Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Being All You Can Be in the Army

Here is your moment of Zen: significant passages in a core chapter of the Army's much heralded new "Counterinsurgency Field Manual" is littered with unattributed quotes and paraphrases according to anthropologist David Price writing for Counterpunch newsletter. This is just one example from Chapter Three dealing with the role of intelligence in counterinsurgency operations:

"A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects performed to influence supernatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interest." (Counterinsurgency Manual, 3-51)

This is a passage from a 1972 article by anthropologist and conscientious objector Victor Turner:

"a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests."

See Price's article for more examples of about twenty unattributed sources and pilfered passages in the Manual's Chapter Three alone. Price equates the role of the University of Chicago Press in republishing the field manual, thereby giving it an academic imprimatur, to "weaponizing" anthropology. Something similar was perpetrated secretly by the Commerce Department in 1962. Without permission, the department had a French anthropologist's work on the Montagnards, Nous Avons Mange La Foret, translated into English. US Special Forces conducting an assassination campaign in Vietnam's Central Highlands used the ethnographic information to increase their lethality.

We Don't Torture (Nudge, Nudge)

ROBERTS (CNN): Ed, you said a second ago that you can't confirm or deny whether waterboarding has been used. It's widely held waterboarding is what broke Khalid Sheik Muhammad to get him to divulge all of the information he had. What is your sense? Is waterboarding legal?
GILLESPIE(White House Counselor): The fact is that those who have been briefed on the program in the United States Senate, members of the Intelligence Committee, and others who are familiar with the program have said that it is legal. And those are the ones who have a basis to know. The fact is the government doesn't confirm techniques regardless of whether they're used or not used. No rule in or out because the idea is not to help terrorists who mean to do us harm.

Judge Mukasey remains linguistically challenged after expending four pages dodging the question of whether he thinks waterboarding is torture in his written response to Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy's request for clarification on the issue. Time reports that if he"refuses to declare waterboarding expressly illegal, he looks likely to be rejected by the Judiciary Committee" Bravo. How can the nation's chief federal law enforcement officer be soft on a morally repugnant and clearly illegal government activity and still have the credibility to enforce the law? Of course the answer is, he cannot. This is a litmus test that really means something.

The NY Times spins the justification that Judge Mukasey, by refusing to make a categorical conclusion in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, may be attempting to avoid prejudicing any future defense government agents might have to erect against possible civil lawsuits or criminal prosecutions. What binding legal effect his personal opinion could have prior to becoming Attorney General in such possible legal proceedings is unclear and even speculative. Legal experts point out that CIA agents received legal protection in 2005 from Congress for torture acts they may have committed pursuant to government authorization.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Le Shorter: All Tricks

[cartoon credit: Jim Morin]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Russia Responds

Thought the bullshit from the bunker was just delusional bellicosity? Well think again, my football lovin', flag wavin' friend. World War III is indeed a lot closer than you thought. According to the Asia Times during the recent Caspian Sea summit comrade President Putin had a face to face with the real power in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who rarely grants private audiences. According to the journal's senior diplomatic source, the two leaders agreed to counter the Regime's push for an attack on Iran by declaring that an American attack on Iran will be considered by the Kremlin as an attack on Russia itself. Also, Putin allegedly presented the Ayatollah with an offer to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The Ayatollah is said to have deemed the offer worth "pondering". I hope so, because its going to take more than what the US has left in reserves to put a 'hola' in this Ayatollah.

Update: The recent claim by the Regime that the "explosive penetrating devices" used by Iraqi insurgents to destroy American vehicles are supplied by Iran has taken a hit too. A review of American military command records and reportage show that the US command knew these devices were being manufactured in Iraqi machine shops for years according to the Asia Times. The US also had considerable evidence that Iraqi militants received support from Hezbolah. Hezbolah used very similar devices and techniques against Israeli armor in southern Lebanon. Despite the contrary evidence in it's files the US command began accusing the Iranian Quds (Jerusalem) Force of supplying the weapons. In turn the Regime has used these allegations to mount an aggressive propaganda campaign against Iran to build domestic support for an attack. In November 2006 an American intelligence official told the New York Times that Hezbolah had trained 2000 members of the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia with connections to the Baghdad government. The connection to Hezbolah would also explain the presence of the Russian made RPG-29, a shoulder fired anti-armor weapon, in the war zone. Syria imported the weapons and gave them to Hezbolah which used them with devastating effect against the Israelis. The first sophisticated armor penetrating (AP) projectiles appeared in Iraq in 2004. By early 2006 the US had forensic evidence that AP devices were being produced locally. Photographs of hits on armored vehicles showed both clean penetrations and splattering of molten metal characteristic of imperfectly shaped charges. US troops began finding the local shops manufacturing the projectiles in late 2006. Although perhaps not as perfectly formed as Hezbolah models, the cottage industry versions are capable of penetrating US armor. Hamas guerrillas have also demonstrated they are capable of producing effective anti-armor weapons. On four separate occasions their projectiles pierced eight inches of Israeli steel armor.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Man of the Hour

Senator Chris Dodd Signs Up to Fight for the
Bill of Rights
and you can help him! Call members of the Senate Judiciary Committee right now, where the bill for granting immunity to giant telecommunication companies is being considered. Tell Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) or ranking minority member Arlen Spector (R-PA) that you want your privacy respected by government and big business: no immunity for illegal spying. Without legal suits to protect our rights, we may never know how much damage the Regime has already done.
Update: Senator Dodd says four of the ten Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including Senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden, oppose immunity for telecommunication companies that have violated American citizens' right to privacy. Assuming the Republicans will vote in goose step with the Regime, that means Progressives need to convince the remaining six Democrats to pass a FISA reform bill that protects our constitutional rights as well as allowing the NSA to collect intelligence on foreigners who want to attack the U.S. Keep the heat on.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

NRDC Ad Generates Support for Wolves

NRDC President Francis Bienecke says a television ad campaign paid for by members and supporters of the Natural Resources Defense Council has generated a nationwide outpouring of support for wolves in Idaho and Montana who face a concentrated effort by wolf opponents to eliminate them from the range in the greater Yellowstone Basin and the Bitteroot Mountains of central Idaho. The US Fish & Wildlife Service received 220,000 comments in support of the wolves and opposing plans to allow sport hunting of an endangered wolf population that is only beginning to recover or delisting of the species from the Endangered Species Act. Starting a decade ago with only 66 pairs the population has increased in the region to about 1500 wolves . Unfortunately wolves trigger a reaction in some westerners that is summed up in the cliche, "the only good wolf is a dead one". But as enlightened nature lovers know the apex preditors play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecological balance. Both the AP and Time magazine carried articles on the plans backed by state officials and gunners to declare open season on the icon of the American wilderness. The public comment period closed October 11th and the decision is now in the hands of the USF&WS. As a member and contributor to NRDC, I extend my thanks to those who took the time to help protect the wolves. This fight is just one of many taking place to preserve what remains of our natural heritage. Please stay involved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

UPDATE: In his Own Words

"Q What's your definition of the word ‘torture'?
"Q The word ‘torture.' What's your definition?
"THE PRESIDENT: That's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.
"Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?
"THE PRESIDENT: Whatever the law says."
See 18USC Sec.2340 ("[c] the threat of imminent death;") for the U.S. criminal code definition of torture. The U.S. has signed agreements with 50 countries to immunize Americans from prosecution for war crimes before the International Criminal Court at The Hague. It has suspended $47 million in aid from those countries which have refused to sign such agreements.

I find it really disturbing that Judge Mukasey, the nominee for Attorney General, was not willing to classify water boarding as torture, regardless of the possible legal repercussions against individual American who have tortured detainees. He apparently forgot that Congress gave agents immunity for acts of torture in the 2006 Military Commissions Act. In fact, all of the approved enhanced interrogation methods qualify as torture under the criminal code definition since they are "intended to inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering" on a person within custody or control of another "acting under color of law". Parsing the word "severe" is neither justified by common sense or the plain meaning of the statute. The water board technique was regarded as torture at the turn of the last century when it was used in the Philippines against captured insurrectionists. President Teddy Roosevelt warned General Chaffee, "Great as the provocation has been...nothing can justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army." Roosevelt privately called the 'water cure', as it was known then, "an old Filipino method of mild torture." Apparently we have regressed beyond the 1920's to 1900 thanks to 'Dr. Yes', David Addington, Darth Dick and other unitary absolutists who were waiting for an excuse to become really despicable instead of just fringe.
Update: Raw Story reports that according to documents obtained by the ACLU from a 2003 FOIA suit, General Michael Dunlavey, in command of the Guantanamo gulag asked the Pentagon for permission to use torture on detainees. According to the General, Bush personally gave him"marching orders" to use torture and abusive treatment on detainees. The documents also show that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was personally involved in overseeing the degrading treatment of Mohammed Al Qahtani. This detainee was forced to parade naked in front of females on a dog leash and do tricks while wearing woman's underwear on his head. Silly but true. The Army at the time of the Abu Ghraib revelations in 2003 was aware of 62 other allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. [cartoon credit: Jim Morin

Would You Buy a Used Car from this Man?

So we are supposed to take his word for it? The man who said Saddam was building nuclear weapons, had mobile chemical warfare labs, was cooperating with a-Qaeda to attack the US, etc, etc. The Charlatan made some more unverifiable claims concerning his illegal domestic spying program today:

Those who oppose this vital tool in the war on terror need to answer a simple question: Which of the attacks I have just described would they prefer we had not stopped? Without this program,our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.

The CIA was the same bunch of folks who told the Charlatan that the invasion of Iraq would be "a slam dunk". They have a vested interested in spying on everybody they can. The fact is that the CIA and NSA worked within a system for two decades that protected American constitutional rights and worked well enough to alert him to the imminent possibility of a homeland attack--which he apparently ignored. Now he insists on removing all constitutional impediments to protect us from attempted attacks we know almost nothing about. My answer to the Charlatan is this: trust but verify. Remember that one from Ronnie? Show Congress how the unfettered, illegal system you instituted stopped the alleged attempted attacks in California, London, Djibouti, Karachi, and wherever else in the world you care to name. In the meantime, I think the Fourth Amendment and the cooperative FISA review process works just fine.

If you want to do something to help preserve your 4th Amendment rights against this onslaught of fear mongering sign's petition. The Bush regime has been illegally wiretapping Americans' phone calls with the willing assistance of major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T. The White House is putting enormous pressure on Congress to give phone companies retroactive immunity for all the laws they broke spying on innocent Americans. And some key Democrats are poised to help them do it. The pending lawsuits against these companies may be the only way we ever find out how far the Regime went in breaking the law.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

UPDATE Haditha Massacre--And Then There Were None

USA Today reports that upon completion of the Article 32 investigation, Lt. General James Mattis ordered courts-martial for battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani for dereliction of duty and Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum for manslaughter and other specifications. Tatum was originally charged with murder for participating in the Haditha atrocity.

Tough Oil

Oil futures hit a new record high on the international commodity market with November light sweet crude touching $90.07. The price is being driven by tensions along the Turkey-Iraq border where the Turkish army is confronting Kurdish rebels who seek to establish an independent Kurdistan, a weak dollar (the Euro hit a new high of $1.43), and anticipation of winter demand for heating oil.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Senator Dodd Not to Lazy to Defend Democracy

Ok, I admit I posted an item titled "Senator Dodd Too Lazy to Defend Democracy" because he said impeaching the Charlatan for war crimes and other high crimes against democracy was a waste of time. But apparently he has had enough of the proto-fascists and their Darth Sidious campaign to turn America into a corporatocracy. According to his campaign website there are plans underfoot to disregard his hold on the FISA bill, so he has pledged to filibuster the bill. Because of his willingness to defend democracy now, I pledge to contribute $10 for every hour he filibusters the FISA reform bill on the Senate floor. That's more than the new federal minimum hourly wage that we have paid for in blood spilled in Iraq. So if you enjoy reading this blog and want to help restore democracy, make a similar pledge to his presidential campaign. If politicians only work for campaign contributions, we should pay them for something worthwhile--saving our democracy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yeah, Its the Network Alright

Latest: Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and presidential candidate put a senatorial hold on the FISA reform deal with the Regime this afternoon because it allowed telecoms to avoid legal penalties for not respecting their customers' right to privacy. It takes sixty votes to override a hold. SALUTE! to Senator Dodd. You can read his statement at Firedoglake. If we can just get 41 Democratic Senators to filibuster the next war funding supplemental, we can hold our head up. So how about it, Harry?
Weekend Update: The "soft on terror" majority in the Senate caved again to the proto-fascists demanding protection for their corporate clients and agreed to a deal on the domestic spying bill granting phone companies immunity from suit for violating their customers' Fourth Amendment rights. A cheap parliamentary maneuver was all that was required to scare the bejesus out of nervous Nellie conservative Democrats in the House. All the neocons had to do was insert the boogeyman's name, Osama Bin Laden, in the legislation and the so-called patriots ran for cover. Its sad they have no stomach for protecting the core value of this country: the rule of law. And the performance of the Democratic congressional leadership since gaining a majority has been truly anemic. So what, if getting the REACH bill right takes more time? Our civil rights are worth deliberation. Congress deserves an 11% approval rating. An immunity grant will wipe out pending lawsuits by civil rights advocates against phone companies who turned over private telephone records, email traffic, and other records to the government without a court order. You say you want privacy in your communications? Send a note by pigeon.

You know the telecom company represented in ads by the friendly looking geek--known as 'test man'--who walks behind you and your cellphone with his army of techs ready to serve you. Turns out they are no so friendly, but ready to give you up to Big Brother. Verizon Communications gave phone records to the government on an emergency basis without a court order 720 times between January 2005 and September 2007. This disclosure was contained in a letter submitted to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The administrative requests, called "national security letters", also asked for information not only related to the subscriber but also information identifying a "calling circle" or people contacted by people contacted by the subscriber. Verizon does not keep such information. Verizon executives said it was not their place to "second guess" government requests for data. However, Q West CEO Robert Nacchio refused to cooperate with a National Security Agency effort in 2001 to data mine the telephone records of thousands of it's customers. He feared possible liability for a program that exceeded legal bounds in the opinion of many experts such as former NSA director, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, and which was known to some Congress members such as now House Speaker 'Big' Nancy Pelosi before the homeland attack. Allegedly Q West was retaliated against by the Regime for the company's lack of cooperation by loosing a $100 million government contract under discussion with officials.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hillary Proves She is Republican Lite

I did not need to put words in her mouth, she said it herself in her Foreign Affairs article, and confirms what I have been arguing consistently. Hillary's position on Iran is identical to the Regime's hard line. She insists that even a pre-emptive nuclear strike is possible if Iran does not cave into Western pressure to abandon its nuclear enrichment program (she used the diplomatic code-speak of "all options remaining on the table"). She was the only Democratic candidate to vote for the Lieberman (there's another 'good' Democrat for you) resolution to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. A provocation wanted very badly by Darth Cheney. The State Department does not believe such a sweeping categorization is appropriate. Nevertheless, her vote helped pass the measure and makes it easier for the Regime to justify an attack before it stumbles out of office. If they do not do it, she has indicated her willingness to do so. Her diplomatic niceties give cold comfort. She makes no mention of Iran's legitimate claim to the peaceful use of nuclear power and imposes preconditions to negotiations that are in lock step with the current residents of the bunker on Pennsylvania Avenue. Her response to John Edwards' criticism of her Iran position was also disingenuous. She claimed she was only "trying to appeal to a broader audience" of the general election. Edwards politely pointed out that she has not yet been nominated. As a consummate politician, she delivers applause lines, and she clearly is sensitive to the big financial support that comes from Israel sympathizers. But her closeted hawkishness can no longer be plausibly denied. Democratic voters looking for a clean break from the confrontational world view of Bush&Co. are not going to find one in the American version of the 'Iron Lady'. [cartoon credit: R.J. Matson]




George Walker Bush aka "W", "The Decider", is wanted alive by the People of the United States for trial before the United States Senate for waging aggressive war against a sovereign nation without justification in violation of the United Nations Charter; violating the Geneva Conventions for torture, denying legal recourse to protected persons, and extra-judicial rendition of foreign nationals; making willfully false statements to Congress, conspiring to torture, and the interception of domestic electronic communications without probable cause in violation of the Constitution of the United States and United States criminal code.

If you see this man, do not attempt to apprehend him as he may be dangerous. Report his whereabouts to the nearest office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Le Shorter: The Experts Agree

Retired General John Abizaid, former CENTCOM CO, agrees with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that the Iraq War is "about oil". At a Stanford University roundtable discussion on Saturday Abizaid said, "Of course its about oil, we really can't deny that." So my question is, where were these guys when the Regime ballyhooed the invasion as a mission to establish democracy in the middle east and/or protect us from Saddam's evil WMD? Must have been on a donut break.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Haditha Massacre--And Then There Were None

The Haditha Massacre which took place on November 19, 2005 forces one to recall another infamous massacre of civilians by U.S. forces that took place during the Vietnam War almost forty years ago. Regrettably the event still seems like yesterday. The impossibly painful memory of what happened in the village of Son My on March 16, 1968 is apparently still fresh in the minds of military officers too, who sent their new charges into combat in Iraq with the admonition, "no more My Lais," referring to the military designation of the hamlet the grunts called "Pinkville". The exact number of Vietnamese killed is unknown but the investigating general officer estimated 175 to 400 were killed. It is worth quoting from the letter of draftee Ron Ridenhour in order to understand magnitude of the slaughter. His unsolicited statement a year later forced General Westmoreland to order another investigation of the atrocity:

One village area was particularly troublesome and seemed to be infested with booby traps and enemy soldiers...It was a notorious area and the men of Task Force Barker had a special name for it: they called it "Pinkville." One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker moved out from its firebase headed for "Pinkville." Its mission: destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants. ...The other two companies that made up the task force cordoned off the village so that "Charlie" Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants. Any villagers who ran from Charlie Company were stopped by the encircling companies. I asked [Gruver] several times if all the people were killed. He said that he thought they were men, women and children. ...It was so bad, Gruver said, that one of the men in his squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivaced out of the area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter. Although he had not seen it, Gruver had been told by people he considered trustworthy that one of the company's officers, 2nd Lieutenant Kally (this spelling may be incorrect) had rounded up several groups of villagers (each group consisting of a minimum of 20 persons of both sexes and all ages). According to the story, Kally then machine-gunned each group. Gruver estimated that the population of the village had been 300 to 400 people and that very few, if any, escaped.

The killing of unarmed civilians by supposedly well trained U.S. combat soldiers aware of the rules of war regarding noncombatants is not the only similarity between the killings at Haditha and My Lai (4). The general charged with investigating the slaughter and subsequent cover up by General Westmoreland, General William R. Peers, recommended courts-martial for twenty eight officers and enlisted personnel including the general in command of the Americal Division. In the end only two officers were tried, Captain Ernest Medina and Lieutenant William Calley. Capitan Medina was acquitted of all specifications. Calley, in command of 1st Platoon, C (Charlie) Company, 1/20th, was convicted of four specifications of premeditated murder. Calley received a life sentence, but he was later pardoned by Nixon.

In the smaller Haditha massacre, five enlisted men were originally charged with participating in the murder of noncombatants. Now only one remains subject to court-martial proceedings for murder, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich in command of a squad from K (Kilo) Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. According to observers it is unlikely Wuterich will be convicted of anything more than dereliction of duty despite the killing of 15 noncombatant Iraqis, including women and children. Time reports that prosecutors in the Haditha case have struggled to collect evidence, especially evidence relevant to the issue of intent to murder the victims. The investigating officer outlined concerns with the available evidence in a previous Haditha report made public in July recommending charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt be dismissed. Sharratt was a member of Wuterich's squad the day of the killings. He noted Iraqi witnesses had a motive to fabricate their stories because Marine units had paid out cash to other families of those killed. He called the testimony of the victims' families,"unreliable". However, the Marines involved have also changed their story of what happened over time. At first they said the victims were killed by a roadside bomb. Photographs of the scene showed many of the residents were killed by automatic fire at close range. Some were killed in their beds. The investigator's concerns in the past have gone beyond issues of credibility. He also expressed concern with the impact a harsh sentence might have on the morale of Marines.

Lt. General James Mattis's (Commander, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force) rulings have been favorable to the Marine Corps. On August 9, Mattis decided not to bring charges against Sharratt. A similar decision seems forthcoming on charges facing Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, a member of Wuterich's squad. The general also dismissed dereliction of duty charges brought against Capt. Lucas McConnell, the company commander who oversaw Wuterich's squad and did not initially investigate the incident. Mattis will also decide whether to move forward with charges against battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani. The investigating officer has recommended that Chessani face court martial for dereliction of duty and other charges. Three senior officers have received only public reprimands for their failure to properly report or investigate the incident. It seems the American military has learned very little in forty years and repeats the same mistake: military cohesiveness maintained despite the fatal cost to civilians caught in the middle of war or further degrading the nation's reputation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

America's Lost Leadership

One of the ironic and enduring legacies of the Nixon years was the passage into law of historic environmental protection laws. The National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) were all passed in the late 60's and 70's. The Environmental Protection Agency was established to administer the new laws and others. These laws were unprecedented in scope and set the standard for the world in protecting public and environmental health. Because the United States is such a large consumer market, foreign firms making and exporting chemicals and other toxic materials to the US like France, Britain, Germany and Japan had to insure that their national regulations conformed with the requirements of TSCA. TSCA is not perfect, far from it. The chemical industry leveraged a giant loophole in the law, exempting every substance on the market before 1979. That is about 62,000 substances including highly toxic chemicals like ethyl benzene. Thirty years later 95% of all chemicals in circulation have never undergone testing for toxicity or their impact on the environment according to Mark Shapiro in his Harper's report, "Toxic Inaction." Since 1996, the chemical industry has contributed $47 million to federal election campaigns.

As a result of lax regulation and enforcement most Americans have dangerous chemicals circulating in their blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention completed a screening in 2005 for 148 toxic chemicals. The vast majority of subjects had almost all the toxins in their blood. The EPA has only banned six substances from the market since it's beginning in 1970. It banned asbestos as a "known carcinogen" in 1989, but in 1990 that banned was overturned by a court because the Agency failed to meet its burden of showing the ban was the "least burdensome alternative". No other substances have been banned since that reversal. One study conducted in 2006 found toxic chemicals that cause cancer, disrupt endocrine functions, and mutate genes had passed from mothers to fetuses through the placenta. Cancer is second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death from disease in America. Many scientists believe that the toxicity of our manufactured environment is a major reason for the high incidence of cancer in modern society.

Europe is not exempt from the dangers of toxicity. World Wildlife International found 63 chemicals in grandmothers from 12 European countries, and 59 different toxic chemicals in their grandchildren aged 12 to 28. What is different is that the European Union is doing something to protect its citizens. It passed the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) law in December, 2006. The primary target of the new regulatory scheme are the 60,000 chemicals exempted from regulation by TSCA. The legislation underwent many amendments during its passage, but the core principles of reviewing thousand of untested chemicals, making the data public, and putting the burden of demonstrating safety on the manufacturers not the regulators, remain. Since 2004, the EU has banned whole categories of chemicals for use in consumer goods.

Once the U.S. was a respected pioneer in the regulation of public health and environment. Thirty years later, it was a leader in an unprecedented international lobbying effort to defeat the European regulations. High level trade delegations lobbied against the passage of REACH in Europe, and our Trade Representative submitted a protest to the World Trade Organization stating that REACH was an impermissible trade barrier. Shapiro says that the coordinated lobbying effort which reached into the parliamentary hearings, "revealed once again that our government puts business interests ahead of the safety of its own citizens. " I cannot think of the last time European politicians descended on Washington, DC to lobby in the halls of Congress against a particular piece of US legislation. But the historic intrusion into European legislative affairs did not upset the US chemical industry or it's official enablers. Toxic substance control cannot be that "bad for business" as claimed by chemical industry flacks: the Euro, which started being worth 80 cents, is now worth $1.50.

Undeniably, the world's moral leadership role has been assumed by the European Union. With 480 million people living in 27 democratic countries it is the biggest trading partner of every continent except Australia. Its gross national product is bigger than the US. Nations wanting to trade with it must conform to the EU's new laws controlling toxic substances or loose the market. Even progressive states like California, New York, and Massachusetts have begun exploring ways to implement some elements of REACH in their state regulations in the absence of direction from Washington. Once respected for it's progressive lawmaking, the U.S. is now only feared for the size of it's military machine.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

District of Bizarro: Another Slap in the Face

The Democratic congressional "majority" has an absolutely amazing capacity for self abuse. After telling the people they were not going to reauthorize the illegal spying of the Regime after the warrantless spying measure (the so-called "Protect America Act") expired in six months, they put together a bill that makes the most of the changes to FISA semi-permanent! In private the politicians justify their spineless capitulation as not wanting to be seen as "soft" on terror. What about being soft on the Constitution, members? Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration official turned Bush critic, told Keith Olbermann (MSNBC) the Charlatan still claims "inherent constitutional power to flout any law that Congress enacts." But wait here is the best part, the Charlatan tells the sniveling Dems their efforts to pander are not good enough! He knows he can wave the bloody flag in their faces and get even more concessions from them; for example, giving telecoms retroactive immunity for the illegal spying that has already occurred. Just give him a "Hiel" and get it over with, already.
Update: Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced a bill deleting the "blanket" or "basket" warrant provision--in reality no warrant at all since it is not based on a finding of individual probable cause--for intercepting communications that involve American citizens. His bill, the "FISA Modernization Bill of 2007" requires NSA to obtain an individual warrant from the FISA court when the communications to be monitored include an American. It also requires that inadvertently intercepted American communications be destroyed. Surveillance of foreigner to foreigner communications are unaffected. An ACLU representative said that Holt's bill is better than the RESTORE bill introduced by Democratic leadership because it "does nothing to impede government agencies working to keep us safe, and does everything to restore the rights disregarded by the Protect America is a direct and constitutional answer". Tell your representative to support Rush Holt's bill.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Le Shorter: Mystery Meat

The Union of Concerned Scientists informs me that Tyson's will stop raising it's millions of chickens without the routine use of antibiotics. Tyson is the nation's largest chicken producer. The massive use of antibiotics as a routine dietary supplement to compensate for unsanitary and overcrowded conditions contributes to the development of drug resistant bacteria. The advocacy group calculates that 70% of antibiotics are used in the livestock industry.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dialogue with Hillary: Joining the Chorus

You have the proved the power of nostalgia for Bill and TV advertising. One telephone poll has you in first place in Iowa, finally overtaking John Edwards who has spent months in Iowa on the ground. Some wags say the former South Carolina Senator has not left since the last presidential campaign. Nostalgia alone is not a winning campaign strategy nor are more 3o second TV spots a substitute for effective national policy. Only one policy reason why I am not supporting you is your apparent capitulation to the Bush game plan for the Middle East. When an Iowan had the temerity to suggest you are helping to support an Iran first strike by voting to put the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the foreign terrorist organization list, you got a little testy didn't you, Senator? You even suggested the question was a provocation.

It does seem you have joined the Regime chorus for blaming Iran for it's own Iraq debacle. The Charlatan addressed the American Legion in August where he told his conservative crowd he had, "authorized our military commanders to confront Teheran's murderous activities." Dick from the Dark Side pushed the Pentagon into redrawing it's on the shelf Iran attack plan this summer into one targeting the Revolutionary Guard. In the latest round of sabre rattling against Tehran, General Petraeus alleged on Saturday that the Iranian ambassador to Iraq is a member of the elite Quds Force, a group accused by the US of supplying shaped charges and other advanced weapons to Shia militias--some of whom are part of Al Maliki's shaky Baghdad government. Just how these kinds of speeches, symbolic gestures, and unproven allegations are supposed to help find a way to enlist Iran's help in preventing a presumptive sectarian bloodbath in Iraq is rather murky. They do, however, make it easier to justify another disastrous "preemptive" attack. You voted for the first one. Former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said the revised plan to attack Iran in retaliation for alleged military support of Shia factions will mire us "in a regional war for twenty years." The once burned British are sceptical of the Regime's claims of covert Iranian involvement in the Iraq conflict. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's security advisor says US claims should be "taken with a pinch of salt."

Right now, Governor Richardson is making the most sense on Iraq. He keeps asking how leaving a smaller force behind in Iraq can accomplish anything that 130,00 US soldiers have not been able to do in five years. You do not have a good answer to that question. He says it is the American occupation that is preventing any kind of accommodation between Iraqi factions. Therefore, all American troops should leave in an expeditious maneuver, but that conclusion does not mean they should leave the region. After a reposition of forces, the U.S. would still be able to quickly respond to adverse developments from bases in UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait. Richardson has the diplomatic experience in the Middle East to justify his opinion. Because his campaign is not funded by Wall Street, he is not getting as much media attention as you. So he is stuck in forth place. Your campaign of 'Billstalgia', disco music, and Madison Avenue sound bites demonstrates one thing well: the crippling superficiality of American national politics.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Le Shorter: Gore-san

A grass roots effort to draft Al Gore for the Democratic nomination has gotten underway in California. Activists there will attempt to put his name on the ballot in all 53 congressional districts. They need 26,500 signatures of registered Democratic voters by the deadline of December 4th. The Gore camp is aware of the draft effort, and has not asked that it be stopped. In 2003 Gore asked that draft efforts cease. Until "he gives a Sherman" the group will go forward with the ballot initiative. He's got my vote.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Le Shorter: They're Having a Heat Wave

A Canadian research station recorded a record high temperature in the Arctic of 22C, which is about 72F. The record is 15 degrees Celsius above the long term average for Melville Island, usually one of the coldest places in North America. The heat is melting the permafrost causing huge mudslides. A visiting scientist said, "The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes." On August 21st of this year the long sought Northwest Passage was opened to ordinary ship passage for the first time since records began.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Blackwater Prince Has a License to Kill

Erik Prince, CEO of the mercenary security service, Blackwater USA, defended his company before a House committee today about the controversial shooting incident in Baghdad in which seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater security agents. The mercenaries claimed their motorcade was fired upon from several different directions and they returned fire. But an Iraqi national police investigation has cast serious doubts on that version of events. It concluded the Americans fired first and indiscriminately. The House Government Oversight committee's staff issued a critical memo claiming that Blackwater operatives fired first in 84% of the shooting incidents they have been involved in. The company has been involved in at least one shooting incident a week since 2005. Blackwater has fired about 122 of its own employees for various causes including alcohol and drug abuse, lewd conduct, and firearm related violations. The company is bound by contract to use their weapons for defensive purposes only in the face of grave danger, but the committee staff concluded, "that the vast majority of Blackwater weapons discharges are preemptive" In other words, Blackwater mercs shoot first, most often from a moving vehicle, and with little regard for the consequences of their actions. Similar tactics are employed by criminal gangs in American cities. In one high profile incident, a drunk Blackwater merc killed a guard of the Iraqi Vice President on Christmas Eve. Despite this alarming rate of shooting incidents (more than the other two security contractors combined), Blackwater continues to enjoy the patronage of the State Department. It's diplomat protection service contracts are worth $832 million. Recently an aviation subdivision of Blackwater received a lucrative contract award from the Pentagon in excess of $90 million. In all, Blackwater has gone from a less than a million dollars a year in government contracts to over half a billion dollars worth of federal business in 2006.

One of the thematic subtitles of General David Petraeus' much heralded revision of the Army's Counterinsurgency manual is "Legitimacy is the Main Objective". So why does our government continue to do business with a firm, described as "trigger happy cowboys", which causes severe diplomatic and public relations problems for American officials? As with everything in Washington, its who you know not what you do. Erik Prince is a former SEAL that served as an intern to George H.W. Bush. Erik's father, Edgar Prince, was a prominent Michigan businessman that gave to conservative causes. Edgar was instrumental in founding the Family Research Council, an influential right wing advocacy group. Erik's sister earned the coveted "Pioneer" status by arranging at least $100,000 in campaign donations to George the Charlatan. Erik's brother in law is a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and CEO of Amway. Prince himself is a heavy contributor to the Republican party, giving $160,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. His ties to fundamentalist political action groups are strong too. He is the vice president of the Prince family foundation that gave away $470,000 to the Family Research Council and $531,000 to Focus on the Family, another prominent right wing Christian group. The stink of corruption in Washington is only exceeded by that coming from the dead bodies lying on the hot streets of Baghdad.
Update: A former Blackwater employee who worked in Iraq for 3 years says the number of incidents where his team used their firearms was more than reported by the company. According to the WaPo story the security guard is quoted as saying his 20 man team used their guns 4 to 5 times a week, and that undereporting of shooting incidents was routine.