergency session this week considering Israel's blockade of Gaza.

"All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families," wrote Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, in his letter to Khalilzad. "However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this. Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization sworn to Israel's destruction, and Israeli civilians are being bombarded on an almost daily basis."

Reality to Obama: it doesn't matter what the wording is. Israel will not comply. And, for all of your talk about "change", maybe you should explain why you're supporting the Bush administration's foreign policy stance.

In the meantime, Gazans are experiencing some much-needed freedom and it's about damn time.


Gaza's Last Gasp

Israel might find that giving the Palestinians their freedom and allowing them the dignity of self-determination in their own land might be far more effective in bringing about a peaceful solution than all this bloodshed and misery. Fifty years have passed since Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan said, "How can we complain about Gaza's hatred towards us? For eight years, they have been sitting in refugee camps while right in front of them, we are turning the land and villages of their forefathers into our home." How much deeper must the hatred be after decades of oppression that has reduced their existence to a mere specter of life? Without a political solution that includes Gaza in negotiations to settle the wrongs done to the Palestinians, a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis is as remote as ever.

The Palestinians need candles desperately and they need your voice to speak for them. There are many ways that you can do this. Organize demonstrations or vigils, or take part in ones that are already being organized. Take the time and write to newspapers and politicians urging them to take action and bring an end to this humanitarian disaster. Also, a deluge of letters to the Israeli Embassy would allow the Israelis to see that the world does not support a siege on the people of Gaza. The power is in your hands to spread the word through your churches, work groups, clubs, neighborhood networks, and simply by talking to everyone you know. We cannot stand by and allow this slow agonizing death of a whole people to continue whatever justification Israel gives for its actions. There has to be another way that gives succor to the people of Gaza and hope for a better future than the ominous one being forced on them right at this moment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, Nato told'

While the Canadian focus on NATO today has been the release of Manley's report on the future of Canada's role in Afghanistan, a startling news story about the coalition was overshadowed by that long-awaited development and the state of the unstable global financial markets.

This is alarming:

The west must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the "imminent" spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, according to a radical manifesto for a new Nato by five of the west's most senior military officers and strategists.

'Radical' is right.

Just look at those code words: "pre-emptive", "imminent", "weapons of mass destruction".

Ring any bells?

And who came up with this dangerous extension of the Bush Doctrine and the Pentagon's 2005 Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (which it later decided to 'cancel' after being outed)?

Calling for root-and-branch reform of Nato and a new pact drawing the US, Nato and the European Union together in a "grand strategy" to tackle the challenges of an increasingly brutal world, the former armed forces chiefs from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands insist that a "first strike" nuclear option remains an "indispensable instrument" since there is "simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world".

I guess we should be thankful that Canadians weren't part of that decision (that we know of), although I'm sure the minority Conservative government wouldn't have a problem supporting this call.

The manifesto has been written following discussions with active commanders and policymakers, many of whom are unable or unwilling to publicly air their views. It has been presented to the Pentagon in Washington and to Nato's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, over the past 10 days. The proposals are likely to be discussed at a Nato summit in Bucharest in April.

That's when we'll find out whether or not Canada's government supports this stance.

Considering how the Bush cabal managed to manipulate the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's Iraq to justify to the world that pre-emptive war was necessary and looking at the nightmarish fallout from that ideological decision to attack regardless of doubts in the intelligence community, one would think that the world would wisely step back from the notion of pre-emption and that the idea of striking with the most fierce weapons of all - nuclear - would cause more rational heads to prevail. Obviously not.

These are the identified threats:

The five commanders argue that the west's values and way of life are under threat, but the west is struggling to summon the will to defend them. The key threats are:

· Political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism.

· The "dark side" of globalisation, meaning international terrorism, organised crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

· Climate change and energy security, entailing a contest for resources and potential "environmental" migration on a mass scale.

· The weakening of the nation state as well as of organisations such as the UN, Nato and the EU.

Environmental migration on a mass scale? The only mass migration I've seen lately is in war-torn areas like Afghanistan and Iraq where people are fleeing for their lives thanks to the west's 'interventions'. Are they expecting hordes of Africans to suddenly realize that their devastating climate problems which have plagued them for centuries, will result in boatloads of people suddenly leaving for the United States? If NATO is concerned about immigration/emigration issues, I can't for the life of me see how that has something to do with choosing pre-emptive nuclear strikes as a solution or why it has obviously been so over-inflated as presenting some sort of imminent threat.

And how would this new, nuclear pre-emption program work within NATO?

To prevail, the generals call for an overhaul of Nato decision-taking methods, a new "directorate" of US, European and Nato leaders to respond rapidly to crises, and an end to EU "obstruction" of and rivalry with Nato. Among the most radical changes demanded are:

· A shift from consensus decision-taking in Nato bodies to majority voting, meaning faster action through an end to national vetoes.

· The abolition of national caveats in Nato operations of the kind that plague the Afghan campaign.

· No role in decision-taking on Nato operations for alliance members who are not taking part in the operations.

· The use of force without UN security council authorisation when "immediate action is needed to protect large numbers of human beings".

So, this is really a power-play to diminish the power of the EU, providing punishment for NATO countries who refuse to go along with what the big dogs want. Whatever happened to sovereignty and democracy? And, it smacks of exactly the same approach Bush took with the UN - snub the organization and move unilaterally, no matter what legitimate concerns there are or what international law may allow.

Reserving the right to initiate nuclear attack was a central element of the west's cold war strategy in defeating the Soviet Union. Critics argue that what was a productive instrument to face down a nuclear superpower is no longer appropriate.

Meet the new Cold War, as orchestrated by George W Bush.

We've been told for months on end that if NATO didn't succeed in Afghanistan, its credibility was on the line - a perspective I certainly don't agree with since success in Afghanistan by any military force, as we've seen throughout Afghanistan's history, is practically impossible. NATO and military leaders have repeatedly said there must be a political solution while continuing to outspend on the military aspect over redevelopment at obscene levels, allowing the Taliban and warlords to retain control in key areas of the country while corruption and opium production runs rampant. How does NATO expect to 'win' anything in Afghanistan under those conditions? And why is is willing to destroy itself over such unrealistic expectations?

Now, these experts have ratcheted up the ante with the focus being on the ultimate military solution: the use of first-strike nuclear weapons. NATO may need reforms, but such an extreme doctrine that only seeks to encourage widespread fear, destruction and division is not the answer. Perhaps these men have fond memories of the effects of Fat Man and Little Boy. Millions of others do not.

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, science for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable an ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."
-- Albert Einstein

Video: The SC Democratic Debate - Obama vs Clinton

If you missed the debate in South Carolina on Monday nite, here's a clip of one of the feisty exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It seemed like at any moment the tension would bring on, 'Jane, you ignorant slut' and 'Dan, you pompous ass'. Popcorn Moments™ abounded and a rough time was had by all.

You can read the transcript here (but watching it was much more fun.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

It's the New & Improved Hip Mitt

Via the FAUX News blog (and don't forget to watch the video):

Governor Romney paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. when speaking to a group of employees at Gate Petroleum today and then shook hands and posed for photos with African-American families at a parade.

The presidential hopeful met a friendly crowd at the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade here. The former Massachusetts governor often runs back and forth across streets during parades to greet people and today was no exception. He shook hands with ROTC members, tiny beauty queens, police officers and many parade-goers, including children screaming his name. He jumped off the Mitt Mobile to greet a waiting crowd, took a picture with some kids and young adults and awkwardly quipped, ”Who let the dogs out? Who who.” [If you watch the video, you'll notice he said that surrounded by a group of black women - ouch. -catnip]

He took pictures with many in the crowd and greeted one baby wearing a necklace saying, “Hey buddy! How’s it going? What’s happening? You got some bling bling here!”

[insert cringe here]

Not everyone was hip to the new Mitt though:

Romney even received some hugs, but some Obama supporters held up signs and one woman yelled, “Mitt Romney go home. You are holding up the parade!” Once the parade did start Romney hopped back on the Mitt Mobile and headed to his next stop.

Where I'm sure he'll entertain the crowds with his new-found love of break dancing while he eats grits. Word.

Israeli Ministers Want Nasrallah Assassinated

Peace in the Middle East? Not bloody likely.

Via Ha'aretz:

After Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday that his organization is holding the remains of Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, several government ministers on Sunday called for the militant chief's assassination.

"Nasrallah is a cruel and crazy man," said Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "I don't understand why he is still breathing. We should have liquidated him a long time ago. I recommend the cabinet assassinate the man.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) echoed the sentiment, saying, "Nasrallah is a person who has crossed all lines of inhumanity. We don't need to negotiate with him, we need to destroy him."

Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim called Nasrallah a "sewer rat," adding, "we must make sure he does not see the light of day."

That's what happens when the oppressed becomes the oppressors; when those who have been terrorized become merchants of terror.

"sewer rat"?

From The History Place:

The devastating Nazi propaganda film 'The Eternal Jew' went so far as to compared [sic] Jews to plague carrying rats, a foreshadow of things to come.

Do they really have such short memories?

And does the idea of Nasrallah negotiating with body parts disturb you?

Well, read this:

JERUSALEM -- Israeli troops are collecting bodies of Hezbollah fighters killed in Lebanon and storing them in refrigerated containers in Israel, the army said Wednesday.

Israel used the bodies of Hezbollah fighters as a bargaining chip in a previous prisoner swap with the Lebanese guerrilla group, and security officials said bodies were being collected for the same reason this time.

Absolutely gruesome.

So, when Israel does it, it's okay but If Hezbollah uses the same tactic (which has been successful in the past), Nazrallah should be assassinated and cabinet ministers who voice that are just told to simmer down by Ehud Barak (probably because he's got his hands full trying to kill more people in Gaza by denying them fuel)?

What kind of insanity is this?


More from Gaza: People are dying, Help us!


Barak: Gaza to get one-time fuel, medicine delivery

Lebanese Army Fires on Israeli Warplanes Over Southern City

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Non-violence

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 1964.


Historians Fear MLK's Legacy Being Lost

Just One More Year and Bush Will be Gone

This is the headline in The Independent:

Just one more year! Good riddance to George W Bush

Funny, I don't recall seeing any similar headlines in America's newspapers today. Dog forbid the MSM should lose its access to the White House by making such a declaration - as if those relationships have yielded something more than outright lies the past 7 years as so-called 'reporters' just played stenographers to Bush's White House. Sure, the New York Times and the Washington Post broke some scandals along the way but they became scandalous when they and other corporate media outlets played a part in pimping the propaganda they so willingly published in the run up to the Iraq war - Judith Miller of the NYT being a prime example of why the MSM is no longer trusted. And Michael Gordon, Miller's sidekick during those infamous days (who is also a first class asshole), is now playing the same role when it comes to fearmongering about Iran.

But I digress...

The Independent's Rupert Cornwell, who wrote the pre-emptive obituary on Bush's presidency I noted above, ponders what the next president will have to clean up. Well, not so much 'what' as how they will be able to manage a country, economy, and government that has been torn apart at the seams by Bush and his nasty band of neocons. No small task and no-one is expecting things to change anytime soon (except all of those presidential candidates' supporters out there who so believe in all of this "change" speechifying that they actually think the next president will swoop into office like some kind of nouveau, political Superman™ to save America from itself their first day in office. Please people. Wake up.)

Anyway, those of us who have been alive during Bush's presidency know all too well what lies ahead and the reality is that it's going to take decades, most likely, to repair the political sewage that Bush and his warmongering, capitalist cronies have let fester in DC, America, and around the world. On top of the damage that has already been done, it is highly probable (100% guaranteed) that they're not done yet. They can create a lot of chaos in the time they have left. What do they care? Bush will ride off into the sunset in his truck on his faux Texas ranch (where perhaps he'll be attacked by another insurgent snack food) and Cheney will grab his guns and head out hunting (never to be heard from again - unless he manages to shoot yet another one of his friends in the face).

So, start the countdown. Head out now to buy that champagne (while you still have two nickles to rub together) and begin the celebratory planning because when January 20, 2009 rolls around, more than a few people are going to be partying like it's 1999 (or at least wishing it still was so they could wake up to discover that the Bush years were just one long, excruciating nightmare that never really happened).


Oliver Stone votes for 'Bush' project; Josh Brolin to play embattled president

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Canada Places the US and Israel on Torture Watch List

Yes, I'm talking about Canada's Conservative government.

Via Reuters:

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's foreign ministry has put the United States and Israel on a watch list of countries where prisoners risk being tortured and also classifies some U.S. interrogation techniques as torture, according to a document obtained by Reuters on Thursday.

The revelation is likely to embarrass the minority Conservative government, which is a staunch ally of both the United States and Israel. Both nations denied they allowed torture in their jails.

The document -- part of a training course on torture awareness given to diplomats -- mentions the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where a Canadian man [Omar Khadr] is being held.
"The training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government," he [Foreign Affairs minister Bernier] said.

The government mistakenly provided the document to Amnesty International Canada as part of a court case the rights organization has launched against Ottawa over the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.

Well, this is bound to be interesting...

Gates Backtracks on NATO Criticism

Robert Gates is in hot water. Here's what he told the Los Angeles Times this week about NATO troops in Afghanistan:

"I'm worried we're deploying [military advisors] that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations," Gates said in an interview.

Canada's government was quick to provide cover for Gates by trying to reassure Canadians that he wasn't talking about Canada's troops but his press secretary, in an attempt to backtrack, said this:

Mr. Gates "most certainly did not" finger Canada, Mr. Morrell said.

Mr. Morrell said Mr. Gates's view, that NATO members lack counterinsurgency training and combat effectiveness, was general and applied across the entire 26-member alliance, including, to some extent, the United States.

In other words, he reinforced Gates' criticism by including all allies and that does include Canada. Somehow, in the mind of the US defence department, that explanation makes everything better.

"The secretary never criticized any specific member of the alliance," Mr. Morrell added, although he declined to release a transcript of the interview with the Times.

Jason Motlag and Jim Lobe writing for the Asia Times offer a different perspective on the counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan:

Washington hopes that the additional troops will help both stabilize Afghanistan and shame its reluctant NATO allies into sending more troops to the same end. Of the 3,200 new troops, about 1,000 will be used for training the Afghan army, and the rest will be deployed to southern Afghanistan to fight the Taliban alongside British, Australian, Dutch and Canadian troops, who have taken record casualties during the past year.

Tainted record

Commandant General James Conway first pitched the plan last year after hostilities in Iraq's al-Anbar province in Iraq calmed down, saying marines on the ground there could either return home or "stay plugged into the fight" and head to Afghanistan.

Marines with a "more kinetic bent", Conway said, are needed to take the fight to the enemy.

But trend lines show that in an Afghan-style counter-insurgency, strength in numbers may not apply. In fact, successive troop buildups since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001 have been matched by a steady increase in insurgent-related violence.

Overall, attacks increased from nine in 2002 to 103 last year, according to the Rand Corporation, and some 300 foreign troops have died in the past two years.

While north and west of Afghanistan are today relatively safe, the Pashtun-dominated southern and eastern provinces are much worse. Six years on it's understood that the crucial window to inject development and win over disillusioned Pasthuns when the Taliban fled was diverted by the Iraq war. According to the Congressional Research Service, Washington has spent about US$3.4 billion a year on reconstruction, or less than half of what went to Iraq.

The aid that has trickled into Afghanistan has gone almost wholesale towards military expenditures. But the integrated "light footprint" strategy used so effectively to topple the Taliban, in which special forces on horseback and small ground units reinforced Northern Alliance irregulars, was replaced by blast-walled compounds and heavy armor vehicles.

Security efforts stood to receive a big shot in the arm from the US Congress' latest military spending package, which exceeded $10 billion - a massive upgrade from years past. Yet about 80% of the total was earmarked for military purposes versus just 20% for reconstruction. This makes little sense in an agrarian country where infrastructure has been shattered by 30 years of war.

So, who's really responsible for the current situation in Afghanistan? That answer seems obvious.

And, will the infusion of 3,200 US marines save the day? Don't count on it.

Today these four basic principals of counter-insurgency, based on army and marine doctrine, are taught to Afghan security forces at the Afghanistan Counter-insurgency Academy in Kabul. However, it is the marines themselves who have courted controversy in the country for being too heavy-handed.

Last March, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the former top US commander, expelled a marine special operations company after their convoy was ambushed and they went on a "rampage" in Nangarhar province that left 12 civilians dead, including an infant and three elderly men, according to a report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. One man was said to be so riddled with bullets that he could not be identified.

"In failing to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets, the US Marine Corps special forces employed indiscriminate force," the report said. "Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian standards."

Faced with mounting public anger over the shootings and a series of botched air attacks, President Hamid Karzai is said to have pushed for the expulsion. The unit had been the first marine special operations company sent overseas before the incident, and US officials noted that an order for all 120 men to be redeployed was unprecedented, stressing the gravity of the incident. At present, only 300 marines are stationed in Afghanistan.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter how much counter-insurgency training you have if you can't or won't use it in an environment as challenging as Afghanistan and it bears repeating that this is yet another war that officials and commanders have admitted won't be won militarily.

By focusing so much money on military efforts while not dealing with extreme poverty, leading farmers who have reverted to growing poppies while making deals with the Taliban to protect them, the US has hamstrung its own efforts and those of its allies. It's hard to get people to trust you when you've admitted torturing their neighbours and family members.

So, no matter how much the Canadian government wants to apply cover for its conservative brothers in Washington, it can't be denied that US actions and inaction over the past 6 years in Afghanistan have led to what NATO is dealing with today. Add to that the Bush administration's backing of Musharraf, who has not dealt with insurgent forces in Waziristan, and anyone can clearly see where the blame really lies. Sending in a few extra US marines will certainly not fix the problem - especially since only 1,000 of those 3,200 marines will actually be joining NATO allies in the south.

...violence has continued to rise in the south, which is controlled by a 11,700-soldier NATO force largely made up of the British, Canadian and Dutch forces. Britain saw 42 soldiers killed last year, almost all in southern Afghanistan, its highest annual fatality count of the war; Canada lost 31, close to the 36 from that country killed in 2006. American forces lost 117 troops in 2007, up from 98 in 2006, but U.S. forces are spread more widely across Afghanistan.

The latest news:

Seven Canadian soldiers received minor injuries in two incidents involving suspected roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan, the military said Thursday.
Seventy-seven Canadian soldiers and one Canadian diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002.

What are you going to do about that, Mr Gates, besides blaming training for all of your problems?


Germany and the United States Failed to Train Afghanistan's Police

Canada eyes leaner role in Afghanistan

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Huckabee & "God's standards"

"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards," Huckabee said, referring to the need for a constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Which 'God'? And does that include these standards too?

Conservatives Behaving Badly: Gary Lunn

In a literal 11th hour move, Natural Resources minister poodle, Gary Lunn, decided last nite to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Nuclear Safety Commission's president Linda Keen by firing her in the dead of nite - just in time for today's hearings on the Chalk River reactor radioisotopes affair.

Lunn was on the hot seat as he appeared before a Commons committee this morning to explain his government’s handling of the isotope crisis last fall, caused by the shutdown of the Chalk River nuclear reactor.

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra charged that Lunn stepped over the line in his dealings with the arm’s-length, quasi-judicial commission, culminating in the government’s decision late Tuesday night to dump Keen as its president.

But Lunn said that Keen had ignored the growing health crisis caused by the shortage of medically vital isotopes as the shutdown dragged on.

Keen also failed to act on the government’s repeated demands that the commission take the health consequences into account, and did not take steps that would allow the aging reactor to resume production, Lunn told the committee.

“There was a serious issue. Lives were at stake,” Lunn said.

He refused to take responsibility for his part in all of this, of course.

Keen refused to testify at today's hearing. Although she's lost her job as the head of the commission, Lunn decided she should stay on as a member. How very generous of him.

More, via the CBC:

Another Liberal MP, Lloyd St. Armand, questioned whether Lunn had gone against the government's code of conduct by making two phone calls to Keen about the situation.

The code states that ministers should not intervene or appear to intervene in quasi-judicial tribunals on issues requiring a decision.

Lunn responded that the calls were to obtain information from Keen, as is "completely appropriate" for any minister.

Liberal MP David McGuinty accused the Conservatives of U.S. Republican-style tactics by dismissing Keen in the "dark of night," just hours before she was due to testify before the Commons committee.

"These are the kind of Republican tactics this town has never seen before, that are new to Canadians," McGuinty told the committee. "What kind of conduct is this, minister? What kind of government are you a part of?"

I'm sure those were meant to be rhetorical questions since anyone with half a clue knows exactly what kind of government the Conservatives are running: authoritarianism gone wild.

While Harper stands by his man, it looks like yet another public inquiry may be in the offing - and so it should be.

Photo credit: Tyler Anderson/National Post

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Write Your Own Caption

Bush enlists some unsuspecting residents of the United Arab Emirates to join him in his impersonation of The Temptations hit song 'The Way You Do the Things You Do."


Monday, January 14, 2008

Tabloid Politics

You didn't have to hang around supermarket checkout lines this past week to get your fill of hyperventilated, manufactured claims. The various so-called legitimate pages of the MSM were dishing out sensationalism left and right. No, not about Batboy. But, unless you live in a cave or just haven't been paying attention, the guano being flung around between various surrogates (and people labeled 'surrogates' who were no such thing) of the Obama and Clinton campaigns made people like me don full-sized body condoms for protection. It's been nasty.

The issue, of course, has been racism. No small topic. But the way it has all been handled has been despicable and that has diminished both campaigns. No matter who you think is to blame for what may or may not have been a coordinated effort to smear one or the other candidate, the fact is that neither Obama nor Clinton ordered an official ceasefire to this war (for those insurgents they actually could control) until late Monday. Neither completely rose above the fray to display what they have been assuring Democrats and other Americans will be their style of governance: change, unity, hope. As a result, they have both let the issue steamroll into an ugly example of tabloid politics ie. any publicity is good publicity. Who's running their campaigns? Paris Hilton?

There can be no doubt that there is a hunger to have a national dialogue about racism and the current status of the civil rights movement in America. No one, it seems, has quite yet figured out how to do that without inflicting casualties - real or metaphorical. It's a hypersensitive reality. Had both candidates grasped this opportunity to come together, despite the fact that they are currently political opponents in the race for president, they could have shown their country what they claim Democrats are capable of doing: ending division, working in partnership for the common good and taking on the tough challenges that face America. On that front, they failed miserably. But, for that to have happened, I suppose you'd have to hang your hat on the belief that Democrats really do stand for such ideals and, considering the extremely low approval ratings of the Democratic congress, it seems much of America hasn't bought the idea that they actually do and the politicians sure haven't acted like it.

What's happened this past week seems to be a reflection of the Democratic party itself: it talks the talk but just doesn't walk the walk when it really matters. And neither do Obama and Hillary. That, in the end, may be the final result of this chapter of this very public family feud. When you strip away the racism issue this has all been lurking behind, you find two people - the Democratic party's most recent stars - who have managed to garner a lot of attention and headlines but who, in the end, have shown very little talent for actually following through on whatever promise their portfolios advertized.

So, what's it going to be, you two (and the MSM that has played right along)? Coverage worthy of the Weekly World News or something a tad more substantial? Reading and encouraging sensationalist Batboy-style diversions might be entertaining but they don't do much to advance world peace, heal racial divides or to put food on the table, now do they?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Gore Vidal on American Democracy

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.


As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.


Fifty percent of people won't vote, and fifty percent don't read newspapers. I hope it's the same fifty percent.


Our form of democracy is bribery, on the highest scale.


The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity - much less dissent.

The Joints Chiefs Chairman Thinks Gitmo Should be Closed

And just what is his main concern?

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The chief of the U.S. military [Admiral Mike Mullen] said Sunday he favors closing the prison here as soon as possible because he believes negative publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist suspects has been "pretty damaging" to the image of the United States.

I just happened to watch the documentary The Road to Guantanamo on Sunday afternoon about the experiences of three young British men now known as 'The Tipton Three' who, due to circumstances beyond their control, ended up in Gitmo falsely accused of being al Qaeda 'terrorists'. They were eventually freed, having never been charged with anything but having endured the brutal interrogation regime the US military now infamously employs at Gitmo and elsewhere in its military gulags.

So, when I see a statement from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs stating that he wants to shut down Gitmo because it has damaged America's precious image, I can't help but ask why he didn't express any concern about the irreparable damage it's down to peoples' lives. There is no humanity to be found in the Bush administration. None.

On Friday:

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US court Friday turned down a claim by four British former detainees that they were tortured at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, saying accused officials acted as part of their jobs.
Without addressing the details of the alleged treatment, the judge said the officials could not be made individually responsible for it under the terms of the suit brought against them, since they were doing their jobs.

"While the plaintiffs challenge the methods the defendants used to perform their duties, the plaintiffs do not allege that the defendants acted as rogue officials or employees who implemented a policy of torture for reasons unrelated to the gathering of intelligence," the ruling said.

They were just doing their jobs. Where have we heard that before?

...under the Nuremberg Principles, "defense of superior orders" is not a defense for war crimes, although it might influence a sentencing authority to lessen the penalty.

"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

The United States military adjusted the Uniform Code of Military Justice after World War II. They included a rule nullifying this defense, essentially stating that American military personnel are allowed to refuse unlawful orders.

But now, they don't even have to refuse illegal orders because the US judicial system allows them to get away with that defence unless they're acting as 'rogue' agents and CIA agents were granted immunity for torture with the passage of the Military Commissions Act (which Mr Anti-torture, John McCain, voted for). In which moral universe does this even make sense?

If the Joint Chiefs chairman is so damn concerned about his country's image, maybe he'd better take a good look at the people surrounding him in Washington and start questioning how it managed to get so bad. He can start with someone like the current Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell:

"You can do waterboarding lots of ways ... I assume you can get to the point that a person is actually drowning," McConnell said in the New Yorker article, which paraphrased him as agreeing that this would certainly be torture.

You just know there's a qualification coming after that statement though ...and here it is:

McConnell said he could not be more specific because "if it ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it."

No doubt. If McConnell acknowledged the US was actually torturing people, someone, like his buddy Michael Mukasey at the justice department who can't even bring himself to admit waterboarding really is torture, just might have to do something about it. And that's exactly why every single lawsuit filed against the Bush administration on torture issues has either been explained away like the one I noted above or has simply been dismissed on grounds of 'national security' which has just become a coded phrase the Bush administration uses to cover up its war crimes.

If the US is so proud of its 'legal' interrogation techniques, why did the CIA destroy videotapes of those practices in 2005?

The US government, no matter who is running it once the Bush cabal leaves office, will definitely have a huge uphill battle restoring its image, credibility, and respect in the world. The place to start, however, would seem to be a tacit admission of all of the lives it has ruined through its torture, illegal invasion of Iraq and simplistic and sadistic neocon foreign and domestic policy stances that have amplified what have been longstanding, but often forgiven practices by successive US administrations. And, among the current crop of front runners in the presidential primaries, there is not one - not one - who would willingly stand up on the world stage, pledge to start with that sorely needed honesty and who would then follow through by destroying the culture within the government, intelligence agencies, and the military that has so corrupted the lives of millions around the world. 'Change' ought to be more than an empty campaign promise. And frankly, I don't care much if the US ever regains its exalted reputation in the world - so undeserved for so long - but, for the sake of those Americans who have fought against the military industrial and corporatist/capitalist pariahs for years on end - for those individuals - I do care.

Related: The Center for Constitutional Rights response to Friday's court case.

Amnesty International's Six years of illegal US detentions includes videos of protests held on Friday to mark the 6th anniversary of Gitmo.

Voice of America has more protest coverage.

Andy Worthington: Six Years Of Guantánamo: Enough Is Enough

Those concerned about the continuing imprisonment of child soldier, Omar Khadr, should contact Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs to push for his release because our minority Conservative government (Bush's newest poodle brigade) refuses to act on his behalf.

Bush in the ME: Iran, Iran, Iran

The question that needed to be asked about George Bush's first visit of his presidency to Israel last week was: why now? I suppose it was easy to write it off as Bush trying to salvage some sort of legacy when it comes to making any inroads in the Middle East peace process since his administration basically abandoned any effort towards real change via its' much ballyhooed 'road map' but the broader events in the region, most particularly the ongoing escalation of rhetoric and sanctions towards Iran, seemed to me to be the real reason for his sudden Middle East adventures and now the White House has confirmed that suspicion:

In a speech described by the White House as the centerpiece of his eight-day trip to the Middle East, Bush tried to speak directly to the people of Iran as he urged nations to help the United States "confront this danger before it is too late."

And it would be nice to think that the MSM wasn't playing along with neocon fantasies this time around like they did in the run up to the Iraq war, wouldn't it? It's obvious that when they write statements like this, their pandering to Bush administration policies and rhetoric has hardly diminished:

The comments Sunday were part of a Bush speech devoted to advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
(my emphasis)

No they weren't. They were 'devoted' to Bush pursuing more warmongering against Iran.

When the administration released its' questionable video this past week of supposed Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats 'threatening' a US ship in the Straits of Hormuz, more warning bells went off for those with saner heads. The American version of the audio that accompanied the situation didn't match the Iranians. Add to that the 'Filipino Monkey' theory posted by the Navy Times and it seemed Bushco was crying wolf yet again. Since the administration's 'evidence' of Iranian provocation seemed to fall flat on its face, the Pentagon then revealed that during a December confrontation with Iranian Guard boats, the US had fired 'warning shots'. You'd think, if that was true, the Pentagon would have made that public immediately following the incident since the use of warning shots in that incident would seem to provide more ammo (pun intended) to Bushco's assertion that Iran is such a huge threat that action needs to be taken against it ASAP. That didn't happen. Why? Could it simply be that Bush needed to trot out more 'evidence' to convince those he met with in the ME to go along with his aggressiveness towards Iran? It seems like pretty handy timing to me.

Last week, The Asia Times published a piece about the possibility that Iran may be needed as a new ally in the GWOT as a result of the instability in Pakistan and the growing concern about the fate of the war in Afghanistan. As always, the Bush administration also has to tread very carefully when it comes to dealing with Iran because of its dealings with Russia and China - two very formidable forces which would not stand by idly if the US attacked on Iranian soil. So, the geopolitics of the broader situation trump the simplistic Bush-style rhetoric of justifying bombing Iran for its own good - this 'freedom and democracy' bullshit excuse that the neocons have used the past 8 years as a rationale for their illegal war in Iraq.

And, while Bush has been focusing on Iran, al Qaeda has been threatening the Saudis who would need US military help if attacked on such a scale that the Saudis could not deal with it themselves. Bush visits the kingdom on Monday and Tuesday of this week - when the public can expect an announcement by the administration about the status of US arms sales to the country - to the tune of $20 billion. As for the Saudis and the Iranians, witness this uncomfortable exchange between a member of the press and some unnamed 'Senior Administration Official' at the latest press briefing:

Q King Abdallah has also formed a relationship with the President of Iran, and has invited him personally to come to the Hajj.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what we are told, interestingly enough. We are told that Ahmadinejad, as he has done from time to time, invited himself. And one of the things about the Hajj is that it is -- the Saudi Arabian government makes it very much open to all Muslims to come. So if someone asks to come, the Saudis' view is, it's very difficult for them as the custodian of the two holy mosques, which is the whole point of the Hajj, for them to say no. So I think the Saudis would tell you they did not invite him, he invited himself, and they let him come, as they do generally when Muslims come and want to participate in the Hajj.

Q They were photographed arm in arm at the GCC.


So, as much as Bush and the neocons are itching to go after Iran militarily while Israeli hawks like Benjamin Netanyahu are pushing him down that road, the political calculations are much more messy and complex than the administration would like the American public to believe. Such a move could have major consequences, even beyond the ramifications of the decision to invade Iraq, which could set back America's international relations to a point where the resulting political instability could well be far more devastating than what Bushco has already wrought in the world.

While the rest of us are waiting to find out what Bush's final act in the Middle East will be, only he knows how his term will end and what sort of legacy he'll choose to leave for the next president. And that is probably the scariest thing in all of this, given his track record of death and destruction.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Harper Ties Aid to Budget's Approval

Governing by threats and bribes. That's the Conservative way.

PM offers $1B to ailing communities

TRACYVILLE, N.B. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a $1-billion aid package to help single-industry towns suffering economic hardship because of volatile commodity and financial markets.

The money will be used for what Harper called a “national community development trust fund” aimed at helping vulnerable communities and laid-off workers.

Well gee, that's nice of him, right?

Not exactly.

The money will come from a one-time allocation from the federal government’s budgetary surplus, which means the fund won’t survive unless the opposition parties in Ottawa agree to support the next budget.

The opposition parties have been pounding the Conservatives for months about their inaction on this front - expressing major concern about the forestry and manufacturing sectors - and now the Cons, knowing that there are rumblings of a possible spring election that could be the result of a budget rejection by any of the parties, have found a way to threaten the opposition to avoid that possibility: blackmail.



Industry reaction

The Forest Products Association of Canada welcomed the news but said Harper and the premiers needed to give more help to an industry that employs 300,000 people.

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union slammed the fund as a useless political gimmick which had no money specifically dedicated to the forest industry.

"Our union, our membership, our communities are outraged at this frivolous announcement ... our industry is bleeding. This isn't even a Band-Aid, it's not a stitch," union president Dave Coles told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Sidebar: It's interesting that the Cons chose $1 billion as the amount of the aid - the same amount they let US interests keep when they signed the softwood lumber agreement. It's a bit late now to be playing catch up.