Friday, March 31, 2006


More Domestic Surveillance On Way

Location sensors, monitoring devices, illegal wiretaps, secret police infiltrating anti-war groups, the equation of dissent with disloyalty... And now surveillance drones over us all. Will it make us safer? Depends on who it will make us safer from: it ain’t going to make us safer from the government.

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies

By Declan McCullagh

Story last modified Thu Mar 30 11:23:50 PST 2006

Unmanned aerial vehicles have soared the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq for years, spotting enemy encampments, protecting military bases, and even launching missile attacks against suspected terrorists.

Now UAVs may be landing in the United States.

A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday heard testimony from police agencies that envision using UAVs for everything from border security to domestic surveillance high above American cities. Private companies also hope to use UAVs for tasks such as aerial photography and pipeline monitoring.
Click for photos

"We need additional technology to supplement manned aircraft surveillance and current ground assets to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory," Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner at Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Bureau, told the House Transportation subcommittee.

Kostelnik was talking about patrolling U.S. borders and ports from altitudes around 12,000 feet, an automated operation that's currently under way in Arizona. But that's only the beginning of the potential of surveillance from the sky.

In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie "Minority Report," one North Carolina county is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air--close enough to identify faces--and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned.

That raises not just privacy concerns, but also safety concerns because of the possibility of collisions with commercial and general aviation aircraft.

"They're a legitimate user of the airspace and they need to play by the same rules as everyone else," Melissa Rudinger, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said in a telephone interview.

Pilots undergo extensive training on collision detection and avoidance. Planes that fly at night are required to have certain types of lights, for instance. Operating an aircraft near busy airports (in government parlance, "Class B" airports) requires a transponder that broadcasts its altitude. And during all flights that take place in poor weather or higher than 18,000 feet above sea level, the pilot must be in radio contact with controllers.

No such anti-collision rules apply to UAVs. Rudinger is concerned that UAVs--either remote-controlled or autonomous drones--will pose a safety threat to pilots and their passengers. She's not that worried about larger UAVs operated by the military that have sophisticated radar systems, but about smaller ones that have limited equipment and potentially inexperienced ground controllers.

"The FAA needs to define what is a UAV," Rudinger said. "And they need to regulate it just like they do any other aircraft, and integrate it into the system. The problem is the technology has advanced, and there are no regulations that talk about how to certify these aircraft, how to certify the operator, and how to operate in the national airspace system."

For its part, the FAA says it's created a UAV "program office" to come up with new rules of the sky. Preliminary standards for "sense and avoid" UAV avionics are expected in three to four years.

"Currently there is no recognized technology solution that could make these aircraft capable of meeting regulatory requirements for 'see and avoid,' and 'command and control,'" said Nick Sabatini, associate FAA administrator for aviation safety. "Further, some unmanned aircraft will likely never receive unrestricted access to (U.S. airspace) due to the limited amount of avionics it can carry because of weight, such as transponders, that can be installed in a vehicle itself weighing just a few ounces."

Complicating the question of how to deal with UAVs is the fact that there are so many different varieties of them. Some are essentially large model aircraft and weigh only a few ounces or pounds, while some military models are the size of a Boeing 737. Most are designed to sip fuel slowly, so they have long flight times and low airspeeds--meaning that they could be flying at the same altitude as a jet aircraft but at half the speed.

Egging on Congress and the FAA are manufacturers of UAVs, who see a lucrative market in domestic surveillance and aerial photography.

"It is quite easy to envision a future in which (UAVs), unaffected by pilot fatigue, provide 24-7 border and port surveillance to protect against terrorist intrusion," said Mike Heintz on behalf of the UNITE Alliance which represents Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. "Other examples are limited only by our imagination."

Copyright ©1995-2006 CNET Networks, Inc. All rights reserved.


Gov't Can't Fight Flu Pandemic, States Told

The highest federal budget in history; the country has borrowed more money than all the previous administrations did, put together...And these thieves tell us the Federal Government won’t be able to help very much?

Oregon prepares for flu pandemic
3/30/2006, 5:30 p.m. PT
The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregonians and people across the country need to take the possibility of a flu pandemic seriously and prepare for a possible outbreak, a top Bush administration official and Oregon's governor said Thursday.

"We're overdue for a pandemic and under-prepared," Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told more than 100 government, health and business representatives at an influenza planning summit.

At the meeting, state and federal officials sharpened their plans to deal with a potential global influenza problem in Oregon. If a pandemic occurs, government officials are prepared to detect and attempt to control it but said the total impact would be beyond their reach.

An influenza pandemic could cripple the work force, economy and well-being of the state. So, officials recommend all citizens, community groups and businesses also make plans to cope.

"People of Oregon will have to come to the help of people of Oregon," said Leavitt, whose agency is holding influenza pandemic preparedness summits in every state.

A flu pandemic occurs when a new virus emerges that can be passed easily and rapidly among people across the globe. Because it is new, people would have no natural immunity and it could cause a more serious problem than a normal seasonal flu.

If a moderate flu pandemic occurred, about 1 million Oregonians could become ill, 12,000 could require hospitalization and 3,000 could die, the state public health department said.

There has not been an influenza pandemic since 1968 and the odds are low that the current avian flu strain will mutate to one passed easily among humans, said Susan Allan, Oregon's public health director.

If an influenza pandemic did occur, hospital and health systems could be short of staff and equipment to care for all patients, forcing some to ration care. The public health system would be able to communicate in real-time with hospitals and other first responders but might not be able to address all community needs.

"We seem to live in increasingly troubled times," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said. "Strangely though, Americans are not worried about influenza."

"We in Oregon are not prepared for a pandemic," Kulongoski said.

Kulongoski and others urged families, community groups and businesses to use government tips and checklists, which are available online, to develop disaster plans.

Oregon officials said they are constantly updating their ability to respond to a major emergency. The state has disbursed more than $28 million of federal grants during the last four years to improve public health response. It has already held a small test of its response system and will conduct a full-scale test in the fall.

"Anything you say about a pandemic before it happens seems alarmist; anything you do after it comes that you've prepared for seems inadequate," Leavitt said. "There's no one in the world who is well-prepared for a pandemic ... we are getting better prepared everyday."

___ On the Net:

Department of Health and Human Services pandemic flu information:

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Another Domestic Terror Case Teeters on Collapse

More evidence that the government’s homeland security program is essentially a mess. The prosecution of two suspected “terrorists” down in California hinges on uncorroborated testimony of a well-paid snitch, a cop-wannabe, who seems to be somewhat un-hinged, himself.

This was one of the DOJ’s biggest—and most publicised— cases, claims that a domestic terror cell was broken and a major attack thwarted, and it is now falling apart. The federal prosecutor at the time has been charged with concealing evidence. The number of actual terrorists busted here in America, other than the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front members, is constantly getting revised downward.

The New York Times

March 30, 2006
Ex-Prosecutor in Terror Inquiry Is Indicted
WASHINGTON, March 29 — A grand jury charged Wednesday that a former federal prosecutor in Detroit who led one of the Justice Department's biggest terrorism investigations concealed critical evidence in an effort to bolster the government's theory that a group of local Muslim men were plotting an attack.

The former prosecutor, Richard G. Convertino, and a State Department employee who served as a chief government witness were each indicted on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The grand jury charged that they had conspired to conceal evidence about photographs of a military hospital in Jordan that was the supposed target of a terrorist plot by the Detroit defendants.

Mr. Convertino, once a rising star at the Justice Department who fell out of favor with supervisors in Washington, denied that he had ever withheld evidence, and he pledged that he would be vindicated.

"These charges are clearly vindictive and retaliatory, and it's an effort to discredit and smear someone who tried to expose the government's mismanagement of the war on terrorism," he said in a telephone interview.

The indictment of the former prosecutor and one of his star witnesses marked a dramatic turnaround in a case once hailed by President Bush and John Ashcroft, his first attorney general, as a major breakthrough against terrorism plotted on American soil.

After four Muslim men were arrested days after the Sept. 11 attacks in a dilapidated Detroit apartment, federal authorities charged that they were part of a "sleeper" terrorist cell plotting attacks against Americans overseas.

Two of the men were convicted on terrorism charges after a high-profile trial in 2003, with Mr. Convertino as the lead prosecutor. But the case soon began to unravel amid accusations of concealed evidence and government misconduct. The Justice Department ultimately repudiated its own case, leading to the dismissal of all terrorism charges against the men in 2004.

"I can't recall a case like this in recent memory where you have not only the collapse of the prosecution's entire case, but now the prosecutor himself indicted," said Brian Levin, a professor at California State University, San Bernardino, who has written on terrorism prosecutions.

"The government has made clear it's going to do everything it can to go after terrorism, but here you have a case where it appears that hubris might have intoxicated the prosecutor, and he might have taken one step over the line," Mr. Levin said.

Mr. Convertino, 45, who has left the Justice Department and opened his own law practice in the Detroit area, faces 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted. His co-defendant, Harry R. Smith III, 49, a security officer for the State Department who assisted in the prosecution, faces 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

The indictment lays blame for the collapse of the case against the terrorism suspects at the feet of Mr. Convertino and Mr. Smith. It said the two men conspired "to present false evidence at trial and to conceal inconsistent and potentially damaging evidence from the defendants."

But an investigation by The New York Times published in October 2004 found that senior officials at the Justice Department knew of problems in the case yet still pushed for an aggressive prosecution.

An internal Justice Department memorandum prepared in Washington before the 2002 indictments of the men acknowledged that the evidence was "somewhat weak," that the case relied on a single informant with "some baggage," and that there was no clear link to terrorist groups.

The prosecution exposed deep rifts within the Justice Department over issues of strategy — to the point that some Washington prosecutors assigned to the case were barely on speaking terms with Mr. Convertino and his Detroit prosecutors.

The opening of the government's indictment against the terror suspects, drafted by prosecutors in Washington, appeared to have been lifted almost verbatim from a scholarly article on Islamic fundamentalism. And Mr. Ashcroft was rebuked by the Detroit judge hearing the case for publicly asserting — in error — that the defendants were suspected of having advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The trial of the Detroit terror suspects turned on a set of sketches found in a day planner in the apartment where three of them lived.

At the terrorism trial in 2003 of the four defendants, Mr. Convertino and the prosecution team argued that the sketches, with corresponding words in Arabic, represented "casings" of two overseas targets — an American air base in Turkey and a military hospital in Jordan.

Defense lawyers sought to debunk the theory, arguing that the supposed sketch of the Turkey air base looked more like a map of the Middle East, but the jury convicted two of the men on terrorism charges.

Mr. Smith, who was based in Jordan through 2003, testified at the trial that diplomatic constraints had prevented him from photographing the hospital. But the grand jury charged that the real reason he and Mr. Convertino concealed photographs of the hospital taken by Mr. Smith and another State Department employee was that they did not match the sketches.

Richard Helfrick, a public defender in Detroit who represented Karim Koubriti, one of the defendants originally convicted and then cleared on terrorism charges, said his client was gratified to learn of Mr. Convertino's indictment on Wednesday.

Mr. Koubriti "wants to be in court when Mr. Convertino is arraigned," Mr. Helfrick said.

The former prosecutor said his legal troubles were the result not of wrongdoing, but of his clashes with Justice Department supervisors in terrorism prosecution and elsewhere. "This is just devastating," Mr. Convertino said. "I have five kids, and I had to tell my kids today, 'They're charging Dad with a crime.' But if they think they can scare me off like this, they've got the wrong guy."

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company


Afghan Women: As Oppressed As Under Taliban

There’s been an immense flap about an Afghan citizen, Abdul Rahman, who converted to christianity, and was then put on trial in his country for apostasy from Islam. Shock and horror, screams and blithering came from this country’s christian Right over such an awful thing.

No one seems to have noticed, except a few commentators on the left side of the dial, that while Rahman’s case is outrageous, Afghani women are still under a great deal of persecution—as much as under the Taliban. I’ve seen newsclips and videos from Afghanistan: the majority of women still wrapped in black and under burkas. Outside of the metro area, it’s the vast majority of women who are totally covered. There are still religious police who pound on women for exposing their faces. Women still are illiterate, and there are few schools for them. Just like under the Taliban.

But, silence from the American Right. I think they like the idea of women being totally subjugated (except for a few apologists like Bay Buchanan, Michelle Malkin, Katherine Harris who periodically get up to lambast the liberals). In the meanwhile, Afghan women are still as suppressed as they were under the Taliban. An irony of history is that under the Russian dominated government in that country, the burka was outlawed and women were allowed to go to school.

Selective Outrage
By Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, AlterNet
Posted on March 30, 2006, Printed on March 30, 2006

Daily media reports over the case of Afghan Christian convert Abdul Rahman have revealed a sudden concern over Afghanistan's repressive human rights environment. But routine human rights reports of the ongoing oppression of Afghan women, suppression of the media and underlying Western complicity have barely been noticed.

In the West, government officials, media pundits and right-wing commentators have expressed vocal concern over the life of one Afghan man who chose, 16 years ago, to convert from Islam to Christianity. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Rahman's arrest for apostasy (renunciation of faith), a crime that carries the death penalty was "beyond belief." U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "deeply troubled" by the case. The New York Times opined that "the case is more than deeply troubling, it's barbaric."

These same officials, whose governments underwrite the Afghan government, were apparently so moved by Rahman's situation that they pushed for President Hamid Karzai to have Rahman released. In what the Associated Press called "an unusual move," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Karzai to convey "in the strongest possible terms" her government's wish for a "favorable resolution." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also appealed to Karzai and got positive results.

Three days before Rahman was released, Harper said, "[Karzai] conveyed to me that we don't have to worry about [Rahman's execution. He] assured me that what's alarmed most of us will be worked out quickly … in a way that fully respects religious rights, religious freedoms and human rights." Not surprisingly, the case was dismissed on March 27 due to "insufficient evidence.

Prior to the dismissal, Bush boasted, "We have got influence in Afghanistan, and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values." In other words, the Afghan courts are free to come to their own verdict, so long as the U.S. agrees with it. On CNN's Late Edition, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., warned, "Let's hope they make the right decision. If they don't, I think there are going to be a great many problems."

Behind Roberts' words was an unmistakable threat that the United States and other Western governments would withdraw their support for the fragile Karzai government. Gary Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values, sent an email to 250,000 supporters warning that Rahman's execution would "result in a complete collapse in support for the war." The New York Times echoed these sentiments: "What's the point of the United States' propping up the government of Afghanistan if it's not even going to pretend to respect basic human rights?" The newspaper's editors threatened, "If Afghanistan wants to return to the Taliban days, it can do so without the help of the United States."

The implication is clear: By "liberating" Afghanistan, the Christian West now stakes a claim in its internal affairs. Recognizing this influence, vocal leaders have discovered a sudden interest in international law and universal values -- but it is a piecemeal recognition, avoiding the systemic issues of human rights violations seen in Afghanistan on a daily basis. Before one applauds the outcome, it is important to understand that Rahman's religious freedom case is a symptom of a much larger problem.

While Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins laments that "such a 'trial' is a flagrant violation of Article 18 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights," he does not cite Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to education. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reports that the number of educational facilities for women has actually been reduced in the past year. In southern Afghanistan, the United Nations reports about 300 girls' schools were burned down in 2005. Nationwide, women's literacy rates are half that of men. Some provinces report literacy rates of 3 percent for women.

For Afghanistan's approximately 15 million women, "universal values" do not include women's rights. A UNICEF report released last week warned of the grim statistics concerning Afghan women and children:

[A]n estimated 600 children under the age of 5 die every day in Afghanistan, mostly due to preventable illnesses, some 50 women die every day due to obstetric complications, less than half of primary school age girls attend classes, while a quarter of primary school age children undertake some form of work, and an estimated one-third of women are married before the age of 18.

In 2001, similar statistics were routinely reported as a justification for the war on Afghanistan and women's "liberation." Yet, five years later, the situation has scarcely improved.

The case of Abdul Rahman has drawn attention to Afghanistan's judicial system, which has been in dire need of reform since it was set up at the end of 2001. But, other than Rahman's case, most commentators have a meager understanding of how this system has affected the lives of Afghans, especially women, its greatest victims. Amnesty International notes that "the current criminal justice system is simply unwilling or unable to address issues of violence against women. At the moment (October 2003) it is more likely to violate the rights of women than to protect and uphold their rights (emphasis added)."

The main legal document of Afghanistan is the constitution, drafted and passed in early 2004 with the oversight of then U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. In March 2004, we warned of the constitution's ambivalent stance toward women's rights:

[P]ossibly negating any rights of women is the ominous inclusion of the supremacy of Islamic law in the constitution: "in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." As if to underscore the threat this statement presents, the Chairman of the constitutional convention, … Sibghatullah Mojadidi, said to the women delegates at the convention, "Even God has not given you equal rights because under his decision two women are counted as equal to one man."

Islamic law in the constitution was meant to appease extremist right-wing factions, including the Chief Justice Fazl Al Shinwari. Shinwari is a close ally of the fundamentalist warlord and U.S.-Saudi protege of the early 1990s Abdul-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, now a member of the Afghan parliament. Human Rights Watch reported that Shinwari and his deputy "do not appear to act independently, the first requirement of a judge, instead making political judgments in close collaboration with warlords like Sayyaf."

Shinwari has taken full advantage of his position and the new constitution to appoint judges who share his extreme beliefs to the lower courts, and handing out misogynist decisions on cases involving women, particularly in family law. He refuses to appoint women to high court positions, saying, "If a woman becomes a top judge, then what would happen when she has a menstruation cycle once a month, and she cannot go to the mosque?"

Shinwari has banned cable television in Afghanistan, arrested journalists for blasphemy, and forced Women's Affairs minister Sima Samar to resign her post after she was charged with blasphemy for making "irresponsible statements" criticizing Shari'a law. As with apostasy, the penalty for blasphemy is death. Yet, we hear no criticisms from the West regarding the court's numerous medieval blasphemy accusations.

The consequences for women of such a repressive justice system have been dire. The AIHRC noted 150 cases of self-immolation among women in the western region of the country in 2005 alone. Women who burn themselves to death often do so as a result of forced marriages, which are sanctioned by extremist interpretations of Shari'a law and are occurring at an alarming rate. Cases of violence against women are also rising. A young woman named Gulbar in the Baghdis province was repeatedly abused by her husband, who finally set fire to her. While she attempts to recover from extreme burns covering 40 percent of her body, no steps have been taken by local authorities to hold her husband accountable.

In late 2005, the well-respected 25-year-old poet Nadia Anjuman was beaten by her husband and died of injuries. U.N. spokesperson Adrian Edwards condemned the killing: "The death of Nadia Anjuman … is indeed tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan. It needs to be investigated, and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in a proper court of law."

The New York Times sarcastically commented that if Rahman was to be executed, "maybe Afghanistan should also return to stoning women to death for adultery." Perhaps the Times will recall last spring, when 29-year-old Amina of Badakhshan province was stoned to death after being accused of adultery by her husband and convicted by local officials.There was no international outcry from the United States or other foreign countries and no attempts to get President Karzai to enforce universal human rights.

It is likely that, given the current atmosphere in Afghanistan, justice will not be served for Gulbar, Nadia Anjuman, Amina or the uncounted women who have been stifled by a judicial system that was designed to work against them. The complicit silence from Western media and government officials indicates that Bush's "influence in Afghanistan" is not worth exercising to protect women's rights.

Note that Bush administration officials have remained entirely silent on the fate of a brave Afghan woman named Malalai Joya. Joya is one of the youngest members of Afghanistan's parliament and a fierce critic of U.S.-backed fundamentalist warlords. She has survived four assassination attempts and has received over 100 death threats. The only action the Karzai government has taken recently is to withdraw the security guards that she was previously provided.

In early 2005, the position of U.N. independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, held by Cherif Bassiouni, was eliminated at the request of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Just before he was fired, Bassiouni had published a report describing "arbitrary arrest, illegal detentions and abuses committed by the United States-led coalition forces," as well as activities by these forces which "fall under the internationally accepted definition of torture."

Abdul Rahman's case is not unique -- it provides an example of the fear with which most ordinary Afghans, especially women, live. Even if one were to take seriously the Western concern for religious freedom, there appears to be less concern for the everyday violations of women's humanity ensconced in the Afghan legal and political system, or for the criminal behavior of Washington's own troops in Afghanistan. Most expressions of outrage at Rahman's plight disregard the human rights violations for which the West is directly responsible and reveal an unstated contempt for the rights of women, the most common victims of the current Afghan justice system.

Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls are co-directors of the Afghan Women's Mission, and the authors of the forthcoming book, "Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence" (Seven Stories, 2006).
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Iraqi Blogs: Another Source of Information

Since it’s now official to “blame the media,” as in newspapers and TV, I thought I’d look around for some other sources of info about Iraq. As in blogs from Iraq. Here’s a list of some I found:

These are posted by people in the midst of things. Riverbend, whoever she is, has a fine series of posts, showing how life just goes on the middle of chaos—but how the chaos is only as far away as a knock at the door. According to, she’s up for a British award for non-fiction writing. She should be. Her writing is simple and matter-of-fact. Here’s her post from last Tuesday.

Baghdad Burning

... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I sat late last night switching between Iraqi channels (the half dozen or so I sometimes try to watch). It’s a late-night tradition for me when there’s electricity- to see what the Iraqi channels are showing. Generally speaking, there still isn’t a truly ‘neutral’ Iraqi channel. The most popular ones are backed and funded by the different political parties currently vying for power. This became particularly apparent during the period directly before the elections.

I was trying to decide between a report on bird flu on one channel, a montage of bits and pieces from various latmiyas on another channel and an Egyptian soap opera on a third channel. I paused on the Sharqiya channel which many Iraqis consider to be a reasonably toned channel (and which during the elections showed its support for Allawi in particular). I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page. The usual- mortar fire on an area in Baghdad, an American soldier killed here, another one wounded there… 12 Iraqi corpses found in an area in Baghdad, etc. Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly.

E. was sitting at the other end of the living room, taking apart a radio he later wouldn’t be able to put back together. I called him over with the words, “Come here and read this- I’m sure I misunderstood…” He stood in front of the television and watched the words about corpses and Americans and puppets scroll by and when the news item I was watching for appeared, I jumped up and pointed. E. and I read it in silence and E. looked as confused as I was feeling.

The line said:

وزارة الدفاع تدعو المواطنين الى عدم الانصياع لاوامر دوريات الجيش والشرطة الليلية اذا لم تكن برفقة قوات التحالف العاملة في تلك المنطقة
The translation:

“The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”

That’s how messed up the country is at this point.

We switched to another channel, the “Baghdad” channel (allied with Muhsin Abdul Hameed and his group) and they had the same news item, but instead of the general “coalition forces” they had “American coalition forces”. We checked two other channels. Iraqiya (pro-Da’awa) didn’t mention it and Forat (pro-SCIRI) also didn’t have it on their news ticker.

We discussed it today as it was repeated on another channel.

“So what does it mean?” My cousin’s wife asked as we sat gathered at lunch.

“It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don’t have to let them in.” I answered.

“They’re not exactly asking your permission,” E. pointed out. “They break the door down and take people away- or have you forgotten?”

“Well according to the Ministry of Defense, we can shoot at them, right? It’s trespassing-they can be considered burglars or abductors…” I replied.

The cousin shook his head, “If your family is inside the house- you’re not going to shoot at them. They come in groups, remember? They come armed and in large groups- shooting at them or resisting them would endanger people inside of the house.”

“Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON’T have Americans with them?” E. asked.

We sat drinking tea, mulling over the possibilities. It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning- the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.

But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can’t even trust its own personnel, unless they are “accompanied by American coalition forces”.

It really is difficult to understand what is happening lately. We hear about talks between Americans and Iran over security in Iraq, and then American ambassador in Iraq accuses Iran of funding militias inside of the country. Today there are claims that Americans killed between 20 to 30 men from Sadr’s militia in an attack on a husseiniya yesterday. The Americans are claiming that responsibility for the attack should be placed on Iraqi security forces (the same security forces they are constantly commending).

All of this directly contradicts claims by Bush and other American politicians that Iraqi troops and security forces are in control of the situation. Or maybe they are in control- just not in a good way.

They’ve been finding corpses all over Baghdad for weeks now- and it’s always the same: holes drilled in the head, multiple shots or strangulation, like the victims were hung. Execution, militia style. Many of the people were taken from their homes by security forces- police or special army brigades… Some of them were rounded up from mosques.

A few days ago we went to pick up one of my female cousins from college. Her college happens to be quite close to the local morgue. E., our cousin L., and I all sat in the car which, due to traffic, we parked slightly further away from the college to wait for our other cousin. I looked over at the commotion near the morgue.

There were dozens of people- mostly men- standing around in a bleak group. Some of them smoked cigarettes, others leaned on cars or pick-up trucks... Their expressions varied- grief, horror, resignation. On some faces, there was an anxious look of combined dread and anticipation. It’s a very specific look, one you will find only outside the Baghdad morgue. The eyes are wide and bloodshot, as if searching for something, the brow is furrowed, the jaw is set and the mouth is a thin frown. It’s a look that tells you they are walking into the morgue, where the bodies lay in rows, and that they pray they do not find what they are looking for.

The cousin sighed heavily and told us to open a couple of windows and lock the doors- he was going to check the morgue. A month before, his wife’s uncle had been taken away from a mosque during prayer- they’ve yet to find him. Every two days, someone from the family goes to the morgue to see if his body was brought in. “Pray I don’t find him… or rather... I just- we hate the uncertainty.” My cousin sighed heavily and got out of the car. I said a silent prayer as he crossed the street and disappeared into the crowd.

E. and I waited patiently for H., who was still inside the college and for L. who was in the morgue. The minutes stretched and E. and I sat silently- smalltalk seeming almost blasphemous under the circumstances. L. came out first. I watched him tensely and found myself chewing away at my lower lip, “Did he find him? Inshalla he didn’t find him…” I said to no one in particular. As he got closer to the car, he shook his head. His face was immobile and grim, but behind the grim expression, we could see relief, “He’s not there. Hamdulilah [Thank God].”

“Hamdulilah” E. and I repeated the words in unison.

WE all looked back at the morgue. Most of the cars had simple, narrow wooden coffins on top of them, in anticipation of the son or daughter or brother. One frenzied woman in a black abaya was struggling to make her way inside, two relatives holding her back. A third man was reaching up to untie the coffin tied to the top of their car.

“See that woman- they found her son. I saw them identifying him. A bullet to the head.” The woman continued to struggle, her legs suddenly buckling under her, her wails filling the afternoon, and although it was surprisingly warm that day, I pulled at my sleeves, trying to cover my suddenly cold fingers.

We continued to watch the various scenes of grief, anger, frustration and every once in a while, an almost tangible relief as someone left the morgue having not found what they dreaded most to find- eyes watery from the smell, the step slightly lighter than when they went in, having been given a temporary reprieve from the worry of claiming a loved one from the morgue…

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Woman Busted For Anti-Bush Bumper Sticker

There’re daily incidences like this being reported, you might notice. Every day, the limits of what we used to call “free speech” are redrawn, smaller and smaller.

Woman fights $100 fine for 'Bushit' bumper sticker
03/28/2006 @ 1:36 am
Filed by RAW STORY

"It was 9:30 on a recent Friday night when Denise Grier saw blue lights in her rearview mirror," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution begins in Thursday editions. Excerpts:

She pulled over on Chamblee-Tucker Road, unaware of her infraction.

"The officer asked if I knew I had a lewd decal on my car and I thought, 'Oh gosh, what did my kids put on my car?' "

As it turns out, the decal was an anti-Bush bumper sticker Grier slapped on her 2001 Chrysler Sebring last summer. The bumper sticker — "I'm Tired Of All The BUSH—" — contains an expletive.

The officer "said DeKalb had an ordinance about lewd decals and wrote me a ticket" for $100, said Grier, an oncology nurse at Emory University Hospital who lives in Athens.

"This is all about free speech," Grier said in a telephone interview Monday. "The officer pulled me over because he didn't agree with my politics. That's what this is about, not whether I support Bush, not because of the war in Iraq, but about my right to free speech."

Officer Herschel Grangent Jr., a spokesman for the DeKalb County Police Department, confirmed the incident Monday but said he couldn't "speculate on or discuss another officer's decision to write a citation."



Women's Roles Still Shoved Down Their Throats.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the daughters and granddaughters of my friends have generally gone farther than the sons and grandsons. Farther in education, farther in achievements. That’s good, since I remember how hard it used to be for women to get into college and to stay in college. Their jobs were almost always subservient positions: receptionists, secretaries, lower-level teachers. That’s really changed in the last thirty years. I’m glad.

At the same time, the pressures to keep them as ambulatory dolls, sex objects, and flunkies have increased. I still hear the line “you can’t be too thin or too rich,” applied to women. Not much about “you can’t be too bright.

And the women, like men, can’t just brush off the pressure to assume the old roles. The conflicts are internalized, one way or another.

A group of women, though, has discovered they can better deal with these conflicts if they not just expose their internal debates, but talk to others about them. Way to go!


Over-Achievers With Low Self-Esteem

By Amy DePaul, WireTap
Posted on March 28, 2006, Printed on March 28, 2006

If you read the most-emailed article in the New York Times at the end of last week ("To All the Girls I've Rejected"), then you know that some college admission offices are holding female applicants to a higher standard than their male counterparts in hopes of achieving a greater gender balance on campus.

That's because women's enrollment in college is dramatically outpacing men's. By the 2009-2010 school year, according to the Business Roundtable, women will earn 142 bachelor's degrees and 173 associate degrees for every 100 awarded to men in these categories.

American girls, meanwhile, are not only advancing in the classroom but on playing fields as well. One in three high school girls now plays a sport, compared to one in 27 before Title IX (an act that called for more college scholarships for women to ensure parity with male athletes in 1972). The cultural landscape has shifted accordingly, offering up highly empowered female heroines both real and fictional, including Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

But for all the undisputed advances made by young women, evidence suggests there is more to this story, a dark side that has long been acknowledged but seems all the more baffling in this era of increasingly accomplished girls.

Foremost, a young woman's body is still a battleground -- the relentless focus of the porn industry, the celebrity and the weight-loss industries. Advocates in the field of eating disorders remind us that these illnesses have doubled their reach in the last 30 years, that they are fatal in 10 percent of cases, and that they are affecting younger and more ethnically diverse girls. And it's not just about food and other forms of bodily self-abuse such as cutting. In a 2001 Harvard study, one in five teen girls reported being hit or being forced into sex by their partners. Depression is another pervasive affliction among college women, despite their groundbreaking achievements and presumably bright economic prospects.

The hazards that young women face on the way to adulthood are real -- as real as ever. The problem is how to understand them in light of girl power, Buffy and the WNBA.

Going public in Ohio

One window into the conflicted inner lives of young women who appear by every measure to kick ass -- in school, on the soccer field -- while secretly struggling with self-worth, was made available to me as an instructor at Miami University of Ohio. Founded in 1809, Miami is a mostly residential college of old brick buildings with ivy tendrils, majestic trees and verdant lawns. The social life is Greek-dominated, and the college is famous for its "Miami Mergers," that is, couples who meet in their undergraduate years and go on to marry.

But even a traditional campus in southwest rural Ohio -- deep in the red zone -- shows signs of change. Miami is one of the state's most competitive universities, drawing a select group of highly motivated, achievement-oriented young women among its students. These largely middle- and upper-class women are as vulnerable as anyone to the afflictions of modern American girlhood. Four years ago, a group of female students at Miami formed an organization to go public with their struggles.

The group was called Achieving You, and it was modeled on an organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The goal of its members was to provide support to one another and to younger peers. Many members of the group had faced down self-esteem-related disorders, and now they wanted to talk about their experiences and their recoveries. Eventually, the Miami students hoped to speak frankly about their lives to high school girls in the area.

Sharing stories

In late 2003, a group of about 20 Miami women came together at a large meeting room in the school's student union to share their stories of struggle. Pulling their chairs into a circle, many discussed depression, others eating disorders and still others abusive boyfriends or compulsive promiscuity. They described their lives in college and high school, where they had played a variety of sports, such as lacrosse, swimming and soccer. Most if not all said that in high school they took advanced placement classes and held leadership positions such as class officer. Now in college, many had joined sororities and relished the female camaraderie offered by Greek life.

Unlike the starving ballerina types so often depicted in journalistic accounts of female self-esteem disorders, all the speakers were wryly funny, self-aware and fully confident young women, or so it seemed:

"I was the captain of my water polo team in high school, in the honor society "

"I was a perfectionist in every sense of the word. I came home from school and would rewrite my notes from class. I had to be the president of every organization. You can guess my grades "

"I was tomboy central ..."

"I was an A student in AP classes ..."

"I was a valedictorian ..."

"I was on two championship teams ..."

Foiled expectations

Given these introductions, the stories that inevitably followed -- clogging the shower drain with vomit or being kicked and taunted publicly by a boyfriend, or fantasizing about the best method of suicide -- seemed all the more unlikely. As the group's founder, Brie Henry, put it, "You wouldn't expect these problems from these girls."

The improbable combination of strength and frailty on display that night raises tough questions. Shouldn't the educated, physically empowered and ambitious young women of today be less susceptible to disorders of self-esteem than the girls before them? And how do you maintain a balance between potent self-confidence, on one hand, and crushing self-doubt, on the other, without eventually losing your grounding?

As it turns out, you don't. I learned that most of the women in Achieving You who had struggled in their teens had ultimately broken down, either late in high school or soon after starting college. Some simply stopped going to class, focusing instead on grueling exercises for hours at a time every day. Or they played with razors, or their parents finally caught them with their hands down their throats. In the more dramatic cases, some reported relief when the balancing act was over, and they could begin rebuilding more authentic identities through therapy, honest communication and introspection.

Finding strength, serving others

The women I interviewed said they needed the connection provided by Achieving You, which allowed them to share their stories and to celebrate triumph in their recovery. What made Achieving You more than a typical peer-support group were two important factors: The women had organized themselves rather than being led by well-meaning adults such as health teachers and therapists. In addition, the young women in the group had taken it upon themselves to contact local high schools to arrange to tell their stories -- with emphasis on recovery -- directly to adolescent girls, and in so doing, offer positive models of leadership.

And so the Miami students began arranging visits in Cincinnati-area schools, contacting health teachers and setting up meetings with girls only. The Miami students would walk into a class of 30-40 girls, usually starting at 8:30 a.m., breaking for lunch and continuing to meet with successive classes until the end of the school day. After every session, audience members were asked to write comments and questions on index cards. The high school girls' comments were a mix of relief and admiration:

"Your stories inspired me. I know I'm not alone now."

"The girl who talked about the guy who raped her, and who said she was ugly and not worth it -- I can relate!"

"Hey, I'm really sorry that this happened to you all, and I'm glad that people like you are helping make a difference with young women's lives."

"I love the girls. You're amazing girls. Girls rock!"

A sort of schizophrenia

The striking thing about Achieving You is how clearly its members represented the very combination of empowerment and victimization that is so perplexing among American young women today. These and other young women embody a sort of schizophrenia in which they surge ahead in academics and athletics while at the same time adopt behaviors that compromise them. The obvious question is why.

My interviews and observation suggest one possible explanation: That the girls' self-destructive anxieties and compulsions arose, at least in part, to meet a powerful need. That need was to maintain a check on their own forcefulness, that is, to dilute their otherwise formidable strength.

"A girl worries about being too smart, too successful, too intimidating, too blond, too promiscuous," says Erin Lenger, 23, an original member of Achieving You, which is still active at Miami.

Not surprisingly, the members of Achieving You never arrived at a single answer to the question, 'Why did this happen to me and so many other girls?' But they were able to establish at least one thing: In their struggles they had found the strength to heal themselves and now stood in a position to help others to do the same. Unbowed, emboldened even by their own battles for self-worth, they had emerged stronger, more connected to other women and more aware of the complexity of being female.

"I turn to other girls and stories that make me feel a little more normal," Lenger says. "Achieving You did that for me, most definitely. I realized that my abusive relationship was just one of a million things that girls struggle with daily. I turn to my mother, my sister, and my girlfriends to understand their lives, and then align their experiences with my own. Open communication with other females, especially ones that you can confide in, is imperative."

Amy DePaul is a writer living in Irvine, Calif.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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British Memo Shows Bush Lied claims that this British memo “drives a stake” into the heart of the Bush-Cheney Junta’s argument that an alternative to war with Iraq was actually searched for. I don’t know about that: the administrations lies about the war have been shredded dozens of times, beginning with the New American Century’s arguments for international imperialism, published long before either 9/11 or the war itself. Denials come out of Washington more often than in a treatment center.

And the country itself, the citizens and the media, are in denial, too. It hurts to admit you’ve been lied to, that the nation is really on a Crusade to Make The World Safe For American Interests and Addictions. More Hummers are sold every day, more ATVs, more plastic bags. Oil, oil, the national heroin. Oil and power, actually: there’s little doubt both Bush and Blair are equally strung out on the idea of running the world the way they think it should be run.

Anyhow, the memo. The lies. The lying. It won’t quit.

The New York Times

March 27, 2006
Bush Was Set on Path to War, Memo by British Adviser Says

LONDON — In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

The timetable came at an important diplomatic moment. Five days after the Bush-Blair meeting, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was scheduled to appear before the United Nations to present the American evidence that Iraq posed a threat to world security by hiding unconventional weapons.

Although the United States and Britain aggressively sought a second United Nations resolution against Iraq — which they failed to obtain — the president said repeatedly that he did not believe he needed it for an invasion.

Stamped "extremely sensitive," the five-page memorandum, which was circulated among a handful of Mr. Blair's most senior aides, had not been made public. Several highlights were first published in January in the book "Lawless World," which was written by a British lawyer and international law professor, Philippe Sands. In early February, Channel 4 in London first broadcast several excerpts from the memo.

Since then, The New York Times has reviewed the five-page memo in its entirety. While the president's sentiments about invading Iraq were known at the time, the previously unreported material offers an unfiltered view of two leaders on the brink of war, yet supremely confident.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.

Those proposals were first reported last month in the British press, but the memo does not make clear whether they reflected Mr. Bush's extemporaneous suggestions, or were elements of the government's plan.

Consistent Remarks

Two senior British officials confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to talk further about it, citing Britain's Official Secrets Act, which made it illegal to divulge classified information. But one of them said, "In all of this discussion during the run-up to the Iraq war, it is obvious that viewing a snapshot at a certain point in time gives only a partial view of the decision-making process."

On Sunday, Frederick Jones, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said the president's public comments were consistent with his private remarks made to Mr. Blair. "While the use of force was a last option, we recognized that it might be necessary and were planning accordingly," Mr. Jones said.

"The public record at the time, including numerous statements by the President, makes clear that the administration was continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution into 2003," he said. "Saddam Hussein was given every opportunity to comply, but he chose continued defiance, even after being given one final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. Our public and private comments are fully consistent."

The January 2003 memo is the latest in a series of secret memos produced by top aides to Mr. Blair that summarize private discussions between the president and the prime minister. Another group of British memos, including the so-called Downing Street memo written in July 2002, showed that some senior British officials had been concerned that the United States was determined to invade Iraq, and that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush administration to fit its desire to go to war.

The latest memo is striking in its characterization of frank, almost casual, conversation by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair about the most serious subjects. At one point, the leaders swapped ideas for a postwar Iraqi government. "As for the future government of Iraq, people would find it very odd if we handed it over to another dictator," the prime minister is quoted as saying.

"Bush agreed," Mr. Manning wrote. This exchange, like most of the quotations in this article, have not been previously reported.

Mr. Bush was accompanied at the meeting by Condoleezza Rice, who was then the national security adviser; Dan Fried, a senior aide to Ms. Rice; and Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff. Along with Mr. Manning, Mr. Blair was joined by two other senior aides: Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, and Matthew Rycroft, a foreign policy aide and the author of the Downing Street memo.

By late January 2003, United Nations inspectors had spent six weeks in Iraq hunting for weapons under the auspices of Security Council Resolution 1441, which authorized "serious consequences" if Iraq voluntarily failed to disarm. Led by Hans Blix, the inspectors had reported little cooperation from Mr. Hussein, and no success finding any unconventional weapons.

At their meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said. The president spoke as if an invasion was unavoidable. The two leaders discussed a timetable for the war, details of the military campaign and plans for the aftermath of the war.

Discussing Provocation

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation. Since they were first reported last month, neither the White House nor the British government has discussed them.

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

Mr. Sands first reported the proposals in his book, although he did not use any direct quotations from the memo. He is a professor of international law at University College of London and the founding member of the Matrix law office in London, where the prime minister's wife, Cherie Blair, is a partner.

Mr. Jones, the National Security Council spokesman, declined to discuss the proposals, saying, "We are not going to get into discussing private discussions of the two leaders."

At several points during the meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, there was palpable tension over finding a legitimate legal trigger for going to war that would be acceptable to other nations, the memo said. The prime minister was quoted as saying it was essential for both countries to lobby for a second United Nations resolution against Iraq, because it would serve as "an insurance policy against the unexpected."

The memo said Mr. Blair told Mr. Bush, "If anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning the oil wells, killing children or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq, a second resolution would give us international cover, especially with the Arabs."

Running Out of Time

Mr. Bush agreed that the two countries should attempt to get a second resolution, but he added that time was running out. "The U.S. would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten," Mr. Bush was paraphrased in the memo as saying.

The document added, "But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway."

The leaders agreed that three weeks remained to obtain a second United Nations Security Council resolution before military commanders would need to begin preparing for an invasion.

Summarizing statements by the president, the memo says: "The air campaign would probably last four days, during which some 1,500 targets would be hit. Great care would be taken to avoid hitting innocent civilians. Bush thought the impact of the air onslaught would ensure the early collapse of Saddam's regime. Given this military timetable, we needed to go for a second resolution as soon as possible. This probably meant after Blix's next report to the Security Council in mid-February."

Mr. Blair was described as responding that both countries would make clear that a second resolution amounted to "Saddam's final opportunity." The memo described Mr. Blair as saying: "We had been very patient. Now we should be saying that the crisis must be resolved in weeks, not months."

It reported: "Bush agreed. He commented that he was not itching to go to war, but we could not allow Saddam to go on playing with us. At some point, probably when we had passed the second resolutions — assuming we did — we should warn Saddam that he had a week to leave. We should notify the media too. We would then have a clear field if Saddam refused to go."

Mr. Bush devoted much of the meeting to outlining the military strategy. The president, the memo says, said the planned air campaign "would destroy Saddam's command and control quickly." It also said that he expected Iraq's army to "fold very quickly." He also is reported as telling the prime minister that the Republican Guard would be "decimated by the bombing."

Despite his optimism, Mr. Bush said he was aware that "there were uncertainties and risks," the memo says, and it goes on, "As far as destroying the oil wells were concerned, the U.S. was well equipped to repair them quickly, although this would be easier in the south of Iraq than in the north."

The two men briefly discussed plans for a post-Hussein Iraqi government. "The prime minister asked about aftermath planning," the memo says. "Condi Rice said that a great deal of work was now in hand.

Referring to the Defense Department, it said: "A planning cell in D.O.D. was looking at all aspects and would deploy to Iraq to direct operations as soon as the military action was over. Bush said that a great deal of detailed planning had been done on supplying the Iraqi people with food and medicine."

Planning for After the War

The leaders then looked beyond the war, imagining the transition from Mr. Hussein's rule to a new government. Immediately after the war, a military occupation would be put in place for an unknown period of time, the president was described as saying. He spoke of the "dilemma of managing the transition to the civil administration," the memo says.

The document concludes with Mr. Manning still holding out a last-minute hope of inspectors finding weapons in Iraq, or even Mr. Hussein voluntarily leaving Iraq. But Mr. Manning wrote that he was concerned this could not be accomplished by Mr. Bush's timeline for war.

"This makes the timing very tight," he wrote. "We therefore need to stay closely alongside Blix, do all we can to help the inspectors make a significant find, and work hard on the other members of the Security Council to accept the noncooperation case so that we can secure the minimum nine votes when we need them, probably the end of February."

At a White House news conference following the closed-door session, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair said "the crisis" had to be resolved in a timely manner. "Saddam Hussein is not disarming," the president told reporters. "He is a danger to the world. He must disarm. And that's why I have constantly said — and the prime minister has constantly said — this issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months."

Despite intense lobbying by the United States and Britain, a second United Nations resolution was not obtained. The American-led military coalition invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, nine days after the target date set by the president on that late January day at the White House.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company


Guest Workers: The Dark Side

The Senate, knowing a good thing when it sees one, has decided it wants some sort of “guest worker” program to ease the inflow of Latino immigrants coming up across the US-Mexican border. This has been done before, like with the bracero program of some decades back. This provides a source of cheap labor, and helps relax the tensions of the population explosion to our south. It’s a major problem: if we “seal” the border, if we could, the soaring numbers in Latin America, particularly Mexico, combined with horrendous poverty and unemployment down there, we’ll only be shortening the fuse of a real explosion. If we don’t, our own racial tensions may snap.

The appeal of the guest worker program, I believe, comes from observations of countries like Kuwait, the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and even Iraq, where imported cheap labor is exploited. In those places, the imported workers are essentially held in detention camps, closely supervised, and paid at the bare minimum. Then they’re sent home. Cheap unorganized labor is always popular with employers.

Migrants and the Middle East: Welcome to the other side of Dubai
For the people who visit, it is a world-class centre of finance and tourism. But for the people who are building it - mainly labourers from the Indian subcontinent - the reality is very different.

Kim Sengupta reports on a rising tide of protest
Published: 28 March 2006

It is the fastest growing city on earth, a landscape of building sites full of workers feverishly constructing the highest, the largest and the deepest in the world. It's a neverland, rising out of the barren desert and fringed by beaches and a ski resort. There are no taxes. And it is the favoured destination of Britons wishing to work and play abroad.

Fifty per cent of the world's supply of cranes are now at work in Dubai on projects worth $100bn - twice the World Bank's estimated cost of reconstructing Iraq and double the total foreign investment in China, the word's third-largest economy.

But there is also a downside to the glistening towers that soar above the shopping malls, the six-lane highways and the world's only seven-star hotel with suites that can cost $50,000 (£28,000) a night. More than 2,500 workers at the site of the world's tallest building, the $800m Burj Dubai, went on strike last week in a country where striking - and unions - are illegal. It is the latest manifestation of the deep discontent felt by the semi-indentured labourers from the Indian subcontinent who are building this glitzy oasis. Complaining of unpaid wages, and demanding better conditions, the labourers marched out of the cramped, stifling dormitories where they are corralled 25 to a room in violent protests which caused $1m worth of damage. They overturned cars and smashed up offices in a very graphic reminder of a problem which normally receives little publicity.

Almost everything is for sale in this part of the United Arab Emirates. Those investing in this frantic construction boom are convinced there will be no shortage of moneyed buyers. Among the developments springing up daily are Flower City, which aims to take over the international flower trade from Amsterdam; Hydropolis, an underwater hotel alongside another with revolving mountains; a Chess City with buildings in the shape of chess pieces; the $5bn Dubailand, which will become the world's biggest theme park - bigger than Manhattan and dwarfing Disneyland. Then there are the 300 manmade islands in the Arabian Gulf in the shape of different countries of the world ...

Like some other Arab countries, Dubai's oil reserves are dwindling and the ruling family, the Maktoums, want to reinvent their personal fiefdom as a financial and transport centre using the profits, while stocks last, from oil at $70 a barrel.

The state-owned Dubai Ports is voraciously buying up port complexes around the globe. There was a recent setback in the US when the company, being Arab, was deemed to be a security threat. It provoked outraged editorials in Dubai's government-controlled newspapers. But the reality is that the UAE, a bastion of rampant capitalism, cannot afford to alienate Washington. The search for acquisitions continues.

The one thing money cannot buy in Dubai, however, is UAE nationality. Around 80 per cent of the population are foreigners from no less than 160 different countries and the Maktoums appear to be prepared to let the foreigner-to-local ratio grow even wider. But however long the expatriates stay, they will not be allowed citizenship. Visas are tied to jobs, and there is always the risk of being thrown out when the contract ends.

The people most vulnerable to this are the very workers putting up Dubai's glossy edifices. Thirty-nine of them died in building-site accidents last year - with at least some of the casualties resulting from inadequate safety provisions. Another 84 committed suicide last year, up from 70 in 2004.

The average pay for an unskilled labourer is around $4 a day, and that is enough of a lure for the impoverished of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to flock to the UAE. The jobs are arranged through contractors and those who get them have to take out loans, often at exorbitant rates of interest, to pay for their passage. On arrival in Dubai, their passports are confiscated to prevent absconding while they are on contract.

Monday, March 27, 2006


More FBI Spying On Dissidents

I wonder just how much money is spent on spying on groups like Food Not Bombs, the American Friends Service Committee, and various anti-war activists. Probably enough to lift several families out of poverty for a year or two.

So the FBI keeps an eye on the League of Women Voters, as well. Greenpeace? The Audobon Society? That wouldn’t surpise me, either. Hardly anything the cop-set does surprises me any more. And there are so many agencies the spies are spying on each other.

Riccardi, in the article, mentions FBI activities back in the ‘60s. How about the ‘50s and ‘40s, ‘30s and ‘20s and ‘teens? The Feds have spent as much time spying on political dissidents as they have pursuing organized crime. Sure, some of the groups, like the Stalinists and Nazis and the Klan, Al-Qaeda, are bad news: but, really, were people like Emma Goldman or Gene Debs?

The Denver FBI spokeswoman said that the FBI didn't have enough agents to spy on the innocent. But people who break windows...they're a different story.,0,5815737.story?page=2&coll=la-home-headlines
From the Los Angeles Times
FBI Keeps Watch on Activists
Antiwar, other groups are monitored to curb violence, not because of ideology, agency says.
By Nicholas Riccardi
Times Staff Writer

March 27, 2006

DENVER — The FBI, while waging a highly publicized war against terrorism, has spent resources gathering information on antiwar and environmental protesters and on activists who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless, the agency's internal memos show.

For years, the FBI's definition of terrorism has included violence against property, such as the window-smashing during the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization. That definition has led FBI investigations to online discussion boards, organizing meetings and demonstrations of a wide range of activist groups. Officials say that international terrorists pose the greatest threat to the nation but that they cannot ignore crimes committed by some activists.

"It's one thing to express an idea or such, but when you commit acts of violence in support of that activity, that's where our interest comes in," said FBI spokesman Bill Carter in Washington.

He stressed that the agency targeted individuals who committed crimes and did not single out groups for ideological reasons. He cited the recent arrest of environmental activists accused of firebombing an unfinished ski resort in Vail. "People can get hurt," Carter said. "Businesses can be ruined."

The FBI's encounters with activists are described in hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act after agents visited several activists before the 2004 political conventions. Details have steadily trickled out over the last year, but newly released documents provide a fuller view of some FBI probes.

"Any definition of terrorism that would include someone throwing a bottle or rock through a window during an antiwar demonstration is dangerously overbroad," ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner said. "The FBI will have its hands full pursuing antiwar groups instead of truly dangerous organizations."

ACLU attorneys say most violence during demonstrations is minor and is better handled by local police than federal counterterrorism agents. They say the FBI, which spied on antiwar and civil rights leaders during the 1960s, appears to be investigating activists solely for opposing the government.

"They don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but they're spending money watching people like me," said environmental activist Kirsten Atkins. Her license plate number showed up in an FBI terrorism file after she attended a protest against the lumber industry in Colorado Springs in 2002.

ACLU attorneys acknowledge that the FBI memos are heavily redacted and contain incomplete portraits of some cases. Still, the attorneys say, the documents show that the FBI has monitored groups that were not suspected of any crime.

"It certainly seems they're casting a net much more widely than would be necessary to thwart something like the blowing up of the Oklahoma City federal building," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

FBI officials respond that there is nothing improper about agents attending a meeting or demonstration.

"We have to be able to go out and look at things; we have to be able to conduct an investigation," said William J. Crowley, a spokesman for the FBI in Pittsburgh. His field office filed a report — released by the ACLU this month — in which an agent described photographing Pittsburgh activists who were handing out fliers for a war protest. The report mentioned no potential violence or crimes.

Crowley said his office had been looking for a certain person in that case and had closed the file when it realized the suspect was not among those handing out the leaflets.

The murky connection that the federal government makes between some left-wing activist groups and terrorism was illustrated in a Justice Department presentation to a college law class this month.

An FBI counterterrorism official showed the class, at the University of Texas in Austin, 35 slides listing militia, neo-Nazi and Islamist groups. Senior Special Agent Charles Rasner said one slide, labeled "Anarchism," was a federal analyst's list of groups that people intent on terrorism might associate with.

The list included Food Not Bombs, which mainly serves vegetarian food to homeless people, and — with a question mark next to it — Indymedia, a collective that publishes what it calls radical journalism online. Both groups are among the numerous organizations affiliated with anarchists and anti-globalization protests, where there has been some violence.

Elizabeth Wagoner said she was one of the few students who objected to the groups' inclusion on the list. "My friends do Indymedia," she said. "My friends aren't terrorists."

Rasner said that he'd never heard of the two groups before and didn't mean to condemn them. But he added that it made sense to worry about violent people emerging from anarchist networks — "Any group can have somebody that goes south."

Denver, where the ACLU fought a lengthy court battle with local police over its spying on political groups, has the most extensive records of encounters between the FBI and activists. Documents obtained by the ACLU there revealed how agents monitored the lumber industry demonstration, an antiwar march and an anarchist group that activists say was never formed.

In June 2002, environmental activists protested the annual meeting of the North American Wholesale Lumber Assn. in Colorado Springs. An FBI memo justified opening an inquiry into the protest because an activist training camp was to be held on "nonviolent methods of forest defense … security culture, street theater and banner making."

About 30 to 40 people attended the protest; three were arrested for trespassing while hanging a political banner. Colorado Springs police faxed the FBI a three-page list of demonstrators' license plate numbers.

In a recent interview, Denver FBI spokeswoman Monique R. Kelso first said the training camp and protest would not have been enough to merit an anti-terrorism inquiry. But later she said that she wasn't familiar with the details of the case and that the FBI opened cases when there was possible criminal activity.

The FBI's Denver office also monitored a February 2003 antiwar demonstration in Colorado Springs. A bureau memo said that activists planned to block streets and an Air Force base entrance, and that a more "radical" faction had announced online that it would meet near the demonstration but break away for unspecified purposes. The memo said an agent would watch the breakaway group and report to local police and FBI agents monitoring the march.

FBI officials say there was additional information, which they cannot disclose, that justified a terrorism investigation of that protest. They stress that they have to be aggressive in investigating terrorism in the post-Sept. 11 world.

"There's a lot of responsibility on the FBI," said Joe Airey, head of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Denver. "We have a real obligation to make sure there are no additional terrorist acts on this soil."

Denver-area activists said that since the surveillance documents became public, there had been a subtle chill, with some people avoiding protests for fear of ending up in an FBI file. Some activists think the FBI has been watching their groups to intimidate them.

"We've kind of gathered up our skirts and pulled in," said Sarah Bardwell, who works for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group. Along with some activist roommates, she has also volunteered for Food Not Bombs.

"In our house, we don't talk about politics anymore," Bardwell said. "There's been a toning down of everything we do."

That change came after six FBI agents and Denver police officers visited her house in July 2004.

Months earlier, the FBI had obtained a flier advertising a meeting near Bardwell's house to form a chapter of Anarchist Black Cross. That movement has two wings; one, according to the FBI, has been associated with "some of the most violent left-wing groups of the past 40 years."

The organizer of the meeting, Dawn Rewolinski, said the prospective chapter would have been part of the movement's other wing, which writes letters to prisoners. The chapter was never established, Rewolinski said. "All we did is eat some cookies and talk about various prisoners and realize we didn't have enough money for a P.O. box."

Nonetheless, FBI investigators believed a Denver chapter had been launched. They discovered that Anarchist Black Cross was affiliated with Food Not Bombs, and authorities ended up on Bardwell's doorstep, asking about the anarchists' plans for protests at the upcoming Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Kelso, the FBI spokeswoman, said there were documents that could not be released to the ACLU that showed good reasons for the government's concern. She dismissed the idea that agents were spying on activists for political reasons.

"We don't have enough agents," Kelso said, "to go out there to monitor and surveil innocent people."

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Sunday Slobber

The end of the month is always a jammed-up time for me. I’m committed to turning in a column a month for an on-line magazine (, and there’s always a packet of material from a local anti-poverty group to review. Some people would write the column well in advance, I guess, and then just send it before the deadline.
Some people, but not me.
I wonder if there’s a gene for procrastination. I’ve pretty well accepted that while I put things off, I usually get them done. It’s just the way I am. I know I’m not the only one. Part of getting old is realizing that there’s just not enough time any more to trash myself with as many neurotic conflicts as I used to do. A friend of mine pointed out that the ultimate goal of all kinds of therapies is simply self-acceptance—not necessarily personal change. The personal change isn’t possible when we’re all wrapped up in trying to make ourselves better, in trying to jettison well-entrenched habits, wanting to be liked, different, blah blah. Those conflicts use up most all of our psychic energy and most often end up in deadlocks, anyhow. Seems to me that when we stop trying to change, trying to force ourselves to be different, then energy is freed up and who knows what’s possible...

Anyhow, the column is done and sent off. The packet of materials hasn’t arrived yet. In the time I used writing the column, stuff piled up for the blog. Now most of that has been posted and the desktop on my computer has a lot fewer icons on it. That’s a relief. Now I can figure out what's important in the present and get on with it.


Bush: I Get To Pick and Choose Which Laws I'll Obey

Speaking of insanity and blindness... Bush signs bill but says he doesn’t have to follow it: King’s X, in effect. There was a French king who said “The Government is me.” It would appear that our president and his junta, are following in that king’s footsteps: I can do what I want because I’m the boss. This the madness of a truly spoiled rich kid—who happens to be more or less running the most powerful nation on Earth.

I wish I could just find some point where I can detach and let it all go to hell or where-ever it’s going. Bush is not only on a different path than America, but America is on still another path—following Desperate Housewives or March Madness or something. Maybe I’m just taking the wrong anti-depressants, or maybe it’s just because I sobered up a few years back.

Or maybe the aliens really have taken over...

The Boston Globe
Bush shuns Patriot Act requirement
In addendum to law, he says oversight rules are not binding
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | March 24, 2006

WASHINGTON -- When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.

The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Bush wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . "

The statement represented the latest in a string of high-profile instances in which Bush has cited his constitutional authority to bypass a law.

After The New York Times disclosed in December that Bush had authorized the military to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without obtaining warrants, as required by law, Bush said his wartime powers gave him the right to ignore the warrant law.

And when Congress passed a law forbidding the torture of any detainee in US custody, Bush signed the bill but issued a signing statement declaring that he could bypass the law if he believed using harsh interrogation techniques was necessary to protect national security.

Past presidents occasionally used such signing statements to describe their interpretations of laws, but Bush has expanded the practice. He has also been more assertive in claiming the authority to override provisions he thinks intrude on his power, legal scholars said.

Bush's expansive claims of the power to bypass laws have provoked increased grumbling in Congress. Members of both parties have pointed out that the Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to write the laws and the executive branch the duty to ''faithfully execute" them.

Several senators have proposed bills to bring the warrantless surveillance program under the law. One Democrat, Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, has gone so far as to propose censuring Bush, saying he has broken the wiretapping law.

Bush's signing statement on the USA Patriot Act nearly went unnoticed.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, inserted a statement into the record of the Senate Judiciary Committee objecting to Bush's interpretation of the Patriot Act, but neither the signing statement nor Leahy's objection received coverage from in the mainstream news media, Leahy's office said.

Yesterday, Leahy said Bush's assertion that he could ignore the new provisions of the Patriot Act -- provisions that were the subject of intense negotiations in Congress -- represented ''nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law."

''The president's signing statements are not the law, and Congress should not allow them to be the last word," Leahy said in a prepared statement. ''The president's constitutional duty is to faithfully execute the laws as written by the Congress, not cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow. It is our duty to ensure, by means of congressional oversight, that he does so."

The White House dismissed Leahy's concerns, saying Bush's signing statement was simply ''very standard language" that is ''used consistently with provisions like these where legislation is requiring reports from the executive branch or where disclosure of information is going to be required."

''The signing statement makes clear that the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. ''The president has welcomed at least seven Inspector General reports on the Patriot Act since it was first passed, and there has not been one verified abuse of civil liberties using the Patriot Act."

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said the statement may simply be ''bluster" and does not necessarily mean that the administration will conceal information about its use of the Patriot Act.

But, he said, the statement illustrates the administration's ''mind-bogglingly expansive conception" of executive power, and its low regard for legislative power.

''On the one hand, they deny that Congress even has the authority to pass laws on these subjects like torture and eavesdropping, and in addition to that, they say that Congress is not even entitled to get information about anything to do with the war on terrorism," Golove said.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


Bush Administration Pursues Path of Alcoholic Insanity

It’s no surprise that a dry (hopefully, but none the less questionably) drunk will continue to pursue a policy of alcoholic insanity. It’s done all the time: one aspect of a life changes, slightly, but the rest of one’s life remains the same.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is blindness: when it involves the deaths of thousands, it’s murder. Like a drunk driver who kills someone, the madness is no excuse.

Robert C. Koehler: 'The definition of insanity'
Date: Saturday, March 25 @ 08:36:07 EST
Topic: Commander-In-Thief

When Bush champions human dignity, God help us all

Robert C. Koehler, Common Wonders

"We have a responsibility to promote human freedom. Yet freedom cannot be imposed; it must be chosen."

The more I ponder these words, the deeper my confusion grows -- at the consciousness that confabulated them, at the futility of any possible response. And so the war enters its fourth year, impervious to its own unpopularity, disabling critics with the irony it generates.

In the context of what can only be called worldwide despair, the Bush administration has issued a National Security Strategy white paper oblivious to the extent that it fits the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time.

The report's assemblers proudly announce to the nation that they have learned nothing, hoisting one more time the flag of pre-emption, as though no one will notice how tattered and blood-stained it is: ". . . we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."

For the two-thirds of the country who do notice, and have withdrawn all support for the president and his sorcerer's-apprentice war, this inane assurance is added: "We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just."

The statement is breathtaking in its absolute failure to reference reality. I hope this failure is merely cynical (as in Greg Palast's observation that Operation Iraqi Liberation is abbreviated O-I-L), rather than a reflection of messianic lunacy. The cynicism can be outed. Lunacy has no awareness of itself.

Whatever the case, the only antidote I know is the truth, which flowed through the streets this past weekend, as people marked the third anniversary of the worst foreign-policy disaster in American history.

Here's 50cc of seldom-reported truth about how the Bush doctrine is working for some of us. Sara Rich, the mother of a female GI who has refused redeployment in Iraq, told an antiwar rally in Eugene, Ore. (as reported by

"The isolation and fear of being attacked, harassed, molested and raped was a huge part of her life in Iraq. She was always full of anxiety and stress just keeping herself safe when her commanding officers would show up banging on her door in the middle of the night, intoxicated and wanting to have sex with her. The intimidation and sexual harassment that our female soldiers are enduring is leading to massive stress and in some cases even death for our military women in Iraq. They are not supported but shamed when they bring these to the attention of their superiors."

This is how skilled America is at promoting human freedom through militarism. "I took a deep breath" Rich went on, "and I told her either way she is my hero and I will support her decision. She decided that she was going to go AWOL and to leave the Army."

On the ground, we're inflicting hell on earth. But in the rarefied world of pure ideology, the Bush administration policies "champion aspirations for human dignity":

"The United States," the white paper informs us, "must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. . . . The United States Government will work to advance human dignity in word and deed, speaking out for freedom and against violations of human rights and allocating appropriate resources to advance these ideals."

About the time the National Security Strategy paper was made public, the New York Times ran an expose of the detention site at the Baghdad airport known as Camp Nama, "the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26 " -- an elite special forces unit that specialized in the systematic abuse of detainees. Eyewitness accounts from Camp Nama help to "belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib," the Times reported.

The story tells of the usual torture and degradation -- the sort of fare the Bush administration regards as essential in the promotion of human dignity -- along with a boys-will-be-boys touch of Americana in which soldiers "used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball": dehumanization with a sense of humor.

And naturally, according to critics, "the harsh interrogations yielded little information to help capture insurgents or save American lives," the Times reported.

"The goal of our statecraft," the white paper says, "is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people."

God help us all.

(c) Robert C. Koehler

Source: Common Wonders

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