Thursday, June 30, 2005

Import Canadian Policies, Not Drugs!

Yesterday, Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh announced plans to ban bulk exports of prescription drugs to the US and possibly to restrict internet pharmacy sales by requiring more than a Canadian doctor's signature. Though bulk drug imports from Canada are technically illegal because of "dangerous overlaps" in regulation between Canadian and US authorities, some local and state governments have started Canadian purchasing programs for their employees. A number of Massachusetts communities including Springfield, Boston, Newton, Fall River, Somerville, Bellingham, and Worcester currently offer these purchasing plans to city workers and retirees.

The Globe reported the US Food & Drug Administration's reaction as the following:
Thomas McGinniss, the agency's director of pharmacy affairs, said Americans should understand that generic drugs are 50 percent less expensive in the United States than in Canada. He said that many US drug companies have launched programs to offer free and discount drugs to needy patients, and that more seniors will have access to prescription drug coverage in 2006 when the government launches its Medicare prescription drug benefit program.
According to AARP's April report, commonly used US prescription medications increased by 6% in 2004, at twice the inflation rate of 3.6%. With the current trend only expected to grow in magnitude, it is small wonder why many Americans are flocking to cheaper Canadian prescription drugs. At a savings of 20-80%, almost 2 million Americans order prescription drugs from Canada every year. This amounts to a more than $1.3 billion in annual sales for Canadian internet pharmacies, which has tripled over the last 5 years.

There are many people on both sides of this issue. One side has the pharmaceutical companies and the Bush Republicans who strongly oppose Canadian drugs; the other side has the Democrats and moderates who want to please their older constituents. The constant bickering over this issue has led many lawmakers around the real problem: US drug prices.

These is after all a re-importation of many prescription drugs that were manufactured in the US and exported to Canada in the first place. How does Canada get those drugs so much cheaper for their citizens? They negotiate with the big pharmaceutical companies to lower the price for their citizens. It has even been suggested that pressure from the pharmaceutical companies is what brought about the current restrictions on Canadian drug exports, because they did not want Americans to receive the same discount and undercut their market in the US.

So, why is the US worried about drug imports, when it is only a short-term solution at best?

In the big picture, it is only a national healthcare program that can help lower prescription drug prices. It is only in consolidating health care could the US government possibly have the muscle to negotiate a fair pricing agreement with its own pharmaceutical companies. Only with some type of national healthcare, could the government require an adequate return for the millions invested in drug research and advertising.

It is time the US Government stood up to the pharmaceutical companies and hammer out the discounts given to Canada. Being the world's largest consumer of prescription drugs and other healthcare, I doubt the drug companies will have any choice but to listen.

Spain Supports Tolerance

Spain's new socialist government has netted an important victory for its homosexual citizens by overruling the Senate and passing a law that allows gay couples to marry and adopt children. The bill passed the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by a vote of 187 to 147. This makes Spain the 3rd European country to sanction same-sex marriage and the 2nd country to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The law takes affect in one month's time with already 5,000 gay couples lining up to get married, according to the BBC.

Despite the overwhelming public support (over 60% support same-sex marriage), there was strong opposition from both conservatives in both the upper (where the measure was rejected) and lower houses and the Roman Catholic Church. A Roman Catholic group presented members of the parliament with a 600,000 signature petition opposing the law and asking for a referendum on the issue.

According to Guardian, the Catholic Church has played a very visible role in its opposition:
The church is so opposed to the bill it took the rare step of endorsing a rally in which hundreds of thousands, including 20 bishops, marched through Madrid protesting against the legislation on June 18.

Late last year, the spokesman for the Spanish bishops conference, Antonio Martínez Camino, said that allowing gay marriage was like "imposing a virus on society - something false that will have negative consequences for social life".
It is refreshing to know that despite the intolerant attitudes I have come to expect in the US, other countries are moving in the opposite direction. I also applaud the overwhelming Catholic population in Spain for thinking for themselves instead of listening to the hateful dogma spewing out of the Church.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rwandans Get Some Justice

Two Half-brothers Etienne Nzabonimana, 53, and Samuel Ndashyikirwa, 43, were convicted by the court in Brussels today, marking the first of hopefully many prosecutions for the 1994 genocide that killed over 800,000 people.

According to the BBC:
The pair, who will be sentenced after a further hearing, denied charges of helping extremist Hutu militia massacre some 50,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They were tried under a Belgian law allowing trials for war crimes, even when committed by foreigners elsewhere.

Prosecutors said the two businessmen provided weapons, vehicles and beer for militias in Rwanda's south-eastern Kibungo region during the April killings. Dozens of Rwandans testified against the two men.

California Attacks Identity Theft

After the recent high-profile break-ins at various third-party information collectors due to lax security, California has stepped up to the plate. It is the only state in the United States that legally protects consumers from identity theft by forcing information services to notify their customers when a theft occurs and secure that information with regulated safeguards.

According to TechRepublic, California recently went a step further, protecting also local merchants and customers who were unsure their information could be used:
The class-action suit was filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco against CardSystems Solutions, Visa and MasterCard on behalf of California credit card holders and card-accepting merchants, according to a copy of the suit.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of violating California law by neglecting to secure credit card systems and by failing to inform consumers in a timely manner about the security breach at payment processor CardSystems, which was disclosed publicly on June 17 by MasterCard.
In the break-in, intruders got access to details on about 40 million credit cards. Records covering about 200,000 cards are thought to have been transferred out of CardSystems' network. Despite this, credit card companies have said they would
not notify customers unless the accounts are actually abused.

The lawsuit asks for CardSystems, Visa and MasterCard to inform consumers whose personal information was exposed and give special notice to those whose data was confirmed stolen. All involved should also get access to a credit-monitoring service, according to the suit.
It's amazing to me how much of this could have been prevented if 1) credit card companies had monitored the storage companies they used and 2) these storage companies had encrypted the data. The claim that this would slow down information retrieval is valid, but surely personal financial information should have the highest security to prevent its theft. There are only so many ways you can protect a system, but if the data inside that protection is encrypted properly, there is no way it can be used.

Bush's Shooting Gallery

President Bush's primetime speech last night was riddled with references to a non-existent Al Queda connection with Saddam Hussein, the ridiculous assertion that terrorists "hate freedom", and with the ominous suggestion that setting a timetable for Iraq would mean all the terrorists "have to do is to wait us out." This last point had been emphasized well before this speech, but the impact of it still stings. Bush is basically admitting there are no long-term plans in the works for Iraq, and he would rather keep control of the status quo than really improve conditions on the ground.

I have no doubt there will be many critiques of Bush's speech throughout the blogosphere and MSM today. I could point out a number of logical and moral fallacies in the Iraq War, but I've already done so in the past (Filling the Swamp, Heaven's Not Overflowing, Iraq- Effort in Damage Control, etc). What amazes me is how quickly the goal of the US Invasion of Iraq has changed from deposing a dictator with the high likelihood of WMDs to becoming a shooting gallery for terrorists.

Bush clearly articulates this "target for terrorists abroad to stop terrorism at home" theory in his speech last night:
Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of Coalition operations in Iraq — who is also senior commander at this base — General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Usama bin Laden: "This Third World War … is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."

The terrorists know that the outcome will leave them emboldened, or defeated. So, they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction. And there is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take.

The lesson of this experience is clear: The terrorists can kill the innocent — but they cannot stop the advance of freedom.
Unbelievable. So, in response to 9/11, the US decided that since America was already a terrorist target, the US Military would respond by moving into enemy territory and becoming a duck in a shooting gallery? US anti-terrorism policy boils down to a "shoot us there, but not over here" game of cat and mouse? By engaging in the very interventionist policies that infuriate Middle Easterners and Muslims elsewhere, the enemies will be brought out of the woodwork so that US troops will become their target practice. The innocent civilians in Iraq are simply "collateral damage" in the progress of "freedom" that supports US interests.


Despite the lofty goals of a stable Iraq and an international "peace" based on "freedom", US troops might as well wear targets on their uniforms for their presence and agitation is reason enough for their deployment. I am starting to understand what Bush means by the "sacrifice" troops face abroad. He is placing our troops in "harm's way" to simply attract not only insurgents, but more importantly terrorists to come out and attack. I also cannot fathom how supporting US troops would mean the same thing as supporting this failed policy.

What has back-fired is the degree by which the Muslim world has rejected both US Occupation and underlying intentions. The insurgency has grown more violent since recent elections than it ever has, targeting both US troops and civilians not in an effort to push the US out, but to very simply destroy Iraq. And with Bush being so cavalier about his "shooting gallery" approach to Middle Eastern policy, it is more likely a stalemate between the US Coalition and foreign terrorists will become the ultimate result. The poor Iraqis will be left with nothing but rhetoric about "freedom" and rubble.

With this understanding, is there really any question why the insurgency is growing?

Wake up, America.
Your government isn't making you any safer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Selective Remembrances On Iraq

Ray McGovern, co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, sums up the essence of what the US public is going to hear about Iraq tonight from Mr. Bush in his primetime fireside chat:
Forget the documentary evidence (the Downing Street minutes) that the war on Iraq was fraudulent from the outset. Forget that the United States and Britain started pulverizing Iraq with stepped-up bombing months before the president or prime minister breathed a word to Congress or Parliament. Forget that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his merry men, his co-opted military brass, have no clue regarding what U.S. forces are up against in Iraq. Get ready to hear President George W. Bush tell us this evening that we "have to stay the course."

As was the case in Vietnam, the Iraq war is being run by civilians innocent of military experience and disdainful of advice from the colonels and majors who know which end is up. Aping the president's practice of surrounding himself with sycophants, Rumsfeld has promoted a coterie of yes-men to top military ranks, men who "kiss up and kick down," in the words of former Assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford, describing U.N. nominee John Bolton's modus operandi at the State Department.
The insanity of Bush's stubborn attitude in the face of the bloodiest days in Iraq and the downward slope of approval ratings is obvious. I only hope the US people won't embrace the war now that the president has decided finally to address its pitfalls. Every time he speaks, his down-home mannerisms seem to win out over his destructive agenda. It is as if his words inspire the average American to wait-out an increasingly intractable enterprise despite all evidence to the contrary.

Wake up, America!

Supremes in the Digital Age

With most of the MSM awash in the US Supreme Court decision over the Ten Commandments displays (predictably the issue was diluted with its "yes-no" verdict), the real news to technophiles and other computer users was overlooked. Two other court decisions yesterday reveal much about the perceived future of both the internet and file-sharing.

In National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, the court upheld the FCC claim that cable media should be treated as a deregulated information service. Unlike the telephone media which must allow competition, cable carriers do not have to share their cable lines with competitors. This means the natural competition in DSL internet access does not translate to the cable medium. So, the consumer will can only receive internet access from the cable carrier or a small selection of competitors that the cable carrier chooses.

An analogy might be useful here. This is similar to a construction company building a large road between two cities and then restricting access to that road based upon its own whims. This company could insist that all trucks on the road must be on its own or lease/toll the use of that road to intentionally discourage other companies from using it. This would allow the construction company to compete now in other markets using that road. So a small trucking company wants to use this road, but can't afford to re-build it. Then rather than having the option to pay a reasonable toll, the original construction company outprices the toll and thus reduces its competition.

So, is this another government-sanctioned monopoly in the works? No doubt.

CDFinally, in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., the Supreme Court ruled that file-sharing software companies should be held responsible for the illegal reproduction of their customers. This will now open the flood gates even further on the recent attempts by the recording industry to reign in illegal digital reproductions. This not only sets a dangerous precedent in suggesting that a company that offers a product is responsible for its every use, but also brings into question whether the digital world is becoming more regulated than its real world counterpart.

I said this before and I'll say it again. Copyright does not protect individual use of a product. No one can stop me from listening to a song on the radio or reading a book from a friend in the real world. Why is the virtual world any different? (Previous post on this)

So, technology is framed as the enemy to economics yet again while its contribution is ignored.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Corporation for Presidential Broadcasting

In an attempt to dispose of my regular cynicism, I was planning to write a jubilant response to the restoration to CPB (Corporation of Public Broadcasting) of $100 million dollars in funding on Thursday. But, as fate would have it, that entry was not to be. As soon as I began seriously considering writing out the blog entry, I happened upon Frank Rich's piece in the NY Times yesterday.

According to Rich, the whole issue of funding was simply a smokescreen to a much more insidious plot of using CPB as an instrument for US government propaganda. The real story was the $14, 170 paid to Fred Mann from Kenneth Tomlinson (current CPB chairman) to "monitor" PBS programming. What was some of the "raw data" that was collected and analyzed?
Their guests were rated either L for liberal or C for conservative, and "anti-administration" was affixed to any segment raising questions about the Bush presidency. Thus was the conservative Republican Senator Chuck Hagel given the same L as Bill Clinton simply because he expressed doubts about Iraq in a discussion mainly devoted to praising Ronald Reagan. Three of The Washington Post's star beat reporters (none of whom covers the White House or politics or writes opinion pieces) were similarly singled out simply for doing their job as journalists by asking questions about administration policies.
The recent ascension of Patricia Harrison from co-chair of the Republican National Committee to CPB President does not bode well for PBS' journalistic independence. There is no doubt that current administration has been interested in dominating media outlets and twisting them into propaganda machines. The question becomes whether liberals and independents can affect this change in CPB as readily as they did in protecting its funding.

Or is it possible that by protecting its funding, many have fallen into the trap of feeding a growing beast?

Rummy's War

Many Washington officials came to label the gradual escalation of the Vietnam War as "McNamara's War", in recognition of the Secretary of Defense who blindly championed it. I think it is only appropriate that the current mission impossible in Iraq becomes "Rummy's War". Rumsfeld's comments on Fox News Sunday only confirm this assessment:
I mean, the insurgency is going on. It ebbs and flows. At the moment, the insurgents know they have a great deal to lose. The election was a big success. There's political progress. There's economic progress. The insurgency's been about level. And the progress on the political side is so threatening to the insurgents that my guess is it could become more violent between now and the constitution referendum and the election in December.

But does progress on the political side suggest that the insurgency ultimately will lose? I believe so, and I believe that others believe that. If you think about it, that's what General Abizaid said and General Casey and General Myers all said yesterday, that they do not believe that there's a, quote, "quagmire" as people are trying to characterize it.

We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.
The insurgency won't be demolished by US Coalition forces? The debate over an exit strategy seems more important than ever. US goals for occupying Iraq seem as fluid as the waves of insurgent activity. The justifications and means stay the same despite the ends always changing. There is indeed a stubbornness in direction despite the altered direction. It is as if by sheer will and force alone, the current situation will transform itself into the desired outcome militarily, politically, economically, and socially.

Both of these Defense Secretaries don't seem to understand the reality on the ground, but prefer to keep their heads in their own ideologies and assumptions. At least McNamara admitted his assessment in Vietnam was wrong and laid the mistakes squarely on his own shoulders. Mr. McNamara even lamented the historical repetition of Vietnam in current Iraq policy:
We're misusing our influence. It's just wrong what we're doing. It's morally wrong, it's politically wrong, it's economically wrong.
I only hope Mr. Rumsfeld will see the error of his ways before this "quagmire" devours more people and money.

Friday, June 24, 2005

China Kicks Off Cold War II

Yesterday, State-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), China's third-biggest oil producer, offered $18.5 billion bid for U.S. oil company Unocal Corporation. This comes after Unocal already agreed to the terms of the Chevron $16.6 billion takeover, but will now reconsider with CNOOC's offer on the table. Also yesterday, Iowa-based appliance maker Maytag Corp. said is also considering a $1.28 billion buyout offer from China's Haier Group.

These moves highlight a startling trend of aggressive competition between the established economy of the United States and the speeding locomotive of the Chinese economy. China's dependence on petroleum imports (already 40% of its demand) is rapidly growing. With the likelihood that all domestic oil production will peak by 2020 or sooner, industry pushes China and the rest of the world into a cold war of finite resources.

China is currently buying oil rights from Canada, courting America's big supplier Venezuela, and making offers to many other Latin American countries. Africa and the Middle East are also in Chinese sights, with troops deployed in Southern Sudan and many diplomatic posts recently opened in the Middle East. The January "Energy Futures in Asia" State Department report explains this "string of pearls" strategy:
China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China's energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives.

China is looking not only to build a blue-water navy to control the sea lanes, but also to develop undersea mines and missile capabilities to deter the potential disruption of its energy supplies from potential threats, including the U.S. Navy, especially in the case of a conflict with Taiwan.

Wood Mackenzie, China manager at Gavin Thompson describes this recent phenomenon of Chinese capitalism:
There's definitely a coming-of-age thing with Chinese companies -- they are now bold enough, switched-on enough and rich enough to go out and start buying $18 billion and $19 billion-dollar companies.

Going forward as Chinese demand goes up and the Chinese become more aggressive overseas, that (competition) will emerge.

Should we heed the outrage of US lawmakers and prohibit CNOOC's takeover of Unocal? I doubt that could do any good and would probably provoke China enough to look elsewhere for some of its imports.

Should America simply let the current situation alone and do nothing? There is no doubt the demand for energy will only escalate and the national interests of the US and China will inevitably collide. Doing nothing would only be an acceptance of China's tryanical politics and trade policies.

What should America do, then?

One, the US must hold China to the same standards of decency in its trade negotiations and pressure other countries to follow suite. There needs to be give and take, requiring political, economic and social reforms in exchange for economic good will and increased trade benefits. It is ridiculous that neo-liberalist policy has made American businesses compete against state-funded oligarchies, slave labor and hidden currencies. Globalization cannot come close to achieving equality if every nation does not follow the rules.

Two, the US must become less dependent on outmoded fossil fuels. This would circumvent the major upcoming conflict with China and other quickly developing nations. It would also reduce the flawed international policies that prop up America's current energy needs. There is more than the type of energy at stake here; it also the amount that must be reduced. Energy conservation must become more than political catchphrase. The government and its citizens must embrace principles of conservation and recycling wholeheartedly.

But until all of that happens, the initial phases of this energy war seem to be leading into a second Cold War. Combined with the uncertainty of international terrorism, the outcome of this cold war seems bleak for the US.

Exit Strategy in Iraq

In the last year's documentary Control Room, the Al Jazeera journalist Hassan Ibrahim answered the question "Who can defeat the Americans?" with the following:
The Americans will defeat the Americans. I have ultimate faith in the American Constitution.
It is a sad state of affairs when a Sudanese journalist has more faith in US Democracy than most of its population has. Many Americans believe that democracy without a strong level of privacy invasion and military aggression has no chance in the real world. America has let the empty dreams of capitalism usurp the goals of liberty and justice. As a citizen places more and more faith in government policies, that citizen willingly cedes his/her civil liberties and rights to protest.

It is clear no one else is going to stop this war in Iraq. Only Americans can. And until Americans reject the ridiculous notion that supporting troops should include an unwavering faith in the danger US politicians have placed them in, we are only going through the motions of a democracy. What democracy can Iraq possibly have under US occupation and military rule? Support our policies and leave Iraqis in peace. Support our troops and bring them home.

I not only hope Americans will understand this wisdom in Ibrahim's words, but will finally find comfort from terrorism not in hatred or aggression, but in the words of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

US Flag More Sacred Than The Home

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 286-130 to pass yet another flag-burning ban amendment to the US Constitution. Adoption of this amendment by the Senate would make this the first amendment to revise the Bill of Rights, namely the First Amendment. This is the text of the proposed House amendment (H. J. RES. 10) in its entirety:
The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
What powers does the US Congress plan on unleashing on the American populace if a person is found desecrating a flag? Is this really enforceable or is the government trusting on neighbors turning in neighbors over this? "Uh, Bob, I have to report you for that barbecue last week when that flag caught on fire." Who decides what "physical desecration" means? Does wearing the flag as clothing or other garments count? The whole McCarthy House Committee on Un-American Activities comes painfully to mind.


Back in 1995, Senator Hatch made this argument in favor of the amendment:
Isn't it ridiculous that the American people are denied the right to protect their unique national symbol in the law? To fail to protect the flag demeans it.
Though a laudable concept, the truth that seems to escape many people on this issue is the fact the US flag is only that: a symbol of America. This symbol certainly shouldn't trump the rights of individual Americans or their exercise of freedoms that are represented by that symbol. Though I can certainly understand the distaste many have for flag burning, to amend the Bill of Rights to protect a symbol and abridge real rights of US citizens cannot be the answer.

There is also a religious and political aspect to this as well. By warranting such undue protection, the US Flag is elevated beyond other sacred symbols that have no such protection in the Constitution:
The proposed amendment would create an exception for the flag. It would become the only object in America that could not be subjected to symbolic protest. Not even the Cross, Crescent and Star of David merit such protection.

The great danger of turning the symbol of a nation-state into a sacred object is that it implicitly deifies the nation-state itself. The Pledge of Allegiance is taken to the flag "and to the Republic for which it stands." If the mere symbol of the state is made sacred, surely the state itself must be sacred. The right to protest the actions of government is placed on shaky ground.
Then, in an almost orchestrated move, the Supreme Court decided to disperse the notion of private property:
A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth often is at war with individual property rights.

The 5-4 ruling - assailed by dissenting Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in America - was a defeat for Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They had argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.
The surprise is in the neo-liberal agenda surrounding the decision. The justification was based on the fact that local governments, not courts, are better equipped in ascertaining whether development project will benefit the community or not. Oblivious of the libertarian principles of private ownership, the Supreme Court ceded all individual rights to the government. There is a clear assumption here that the individual rights of the few are overwhelmed by the economic gains of the government and corporations that fund it.

Bulldoze house

So, in a nutshell, the US Flag is sacred. No one can touch it. But as for your house? We can bulldoze that and sell the property to the highest bidder. How American! Our symbols are more sacred than the freedoms they represent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Colombian Chaos

poor kidFor the last forty years, the country of Colombia has been ravaged by a deep civil war between three major factions: the leftist rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the rightwing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and the Columbian government's own military and police forces.

The rebel FARC grew out of an indigent movement against a foreign-dominated economy and brutal Colombian government tactics. Despite the growing numbers of poor, many of the political reforms have given way to the lucrative earnings in kidnapping and drug trafficking. Many FARC operations are bankrolled by smaller drug cartels that cannot afford government bribery.

The rightwing AUC was a grass-roots movement within the government's own military in retaliation against the rebels. It is still heavily supported by local police/military as well as rival drug lords. There are still many allegations of covert ties between government and AUC operations. Officially, the Colombian government condemns the AUC though it continues to offer funds and protection to them.

columbian_troopsIn 2000, President Clinton began the $1.3 billion "Plan Colombia", intended to increase the strength of the Colombian military and police to combat the flow of cocaine into the US. President Bush established his own $1.33 billion version in 2001 named the Adean Counter-drug Initiative (ACI), increasing the scope from "narcotic operations" to "narco-terrorism". This helped justify Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's use of certain "anti-terrorism" laws since 2002. The Foreign Military Fund also increased drastically from $17 million in 2003 to almost $100 million in 2005 under the Bush Administration.

The Plan Colombia started as a two-pronged attack against drug traffickers. The first side is to increase the military power of the Colombian government, so that it can better crush the rebels. The second is the highly controversial measure to decrease cocaine supply by dusting cocoa fields with the herbicide glyphosate. There is evidence that this creates more environmental damage to the surrounding areas than it does in reducing cocaine production.

But what is less documented are the US petroleum interests in Colombia. According to, the ties between the Los Angeles Occidental Petroleum (OXY) and US-Colombian policy are very tight indeed:
Occidental was a powerful force behind the passage of Plan Colombia and increased U.S. military aid to Colombia, spending over $9 million on direct lobbying and donating $1.5 million to federal campaigns between 1995 and 2000.

At the center of Bush's 2004 aid package is up to $147 million appropriation to boost security for OXY's frequently bombed Cao Liman oil pipeline. The aid package constitutes an unprecedented public revelation of President Bush's shift from a strategy based on drug interdiction to counter-insurgency. The main beneficiary is OXY who would get more than a $4.50 dollar a barrel subsidy from American taxpayers while the U'wa and other local communities in the region suffer through further environmental devastation and increased violence.
I think it is quite unsurprising the results of this kind of US policy: more chaos than ever before. The idea of increasing aggressionon to reduce it is ludicrous, as the World Policy Institute Special Report details:
According to a study by the Rand Corporation, U.S. weapons and military training have "fanned the flames of the violence in Colombia." Their detailed report, Arms Trafficking and Colombia, traces the path of small arms and light weapons from U.S.-origin stockpiles in Nicaragua, El Salvador and other Cold War battlegrounds in Central America to Colombia, where they are used by State Department-labeled terrorist groups. These weapons have ended up in the hands of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the rightwing AUC.

The U.S. weaponry and military aid that has fueled the brutal war in Colombia have not succeeded in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States. In fact, a study by the Washington Office on Latin America found that the cocaine is 31% cheaper on the streets of the United States than it was before Plan Colombia was initiated.

Along with the FARC and the AUC, the Colombian military and police are collectively responsible for the most human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere.

According to the State Department'’s 2004 Human Rights Report, "some members of the security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including unlawful and extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. Some members of the security forces continued to collaborate with the terrorist AUC, which committed serious abuses."

Some of the worst political violence and human rights abuses took place in areas controlled by U.S. oil companies. A portion of U.S. military assistance is designated for protecting oil businesses- specifically Occidental Petroleum. Amnesty International asserts that in 2003, $99 million in U.S. aid went to protecting the oil pipeline.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the foreign operations bill the week of June 27. U.S. aid to Colombia is one of the provisions of the appropriations package. The bill currently contains President Bush's full request of $742 million in aid for a new phase of Plan Colombia. Last week, the House subcommittee on foreign operations rejected a request to add another $130 million to the bill for additional aid to the military/police and coca crop fumigation; nevertheless, the funding in this bill is still primarily directed toward military aid. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) will offer an amendment to cut a portion of the military aid and transfer it to developmental aid instead when the bill reaches the floor for a vote.

Still not convinced that US funding is just making the Colombian chaos worse? Read Global Exchange's Top 10 Reasons to Oppose US Military Aid. If you want the US to stop funding more violence and begin funding important infrastructure in Colombia, then drop your representatives a line. Let's focus on solutions, not create bigger problems.

US protest

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Syrian Situation

Despite the January elections in Iraq during the current US Occupation, President Bush called for complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in March:
I'd like to reiterate my call, and that is, in order for those elections to be free in Lebanon, there must be -- the Syrians must remove their troops, as well as their intelligence services. One of the things a lot of people don't understand is that Syrian influence is heavy-handed through the involvement of intelligence services throughout the government. And they must remove both in order for the election to be free.
Support of Saad HaririThis tacit about-face in US policy towards Lebanon and Syria followed closely on the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri assassination in February and the ensuing riots. What preceded it was an intricate game of balance between recognizing Lebanon as a sovereign state and staying on the good side of Syria. In the current Bush administration, ties had been even closer with Syria as it was seen as another country to bolster international support for Bush's "War on Terror". The former Syrian alliance in Desert Storm I also played into US policy as Bush planned for a preemptive war against Iraq.

The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin documents the strong ties between the US State Department and Syrian authorities as early as 2001 (well before the Iraq War and 9/11):
During his March 7 testimony before the House International Relations Committee, Secretary of State Powell presented a rather odd and flattering portrayal of Assad. The Syrian president, he said, supports the administration's new sanctions policy because "he, too, is concerned about weapons of mass destruction" - a rather surprising statement given that Syria possesses the Middle East's largest chemical weapons arsenal. In response to a question from Rep. Engel about what the administration is doing to press for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, Powell said cautiously that it would be beneficial to all concerned parties if "eventually at some point" the Syrian army left Lebanon. "I'd like to see it tomorrow, but it isn't going to happen tomorrow," he added, conspicuously neglecting to actually call upon Syria to do so.

Powell's decision to abruptly cancel a stopover in Beirut after discussing tensions in south Lebanon with Syrian officials was interpreted by many Lebanese as a tilt toward Syria at the expense of Lebanon. Surprisingly, this decision even managed to offend members of Lebanon's pro-Syrian puppet regime. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri angrily declared that "it is not enough for him to visit Damascus" in a televised interview. Addressing Powell directly, Hariri added that "Lebanon is Lebanon and Syria is Syria."

More ominously, Bush and Powell both refused to meet with the patriarch of Lebanon's Maronite Church during his visit to the United States this month, despite considerable prodding from representatives of the Lebanese American community. Powell even declined to make an appearance at a luncheon held in Sfeir's honor at the Vatican embassy in Washington on March 9, saying that his schedule was too full.
In 2003, Congress issued the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act after much public pressure after the Iraq invasion. Then in 2004, US forces detected a large concentration of insurgents flowing from Syria and Iran into Iraq. This not only threatened to slow down US operations in Iraq, but also expose the instability of Bush's terrorism policies. Bush declared economic sanctions against Syria based on the following reasoning:
Similarly, I urge the Syrian government to offer its full support to the goal of a stable and sovereign Iraq, beginning with redoubled efforts along the border to prevent the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq. The Syrian government has taken some steps in this regard, but must do more, given that individuals bent on sowing terror continue to cross into Iraq from Syria.

Additionally, it is time for the Syrian government to comply with its obligations under UN Security Council resolution 1483 and immediately transfer assets belonging to the former Iraqi regime to the Development Fund for Iraq.
The very brief mention of "occupation of Lebanon" proves how important the Iraqi relationship was in changing the entrenched US attitudes toward Syria. The Lebanese assassination was used as a vehicle to prove to Damascus the seriousness of US interests in the region. Perhaps, as the US "encouraged" the Ukranian Orange Revolution through protest training, organization and funding, the ensuing riots in Beirut were also "encouraged". It was not the freedom of the Lebanese people that was at stake here, but Syrian compliance with Iraq.

Like any symbolic gesture lacking real support, the results were mixed.

Responding to three weeks of anti-Syria demonstrations, a massive, Hizballah (Hezbollah)-organized rally filled a central Beirut square on March 8th to show support for Syria and reject the withdrawal. Hizballah, defined not only by its support of Syria, but also as an Islamic terrorist organization by the US State Department is extremely popular in Lebanon, despite its Syrian ties. Earlier in June, Hezbollah and its allies won all the parliament seats for South Lebanon with overwhelming support:
The alliance won all 17 contested seats, in addition to six seats where there had been no challengers. The two anti-Israeli, pro-Syrian groups won more than 80% of the votes. Turnout was 45%, officials said.
This, despite the Hariri-led alliance's victory after the third of four rounds of parliamentary votes on Sunday. The 44 -35 lead by the Hariri alliance over Hizballah is a tenuous majority. Today's car bomb killing of a former anti-Syrian politician proved that. It also reiterates the importance of the global community in supporting this fledgling democracy after a long brutal occupation.

It also offers as ominous foreboding in the protracted US occupation of Iraq. Will the world community at some point also demand US withdrawal from Iraq as they did of Syria from Lebanon? Will the recent Iraqi elections be seen as illegitimate as the previous Lebanese elections under Syrian occupation?

Let us hope it won't come to that. The American people have to wake up before that happens...

... right?

Monday, June 20, 2005

No Expertise = Bad Intelligence

Since 9/11, Americans have been reassured that though a terrorist attack could occur at any given moment, the government was undergoing sweeping acts of reform and consolidation to better protect the homeland. As Bush stated in his October radio address in 2004:
To protect America, our country needs the best possible intelligence. We are expanding and strengthening the capabilities of the CIA. We are transforming the FBI into an agency whose primary focus is stopping terrorism. We have established the Terrorist Threat Integration Center so we can bring together all the available intelligence on terrorist threats in one place.
So how close to reality is this statement? How is the intelligence community making Americans safer? After 9/11 failures and recent Iraqi WMD mistakes, how is our intelligence going from "bad" to "better"?

We know that the infamous USA Patriot Act and 9/11 Committee Reforms have done little to "bring together all the available intelligence" (previous post) . Even though the CIA knows exactly where Osama Bin Laden is, their "expanding capabilities" do not allow them to extract him, according to CIA Director Porter Goss:
In the chain that you need to successfully wrap up the war on terror, we have some weak links and I find that until we strengthen all the links, we're probably not going to be able to bring Mr bin Laden to justice.

We are making very good progress on it.

[In] dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play.
As one might expect after 9/11, Gross' cryptic words sound more like business boardroom acrobatics than the detailed intelligence analysis of a CIA Director. Though a security issue might exist in exposing Laden's exact location, these words to an overly panicked US population are hardly reassuring. Not to be outdone, the FBI had its own dirty laundry to air today:
"A bombing case is a bombing case," said Dale Watson, the FBI's terrorism chief in the critical two years after Sept. 11, 2001. "A crime scene in a bank robbery case is the same as a crime scene, you know, across the board."

Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald agreed. "You need leadership. You don't need subject matter expertise," Bald testified in an ongoing FBI employment case. "It is certainly not what I look for in selecting an official for a position in a counterterrorism position."
So, after all of the supposed "reforms" in the US Intelligence community, the FBI is thinking the exact same way it thought before 9/11? They don't know about the details but they understand the "big picture"? Gary Bald radically suggests that "leadership" trumps "expertise", as if leadership exists in some kind of vacuum outside of the current terrorist environment.

"Leadership" that leads America where? Without subject matter expertise, the destination is certainly in question. If there's no one worried about the details, how can a "big picture" even exist? The FBI should change their department name from "counterterrorism" to "counteranything" with this kind of incompetence at the helm. If there was ever a good example of that "blind leading blind" analogy, this would undoubtly be it.

As the FBI and others have been so forthcoming about their intelligence gathering techniques, let me state my own modest formula:
No Expertise = Bad Intelligence
Email your senators and let them know that Americans want the best possible intelligence, not spin.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Global Worming

Since the very beginning, many Republicans and some moderate Democrats have been in denial of global warming and its environmental ramifications. By rejecting the 1997 Kyoto Treaty in 2001, the Bush Administration has been clear where their allegiances are in the "War on Pollution": Big Business. In justifying his position, Bush had this to say:
We'll be working with our allies to reduce greenhouse gases. But I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers.
It is true that in reducing greenhouse gases, companies would be forced to follow more stringent governmental regulations. But it surely does not follow that this would hurt the American economy, especially since the treaty was signed by 54 other nations.

Hurt American workers? Would companies actually increase the downsizing trends that were already developing thanks to globalization and off-shoring? It is doubtful that increased regulation would have caused industry-wide unemployment or wage reduction. Quite the contrary, more positions would probably have been created to follow those regulations.

There were some good arguments that the Kyoto Treaty alone would not have reduced greenhouse gases significantly, but there is no denying this was a good first step at worldwide reduction. Much evidence indicates there would have been at least slow down of global warming, even if a reversal was unlikely.

However, these were not the ones the Bush was considering. Based upon State Department documents leaked to the press, there was a larger reason the Kyoto Treaty was rejected: Exxon Mobil said to. That's right, the big oil giant was instrumental in US Environmental Policy:
In briefing papers given before meetings to the US under-secretary of state, Paula Dobriansky, between 2001 and 2004, the administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company's "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable. Other papers suggest that Ms Dobriansky should sound out Exxon executives and other anti-Kyoto business groups on potential alternatives to Kyoto.
There were probably many other environmental policies fixed around Exxon Mobil's advice, including the misnamed "Clear Skies Act" (which attempts to weaken the existing Clean Air Act by lowering emission standards and introducing a pollution bartering system) and the special-interest triumph Energy Bill in 2004 (gives oil and gas construction companies a "free pass" to avoid clean water laws and more time to comply with reduced air pollution standards found in the Clean Air Act). The lengths the government was willing to go to appease the fossil fuel industry are astounding.

Since 2001, the Bush Administration, though admitting the reality of climate change, has consistently denied the impact from human activity. Rather than arguing to decrease the role of human activity by reducing pollution, the administration has preferred to attack the scientific evidence and promise to investigate it further. In June 2001, Bush summarized in his own way, the "findings" of the National Academy of Sciences:
The [National] Academy's report tells us that we do not know how much effect natural fluctuations in climate may have had on warming. We do not know how much our climate could, or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it.
Based on this statement, anyone would wonder how global warming is a science. If the only finding the National Academy of Sciences has was there is this thing called "global warming", then Bush should have dropped all of their funding. But that is the key: funding. The Bush mantra has always been: "If we give someone money, they should follow your orders." After all, that was what the fossil fuel industry was forcing Bush and company to do. Why not scientists?

James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, rejected that argument. Speaking at the University of Iowa in 2004, he had this to say about the administration's treatment of science:
In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now.
That wasn't the worst of it. Last week, Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and most decidely not a scientist was discovered making alterations on many environmental reports, according to the NY Times. Between 2002 and 2003, Mr. Cooney edited these documents with the intent of creating more uncertainty within the official language:
In one instance in an October 2002 draft of a regularly published summary of government climate research, "Our Changing Planet," Mr. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty by adding the word "extremely" to this sentence: "The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult."

In a section on the need for research into how warming might change water availability and flooding, he crossed out a paragraph describing the projected reduction of mountain glaciers and snowpack. His note in the margins explained that this was "straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings."

A sentence originally read, "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change." In a neat, compact hand, Mr. Cooney modified the sentence to read, "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change."
Where is Mr. Cooney going now, after resigning? He is going to work at Exxon Mobil this fall. Now, that is what I call kickback.

Ahead of the G8 Summit, the Bush administration has even succeeded in lowering the official priority of global warming from "urgent" to "serious". The following alterations were also made to the accompanying report:
One deleted section, for example, initially cited "increasingly compelling evidence of climate change, including rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures, retreating ice sheets and glaciers, rising sea levels, and changes to ecosystems."

It added: "Inertia in the climate system means that further warming is inevitable. Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans."

Instead, U.S. negotiators substituted a sentence that reads, "Climate change is a serious long- term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe."
Again, the Bush Administration is trying to worm its way out of global warming. I wish I could claim shock and surprise at these findings, but they simply follow the same trends I have come to expect from this presidency.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Liberation, NOT Torture

The Daily Kos had an interesting article today. Kos addressed the logical fallacies in the administration and many Republicans' arguments over the detainment strategy and the ensuing torture in these cases:
Remember when torture was bad? And getting rid of it was good?

And let's not forget, "torture" was used as a rationale for this war -- as in, we'll invade and end the torture.

Of course, none of that has happened. The torture that was so bad under Saddam, is equally bad under U.S. command... And these cowards -- these people who will neither serve the cause they claim is so vital, nor urge others to serve it -- now rush to defend behavior that is indefensible?
Kos hit the nail on the head. What more can be said? Shut down Gitmo and open a new phase in the War On Terror!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The American Taliban

Any quote can be taken out of context and manipulated to represent a very specific point of view. But some quotes are so egregious and inflammatory that no context can justify them. The American Taliban is just such a collection. Most of those quoted support domininion Christian fundamentalism likened to their radical Muslim counterparts.

If you can handle them, here are just a few of the bile-raising quotes in the collection:
Ann Coulter

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

"Not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."

"Being nice to people is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity, as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of 'kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed."

Bailey Smith

"With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."

David Trosch

"Sodomy is a graver sin than murder. – Unless there is life there can be no murder."

Gary North (Institute for Christian Economics)

"The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church's public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship."

"This is God's world, not Satan's. Christians are the lawful heirs, not non-Christians."

George Bush Sr. (President of the United States)

"I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

James Kennedy (Center for Reclaiming America)

"The Christian community has a golden opportunity to train an army of dedicated teachers who can invade the public school classrooms and use them to influence the nation for Christ."

James Watt (Secretary of the Interior)

"We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand."

Jerry Falwell

"AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharoah's chariotters."

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."

John Whitehead (Rutherford Institute)

"The [Supreme] Court, by seeking to equate Christianity with other religions, merely assaults the one faith. The Court in essence is assailing the true God by democratizing the Christian religion."

Kay O'Connor (Kansas Senate Republican)

"I'm an old-fashioned woman. Men should take care of women, and if men were taking care of women today, we wouldn't have to vote."

Randall Terry (Operation Rescue)

"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."

"I don't think Christians should use birth control. You consummate your marriage as often as you like – and if you have babies, you have babies."
Just sickening...

Bolton - US Ambassador or Ass?

John_R._BoltonAgain, the Republicans are crying foul (including McCain this time) over the "stalling tactics" used by Joseph Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut on John Bolton's nomination as US Ambassador to the UN. Unsurprisingly, Bill Frist even used the word "filibuster" to describe the Democratic request for documents on Syria and 10 instances of communications intercepted by the National Security Agency. This, despite the fact the Foreign Relations Committee voted to send the Bolton nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation mainly because of Republican senators' doubts about him.

There is much evidence to suggest he is a hothead with a hatred for the UN. But I thought I would let him describe himself with his own quotes:
John Bolton on the United Nations and International Cooperation

"[M]any Republicans in Congress--and perhaps a majority--not only do not care about losing the General Assembly vote but actually see it as a 'make my day' outcome. Indeed, once the vote is lost… this will simply provide further evidence to why nothing more should be paid to the UN system."

- The Washington Times, 1998

'If the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.''

- 1994 Global Structures Convocation, New York, NY

“There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world and that is the United States when it suits our interest and we can get others to go along.''

- 1994 Global Structures Convocation, New York, NY

"If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."

- National Public Radio with Juan Williams, 2000

Bolton on International Treaties and Justice for Perpetrators of Genocide

“The Senate vote [on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] is also an unmistakable signal that America rejects the illusionary protections of unenforceable treaties."

- The Jerusalem Post, 1999

Renouncing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court “was the happiest moment of my government service."

- The Wall Street Journal, 2002.

"Support for the International Criminal Court concept is based largely on emotional appeals to an abstract ideal of an international judicial system."

- Statement before the House International Relations Committee, 2000. Bolton on Human Rights and Nongovernmental Organizations

"We do not support the promotion of international advocacy activity by international or non-governmental organizations, particularly when those political or policy views advocated are not consistent with the views of all member states.”

- Statement to the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects, 9 July 2001.
Bolton was described by a former colleague as "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" whose attempt to intimidate a mid-level analyst raises "real questions about his suitability for high office". With this kind of rap sheet, it really makes me wonder how Bolton got the UN Ambassador nomination in the first place.

Then, I realized the Senate's error. Bolton was actually nominated as an "ass", not ambassador. So, really this another one of Bush's little jokes.

Contact your senator and inform them of the mistake. And sign the Peace Action Petition so that the rest of world realizes the grievous blunder.

Update 6/20/2005:
According to the AP, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is keeping open the possibility that President Bush will bypass the Senate to get John R. Bolton installed as U.N. ambassador temporarily if Democrats persist in holding up a confirmation vote.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

US Patriot Act Part Deux?

Last Thursday in Columbus OH, President Bush continued in earnest his campaign for renewing the US Patriot Act. In that speech to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Bush made the following two claims:
''The Patriot Act closed dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities, gaps the terrorists exploited when they attacked us on September the 11th.

"Terrorist threats against us will not expire at the end of the year and neither should the protections of the Patriot Act.
In a speech the next day at the National Counterterrorism Center outside Washington, Bush continued to overstate the successes of the US Patriot Act:
One of the most important tools to combat terror is the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act has helped save American lives and it has protected American liberties. For the sake of our national security, the United States Congress needs to renew all the provisions of the Patriot Act and, this time, Congress needs to make those provisions permanent.
Not only do none of these statements refer to the actual sunset provisions set to expire in the Act (of which law enforcement insisted were rarely used if at all), the administration is again trying to claim success where none is readily apparent. Rejecting the excuse that "the terrorist only need to be right once; we need to be right 100% of the time", there is staggering very little terrorist prosecution under the US Patriot Act and no convictions at all. The only assurances the public is given are the kind Bush epitomizes: general "don't worry about us - you're safe" arguments.

What information do we have about the US Patriot Act and its "successes"?

Well, remember those "dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities"? Neither the US Patriot Act, nor the 9/11 Commission reforms have changed anything, except to make operational procedures possibly worse. According to USA Today:
The U.S. government's rushed effort to reorganize after the 9/11 attacks has resulted in overlapping layers of bureaucracy, no single point of accountability and fuzzy lines of responsibility among the agencies that are combating terrorism, a former top CIA official said Monday.
The main issues in the FBI include lack of responsibility management, high turnover (the average time in the FBI for an agent is 15 months!), and difficulties in attracting skilled analysts who understand Arabic and Muslim traditions.

What about "saving American lives" and "protecting American liberties"?

In September 2004, Section 505 of the US Patriot Act was ruled unconstitutional (challenging the FBI's use of a type of administrative subpoena known as a national security letter to ISPs), while Section 805 was ruled "vague and in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments" in regards to the definition of "expert advice or assistance" to terrorists. As a matter of fact, many provisions of the US Patriot Act are being used in non-terrorism cases, including those involving drug trafficking, prostitution and even insider trading.

What about the bipartisan support of the new Domestic Security Enhancement Act (US Patriot Act Part II) which expands many of the wire-tapping provisions of the original Patriot Act?
Now, right-leaning groups such as the American Conservative Union, the Eagle Forum and Gun Owners of America say they are concerned that American citizens could also be victimized by what they say are unconstitutional law enforcement powers allowed by the Patriot and the enhancement act.The heart of the issue, according to conservatives, liberals and constitutional scholars, is the effect that USA Patriot has already had on issues of probable cause and due process, and that both of those concepts would be further eroded with the so-called Patriot II Act.
The issue is simple. The US Patriot Act is needed to combat terrorism, but in its present form it creates more loopholes than it closes. The so-called SAFE Act (SECURITY AND FREEDOM ENSURED ACT (S. 1709)) attempts to reform the following:
Limits the use of “John Doe roving” wiretaps. SAFE § 2 amends 50 U.S.C. 1805 to ensure that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) wiretap orders meet the 4th Amendment’s “particularity” requirement and clearly limit the scope of the wiretap. “Roving” wiretap orders that do not specify the facility or location to be tapped must at least identify the person whose communications are targeted, while “John Doe” wiretap orders that do not specify the targeted person must at least identify the facility or location to be tapped.

Limits the use of secret “sneak & peek” searches. SAFE § 3 amends 18 U.S.C. 3103a to codify pre-PATRIOT standards for allowing delayed notice of a government search, limiting secret searches to those situations where notice would endanger life or limb, result in flight from prosecution, or result in evidence destruction/tampering.

Protects Americans’ sensitive, personal information from government access without justification. SAFE § 4 amends FISA to protect private records held by third parties. SAFE restores the pre-PATRIOT requirement that there exist specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the party whose records are sought is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power, such as a spy or an international terrorist, before a court order for the records is issued.

Prevents the government from accessing library records without judicial approval. SAFE § 5 amends 18 U.S.C. 2709 to prevent the use of “National Security Letters” to obtain library records. National Security Letters are administrative subpoenas that are issued directly by the Justice Department without any judicial oversight.

Expands PATRIOT’s sunset provision, such that the following PATRIOT sections will expire on December 31, 2005:

§ 213. Authority for delaying notice of the execution of a warrant.
§ 216. Modification of authorities relating to use of pen registers and trap and trace devices.
§ 219. Single-jurisdiction search warrants for terrorism.
§ 505. Miscellaneous national security authorities.
Protect our US Liberties and support the SAFE Act. Let Congress know that that there are some Americans that want to keep our freedoms in tact.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bring Back Good Journalism

After the recent Deepthroat disclosure of W. Mark Felt, it seems natural to compare the journalistic standards of Bernstein and Woodward to those standards demonstrated in main stream media now. The comparision certainly comes up short; the Golden Age of journalism is over .

Essayist Russ Baker points out the following reasons why and how it can be revived in his article "Tomorrow's Woodwards And Bernsteins":
Financial: Today, with ownership of the media increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, everything is about generating larger and larger profit margins and better quarterly corporate reports. Putting a reporter on a six-month project with no guaranteed outcome is less “cost-effective” than having that person crank out a new article every day. Quality and quantity are often natural enemies.

Conflicting Interests: The large media corporations are often part of larger conglomerates with a strong interest in obscuring the most crucial revelations. Obviously NBC, a small unit within the huge military contractor GE, has a hard time doing stories about military contractors who dominate Washington decision-making, help promote unnecessary wars and waste a fortune in taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, the media corporations increasingly find themselves with pending business before the very same administration they ought to be giving fits to—such as when the FCC is considering changes in ownership rules that will benefit the company.

Intimidation: Years of criticism from the right-wing "noise machine" has made news organizations wary of tough, original reporting that could bring accusations of a liberal bias. In addition, this administration has masterfully played up mini-scandals about reporting techniques (including the "60 Minutes" use of improperly-authenticated documents about Bush’s National Guard service, and Newsweek’s reporting on allegations that U.S. interrogators threw copies of the Quran into the toilet.) These small tempests have served to distract the public from the larger questions about official wrongdoing: on the one hand Bush’s dereliction of military duty, and on the other the horrific mismanagement of prisons in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan.

They’ve also intimidated news decision-makers. Tales of pulled punches and initiatives not pursued continue to leak out of this country’s newsrooms. And we’ve seen an unfortunate increase in news executives’ zeal for prematurely confessing error and professing eagerness for self-reform.

Against this backdrop, old-fashioned muckraking appears doomed unless concerned individuals and institutions take bold action.

Here are a few ideas:

1) Mount a public education effort to teach the public about the importance of investigative journalism. Stress the differences between public issue investigations and gossipy exposes—a difference the public seems increasingly unable to comprehend.

2) Protect whistleblowers so that those with the inside information can come forward without imperiling themselves, their families and their careers. Acknowledge the indispensability of anonymous sources (but only real Deep Throats, not “senior government officials” who use the cloak of anonymity to float material sanctioned by their bosses.)

3) Recognize that good journalism and high profits just aren’t a viable fit. Investigative journalism is too essential, too elemental to freedom and self-governance to be left to the vagaries of Wall Street.

4) Support efforts to acknowledge the crucial role of journalism in a free society by finding alternative ways of paying for it.

At a time when public funding of journalism is retrenching—witness the crisis at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—we will almost certainly need to ask foundations and visionary individuals of means to step up to the plate. Thus far, such largesse has been minimal. But it’s getting too late in the day to hold back investing in the truth. The time is now for a Herculean commitment.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Redefining Liberty and Justice - Part II

Part II of II

gitmo_detainee3It is clear the Bush administration has taken great pains to marginalize detainees and remove them outside the protections of national and international law. This provides many advantages in both the treatment and continued detainment of these individuals.

Because there are no protections guaranteed to these detainees, the executive branch is free to grant or deny liberties as wanted or needed. This gives interrogators increased flexibility both with tools and techniques (possibly even torture). The detainment centers can also exist outside lawful boundaries, with only defined sections open to international agencies.

Because these detainees belong to no legal category and are between the margins, the military can be free to create its own system of classification with no interference whatsoever. This also gives the administration latitude in re-classifying detainee groups or individuals as is politically expedient. The movement becomes a confusing blur of shells where one day a detainee becomes "X" and the next day "Z". The practice also lends itself well to creating "ghost detainees" who have no classification whatsoever and thus undocumented within the system itself.

By keeping the international community off-guard like this, the likelihood of a unified backlash is greatly reduced. But the ingenuity of indefinite detainment in the "War on Terror" is in giving other nation states the opportunity to imprison their own dissidents as terrorists. Many countries such as Spain, Britain, and Russia have taken advantage of this. If they were to decry the American detainment, theirs too would become suspect.

In May of 2003, the Bush administration astounded many by declaring Taliban detainees worthy of Geneva Convention protections, but then waffling on their POW status. All other detainees (presumably those associated with Al Queda and other terrorist organization) were declared unprotected, despite the protections in the Fourth Geneva Convention. The announcement went further, reducing the relevance of the Geneva Convention itself:
The war on terrorism is a war not envisaged when the Geneva Convention was signed in 1949. In this war, global terrorists transcend national boundaries and internationally target the innocent. The President has maintained the United States' commitment to the principles of the Geneva Convention, while recognizing that the Convention simply does not cover every situation in which people may be captured or detained by military forces, as we see in Afghanistan today.

What this announcement signifies is the President's dedication to the importance of the Geneva Convention and to the principles that the Geneva Convention holds. In terms of the treatment of the prisoners, even though the President has determined that they will not be treated legally as prisoners of war, they will be afforded every courtesy and every value that this nation applies to treating people well while they're in our custody. So it will not change their material life on a day-to-day basis; they will continue to be treated well because that's what the United States does.
What can this mean? The Geneva Convention is out-of-date, but at the same time as important today as it was then? These detainees are being treated according to the Geneva Conventions even though the President is careful to reject the legal applicability? These paradoxes point to only one conclusion: the detainees should have no legal basis for challenge or redress.

There was one legal victory against these broad policies, at least for US citizens living in America. In December of 2003, a federal appeals court ruled that the president does not have the power to detain an American citizen seized on US soil as an enemy combatant. This decision did not apply to the detainment of US citizens in other countries however. Nor does it protect any foreign nationals on US soil from being detained.

The strange assumption in the US detainment policy is its ignorance of nationality and citizenship. Regardless of a suspect's citizenship, he/she are treated as a transient without any embassy protection. This basically reduces a detainee to becoming an international refugee outside the boundary of any nation's civil code.

In April of 2005, the Pentagon polluted the legal waters even more by broadening their definition of "enemy combatant" as follows:
c. Additional Classification. In reference to the Global War on Terror there is an additional classification of detainees who, through their own conduct, are not entitled to the privileges and protection of the Geneva Conventions. These personnel, when detained, are classified as enemy combatants.

(1) Enemy Combatant (EC). Although they do not fall under the provisions of the Geneva Convention, they are still entitled to be treated humanely, subject to military necessity, consistent with the principles of GC, and without any adverse distinction based on race, color, religion, gender, birth, wealth, or any similar criteria, and afforded adequate food, drinking water, shelter, clothing, and medical treatment; allowed the free exercise of religion consistent with the requirements of such detention. There is a comprehensive list of terrorists and terrorist groups identified under Executive Order 13224, located at Anyone detained that is affiliated with these organizations will be classified as EC. Furthermore, there are individuals that may not be affiliated with the listed organizations that may be classified as an EC. On these specific individuals, guidance should be obtained from higher headquarters. As defined by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, an EC is defined as:

“Any person that US or allied forces could properly detain under the laws and customs of war. For purposes of the war on terror an enemy combatant includes, but is not necessarily limited to, a member or agent of Al Qaeda, Taliban, or another international terrorist organization against which United States is engaged in an armed conflict. This may include those individuals or entities designated in accordance with references E or G, as identified in applicable Executive Orders approved by the Secretary of Defense.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense global screening criteria, Feb 20, 2004

Reference E – Comprehensive List of Terrorists and Terrorist Groups Identified Under Executive Order 13224 (updates at

Reference G Patterns of Global Terrorism. Department of State, 2002 (updates at

(2) Enemy combatants may be identified into the following sub-categories: (a) Low Level Enemy Combatant (LLEC). Detainees who are not a threat beyond the immediate battlefield or that do not have high operational or strategic intelligence or law enforcement value that requires the specialized type of exploitation capability available at a Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center.

(b) High Value Detainee (HVD). A detainee who possesses extensive and/or high level information of value to operational commanders, strategic intelligence or law enforcement agencies and organizations.

(c) Criminal Detainee. A person detained because he is reasonably suspected of having committed a crime against local nationals or their property or a crime not against US or coalition forces. Excludes crimes against humanity or atrocities. (Note: this sub-category may also be applied to CIs).

(d) High Value Criminal (HVC). A detainee who meets the criteria of a HVD and is reasonably suspected of having committed crimes against humanity or committed atrocities, a breach of humanitarian law that is an inhumane act committed against any person.

(e) Security Detainee. A civilian interned during a conflict or occupation for his or her own protection.

By detailing specific types of "enemy combatants", the Pentagon enlarged the criteria for indefinite detainment and created its own heirarchy of justice, without any civilian basis. All present and future oversight is predicated upon the consent of the executive branch with no civilian legal recourse.
This is how the US fights terrorism: spreading liberty and justice by denying liberty and justice. No American in his/her right mind should support the administration's detainment strategy.

Be a true patriot and support Amnesty International now.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Redefining Liberty and Justice - Part I

Part I of II

There seems to be a false sense among most of the US public and its main stream media that the Bush administration and its military forces have a clear and working definition of what constitutes "terrorism". By moving suspects in the "War on Terror" into detainee status, there have been many legal and moral pitfalls . The very principles upon which the Bush Doctrine is based come into serious question:
In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. Fathers and mothers in all societies want their children to be educated and to live free from poverty and violence. No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.
The concept of indefinite detainment is nothing novel. The British used this strategy against both the early American colonists and Northern Ireland. The Soviet Union detained both Polish and later anti-government dissidents in prison and labor camps (gulags). The concept is not new to the US either, having detained about 120,000 Japanese Americans in War Relocation Camps after Pearl Harbor.

What is surprising is the degree to which the current administration has waffled in its labeling of its detainees. According to the Third Geneva Convention, an "enemy combatant" is defined as the following:
Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict

or members of militias not under the command of the armed forces
that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
that of carrying arms openly;
that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

or are members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

or inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.
A captured or surrendering lawful enemy combatant is then defined as a Prisoner Of War (POW) and is safeguarded by provisions in the Third Geneva Convention during their imprisonment. If there is any doubt of an enemy combatant's wartime activities, then that prisoner must be held as a POW until a "competent tribunal" comes to a decision. If that POW is determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant (such as spies, mercenaries, members of militias not under the command of the armed forces who do not fit into the categories specified above, and those who have breached other laws or customs of war), then he/she are held under Fourth Geneva Convention provisions until a "fair and regular trial" commences. In all cases, that prisoner must be either prosecuted or released upon the resolution of the conflict.

flags of the worldBy using the phrase "War on Terror" , the Bush Administration seemed to have adopted the international definition of "enemy combatant", and thus embraced the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. This, however, was not the case. Arguing that terrorists do not belong to a specific nation state, the Administration denied application of the Geneva Conventions to their current detainees. This is summarized in the infamous Gonzales memo which states on no uncertain terms that "the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War does not apply to the conflict with Al Queda."

The argument was they were illegal enemy combatants, but somehow still denied the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But this was only the beginning of the contortions the Administration was willing to undergo in redefining human rights.