Monday, July 31, 2006

Business as Usual in Washington D.C.

"Republicans have made perfectly clear who they stand with and who they are willing to fight for: the privileged few."
-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
As the carnage in Iraq continues and Israel plays a futile and ever deadlier game of "whack-a-mole" in Lebanon, this week the Republican controlled Congress continues it's steady march to turn the United States economy into a feudal system.
The House has passed a measure by a vote of 230 to 180 that will raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997. However, in an effort to insure passage by the Senate, the House Republican leadership added a permanent cut to the estate tax to the minimum wage bill. Many Democrats are outraged at this tactic, especially involving the estate tax cut, that will only benefit a very small number of the wealthiest American families and cost the Treasury an estimated $263 billion of lost revenue over the next ten years. The Washington Post reports that, "Republicans believed they had found a way to snatch the minimum-wage issue away from Democrats, who had been using it as a cudgel, while securing passage of a central plank of their economic program: all but eliminating the estate tax."
So in this little Republican gambit, if Democratic Senators do the fiscally responsible thing and vote against this bill, their opponents in November's midterm elections can claim, in a tone of mock populism, that they had cast a vote against 'working class Americans' on the minimum wage issue.
This 'compromise' was called "legislative extortion" and "...beyond cynical... disgraceful" by some Democrats. I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The "Fog of War" Turns Sinister

The Washington Post reported on July 26 the killing of 4 unarmed United Nations observers in their fortified post late Tuesday. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was "shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting". These comments drew criticism by some, accusing Annan of jumping to conclusions. Maybe these people should've taken a look at the details of the incident first.

The 4 U.N. observers started receiving Israeli bombardment nearby the observation post Tuesday morning and took shelter in a bunker under their post. The post lies near the hilltop town of Khiyam, is very clearly marked and has been there for eighteen years. Israel knew it was there. Both the BBC and the Guardian are reporting that U.N. commanders asked the Israelis 10 times over the course of the day to stop the bombing on their position. According to the Guardian:

Jane Lute, the assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, told the UN security council that the base came under close Israeli fire 21 times - including 12 hits within 100 metres and four direct hits - from 1.20pm until contact was lost with the four peacekeepers inside at 7.17pm."

Ms Lute said the peacekeeping force had protested to the Israeli army after each firing incident. The UN's deputy secretary general, Mark Malloch Brown, and Ms Lute herself also made several calls to Israel's mission to the UN "reiterating these protests and calling for an abatement of the shelling", she said.

After contact with the base was lost, Unifil then won safe passage for two armoured personnel carriers to evacuate the position, she said. They arrived at 9.30pm "and found the shelter collapsed and major damage to the rest of the position". Despite negotiating safe passage, the APCs also came under Israeli attack, Ms Lute said.

Earlier, the United Nations general secretary, Kofi Annan, accused the Israeli military of carrying out a sustained bombing of the UN base on the Lebanon-Israel border that culminated in the killing of four unarmed monitors.

Mr Annan said he had suggested to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that they carry out a joint investigation into the events that led to the shelling of the "well-established and well marked" Unifil (UN interim force in Lebanon) post in the town of Khiyam.

"I spoke to Mr Olmert and he definitely believes it was a mistake and has expressed his deep sorrow, " Mr Annan told a press conference in Rome. "But the shelling started in the morning and went on until after 7pm. You cannot imagine the anguish of the unarmed men and women peacekeepers who were there."

Clearly, either the artillery gunners (who already knew the post was there) didn't receive these pleas from the U.N. during the day, or did and chose to ignore them. Perhaps someone in the Israeli chain of command chose not to pass along the information. According to the BBC, the post was hit with a "precision-guided missile after six hours of shelling".

Of course Ehud Olmert has expressed "deep sorrow", according to Annan, and has promised a full investigation into the incident. I should say so.

Along with reports of bombardments near hospitals and civilian vehicles being targeted deliberately by Israeli helicopter gunships, this is only another example of the clear lack of any kind of regard for civilian life being shown by the Israelis. 'Well, Hizbollah targets civilians too!' is the typically Neanderthal response to this. Well, if Israel is such a 'progressive' and 'civilized' nation, as so many claim, then why are they exhibiting the same type of behavior as a terrorist organization? But then again, her benefactor the U.S., doesn't exactly set a great example.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"I Forbid"

That's the English translation of the Latin word 'veto'. Today, George Bush used his presidential veto power for the first time in his entire 'reign'. As the Washington Post reports, the Senate passed a bill 63-37 that would've used federal money to fund stem cell research. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the presidential veto has been exercised 1,717 times, an average of 17 times per year or 68 times in a four year term. What Bush has done instead is use hundreds of so called 'signing statements', that basically tell Congress and the courts what part of the bills that he signs into law he feels that he as King - er, President, actually doesn't have to obey.

So, of all the bills that he's signed into law, he picks this one to veto. A bill that would've used not fetuses, not even embryos, but multi-celled blastocysts to conduct potentially live saving and quality of life saving research for an array terrible diseases and conditions. Blastocysts are literally the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Randi Rhodes pointed out this sickening exchange with Tony Snow in the 7/18 WHPB on Air America:

MR. SNOW: The President -- I don't think that's the choice that the President has presented. What the President has said is that he doesn't want human life destroyed. Now, you may consider that insignificant, but the President has said -- and you have had in a number of cases the Snowflake babies, where some of those fetuses have, in fact, been brought to term and have become human beings. The President believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federalgovernment to finance something that many people consider murder; he's one of them...
...As you know, there are ongoing efforts in some states, including, I think, California and Massachusetts, to use state money for it, and I daresay if people think that there's a market for it, they're going to support it handsomely. The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong, and he has said.
So, the President thinks it's murder, but he's OK with private research companies committing 'murder' and if people make money from it, all the better. Also notice how Snow gets in the quick dig at two states that vote overwhemingly Democratic in national elections. Do these people have souls? At this point I'd even settle for a little bit of conscience...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pure Insanity

Well, Israel continues trying to make friends and influence people in her own special way this week. The Washington Post reports on 7/18 that the civilian death toll in Lebanon continues to climb. Among those killed were 7 Canadians, unfortunate enough to be caught in southern Lebanon when the Shiite hit the fan. The official explanation for most of the civilains casualties is that Hezbollah likes to hide themselves and their meager weapons among the civilian population. I think 'hiding behind women and children' is the sound bite that seems to be popular. I find it hard to believe that Hezbollah would be hiding behind Canadians. Firing rockets into and dropping bombs on densely populated areas is irresponsible. It doesn't matter who's doing it. There's no moral high ground in this conflict what so ever, only varying degrees of stubbonness and stupidity.

Perhaps the most stupidity is on the Israeli side. Lebanon has a moderate, representative democratic government and along with Egypt and Jordan, is one of Israel's friendliest neighbors. Unfortunately, Syria has too much influence in Lebanon and it's influence largely unwanted by the Lebanese. Ironically, Lebanon wants Hezbollah out of it's country almost as much as Israel does. Unfortunately, the Lebanese army is small and weak and any move they might make against Hezbollah would surely be countered by the Syrian army rolling across the border. So, if Israel and Lebanon want the same thing, why then is Israel bombing the crap out Lebanon. Wouldn't it make more sense to cooperate with them. Here's an even crazier idea. Maybe Israel along with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon could create a regional treaty organization, along the lines of NATO. Given the largely warm diplomatic climate between all these nations for many years now, it's not something that would be impossible to accomplish.

The only thing being accomplished with the current strategy is more of the same alienation and radicalization that's failed for the past sixty years.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Bombs

The past year had seen much progress in the relations between Israel and Palestine. The Israelis withdrew from the Gaza strip, closed Israeli settlements there and talked of more settlement closures in the West Bank. Things began to turn when the Hamas party won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament; a setback for the more moderate Fata party. The militant wing of Hamas had committed most of the terrorist acts of the recent Intifada and Hamas as a whole has consistently refused to recognize the right of Israel to exist. That said, the voters of Palestine chose Hamas over the woefully corrupt and often ineffective, Fata party. Tensions were raised when Israel and the U.S. began putting pressure on Hamas and the Palestinian government to moderate their stance on Israel, backing up words with actions in the form of a financial blockade that has bankrupted the Palestinian government for 5 months now.

Hamas militants soon began lobbing inaccurate Katyusha rockets into southern Israel not hitting much of anything. In response Israel began lobbing rockets and shells into Gaza, recently inadvertantly killing an entire family who were enjoying a day at the beach. Two weeks ago, Hamas militants, sneaking into southern Israel through tunnels, captured an Israeli soldier and killed 2 others. I say captured despite the insistence of almost everyone to say he was kidnapped. I'm sorry, but civilians get kidnapped, soldiers involved in a military operation get captured. In response, Israel has launched an ongoing invasion and bombardment of Gaza, targeting among other things, civilian infrastructure such as bridges and a power station. They have lost a few more of their own soldiers and killed at least 20 Palestinian civilians in the process.

Finally, last week Hizbollah militants in southern Lebanon captured 2 more Israeli soldiers during a cross border raid. Israel retaliated by bombing Hizbollah strong points in southern Lebanon, which prompted Hizbollah to launch rockets into northern Israel, some reaching Haifa. In response, Israel has invaded southern Lebanon, bombed the Beirut airport (photo), instituted a blockade and is threatening Syria, which supports both Hizbollah and Hamas. This has already resulted in 55 civilian deaths in Lebanon. The fighting has escalated so quickly, that even the U.S. is urging restraint.

It seems illogical that when Hamas, etc. were targeting Israeli citizens with suicide bombs during the Intifada, Israel was responding by assasinating the leaders of Hamas, etc. Now that Hamas and Hizbollah are at least acting in a slightly more civilized manner by targeting Israeli troops, Israel is responding by targeting Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and the civilian infrastructure (bridges, power plants, etc.).

If Israel is hoping that the next time around Palestinian voters will exercise their democratic rights by electing more moderate leaders, this doesn’t exactly seem the right way to go about it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Department of Homeland Patronage

The New York Times (remember them, the traitorous al-Qaeda sympathizers) published an article today about something that the Department of Homeland Security calls their 'National Asset Database'.

"The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha." (NYT, 7/12/06)
The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security published a report (.pdf) Tuesday that criticizes the database as containing many seemingly anomolous or outright head scratching oddities in the Deaprtment's site priorities. Some of the 'assets' listed in the report are among others, 'Old McDonald's Petting Zoo', 'The Amish Country Popcorn Factory', 'the Mule Day Parade', 'The Sweetwater Flea Market', 'Nix's Check Cashing', 'Anti-Cruelty Society' and 'Bean Fest'. From a higher level, New York is listed as having only 2% of the nations banking and financial sector assets, ranking it just behind North Dakota. Of total assets, New York ranks as number 3, behind Indiana and Wisconsin. Nebraska ranks at number 7, just ahead of California, our most populous state.

The Times quotes Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), “Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was. This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system.” The 2006 budget for the Department of Homeland Security in $41.1 billion. Usually when a system for handing out that amount of money makes absolutely no sense, it isn't an accident.

Why would Indiana get so much of that money? Well, the Republican governor of Indiana is a man named Mitch Daniels. Up until June 2003, Mr. Daniels worked in the White House as Bush's Director of the Office of Management and Budget. During his tenure as the administration's budgetary watch dog, a $236 billion federal budget surplus evaporated into a $400 billion deficit. From 1993 until his administration appointment, Mr. Daniels served as an executive at Eli Lilly & Co. Interestingly, Daniels's name was mentioned as being involved in the insertion of the "Midnight Rider" of the Homeland Security Act in 2002. The bill contained a provision added at the last minute that would block lawsuits against Eli Lilly and Company over the production of a controversial vaccine preservative called "thimerosal" which is 49.6% mercury. Parents of autistic children claim this preservative has caused autism in thousands of children (source, Not exactly something related to 'homeland security'. What a guy! Huzzah for bringing integrity back to the White House!

The other oddity in the database, Wisconsin, is also interesting. Tommy Thompson served as Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services until 2005. Prior to that he was governor of - you guessed it - Wisconsin. Thompson is currently working in the private sector, no doubt building up a war chest for a Presidential run in 2008. In August 2005 he announced that he was considering forming an exploratory committee for a possible Presidential campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security's asset database, doesn't publish a complete list of all sites, but I bet if a map of those sites was put next to a national Congressional district map, there would be a lot more of these interesting 'coincidences'.

At this point it's fairly obvious that the four year old Department of Homeland Security is nothing more than another political patronage machine. Then again, Bush and company are running things like a 21st century version of Tammany Hall on a national level, complete with election tampering, so why are we surprised. I guess once the people in states like California and New York start voting Republican in national elections, then they'll be able to feel as safe as the 5 employees of the Amish Country Popcorn factory in Berne, Indiana.

Novak Speaks - finally

Conservative columnist and CNN curmudgeon Robert Novak finally broke his long held silence about his role in the Valerie Plame leak investigation in his column on July 12:

"...One was by my principal source in the Valerie Wilson column, a source whose name has not yet been revealed. The other was by presidential adviser Karl Rove, whom I interpret as confirming my primary source's information... Bill Harlow, the CIA public information officer who was my CIA source for the column confirming Mrs. Wilson's identity."

Novak still hasn't exposed his 'primary source' of Plame's identity, though the list of who it could be is shorter than a list of people who think that Barry Bonds is clean. 'Scooter' Libby can be ruled out, since he has quit his post as Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and is already under indictment. As I've said before, my money is on Dick Cheney himself.

The real damage to national security with this politically motivated leak, as the main stream media HASN'T reported, wasn't that Plame's identity as a CIA operative was exposed. The real damage is that the entire 'brass plate' operation that she was a part of was exposed. This CIA front operation was called Brewster Jennings and Associates and was setup in the mid 1990's to help gain intelligence on various country's nuclear weapons programs. We'll never know how many other undercover CIA operatives and non-CIA sources were compromised, endangered or perhaps even killed due to this. If this did happen, the longtime CIA policy is that it will never be made public. Additionally, this leak of Plame's and BJ&A's real identity, had to have hurt the CIA's ongoing efforts to acquire reliable human intelligence on WMD programs.

Also, in another one of the curious coincidences that seem to happen with these shadow affairs, the Army has announced that it is ending it's contract with Halliburton to provide worldwide logistical support for it's troops. "Pentagon leaders decided multiple contractors would give them better prices, more accountability and greater protection if a one contractor fails to perform..." (Washington Post, 7/12/06). Halliburton is the company that Dick Cheney used to run, between his stint as Secretary of Defense under the first Bush and his current stint as VPOTUS, becoming VERY wealthy in the process.

Hmmm, Washington D.C. these days seems to be quite fertile ground for coincidence.

The Half Measure

The Pentagon announced in a July 7 memo that suspected terrorist detainees, including those held at Guantanamo Bay, are entitled to treatment consistent with 'Common Article 3' of the Geneva Conventions:

Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict. (source: International Committee of the Red Cross)

This is an about face of the administrations stated policy that 'non-combatant' detainees did not fall under the protection of the Geneva conventions. "The administration also has decided that even prisoners held by the CIA in secret prisons abroad must be treated in accordance with international standards, an interpretation that would prohibit prisoners from being subjected to harsh treatment in interrogations, several U.S. officials said." (Washington Post - 7/12/06)

This announcement comes on the heels of the Supreme Court 5-3 ruling in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, striking down the legality of the administrations use of "military tribunals". The legal procedures used in these tribunals forbid among other things, calling defense witnesses and being able to see any of the evidence that is being used by the prosecution. To me that sounds like it should be illegal and is a legal stone's throw away from the 'procedures' that Saddam Hussein is claiming he used before executing over 100 residents of Dujaill in his ongoing trial.

So after years of international and domestic outcry about the treatment and legal status of the Guantanamo detainees and others around the world, from institutions like Amnesty International, the ACLU and the United Nations, this administration is finally changing it's tune only after the Supreme Court declared it illegal and the Congress threatened to pass legislation to declare it illegal. I suppose this is the current administration's idea of checks and balances: they'll finally give in when both the Supreme Court and Congress AND the entire international community lines up against them and/or threatens legal action.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Representative government anyone?

Three term Connecticut Senator and 2000 Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has a little problem. The good people from the state of Connecticut that he represents in the Senate want a better plan for Iraq, whether it be an immediate pull-out, a timetable of some sort or a redeployment on the 'horizon' as Jack Murtha has proposed. On the Iraq issue however, Lieberman wants to do whatever George Bush thinks we should do. The way our government is supposed to work (and sometimes does), when the people don't like how they're being mis-represented they will seek an alternative candidate, even within the same party.

Enter Ned Lamont. Lamont is a multi-millionaire cable TV businessman, local Greenwich town politician and a Democratic alternative to Lieberman. A Quinnipiac University poll from June 8 showed Lieberman's lead slip to 57% from 62% in May. On July 6, the two engaged in a relatively fiery debate, that showed Lamont to be an able debater and speaker, despite his deficit of debate experience to the veteran Lieberman.

Let's face it: With the exception of the one issue of Iraq and in a general sense, all foreign policy issues, Joe Lieberman is a moderate Democrat. On domestic issues: healthcare, tax policy, the environment, etc. his policies are solidly Democratic.

My big problem with Lieberman (a Senator from my home state) and Clinton by the way (a senator from my current state), is that they are not representing the wishes of their constituents on the issue of Iraq. The entire Congress, not just the House, is supposed to be beholden to the voters that sent them there, not just to exclusively vote according to their own beliefs or to position themselves for a run at a higher office (listening Hillary?).

This goes to the big knock that many registered Democrats have against their own party. That too many times, they will pull the "D" lever, but have to hold their nose while doing so. I experienced this first hand when I voted for Mark Green for mayor in NYC in 2001, but was kind of glad that Bloomberg won anyway. Green was clearly lacking in the integrity department. The next time, instead of voting for Ferrer, I just stayed home. Ferrer was clearly lacking in the competency department.

Maybe having Lamont on the Democratic ticket in Connecticut will actually help take back the vulnerable House seats there. Instead of staying home or having to 'hold their noses', registered Democrats and independents will actually get out and vote because they'll have something to vote FOR.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

A letter by yours truly in response this article on by Nir Rosen, 'Did the invasion make things worse in Iraq?'

This recital of examples of Saddam's day to day methods for squelching any form of dissent (a law against re-selling a car built before 1978?!?!) begs a big question. What was the U.S. - the beacon of freedom and human rights in the world at the time - doing throughout the 1980's when his despotic ways were becoming apperant? The answer should be that we were loudly denouncing Saddam's actions and working to align world opinion and actions against him. Sadly this is not the case. No, our foreign policy apparatus was holding it's collective nose and cozying up to this thug. This was for 2 reasons: 1.) He was at war with Iran and we were still smarting from the Iran hostage crisis. Saddam was no less ruthless than the Ayatollahs, but at least he never tweaked our nose in front of the whole world. and - 2.) Oil. Specifically petro-politics. The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, got the attention of many a myopic policy wonk who started proposing foreign policy solutions straight out of "The Prince" or in many cases, straight from the boardgame "Risk".

Saddam was only our friend because he was the enemy of our enemy. Throughout history, this has resulted in many problems almost all of the time. The blood-thirsty attack dog will eventually turn on the master. Another example of this from the same era, is a certain tall, bearded, former CIA friend and pupil now residing and making home videos in the mountains somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This hipocracy, though ignored by our own main stream media, is VERY obvious to many people in many other regions (e.g. "The Arab Street"). Still wondering why we're so hated by so many?