Saturday, March 13, 2004

Please, John, Don't Hurt 'Em! 

Big John is calling out Texas George, Yale style.
Democratic presidential candidateJohn Kerry, visiting the site of one of the most famous political debates in U.S. history, challenged President Bush on Saturday to a "real discussion about America's future" in monthly debates.

Kerry, already engaged in a running exchange of negative ads with Bush before the November election, said, "America shouldn't have to put up with eight months of sniping."

Kerry said modern candidates "find it easier to exchange insults than to face issues" and called for a campaign that "honors the best in America."

"Surely, if the attack ads can start now at least we can agree to start a real discussion about America's future," Kerry said, trying to take the high road early in a campaign already marked by bitter charges and counterattacks.

Masterstroke, John. This is exactly the sort of posture he should be taking. Stay "above the fray", look Presidential, and remain engaged. I would only suggest that he ramp up criticism of Bush's national security flaws and disastrous foreign policy, without getting worried about saying the wrong thing, and watch the polls drop. He can shrink Bush down to the stuttering, inept phony he is, and beat the conspirators at their own game. This is a terrific challenge, and I cannot wait to watch George and Scotty try to squirm out from under it.


More On Spain 

The Spanish government has made some arrests in this week's bombings that killed at least 200 hundred people
Three Moroccans and two Indians arrested in connection with deadly train bombings in Madrid were being questioned by Spanish authorities as the country prepared for general elections.

The five were apprehended in the capital late Saturday as investigators followed up clues gleaned from a bag containing an unexploded bomb from one of the sites of the attacks.

It looks like the authorities want to make quick work of whoever is behind the dreadful attack. Some officials still refuse to indicate the hand of al-Qaeda.

The minister, who had previously declared the Basque separatist group ETA was the government's prime suspect, refused to say whether the arrests pointed more towards involvement by Islamic extremists.

"We must not discount anything," he said.

Spain also has elections tomorrow, and the ruling conservative party (PP) is facing a growing public sentiment of ressentment.
Late Saturday, one night after nearly 12 million Spaniards -- more than a quarter of the entire population -- held nationwide rallies against the attacks, other much smaller demonstrations sprang up against the party.

Shouting "The bombs on Iraq have exploded in Madrid" and "Resign", a crowd of 2,000 gathered in front of the PP's Madrid headquarters but were held back by police in riot gear.

Many held aloft placards with the word "Peace" that were left over from massive anti-war rallies held February 15 last year, just before the United States invaded Iraq.

PP leader Mariano Rajoy went on television late Saturday to demand an immediate end to the anti-government rallies.

Up to 90 percent of the Spanish population opposed the war on Iraq and bitterness generated by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for Washington subsists.
Recent polls had shown PP with a slight edge, but all that may have changed with the bombings.


Rachel Corrie Not Forgotten 

Thanks to Steve at ILTW for this one.

Remember Rachel Corrie? The American activist who was run over by a bulldozer in Israel while trying to protect Palestinian homes from demolition? The one-year anniversary of her death is on March 16. This article, by her cousin, raises some very interesting points.
...Rachel was run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer, manufactured in the United States and sent to Israel as part of the United States' regular aid package to the State of Israel, which amounts to at least $3-4 billion annually, all of which comes from U.S. taxpayers. The use of Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy civilian homes, not to mention to run over unarmed human rights activists, violates U.S. law, including the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the use of U.S. military aid against civilians.

...Rachel's death was in fact only the first of several Israeli attacks on foreign citizens in the West Bank and Gaza - Brian Avery, from New Mexico, was shot in the face on April 5th, Tom Hurndall, a U.K. citizen, was shot in the head on April 11th, and died on January 13th, and James Miller, another U.K. citizen, was shot and killed in April as well. To date, in only Hurndall's case will the Israeli soldier responsible for the attack face trial, and this because the British government, after several months, finally responded to the overwhelming evidence presented by the Hurndall family.

I remember noticing at the time no one seemed to get very upset about Rachel's death, and that our leaders certainly didn't raise any hackles at the killing of a US citizen by a foreign government, apparently because it was an Israeli soldier that killed her and we're not supposed to say anything bad about Israel (-- notice the slight shudder at reading that sentence? That's exactly what I mean.) In fact, I remember reading cheers and semi-rueful "well-that's-what-you-get"s for being so damn idealistic and naive as to throw yourself into the maelstrom. It is sickening that anyone could look at Corrie's death with that kind of -- GOP word -- moral equivalency. I'm sure there are people who would read this post and shake their heads at the title, scorn those goofy, bleeding hearts who don't know what they're talking about, or to whom they owe their allegiance. But Rachel was somebody's daughter, cousin, friend, and, like her political views or not, she must be given credit for her bravery and resolve. I hope more people will look at her example.


Any Day Now 

The US military is storming Afghanistan, in a (final) effort to root out Osama bin Laden in time for the election.
The operation, codenamed "Mountain Storm," began on March 7 and involves troops from the 13,500-strong U.S.-led force backed by air support, U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty told a news briefing on Saturday.

Asked whether the operation could lead to the arrest of al Qaeda leader bin Laden, Hilferty replied: "This operation is aimed like the rest at rebuilding and reconstructing and providing enduring security in Afghanistan, so it's certainly about more than one person. We do have confidence though, and the leaders of al Qaeda and the leaders of the Taliban need to be brought to justice and they will be."

And there you have it. There are those among us believe we've already found Osama, and are keeping him on ice until the right moment. Either way, this stick in the brush should turn up some interesting finds.
U.S. officials said the secretive Task Force 121, a covert commando team of Special Operations troops and CIA personnel involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in December, has relocated people and equipment to the border region to search for bin Laden and other al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas.
Aha! Meantime, Donald Rumsfeld, who seems to have subsided from view a bit, waxed poetic on whether bin Laden will be caught this year (as some in Washington have suggested):
"I'm not going to get into that," Rumsfeld told Reuters recently. "He's probably alive. And he's probably in Afghanistan or Pakistan. And we're probably going to catch him or kill him."

What a wordsmith.


Friday, March 12, 2004

Anthrax Vaccines 

They already made plans to buy overpriced smallpox vaccines. Now, anthrax.
The government is preparing to buy enough experimental anthrax vaccine for 25 million people, a stockpile that would permit mass inoculations in numerous U.S. cities if terrorists launched a broad assault with the deadly germ.

Up to now, there has been little commercial incentive for companies to develop a modern anthrax vaccine, but the new plan would change that, creating a reserve big enough in a year or two to immunize everyone in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas -- or in other cities that might be targeted in an anthrax attack.

Two biotechnology companies [VaxGen Inc. of Brisbane, Calif., and Avecia Ltd. of Manchester, England] have won contracts to make an early stockpile of the unlicensed vaccine sufficient to inoculate 2 million people...

Why was there so much resistance to mandatory anthrax vaccines in the Army? Some say it may be to blame for the Gulf War Syndrome. Others say uranium-tipped munitions are to blame, and still others blame it on aliens.


How Could I Resist? 

You may not believe it, but I actually want Kerry to win. At any rate:

My aunt sent it to me in an email. You know the story: she's relatively new to the Information Age, so forwards every joke, chain letter, and cute story she comes across. I still love her.


Go Get 'Em Tiger 

A New York Sun report today claims John Kerry was present at Vietnam veterans' group meeting where members discussed assassinating congressional supporters of the war.

Mr. Kerry denies being present at the November 12-15, 1971, meeting in Kansas City of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and says he quit the group before the meeting. But according to the current head of Missouri Veterans for Kerry, Randy Barnes, Mr. Kerry,who was then 27,was at the meeting, voted against the plot, and then orally resigned from the organization.

In addition to Mr. Barnes’s recollection placing Mr. Kerry at the Kansas City meeting, another Vietnam veteran who attended the meeting, Terry Du-Bose, said that Mr. Kerry was there.

In Tour of Duty, biographer Doug Brinkley claims Kerry wrote a letter of resignation from the group before the controversial meeting. Brinkley cites writer Andrew Hunt in the claim.

But in an interview with the Sun, the “essential” historian Mr. Brinkley relied on as his source, Andrew E. Hunt, said “I never stated that there was a letter of resignation, or even implied in my book that I saw one. I never could find one in the archives in Wisconsin. I don’t know how Brinkley got the idea that I had. I never could figure out when Kerry resigned.” When asked about Mr. Brinkley’s statement that Mr. Kerry didn’t have a copy of the resignation letter either, Mr. Hunt said, “I don’t know about that. I never could get an interview with Senator Kerry. But I never saw anyone who saves things the way Kerry does.”

Kerry's spokesman says the senator left the group sometime in the summer of 1971, and did not attend the meeting.

Even those who say he was there also say he voted against the harebrained assassination plan. Nonetheless, if people are worried about a photo of Kerry with Jane Fonda, just imagine what this sort of insinuation can stir up. Kerry should come clean on this. Even if he says he attended the meeting, and voted against it, deciding right then and there that he would never be part of any group that would consider an atrocious act such as this. And et cetera. But since he's already denying it, this will be tough to pull off. If he's telling the truth, then we have a couple of wackos (one of whom is running the Missouri veterans' group supporting him) looking for publicity.

(Found on politicalwire.)


Another Brick In the Wall 

A Utah woman with a history of severe mental illness is being brought up on homicide charges after one of her newborn twins died when she refused a Caesarian section.

Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, was charged Thursday of showing "depraved indifference to human life," ignoring medical advice to deliver her twins by C-section because she didn't want to be scarred. One nurse told police Rowland said she would rather "lose one of the babies than be cut like that."

Her attorney, Michael Sikora, called a C-section major surgery and told the Tribune "it would come as no surprise that a woman with major mental illness would fear it."

The case could affect abortion rights and open the door to the prosecution of mothers who smoke or don't follow their obstetrician's diet, said Marguerite Driessen, a law professor at Brigham Young University.

"It's very troubling to have somebody come in and say we're going to charge this mother for murder because we don't like the choices she made," she said.

It appears they're at it again. This could be murky ground, since the woman denied medical care her doctors strongly suggested. There may be negligence involved. Still, there is no way to know whether the children would have survived even if she had had the C-section, and it still boils down to the Consititutional right to privacy -- the very issue at stake in Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion activists will stop at nothing to challenge the 21 year-old law, even charging a mentally ill woman who is probably going through some pretty severe trauma as it is. A conviction in this case will surely go to retrial, but it will also embolden abortion foes and like-minded righteousness across the country.

There's another issue involved here. Just what do we do with people who are unfit to have babies, but continue to do so, and recklessly? I don't mean to sound so eugenic, but it does raise some moral issues. Rowland has two other children living with their grandparents in Virginia. It appears that she didn't want to have the surgery because she was scared of scarring. She may have the right to refuse, but it leaves me with an uneasy feeling nonetheless. I'm also very wary of state control of babies and moms (ie. taking her into care, making her have the babies, and then shipping them off to foster parents somewhere) but how does our society deal with a case like this? I don't know what kind of counseling or treatment is offered to people like Rowland, but it seems like an issue we should take some responsibility for. I would like to live in a world where there are no abortions, but would much rather live in one in which the option and the choice is preserved and protected. Furthermore, I do not believe there is any excuse to bring up murder charges in this case. It's despicable and political and scary.

Still, it seems a bit callous to turn a blind eye to tragedies like this, to automatically jump to the mother's defense when a baby -- a real child, as the twins were only a couple weeks from birth -- is needlessly lost. There are arguments, I am sure, that nature was running its course, that before C-sections, that baby's life would never had had a chance. I still feel there is a gap here, a topic that hasn't yet been discussed, and I don't quite know what it is. It is perfectly understandable to feel so protective of abortion and a mother's choice in this very important, hard-fought, and deeply personal right, and being a man, I know there are nuances I can never grasp or experience. I will continue to support abortion rights, and, if asked to pick a side, I know I already have. And yet, in a case like this, it seems like we all lose.


Not That Air America 

The new liberal talk network we've all been hearing about is finally ready to roll March 31st. They will start airing in NYC, LA and Chicago (why doesn't Chicago get a cool moniker?) Among the talent scheduled for programming is O'Reilly's arch-nemesis, the indubitable Al Franken.

“I’m so happy that Air America Radio will be on in three battleground states, New York, Illinois and California….no wait…those aren’t battleground states. What the hell are we doing?” said Franken.

Air America Radio has signed actress and comedienne Janeane Garofalo, hip hop icon Chuck D, radio personality Randi Rhodes, and political humorist Sam Seder to join Franken at the network. Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., “The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, and business-of-the-media analyst on the public radio program “Marketplace” Martin Kaplan will also join the network.

Air America Radio will debut its programming on radio stations WLIB (AM 1190am) in New York, WNTD (AM 950) in Chicago and KBLA (AM 1580) in Los Angeles and a station in San Francisco to be named before launch.

What do we all think of this? I don't see any reason that it can't succeed. For years they've shoved a liberal view between Hannity and Limbaugh, and then say it's impossible for liberal talk to take off. I think so many people are disenfranchised and enraged, that the network will do well, at least in the beginning. It may be true that liberals don't care to hear their views parroted back at them like conservatives do -- or that may be just the kind of snobbish elitism liberals are always accused of and always deny. Ahem. We shall see. At any rate, they should give me a job.


A Little Terror Is A Small Price To Pay 

Back in Daddy Warbucks's day, 500 million dollars was a lot of money. It still is -- and 1.1 billion is even more. That's how much the Pentagon is handing out to two American and British companies to clean up the mess they made in Iraq. One firm, FluorAMEC, will fix up the Iraqi electircal grid. The other, with a cap of 600 million dollars, goes to Washington International/Black and Veach joint venture.

The company will help repair Iraq's water infrastructure, which has suffered due to a combination of war-damage and 13 years of international sanctions.

The two contracts were the biggest to-date from a five billion dollar package earmarked specifically for construction projects in the war-battered country.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon awarded seven contracts worth more than 120 million dollars to US and British companies to manage the reconstruction projects in six sectors -- electricity, public works, security and justice, transportation and communication, health and education and oil.

On Monday, they also gave out contracts to companies from Poland, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

Boy, they are not being very sneaky about their preferences in this matter are they? Even though the Pentagon said they would award some contracts to countries that didn't jump on the bandwagon, that doesn't appear to be happening. There's another 3.8 billion dollars in reconstruction bills to go out to countries that supported the invasion soon.

The best part is that the same countries that invaded Iraq and shot missiles through some perfectly nice buildings, and mortar rounds into some perfectly nice infrastructure (without anybody asking them to), are now in charge of deciding who gets to rebuild it all! This is blatant war-profiteering from any angle you look at it, and yet it's presented on the news as plain as can be. As if John Cleese were telling a joke, in the dryest way possible. Except that in this joke, thousands of people die for those contracts. And in this joke, nations get torn apart, families get destroyed, and people stop believing in God.

I hope some Spanish companies get work over there, to help dull the pain of yesterday's terrible bombings -- while the US has lost more troops, Spain deserves the loot the most so far. And isn't that what this is all about? Cracking a few eggs to make an omelet?


Thursday, March 11, 2004

Madness In Spain 

Members of an al-Qaeda splinter group are taking credit for today's bombings in Madrid.

The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi said Thursday it had received a claim of responsibility issued by The Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri in the name of Al-Qaida for the Madrid terrorist attacks that killed at least 190 people and wounded 1,247.

The claim received by email at the paper's London offices said the brigade's "death squad" had penetrated "one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain."
"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," the claim said.

Referring to Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the statement asked: "Aznar, where is America? Who will protect you, Britain, Japan, Italy and others from us?

US officials say the style of attack -- several closely-timed explosions -- points to al-Qaeda. Spanish officials at first blamed the Basque separitist group ETA, but that group is known to target individuals, and to issue formal warnings if there is a chance members of the public will be killed. Officials also reportedly found a tape of Koranic verses recited in Arabic at the scene. Some of the blasts tore through the Atocha train station, one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, and it sounds like the carnage was unspeakable.

Two things come up:1) Who is al-Qaeda? It seems like a catch-all that can easily be abused by terrorists and law enforcement alike. We're all programmed to shudder at the term, so how difficult is it for some blowhard with a bag of fertilizer to kill a few babies at a bus stop and proclaim it in the name of al-Qaeda? How difficult would it be for the FBI to arrest some dudes with beards who meet in a Chicago basement to talk about anarchy and proclaim them al-Qaeda? This troubles me. Is this network as large as we are led to believe, or has the threat been exaggerated? It's a loosely-defined term that has basically come to mean Bad Guys With Funny Accents. At times like this, though, it doesn't really matter what group claims responsibility or how many members there are. This is all death and tears and pointless misery.

2) If it was this Muslim splinter group, then it looks like anyone who gets involved with the US in Iraq can expect similar attacks, that joining the "War on Terror" creates more terror at home. I know it's difficult to discuss the rationale and logic of people who can set off bombs on crowded subways, but they are people, with an agenda. And while they are easily cast as wild-eyed muslim radicals, they clearly have motivation, organization and a real ability to instill terror. And now they have an expanded hit list.

I think if we see more bombings in Britain, Canada and perhaps even Australia and Japan, it will spell trouble, because the war Bush is bringing to the terrorists will have been brought right back to Bush and his allies. Where will Spain and England go after that? I doubt they will run-- especially England. They could not disengage from the US or they'd face its wrath. Will their interests then become more and more intwined with America's, dragging them deeper into a disastrous "foreign policy"? Now it will be easy for Aznar to say "see, we must fight terror, and the only boys big enough are the red white and blue. We must join our American brothers in this struggle." Spain has been dealing with terrorism longer than we have, but this is the worst attack in the country's history.

I do not want to blame the US for this horrible act, but merely point out, from a big-picture sort of perspective, that right now, in certain respects, America may not be the best company to keep; keeping that company may be good politics, but it's also stained with blood.



What a tangled (google) web we weave. Turns out, most of the mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe en route to a coup attempt in Equatorial Guines this week, were from South Africa.

Fifteen South Africans who were arrested in Equatorial Guinea last weekend, were in the country with the "main aim" to kill the country's head of state in an assassination attempt.

Following President President Obiang Nguema's murder, a second group of mercenaries from South Africa would have undertaken a coup détat. This is the second group now being held in Zimbabwe after their aircraft was impounded on Sunday evening.

The Zimbabwean arms manufacturer, Zimbabwe Defence Industries was apparently the supplier of the weapons, which would have been used during the coup.

You may or may not remember, but South Africa was the first-stated destination for (ex?) Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Of course, he wound up in Central African Republic -- another country whose leaders got there through a coup. (More on Aristide later...) South African officials say they're investigating the matter. One of the men arrested says his group was funded by the British, American and Spanish intelligence services. Today, Spain had its own awful terrorist attack, killing some 190 people. Officials there blame it on the Basque saparatist group ETA, but ETA says it was al-Qaeda. Either way, everyone's getting involved in this exciting Age of Man.

Equatorial Guinea is an ex Spanish colony, which got its independence in 1968. Current President (and coup target) Obiang Nguema came into power in 1979 through a coup. Coup coup coup coup coup coup coup coup coup. How many coups is that? A lot.

Spanish and American officials have called charges that they were involved preposterous, false, bullarkey, and ain't-no-way-sugar. The man who would take over EG, Severo Moto Nsa, has tried this stuff before, and had been spending some time in Spain, apparently planning this adventure. Moto was also reportedly on speaking terms with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (who, we all know, went against his people's wishes in backing the US-led invasion of Iraq.) Also, the plane that was carrying the -- what do we call coup attempters? How about coupers -- coupers was registered to the American company Dodson Aviation Inc. Dodson, in turn, told reporters the plane had been sold to Logo Logistics, a private security company, based in the British Virgin Islands.

Africa Confidential has obtained copies of an 'investor agreement' between Logo Logistics and the Lebanon-based Asian Trade and Investment Group SAL, which  was alleged to have commissioned the overthrow of President Obiang, according to military sources in South Africa.

Equatorial Guinea Information Minister Agustin Nze Nfumu has accused London-based businessman Ely Calil of helping to organise and finance the coup attempt.  Nze Nfumu called Calil the 'Godfather of Severo Moto'. But Calil told Africa Confidential that he had no links to Asian Trade and Investment Group ú and no connection to the coup plot.  However, Calil did concede that he was a friend of opposition leader Severo Moto, the supposed beneficiary of the plot, and had given 'modest' financial support in recent years.

The Guardian talked to officials from Logo.

Logo Logistics claimed yesterday it had hired the men and that they were en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo to guard mines and that the seizure was all a "dreadful misunderstanding".

It should be pointed out that most of the South African contingent were former soldiers from that counrty's apartheid group, the Buffalo BAtallion. Another of the men arrested in Zimbabwe, Simon Mann, is a former British intelligence officer, former being a relative term when it comes to spooks.

So we have Lebanese businesspeople based in England, supporting a rebel based in Spain, who makes a deal with a Zimbabwean company to sell arms to coupers from South Africa, Congo, Germany, Kazahkstan and Armenia, led by an ex-spy from England, who fly on an American-owned plane to overthrow a leader in Equatorial Guinea, before being sold out by the officials in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Some surmise that Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe (who has his own issues) merely jumped on the opportunity to point fingers at the US and Britain, two countries that have put pressure on him recently, and wouldn't at all mind if he were to walk off frame. This could very well be - I mean, how many coups can the US pull off at once? At the very least, however, Moto was able to plan this debacle under the relative protection of the Spanish flag. Maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad thing. Before fleeing to Spain, Moto was tried for the attempted coup, and this is part of a complaint filed on Moto's behalf before the African Commission on Human and People's Rights:

Mr. Moto Nsa was officially arrested on 6 March 1995, but had already been imprisoned for two and a half years on charges of insulting the President. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Moto Nsa was planning to participate in Equatorial Guinea's planned May 1995 municipal elections, after having led an opposition boycott of the country's first multiparty national elections, which were criticized by United Nations and European Union observers for lack of transparency and impartial administration.

Sounds like the EG government is less than egalitarian. Usually, though, those who replace repressive regimes through a coup, wind up being rather strict in their governance themselves.

Furthermore, the company involved in the coup, Zimbabwe Defence Industries, was recently added to a US blacklist of companies under sanction in Zimbabwe. Since the sanction is tied to charges of graft and nepotism linked to an oppressive Zimbabwean government, this could have provided some motive for blaming Washington.

But why would anyone want Equatorial Guinea? Besides the fun of being the absolute ruler of an entire nation, there's also some oil there. From the CIA factbook:

The discovery and exploitation of large oil reserves have contributed to dramatic economic growth in recent years. Forestry, farming, and fishing are also major components of GDP... A number of aid programs sponsored by the World Bank and the IMF have been cut off since 1993 because of corruption and mismanagement.

Since most of the revenues are controlled by government officials, it only follows that those who want to control oil would seek to take over the government. Through a coup, of course -- which, we need gently remind ourselves, is probably the reason the current leaders overthrew the government in the first place (in Equaorial Guinea, and in the US).

It's an interesting tale, and I'm sure it will continue to develop, confusing though it may be. The more I know, I now realize, the more I know I don't know.

PS. If you can't get a US-owned plane, but you still want to mount your own coup in Malobo, tickets from New York are now only $2169.00


Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Not Another Coup... 

Could those rascally rabbits at the CIA be involved in another coup? According to one fuming mad African, they are. Apparently, a group of opposition activists was planning to invade oil-rich Equatorial Guinea's capital and take over the place. Zimbabwean officials arrested a group of mercenaries en route, and they're pointing the finger at the US, Spain and Britain -- all solid backers of the Iraq invasion.
Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi told a news conference that Simon Mann, one of three men detained after going to meet the presumed mercenaries at Harare International Airport, had fingered London, Washington and Madrid as their backers.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed on Wednesday that, according to the available information, Zimbabwe was not the plane's intended destination, but he strenuously denied any US involvement in the affair.

Ahh. I ache from all this intrigue. Apprently the group's alleged ringleader, one Severo Moto Nsa, was lying low in Spain, after attempting a coup in EG back in 1997.

This is really the first I've read of any of these parties, and I'll do some more research. But anything relating to oil and the US smells a bit like cod to me automatically. After all, oil does rule the world, and, after all, we are going to run out of the stuff in 50 or so years.


Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Leave That Semi-colon Be 

Editors, scholars and grammarians beware: you could go to jail for translating some foreign writing. Under Treasury Department rules, publishers may not alter in any way manuscripts from countries under US embargo. The rule was specifically designed for Iran, but the wording is such that it could apply to Iraq, Cuba, North Korea, and other countries out of favor with Uncle Sam.

Laws and regulations prohibiting trade with various nations have been enforced for decades, generally applied to items like oil, wheat, nuclear reactors and, sometimes, tourism. Applying them to grammar, spelling and punctuation is an infuriating interpretation, several people in the publishing industry said.

"It is against the principles of scholarship and freedom of expression, as well as the interests of science, to require publishers to get U.S. government permission to publish the works of scholars and researchers who happen to live in countries with oppressive regimes," said Eric A. Swanson, a senior vice president at John Wiley & Sons, which publishes scientific, technical and medical books and journals.

Somehow, I don't find this surprising. Paradoxical, sure: one would think, afterall, that our desire to spread democracy would include the free flow of ideas with those countries most gripped by tyranny. But no. Editing texts from barred countries technically equates to Trading With the Enemy. The treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control sent out a strongly-worded letter to publishers ewcently warning them of the strict interpretation the Bush Administration is taking on this subject.

While Dick Cheney's Halliburton was not barred from trading with the enemy, Rumi fans are. Bush 2004!


One Down, Several Thousand To Go 

When the US got a hold of Abu Abbas in Iraq last April, they thought it would prove Saddam's connection to international terrorism. Abbas, after all, was behind the Palestinian Liberation Front, and was the organizer of the 1995 cruise ship hijacking that saw a wheelchair-bound American get thrown overboard. But finding him never stuck as a story, and now he's dead anyway.

"Initial reports indicate he died of natural causes," said Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman. "Medical efforts to revive him were unsuccessful and autopsy will be performed."

Whitman would not comment on where he was being held at the time of his death, but officials indicated he was in US custody in Iraq.

C'est la vie, I guess.


Arafat, Tea & Sypmathy 

John Kerry has some harsh words for Yasir Arafat.

"He was (a statesman) in 1995," Kerry said, recalling frequent White House meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in search of peace in the Middle East. "As far as I'm concerned, he's an outlaw to the peace process."

In essence, Kerry has jumped in with the Bush camp, who refuse to deal with Arafat at all, basically reducing negotiations to a one-sided talk with Israel. Notice the use of "outlaw": besides being a reference to Kerry's own 1997 book describing how Arafat went from outlaw to statesman, it also rings a bit Texan, dun'nit? For a man who wants to draw the line between himself and President Bush, he sure does sound a lot like him from time to time. Just the other day, he hinted that he might be willing to follow the Bush Doctrine.

"People will know I'm tough and I'm prepared to do what is necessary to defend the United States of America, and that includes the unilateral deployment of troops if necessary," said Mr. Kerry, who has rarely used the word "unilateral" in the campaign except to describe how Mr. Bush has alienated allies. "But my standard is very different from George Bush's."

Yes, yes, the standard is different senator, we know. But unilateral if necessary? I thought that was a no-no. I do not believe that Kerry specifically feels this way -- his record in the Senate is more liberal than almost anyone else's; rather it's the nature of the Presidential beast that candidates must distill and distill to the lowest common denominator in order to get elected. Kerry's backers will be all too willing to forgive him this; after all, it's the way things are done.

Don't we want more? This merely lowers the bar, and, I believe, plays into the radical agenda that's taken over the country the last three years. If Bush's opponent, for political capital, agrees with him on the subject of Israel and Palestine, one of the touchiest and most important, then there is nowhere to go, no viable change, no new dialogue. Is this the best we have to offer the world? I don't specifically mean Kerry, I mean the mechanation that leads an opposition candidate into this kind of leveraging. As the campaign progresses, I believe we will see a polarization in personal attacks, and something closer to a convergence on policy. Of course, there will be tremendous difference between the two on many substantive issues, but, while Bush has been doing okay by playing to the Christian right, Kerry suddenly has to please everyone. That's no way to hone a rock solid message. Why should Kerry hide from his liberalism? And if he does hide, what does it mean for his -- and our -- future?


Masonic Mixup 

Thanks to my Dad for grabbing hold of this tidbit.

It used to be that Masons were despised, feared, even run down in the streets. Now, they're just a peaceful and charitable organization, some of whom ride around in go-carts with fezes. But they are not immune from intrigue.

A Medford man was killed inside the basement of a Masonic temple in Patchogue [NY] last night during a ritual when a member of the lodge shot him in the head with a gun that was supposed to contain blanks, Suffolk homicide detectives said.

"Apparently, this ritual has been conducted for a few years at this lodge," Fitzpatrick said, adding that there were two guns present - one carrying real bullets and another carrying blanks, and that the shooter may have used the wrong gun. "He was being inducted into another group within the lodge."

About six people were present when [victim] James was shot. No one was arrested and police would not identify the shooter.

Hmm. Sounds like a harmless group of community do-gooders to me. No one has been arrested, and they won't give out the name of the shooter. Could he be another upstanding member of the town of Patchogue? I wonder how the victim's family feels about this.

Let me put on my tinfoil hat.


In Other Nationbuilding News... 

Those innovative, freedom-starved Iraqis finally got around to signing that Constitution thingy.

US President George W. Bush hailed the new constitution an "important step" towards self-rule.

And good news for a sputtering White House that badly needs it to look like Iraq has a clean bill of democratic health by the June 30th deadline and before the elections. (Then we can focus on the upcoming invasion of Pakistan and the finding of Osama or al-Zarqawi.)

But the only guy that really matters, the Grand Ayatollah, wasn't so optimistic about this new dawn.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called the legal text "an obstacle", stunning the Governing Council and the Americans after a Shiite delegation met him Sunday to obtain the influential cleric's consent to sign the landmark document.

This is a sticky situation. Sistani poses the greatest threat to the US vision of a free Iraq (which may be why he never leaves his house), and he seems focused on shiite and sharia dominance. While the US says it wants democracy, it also wants to avoid mob rule by the long-oppressed shiites (and avoid a leadership unfriendly to "trade" with Uncle Sam.) Quite frankly, it is probably a good idea to try to avoid a new Iran, but how do you stop that from happening that way without occupying the country for years to come? Then there's the Kurds, who have been model mini-democrats in their semi-autonomy up north. They want to make sure they don't relinquish that to majority rule, which is why they're seeking de facto veto power over any permanent Constitution. Surely we wouldn't want to leave them in the cold. Remember how bravely the Peshmerga fought in Gulf II? Then again, Turkey remains uneasy about the Kurds, who they see as simply uppity. Turkey is an important ally.

What a mess. But I guess it's what you get for illegally invading a sovereign country in the name of petroleum and geopolitics. Cheers!


Sacre Bullshit! 

Colin Powell says the US is looking for a new Prime Minister for Haiti. No duh! As if that wasn't the reason this whole debacle unfolded in the first place.  

"We are working hard with the new council of eminent persons that has been created to come up with a new prime minister," Powell told Fox News Channel.

Just who are these "eminent persons"? Could they be members of the intellectual opposition, the elite book worms who sympathized with their more well-armed brothers, but didn't see the need to raise rifles themselves? The selfsame group whose members reportedly met with US officials before the coup? Haiti has long been a country of haves and have-nots, ruled by the elites or those with enough ammo, or a combination of the two. It seems that the US has someone from this camp in mind, again, since they learned their lesson about putting a populist in charge.

This unarmed opposition is clearly not content with Yvone Neptune (the former Supreme Court Justice, and interim Prime Minister):

Haiti’s political opposition, meanwhile, met with interim President Boniface Alexandre, demanding that he name a new prime minister and that Neptune - a top member of Aristide’s Lavalas party and his former spokesman - be dismissed and possibly arrested.

Boniface Alexandre (a very presidential-sounding name, if I say so myself) was officially sworn in, while Aristide maintains he's still the man in charge!

The ceremony went ahead as Aristide insisted from exile in Central African Republic that he is still president.

Monday's ceremony went ahead at the presidential palace, guarded by US troops, in the presence of Yvon Feuillet, president of the National Assembly, senior government officials, the new chief of police, Leon Charles, and opposition representatives.

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune did not attend due to security concerns

Just what, I wonder are these security concerns, and from whence do they come? Like the days of Louis XVI, I fear the royal court may be facing the gallows in this tiny nation on Hispaniola.


Monday, March 08, 2004

So Many Perfect Moments 

Spalding Gray, monologist, neurotic, plaid afficianado, is dead. His body was pulled from the East River over the weekend, and the remains were identified today. Gray disappeared January 10, and the cause of death is still under investigation.

This confirmed suspicions among friends, fans and family, that Gray had finally given in to the depression that has plagued him since a serious car accident in Ireland in 2002.

Gray was inspired, funny and keenly aware of his own shortcomings -- he spoke of them and spoke to the human condition. Spuddy was heroic for his honesty, turning every aspect of his life -- from his work on The Killing Fields to his personal infidelities -- into finely spun orations. He will be greatly missed.

I strongly suggest viewing Swimming to Cambodia and Gray's Anatomy. I know Nick is mourning; it isn't fair for Spuddy to go before he got to have his perfect moment.

If he's anywhere, he's sitting at a cellestial table with a plain notebook and a glass of water, wry eyes and wild hair, cracking his mouth to begin talking. He was 62.


Kerry's Mouth Meets Some Soap 

In what is probably the second-biggest nonstory about John Kerry in the web site's history, the Drudge Report today accused the junior senator from Massachusetts of having a potty mouth. Turns out, the Kerry web site is riddled, just riddled, with cuss words, profanity, and general unspeakables. Well I never!

A sampling of web pages featured on Kerry's official site reveal:
"Bush f**ked up Afghanistan... Did I expect George Bush to f**k it up as badly as he did... cutting all your f**king legs off at the knees... Where the f**k is he?... scare the living s**t out of me... He has a pig-in-s**t grin on his face, he wanted to get into the s**t... doesn’t play s**t in my book..."
In fact, typing in the terms "F**k" or "S**t" in the search box of the official Kerry For President site directly links the reader to the action!

A campaign source tells the DRUDGE REPORT that "John Kerry For President" online simply contains published material, and the senator was simply unaware on Sunday that the expletives were being carried on his own Internet server. [A search on the official Bush/Cheney re-election revealed no such curse words.]"

I'm not sure which is more embarassing: that Drudge actually believes this should be the lead story, or the image of him frantically typing four-letter words in the search engine on Kerry's site, desperately hoping some magical combination will make him disappear. Drudge's mom must have used lava soap.


Sunday, March 07, 2004

One Wedding and a Political Funeral 

Thanks to Atrios, who posted this interesting tidbit today:

"Presidential brother Neil Bush -- putting aside remnants of a scandalous divorce, paternity questions and a scorned ex-wife -- married Maria Andrews Saturday night in the Memorial-area mansion of Rania and Jamal Daniel, longtime Bush family friends.

Close to 150 guests joined the newlyweds after a small family ceremony that included former President George Bush and Barbara Bush, parents of the groom. President George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not attend."

Wow. I guess Neil's a little too hot to touch right now.


What Would Jesus Do (to get ratings) 

ABC, weekly number two in the network ratings, is hoping to cash in on the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, with a movie about that ancient traitor, Judas.

As if the poor old apostle hasn't had to put up with enough for selling out the father of Christianity, he'll now be reduced to an opportunistic made-for-tv ratings ploy.

Some people find the popularity of The Passion (better than $200M already) and the excitement and controversy it has stirred, frightening. It's all seen as part of a plot by the religious right, or, at least, proof that the country is whacked. Maybe. I think, though, that religion will always be an issue in America, and what we are facing now is a general lack of spirituality and a great change in social awareness and structure. There is an emptiness in most Americans (I dare say, with, as usual, absolutely no proof), but we don't know how to talk about it. For generations this has only been addressed through conventional religion, but conventional religion has lost relevence among many modern people. And the absolutism with which those who still practice their faith is only further alienating those who are skeptical of a Catholic Church that systematically molests children, or a tradition of greedy and hateful televangelists. Like much in America today, there isn't much room for nuance - it's atheists who think religious people are nutjobs, or religious people who think the rest are going to hell.

There is no conversation taking place about the core of religion, any religion: finding the true self, getting in touch with the universal, having compassion. So we're yelling at brick walls, because we come from two different sides: those who think religion solves everything, and those who think it is to blame for everything.

I saw The Passion, and I found it very powerful. That anyone could be that selfless, can have and evoke so much compassion is inspiring. Whether it's Jesus, and all that that idea connotes, or anyone, I think it is worth striving for. I was able to put aside all the political caveats and charges of anti-semitism and the touchy, cultural trigger points, and hone in on the message beneath it all. I wish others could drop the righteousness for a moment -- in spite of the obvious righteousness with which Gibson made and marketed the film -- and try to do the same.

We won't get anywhere talking two different languages; but I do think the reason religion is coming to the fore with such tumult is that we want to talk about it, we're evolving, and this is one of the stages. People are searching for answers, looking for that something that will make them feel whole. (Look at best-sellers on Amazon.com: Diet books and self-improvement, besides the usual political stuff and hot fiction). There is no one force driving the emergence of religion; it's coming from all of us. We're trying desperately to tell ourselves something, a need or concern that is rising from the collective subcounsious. If only we'd actually listen.


The Heat is... On! 

John McCain, a member of the 9-11 Softball Investigative Committee, is throwing a hardball. The Arizona veteran said on ABC's This Week the panel should have subpoena power.

"McCain... said such powers would give commission 'certain credibility,' and voiced hope an agreement would be reached to obtain it."

McCain's hint to George Bush and Dick Cheney was not without its condoleces:

" 'It's clear that there were intelligence failures,' McCain said. 'But that does not in any way, in my view, remove the justification for removing Saddam Hussein from power.'

"... 'It's not because I don't trust the administration. There are other agencies outside government and other governments outside the United States that probably we need to have information from,' McCain said."

Bush only created the commission under pressure from Democrats, Republicans, and rational people everywhere. It has till next March to come up with any findings, long after Bush's reelection bid has been decided. The White House has made some concessions to the panel, after initially refusing to cooperate at all; Bush has aggreed to meet privately with the panel's top members, but has precluded any public testimony. McCain's latest exclamation could chip away at even this condition. If the entire nation can be forced to sit through video of Bill Clinton getting shanghaied by talk of cigars and semen stains, then it's certainly reasonable to expect some footage of Bush squirming and blinking over lies and war crimes.

While McCain's statements, paired with a call from WMD guru David Kay for BushCo. to come clean, puts more pressure on the Administration, the blame game is being played largely in the "Intelligence Community's" arena. That Evil Swede, Hans Blix, is also on the team, saying Bush and English PM Tony Blair were duped by the CIA and, of all people, Christ himself into invading Iraq.

"George Bush and Tony Blair, perhaps fired by a religious conviction they were battling evil, were seduced by unproven intelligence reports of Iraq's illegal weapons, former chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix says.

In a book, excerpts of which Britain's Guardian newspaper published on Saturday, Blix says that in the run-up to war, the British prime minister and envoys of the U.S. president seemed convinced by the information from their intelligence agencies."

Blix says all parties invloved believed -- as he still aparently does -- that Saddam had WMD, but some governments were more skeptical.

The demand for patsies in this whole mess could spark a surge in the faltering economy. But have Blix, Kay and McCain all forgotten about the hottest commodities: PNAC, the Office of Special Plans, and Ahmad Chalabi's boys at the Iraqi National Congress? These offices, all bent on removing Saddam, did their shape-shifting magic on some maleable intelligence reports, funneling only the most damaging reports, exaggerated and often out of context to the White House. The design of this Intelligence House of Cards goes all the way to the top, with Dick Cheney, his buddy L. Lewis Libby, Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Will they be blamed? Is Justice not blind? That disability, it seems, only goes for the media.


You Can't Handle the Truth 

Former WMD hunter, and sometime lapdog David Kay says the Bush Administration should come clean....

"...and admit it was wrong about the existence of the weapons.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Kay said the administration's reluctance to make that admission was delaying essential reforms of US intelligence agencies, and further undermining its credibility at home and abroad.

He welcomed the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate prewar intelligence on Iraq, and said the wide-ranging US investigation was much more likely to get to the truth than the Butler inquiry in Britain. That, he noted, had "so many limitations it's going to be almost impossible" to come to meaningful conclusions. "

This is good news for the good guys and bad news for all the bad guys. Kay, don't forget, is the man who said in every which way but the clearest way that there are no weapons in Iraq. He skirted around the issue and did some major damage control in his testimony before Congress. For him, a Bush loyalist, to turn around and say this -- in the foreign press -- must have the White House fuming.

Can you hear it? Can you hear the unraveling?

(First found this article on politicalwire.com)


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