Wednesday, 31 January 2007

US and Iran can fight elsewhere, says Iraqi PM

Iraq already has enough troubles with sectarian violence, and the often terrorist and sometimes Iranian-backed (allegedly) insurgency against the American military occupation there is an unneeded burden. A civil war is bad enough; a proxy war would only worsen things and increase or create Iranian-backed violence.

CNN reports:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is telling the United States and Iran to keep their fight out of Iraq.

Whether Iran proves to be responsible for that attack or not, al-Maliki said his country cannot be a proxy battleground for Washington and Tehran.

"Iraq has nothing to do with the American-Iranian struggle, and we will not let Iran play a role against the American Army and we will not allow America to play a role against the Iranian army, and everyone should respect the sovereignty of Iraq," al-Maliki said.

The prime minister said Americans are basing their hunches about Iranian activities in Iraq on intelligence they've amassed.

The United States accuses Iran of fomenting terror attacks worldwide and pursuing a nuclear program that could lead to the development of weaponry. Iran has denied those assertions.

"We have told the Iranian and the Americans, 'We know that you have a problem with each other, but we are asking you please solve your problems outside Iraq.' We don't want the American forces to take Iraq as a field to attack Iran or Syria," the prime minister said.

Al-Maliki said Iraq doesn't want its sovereignty to be violated by any of its neighbors, which include Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.

Iraq should not be a proxy for the United States to fight its enemies on the 'axis of evil' or otherwise. The Iraq Study Group recommended the US work with Syria and Iran — two 'enemies' listed on Bush's "axis of evil" introduced in his 2002 State of the Union speech. President Bush has yet to even consider considering the rational, bipartisan advice given by the ISG.

The United States and Iran both should heed al-Maliki's words. We don't want Iraq to become anything like Afghanistan, which was torn in a proxy war between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War. We also don't any additional strife and conflict in a nation marred by violence since the US-led 2003 invasion. Battles between Iran and America would only divide the country further and, it goes without saying, increase violence. The US wants Iraq to 'stand up'? A good first step would be to — as al-Maliki said — respect Iraq's sovereignty. The last thing Iraq needs is to become a battleground for a cause irrelevant to solving the its many troubles.

Update: Speaking of United States v. Iran, keep in mind that there have been a bunch of politicians — Republicans and Democrats — who have warned Bush against the prospects of a war with Iran. Of course, after Iraq the entire global community would be up in arms if there were prospects of a war with Iran. Knowing Bush, though, it's not out of the question. (Do not count on it happening though.)

Update 2: See this CFR report for more on Iranian involvement in Iraq.

Oh, and happy last day of the first month of the seventh year of the second millennium AD. Tomorrow is 1 February 2007.

Song stuck in my head right now: Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”. I had "The Bends" playing in my head for much of yesterday.

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Just another Israeli scandal

Wow, another Israeli political scandal involving a high-level figure! First it was the President Katsav and now the former justice minister. IHT:

An Israeli court Wednesday convicted the former justice minister, Haim Ramon, of sexual misconduct for forcibly kissing a young female soldier in a highly publicized case that has added to the scandal surrounding the country's leadership.

Ramon's conviction in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court also prompted speculation that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might soon shuffle his cabinet.

This accompanies the other scandals of Olmert's cabinet and the Israeli government — including that of ministers and officials during the Lebanon-Israeli conflict in summer 2006. The prime minister's popularity has been plummeting as recent violence with neighbors raises doubts about security and future plans of Israel to remove its illegal settlements. Which brings us to more Israel news mentioned in the above article...
In another development Wednesday, Olmert has asked security officials to examine the possibility of rerouting part of Israel's West Bank separation barrier to include two additional Jewish settlements, his office said.

Under the current route, the two settlements, Nili and Naaleh, are outside the barrier.

Haaretz reported Wednesday that Olmert had already approved the change. But Olmert's office said the prime minister had only asked for a review, and on his own could not overturn the cabinet's decision on the barrier's route.

If the route is ultimately changed, about 20,000 additional Palestinians would find themselves on the western, or Israeli, side of the barrier, according to the Haaretz report.

Israel says the barrier is to protect against suicide bombings and other attacks.

But much of the international community opposes the barrier, and the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding ruling in 2004, said the parts built in the West Bank violated international law.

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Bush tries to take hold of federal bureaucracy

New York Times story:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

This executive order — another controversial and questionable one — looks like it will create a public relations and communications monopoly for Bush. He will be 'the decider' in what is published by the government, increasing control over an already bulging federal bureaucracy. While it may act as a positive regulator, it has the negative effects of increasing the power and control of an administration that has already shown itself as having poor policies, making bad decisions, and not being representative of the people. Balkinization:
It no accident that these revisions occur following the Republican loss of Congress in 2006; both Congress and the President have varying degrees of influence over the bureaucracy; the Administration, faced with a Congress of the opposite party, is trying to ensure that its influence remains stronger. But it is likely that these changes would have occurred even if the Republicans retained Congress, because these changes are part of a longer trend of Presidents finding ever new ways of asserting control over the federal bureaucracy, and, more to the point, they mesh well with Bush's big government conservatism.

Critics may assume that the use of political appointees as gatekeepers is consistent with the Administration's "war on science." There may be something to that, but here is a better way to look at it. Scientific expertise is a source of authority for the bureaucracy; it justifies its independent judgment. Such independent judgment is precisely what Presidents seek to curb in asserting control over the bureaucracy. There is no one way to do this, of course.
Critics often charge that the Bush Administration does not care much about policy debate, only about politics. The Bush Administration's distinctive solution to the conflict between the President and the bureaucracy reflects this larger tendency.
Bush is trying to take hold of the bureaucracy — and use it to his advantage.

In some ways this executive order is comparable to the actually good decision of bringing all the United States intelligence agencies under the control of an 'intelligence czar' — a middle man between the agencies and the White House. This order, however, allows the Bush administration to have control over regulation. It also mixes in [bad] politics where it ought not be mixed: in things like science. As the Times article says, the order highlights Bush's tour de force to the new Democratically-lead Congress; this executive order accompanies statements by the president that his plan for Iraq will be acted on no matter what Congress says or does.

It is all about making sure all areas of the federal government are in agreement, or look as if they are. Whether it's a NASA report on the threat of global warming or a State Department dossier critical of Bush's poor foreign policy, this White House looks like it wants to crush any and all criticism of and dissent to its policies. From their viewpoint, they might as well start with the areas of the government Bush has control over. At the same time, the directive allows Bush to enjoy popularity among groups which benefit from the new rules, namely businesses; donors to Bush.
Business groups welcomed the executive order, saying it had the potential to reduce what they saw as the burden of federal regulations. This burden is of great concern to many groups, including small businesses, that have given strong political and financial backing to Mr. Bush.

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive order, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would hinder agencies’ efforts to protect the public.

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Germany's on a roll...

Shining at the recent WEF meeting in Davos, arresting CIA agents on counts of illegal kidnapping etc., working more and more for positive change in situations such as the Iran nuclear row, and growing the economy (retail wise) — Germany is doing well. Even though it is led by a center-right political coalition and has center-right leader Angela Merkel at the helm, the Central European state has kept a voice of moderateness, showing its savvy at events such as the G8 conference last year and the World Economic Forum gathering earlier this year.

Watch for more news on Germany, especially their role in world affairs. Germany is not a member of the UN Security Council because of World War II. However, it is a member of the Group of Eight industrialized nations (G8) and plays a key role in regional affairs as the largest economy in all of Europe; holding the temporary presidency of the European Union.

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Blair told to leave (again); Sarkozy in hot water (again)

Opposition leader David Cameron has told British Prime Minister Tony Blair it is really time for him to step down; I don't disagree.

David Cameron has told Tony Blair that it is in the "national interest" for him to quit now as prime minister.
Blair is expected so step down later this year.

French residential hopeful and Interior Secretary Nicolas Sarkozy has been attacked for going out of his way, to extraordinary lengths in fact, to recover an item of his son's: a scooter. Amazing.
France's Interior Minister and presidential contender Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of abusing police powers to recover his son's scooter.
A scooter? All for a scooter Sarkozy has once again damaged his political credit. He used three DNA tests in his attempts to get the toy.

Just recently Sarkozy was accused of using the secret police to spy on his political rival's adviser. As readers already know, I dislike Sarkozy and dismiss him as a xenophobe at a time when that is something neither Europe nor North America needs. Xenophobia in a place with so much emigration can mean racism, often turning into hate and strife already seen in France a couple summers ago with minority rioting.

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Tuesday, 30 January 2007

How to Talk to a Closed-Minded Person: Introduction

Have a hard time dealing with those narrow-minded people in your life? Whether they be your in-laws, the store cashier, or your coworkers, this guide may be able to help…

Consider this the Introduction to How to Talk to a Closed-Minded Person (If You Must), a new blog post series — which will hopefully end up looking like a serialized book — written entirely by me. This will be a societal guidebook, mixed with to political and personal references, to dealing with and understanding the minds of the narrow, and of the wide. How someone chooses to gather and accept information — whether it be facts or opinion — tells you who they are on multiple scales. In all simplicity this is a psychological, societal, political, and personal guide. When this is all finished, I will make this series into an ebook available as a PDF download for In Perspective readers.

Throughout this guide I’ll often refer to the closed-minded person as “the person you are talking to” or just “the closed-minded” or “the narrow-minded”. You know who they are.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “narrow-minded” as

not willing to listen to or tolerate other people's views; prejudiced.

American Heritage says “closed-minded” or “close-minded” is the
Intolerant of the beliefs and opinions of others; stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas.

The terminology is similar to “narrow minded”:
lacking tolerance or flexibility or breadth of view.

Thus, ‘narrow-‘ and ‘closed-minded’ are, for all practical purposes, synonymous and are used interchangeably in this guide.

Anyone familiar with the works of Ann Coulter knows my title is styled after her book How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) (complete bullocks, by the way). Just going by her distorted definition of the word "liberal", you know that woman is either insane or a good actor — call her whatever you want. I do not hope for this guide to resort to that hitting-below-the-knees, nonsensical, partisan mudslinging, disgusting extreme ideological polarization that people like Coulter stoop to.

This series will have a relaxed and informal, sometimes humorous outlook. I hope for some of it to sound laid back, so the layperson can relate to it.

How to Talk to a Narrow-Minded Pompous Ass (If You Must) was originally going to be the title of this multi-part blog post series, but I decided to shorten and mellow down the title a bit. The series is to come in chapters; the final product might be in chapters too.

Just as a note: this is not an attack on Christianity or other religions. People have a right to hold their own beliefs; I respect that right, even if I don’t respect the beliefs. But there are parts of the Bible praising the narrow-minded:
... narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
--Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:14

I wrote this guide partly for fun, and partly because of people, lunatics in fact, like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, but also so called firebrand lefties in the United States who also refuse to employ the tactic of logic and utilize a closed-mindedness of considerable proportions. I find it amazing how these kinds of people have millions of readers, listeners, and followers. They are treated like gods by some, and the devil by others. Their partisanship only furthers the polarized divide in the mind numbingly closed-minded realms of American politics and ideology.


Monday, 29 January 2007

Crouching tiger, not-so-hidden dragon

China’s economy grew by a massive 10.7% in 2006, defying many expectations as well as frightinging some and making some update their clocks counting down to either China's being crowned as a superpower or the collapsing of China's economy and/or government. Who knows about 2007…

China’s economical boom has surprised many, on multiple counts. Too much focus is put on India 'catching up', how a democracy should eventually crush an autocracy. There is, of course, a dark side often not seen in the pages of the Wall Street Journal: the extreme poverty and lack of development in these two massive Asian countries. The statistics say yes, the theories say yes, but India has yet to show China who’s boss. China is, of course, more developed. A benefit to pseudo-communism? Probably not, but India needs to make a lot of their urban areas more acceptable to businesses.

So will China reign supreme? It is loony to think any global superpower (empire) — including the United States, I might add — can be a superpower forever. The United Kingdom has been a great power or higher for many hundreds of years; the Roman Empire, which had power on an enormous scale, lasted hundreds of years more, but still eventually crumbled. Technology, it is said, is key to power, as is society. I think three people who have written some interesting things on the topic are Niall Fergruson, historian, Joseph Nye, Jr., a political theorist, and Ian Bremmer, a political analyst. Fergruson specializes in empires; Nye in power in general; Bremmer has a ‘J curve’ theory (see image below) that’s intriguing.

A graph of Ian Bremmer's J curve. Credit: Bremmer's Eurasia Group.

Maybe, in this modern day when it seems impossible for any superpower to fully extend itself, let alone become a full-blown hyperpower or empire, it is best not to think of China as the next superpower. The next great power — if it is not already — yes, but ‘superpower’ might require too much speculation about China’s future. They have energy needs, and do not use their needs very efficiently. If North Korea sloppily collapses that may be a huge problem for China not because of communism — which neither state really practices — but because of the human problems; things like refugees. China itself also may face the problem of stability. China has defied Bremmer’s ‘J curve’ by finding a way across the curve (from closed to open), albeit slowly, without falling to the bottom into instability. Anyway that is a taste of China and its rise to prominence on the political and economical global scale. It goes without saying China will remain a major topic as we enter 2007; they will be hosting the Olympics in 2008 so it will be interesting to see how that affects the country’s openness.

I think the Chinese leadership is doing a surprisingly satisfactory job at managing their bulging economy, but they need to really work on the human rights (never forget: the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre). Until then, the best thing to do is wait and, as responsible human beings, do our best to help those in China without collapsing their society. If China can continue to walk the open-to-closed J curve tightrope, and manage to stay high on the stability axis, things could work out fine.

Song stuck in my head right now: Thom Yorke’s “Harrowdown Hill”. It has both a profound sound and meaning. Read more about the song’s interesting background in this Wikipedia article.

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Sunday, 28 January 2007

Inside the WEF's Davos 2007

Some of the worlds most powerful and recognizable figures have been meeting in Davos, Switzerland over this past week discussing everything from climate change to currencies. Davos 2007 is a meeting of the World Economic Forum. At first glance it may just sound like a meeting of economists, albeit at one of the nicest ski resort areas on earth. When one takes a closer look one sees a conference with influence that can measure on a massive scale. The likes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, rock star/activist Bono, United States' Sen. John McCain, the globally influential Google's Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt, Microsoft head Bill Gates, US Sen. John Kerry, and German leader Angela Merkel are all in attendance at the WEF meeting, and are joined by non-Western dignitaries such as the Chinese economic minister in addition to Brazil’s re-elected President ‘Lula’ de Silva. I find it amazing how many blogs are talking about Davos, and how many of them are newsblogs not run by individuals, but by news organizations like the BBC, CNN Money, The Economist, The Guardian, Comment is Free, Newsweek, Huffington Post, Financial Times, and the International Herald Tribune, and the New York Times. Le Monde (translated) and the Wall Street Journal have also joined the party. Davos ’07, like the World Economic Forum itself, is obviously elite — which is why there has been opposition to it, just like there is opposition to the G8, WTO, and other governmental and economic conferences.

The World Economic Forum's meeting may now be over, but its reverberations still feel the news atmosphere and international zeitgeist. I said earlier in this post, climate change seems to be a topic on everyone’s mind at Davos. Global warming will have not only a disastrous human and environmental impact, but obviously an economic impact too — as the Stern Review confirmed. If precautions are to be taken against things like greenhouse gasses, it would be better for those precautions to be taken now than later, when they would be even more costly. If I was a political leader in country X, it would be more economically and otherwise effective to work to prevent the effects of human-caused climate change sooner rather than later; the cost — in money and lives — would be all the more higher the longer I wait. That being said I’d look for dampers on global warming sooner rather than later. Let’s say country Y waited 40 years until they took any action their climate change battle. By then the environmental consequences have a massive malevolent potential and the cost of working to save what has been lost by global warming and work against the problem at its core would be more expensive than if that country had done it 40 years prior.

One major story relating to Davos on the climate change front. BBC News:

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has told the World Economic Forum a major breakthrough on long-term climate change goals could be close.

Germany is taking center stage in the push for moderate globalization and has been a major player in European and world politics lately. Angela Merkel, the center-right German chancellor, has done well at balancing all the different forces of globalization — from human conflict and terrorism to climate change — in her recent agenda. Another international relations topic revealed more at Davos is that the United States is not nearly as ‘all powerful’ as it used to be, at least in regards to global economics. There’s a great IHT opinion piece on the matter.
This year's theme at the World Economic Forum annual meeting here — "the shifting power equation" — confirms the view of many participants that power is draining away from the United States to multiple centers as countries from Brazil to China move beyond "emerging" market status to establish themselves as major players on the world scene.

Far from some kind of conspiracy of the global elite plotting the future as they whisk down the Alpine slopes, Davos is in fact a back-end barometer of their evolving worldview. It does not break new ground but consolidates opinion. It does not generate new trends but codifies them into conventional wisdom. That is its power and its importance.

There is also hope for (BBC News) what is called the Doha round (The Guardian) of trade talks between the developed and developing nations. The Doha round ended without agreement earlier in 2006 and was seen as a failure of both sides of the developed/developing fringe. Skepticism should still be used for these trade talks, but if Doha does gain progress from the recent push at Davos, one may hope a positive outcome is reached. Some have gone far enough to say 2007 is going to be a ‘good’ year (BBC News) for economies in general. (As you can tell from the abundance of linking to the BBC News site, there is a lot of good Davos news there as well as at the afore-linked blogs and news websites.)

Updated with more links to sites covering Davos '07.

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Friday, 26 January 2007

Presidential predicaments (and my solutions)

  • US President Bush rebuffed by Senate panel (Washington Post) over his Iraq plan. Of course, it is not too much of a big deal — the Congressional resolutions against Bush's troop surge being nonbinding and all. What was the Democrats’ win supposed to accomplish again? The president has also been asked to stop being an idiot, like that's going to happen. Makes State of the Union speech less important than last year's... and more boring. (Slate seemed to be the only mainstream news site to have much on the State of the Union, with three articles by three column heavyweights. Obviously the SOTU news was on A1 of every major American newspaper, but still it seemed like a bigger overall deal last year. Consequently, Slate has a massive amount of coverage of the Scooter Libby trial. Speaking of the Libby trial, that is also not shining too positive of a light upon the Bush administration, nor are Bush's repeated assertions that he is 'the decider' (Slate) (now the "decision-maker" too) on basically everything not least Iraq. Way to be bipartisan, Dubya! Actually, he may have actually helped with bipartisanship in America: now both Democrats and Republicans are turning against him. Lastly be sure to check out Vice President Cheney's CNN interview and Bush's lackluster SOTU speech (Daily Kos) in full. Also see the speech topic-by-topic.

    My advice for Bush: well, you already doing really bad on all angles of politics, so I'd say try to change the US's image abroad, but, unlike what you have been already doing, change it so that others see the US in a more positive light, not a negative one; also pay attention to the Constitution, believe it or not it is your friend; listen to the right people on Iraq and other areas of foreign policy; stop injecting religion — fundamentalist or otherwise — into government; practice what you preach and be bipartisan, on the other hand stop making the Executive branch the only one — in your mind — with any power and say in the United States government; worse comes to worse ask your dad for help, though he was not by any means a great president he was a hell of a lot better than you; you have two years left (yeah I'm counting down), make the most of them by actually doing good.

  • Israeli President Katsav indicted for rape, asked to step down by PM Olmert — who himself is having plenty of problems — and is on temporary leave (IHT).

    My advice for Katsav: step down and make the most of the rest of your dwindling political career; also remember rape is bad and there's probably something in the Torah against that (no kidding).

  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not doing so well; he is facing resistance from multiple areas of the government. There is also opposition by (New York Times) other powerful figures in Iranian politics largely over Ahmadinejad's handling of Iran's nuclear program and the UN sanctions (BBC News) imposed as a result of Iran's defiance of the international community. He is in political trouble also over the economy. Wait, governments are supposed to help the economy? That is one thing Bush and Ahmadinejad have in common: forgetting about crucial domestic issues.

    My advice to Ahmadinejad: you may have a lot of oil, but that does not mean you cannot be roughed up; remember what Bush did to Iraq; go along with democratic reform contrary to your hardliner position; don't use your nukes, or better yet stop developing them — nuclear power is fine, nuclear weapons are not; the Holocaust did happen by the way.

  • What could possibly be damaging to the ruling conservative French political party UMP's star candidate for the presidency, current Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, is something certainly not new to the United States: spying with political motives. Yes, apparently the xenophobic, often racist Sarkozy, protégé of current French President Jacques Chraic, has used the secret police to spy on an adviser of his left-leaning political rival and frontrunner Socialist candidate for the presidency, Segolene Royal, who has also run into some political trouble, though minor, over a gaffe (Bloomberg) over Qubec. He is now not surprisingly experiencing dissent from (The Times) both within and outside of his party over that spying. The French presidential election will be in April.

    My advice for Sarkozy: stop being a xenophobe against Muslims and others, that doesn't help anything; lose to Royal and I'll be happy.
    My advice for Royal: don't mess this one up.

    Song currently stuck in my head: "The Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists.
    I am feeling much better! Ironically, it was being out in cold weather that cured my cold...

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  • Wednesday, 24 January 2007

    Microsoft tries to use Wikipedia as a PR tool

    Microsoft has stooped too low this time. As if their operating system wasn’t bad enough, Microsoft (aka M$) has actually, get this, offered to pay a blogger (CNN) to edit technical articles on Wikipedia — to make Microsoft look and sound better.

    Microsoft Corp. has landed in the Wikipedia doghouse after it offered to pay a blogger to change technical articles on the community-produced Web encyclopedia site.

    While Wikipedia is known as the encyclopedia that anyone can tweak, founder Jimmy Wales and his cadre of volunteer editors, writers and moderators have blocked public-relations firms, campaign workers and anyone else perceived as having a conflict of interest from posting fluff or slanting entries. So paying for Wikipedia copy is considered a definite no-no.

    "We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach," Wales said Tuesday.

    Microsoft acknowledged it had approached the writer and offered to pay him for the time it would take to correct what the company was sure were inaccuracies in Wikipedia articles on an open-source document standard and a rival format put forward by Microsoft.
    So Microsoft wanted to bribe Wikipedia regulars and when that failed they hired a ‘professional’. It’s amazing how hard they tried to get around the Wikipedia moderators, and community as a whole too! I — like many others — love Wikipedia and this kind of stuff just makes me sick. In the past politicians (specifically people from various offices of the US House of Representatives) have edited their and other Wikipedia entries to make them look better, or their opponents look worse. Microsoft said they were trying to correct the alleged imbalance and bias against them in the Wikipedia articles… what a joke.

    Anyway I thought it was an interesting story, considering how the user-generated and social communities are becoming important enough for politicians and big corporations to edit their entries (using the Wikipedia example) for their own public relations benefit.

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    Monday, 22 January 2007

    More dead, more wounded in Iraq... and I'm sick

    I am not feeling well at all; I may be ill with the common cold. Posting may be lacking this week, but a little news tidbit is that over 130 Iraqis died from various insurgent attacks today — making today the deadliest day in Iraq so far in 2007. Sorry I couldn't have better news. ;)

    BBC News:

    More than 130 people were killed in and around the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on the country's bloodiest day this year.

    Eighty-eight people died and 160 were injured in a double car bombing at a second-hand clothes market in Baghdad.

    A further 12 died in a bomb and mortar attack in the nearby city of Baquba, while Iraqi police found 29 bodies in and around the capital.

    The attacks came as the first of over 21,000 extra US troops arrived in Baghdad on a mission to boost security.

    The 3,200 troops are the advance guard of an increase ordered by President George W Bush earlier this month.

    Another important story, also from the BBC, is on America's role in the world and what people think of it, including statistics on various issues, etc. It's yet another damning report for the Bush administration, especially in relation to Middle East foreign policy. Then again, Bush has said he does not really pay attention to the public opinion (i.e. polls), even recently with his numbers so low. See the full BBC poll/survey report in PDF form.

    Just a reminder: Bush's State of the Union Address 2007 (Wikipedia (again); news search) is tomorrow. It is funny how something so relatively unimportant receives so much news coverage and punditry. Last year's address seemed to be a bigger deal for some reason.

    Sunday, 21 January 2007

    In the news: from China to Hillary

    China launches satellite missile (Time, CFR, The Times)
    Just remember the space defense program President Bush put into effect (BBC News) last year, the controversial reincarnation of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative 'Star Wars' (BBC News) space weapons program. Who knows where this is going to lead; Iran still has the international security's attention (security wise), but will China steal the limelight? Iran's president is not doing so hot politically, FYI. On the China issue, I have a feeling an interesting yet short-lived international relations battle will ensue but nothing too serious.
    US attorney general defies (Think Progress) existing laws and constitutional precedent. Alberto Gonzales: "There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution." More analysis at Balkinization. See even more relating to the AG in this Slate article on this issue.
    Democratic senator from New York announces her run for the US presidential elections in 2008. Hillary Clinton is so far ahead in polls for Democratic presidential candidates, but that is no guarantee (NYT) she will win.
    Now that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has gotten back $100 million of his country's tax dollars from Israel, more peace talks (BBC News) are under way between Syria, Israel, and Palestine — including between Hamas and Fatah, two leading Palestinian political groups (different talks, obviously). But don't get your hopes up, remember a while back? However, this is an interesting Haaretz story on Israel-Syria peace talks; will Syria get their Golan Heights land back? Let's hope.

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    Friday, 19 January 2007

    Gitmo justice: coercion 'evidence' allowed in 'trials'

    Just as the Bush administration appears to have a made a move that is only superficially positive in relation to their warrantless wiretapping operations, a new manual has been put together (BBC News) by the United States government on how to give detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere what can only loosely be considered trials, their name: "military commissions". See the manual here. Anyone who hoped new Defense Secretary Robert Gates would be a voice of moderation on this specific issue is wrong; he was the one who presented the manual to Congress.

    These new rules are extremely unfair to people we don't even know are guilty at GITMO, [from the above BBC article:] "new rules would allow terror suspects to be imprisoned on the basis of hearsay or coerced testimony - if a judge ruled the evidence credible". This is a follow-up of the passing of Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by Congress last year, which infringed on basic human rights as well as the US Constitution. And America is called the 'home of the free'? The funny thing is that by saying that coerced testimony is allowed in these 'trials', the government is admitting it does coerce (torture), which everyone knew anyway!

    Up next: the amazing recent testimony of US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Congress and more on Bush's expanding executive power in his "war on terror".

    UPDATE: British report slams (BBC News) Gitmo and calls for its absolute closure.

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    Thursday, 18 January 2007

    Three poems: "Materialism", "America, My America?", and "Ethics Versus Profit"

    Here are three poems that I have written:

    For me, the clothes do not make the man or woman.
    Sure, the man or woman makes the clothes,
    But it is the mindset of the earthly objects we have that really matters
    And how we treat more important things in relation to mere indulgences — and even selfishness

    I do not like materialism
    But I do like the materials.
    Not that I am a materialist,
    And I hope I am not too much of a hypocrite on the topic,
    I treasure things I cannot touch or hold
    More than I like the goods that so many nowadays think are essential
    The game station, the car, the faded ripped jeans that cost a fifty times more than what they’re worth
    Even when they are, in reality, not bare necessities.
    For me it’s the
    Expression of ideas, the learning, the feelings and senses,
    Even the song constantly ringing throughout my head.

    So many imaginations and minds have been corrupted
    With the poison of being one of many,
    Instead of being one of one
    Being original, not having to fit in or feel the need to fit in.

    I encounter materialism every day,
    I am saturated in its greed
    But also its usefulness and convenience.

    America, My America?
    I live in America
    But does that make me an American?
    Is being an American a choice,
    Or is it the gift or curse I was born with?
    I really don't believe in fate.
    Or am I American because I live in the United States of America?
    Is that my choice either?

    Others consider me an American
    Because where I live (the United States)
    But do I fit the stereotype America has set for itself,
    And that its residents have set for themselves?
    I believe in human rights, international law, and civic duty,
    All of which are human societal creations.

    I don't approve of torture,
    Or fear mongering,
    Or thinking that you are either with or against me,
    All of which are common American traits and generalizations.
    Maybe I am not an American;
    I do know that I am human,
    And part of the Earthly human race.
    Until, if ever,
    I sort out what being an American means,
    I still have that identity.
    I am human.

    The American Dream is a lie,
    It is not a reality
    Nor is it a certain thing: it is how people make it out to be.
    That’s why it’s called a dream.
    I do not want to live the American Dream though
    I want to live my own dream of success.

    Ethics Versus Profit
    In our society, materials seem to make the man — or woman,
    That’s not how it should be.
    On one hand, everyone must earn a living
    Even if their job distills values from people or exploits our planet
    On the other hand, how could they make a living if there are no people and no Earth?
    What if their success resulted in the destroying of people and planet?
    Ethics versus profit. Has society run amok?

    We need to find a balance, that is how nature works
    That is how the human race has gotten this far
    Moderation, yin and yang
    A balance between good and evil, even if evil means success.
    Even if evil is good to some, it is not good for all or most.
    Even if good is evil to some, it is not evil for all or most.

    I look forward to posting more often than I have been the past couple months.

    Return of the tobacco companies: the nicotine wars

    As the American public appears to be accepting the evils of smoking, the tobacco companies, still loaded with cash even after numerous regulations and civil lawsuits, have come back with a passion. Even though smoking remains a problem in the United States and throughout the world — especially in the developing world where tobacco giants are exploiting poor public health education (etc.) — a victory for the good against cigarettes has long been sought in the US, and many battles have been won. However, new data shows that the tobacco companies are increasing nicotine in their smokes, making the dangerous product even more addictive. Cigarettes, even the allegedly ‘pure’, ‘free’, ‘filtered’, and ‘light’ versions, contain chemicals and compounds like arsenic, ammonia, and tar (as well as many other hazardous carcinogens). Also, second hand smoke — the fumes that people around a smoker inhale when the person is smoking — is said to be more dangerous than first hand smoke (i.e. it may be more dangerous for third parties inhaling smoke than the person actually smoking). If that’s not a public health concern in the interest of society, what is? Third world countries are experiencing the problems with smoking to a large degree, and the WHO should probably — along with nations such as the United States — take action against the multinationals exploiting, harming, and corrupting societies poorer than the ones in North America and Europe. Raising the nicotine levels (NYT editorial) in a sly manner is nothing new, even in modern times.

    Boston Globe via IHT:

    Data supplied by tobacco companies strongly suggest that manufacturers in recent years deliberately raised nicotine levels in cigarettes to more effectively hook smokers, Harvard University researchers conclude in a study that was to be released Thursday.

    The companies increasingly used tobacco richer in nicotine, and also made design changes to give smokers more puffs per cigarette, according to the analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health. The report expands on a landmark Massachusetts Department of Public Health study issued last August showing that the amount of nicotine that could be inhaled from cigarettes increased an average of 10 percent from 1998 through 2004.

    The Harvard researchers, who corroborated the basic findings of the state study, wanted to determine why cigarettes were delivering more nicotine.

    The state report did not address the causes.

    "Industry says it's changed," said Greg Connolly, an author of the Harvard study and former director of the state health agency's Tobacco Control Program. "Yeah, they've changed — maybe for the worse."

    For more information, see Wikipedia and a Google search, more resources here.

    Here are excerpts of a great Foreign Policy article on smoking, Think Again: Tobacco by Kenneth E. Warner. The article requires a subscription so I have taken some of best parts from the PDF article.

    For tobacco control advocates, the tobacco industry is public health enemy
    number one: It sells a commodity that will kill 500 million of the 6 billion
    people living today. For governments, tobacco is both a health threat and
    a powerful economic force that annually generates hundreds of billions of
    dollars in sales and billions more in tax revenues. That clash of interests
    fuels a debate ensnarling everything from farm subsidies and export con-
    trols to healthcare spending, taxation, law enforcement, and free speech.

    “Antismoking Policies Are Hazardous to a
    Nation’s Economic Health”
    Not true, for all but a handful of countries. The
    tobacco industry accounts for significant economic
    activity in many countries through farming and prod-
    uct manufacture, distribution, and sales. According
    to a recent World Bank study, an estimated 33 million
    people worldwide farm tobacco either full or part

    “Smoking Causes Healthcare Costs to Skyrocket”
    False. Last year, a study commissioned by tobacco
    giant Philip Morris made headlines worldwide when
    it boasted that smoking saves money for the treasury
    of the Czech Republic, thanks in part to the early
    demise of smokers, which reduces the government’s
    obligations in healthcare, pensions, and housing costs
    for the elderly. The study is filled with mistakes that
    invalidate its finding, but it still contains a grain of
    truth: Smokers’ shorter lives do compensate partly
    for their excess healthcare costs while alive.
    Adult smokers experience a life expectancy reduc-
    tion on the order of six years.

    “Declining Profits Have Driven Big Tobacco
    Into Developing Countries”
    Wrong. As smoking has declined in the devel-
    oped world, multinational tobacco companies have
    moved aggressively into middle- and low-income
    nations in recent years, especially in Asia and Eastern
    Europe. They also have established strongholds in
    Latin America and Africa. In all such countries, the
    industry employs sophisticated marketing techniques
    to compete with domestic brands, increase daily con-
    sumption among existing smokers, and encourage
    traditionally low-smoking groups (e.g., young
    women in many Asian societies) to “modernize” by
    becoming smokers. According to one study, Western
    marketing of cigarettes increased cigarette consump-
    tion in four Asian countries by about 10 percent.
    Tobacco consumption in the West has declined at
    the same time that the industry has expanded into the
    East. But correlation is not causation. The decline in
    smoking in the developed world has not led to a decline
    in profits, since sales have fallen proportionately much
    slower than prices have risen.

    “Higher Cigarette Taxes Curb Smoking”
    Absolutely. The law of demand—raise prices
    and quantity demanded will fall—holds for all com-
    modities, even the most addictive. In fact, that law
    applies to all species. Consider laboratory rats: If
    forced to push a lever more times to get a dose of
    drug—the number of lever pushes constituting the
    price they face—addicted lab rats decrease the amount
    of drug they administer to themselves. In the case of
    humans and cigarettes, a 10 percent increase in price
    will prompt a decrease in quantity demanded by
    about 4 percent in rich countries and twice as much in
    low- and middle-income countries.

    “Higher Cigarette Taxes Encourage Smuggling”
    True, all other things being equal (but they’re
    not). The thriving black market in cigarettes is rep-
    resented by two kinds of smugglers. One group
    consists of individuals and gangs who bootleg cig-
    arettes from low-tax (hence low-price) countries to
    nearby high-tax (high-price) countries, generally
    covering small distances. These so-called buttleg-
    gers are responsible for a relatively small fraction
    of the illicit trade in cigarettes. The other criminal
    element, responsible for the majority of illicit
    trade, worth $25 billion to $30 billion annually,
    consists of large-scale enterprises smuggling huge
    consignments of cigarettes over great distances.
    Buttleggers pay taxes in low-tax countries and
    move their product to nearby higher-priced

    And while the tobacco industry attempts to blame
    high taxes for smuggling, the industry itself appears to
    tolerate and actively encourage smuggling, as indicat-
    ed by recent court cases in which tobacco company exec-
    utives were found guilty of complicity in smuggling
    operations. In 1998, for instance, Northern Brands
    International, Inc. (an affiliate of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
    Holdings), pled guilty to smuggling-related charges and
    paid $15 million in fines and forfeitures. The industry
    benefits from the increased sales associated with smug-
    gling, and the multinationals benefit in particular by
    increased consumption of their prominent brands.

    “Tobacco Subsidies Encourage Smoking”
    Correct, though not always for the obvious
    reason. Numerous governments around the world
    support farmers who grow tobacco. In some coun-
    tries in Africa, both governments and multination-
    al tobacco companies assist farmers in acquiring
    seed and farming equipment. In many European
    countries, farmers receive direct governmental sub-
    sidies for their tobacco production. Export subsi-
    dies are also in effect in Europe. The result is more
    abundant supplies of tobacco at lower prices.
    However, the net effect on cigarette consumption is
    often remarkably small.

    “Cigarette Tax Increases Burden the Poor”
    Not necessarily. In most nations, a larger
    proportion of the poor smoke than is the case for the
    rich. As a result, the poor often spend a substantially
    larger proportion of their income on cigarettes and
    bear a disproportionate share of the burden of a cig-
    arette tax.

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    The tapping point

    The New York Times reports:

    The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.

    The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.

    The decision capped 13 months of bruising national debate over the reach of the president’s wartime authorities and his claims of executive power, and it came as the administration faced legal and political hurdles in its effort to continue the surveillance program.

    Stepping back on the wiretapping power is another great political PR move by the White House. This latest change in executive policy accompanies Bush’s admission that Iraq was going “unacceptable” and much blame lied with him and the challenge various White House officials (including the president) gave to those who did not support the Bush administration’s Iraq policy to ‘come up with their own plan if they think they can do better’. But don’t get too excited about the allowing of secret judicial oversight for already-illegal wiretapping programs, there are several problems. One is that the wiretapping will continue, another is that it was happening in the first place, yet another is United States Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales’s testimony to Congress, and another is GITMO. Of course, the list of this administration’s civil liberty and human rights violations and issues does not stop there. The authorization by President Bush of the ‘terrorist’ surveillance program in the first place was a vast, vast overreaching of executive power. Just one more thing: [NYT]
    The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.

    Justice Department officials would not describe whether the court had agreed to new procedures to streamline the process of issuing orders or accepted new standards to make it easier for the government to get approval to monitor suspect e-mail and phone communications.

    And its not very judicial-like to not go case-by-case either, especially when the matter deals with people’s civil liberties.
    Ms. Wilson, who has scrutinized the program for the last year, said she believed the new approach relied on a blanket, “programmatic” approval of the president’s surveillance program, rather than approval of individual warrants.

    Yeah, don’t get your hopes up that the Bush administration is turning a new leaf on its “war on terrorism” policies. Even with FISA, it is not like the wiretappings are totally kosher, because the FISA courts surely are not. In a society celled a democracy, the United States has a odd way of handling its justice system and its crusades against "bad" people and things (e.g. terrorism, drugs).

    There are still numerous — lawsuits pending and active — over the surveillance program, launched by everyone from legal scholars to journalists to the ACLU.

    There are two fantastic Balkinization blog posts on this topic and the new developments. From one of them
    First, there is a remarkable similarity between the Administration's behavior in the Padilla case and its behavior here. Recall that the Administration held Padilla in a military prison for three years and insisted that he could not speak to anyone-- much less have the basic rights in the Bill of Rights-- because to do so would put our country at grave risk. Once the Administration realized that the Supreme Court would likely reject its theory of Presidential power, it backtracked and placed Padilla in the criminal justice system-- thus undermining all of its predictions and assertions. It moved Padilla out of a military prison and brought an entirely different set of charges against him, hoping to moot the challenge to what it had done to Padilla earlier and prevent an authoritative rejection of its implausible claims about the powers of the Presidency.

    Similarly, in this case, the Administration insisted for months that the President did not need to follow the procedures in FISA, either because of the AUMF or because of inherent Presidential authority. Apparently, it has now retreated from that legally untenable position, hoping to moot, or at the very least disarm, federal litigation challenging the legality of the NSA program. Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the President acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.

    When we put these two stories together, a pattern emerges: the Administration repeatedly takes unreasonable positions about its powers. It insists that obedience to these views is necessary to the very survival of the Republic and that those who would dare to disagree are jeopardizing national security. It makes these aggressive claims repeatedly in every venue, hoping that others, cowed by its aggressive self-confidence and patriotic appeals, will be overawed and simply give in. It struts and boasts and threatens and exaggerates until its bluff is called, at which point its previous assertions simply become-- as they once put it in the Nixon Administration-- inoperative. Put another way, the Administration's stance on Presidential power has resembled nothing so much as an altogether familiar character, the neighborhood bully.

    Remember a while back when a federal judge ordered the surveillance and illegal wiretapping to stop? This president's commitments to democracy — and definition of democracy — seems to be quite warped, and no other branch, in his mind, can stop him, neither can the constitution (thus far).

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    Wednesday, 17 January 2007

    Just some ideas...

    Really busy; here are some random thoughts.

    The Ruth Kelly controversy.
    Should British Education Minister Ruth Kelly’s child have to suffer by not getting the education their parents see fit for them just because their parent is the education minister? This always seems to be a problem when a politician at any level sends their kids to a private school — especially if their position in government deals with the education system itself. It is Kelly’s choice where her kid goes to school and just because she is the education minister and just because she is a politician, her child should not have to suffer in the name of politics and for their mum not to be a called a hypocrite.

    BBC News on the execution of two more Saddam regime figures (as if Saddam's execution wasn't done poorly enough).

    United Nations and European Union leaders have condemned the executions in Baghdad of two of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's top aides.

    Some say that these executions are sparing the individual rights for the greater good… Then again, what do the executions accomplish — other than killing the executed?
    Hasn't Saddam's death just made Iraq worse?

    As far as the United States’ mission in Iraq and the wider Middle East goes… ‘We had already accomplished the mission; we just need to accomplish it [again]!'
    'Almost there... again!’

    Blair gives some climate change wisdom on how we can help...
    Sacrifice one’s pleasures for the greater good? Bullocks says soon-to-be-gone (thank god) UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. How does ‘impractical’ face off with essential, Mr. Blair?

    Admiring only after death: what the deaths and ensuing mourning and gratification historically of people like Reagan and Ford show us about our society and its guilt and ‘respect’ — or disrespect too — for death, and the media’s place in it all.

    You scratch my back, I won’t scratch yours: the United States expects the African Union to help, but has not helped — or even consulted — the AU over the US’s Somalia policy.

    A metaphorical war against an unknown, and largely symbolic as a whole, terrorist enemy like the US’s Communist ‘enemy’ in the Cold War, but even more oblique. Terrorism is a vast movement. It is a word of many definitions and a description of many meanings. To label all of Islamic extremism as a collective enemy is loony enough; to label all terrorism an enemy is well over the edge.

    Monday, 15 January 2007

    Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

    Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for those both in and outside of the United States. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) was one of the greatest Americans ever — one of the most influential people to modern human society — and his eternal legacy lives on. King played a great role in the civil rights movement which finally led to real freedom for African Americans, even though black Americans had been emancipated nearly a century before the civil rights movement kicked into full swing in the mid-20th century. King was a Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights advocate trying to change society for the better through means of nonviolence. He rekindled the flame of rights for minorities in the United States and all over the world. His "I have a dream" speech (video) inspired a nation and a civilization to look at the mess of racial injustices. Yet, even today, Hispanics and blacks and Arabs are being segregated against — even unnoticeably — in the United States' continued racist struggles (poverty, racial terrorist and crime stereotypes only enforced by parts of the US media, social injustices and disliking someone just because they are different from you all play a role, along with economics and the misunderstanding among some white Americans about immigration); Arabs are restricted in Israel because they happen to look like the people launching rockets at Haifa and blowing themselves up in Israeli-occupied areas of Palestine; this does not really have to do with skin color, but still: the anti-semitism all-too-common throughout the world; the label of Middle Easterners as barbaric and Africans as poor, helpless, and self-destructive by a largely wealthy but ignorant and uneducated western public only relying on false stereotypes; just had to add this one to the mix: Michael Crichton likening global warming to eugenics (take it however you like); South Africa still getting over the days of white-only rule; ... it is not hard to find examples of racism and prejudice around the world, even in young children, as well as many other uncontrollable factors of human beings. Obviously homosexuality is also something looked down upon. A person being gay and expressing or even letting on their sexual preference is only a latent version, adapted for the modern day, of a person being black in the days of widespread lynching. But at least sexual preferences and religion can remain superficially latent; the color of your skin cannot.

    In conclusion, have a good Martin Luther King, Jr. day. It will be a good day for historical reflection, however painful that may be. Every year it is always an interesting experience as the nation remembers the injustices prevalent in our society in the past — and even the injustices continuing today. He had a dream, a dream that has yet to become a reality, but we're getting closer and should not loose sight of the goal of human equality, tolerance for others, freedom for all! We are clearly still at a point in history when how one looks is a major factor in how one is perceived, especially when that relates to the color of one’s skin. Dr. King, your dream isn't true yet, I, for one, hope for us to get it as close to a reality as possible.

    Articles on MLK:

  • Wikipedia:
    Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was a famous leader of the American civil rights movement, a political activist, and a Baptist minister. In 1964, King became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (for his work as a peacemaker, promoting nonviolence and equal treatment for different races). On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1977, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. In 1986, Martin Luther King Day was established as a United States holiday. In 2004, King was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. He was known as a great public speaker.[1] Dr. King often called for personal responsibility in fostering world peace.[2] King's most influential and well-known public address is the "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..

  • TIME 100:
    It is a testament to the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr. that nearly every major city in the U.S. has a street or school named after him. It is a measure of how sorely his achievements are misunderstood that most of them are located in black neighborhoods.

    Three decades after King was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn., he is still regarded mainly as the black leader of a movement for black equality. That assessment, while accurate, is far too restrictive. For all King did to free blacks from the yoke of segregation, whites may owe him the greatest debt, for liberating them from the burden of America's centuries-old hypocrisy about race. It is only because of King and the movement that he led that the U.S. can claim to be the leader of the "free world" without inviting smirks of disdain and disbelief. Had he and the blacks and whites who marched beside him failed, vast regions of the U.S. would have remained morally indistinguishable from South Africa under apartheid, with terrible consequences for America's standing among nations. How could America have convincingly inveighed against the Iron Curtain while an equally oppressive Cotton Curtain remained draped across the South?

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica:
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    born January 15, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
    died April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee

    original name Michael Luther King, Jr. Baptist minister and social activist who led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. His leadership was fundamental to that movement's success in ending the legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the United States. King rose to national prominence through the organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, promoting nonviolent tactics such as the massive March on Washington (1963) to achieve civil rights. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964.

  • Nobel Prize for Peace

    I will not be able to post tomorrow, sorry. Check back mid-week for updates to the blog!

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  • Sunday, 14 January 2007

    Cheney warns Iran not to 'meddle' in Iraq

    Vice President Dick Cheney’s (whose name I always seem to misspell) comments warning Iran not to “meddle” in Iraq can be taken as a realistic warning to Iran, Cheney wanting to keep Iraq stable in secure, but it is unlikely that is the only message given off — or intended to be perceived — in this latest string of accusations by the White House against Iran. His comments only show further the inability of the Bush administration to work with others, especially Iran and Syria. In building Middle East peace and stability — which this administration has only made less of —, working with countries actually in the Mid-East is a step forward. Namely, the decision to go to war with Iraq and the numerous policy blunders following the invasion have made the Middle East much worse, thanks to America.

    BBC News:

    US Vice President Dick Cheney has warned Iran not to interfere in Iraq.

    His comments come after US forces detained several Iranians in northern Iraq on suspicion of aiding insurgents, accusations rejected by Tehran.

    Mr Cheney is the latest member of the Bush administration to warn that the US will take steps against those trying to destabilise the situation in Iraq.

    Washington has often accused Iran, or factions within the Iranian government, of aiding Shia groups in Iraq militarily and politically, but has offered little proof of Tehran's alleged activities.

    President George W Bush on Wednesday warned that the US would take a tough stance towards Iran and Syria, which he accused of destabilising Iraq.

    Mr Cheney told Fox News that Iran was "fishing in troubled waters" by aiding attacks on US forces and backing Shia militias involved in sectarian violence.

    "I think the message that the president sent clearly is that we do not want (Iran) doing what they can to try to destabilise the situation inside Iraq.

    "We think it's very important that they keep their folks at home" he said, adding that the Iranian threat was growing, multi-dimensional and of concern to everybody in the region.

    Mr Cheney's television interview formed part of attempts by the Bush administration to promote the new drive to improve security in Iraq, which involves sending an extra 21,500 US troops.

    US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is in the UK for a brief visit, meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair and Defence Secretary Des Browne.

    "My first priority is making sure that we preserve the gains that we've achieved in Afghanistan and then talking about the way forward in Iraq," Mr Gates told reporters on his flight to London.

    Earlier there were tough words from the US National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, who told ABC Television that the US had the authority to pursue Iranians in Iraq who "put our people at risk".

    He did not elaborate on whether this could mean sending US troops across the border into Iran if necessary.

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking before she embarked on her current Middle East tour, insisted that the US was not going to let either Iran or Syria continue activities that endangered American soldiers in Iraq.

    The Iraq Study Group report — among other major proposed plans on Iraq — have all been shot down by the White House; the president seems to want to listen to himself and his closest advisors (i.e. the people who got the US into the Iraqi mess and have only exasperated it). The United States needs to work with Iran and Syria.

    No matter how devious these two nations may seem, putting them on the “axis of evil” sure didn’t help things either. Neither have the suggestions of the use of military force against Iran and the lack of mention of continuing the Syria-Israel peace process talks over the Golan Heights (land belonging to Syria, occupied by Israel). I had delved into Syria, on multiple levels, in this post.

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    Another assualt on the speck of justice for Gitmo detainees

    Imagine: you are detained without charge, possibly innocent, possibly a terrorist, possibly just an unlucky Arab, held in horrible living conditions, scared and confused, humiliated, tortured, lacking legal (and human) rights. The excuse for your detention is the United State's so-called war on terrorism, making you and your rights virtual anomalies in the justice system. And now the law firm that is barely able to represent you (if you're lucky) is being attacked by a senior figure in the government that is holding you with disregard to basic human rights and international law. The firm is even being threatened to choose between its lucrative corporate clientele and you, an 'enemy combatant' being represented pro bono — for free.

    United States government official attacks major law firms for representing Guantanamo detainees. The New York Times:

    The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

    The comments by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, produced an instant torrent of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists and bar association officials, who said Friday that his comments were repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble.

    “This is prejudicial to the administration of justice,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and an authority on legal ethics. “It’s possible that lawyers willing to undertake what has been long viewed as an admirable chore will decline to do so for fear of antagonizing important clients.

    “We have a senior government official suggesting that representing these people somehow compromises American interests, and he even names the firms, giving a target to corporate America.”
    The same point appeared Friday on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where Robert L. Pollock, a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, cited the list of law firms and quoted an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying, “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”

    In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

    Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

    Karen J. Mathis, a Denver lawyer who is president of the American Bar Association, said: “Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law. To impugn those who are doing this critical work — and doing it on a volunteer basis — is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans.”
    The role of major law firms agreeing to take on the cases of Guantánamo prisoners challenging their detentions in federal courts has hardly been a secret and has been the subject of many news articles that have generally cast their efforts in a favorable light. Michael Ratner, who heads the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based human rights group that is coordinating the legal representation for the Guantánamo detainees, said about 500 lawyers from about 120 law firms had volunteered their services to represent Guantánamo prisoners.
    Lawyers expressed outrage at that, asserting that they are not being paid and that Mr. Stimson had tried to suggest they were by innuendo.
    Christopher Moore, a lawyer at the New York firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton who represented an Uzbeki detainee who has since been released, said: “We believe in the concept of justice and that every person is entitled to counsel. Any suggestion that our representation was anything other than a pro bono basis is untrue and unprofessional.” Mr. Moore said he had made four trips to Guantánamo and one to Albania at the firm’s expense, to see his client freed.

    That’s what defense attorneys do: defend defendants in a court of law. It is their job. I guess the Pentagon does not understand that. As a matter of fact, they may well be breaking the law by detaining such people in the first place, and whomever the official who spoke is, he should know his comments only add to the case against the Department of Defense and this Bush administration for the abuses perpetrated in places like Guantanamo Bay. His comments only add to the publicity over the human and legal abuses at GITMO (thanks!) — and other detention facilities, many of them secret. Even though the Pentagon has disowned the official’s comments, there have been other recent incidents when the government criticized those giving legal and humanitarian help to detainees.

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