Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging

Humorous Pictures

Our Ms. Brooks: The New Imperialism

Rosa Brooks' latest column, published in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, considers the latest permutation in US military thinking, and she raises some interesting, if disquieting questions about the change.

This week, the Army released a new version of FM 3-0, the Army Field Manual on Operations. The first revision since 9/11, it offers what the Army -- which is not an institution prone to exaggeration -- calls "a revolutionary departure from past doctrine." For more than 200 years, the Army has had two "core missions": offense and defense. FM 3-0 adds a third: "stability operations," better (if more controversially) known to the public as nation building. ...

By adding stability operations as a new core mission, the revised Army Field Manual tries to ensure that the failures of Iraq will never be repeated. FM 3-0 foresees future Army forces fighting when fighting is called for -- but troops also will work as needed to ensure civilian security and provide "emergency infrastructure reconstruction, humanitarian relief [and] political, legal, social and economic institutions that support the transition to legitimate local governance."

Stability operations will be integrated into Army planning and training at every level and will take place across the "full spectrum of conflict": that is, such activities may be preventive (intended to keep an unstable society from collapsing), or coexist with traditional war fighting, or occur in the aftermath of a conflict.
[Emphasis added]

Now that's interesting: it appears that the Army is planning to take over activities traditionally left to the State Department and humanitarian relief organizations. And the inclusion of this new mission certainly fits nicely with the new AFRICOM set up, about which Ms. Brooks has already commented (see here). The broadening of the military role is disturbing, for reasons suggested by questions Ms. Brooks raises:

The Army can't possibly "stabilize" every troubled society, so how will the U.S. select priorities? Will military involvement in traditionally humanitarian activities create new dangers for private relief and humanitarian organizations? Will others around the world see U.S. stability operations as just a new form of imperialism?

Why, yes, the rest of the world will undoubtedly see it that way, because that is precisely what it is. Gunboat diplomacy has been the preferred way to operate in the world by this neocon-riddled administration, and at least one of the presidential candidates sees no problem with that. Sen. McCain's comment that he finds nothng disturbing about having troops remain in Iraq for a hundred years is quite telling in that respect.

But, hey, it's just another facet of Mr. Bush's legacy.

325 days.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

sweet inconspicuous bird

From meadows to marshland, and from temperate coastlines to tundra, the Savannah Sparrow is found in various open habitats throughout much of North America. It varies widely across its range, with 17 recognized subspecies.


The Second Case

Yesterday I posted on the first decision from the US Supreme Court of the five cases on age discrimination before them this session. Today's NY Times announces the decision in the second case, and this one is a clearer victory for the plaintiffs.

This is the background (which was buried deep in the article):

Under the age discrimination law, employees must first file a discrimination charge with the E.E.O.C., and then wait 60 days before filing a lawsuit, in order to give the commission time to try to resolve the matter with the employer.

In this instance, the employees filed the wrong document with the commission, an “intake questionnaire” rather than a formal “charge” document. They accompanied that document with an affidavit that described the problem and asked the commission to “please force Federal Express to end their age discrimination plan.”
[Emphasis added]

I suspect the affadavit attached to the form which detailed the claim of age discrimination was the key factor in the 7-2 decision (Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented).

The failure to file the proper form to complain about job-related age discrimination does not deprive an employee of the ability to go into court later with a discrimination lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In its relaxed approach to formalities, the 7-to-2 decision marked a decided change in tone for the Roberts court compared with one of the signature decisions of the previous term. In the earlier case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, the court ruled by a vote of 5 to 4 that employees complaining about discrimination in pay forfeited their right to sue if they did not file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of a manager’s discriminatory pay decision.

On Wednesday, by contrast, the new majority stressed the need for a “permissive standard” that would not shut the door on workers who were not represented by lawyers and who could be expected to make a layman’s mistakes.

“The system must be accessible to individuals who have no detailed knowledge of the relevant statutory mechanisms and agency processes,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, adding that it was “consistent with the purposes” of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to allow the initial complaint to be submitted on a form that was “easy to complete,” or even as “an informal document, easy to draft.”

The decision means that the case can now proceed to trial. The plaintiffs will still have to prove their age discrimination claim, but at least they'll have the opportunity to do so.

What I find interesting is that both Bush appointees (Roberts and Alito) voted with the majority and signed Justice Kennedy's decision, even though they voted for a harsher interpretration of discrimination law requirements in the Ledbetter case of the last session. I think the fact that the Bush administration didn't insert itself in this case (as it had in Ledbetter) might be the key in this case.

Whatever the reason, however, I think the decision is a good one, albeit late. The complaint was originally filed in 2002, and a lot of witnesses can disappear in six years. Still, at least these plaintiffs and others who might have filed the wrong form will now have a chance at justice.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Victory, Sort Of

Earlier this month, I noted that there were five cases set to be heard by the US Supreme Court this session on age discrimination. The decision on the first of those cases came out yesterday, according to this article in the NY Times.

The issue in this case was whether testimony from other employees discharged by other supervisors could be introduced to show a pattern of discrimination against older workers by the employer. In the unanimous decision, the Supreme Court essentially held that sometimes that testimony could be admitted, and sometimes it couldn't.

The unanimous decision, in an age-discrimination case against Sprint/Nextel, did not answer the bottom-line question in the case: whether five co-workers of the plaintiff, Ellen Mendelsohn, should have been allowed to testify. All had lost their jobs in the same reduction in force and claimed, as she did, to be victims of age discrimination.

But the way the court analyzed the case, in a somewhat cryptic nine-page opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, may prove more significant in the long run than the absence of a specific answer. ...

The question of whether evidence of discrimination by other supervisors should be admitted in an individual case “is fact based and depends on many factors,” Justice Thomas wrote. A district court, he said, should make a “fact-intensive, context-specific inquiry” to determine the relevance of the evidence and whether it might be unduly prejudicial to the defendant.

I think this is more than just the Supreme Court deciding not to decide, and that in the long run, the ruling will be important to those bringing employment discrimination cases of any kind.

While technically a victory for the employer, because an adverse ruling was vacated, the decision is likely to prove more favorable in the long run to discrimination plaintiffs. That is because many lower courts, taking an approach similar to that of the Kansas district court, have been dismissing cases, granting summary judgment to employers on the ground that co-workers’ testimony, which often provides the strongest proof of a pattern of discrimination, is inadmissible.

Under the Supreme Court’s case-by-case approach, plaintiffs will have a greater chance of surviving summary judgment and getting their cases before a jury.

The case is important because it gives elder employees a shot at proving that they were fired because of their age. There often is no other way to prove the necessary pattern than to provide testimony from others in the company in the same situation. It's not hard to understand why older employees are often the first to go in a force reduction: they often have been with the company longer, so their wages are higher and their benefits more expensive (especially when it comes to health insurance). Now those employees have a way to avoid having their suits dismissed before trial on purely evidentiary grounds.

I am pleasantly surprised, especially given the author of the decision.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

They Finally Noticed

Once again, the Los Angeles Times is a little late and a little weak on an issue, but at least they noticed that issue's existence. An editorial published in today's edition notes that over-reliance on ethanol is perhaps not such a good idea after all.

Something is very wrong with this picture: The United Nations' World Food Program has been hit so hard by skyrocketing grain prices that it may be forced to cut off some food aid to the world's poorest countries, while the United States is planning to turn record quantities of corn into automotive fuel.

The astonishing callousness of burning millions of bushels of grain in gas tanks even as global starvation worsens has apparently never occurred to Congress, the Bush administration or the remaining presidential candidates, all of whom are big boosters of ethanol. ...

It also didn't occur to very many major news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times. If the LAT had stopped at this point in the editorial, or at least had connected the dots between "burning millions of bushels of grain in gas tanks" and the prevailing attitude that driving a car for even the shortest and most trivial of trips is an acceptable one, the editorial would have offset the paper's lack of real analysis on the issue. But the editorialist chose neither direction.

It needn't come down to a choice between conserving oil or feeding the poor. The U.N. has developed a tool for assessing the impacts of biofuel production on food security, something Congress never bothered to study before passing its extravagant mandate. Until the environmental and economic effects of biofuels have been thoroughly examined, the government should stop trying to squeeze more energy out of corn cobs. Meanwhile, the U.S. is obliged to contribute more to world food aid in order to undo some of the damage it has wrought.

Contributing money to buy over-priced and increasingly scarce food is at best a bandaid, at worst, a germ-infested one.

A more realistic approach might have been to urge the state and federal governments to increase funding for public transportation and to urge citizens to get out of their cars and on to buses, commuter trains, and ride-share vans that are efficient enough to take away the excuses that most use in justifying single occupancy vehicles for picking up the dry-cleaning or driving 120 miles a day to and from work.

Apparently that would be too nuanced for a major newspaper.


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Monday, February 25, 2008

For The Foreseeable Future

The surge has been such a glorious success that the Pentagon announced today that there will still be more troops in Iraq in July than there were in January, according to this article put up this afternoon in the NY Times.

The Defense Department is projecting that when the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq ends in July, there will be about 8,000 more troops on the ground than when it began in January 2007, a senior general said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that by July the troop total is likely to be 140,000. That compares with 132,000 when President George W. Bush approved orders to send an additional five Army brigades to Iraq to improve security and avert civil war.

Ham also announced that the Pentagon believes U.S. force levels in Afghanistan will stand at 32,000 in late summer, up from about 28,000 currently. The current total is the highest since the war began in October 2001, and another 3,200 Marines are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this spring.
[Emphasis added]

The reason for the higher levels in Iraq? Apparently the Iraqi forces just aren't progressing fast enough to take over security issues in their own country. Well, why should they? With Uncle Sugar there to take all the heat (and the road side IEDs), there's really no reason to rush into that kind of responsibility now, is there?

And Afghanistan? Well, our allies in NATO are beginning to get restless. The US has been so busy with the war of choice in Iraq, that many European nations feel like they're having to take the brunt of that war, and unfairly so. Those countries are simply unwilling to take on that burden, and who could blame them?

But wait, there's more from Lt. Gen. Ham:

Ham said it was not possible to know how long troop levels would stay at 140,000. He noted that the Joint Staff and other military organizations are studying post-July troop levels and will make recommendations to Bush this spring.

The general, asked if the total would be below 132,000 by the time Bush leaves office next January, said, “It would be premature to say that.”
[Emphasis added]

Won't be home for July 4th, won't be home for Thanksgiving, won't be home for Christmas.

Sen. McCain's "100 years" statement is beginning to sound dreadfully prescient.

329 days

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The Other Side

It seems being part of "The Gang of 14" is having repercussions for Sen. John McCain. This article in today's NY Times provides the rather startling news that the conservatives were just as irate as the liberals were in the deal that cleared the way for the appointments of Justices Alito and Roberts to the US Supreme Court.


Back in 2005, Senator John McCain of Arizona and fellow members of the so-called Gang of 14 were hailed as heroes in some quarters when they fashioned an unusual pact that averted a Senate vote on banning filibusters against judicial nominees.

Now Mr. McCain’s central role in that effort, which cleared the way for confirmation of some conservative jurists, is cited as one reason for lingering distrust of him among many conservatives. The power to appoint federal judges is seen as one of the most crucial presidential roles by many on the right, and some continue to believe the agreement undermined the Republican leadership at the precise moment the party was about to eliminate the ability to use procedural tactics to block judges.
[Emphasis added]

It's difficult to conceive that the hard-liners are so, well, hard-line when it comes to judicial appointments that they would have risked having the nuclear option used against them at some point in the future. Of course, many of them no doubt believed that Republicans would control the government forever, but still, the results of that deal were so favorable to them, and will last practically forever (given the ages of Roberts and Alito), that they should be counting their blessings. Apparently they're not.

It's nice to see at least one of the Gang of 14 getting his chops busted over that horrible deal, and there's a certain schadenfreude that it's a Republican.


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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Poetry: W. H. Auden

Epitaph On A Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W.H. Auden


I read an interesting op-ed piece published by The Shanghai Daily yesterday. The column was part review of Robert Reich's book "Supercapitalism" and part essay on American capitalism since World War II from a Chinese perspective. The criticism was, for the most part, right on the mark on both subjects.

"SUPERCAPITALISM: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life" is essentially a glorification of the success of US capitalism.

Incidentally it also seeks to explore how the democratic capitalism has developed into a supercapitalism where corporations and market forces effectively neutralize input from American middle class, the bulwark of American democracy.

"The last several decades have involved a shift of power away from us in our capacities as citizens and toward us as consumers and investors," says author Robert B. Reich. ...

Reich explains that the development of US capitalism between the end of World War II and the mid-1970s depended on the balance achieved among three pillars: corporations, labor and government.

But unlike the self-contained and self-sufficient agrarian society, capitalism is never a closed system.

Classic Chinese scholar Qian Mu, in characterizing US capitalism, said Western capitalism centers on two dominant urges: the urge to make others poor; and the urge to kill others.

The first urge is self-evident given capitalists' natural voracity, for wealth is always a relative concept and enriching oneself must always come at the expense of others.

The second urge stems from the fact that, in Qian's words, "the first purpose of the greenback is to fabricate atomic weapons." Of course, today a host of other more lethal forms of weapons are being developed.

While I can't agree with Mr. Qian's second part, he does have a point with the first. Even when corporations, labor, and government are in balance (which rarely happens), the primary beneficiaries of that balance are the corporations, not the middle and lower class workers. When either labor or government, and especially when both, are factored out of the three part balance, corporations continue merrily on as the workers are marginalized even further. We are seeing that in the US at the present time.

And the columnist makes a solid point when he notes that Mr. Reich overlooks an important source for the success of corporations, most of whom are multinational or at the very least are international in the scope of their business dealings (e.g., Wal-Mart).

Reich fails to see, or finds it inconvenient to admit, that this has all been made possible by globalization.

Under the facade of co-prosperity, US supercapitalists can secure energy and goods from other countries cheaply, without having to shoulder the burden of pollution.

And therein lies the rub with corporate entities. For all the rights granted them by the US government, they really are not "persons," and moral considerations do not enter into the equation beyond the lip-service required for public relations purposes. The only thing important to corporations is making money, as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

But Reich does perceive this from a domestic point of view when he observes that companies whose only standard for success is the market have been known to pump pollution into the air and water, sex and violence into the media, and money into politics.

Even for this uncomfortable fact the author shifts the blame to consumers: if consumers did not buy, no one would sell; thus, the enemy is not the corporations, but their customers.

The author does not seem to realize the kind of control modern corporations can exercise over the consumers. ...

If Reich pursued this further, he might discover that decisions become much easier when the grab for money becomes the ruling passion, and moral deliberations have never been a disabling factor in the success of capitalism.

I haven't read Mr. Reich's book, but I think I will after this review. If this man, for whom I have had respect since he came onto the scene in the Clinton administration, has in fact written a paean to "Supercapitalism," I may have to adjust my attitude.

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More Broken Promises

I don't know why people still expect the current administration to keep any of the promises it has made. I mean, really: haven't the last seven years taught us anything? Still, I must admit that even I found this NY Times article a bit much.

Despite a 2002 promise from President Bush to put citizenship applications for immigrant members of the military on a fast track, some are finding themselves waiting months, or even years, because of bureaucratic backlogs. ...

The current excuse is that many more people filed for citizenship once the increase in filing fees was announced, and the feds weren't prepared for the rush. After all, who could have imagined? That excuse isn't working very well because of President Bush's 2002 executive order.

But service members and veterans are supposed to go to the head of the line. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush signed an executive order allowing noncitizens on active duty to file for citizenship right away, instead of having to first complete three years in the military. The federal government has since taken several steps to speed up the process, including training military officers to help service members fill out forms, assigning special teams to handle the paperwork, and allowing citizenship tests, interviews and ceremonies to take place overseas.

OK, then, what's the problem?

At the same time, post-9/11 security measures, including tougher guidelines for background checks that are part of the naturalization process, have slowed things down.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which checks the names of citizenship applicants against those in its more than 86 million investigative files, has been overwhelmed, handling an average of 90,000 name-check requests a week. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the F.B.I. was asked to check 4.1 million names, at least half of them for citizenship and green card applicants, a spokesman said.

“Most soldiers clear the checks within 30 to 60 days, or 60 to 90 days,” said Leslie B. Lord, the Army’s liaison to Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that processes citizenship applications. “But even the soldier with the cleanest of records, if he has a name that’s very similar to one that’s in the F.B.I. bad-boy and bad-girl list, things get delayed.”
[Emphasis added]

And how similar does the name have to be? Well, one young man, who received an honorable discharge from the Marines after a tour of duty in Iraq and who is still waiting for his promised citizenship, has pretty much figured out the problem.

Such explanations are why Mr. [Abdool] Habibullah has decided that once he does become a citizen — if he ever becomes a citizen — he will change his name.

“I figured that’s part of the reason things got delayed,” he said. “You know, that I have a Muslim name.”


330 days

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Wolf

[Photo by Joel Sartore and published at National Geographic.]

For A Change

Every once in a while, I read an article that just makes me feel good. This one from today's NY Times had that effect on me this morning.

Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power. After breakneck growth the last three years, Texas has reached the point that more than 3 percent of its electricity, enough to supply power to one million homes, comes from wind turbines.

Texans are even turning tapped-out oil fields into wind farms, and no less an oilman than Boone Pickens is getting into alternative energy.

“I have the same feelings about wind,” Mr. Pickens said in an interview, “as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth that could power a small city by itself.

Texans are even turning tapped-out oil fields into wind farms, and no less an oilman than Boone Pickens is getting into alternative energy.

“I have the same feelings about wind,” Mr. Pickens said in an interview, “as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth that could power a small city by itself.

Imagine that: a man who made his fortune in oil is now cheerfully investing in an alternative source for energy, and in Texas no less!

Although the growth of wind farms is certainly a very positive sign, there are some limitations even to this 'renewable' source.

Despite the attraction of wind as a nearly pollution-free power source, it does have limitations. Though the gap is closing, electricity from wind remains costlier than that generated from fossil fuels. Moreover, wind power is intermittent and unpredictable, and the hottest days, when electricity is needed most, are usually not windy.

The turbines are getting bigger and their blades can kill birds and bats. Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod. Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, including lawsuits to halt wind farms that were thought to be eyesores or harmful to wetlands.

But the opposition has been limited, and has done little to slow the rapid growth of wind power in Texas. Some Texans see the sleek new turbines as a welcome change in the landscape.

A short-term threat to the growth of wind power is the looming expiration of federal clean-energy tax credits, which Congress has allowed to lapse several times over the years. Advocates have called for extending those credits and eventually enacting a national renewable-power standard that would oblige states to expand their use of clean power sources.

A longer-term problem is potential bottlenecks in getting wind power from the places best equipped to produce it to the populous areas that need electricity. The part of the United States with the highest wind potential is a corridor stretching north from Texas through the middle of the country, including sparsely populated states like Montana and the Dakotas. Power is needed most in the dense cities of the coasts, but building new transmission lines over such long distances is certain to be expensive and controversial.

“We need a national vision for transmission like we have with the national highway system,” said Robert Gramlich, policy director for the American Wind Energy Association. “We have to get over the hump of having a patchwork of electric utility fiefdoms.”
[Emphasis added]

Clearly wind energy is not going to be the sole answer to our clean energy needs, anymore than solar power, wave power or (spit) ethanol is. It is simply one piece of a puzzle. The "national vision" which Mr. Gramlich refers to is needed for more than transmission: it is needed for the entire range of energy issues, but it seems to me that such a vision is not an impossible dream, given the propensity for innovation and problem solving that such entrepreneurs as Boone Pickens have demonstrated throughout our history.

Besides, a government and business partnership of the right kind might benefit us all.

Dandy’s Western Wear, the local cowboy attire shop, cannot keep enough python skin and cowhide boots in stock because of all the Danes and Germans who have come to town to invest and work in the wind fields, then take home Texas souvenirs.

“Wind has invigorated our business like you wouldn’t believe,” said Marty Foust, Dandy’s owner, who recently put in new carpeting and air-conditioning. “When you watch the news you can get depressed about the economy, but we don’t get depressed. We’re now in our own bubble.”

Heh, indeed.


The Courtroom Phase of Torture

If there's something more to do about ending torture, I mean to do it. I think it's a good time to join with the United Nations in criminalizing what the worst administration in history is doing to its victims.

From United Nations Assembly Resolution 39, which went into effect in 1987 with the U.S. joining 73 other signatories:

Desiring to make more effective the struggle against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the world,

Have agreed as follows:

Article 1
1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

The terminology you just read seems pretty clear, but yet in our suborned Department of Justice, there were ideologues who thought they could circumvent that resolution. Under John Yoo, the subhumans in the White House thought they could destroy basic decency in this country's standard of behavior.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) confirmed Friday afternoon that it has launched a formal investigation to determine whether agency attorneys provided the White House with poor legal advice when it drafted legal opinions authorizing CIA interrogators to use waterboarding against so-called high-level terrorist detainees to extract information about alleged plots against the United States.

The investigation was launched after an article published [click here(sic)] by this reporter last week revealed that the author of the August 2002 legal opinion, John Yoo, a former attorney in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), relied on a health benefits statute to form the legal basis for waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques, an OPR official at OPR said in an interview this afternoon. (For the article linked at "click here", please see the linked post.)

The trail is being followed, and there will be a reckoning for these enemies of our country, who endanger all of its representatives, most particularly its troops. More action to defend our honor as Americans will follow.

Today two members of the defense team of Abu Zubaydah talked about the prospect of interviewing this Gitmo detainee, who has been tortured and forced to confess, whether or not he was guilty.

We do not presume to know the truth. So far, we know only what has been publicly reported. But we hope to uncover the facts and present them to those with the power to act upon them.

Yet Zubaydah's mind may be beyond our reach. Regardless of whether he was "insane" to begin with, he has gone through quite an ordeal since his arrest in Pakistan in March 2002. Shuttled through CIA "black sites" around the world, he was subjected to a sustained course of interrogation designed to instill what a CIA training manual euphemistically calls "debility, dependence and dread." Zubaydah's world became freezing rooms alternating with sweltering cells. Screaming noise replaced by endless silence. Blinding light followed by dark, underground chambers. Hours confined in contorted positions. And, as we recently learned, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. We do not know what remains of his mind, and we will probably never know what he experienced.
The American system of justice is founded on the idea that truth emerges from vigorous and informed debate. And if that debate cannot take place, if we cannot learn the facts and share them with others, the truth is only what the administration reports it to be. We hope it has not come to that.(Emphasis added.)

The administration that has outdone itself in bad judgment and rejection of basic American standards of decency will never be judged by the words of its torture victims, because those words can never be accepted as information or as truth. The words of some one who has been broken cannot stand against the confessions that were extracted from them. It is rather the crime of torture itself that has to be used as evidence.

That anyone has committed torture is information enough for the court to condemn them. The officials who have given the rationale in legalisms, those who authorized this criminal behavior those who have spread that misinformation, as well as those who have actually committed the crime itself, should be punished.

The trial phase has arrived, and we need to keep up a steady beat of condemnation, and demand that our representatives restore our national soul. Without that step, we are all war criminals, too.

I demand that torture be punished.

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They Still Don't Get It

What is so difficult to understand about the Fourth Amendment guarantee of privacy? Apparently a lot, if an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times is any indication. The right not to be spied on by one's government is not a just a convenience; it is a major underpinning of our democracy. The Los Angeles Times, however, apparently doesn't see it that way and sees the whole issue of retroactive immunity for the telecoms who collaborated with the present administration as a mere distraction, a bluff used by Congressional Democrats to pry more information out of the White House on the warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

The White House and House Democrats are needlessly fixated on retroactive immunity. The administration, echoed by House Republican leaders, warns darkly that the lack of immunity for past cooperation by telecoms will deter the companies from cooperating in the future; yet both versions (properly) make it clear that companies that comply with lawful orders in the future have nothing to fear. For their part, House Democrats overstate the usefulness of private litigation as a way to pry loose information about the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The Democrats' opposition to immunity may have made sense as a bluff to induce the administration to provide Congress with documents relating to the program, as it belatedly has begun to do. But the possibility that private lawsuits would expose internal deliberations about the origins of the program was always slight. That sort of disclosure is even less likely after the Supreme Court refused this week to reinstate a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the NSA on behalf of lawyers, journalists and academics who claimed they were harmed by the surveillance program.

If the telecoms willingly allowed the government to wire tap Americans without a warrant signed by a judge, then those telecoms also broke the law. To argue that the telecoms were just doing their best to keep America safe by cooperating with the government in good faith might make sense if those same telecoms hadn't suspended service on some of those lines when the government failed to pay the bills for their use.

No, the telecoms should not be granted retroactive immunity for their behavior. They were collaborators in the scheme to deprive Americans of one their most basic rights.

And no, Los Angeles Times, it is not a mere bluff or distraction.


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Catblogging

FeralLiberal's kitties have pinktoe! It is usually fatal, for any intention not to pet said kitties.


thanks, feral


Those Bigtime Rumors

The grey lady, NYTimes of course, is getting it from all sides, next thing you know there will be a Special Persecutor - a pantysniffer like Ken Starr.

For publishing a story about the potential scandal of either:
(1) candidate for President McCain having a bimbo; or is it:
(2) that straighttalking, above scandal since Keating 5, POW John giving a big boost to telcoms while getting lots of funding from those telcoms?
NYTimes is on the rightwingers' hit list once again.

Although we lefties know very well that the NYTimes is far from the librul media that the right insists it is whenever the facts don't please them, it's back to their old refrain that our media is all about putting DFH commies in power and making corporate money flee this persecution by taking those silly ol' laws seriously.

The other side of this ugly rumor milling is the hate email traffic about Obama being black and not like the Jim Crow plug uglies.

An unsourced email being disseminated claims that "someone taped former Muslim Barack HUSSEIN Obama at a black church when he was in South Carolina" and that Obama said:

It's clear that we give too much money to Israel. [cheers] Why... do you know that every American gives approx .20 cents A DAY to Israel? [jeers] We keep hearing how tough the Israelis are... how great an 'ally' they are... --but what if we gave the SAME AMOUNT of money we gave THEM to the poor Palestinians--I bet THAT would bring them finally to the table. We could have a two-state solution... a two-state solution--just like former President Carter outlined in his latest book. We can't have peace in the Middle East until we solve that problem down in Palestine. George Bush should have thought about that before he went into Iraq...[etc.]

The email goes on to note that Obama sounds "a GREAT DEAL like Malcolm X." It asks, "Instead of the 'Manchurian Candidate,' is Obama the secret 'Farrakan Candidate'"? It then seeks to explain his purported anti-Israel bias:

Will Barrack's [sic] Muslim roots cause him to favor the Palestinians against Israel?

Because he's a "person of color," will Obama be more sympathetic to 3rd World Peoples' struggles in that they have "darker skin" like him?

Does Obama distrust the lighter-skinned, more "European"-looking Israelis and tend to favor the "darker complexioned" Palestinians and other Arabs (al Qaeada? [sic]) because his Muslim African father and cousins?

Do I really need to remind you that McCain was the recipient of this sort of scurrility in his campaign, delivered by the Rove-Bush camp?

What lends these undisclosed sources, unfortunately, is that your standard voter has been shown that newspapers weren't reporting news in the lead-up to the Iraq war, because they had been intimidated by the war criminals in the executive branch. Now we all know that under pressure the major newspapers will hide the facts so we can be played for fools, that the press will ignore facts and let the nation brought down.

The internet is getting there, and most of us now get the facts from, and listen to, blogs we've learned will not take lies for truth, and if they are fooled, will correct themselves and be corrected by us fellow bloggers.

Sadly, there is that rightwing scum that used the chain email to spread stories no one would believe except for having it sent to them by some one they trust. Most, but not the rightwing, on the internet have learned it's not necessarily true if it comes from Uncle Redneck or the Office Underground.

Still, the rumors are getting spread around.

I grew up in the South, so I'm not surprised. There is always some one who will want really badly to find out that anyone outstanding, such as our first black candidate for president, really proves all the nasty suspicions she/he has about those strange dark people. A recidivist element wants to be sure we all know the other colored folks aren't to be trusted, or voted into high office.

I'm definitely at the point that I have to have several sources that I know will prove out before I believe anything.

John McCain wants to send my grandkids to fight and die to keep war profiteering in the red. I don't care if he has 100 bimbos, he's welcome to them, but he can't have my grandkids.

Barack Obama belongs to a religion that thinks my grandkids are going to hell, I don't think much of that either. But at least he's not personally involved in sending them there.

The facts are much more important than the accusations and rumors. Sorry if they're not as exciting.

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Our Ms. Brooks: AFRICOM

President Bush has just made a momentous victory lap around Africa, touting his brilliant aid and successful aid packages which have wiped out malaria and HIV from the continent. One aid program he didn't mention much about was AFRICOM, a program created by Mr. Bush just about this time last year. Rosa Brooks noticed the omission in her latest column:

During his tour of the continent, President Bush seized every opportunity to boast of his innovative approaches to African health and development issues. But he kept strangely silent about what may be his administration's most enduring legacy for Africa: AFRICOM, the most significant U.S. foreign and military policy innovation you've probably never heard of.

AFRICOM stands for the U.S. Africa Command, created by presidential order in February 2007. On the surface, AFRICOM doesn't sound like anything special -- the U.S. already has several military commands organized geographically: PACCOM (Pacific Command), CENTCOM (Central Command) and EUCOM (European Command), so why not AFRICOM? But unlike the others, AFRICOM has the promotion of stability as its primary mission. It's designed, as the president put it, "to enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and to promote the ... development of health, education, democracy and economic growth."

Yes, you read that right: The Defense Department has a new military command dedicated, more or less, to establishing peace, love and understanding in Africa. Don't giggle or sneer; they're serious. AFRICOM will bring together military personnel with civilian employees from the State Department, the USAID and other U.S. agencies, and most U.S. humanitarian work in Africa will be coordinated through AFRICOM.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I have to admit that I was tempted to call that a pretty surprising use of the military, but on further reflection I remembered all those schools that the Army and Marines painted in Iraq, a country which we currently occupy. That parallel certainly must have occurred to others, especially those living in Africa. Ms. Brooks noticed it as well:

Innovative though it may be, it also has a familiar ring to it, one that isn't reassuring to many African ears. It's a Kipling-esque ring, perhaps: something to do with the White Man's Burden, something that reminds many Africanists of the bad old days of colonialism, when European imperial powers also seamlessly merged their military, economic, political and diplomatic forces to dominate and exploit Africa's people and resources.

Promoting African peace, democracy and development are all good things, but the U.S. efforts might be more palatable if the velvet glove handing out foreign aid weren't stretched so obviously over the iron fist of the world's most lethal war-fighting machine. To skeptics, AFRICOM's creation suggests that the scramble for Africa isn't over, it's just entering a new phase, as the U.S. seeks to keep Africa stable -- on U.S. terms.
[Emphasis added]

It's pretty clear that this administration is incapable of diplomacy or foreign aid unless it is accompanied by guns. Perhaps that's why the president was a little shy about discussing this wondrous new program.

332 days

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

High as a Kite on our 3rd Blogiversary!

Hello, Mississippi Kite. This is a bird I see a lot, and hear often. It hunts the smaller birds. I had a mockingbird that tried to do an imitation of its shriek, and just wasn't that scary. Often made me laugh.

Cool Facts

* The Mississippi Kite often attacks people who venture too close to its nest, especially in urban areas.

* In the Great Plains the Mississippi Kite can be locally abundant, usually nests colonially, and since the mid-1970s has nested abundantly in many urban areas. In the East it is less colonial, less abundant, and still nests primarily in old-growth forest.


Great , Bad Times

Welcome to third anniversary cabdrollery.

Thanks for your attention, and thanks for telling Diane and me you have appreciated our points. It's great to have such an audience, and I hope to never waste your time.

Of course, with a full complement of criminals in high office, we never lack for atrocities to expose, but I am sincerely hoping for a change in that regard soon. We really don't mind if we have to wrack our brains for something that is begging to be brought to your attention, and needing to be changed.

It being an anniversary, I especially want to say how comfy I was to come aboard here, after having read Diane's posts for a long while, so it was sure that I would be proud of the association. Her post yesterday was a fine example. It also took a lot of the wind out of my sails, since it wrapped up so much of what I want to say, too.

Then I found out how bankruptcy, which our financial industry portrayed as the resort of scoundrels in order to get laws passed making it so hard for a strapped individual to use - actually was the resort of a scoundrel copper mining company.

ASARCO declared bankruptcy and avoided cleaning up a massive environmental mess that it has made. Now having wiped its books - or slate - clean, the company wants to resume operations in this more profitable time. Needless to say, the ASARCO that wants to mine considers that it's not going to have to go clean up its mess since it was bankrupt back then.

.... Asarco holds the trump card: It declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2005. Now, as Piñón says with a slight tinge of disgust, "the company can just walk away without cleaning up."

More precisely, it can walk away and then come back. Reorganization under the Bankruptcy Code's Chapter 11 helps companies wipe the slate clean of environmental liabilities, giving them a fresh start. In the United States--a country that has based its keystone environmental laws on the principle that polluters, not taxpayers, should pay to clean up the poisons they spew--Asarco is just one example of how corporations use Chapter 11 to slough off massive environmental liabilities, reorganize, and then emerge leaner and meaner to operate another day.

Asarco's parent company, Grupo México, is benefiting too. A few months after Asarco filed for bankruptcy, Grupo México announced that net profits had doubled--largely because Asarco's environmental liabilities had been removed from its books. Of course, the liabilities remain, but now they are borne by U.S. taxpayers.

Last year, Congress cracked down on personal bankruptcy, making it harder for consumers to erase their debts. But legislators have done nothing to get tougher with the approximately 38,500 businesses that declare bankruptcy each year. A 2005 report to Congress spelled out steps the EPA could take to ensure such companies fulfill their environmental obligations. But as that study sits on a shelf, Asarco and an untold number of other polluting enterprises are getting a free pass. (Emphasis added.)

Hearings are being held this week in El Paso on re-opening the smelting operation there.

Sometimes it seems like the criminals in office in the U.S. are the gift that keeps on giving - if you want to out the crimes. Believe me, as most of our readers know by their own experience, this isn't fun.

When peace breaks out, we at cabdrollery will be happier than clams to have nothing to cry over there, and the same is true in finally achieving that badly needed good government, hopefully beginning January 20, 2009. We want it to be so great that we will have nothing to post but cheesy stuff.

However, as Avedon Carol noted yesterday at The Sideshow, we know we'll have to join in the push to make sure our next leaders don't go right down the road the present gang that can't shoot straight has chosen. Thanks for your help in keeping those noses - that are supposed to do the public's business - to the grindstone.

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It's Our Anniversary!!!1!!1

Cab Drollery is now three years old, and it's been quite a wonderful ride.

Thanks to the support of other bloggers (especially our fairy-godmother-in-chief, Avedon Carol), and our patient and faithful friends at Eschaton our readership has increased substantially, as have the comments visitors have left after each post.

Regardless of how you got to Cab Drollery, Ruth and I appreciate that you stopped by and hope you will continue to do so. This next year is going to be an important one for all of us, and I'm certain that the two of us will have plenty of material to discuss with you. Old Broads rarely run out of stuff to kvetch about.

So, lift a glass of your favorite beverage with us.

And keep your seat belts fastened.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hurry Up, Please. It's Time

From Carl Sandburg:


The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.


For we meet by one or the other.

With the announcement from Fidel Castro that he was stepping down from his position of leadership in Cuba, it now appears that the United States is facing several cross-roads when it comes to foreign policy. Cuba, a tiny country which has dominated the US policy in this hemisphere; Pakistan, which appears ready to choose between democracy and authoritanism of one sort or another; Iran, which could conceivably continue in the direction of increased religious conservatism, but which might be ready to temper its zeal in favor of rejoining the world; and North Korea, which has, according to many sources, already begun reaching out for recognition as a 21st Century nation: all have filled the news reports in the last several weeks.

The timing isn't ideal. The US is facing economic difficulties that have reached the public to the point that the main presidential candidates are scurrying to produce economic proposals to lighten the load. Still, the current economic difficulties are not separate from the foreign policies issue that face this nation, even if all three candidates haven't exactly stepped up to make the connections. Perhaps now, with the icon of evil that consumed the consciousness of those of my generation stepping down, we can finally look realistically at how our foreign policy affects each one of us, and not just economically.

I was cheered by two editorials which appeared in newspapers that aren't exactly amongst the coastal powerhouses. The sagacity of each struck the right tone.

First, from the Sacramento Bee:

In the first real change of power since 1959, ailing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, age 81, has announced he is stepping down. That gives the United States a historic opportunity.

Now is the time to reverse the centerpiece of U.S. policy toward Cuba since 1960 – a trade and travel embargo. That policy did nothing to dislodge Castro, who grew old in office. In fact, the embargo gave Castro and his repressive regime a scapegoat, allowing him to blame Cuba's problems on the embargo.

There is no need to stay on the same failed track as Fidel's brother, Raul Castro, takes the helm in Cuba. Raul Castro is 76 years old. His rule won't last long. If the United States wants to play a role in seeing that a long-term transfer of power is not simply a continuation of the Castro regime, we need to act now.

Start by lifting the failed embargo.
[Emphasis added]

Next, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Trade can be the United States' most potent weapon in subverting a dictatorship, because it builds person-to-person relationships that can bypass the controls of government. Likewise, enforcing a trade ban can help prop up a dictatorship by giving it a villain to blame for its shortcomings. It's past time the United States removed that prop, and Castro's retirement offers an opportunity to do so.

Once that barrier is removed, the United States and Cuba should proceed to the next logical, overdue step: diplomatic relations. If the United States can recognize Vietnam and China, there's no reason to snub little Cuba ...

It's time to engage Cuba (and Iran, North Korea, and all the other nations on earth) in ways other than with missiles and armies. The current administration has considered "talk" beneath them, but that administration's days are numbered (334). Now is the time to start moving towards real diplomacy, and that movement can be made by the three people who would be president.

We just need to make sure they know that.

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Winning Ways

What is this confusing element coming out and voting? Young people or independents, crossover demons, disillusioned, naive or tinfoil hat emanation?

Since early on I have enjoyed the element of the mobile phone dependent, those that don't even have land lines pollsters can call on. Before them, there were the oversold, who signed up to have their phones banned from sales lists, although as we all know, the calls kept coming. Now we don't answer, ever. If you get a recording when you call my landline, if you know me, you say "If you're there, Ruth, pick up", and if you don't expect me to recognize your voice, you'll say your name or tell me why I need to talk to you.

Let's get real, anyone who answers those calls from poll takers is either old as Methuselah (anyone remember him?), expecting an important call, keeping some one from getting through to some one else in the household (gotcha), or has such undesirable demograhics that any call is welcome.

Why are these people voting? Things are so bad that everyone's wellbeing is impacted. No one can escape the past 7+ years' effects. Try buying milk. Bake cookies for the kids' class and you'll run screaming from the whole shopping list. Fill the gas tank. Get sneakers. Go to the movies. Fly to another place where you might be able to afford meds. Heat the house, if you stay home from all those challenges. Ouch. It hurts.

The Democratic primaries are attracting a fabulous vote count, and while some speculation insists that its those crossover votes, the stark facts convince me that's too simplistic. I have myself encountered those GoPervs who crossed over here in the N.TX. heavily rightwing districts to vote for a worst case Dem since there was no doubt who they'd be running against. I haven't encountered overwhelming numbers of them, and the ones I talked to thought they were so unusually smart, I doubt they had taken many other wingers with them.

Seeing all these young, politically unversed, disaffected voters showing up, let's just try putting ourselves in the position of the party that has involved them in a unilateral and totally disastrous war with no hope of an outcome less than dishonorable, that has the economy in the ditch, that has payed corporations to offshore jobs, that has kept wages below life support level, that has ruined our schools, that has turned the entire executive branch into corporate welfare with shills in its directorships, that has eschewed friendly relations with every country in the world, destroyed our military and has ended the golden age of the rule of law. To mention a few ways we've established limited government, i.e. government limited to cronies.

How are you going to get votes?

Obviously, you have no respect for the public since they've voted you into office twice.

You can try to ruin the other candidates for those new voters that you don't know anything about.

You can say Dems are socialists. That's easy since socialism is a great name for those programs that feature distribution to the needy of jobs, education, wages, health care. Of course, you have to ignore that the deprivation of our needy has only meant ruination for the rest of the economy, without their buying power. Now we have remedial "socialism", I guess, called "stimulus", that frankly aims to return buying power to the consumer that has been battered down for 7+ years. Nice. To revive the economy, undo all the trickle down, tax cuts for the wealthy, corporate welfare they keep claiming makes our economy "strong". Black is white.

You can attack the opponents' records. It's because of basic flaws and weaknesses that they haven't managed to overturn the GoPervian atrocities. That works, sure, in the face of obstructionism in the Senate that has made every issue and every vote subject to filibuster, where a majority can't rule anymore. Maybe not.

There's that standby line about islamofascism, that the opposition to war is terrorist since that's the only element that will profit from ending the war that's destroying this country while creating more terrorists every day. Except for everyone in the country that will be better off and the 60+% who say they have realized this, well you can fool all of them. Funny, that 20+% might not be worth pitching to. See "Is The Lily Livered West an Unindicted Co-Conspirator of Islamo-Fascism?"

Well, here we are with one really great idea left for defeating the public yet again. Divide and conquer.

Hillary is campaigning, she's saying reasons to vote for her, and not for Barack Obama. He's doing the same. Well that's easy. She's racist or she'd support him. He's a chauvinist pig, (same age as Methusaleh), or he'd support her.

Go for it. I'm shutting off the campaign news, myself. I've been listening and following internet real news for 10 years, at least, I'm not letting myself be bumfuzzled by the noise of the Wise Men now. They haven't listened to me all these years, and I'm returning the compliment.

I will vote for a Democrat, and that is the only way we can turn around the disaster. If you haven't realized that yet, please at least stay home from the polls, you're not up to the task.

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Scary Stuff

Late last night I caught up on some of the news I hadn't read earlier, and I was stunned by this article in the Washington Post.

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow
arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone's operator, relying
on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a
computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling
toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

The missiles killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander and a
man who had repeatedly eluded the CIA's dragnet. It was the first
successful strike against al-Qaeda's core leadership in two years, and
it involved, U.S. officials say, an unusual degree of autonomy by the
CIA inside Pakistan.

Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such
strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this
time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval. The government of
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation
was underway, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity
because of diplomatic sensitivities.

Officials say the incident was a model of how Washington often scores
its rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside
Pakistan's national borders: It acts with assistance from well-paid
sympathizers inside the country, but without getting the government's
formal permission beforehand.
[Emphasis added]

Launching an attack on another country is conventionally viewed as an act of war. It seems to me that by sending those drones into Pakistan to blow up al Qaeda operatives without the prior consent of Pakistan's leader we effectively attacked Pakistan itself. Another corollary to the doctrine of "pre-emptive war"? It certainly looks that way to me, and this time the White House doesn't have the cover of Congressional approval. It's hard to imagine that the AUMF would extend to this.

But wait, there's more:

It is an approach that some U.S. officials say could be used more
frequently this year, particularly if a power vacuum results from
yesterday's election and associated political tumult. The administration
also feels an increased sense of urgency about undermining al Qaeda before President Bush leaves office
, making it less hesitant, said one
official familiar with the incident.
[Emphasis added]

We are engaging in another war to shore up the Bush Legacy? This time we used unmanned drones, but it's not hard to imagine that the current administration would send in special forces or even regular forces to do the job, especially if the rest of the world sits back and lets us. And the Washington Post has already begun catapulting the propaganda:

U.S. military officials say, however, that the uneven performance of their Pakistani counterparts increasingly requires that Washington pursue the fight however it can, sometimes following an unorthodox paththat leaves in the dark Pakistani military and intelligence officials who at best lack commitment and resolve and at worst lack sympathy forU.S. interests. [Emphasis added]

As Steve Simels is wont to say, "Just shoot me now."

334 days

[Note: I have no fucking clue why I can't get the formatting to settle down. Simels regrets the error]

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free Trade, the Parlor Game

You may have lost your parlor, so my title may not be so funny to you right now. We have a wonderful sounding policy front called Free Trade that has been pushed by a lot of high officials, including, yes, even President Clinton. It sounds like a benefit, acts like a stab in the back.

In Texas, water agreements that have been in place since 1944 have been ignored by our partner, Mexico, during several years of drought. Many farmers north of the Rio Grande who depended on getting their share of the Rio Concho tributaries have lost millions, and some have had to give up agriculture altogether. The farm community has decided to seek justice against a NAFTA ruling against U.S. interests, a denial of water that OUR State Department was seeking.

Let's put that so you are sure to understand, the U.S. State Department sided with Mexico in denial of water to U.S. agriculture interests, water that U.S. farmers had rights to from longstanding agreement.

I'm not against Mexican farmers or industry. I am, however, a U.S. citizen who thinks our government was put in place to protect and defend us, not any other country. In its ongoing record of dysfunction, the U.S. executive branch avoided dealing with such difficult problems as working out fair distribution of scarce water between competing interests. Our government gave advantage, game point, to Mexico.

Stephan Becker, a Washington attorney who has represented Mexico in the dispute, said the Texans' case is fatally flawed; NAFTA doesn't allow parties to air complaints about violations of other treaties, he said.

"Mexico is opposing the judicial review, and we are confident that the request will be rejected," Mr. Becker said.

Three years ago, Mexico agreed to transfer more water to reservoirs to make up for its so-called water debt. But the Texas farmers and water districts insist they should be compensated for the period when not enough water was delivered.

Many farmers struggled through the long drought. Some are believed to have left the Valley. Others couldn't borrow money without being able to show they had water to grow crops.

Last week, Ms. Combs asked Texans in Congress to press the U.S. State Department to stay away from the dispute.

"I think Susan is going to find bipartisan support from the Texas delegation," said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. "We have to have a system where the Mexicans stop rolling up these big water debts that hurt us in the Rio Grande Valley."

Even lawmakers whose districts have few ties to Mexico said they were distressed to learn about the government's position.
"The notion that water rights in Mexico, which are owed to an individual, derive from an international treaty obligation – that is cutting edge," said Mr. Grierson- Weiler, who represented the Canadians in the cattle case. "And I personally think it has a lot of merit."

Mr. Grierson-Weiler said he agrees with Ms. Marzulla that the three-member NAFTA tribunal, which included former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, went beyond its scope when it dismissed the claim, ruling that that Texans didn't have investments in Mexico.

The past year of record rain has avoided huge losses for both sides of our southern border, and the pressures have eased. This is not likely to persist.

The three years preceding 2007 showed 'exceptional' drought levels, like those that Atlanta recently experienced. The water wars between Georgia and Florida were at least familial. Georgia farmers and water utilizers of all varieties were not duking it out with foreign interests, and finding that the same government that relies on them for their funds was using those funds to fight against their interests.

The losses the entire country has suffered from the two terms of anti-American corporate shills is a loss to more than just investors, farmers, home buyers, wage-earners, the general public.

The same people who are incapable of serving the U.S. public are entrenched in offices throughout our departments. As ProfessorWombat often comments at Eschaton, it will take awhile to cull out the idiots who have been given powers they cannot handle, that we are paying them well to misuse against us.

335 days.


In another example of incompetence, the lack of regulations has led our financial institutions into a disaster that has spread worldwide.

In response to an article at WaPo on how investors are seeking more powers over corporate policy making that has been severely dysfunctional lately, I made these comments:

The basic underlying philosophy of supply side economics has been resoundingly disproved not only by the present meltdown, but also by the unmentioned backdating of stock options. The insistence that deregulation would 'allow' the corporate financial institutions to make huge profits for its investors has proved erroneous.

Directors have been allowed to falsify the records of their stock purchases by giving the wrong date for them, so that low prices could be paid in times of higher prices. This allows the directors to rob the investors.

Loans have been made on bases of 'irrational exuberance', and no curbs of simple basics like an ability to pay off the loan have been allowed, because no regulations were enforced even tho the Federal Reserve had the power to require stricter standards.

Investment turned into gambling, and the directors have awarded executives huge returns for the pay and benefits they received as directors.

Investors need to seize the reins at the board level, and at the voting booth. If regulations cannot be valued on grounds of returning simple honesty, then the present financial crisis should provide reason enough.

Capitalism doesn't work when thieves take control.


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Someone Who Gets It

Ordinarily I wouldn't take the time to read an op-ed piece written by someone described as "the senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel," but I was intrigued enough by the subject to read Andrew P. Napolitano's op-ed piece published in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. I'm glad I set aside my prejudices this time, because Mr. Napolitano's comments on the current White House attempt to negate the Fourth Amendment was well worth the read.

Mr. Napolitano provides a very useful history of the FISA legislation and how it morphed into the "Protect America Act of 2007" (how's that for ironic nomenclature --it rates right up there with "The Patriot Act"). Initially, FISA was a response to the egregious domestic spying of the Nixon Administration, spying that the former president justified some years later by stating, "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

Here are some of the key points Mr. Napolitano makes:

The 4th Amendment was written in response to the Colonial experience whereby British soldiers wrote their own search warrants, thus literally authorizing themselves to enter the private property of colonists.

The amendment has been uniformly interpreted by the courts to require a warrant by a judge; and judges can only issue search warrants after government agents, under oath, have convinced the judges that it is more likely than not that the things to be seized are evidence of crimes. This standard of proof is called probable cause of crime. It is one of only two instances in which the founders wrote a rule of criminal procedure into the Constitution itself, surely so that no Congress, president or court could tamper with it. ...

The FISA statute itself significantly -- and, in my opinion, unconstitutionally -- lowered the 4th Amendment bar from probable cause of "crime"to probable cause of "status." However, in order to protect the 4th Amendment rights of the targets of spying, the statute erected a so-called wall between gathering evidence and using evidence. The government cannot constitutionally prosecute someone unless it has evidence against him that was obtained pursuant to probable cause of a crime, a standard not met by a FISA warrant.

Congress changed all that. The Patriot Act passed after 9/11 and its later version not only destroyed the wall between investigation and prosecution,they mandated that investigators who obtained evidence of criminal activity pursuant to FISA warrants share that evidence with prosecutors. They also instructed federal judges that the evidence thus shared is admissible under the Constitution against a defendant in a criminal case. Congress forgot that it cannot tell federal judges what evidence is admissible because judges, not politicians, decide what a jury hears.

Congress "forgot" a lot of things the past 6+ years and nowhere has that been more damaging than in the area of constitutionally guaranteed rights. Mr. Napolitano reminds us of the danger to everyone when that happens:

Those who believe the Constitution means what it says should tremble at every effort to weaken any of its protections. The Constitution protects all "persons" and all "people" implicated by government behavior. So the government should be required, as it was until FISA, to obtain a 4th Amendment warrant to conduct surveillance of anyone, American or not, in the U.S. or not.

This is the kind of "strict constructionism" I can appreciate. Nicely done Mr. Napolitano.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

For Christ's Sake!

Just when I think this country is beginning to grow beyond its xenophobic and racist past, an article such as this one punctures my optimism.

A school security officer stopped Karina Acosta, an 18-year-old pregnant Roswell High School senior, and discovered she was in the country illegally. He called federal immigration authorities, who swiftly deported her.

The district superintendent protested and the officer was removed from the school and transferred back to the city Police Department. About three dozen angry students and parents marched on police headquarters -- a notable event in a town not accustomed to controversy -- and were met by a handful of counterdemonstrators who backed the officer.

The schools suffered a sudden drop in attendance as students whose parents were in the country illegally kept them home. The local newspaper was peppered with angry letters to the editor denouncing illegal immigrants. And even two months later, unease permeates the community.
[Emphasis added]

Imagine: an 18-year-old, pregnant, in her last year of high school, sent back to Mexico without her family. Then consider this: the action by the Roswell police officer assigned to the school was illegal under a US Supreme Court decision dating back to 1982. Perhaps it would help if I mentioned that his last name was unusual last name in New Mexico, which has a huge Hispanic population. Perhaps it would also help if I mentioned (as the article did) that Officer Corn has a history of forcing Latino students to prove they were in the country legally and had at least one other hight school student deported in the past.

His excuse and that of his police chief?

But local police forces like Roswell's are increasingly being pressured to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Pressured by whom? The article doesn't explicity address the question, but quotes several residents who make it clear that they are unhappy that the "illegals" are crowding the classrooms. I'm sure the DHS and INS had nothing to do with it, just as I am sure I can purchase very profitable commercial property in the Everglades.

This is what it has come down to. This is what "compassionate conservativism" has brought us.

Once again, I am deeply ashamed of this country.

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Third World Election Lesson

Counting has begun in elections in Pakistan, with the threat of violence very real in the case that the election is perceived as rigged. From the loss of credibility for the existing government which was occasioned by the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazier Bhutto, any outcome that secures his presidency for Musharraf will no doubt be seen as false. There is a quite likely outbreak to come of protests in that event, and many fear that the rigged outcome has already been arranged.

In a recent post I excerpted from tapes that were made of the judge complicit in corruption charges against Bhutto and imprisoned Supreme Court Chief Justice Chaudhry. The conversations establish his assistance in the corruption judgment against Bhutto, and his knowledge of rigging the present election.

More than 450 people have died in militant-related violence this year.

Fear of more violence kept many Pakistanis away from the polls, despite 80,000 troops backing up police.

Election official Mohammad Farooq estimated turnout at 35 pct at his polling station in Rawalpindi.

"Considering the security circumstances, that's good," he said as the polls closed.

An intelligence official said 11 people have been killed, seven in Punjab province, and 70 wounded in election violence since voting began.

In Bhutto's home province of Sindh, Home Secretary Arif Ali Khan said two people had been killed and 50 wounded in poll-related incidents.

"This is almost insignificant," said Khan, while expressing sorrow over the deaths.

The outbreaks that preceded closing of the polls didn't presage well for the aftermath. Should Musharraf end up with suspicious totals, things would be set for an outbreak of revolutionary dimensions.

....fears of violence dissuaded many of the country's 80 million eligible voters from leaving their homes, and voting in many places was slow.

At least nine people are reported to have been killed in election related violence on the eve of the vote and on the day itself.

In one incident in Daska district in the Punjab, a polling agent from one party reportedly shot dead an agent from a rival party after a dispute.

In another, on Sunday, at least four people, including a candidate, were reported to have been killed after an attack on former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party.

BBC journalists also reported a number of voting irregularities across the country:

* BBC correspondent Riaz Sohail was shot at as he approached a polling station in Natario village, Sindh province, to investigate reports of ballot stuffing. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) activists and voters were also fired upon

* In Karachi, protesters from Awami National Party (ANP) blocked roads and stoned vehicles after an attack on their candidate

* Firing on a polling station in Gujranwala in the Punjab caused voting to be suspended

* The presiding officer of a polling station in east Karachi - a PPP stronghold - said his police escort took him to the wrong location, leaving him 5km (three miles) from the station, meaning polling was delayed by five hours

Nawaz Sharif, after casting his ballot in the eastern city of Lahore, accused the PML-Q party that backs President Musharraf of "committing rigging, and... attacking our candidates and supporters", AFP news agency reported.

The leader of Ms Bhutto's PPP party, her widower Asif Ali Zardari, has threatened to launch street protests in the event of vote-rigging.

Does this have a familiar ring to you? It sounds to me like the emboldened and desperate President Musharraf, never elected by popular vote, may be in the process of sacrificing the public interest to his hunger for power.

As in Kenya, there will not be an acceptance by an awakened opposition if the election results are obviously flawed.

I am watching with hopes that reason will prevail, and that crimes against his country will be impossible for Musharraf to commit. In the case he has rigged elections, I am optimistic for an outcome that will deny him the presidency by the action of the courts and laws.

I am hoping for just such a result for this country, in the coming 2008 elections, as well.

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On The Docket

Interesting fact: the US Supreme Court has accepted five age discrimination suits for hearing this term, according to an AP article published yesterday. The lede paragraph was pretty interesting itself.

There is only one anti-bias law - the one against discrimination based on age - that would cover all nine Supreme Court justices, if such laws applied to them.

The justices, ranging in age from 53 to 87, are the last people to worry about such things in their own lives. They have life tenure and no mandatory retirement age.

Yet the justices are confronted by allegations of age discrimination in five cases this term. While the sheer number of cases probably can be explained away as coincidence, the topic is one of growing importance as more people work longer because of economic necessity or by choice.
[Emphasis added]

I very much doubt that the decision to accept these cases has anything to do with the ages of the justices, and I certainly don't think the current justices will be particularly sympathetic to the workers' who have filed the suits because of their age, nor should they be. After all, the Court is supposed to construe the statute involved without letting their personal biases influence them.

The five cases themselves have in common only the fact that they were brought under the statute.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to workers who are at least 40. It prohibits discrimination based on age in hiring and firing, promotions and pay. ...

The cases at the court this year include what kind of evidence an employee may present to bolster an age discrimination claim; whether retirement-age workers are entitled to disability payments; and whether federal workers who complain about age discrimination are protected from retaliation.

The fact is, however, that we can anticipate more such suits being filed because there are more elders continuing to work beyond the traditional retirement age. The numbers themselves are not particularly surprising.

The percentage of people 65 and over who continue to work has grown from 10.8 percent in 1985 to 16 percent last year, AARP said. For people 55 to 64, the numbers also are up, from 54.2 percent in 1985 to 63.8 percent in 2007.

Nor is it particularly surprising that even in this youth oriented culture elders refuse to be shoved out of their jobs and/or their benefits peacefully. Many are working because they have to, especially now that their 501ks have been reduced to 101ks and employer funded pensions are mostly things of the past.

The rulings on these five cases will certainly set the stage for the five years at least, which is about the time I will qualify for full benefits under Social Security. I certainly hope the justices get it right, although I am not optimistic.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Poetry: W. B. Yeats

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

Another Voice For Sami Al Hajj

I am embarrassed by the fact that I totally missed Nicholas Kristof's column on the Al Jazeera journalist being held at Guantanamo Bay when it was published February 14, 2008 in the NY Times. I finally noticed it when I found it published by Germany's Der Spiegel under a special agreement with the NY Times whereby each publication can print the other's articles. More about that arrangement in a bit.

What embarrasses me about having missed the Kristof column is that I have been grousing for a long time about the silence from the US press on Mr. Hajj's detention and torture. It appears that at least some journalists are now willing to speak openly about this travesty. Mr. Kristof details the horrendous "force-feeding" regimen Mr. Hajj undergoes twice a day, and then makes some rather pertinent comments about what this all means to the rest of the world.

If the Bush administration appointed an Under Secretary of State for Antagonizing the Islamic World, with advice from a Blue Ribbon Commission for Sullying America's Image, it couldn't have done a more systematic job of discrediting our reputation around the globe. Instead of using American political capital to push for peace in the Middle East or Darfur, it is using it to force-feed Mr. Hajj.

President Bush is now moving forward with plans to try six Guantánamo prisoners before a military tribunal, rather than hold a regular trial. That will call new attention to abuses in Guantánamo and sow more anti-Americanism around the world.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed last year to close Guantánamo because of its wretched impact on American foreign policy. But they lost the argument to Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney. So America spends millions of dollars bolstering public diplomacy and sponsoring chipper radio and television broadcasts to the Islamic world -- and then undoes it all with Guantánamo.


But here's the interesting part: as I mentioned above, Der Spiegel and the NY Times have a reciprocal agreement to publish each other's stories, and this was selected by the German news magazine. That certainly says a lot about how we are viewed by our allies in Germany and in Europe, especially when it comes to everything associated with Gitmo.

337 days

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More Defeats from N. Korea

Happy Birthday, Kim Jong-Il. You didn't hear the news reports about that? Must be because once again, the occupied White House is embarrassed that they are getting nowhere with the nuclear disarmament effort, despite their folding on one step after another to get the little country to perform what we want them to.

As posted here before, the N. Korean gestures toward nuclear restraint - something the administration has tried gaining - have been MIA lately. The lack of respect from the country our cretin in chief included in the "Axis of Evil" has been palpable for some time.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill sought to put the best face on failing nuclear talks with North Korea, which has refused to provide a full and complete accounting of its past nuclear activities.

“We are continuing to work on that," Hill told a Senate hearing Feb. 6. "I don't want to make bets about a game that I'm playing in, but we have reason to believe that we can make progress. And while we do, we are not at all happy that we've missed our deadline, that is Dec. 31, [but] we believe it's worth continuing to work on this.”

Hill said he failed to present a letter from President Bush directly to North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il and instead handed it to a Foreign Ministry official. “I asked if I could deliver this in person. I was told that this was not possible, and they directed me to the foreign minister. So I delivered it to the foreign minister prior to my departure,” he said.

The failure was a major snub by North Korea, which refused to allow the special envoy to meet the head of state.

Following strict U.S. policy, Hill, said any U.S. de-listing of North Korea as a terrorist and enemy state “will depend, of course on the DPRK’s fulfillment of its second phase commitments on providing a complete and correct declaration, and disabling its nuclear facilities, as well as on the satisfaction of the legal requirements.”

In addition to its not giving details on its uranium enrichment, Hill said there is also a likely discrepancy in North Korean plutonium produced, as much as 20 kilograms, enough for five nuclear bombs.

Hill also said North Korea purchased centrifuges from Pakistan and planned to reverse engineer them.

“They purchased less than two dozen centrifuges. And the purpose would be to replicate them and to build some 2,000 or 3,000 centrifuges. So certainly, in order to get the basic design of the centrifuge, they had to get it from this A.Q. Khan network. So our very strong belief is that they were successful in getting that,” he said.

As is everywhere evident, the world is waiting for the U.S. to replace its failed regime. No one wants another faked punt from the gang that can't shoot straight.

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Wanted: Your Unwary, Yearning for a Job

Reminder: the U.S. is conducting a war in Afghanistan.

It's going badly, after a stroke of beginners' luck when we drove out an unpopular, restrictive and authoritarian regime of Taliban religious fanatics. The occupied White House in its enthusiasm for war powers, irrational exuberance, denuded troop strengths and sent everyone off to Iraq where their real ambitions lay.

Now the poppy trade is rebounding, as are the Taliban, and we are facing growing rejection by the population that we unaccountably keep bombing for their own good. We have a wonderful idea, now, to strengthen and ally ourselves with, oh, right, train - the discredited police.

Afghanistan's police are notorious for extorting money from civilians, protecting drug dealers and otherwise acting like "terrorists with badges," as one U.S. officer put it. The police sometimes go unpaid and must fend for themselves.

Until November, the police general in charge of this province had a roster that included more than 1,600 "ghost" policemen – someone was collecting their salaries, even though no one ever saw them. Half the fuel and food allotted to the police force was sold on the black market, according to Maj. Mike Basart, who commands the police training teams at Forward Operating Base Vulcan.

When police ran low on firewood or clothes, they went to the bazaar and took what they needed without paying. Cops would set up roadblocks and demand payments before anyone could pass.

"If police officers don't appear to the people as legitimate or professional, how can the government be regarded as professional or honest?" asked Maj. Gabe Barton, operations officer for the 2nd battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, which has responsibility for security in Deh Yak and the rest of Ghazni Province.

Does this begin to sound like our story line in Iraq, where our military claims we can't leave because it would mean that the regime we're propping up, and 'training', would dissolve. Without popular support and involvement, we're creating nothing more than a staged production for the purposes of misleading the press and the public.

There's no There there.

The U.S. embed team arrived at the Deh Yak station unannounced recently and found only 15 police officers on the job. Capt. Bailey mustered 12 of them to patrol down the village streets, only to turn back when Sgt. Farrelly reported that the Afghans had left the station unguarded.

In such cold weather, it's harder to persuade the police to stand guard all night in sentry towers. The U.S. team of embedded soldiers brought wood stoves and fuel for the towers but still had to roust guards out of their barracks beds to man the watch. They harangued police sergeants to keep blankets out of the guard towers because the police are prone to falling asleep.

An impromptu inspection of a remote observation outpost found a group of shivering Afghan police living in trenches and sandbagged huts in the grip of an ice fog that etched its white teeth in everything from eyebrows to engine blocks. Three of the police at this camp were fired recently for taking bribes but had yet to turn in their uniforms.

New York National Guard Pvt. Brendan Marino, a 32-year-old Brooklyn native working security for the team, said he guesses training the Afghan police will take many years to complete. But he's intrigued enough that he said he's considering coming back to Afghanistan as a civilian training contractor. (Emphasis added.)

IOW, our guys are there to get a step up into that well-paid job as a Contractor, while the soldiers are trying to get into position to make a living off that same racket - or the drug trade.

Democracy, national pride, freedom, if you remember all those reasons we made a war in the Middle East, forget them. It's a living.

337 days.

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