Wednesday, 28 February 2007

More CIA secret prison controversy

Torture, missing people, innocents being kidnapped from their homes. This has the making of some kind of sadistic gangster plot, no? Not at all. This is the post-9/11 CIA, US government on 'war on terror' steroids. A new Human Rights Watch report confirms these actions in CIA secret prisions, which the United States has denied, confirmed, and then turned around and said they were closed and torture had never been used. Why does all the evidence state the contrary? Much of the focus has been on European countries suspected of collaborating with the US government over these prisons; even though they still are largely clueless. They have been condemned by the European Union parliament. However, much of the torture not done by the US is indirectly — or even directly — caused by it. Many alleged terrorists are sent to rogue states or countries like Saudi Arabia, where they face unimaginable torture. These are so-called ghost detainees, the 'worst of the worst' according to President Bush. So bad, it isn't a victory that the US has caught them?

The front page story of the Washington Post today was one needed for a long time. It looked at people held and tortured in these "black sites".

Jabour [a tortured al-Qaeda suspect] had spent two years in "black sites" -- a network of secret internment facilities the CIA operated around the world. His account of life in that system, which he described in three interviews with The Washington Post, offers an inside view of a clandestine world that held far more prisoners than the 14 men President Bush acknowledged and had transferred out of CIA custody in September.
Human Rights Watch has identified 38 people who may have been held by the CIA and remain unaccounted for. Intelligence officials told The Post that the number of detainees held in such facilities over nearly five years remains classified but is higher than 60. Their whereabouts have not been publicly disclosed.

"The practice of disappearing people -- keeping them in secret detention without any legal process -- is fundamentally illegal under international law," said Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism program at Human Rights Watch in New York.

Is Bush lying about the secret CIA prisons — again? Even he is usually not this haphazard about 'war on terror' untruth. Back when the story broke (by a Post reporter, Condi Rice did a complete U-turn on the existence of the prisons: literally denying them one day and admitting the next.

Like GITMO, the US has ignored all calls for it to cease its human-rights-defying secret prison operations. Unlike GITMO, these operations are near totally secret; we barely know about them and there is absolutely no third party monitoring of them. Even the Red Cross is barred (even the Nazis dared not turn down the Red Cross from assisting the WWII POWs they captured, just a historical fact, not that the Bush administration are Nazis).

Do the prisons affect the sovereignty of the land they are in? After all, one big reason that the 'black sites' are not in US territory is that American law — some argue — does not apply if the CIA collaborates with another country, like Pakistan, not facing, or supposed to be facing, the same human rights standards as the United States.

Wikipedia has a decent article on the topic with external links if one wants to explore the 'black site' issue further.

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More stings to human rights from the courts? Padilla and GITMO

A major front in the battle between human rights activists and the United States government is the Jose Padilla case. Padilla's name has been used by both sides as a terrorist, or a victim of the US's 'war on terror'. A federal judge has now said he's sane enough to stand trial, a move that will certainly reverberate in the world of civil liberties. The judge ruled on his sanity, not the charges, which should be kept in consideration Padilla has had so much buzz, I don't know who to believe anymore — the prosecutors or those against the government. Considering the evidence affirming Padilla's insanity, I tend to disagree more with the government, not surprising considering their track-record.

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has covered the Padilla case extensively.

Of all the terrifically bad ideas implemented by the Bush administration since 9/11, probably the worst have involved torture. The decision to sideline criminal prosecutions and instead focus on "alternative interrogation" methods was wrongheaded from the get-go. It was wrongheaded as a tactical matter, wrongheaded as a legal matter, wrongheaded as an ethical matter, and wrongheaded as a matter of undermining world opinion.

It is certainly wrong he was held without charge for so long — three years in a South Carolina brig — in a military facility. Who knows if he is yet another terrorist wannabe or a serious threat. I have, however, no doubt in my mind the charges against him are questionable. What does a 'terrorism' charge entitle? If Padilla was being charged with another crime, would the evidence be ample enough, or is slapping a terrorism label on someone an automatic affirmation to the jury of his guilt? It is questions like those that make this debate all the more interesting, not only for Padilla, but for the other Padillas out there, and those to come. Considering this administration's records on cases like these, Padilla might just be lucky to not be in GITMO (see below).

Another story in the same topic range is the decision by a federal appeals court that Guantanamo Bay detainees do not have the constitutional right to challenge their detention. What is going on?
Detainees in Guantánamo Bay suffered a major setback yesterday [20 Feb 2007] when a US appeals court rejected their pleas to have claims against unlawful imprisonment heard. The US justice department, as a result of the ruling, will seek to have hundreds of cases from prisoners pending in federal courts dismissed.

The decision is a victory for the Bush administration, which has had to fend off legal challenges, including a supreme court judgment, since the first of the prisoners began arriving in 2001.

And this is all for people in GITMO the US government doesn't even know are guilty! See the groundbreaking UN report for more.

This latest ruling is a sting to habeas corpus following what looks to be a gradual implementation of the horrendous Military Commissions Act.

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Tuesday, 27 February 2007

US to talk with Iran and Syria — about time!

After so many missed chances, is this finally a meeting between powers with a real interest in the Iraq situation that could do good, or will it just turn into a shouting-match, with the Americans accusing countries left and right? After the release of US potential attack plans on Iran, not to mention the rhetoric streaming from the Bush administration's mouth, it is a good sign that Iran has allowed the US to talk to them. Then again, they want to appear to be the 'good guy' in the Middle East diplomacy by offering talks with the US on Iraq as much as possible.

No matter what, the fact the United States has dropped some idiotic stubbornness over even talking to Iran and Syria is a positive.

BBC News:

The US is willing to attend a regional conference in Iraq next month that will include representatives from Iran and Syria, the White House says.

Iraq said the talks in Baghdad were aimed at seeking ways to stabilise the country and would be an "ice-breaker" for Western and regional powers.

The US recently stepped up the rhetoric against Iran and Syria, accusing them of fuelling the violence in Iraq.

But the US government has been under pressure to include them in dialogue.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says the timing of the meeting may come as a surprise given the tension between the US and Iraq's neighbours.

But he says this may be a forum in which Washington will feel comfortable in raising its concerns and allegations that Iran is supplying Shia insurgents in Iraq with weapons.
The five permanent UN Security Council members and the Arab League are to be invited to the meeting.

Iran has been getting scolded more and more over its nuclear program, and President Ahmedinejad's domestic issues cease to lessen (see my advice).

If the Bush administration would have opened the dialogue earlier — like when everyone from the ISG to Congress to the UN to the Iraq government were saying they should — there could have been more progress in keeping Iraq from plunging into further political and humanitarian disarray; the former applies to the US too. Diplomacy is better than proxy warring (US versus whomever), for the warring parties and especially the third party (Iraq).

The Iraqi foreign minister said he wants Iraq to be a 'unifying issue' instead of a 'divisive issue'. I fully agree.

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Chinese stocks tank, causing global chain reaction

BBC News

AP (via Forbes):
Stocks had their worst day of trading since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Tuesday, briefly hurtling the Dow Jones industrials down more than 500 points on a worldwide tide of concern that the U.S. and Chinese economies are stumbling and that share prices have become overinflated.

The steepness of the market's drop, as well as its global breadth, signaled a possible correction after a long period of stable and steadily rising stock markets, which had not been shaken by such a volatile day of trading in several years.

A 9 percent slide in Chinese stocks, which came a day after investors sent Shanghai's benchmark index to a record high close, set the tone for U.S. trading. The Dow began the day falling sharply, and the decline accelerated throughout the course of the session before stocks took a huge plunge in late afternoon as computer-driven sell programs kicked in.

The Dow fell 546.02, or 4.3 percent, to 12,086.06 before recovering some ground in the last hour of trading to close down 416.02, or 3.29 percent, at 12,216.24, according to preliminary calculations. Because the worst of the plunge took place after 2:30 p.m., the New York Stock Exchange's trading limits, designed to halt such precipitous moves, were not activated.

It was inevitable, in some way or another, not only because markets have their ups and downs, but also on account of the record highs the Dow Jones and other stock exchanges have reached recently. Only last year did Japan's Nikkei stock exchange nearly collapsed from massive trading, buying and selling.

Some questions I have (to consider):
  • Is this a mere technical glitch from the 'computer-driven' trading?
  • Is it an indicator of weakness of markets in Europe and China?
  • How will this incident affect the year to come?
  • Did Chinese stocks fall because of a natural up-down pattern, or was it a sign?
  • Did stock regulations help prevent an even worse episode?
  • Should we let the market be free and fluctuate on its own?
  • Is this a one-time kind of event, or will we be seeing more extreme falls or rises?
  • Is the US and its market too dependent on China (after all, China's markets triggered the chain reaction)?
  • Does this tie into dynamic globalization?
  • Ultimately: Was this a mere 'correction' in the inflated stock prices or an indicator of the global economy?

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  • Monday, 26 February 2007

    Briefly: the US's religious right

    Whatever political affiliation — if any — one holds, it is interesting to see how the group that has played such a key role in American politics, and elections especially, operates. As I talked about in this post, elite within the religious right in the United States are mulling over who to through their weight behind for the 2008 presidential election.

    Who will be the Christian conservatives' Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton?

    For years the so-called religious right has gained steam into becoming a very influential group on the US political scene. Over the past decade or so their power has increased even more as the number of fundamentalist evangelical Christians seems to increase; i.e. the US is leaning more right, becoming more religious, or so it seems. It is important not to group all those religious conservatives into one massive stereotype, similar to the one people hold about New York, Hollywood, or the deep South (though all are true to an extent). However, for the sake of political simplicity we group people using words like center-left, conservative, and Democrat; one wonders from whose perspective those labels often come from. Not all evangelicals are conservative, not all conservatives are evangelicals. Nonetheless, people like James Dobson, a radical evangelical leader, are, in my view, harmful to America politics. They mix religious with politics, with disastrous effects for all of us. Why did the Republican Party choose to target these voters, this seemingly nutty (but not always so) demographic? Just for that: the votes.

    There are tens and tens of millions of fundamentalist Christian conservatives, and if a religious leader tells many so devout to vote for a certain person, they'll vote. If a political group caters to their often immoderate policies, they'll support that group. They are much more involved than the many moderate political apathetics in the United States. Until they decide to vote in greater numbers (hopefully for the right person), the GOP will wreap in the benefits of a more radical group. This is not to say Republican policies are always marketed towards the religious right. There's always some political trickery, or so it seems.

    Even in a White House run by an evangelical president there has been ample evidence the GOP is just playing the religious right, tricking them into voting then giving only superficial results in return. That's why we saw the crazy attempts to outlaw flag-burning and gay marriage before the election. It is those seemingly politically mundane issues — well, not gay marriage, but still — that fires up many Christian conservatives. Another view is the Republicans and conservatives in Congress were trying to side step more gray-area issues like immigration and focus on topics people would have strong views on, especially conservative views from the religious right when those views seem to dominate policy on topics like homosexual marriage. That is, it is easier to find someone who would speak against gay marriage and elect you because of your anti-gay stance than someone who is pro-gay marriage and would push their views. Either the GOP, the apathetic potential voters, or the religious right will have to change course to change the course of who controls the US political demographic, the prime voter targets.

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    Religious right split over '08, unsure of candidates

    Following the Democrats' win in the 2006 midterm elections, there was speculation of an impending fracturing of the thus-solid Republican Party. Though that has yet to happen, the GOP's quite conservative, adamantly religious supporters do seem to be going through a phase of conundrums over the 2008 presidential elections. Funny how there's all this fuss over an election almost two years away.

    The New York Times:

    A group of influential Christian conservatives and their allies emerged from a private meeting at a Florida resort this month dissatisfied with the Republican presidential field and uncertain where to turn.
    For eight years and four elections, President Bush forged a singular alliance with Christian conservatives — including dispatching administration officials and even cabinet members to address council meetings — that put them at the center of the Republican Party.
    The conservative concern may also be an ominous sign for the Republican Party about the morale of a core element of its political base. Conservatives warn that the 2008 election could shape up like 1996, when conservatives faced a lesser-of-two evils choice between a Republican they distrusted, former Senator Bob Dole, and a Democrat they disdained, President Bill Clinton. Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family later said in a speech to the council that he voted for a conservative third-party candidate that year rather than pull a lever for Mr. Dole.

    The Council for National Policy was founded 25 years ago by the Rev. Tim LaHaye as a forum for conservative Christians to strategize about turning the country to the right.
    In addition to doubts about their ability to generate enough money and momentum, each candidate who addressed the group also faces initial skepticism from one faction or another on issues like immigration, trade, taxes and foreign affairs.

    Current staunch very conservative possible candidates (all are GOP):
    Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.)
    Sen. Sam Brownback (Kansas)

    Additional, less staunch; still religious but lesser known potential candidates:
    Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Arkansas)
    Gov. Mark Sanford (S. Carolina)
    Rep. Duncan Hunter (Cali.)

    More moderate, flexible 'conservative frontrunners':
    Sen. John McCain (Arizona)
    Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani
    Former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.)

    I'll be developing the above list as things move along, and I will work on making one that goes more in-depth to the potential candidate's qualities. In addition, expect a similar list for Democratic/liberal — though the two are far from synonymous — candidates.

    The Christian right and far conservative elements of American politics might well need to choose the lesser of two evils. If there ends up being a race between a moderate, ever-so-slightly left-leaning Democrat and a moderate Republican, they'll need to choose the latter. Not doing so might do harm to the GOP candidate like liberals choosing Ralph Nader in several elections put their votes for him instead of the Democrat (Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004). I wonder, though, if it was many in the religious right with conflicting feelings over the Republicans' recent political moves and assumed hostility from the party that was the actual cause of the GOP loosing the 2006 election. (It was probably a decent combination of factors, including the latter.) In addition, it is virtually impossible for an independent to win an American presidential election. All the odds are against them, not least the electoral system!

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    Sunday, 25 February 2007

    Terror figures skewed by Bush administration for political gain

    Not too surprising, but interesting — and underreported — nonetheless.
    AP (via NYT)

    Federal prosecutors counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among antiterror cases in the four years after Sept. 11 despite there being no evidence linking them to terror activity, a Justice Department audit found Tuesday.
    The numbers, used to monitor the department’s progress in battling terrorists, are reported to Congress and the public, and they play a role in shaping the department’s budget.

    These are some of the same numbers President Bush has used in defending his so-called war on terror. It looks as if PR has replaced national security data as this administration uses one of its most powerful political tools to increase or hold their political capital: fear of terrorism, especially after 9/11; showing that the White House is 'defeating' terrorism. Considering terrorism is meant to provoke fear and, thus, give terrorists an upper hand, is the White House spinning terrorism in order to create fear in the public but also convince the public the Bush administration is fighting the evil terrorism? (Is that not terrorism, or a form of exploiting terrorism for one's own motives, in itself?) It's bad enough the GWOT gets compared to the American War of Independence by Bush himself.

    The Bush administration is using terrorism in a way that gives them — and, ironically, the terrorists — a political advantage. Iraq and Afghanistan were the Islamic extremists' perceived 9/11 — i.e. they've convinced much of the public those supposed fronts of the 'war on terror' are an attack similar to the one the United States felt on 11 September 2001. The extremists have benefited from Iraq; Bush benefited from 9/11. As it has turned out, the mutual benefit of perceived terrorism and actual terrorism, in the case of Iraq and 9/11 (respectively), has helped Islamic extremists as well as their pursuant, the Bush administration, in convincing their respective public that their mission is necessary and increasing their own power.

    No doubt the fire paradox of terrorism and counterterrorism ties into this too.

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    Friday, 23 February 2007

    Guinea's rule of martial law ended

    The African country of Guinea has been under martial law for 11 days now. The parliament has refused to renew the state of emergency.

    President Lansana Conte had asked parliament to renew martial law until a general strike is called off.

    President Conte imposed the emergency following weeks of violent street protests against his leadership.

    Trade unions have welcomed the vote but said they intend to continue their crippling general strike until a new prime minister is found.

    The martial law measures had imposed a curfew and gave the military sweeping powers to search and arrest.

    It remains unknown — to me at least — whether it is the government and army or the violent protesters who are causing the turmoil. As far as the union-government conflict goes: are the unions too power-hungry or is the government too repressive and not representative enough of the workers' rights? For the most part it sounds as if the president is painfully corrupt. He personally released too friends convicted of embezzling millions in public funds, among other actions that sent normal Guineans over the edge.

    Guinea, like many other post-colonial African nations, is attempting a change from an authoritarian-type republic to an open democracy. The question that ultimately remains, for Guinea and others, is how that change will come, and whether it will just send the country backwards into more conflict or repressiveness. Power to the people, or continued instability in the name of stability and the sake of traditional power?

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    Good day for Canadian civil liberties

    If only with the United States Supreme Court could be this rational...
    BBC News:

    Canada's Supreme Court has struck down a controversial system that allowed the government to detain and deport foreign-born terror suspects.
    The nine judges ruled that the security certificate system - in place since 1978 - violated Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The system allowed a suspect to be held indefinitely or deported on the basis of evidence presented in secret.

    Though it took long enough for the courts to catch up and attack this highly questionable system. Nonetheless, the system sounds a lot like America's legal FISA courts, which award secret warrants, but are a bit more broad in regards to evidence. The Bush administration, and some administrations prior, have ignored FISA and even the courts and the US Constitution. To be honest this is the first time I have heard of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    Overall: a good day for civil liberties [edit: including in Guinea]. Well, except for the whole continued repression of free speech in Egypt issue...

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    Prodi: hanging by a string

    Romano Prodi's fate will be decided this weekend after his resignation was handed in only a couple days ago. The Italian prime minister was only recently voted into office, leading a center-left coalition that is fractured at best. His opponents, including rival Silvio Burlesconi, have taken advantage of messy Italian politics in this latest chapter in Italy's far-from-great recent governmental record.


    Italy's president will decide on Saturday whether Romano Prodi deserves another chance to lead the nation as prime minister after a Senate rebellion forced his shock resignation.

    Prodi's allies insist they have mended his center-left coalition, whose spectacular collapse during a foreign policy vote on Wednesday raised the specter of snap elections after just nine months in office.

    President Giorgio Napolitano is not expected to send Italians back to the ballot box, but he kept the country guessing on Friday after concluding long two days of crisis talks with party leaders and elder statesmen.

    I doubt the president will make a rash move. That would only worsen the situation for years to come, no matter who succeeds Prodi, assuming he goes. Maybe Prodi's successor will be a vibrant, clean politician, able to work across party lines to help Italy. Maybe Prodi will stay and trouble will continue. Maybe he will be replaced by a bureaucratic grunt or political hack or someone just like himself. As the Reuters article says, President Napolitano is keeping us all guessing.

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    Slaughter in Sri Lanka, even with a ceasefire


    European cease-fire monitors said Friday nearly 4,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka in the past 15 months and they emphasized the importance that the government and the rebels adhere to the cease-fire.

    In contrast, during the three previous years, fewer than 130 people died in the ethnic conflict, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a statement.

    The government changed hands about 15 months ago following the election of President Mahinda Rajapakse over moderate leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had signed the truce deal with the rebels.

    The monitoring mission was called to oversee the 2002 cease-fire. Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of the truce. Some 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the cease-fire.

    Separatist Tamil rebels began fighting in 1983 for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.1 million ethnic Tamils in the north and northeast, following decades of discrimination by the country's majority Sinhalese.

    These numbers to not count the people who died from eviction and starvation; both sides cause people to have to leave their homes. The toll in human numbers is much higher than the cost of lives, but the death figures are stark nonetheless, especially considering the upward trend. Hard to believe a 'cease-fire' is in place, isn't it?

    This really is a tragedy. Both sides — Tamil Tiger rebels and government officials — are acting more in the interest of themselves and their goals than than their people. Whenever one side seems ready to sit down to the negotiation table, the other stands up. Whenever peace seems near, one of the sides, often Tamil, does something to break that hope of a positive end to this conflict. One might equate it to an even more dreary version of the Basque separatist conflict Spain has been facing.

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    Thursday, 22 February 2007

    Barack Obama v. Hillary Clinton: it's on!

    For a while now, watchers of America politics have known a fight within the Democratic Party over the 2008 presidential candidate was imminent. For every election there are multiple candidates of the same party vying for the nomination to run. However, in this case, there are two popular and spotlight-worthy candidates running for the most esteemed political post in all the land. Of course, there has been plenty of hype to go around; enough, in fact, to feed a small country. There has been prior idle speculation over a deep Obama-Clinton battle, but most of that was just politics as usual; people making a big deal out of nothing. This time it is the candidates — or rather, just the Clinton camp — creating much ado about next-to-nothing.

    Obama kicked off his campaign earlier this month and was recently attacked by Austrialia's right-wing prime minister, John Howard. Clinton has not been as lucky in her coverage in the press, or on this blog. She announced her candidacy late last month.

    Washington Post:

    An increasingly acrimonious competition between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to enlist the Democratic Party's leading fundraisers and operatives burst into the open yesterday, overshadowing what was billed as the presidential campaign's first gathering of candidates in Nevada.

    While Clinton (N.Y.) and Obama (Ill.) have not for the most part taken their competition public, their campaigns in recent weeks have been trumpeting each victory, such as the recruitment of a major Boston-based rainmaker by Obama and a prominent African American state senator from South Carolina by Clinton.

    The back-and-forth between the two campaigns has largely been fodder for political insiders. Yesterday, however, David Geffen, the music and film producer who is one of the party's most prominent donors, made the fight more public. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Geffen said that Clinton is "the easiest to beat" of the Democratic field and skewered her unwillingness to apologize for her 2002 vote to use force in Iraq. "It's not a very big thing to say 'I made a mistake' on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can't," Geffen said.
    After seeing the comments yesterday morning, the Clinton campaign immediately issued a call for Obama to disavow Geffen's remarks and return his $2,300 donation, arguing that they were contrary to Obama's pledge to run a positive campaign.
    Obama weighed in later. "It's not clear to me why I would be apologizing for someone else's remarks," he said in Iowa, where he had gone instead of the candidates forum because of a prior commitment. "My sense is that Mr. Geffen may have differences with the Clintons, but that doesn't really have anything to do with our campaign."

    All this over a minor donation in what is expected to be a billion dollar campaign? Still Geffen has raised roughly $1.3 million for Obama. To clarify, the $2,300 was just the amount Geffen had raised on Tuesday.

    Personally I do not care for Clinton's politics. She is much more phony a politician than Obama, and her attempts to join multiple assumed ideological sects — the national security hawks, moral, anti-violent video games, etc. — have not fared well with me. I am fine with a politician bringing people from all areas of the spectrum together, but someone who tries to get the votes of people by contradicting their policies and trumping special interests for the political capital I don't like.

    Obama, on the other hand, wants reform but knows he cannot get it. He has taken the mentality of gradual, moderate reform, which would eventually lead to what he wants; often times the progressive change this country needs. He knows the general public in the United States are not progressive at the moment and plans to meet in the middle between radical reform and none at all. (See this Harper's article.) Better than nothing, if you ask me. One problem would be if the reforms have a poor short-term effect, like some of the effects of free trade, Obama might loose the support of the people.

    Clinton is better than a lot of other politicians and potential Oval Office contenders, but the need felt by her to please everyone might cause her to loose her target base. She also needs a clearer stance. On many issues she has remained opaque on her views in order to maximize popularity; on others she has just followed the Democratic party-line — all too often. Clinton is neither a maverick nor a firebrand Democrat nor a clear-cut candidate nor something in the middle. Obama is more of a Democratic maverick, though he needs to break away from his party a bit more often.

    If Sen. Clinton does not feel the need to apologize over her vote for the Iraq war, that indicates she thought — and still thinks — the war was a good idea. Obama, on the other hand, has taken the more moderate approach of saying he was wrong. I doubt the issue of changing one's mind over the decision to go to war with Iraq will be as big a deal as it was in the 2004 presidential election, when the Republicans spread the mostly-erroneous Kerry "flip-flopping" label, not to mention the dirty Swift Boat campaign. (The 2000 and 2004 GOP candidate, George W. Bush, is actually worse on flip-flopping than Kerry.)

    Currently Clinton is still more popular in the polls than Obama, though who would vote for her in the Democratic primaries remains to be seen. (Newsweek has a detailed poll from early this year/late last year.) Clinton's numbers have dropped as Obama's have grown in recent weeks, however. Each have nearly a quarter of the polled Democratic backing; it is only natural scuffles have begun and shall intensify.

    I will not give out my final, or even preliminary, verdict on these candidates until we all learn more and I read up on them, their votes and stated policies.

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    Wednesday, 21 February 2007

    Obsessing over Anna Nicole Smith in the US media

    When news about Anna Nicole Smith's death first broke, I decided to continue my policy on keeping this blog Anna Nicole-free, along with my denial of over-hyped and frankly insignificant people like the dead JonBonet Ramsey and celebrities. However... An Anna Nicole Smith burial speculation story and look at demented teens bent on killing homeless people and smoking pot both outrank a story on US courts derelicting their duties by allowing what CNN calls “anti-terror laws” put in place by the Bush administration in its policies on enemy combatitants at GITMO. I'm actually not that surprised. Whilst channel surfing, which I don't often do, I noticed all three major cable news networks — CNN, Fox 'News', and MSNBC — all practically ignored important stories and focused on Anna Nicole Smith, including the tiny aspects of her legacy and death. Even when the topic was supposed to be serious matters like politics, science, or headlines these news networks felt it better to focus on celebrity. The likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears has also been a major focus, though they hold little significance in the real news. I am afraid the media is not doing its job. Every time any of these people gets a DYI or a different haircut, the mainstream news media is on top of the story with a vigor that used to be reserved only for tabloids.

    People may want entertainment, but they have E! and People for that. One of the news media's many jobs is to have a balance between what people 'want' and what they 'need' to be informed in a civil society. So-called infotainment now rules supreme in the chambers of many American news organizations. Between much ineffectiveness over reporting and analyzing fairly US politics — especially caving into Bush's rhetoric on the 'war on terror' — and the rise of pointless information stories and unsourced bias, the state of the US news media: poor. They have failed to give the people what they need; and their standing as one of the pillars of a free and democratic society is in shambles. There are also external problems for the media, like the Bush White House attacking them whenever a story critical, even factual, against the administration is published. Bush must have a warped idea of democracy. By the way, a Google search of "Anna Nicole Smith" returns 25,400,000 results. "Darfur" has less than one-fifth the results of that. It's not only the news media with their priorities mixed.

    Read more at this great site on the American news media. See also On the Media and CJR Daily.

    Feel free to send in your views on the news media — US and otherwise — as well as what you think of society's prioritization of issues and topics, how some less important issues get drastically less notice, and how celebrity news invasion has effected you. Personally, I find it hard to visit any major news site or go to any public place without seeing or hearing celebrity gibber-gabble.

    More posts on the news establishment soon.

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    Blair reduces UK Iraq force

    BBC News:

    Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months.
    He said the 7,100 serving troops would be cut to 5,500 soon, with hopes that 500 more will leave by late summer.

    Remaining troops will stay into 2008, to give back-up if necessary and secure borders, but the Iraqis would "write the next chapter" in Basra's history.
    Source: BBC
    There are approximately 132,000 US personnel currently in Iraq accounting for more than 90% of the occupying force

    Iraq is divided into 5 main military zones. The US controls the north and west of the country, as well as Baghdad

    The Centre-South is run Polish forces, but US troops lead any major operations against insurgents in this area

    The UK's 7,100 soldiers are based in the South East zone. Three provinces - Muthanna, al-Najaf and Dhi Qar are now under provisional Iraqi control. Basra and Maysan provinces are expected to follow suit in the first half of 2007

    Though some seemed surprised by this move, the cut in Basra and southern Iraq forces was inevitable as planned.

    Does Blair truly believe in an Iraq exit or reduction as strategically positive, or is he just trying to salvage his legacy and New Labour movement tarnished by his later foreign policy debacles?

    Blair is expected to step down from his post as prime minister by mid-summer this year. He has held the position for a decade, following a sweeping victory for Labour in 1997. There are plenty of people — including myself — ready for his departure.

    Newsweek has an exclusive 'exit interview' of Blair, though the article is written in a decidedly pro-Blair bias. One thing that peeved me was how the article stated Blair was
    Perhaps more than any British post-World War leader, save Margaret Thatcher, Blair personified his era, transforming the nation's politics and ushering in unrivaled prosperity.
    Does the writer even know about a man named Clement Attlee? Attlee transformed Britain following their loss of their superpower status and the end of the British Empire. Thatcher's affect on the nation have yet to be seen as positive.

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    Prodi out?

    In a surprise move today, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi handed in his resignation. Prodi — whose center-left coalition only recently took over the Italian government from his corrupt right-leaning predecessor Silvio Berlusconi — has been in hot water lately over a series of issues many politicians in US-allied countries are well acquainted with: Afghanistan, and the American 'war on terror' in general — including plans for enlargement of US military base there, which seems hegemonious at best. WWII and the Cold War are over; what is the need for a foreign military to be occupying Italy, in principle or strategy? Italian military policy has been a problem in the already problem-riddled Italian political system, notorious for its murkiness, corruption, and inefficiency (though I am open to views from those within Italy!).

    President Giorgio Napolitano is now expected to hold talks with political leaders before reaching a decision.

    He could accept the resignation or ask Mr Prodi to stay in power.

    In the vote, several of Mr Prodi's coalition partners opposed troop deployments in Afghanistan and plans to expand a US airbase in northern Italy.

    But the coalition's leader in the lower house of parliament, Dario Franceschini, said the main parties in the coalition would continue to back Mr Prodi.
    The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Rome says it is not a foregone conclusion that the government will fall.

    Mr Napolitano has several options, of which dissolving parliament and calling new elections is the most radical.

    He could also ask Mr Prodi, who took office 10 months ago with a wafer-thin parliamentary majority, to test his support with a confidence vote, ask him to form a new government, choose a different prime minister from the ruling coalition or appoint a government of technocrats.
    The twin issues of the continued funding of troop deployment in Afghanistan, where Italy has some 1,900 soldiers, and the expansion of a US airbase in the north-eastern city of Vicenza have sparked fierce debate in Italy.

    Last week, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Vicenza in protest at the plans.

    They were approved by Mr Prodi's predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

    Berlusconi is a media mogul and dirty politician currently suspected of a string of criminal offenses. He has used his mass media power to attempt a political monopoly and has a poor track record, in my opinion, as a politician of any kind in Italy.

    For the sake of stability, the government should not resign. Whatever follows such an action is much worse than the trouble currently brewing. From the looks of it the government has yet to fall apart, and, considering Italy's recent political history, any action more radical than appointing a new prime minister from the ruling party or holding a confidence vote would be too rash. Such an action has the potential to move Italy into real political turmoil.

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    Monday, 19 February 2007

    Washington's war of independence equals Bush's war on terror?!

    First Bush compares himself/is compared to Lincoln and now he moves on to another revered president: Washington. In both comparisons he used the fact both of these presidents were wartime as the keystone of his comparison. However, both wars were vital and real, Lincoln used war powers when the estabilishment was in shambles anyway. It is not like there are no courts today, so Bush and his supporters have no argument. America's survival is not at stake in the 'war on terror' so I am starting to worry about the current US commander-in-chief's mental state, or that of his speech writers.

    This rhetoric is starting to get a bit out of hand...

    President Bush honored the 275th birthday of the nation's first president on Monday, likening George Washington's long struggle that gave birth to a nation to the war on global terrorism.

    "Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life," said Bush, standing in front of Washington's home and above a mostly frozen Potomac River.

    The thing is, Washington fought for a genuine cause — though somewhat botched, exaggerated, and glorified in history's angle. He was noble nonetheless. Bush, on the other hand, took advantage of a national disaster (9/11) that left a country shocked and scared. He used that fear and exchanged it for political capital. Washington was a general, having little to do with the often dirty American politics of his time. Bush is a politician, and not very good one at that. Washington listened to his advisers and other voices and opinions around him. Bush follows his own beliefs, shunning all those holding a different view.

    The war that led to American sovereignty ("American Revolution" is actually an incorrect phrase because it was not a technical 'revolution') was fought partially with violent and intellectual terrorism, and some on the battlefield. Many fighting were the equivalent of what we would call terrorists nowadays. Even though their cause was, for the most part, good, they still terrorized and many politicians used false propaganda against or for the British side or used violence in the name of goodness, while they were actually implementing a form of terrorism. Anyways, the 'war on terror' is just a political phrase used to describe a variety of fronts against supposed terrorism.

    Now, I ask you, does the Global War on Terror really equal the American War of Independence? Does Bush equal Washington? Not by a long shot.

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    US has plans on attacking Iran, nukes and all

    The BBC reports on US plans to attack Iran. The question is whether the excuse would be Iran's nuclear program or its Iraq meddling (thus its scapegoat status to the Bush White House's foreign policy rhetoric).

    US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

    It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

    The US insists it is not planning to attack, and is trying to persuade Tehran to stop uranium enrichment.
    If bombing Iran equals persuasion in the US government's book, then we're in bigger trouble. No doubt an attack would only inflame anti-US sentiment in Iran, the Muslim world in general, and, well the world as a whole. Iran is probably looking for a similar deal to the North Korean one. The North Koreans are even more dangerous, say experts.

    [Article continues:]
    The UN has urged Iran to stop the programme or face economic sanctions.

    But diplomatic sources have told the BBC that as a fallback plan, senior officials at Central Command in Florida have already selected their target sets inside Iran.

    That list includes Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Facilities at Isfahan, Arak and Bushehr are also on the target list, the sources say.

    Two Triggers
    BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the trigger for such an attack reportedly includes any confirmation that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon - which it denies.

    Alternatively, our correspondent adds, a high-casualty attack on US forces in neighbouring Iraq could also trigger a bombing campaign if it were traced directly back to Tehran.
    The BBC's Tehran correspondent France Harrison says the news that there are now two possible triggers for an attack is a concern to Iranians.

    Authorities insist there is no cause for alarm but ordinary people are now becoming a little worried, she says.
    Middle East analysts have recently voiced their fears of catastrophic consequences for any such US attack on Iran.

    Britain's previous ambassador to Tehran, Sir Richard Dalton, told the BBC it would backfire badly by probably encouraging the Iranian government to develop a nuclear weapon in the long term.

    Iraq is already displeased over the seeming proxy war between the United States and Iran being fought there.

    Iranian, as well as American, politics will play a major role in how this all comes out. Both the presidents of the US and Iran, Bush and Ahmadinejad, are not doing so well politically; at home and abroad. Funny enough, their political slumps are for the same reasons: the economy and foreign policy. Ahmadinejad's antagonistic, provocative nuke policy and Bush's cowboy, take-no-prisoners Iraq and 'war on terror' policies has kept each respective ruler busy — too busy to notice their country's economy is going down the tubes.

    The Bush administration has already shown its defiance of Congress time and time again. Nonetheless, I doubt the US government has the nerve or power to launch a synchronized, large scale, super attack on Iran. To destroy all its nuclear facilities — many of which are secret and unknown and those known are hard to reach (e.g. in a mountain) — the US would need to kill countless thousands and use bunker-buster missiles, which are nuclear themselves. Overall, it is out of the question.

    Assuming the BBC has 'learned' right, the United States' potential Iran attack plan is ludicrous. If attacking is the US's idea of persuasion, we are all in for a bumpy ride.

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    Finding progress — in Israel-Palestine peace talks

    When I first heard of the multi-party Middle East peace talks — following US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s unannounced visit to Baghdad — a familiar feeling overcame me, a feeling often associated with events dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict that are not superficially negative. That feeling: one of no optimism, yet its nature wasn’t pessimistic either (optimistic pessimism or pessimistic optimism?). In fact, I was much more optimistic following the agreement over the Palestinian government’s power structure, which has looked to decrease factional violence and has been a step towards the PA’s legitimacy in western eyes — or it would be if the West opened up a bit to the fact Hamas has been elected by the people: deal with it. Remember Hamas also has two wings: their ‘terrorist’ militant wing and the more moderate political wing, same with Hezbollah.

    For ages there has been strife in the Middle East, more so than in most other regions of the world. Basically nothing has been accomplished from these latest talks, and it looks as if that will be the norm unless one of the parties involved matures to a point where progress can at least be in sight. These talks were the first in six years between the leaders of Palestine and Israel, currently President Abbas of Fatah and President Olmert, respectively. I knew there'd be a schism between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Israel has the US's unequivocal support on nearly every move it makes. Palestine, the isolated underdog, has few real friends: many Arab states use it to get back at Israel, many in the West shun it for whatever reason.

    On the US-Israel-Palestine summit,

    Mr Olmert said on Sunday that US President George W Bush had privately promised Washington would join Israel in shunning any government including Hamas.

    … Which is quite possibly the reason for the lax response to the forward-acting Abbas-Meshaal, Hamas-Fatah power sharing deal for the Palestinian Authority. Rice talked with Palestinian President Abbas alone on Sunday, probably trying to assert her influence before the new Palestinian government takes full form.

    How can one be staunchly pro-democracy if one refuses to support democratic governments because of their politics, and support repressive authoritarian regimes, ignoring their principles — which contrast to one’s rhetoric? Bush cannot have it both ways. He seems to have chosen a metaphorical war on terrorism, which is mainly bolstered political rhetoric, over his sensible assumed belief in democracy, and insensible belief in forcing democracy on countries via regime changes.

    One of the main issues: recognition. Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel outright and Israel and the US’s refusal to recognize a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. These are both, quite frankly, stupid actions of political posturing. Hamas will loose votes if it recognizes Israel’s right to be a state. It will also loose respect and legitimacy in the West’s eyes if it does not recognize Israel. Hamas gains political capital because of its harsh stance towards Israel. In case nobody noticed, Israel is not the most popular of Middle Eastern states, and it is very popular to be a hater of the unpopular in the eyes of the population that elects by popular vote. The United States and Israel — the more developed and ‘mature’ of the two sides — refuse to recognize the Palestinian government because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, and because they just don’t like Hamas.

    The US is disliked in the Mid-East region for a number of regions, namely Iraq and other fronts of its ‘war on terror’, which has quite possibly accomplished more terror than it has eliminated — at least in the eyes of many around the globe. It has also bred terror (see my ‘fire paradox’) with poor counterterrorism efforts against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as ‘terrorism’ in general, politically. I think Israel and the US would be happier if there was a brutal dictatorship, a puppet state of hegemonic value to the US-Israel organization and tool of repression of the Palestinians, instead of a government of the Palestinian people’s choosing. A while back President Bush announced he was in favor of a Palestinian state, now it seems American and Israeli officials are sidestepping that issue…

    For now the unified Hamas-Fatah Palestinian government, after a recent restructure, appears to be on track.

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    Sunday, 18 February 2007

    Lebanon: the next Iraq? (part 1)

    Bad news about Lebanon, along with the announcement by the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, that he would continue to fight to bring down the current, corrupt US-backed government (though it is all empty rhetoric; remember Hezbollah has a large say in the government and, like Hamas, has two faces: the moderate political one and the militant, charismatic, radical one). However, the fact that Lebanon is in such trouble may just be the thing holding factions like Hezbollah together in it. In a state where around one-third of residents are Shia Muslims, the government structure supposedly set up to lower religious political tension only exacerbates it.

    CFR report:

    For the last two months, Lebanon’s embattled government has barely managed to stay afloat in the face of massive street protests demanding the formation of a “unity government” in which the opposition would have a stronger voice. That opposition, made up of the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its political allies, says a desire to avoid civil strife (al-Jazeera) is all that keeps them from toppling Lebanon’s leadership. But recent clashes among rival factions in Beirut have raised fears (Al-Ahram) of another Lebanese civil war.

    An International Herald Tribune editorial says at the crux of the country’s unrest lies an “archaic and unfair political system that divides the country’s top offices among rival religious communities.” But all along the front lines of Lebanon’s power struggle, broader regional forces are testing their hands (USNews). The region’s widening Shiite-Sunni rift (Economist) has become particularly contentious in Lebanon, where the recent uprising was only diffused after the region’s major Shiite and Sunni powers—Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively—intervened (AP). Iran bears substantial responsibility for the current state of affairs in Lebanon. Last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah matter-of-factly acknowledged what has long been asserted by regional analysts—that his group receives money and weapons from Iran (Haaretz) by way of Syria.

    Syria, too, has much at stake in Lebanon. Near the heart of Beirut’s political power struggle is a proposed hybrid court that would try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The subject of an ongoing UN investigation, Syria’s involvement in the assassination is widely presumed.

    From a political and humanitarian/human rights perspective, this is some good news dealing with Lebanon.

    Lebanon Daily Star:
    Two US Senators introduced legislation this week that would protect civilians from the deadly effects of cluster munitions - a bill that Human Rights Watch (HRW) said deserved "strong support." If passed into law, "The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act," sponsored by senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, would prohibit the American military from using cluster munitions in populated areas and would ban the use and transfer of cluster munitions with submunitions that have a failure rate of 1 percent or more.

    "If this bill passes, it would an important step toward controlling the deadly use of cluster bombs in the world," Nadim Houry, HRW's representative in Lebanon, told The Daily Star on Thursday.

    Cluster munitions, which contain dozens or hundreds of small explosive submunitions, are typically dropped from aircraft or fired from artillery or rocket systems.

    Cluster bombs pose a double danger to civilians as there is an immediate danger during attacks due to their inaccuracy and wide dispersal pattern, and a long-term danger after conflict, as many remain fail to detonate and can explode years later.

    The US has a stockpile of millions of cluster munitions that contain between 720 million and 1 billion submunitions. Only around 30,000 of those submunitions have safety features that might bring the failure rate below 1 percent. The acknowledged failure rate for some of the others is more than 20 percent.

    "This is the second attempt at presenting this kind of bill; the first was presented after the summer 2006 war with Israel," said Houry.

    According to the United Nations, Israel released millions of cluster bombs in South Lebanon, where civilian casualties are still resulting from the weapons.

    "The bill is being brought up again as there was a recent change in the Senate majority," said Houry.

    During the 2006 war, The New York Times reported that Israel had requested delivery of surface-launched M26 artillery rockets for use against suspected Hezbullah positions in in Lebanon. Of course, the Israelis are not targeting civilians on purpose, while Hezbollah is.

    According to the HRW, the wide dispersal pattern of submunitions from M26 rockets makes it very difficult to avoid civilian casualties when [deploying] the weapons in populated areas. "If bill passes, then Israel won't be able to get the M26 rockets, as their failure rate is higher than 1 percent," said Houry.

    During and following the Lebanon (Hezbollah)-Israel conflict last summer many fretted over some of the weapons used by the Israelis — for example, some of these cluster bombs (supplied by the US) — and the civilian deaths and injuries they have caused. Both sides exercised injustice: Israel in irrational decision-making, Hezbollah in the aggressive acts that set off the conflict.

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    Saturday, 17 February 2007

    Senate blocks vote on nonbinding resolution the House passed...

    A bit over a week ago debate in the Senate over Iraq policy came to a complete halt.

    Just recently, the House of Representatives was able to pass a nonbinding resolution condemning President Bush's troop surge.

    Now, the Senate has chosen to continue its path of inability to act like a legislative body, to think and act independently of the executive, to be able to even have a debate on an issue as serious as Iraq.

    The US Senate has decided not to debate a resolution criticising President George W Bush's troop surge in Iraq.

    The rare Saturday session followed a non-binding vote backing the resolution in the House of Representatives.

    In the House, 17 Republicans had joined the majority Democrats to oppose the increase of 21,500 troops.

    Democrats needed the support of 60 of the 100 senators to advance the same motion in the Senate, but they only managed to gain 56 votes in favour.

    Mr Bush still faces battles with Congress over funding for US troops in Iraq.
    The White House has dismissed the vote, and warned Congress against trying to cut off funding.
    Senate Democrats were hoping to repeat their Friday success in the House, when the motion criticising the president's Iraq policy was passed by 246 votes to 182.
    "The Senate's responsibility must be to vote on escalation, whether the so-called surge is supported or opposed. This is the choice. More war, or less war," the Democrat leader [Harry Reid] told the Senate.

    Republicans sought debate on a different motion, which would have ruled out any budget cuts affecting troops already in Iraq.

    The GOP is trying to look like the hero and the underdog at the same time; the Dems are exercising majority power, but not nearly to the level the Republicans would if their majority status was left unchanged by the elections last November.

    This debate over whether to have a debate over a resolution only powerful in political symbolism has gone on for quite some time now, since mid-January when Bush announced the 'surge'.

    What's funny is that the Senate is often the more liberal/moderate of the two chambers of Congress. However, the Democrats' very slim majority in the Senate of 51-49 — which includes two seats of non-Democrats (i.e. independents who have decided to caucus with the Dems) — is less than its 30-some seat majority in the House.

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    Friday, 16 February 2007

    Nonbinding resolution on Iraq finally passes in House

    Amazing, all the fuss over a non-binding measure against President Bush's Iraq troop 'surge'. One minute the Republicans are scrutinizing the Democrats for restricting the vote to this resolution; the next they are saying how insignificant it is. They are contradicting themselves over the weight of the measure because they know it is politically symbolic and practically useless at the same time. They have been debating this resolution since earlier in the week.

    The Senate's debate was clogged up by political and parliamentary junk from both sides of the isle. Earlier today I watched the slightly senile Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) saying how the Dems are being so mean now that they are majority. He must have forgotten the Democrats have had the majority for, oh, about a month and a half versus the GOP's eight year reign.

    Washington Post:

    Capping four days of passionate, often angry debate, the House delivered President Bush its first rebuke since the Iraq war was launched nearly four years ago, voting 246 to 182 to oppose the administration's planned deployment of 21,500 additional combat troops to Iraq.

    Seventeen Republicans joined 229 Democrats to approve a resolution that expresses support for U.S. combat forces but opposes the additional deployments. Two Democrats opposed the measure.

    Although nonbinding, both proponents and opponents predicted the consequences of the vote would be enormous as the debate came to a close yesterday with a crescendo. Democrats claimed it would begin to turn the political tide so decisively that the president will have to begin bringing U.S. forces home, while Republicans warned darkly that Islamic terrorists will be emboldened at the expense of not only American lives but also America's way of life.
    The Republican argument is totally meant to scaremonger and use the element of fear and 'way of life' to captivate those ignorant enough to cave in. It has been used for the entiredy of the debate.

    What does the passing of this resolution really mean? Further wedging between the Bush White House and Congress, as well as a morale fall for the GOP — though neither is set in stone.

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    Thursday, 15 February 2007

    All not-so-quiet on the Afghan front

    It has been around five years since the United States and its allies — more then than it has now — invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terror attacks. From then on, the fighting in Afghanistan has been a roller coaster ride. But now the Taliban, which has collaborated with terrorist group al-Qaeda and ruled Afghanistan before the 2002 invasion, has resurged with enough support and strength to scare NATO forces as they prepare for its apparent heavy offensive this spring. It sprung up as a resistance movement to Soviet Russia's trying to invade it; i.e. Afghanistan was arguably a front for Cold War proxy wars between the US and USSR. Like any other movement, the Taliban is not entirely bad, nor is it a positive force in modern Afghanistan. The United States is peeved that, in its eyes, NATO and Europe are not stepping up to the plate in their fight in Afghanistan. The country is, by the way, not very free and democratic as its constitution has about as many extreme contradictions as the Bible (e.g., how can a woman have inalienable rights if traditional conservative Muslim doctrines also in the constitution forbid those rights?). There is also a problem with terrorists crossing Afghanistan's shared border with Pakistan. Although the Pakistani government insists it does all it can to fight against extremists, many have been skeptical.

    AP via CNN:

    Describing a country on the brink, President Bush on Thursday exhorted NATO nations to send additional troops to Afghanistan and allow their soldiers already there to fight in the violent south and under other dangerous circumstances.

    "When our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries 'We need additional help,' our NATO countries must provide it," Bush said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "As well, allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make its stand."
    Fighting in Afghanistan the past year was the bloodiest since the U.S.-led war started in 2001 and toppled the Taliban regime. Commanders anticipate a renewed offensive this spring by Taliban fighters trying to stage a comeback and topple the elected government in Kabul.

    Several countries have offered recently to provide additional support to the 35,500-strong NATO force, but it remains to be seen whether coalition commanders will get the troops, equipment and rules of engagement they say they need.

    The Pentagon announced Wednesday that about 3,000 soldiers who had been scheduled to go to Iraq would be sent to Afghanistan instead. That puts the U.S. presence there at about 27,000 -- the highest of the war -- with 15,000 serving as part of the NATO-led force and another 12,000 special operations forces and trainers.

    The president is asking Congress to provide $11.8 billion over the next two years for operations, military and otherwise, in Afghanistan.

    Bush said the need for others nations to step up is great as spring comes, bringing an expected new offensive by the Taliban.
    As a side-note, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a neocon/conservative think-tank that has closely collaborated with the White House on successes like Iraq (sarcasm, for those who can't recognize it).

    Bush is right to send more troops and money to Afghanistan. A recent study, The Terrorism Index, concluded a majority of American foreign policy and national security experts of all stripes believe that to be the right move.

    BBC News has a slew of analysis on and guides to Afghanistan, such as a five-year check-up and a progress report on whether forces are winning or loosing against Taliban insurgent forces reincarnating their power and influence as NATO troops try to keep up and rebuild. There's also Wikipedia if one wants to further delve into the tomes of knowledge compiled on Afghanistan.

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    GLOBE agreement in Washington over climate change

    Global leaders have reached a new agreement at a GLOBE, which stands for Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (website here), forum in Washington, DC. The likes of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman were centers of focus as they ambitiously aimed to pass legislation limiting the United States' large role in global climate change, which humans have been affirmed as a major cause of. The US holds the title as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses which contribute to global warming, though China, with its accelerating economy is soon to catch up. The meeting dealt especially with getting on target on a succession plan after the current Kyoto agreement on greenhouse gas emissions is expired on 2012; of course something more serious and active than Kyoto is needed, one including major roles of the United States and China.

    The GLOBE International meeting lasted two days and included members of the Group of Eight (G8) major industrialized, developed nations — the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany (current president), France, Russia, Canada, and Japan — in addition to major developing countries such as China, India, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. McCain, a key potential moderate conservative Republican presidential candidate for 2008 and current GOP senator from Arizona, spoke with fervor at the forum. However, a great deal of American politicians not the least Republicans — and people — are not convinced of global warming, many of them, like the Bush administration, the same people who swear by the Bible Darwin's theory of evolution is absolutely wrong. Those same people should keep in mind global warming may hurt the poor the most, not that those narrow-minded enough to hold such extreme views might care (keep in mind I am not talking about all fundamentalist Christians or people of faith, but some take it to such an extreme it is dangerous to the rest of us). No matter, global warming could hurt everyone's pocketbooks too.

    BBC News:

    A meeting in Washington of global political leaders has reached a new agreement on tackling climate change.

    Delegates agreed that developing countries will have to face targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as well as rich countries.

    The informal meeting also agreed that a global market should be formed to cap and trade carbon dioxide emissions.

    The non-binding declaration is seen as vital in influencing a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, correspondents say.

    The forum's closing statement said man-made climate change was now "beyond doubt".

    "Climate change is a global issue and there is an obligation on us all to take action, in line with our capabilities and historic responsibilities," said the statement from the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (Globe).
    The two-day meeting brought together legislators from the Group of Eight industrialised countries plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

    The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin was at the meeting and says that although the declaration carries no formal weight it indicates a real change in mood.

    The legislators agreed that developing countries had to face targets on greenhouse gas emissions as well as rich countries.

    US senator Joe Lieberman forecast that the US Congress will enact a law on cutting emissions by the end of next year, possibly this year.

    And presidential candidate John McCain, who is co-sponsoring climate legislation with Mr Lieberman, was emphatic on the need for new initiatives.

    "I am convinced that we have reached the tipping point and that the Congress of the United States will act, with the agreement of the administration," he told the forum.
    Meanwhile, the Canadian parliament moved to force the government to meet its Kyoto Protocol target for reducing emissions.
    With United Nations climate negotiations in November failing to agree a timetable for mandating new cuts in emissions when the current Kyoto targets expire in 2012, the British-led Globe set up the Washington meeting in the hope of stimulating progress in a less formal setting.

    The UN's panel on climate change said earlier this month that higher global temperatures caused by man-made pollution will melt polar ice, worsen floods and droughts and cause more devastating storms.
    On a positive note, at least Lieberman, whom I have been particularly displeased with lately, is not kissing up to the White House on this one! McCain seems especially serious on this issue though he is not the 'maverick' he used to be. However, he has gotten on the Bush administration's case before on global warming.

    For those interested, here is some interesting on this GLOBE meeting from their website.
    Dialogue Aim

    The Dialogue will draw senior legislators together from the G8, India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa with international business leaders, civil society representatives and opinion leaders to discuss a post 2012 climate change agreement.

    Specifically, the Dialogue aims to present a consensus statement from the Dialogue participants to the G8 Heads of State in Japan.

    Dialogue Objectives

    1. To provide a forum outside of formal international negotiating structures for legislators, senior business leaders and other key decision makers to discuss a 2012 Kyoto Climate change Agreement - importantly allowing the representatives from the non G8 countries of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to be represented in the dialogue on climate change.
    2. To create a greater understanding between participating legislators, business leaders and key civil society organisations about different country priorities and how any future political accommodation can be reached
    3. To allow business leaders to inform legislators on appropriate application of technology required to deliver to markets in +5 countries.
    4. To share knowledge and expertise to identify specific measures to address climate change that legislators can support in their respective parliaments.
    5. To provide an informal mechanism to engage with a broader constituency of key legislators - with a particular focus on fostering greater contact & understanding with the G8 and + 5 countries.

    While it is nice to hear politicians speak rationally about such serious issues not always taken seriously, this consensus is basically an affirmation of the IPCC's report on climate change, i.e. the fact humans are causing some of it. There can't only be symbolic progress; action needs to be taken by governments — developing or developed — on their role in climate change. Human-caused climate change probably won't make too much a difference in itself in increasing your air conditioning bill in the summer right now, but it will almost certainly be a different situation for your grandchildren and their children. It is not the short term, it's the long term (see this post).

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