Saturday, July 15, 2006

North Korea sanctioned by U.N.

Russia and China had resisted the imposition of sanctions on North Korea, even after the Hermit Kingdom's recent missile tests and with the possibility of more to come, but, at long last, according to Reuters, "the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose weapons-related sanctions".

The resolution, which is mandatory if not legally binding (a sop to China, which would have vetoed a firmer resolution), "requires all U.N. members to prevent imports from or exports to North Korea of missiles and missile-related items as well as materials that could be used in weapons of mass destruction".

More -- that is, sanctions beyond merely weapons-related ones (if not, eventually, military action) -- may be necessary if North Korea continues to press ahead with its missile program (and with its nuclear program), but this is a good start. I'll give it that.

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Israel expands offensive in Lebanon, Syria vows support for Hezbollah

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that "[t]he IAF attacked Beirut on Saturday evening for the first time in the four-day-old offensive, striking a lighthouse and the Beirut seaport". In addition, "the IAF fired missiles into the seaport of Lebanon's northernmost city of Tripoli in the deepest attack into Lebanese territory since fighting began four days ago".

According to the AP, Israel is claiming that "Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have 100 troops in Lebanon providing Hezbollah key support — including helping fire a missile Friday that badly damaged an Israeli warship". This may or may not be true, but: "An Israeli intelligence official said Hezbollah has missiles with ranges of 60 to 120 miles that could reach Tel Aviv..."

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, denies that Iran's Revolutionary Guards are currently supporting its activities in Lebanon, but, according to Reuters, "Syria will support Hizbollah and Lebanon against Israel's attacks on the country". Syria's ruling Baath party said this: "The Syrian people are ready to extend full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance to remain steadfast and confront the barbaric Israeli aggression and its crimes."

Right. Israel's aggression and Israel's crimes. That's always the spin, isn't it? When groups like Hezbollah and states like Syria make the case that Israel is to blame for their ills, they can justify their ongoing attempts to wipe Israel out entirely.

Here's a bit more from The Washington Post: "The leader of Hezbollah promised an all-out war Friday after Israeli warplanes attacked his residence and Hezbollah's main headquarters in an apparent assassination attempt, and Israel vowed to press its offensive in Lebanon until the Shiite Muslim militant group was disarmed."

So what now?


We continue to monitor this story closely. For all of our posts on Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah, scroll down through posts from the past several days or, if you're not already there, go to the main page and do the same.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Whom would Jesus torture?

Guest post by Capt. Fogg

When someone advocates something that can’t easily be denounced, like justice, the standard tactic is to attack the motive. "Sure, candidate X advocates fair trials in Texas , but why is he not making a fuss about Peru if he really is concerned about justice?"

"Sure, I was speeding, but if the officer was concerned about the law, why didn’t he arrest all the others?" It’s a weak argument heard in traffic court every day and perhaps I can’t call it an argument at all, but rather a diversion. Of course a weak argument or a sham argument is more than sufficient in the minds of those interested in avoiding blame or even avoiding reason, so when I read that Mark Tooley, whom Agape Press calls a "Conservative Christian Leader," thinks that the National Religious Campaign Against Torture isn’t sincere about eliminating torture, I can’t forget the judge's face when I tried the same argument so many years ago.

Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist Committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Agape quotes him as saying:

"If this group were genuinely interested in torture, of course they would be addressing those regimes that actively and deliberately do practice torture rather than focusing exclusively on the United States," he comments. He says he detects a 'double standard' in the campaign against torture. "[It] is primarily a creation of the religious left and whose interest is not so much in torture, per se, but about opposing U.S. foreign policy."

Sorry, Mark, aside from the question of how one reconciles torture with the teachings of Jesus, one has to ask how a U.S. Christian group can persuade Khyrgyzstan to act like Christians and why the inability to do so excuses unchristian and inhuman horrors in a country where that group does have some influence. Tooley doesn’t ask and those of his ilk will not ask, since their theology is more about western supremacy and expediency than about justice or compassion or decency or, for that matter, about Jesus. Simply put, they are trying to justify the Roman torture and execution of Jesus of Nazareth and hoping you won’t notice. Hey, my neighbor beats his wife too, so if you’re coming after me, it must be political – tell it to the judge.

Because the Campaign Against Torture advocates an investigation into inhuman (and certainly by anyone’s definition, unchristian) abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Air Force Base, Tooley concludes that it’s really about the heretical dislike of George W. Bush’s foreign policy and should be dismissed out of hand. I’m sure that somewhere he has a hidden Gospel wherein Jesus says:

"Look, the President speaks for God, not me. Just follow orders and don’t forget to trash the Liberals and bleeding hearts."

Tooley says that other denominations have made the mistake of putting Jesus before politics and it’s cost them membership over the years. Sounds like another quote from the same Gospel!

"Hey, this love thy neighbor thing is fine as long as the bucks keep coming in, but if they don’t buy it, just tell them whatever sells big in the Bible Belt."

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Friday, July 14, 2006

On Bush's imperial presidency

If you have the time, be sure to check out John Dean's piece on authoritarian conservatism, entitled "Triumph of the Authoritarians," in today's Boston Globe.

Dean, former White House counsel under Nixon, is a self-labelled "Goldwater conservative" who finds "nothing conservative about the Bush/Cheney White House, which has created a Nixon 'imperial presidency' on steroids, while acting as if being tutored by the best and brightest of the Cosa Nostra".

Very well put. Authoritarianism has indeed had an "impact on contemporary conservatism," and it is very much what Bush's White House is all about.

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Israel hits Hezbollah HQ, Hezbollah attacks Israeli ship with unmanned drone

This, from the AP, pretty much sums up what happened today in the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah pre-war (it's not yet a full-scale war):

Hezbollah rammed an Israeli warship with an unmanned aircraft rigged with explosives Friday, setting it ablaze after Israeli warplanes smashed Lebanon's links to the world one by one and destroyed the headquarters of the Islamic guerrilla group's leader.

CNN has more here.

And here's what Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, had to say: "You wanted an open war, you will have an open war. You don't know who you are fighting today. You are fighting the children of Mohammed, ali Hassan and Hussein. You chose the war to fight against people who believe in their pride." And: "We are ready for it -- war, war on every level."

Fine, but I'm not sure it's wise to underestimate Israel. This is a country that knows how to defend itself, after all.

See also Haaretz:

Hezbollah has never before used a remote-controlled unmanned aircraft to attack Israel. But in a signal of its growing capabilities, the guerrilla group has twice managed to fly spy drones over northern Israel in recent years. The drones caused great concern in Israel because they evaded the country's air defenses.

Hezbollah has "vowed to strike Israeli targets south of Haifa, after the attack left the group's headquarters in Beirut in ruins." Nasrallah was unharmed, according to a statement from Hezbollah: "Hezbollah's secretary-general, family and bodyguards are safe and sound."

Needless to say, stay tuned.

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Lack of leadership

By Creature

From the press gaggle:

"The President has not called any Israeli officials to make that point?" One reporter asked.

"He has not spoken with Israeli officials," Snow answered.

One would figure that would be the first call, no? The deer-in-headlights presidency continues.

Hat tip Raw Story.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Hezbollah rockets hit Israel as Israeli offensive in Lebanon continues

The BBC is reporting that "Two [Hezbollah] rockets have struck the Israeli city of Haifa" and that "Lebanon's international airport was hit for a second time as Israel continued attacks by land, sea and air".

Haaretz has more, as does The Jerusalem Post.

The Washington Post has the details:

Israel imposed a blockade on Lebanon by land, sea and air on Thursday, striking the capital's airport twice, cutting off its ports and wrecking bridges and roads in attacks that killed at least 47 people in the last two days, nearly all of them Lebanese civilians. Israel said the radical Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah fired 150 rockets into northern Israel, including two that reached the port city of Haifa. Israeli jets repeatedly crossed over Beirut before dawn Friday. At least two explosions were heard, and antiaircraft fire and flares lit up the night sky.

Meanwhile, both Haaretz and The J-Post is reporting that Hezbollah intends to move the two captured IDF soldiers to Iran. Israel has "concrete evidence," but Iran has denied the allegation.

For more, see Laura Rozen at War and Piece. She mentions, paraphrasing Seymour Hersh, that "sometimes big wars get started almost by accident". Is the capture of those two IDF soldiers akin to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand?

Steve Clemons: "While I think that Israel has responded disproportionately in its incursion into Gaza, I think that the firing of rockets from inside Lebanon into Israel changes Israel's moral position to a degree. Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon -- and Lebanon should do everything it is able to do to secure its borders and to preempt this kind of attack on Israel."

I don't necessarily agree with Steve that "Israel has responded disproportionately" -- see here for my recent post on the matter -- but he's quite right about "Israel's moral position".

Andrew at Obsidian Wings: "I am left wondering just what it is Israel hopes to accomplish with these strikes. I do not mean that they are morally wrong to do so; both Hezbollah and Hamas have been in a state of war with Israel since it came into existence, so Israel has every right to wage war against them. But in this case, I'm not certain what it is Israel can possibly hope to gain."

Fine, but what is Israel supposed to do?

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Imprisoning opponents in Belarus

Back in March, I wrote three posts on the Belarusian presidential election and its aftermath: "Balloting in Belarus," "Balloting in Belarus (update)," and "Protesting in Belarus".

Well, it looks like Belarus has gone from voting to protesting to, now, imprisoning political opponents. Alexander Lukashenko may have "won" the election with over 80 percent of the vote, but such a "democratic" victory apparently isn't good enough for him. Only tyrannical rule will do. Here's the BBC:

Alexander Kozulin, one of two opposition candidates to run against Mr Lukashenko, was jailed for five and a half years at a court in Minsk.

He was convicted of hooliganism and incitement to mass disorder.

Well, they could have accused him of anything. This was about silencing all opposition, about punishing anyone who would dare challenge Lukashenko's rule, nothing else. It's Kozulin here, but no opponents are safe -- see here.

That's just the way it is in Belarus. Nice, eh?


On a related note, going back to May, to a story that I overlooked, "[t]he European Union has carried out its threat to freeze any assets held in the EU by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and 35 of his top aides".

Yes, the election was surely "rigged". There's Belarusian democracy for you.

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Plame v. Cheney

It's about time. Valerie Plame is suing Cheney, Libby, and Rove for, as the AP puts it, "conspiring to destroy her career". May the truth come out. (And may she win.)

Some reaction:

Steve Benen -- "Remember, Paula Jones' civil suit against Clinton led the Supreme Court to rule unanimously that these cases can proceed, even against a sitting president, so it's not as if Bush's allies are in a position to tell the Wilsons to wait a couple of years... With this in mind, the Wilsons' lawyers will likely get Cheney, Rove, Libby, and others — including, possibly, George W. Bush — to answer questions, well beyond the scope of Fitzgerald's narrow investigation. The possibilities are limitless..."

Matt Stoller -- "This lawsuit is important if you believe in accountability and checks on power. There is a strong incentive for Bush to pardon Scooter Libby, and if he does so, there will literally be no accountability for the dishonest smear campaigns and the lies that have so weakened America and killed hundreds of thousands around the world."

See also Steve Soto.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Two and a half cheers for the United States

Given my generally pro-Israeli sentiments -- with reservations, of course -- this is one case where I agree wholeheartedly (well, almost) with the U.S. and find the U.N. to be, as some find it often to be, an apologist for terrorism and authoritarianism. From the AP:

The United States blocked an Arab-backed resolution Thursday that would have demanded Israel halt its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, the first U.N. Security Council veto in nearly two years.

The draft, sponsored by Qatar on behalf of other Arab nations, accused Israel of a "disproportionate use of force" that endangered Palestinian civilians, and demanded Israel withdraw its troops from Gaza.

The United States was alone in voting against the resolution. Ten of the 15 Security Council nations voted in favor, while Britain, Denmark, Peru and Slovakia abstained.

If what Israel is using in Lebanon against Hezbollah is "disproportionate" force, what exactly would proportionate force be?

Consider Israel's position. Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, captured two Israeli soldiers in Israel. Another was taken hostage last month. Suicide bombers have killed innocent civilians on Israeli soil and overseas. Many of Israel's opponents -- and it faces Hezbollah in Lebanon/Syria and Hamas in Palestine, as well as the nuclear madman Ahmadinejad in Iran -- would like to wipe it from the face of the earth. Sure, Israel may at times act with excessive force, and perhaps that's even the case here, to a point, but the U.N. was looking to condemn Israel altogether. How is that in any way productive? How is that not a reflection of deep-rooted anti-Israeli sentiment?

So: Two and a half cheers for the U.S. And, for good measure, one and a half for the U.K., Denmark, Peru, and Slovakia.

I don't want to see Israel use excessive force (or the wrong kind of force) in Lebanon as it tracks down its enemies, and I certainly don't want this offensive to escalate into a broader war in the Middle East, but criticizing Israel for defending itself and for refusing to stand idly by as its enemies plot its demise makes little sense to me. You may not always approve of what Israel does, but at least show some understanding of Israel's predicament and some empathy for the Israelis themselves.

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Major escalation

By Creature

I've been trying to figure how to tackle the escalation of violence in the Middle East when suddenly it hit me -- let CNN do it.

Has Israel overreacted? [perhaps] Has the Bush administration been slow in responding? [yes] Has the war in Iraq only served to weaken the United States in dealing with all this? [yes] Is the Middle East on the verge of all out war? [perhaps] Have the Israelis thumbed their nose at Bush's call for moderation? [yes, but what's the back-room deal?] Will anger toward Israel put our troops at further risk? [I'll put money on it] Is the whole damn thing one big cluster fuck? [ __ ]

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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One stop shopping

By Creature

Passing the buck, the GOP rubber stamp, and a bit of ignorance all in one:

"This could be easy," said Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.), who proudly announced she has neither a law degree nor a college degree as she denounced the high court's 5 to 3 decision against the tribunals as "incredibly counterintuitive." "We could just ratify what the executive branch and the [Department of Defense] have done and move on."

How's that for oversight?

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq IX

By Creature

Following the lead of Michael's hugely successful Just Another Day series, here is a touch of good news, sprinkled amongst the bad, coming out of Iraq today. One province down, seventeen to go.

British and Australian forces handed over security responsibility for relatively peaceful Muthanna province to Iraqi forces on Thursday in the first such transfer of an entire province.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the security transfer as an important step toward the goal of full Iraqi responsibility for all 18 provinces by the end of next year.

I'm going to hold back all judgement and snark on this one. Well, except to say that this hand-over event feels more like a Bush "mission accomplished" moment than a true turning point. Time will tell, of course.

Outside of the "relatively peaceful" Muthanna province it was business as usual.

A car bomb struck a police patrol in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday, killing three policemen and wounding five.

A postal policeman also was killed in a drive-by shooting in southwestern Baghdad.

Gunmen attacked a minivan that was coming from the Shiite holy city of Karbala to Baghdad, killing the driver and wounding four passengers.

Gunmen at a fake checkpoint also killed four policemen from Karbala after stopping their car in the volatile Baghdad neighborhood of Dora as they were heading home after a training course on Wednesday.

A roadside bomb struck an Iraqi army convoy on a highway northwest of Baghdad, wounding four Iraqi soldiers.

Gunmen killed a policeman wearing civilian clothes while he was getting his car repaired in the northwestern city of Mosul.

Five soldiers also were wounded in a roadside bomb in Mosul.

A bomb exploded near street sweepers in the southeastern New Baghdad neighborhood in the capital, killing two people and wounding one.

Just another day.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Provocation and escalation: Israel prepares for war in Lebanon against Hezbollah

Here's the latest from The Jerusalem Post:

One person was killed and twelve were wounded -- one seriously -- when four Hizbullah-fired Katyusha rockets landed in central Nahariya on Thursday morning...

Residents of the North were asked to remain in bomb shelters in anticipation of further attacks. Nahariya is the farthest city Hizbullah has managed to reach thus far.

Meanwhile, IAF fighter jets bombed runways at Beirut International Airport early Thursday morning. It was part of a military campaign which the IDF vowed would be harsh and quick against the Lebanese government and Hizbullah, which killed eight IDF soldiers and kidnapped two others along the northern border on Wednesday.

Al-Jazeera television network reported that 15 people were killed in the airstrike...

Meeting in emergency session late Wednesday, the Cabinet approved IDF plans to target the airport and other strategic infrastructures inside Lebanon including power plants.

At that cabinet meeting, "ministers approved plans to push Hizbullah back from the northern border and place pressure on the Lebanese government to dismantle the Islamist organization, as called for under UN Security Council Resolution 1559".

On the domestic front, "the Police and the Prisons Service raised the alert level to the second highest, one level below a state of emergency, as they scrambled to prevent a third front from being opened -- by Palestinian terrorists within Israel's cities".

MSNBC has more on the Beirut airport strike here. As you may know by now, "Israel bombed and shelled southern Lebanon and sent ground troops over the border for the first time in six years [yesterday]" in response to the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Last night, "Israeli aircraft and artillery continued attacking targets in southern Lebanon".

The Washington Post has more here. (And so will we as more is known.)

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Doubting Hillary

Will Hillary run in '08? Yes. Will she win the Democratic nomination? Maybe. Would she win the election? A lot depends on what happens this November, as well as on who the Republican nominee is, as well as on variables like Iraq and the economy, but, well, there's also the paradox of Hillary herself.

WaPo looks at that paradox here. (Reader beware, however: The piece relies heavily on poll numbers that clearly don't tell the whole story. Moreover, there are many different Hillary-related narratives making their way around the media, mainstream and otherwise. Sure, many Democrats have problems with her, and this doubt could derail her in the primaries, but it doesn't make much sense to jump to any conclusions this early in the game. She may very well be coasting on name-recognition and she may very well go down. But she may just as likely surprise her doubters and naysayers all the way to the White House. And would that be so bad? Seriously, would it?)

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gorbachev speaks

Mikhail Gorbachev is back.

Back in the news, that is, with blunt comments on Bush and Putin, the U.S. and Russia, peace and democracy, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

I'll let him speak for himself (before I respond directly to his comments):

On Bush: "He's very determined. You can't say he does not have character." Who knew you could be so sarcastic? Well done.

On Putin: "Vladimir Putin is walking on a razor's edge. Putin has used and he will continue to use authoritarian measures, but Russia will form a democracy. I know Vladimir Putin. He is a moral person." (I hope you know Putin better than Bush does. Have you looked into his soul?) Putin may be "moral," but is he really a democrat? Come on -- really? Some "authoritarian measures" may be required to establish a political culture in which democracy can grow -- just read Machiavelli, which perhaps you have -- but just how far will Putin go? Do you know? I mean, you yourself lament that there have been "[n]o elections [in Russia] like there used to be in '89 and '90". That's a bit worrying.

On Cheney and Rumsfeld: "They are just hawks protecting the interests of the military — shallow people." Chickenhawks, some might say. I would just add, Mr. Gorbachev, that Cheney's crusade for presidential supremacy isn't shallow, it's deep, very deep -- and very, very dangerous for American democracy.

On America: "Americans have a severe disease — worse than AIDS. It's called the winner's complex." AIDS may not be the best analogy, but Gorbachev's diagnosis is right on the mark. The idea of American exceptionalism has a long history, but its latest incarnation as righteous arrogance, a willingness to push the world around with military might even as the international community is roundly shunned, has taken it to a new extreme. But, Mr. Gorbachev, don't mistake Americans for their leadership. However Bush may fashion himself, he isn't America. A majority of Americans voted against him in 2000, and last time, well, let's not even go there. And look at Bush's approval ratings now. That's a good sign, isn't it? Many, many Americans have patriotically opposed what Bush has done, and is still doing, to their great country. Their number is growing. They've had enough. The disease can be fought from within. Just give it time.

On America and Russia: "We have made some mistakes. So what? Please don't put even more obstacles in our way. Do you really think you are smarter than we are?" Yes, Mr. Gorbachev, some of them do. They're the ones running the country right now. Hopefully that will end soon. "You want an American style-democracy here. That will not work." And it won't work in Iraq either. But, as you may know, they haven't quite figured that out yet. Much to our continuing distress. Like I said, though, Americans may soon put an end to their rule. If it's been bad for you, think what they've done to America. It hasn't been pretty. Not pretty at all.

Thank you for your comments. It's always good to hear from you. Please don't hesitate to let us know what you think more often. It's always illuminating.

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By Creature

Things suck.

The Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah thing has me the most concerned. With the U.S. yelling at Syria and Iran, with Hamas calling the kidnapping of Israeli troops a "heroic operation," with Israel promising to "turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years," this is a perfect opportunity for the neo-cons to make a comeback and stop the pansy-ass, Condi-Rice, diplomacy-first foreign policy we've seen in recent months. It could get ugly.

UPDATE: CNN Breaking News -- "Israeli Cabinet authorizes 'severe and harsh' response to kidnapping of its two soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas, PM's office says. "

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Coddling Osama

By Creature

Yesterday Congress finally got in on the treatment-of-terror-detainees action only to find the Bush administration couldn't give a crap about what they think.

It was an aggressive performance for an administration that wants Congress to create a new legal system to deal with the 1,000 terrorism suspects in custody. But administration officials are confident that the legislative branch will do the White House's bidding -- in part because lawmakers who oppose Bush's wishes can be accused of coddling terror.

I'm going to assume the coddling of terror accusations will cross party lines seeing as how the Bushies have a disdain for Congress as an institution. So why is it that even if the GOP fights the administration's hubris that it's the Democrats that will get the brunt of the coddling brand? Even in Supreme Court defeat the administration wins, 'cause, you know, the president is always right. And defeat is always victory, when reality is created as opposed to lived.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Spinning Geneva

Yesterday, Creature asked if things are really changing with respect to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, that is, to the Bush's Administration's position on the Geneva Conventions.

I agree that it's a flip-flop, one that could possibly "help repair [America's] standing in the world community," but it's actually more a rhetorical flip-flop than anything else.

This "major policy shift" comes from the Pentagon. It concerns detainees in military custody. This is a breakthrough, to be sure, and I give credit to the Pentagon, Rumsfeld's Pentagon, for shifting policy away from torture (or at least from torturing its own detainees), but what of non-military custody?

At TNR's The Plank, Spencer Ackerman sees right through it:

The White House is insulting your intelligence if it expects you to believe that its new policy of extending Geneva Conventions protections to all detainees in U.S. military custody is sufficient to redress the proven abuse and illegality of its war on terror. The very obvious loophole is what will happen to detainees outside of U.S. military custody -- as in CIA custody, such as the so-called "black sites," where Geneva is a sick joke. Which is a fairly apt description of this new White House attempt at damage control.

The White House, which has suffered a p.r. hit on this issue, is taking credit for the Pentagon's belated shift, but its shameful disregard for the Geneva Conventions, its contention that, legally, the president can do whatever he wants with respect to the war on terror, continues. This is nothing but more spin from the White House spin machine.

Detainees in U.S. military custody may now receive better treatment, but what of detainees in U.S. intelligence custody? What of detainees in U.S. custory, military or otherwise, who are rendered elsewhere, to jurisdictions where the Geneva Conventions are ignored entirely?

Ackerman's right. This is nothing but a sick joke.

And nothing has really changed.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett (1946-2006)

Today is a day of mourning for Pink Floyd fans around the world. Roger "Syd" Barrett, the band's co-founder, has died at the age of 60. For more on the life and death of Syd, as well as on all things Pink Floyd, please visit Brain Damage. (As well, see my old friend Orrie's Pink Floyd site, AllFloyd.) The BBC has an obituary here.

Syd was the soul of Pink Floyd. The early hits, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play," both written by Syd, brought the band into the mainstream of British pop music, but more experimental songs like "Interstellar Overdrive," a key feature of the band's celebrated live performances, revealed what was possible, and hinted at what was to come. Pink Floyd's first studio album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recorded at Abbey Road at the same time as The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's, remains a timeless masterpiece that transcends late-'60s psychedelia. It was very much Syd's album.

The story of Pink Floyd is a long and interesting one. David Gilmour eventually replaced Syd, and he, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason went on to make some of the truly essential albums of rock music: Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall. Waters, the band's main creative force, left in the mid-'80s, but Pink Floyd carried on with Gilmour at the helm. A Momentary Lapse of Reason and Division Bell, the last two albums, are exceptional, however much what preceded them may overshadow them.

And where was Syd? He left the band shortly after A Saucerful of Secrets, the follow-up to Piper, but his spirit remained and he was the inspiration for much of what was to follow: "Brain Damage," "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," "Wish You Were Here." Pink Floyd's music addresses the key themes of the human condition. A lot of it is about Syd.

I saw Pink Floyd live in 1994 in Boston. I saw Gilmour live this past April in Toronto. I'm going to see Waters live this coming September in Pittsburgh. I have every album, every DVD, almost every book. I have magazines and collectables. I have tapes and some original vinyl. I read Pink Floyd websites and stay abreast of the latest news. The reunion at last year's Live8 concert was, as it was for so many of my fellow fans, the incarnation of a long-awaited dream. It was amazing. Pigs had finally flown.

Before the band performed "Wish You Were Here," before thousands upon thousands in London's Hyde Park, before a huge worldwide audience, Waters said the song was for Syd. Throughout its post-Syd years, Pink Floyd has turned to Syd time and time again. Together and apart, they sing his songs, such as "Astronomy Domine," "Terrapin," and "Dominoes," they sing about him, and they pay tribute to him. So much of Pink Floyd is Gilmour and Waters, so much is the four who made those great albums of the '70s, so much is everyone else who has contributed to Pink Floyd along the way: Storm Thorgerson, Alan Parsons, Michael Kamen, Gerald Scarfe, and so many others. But where would any of them have been without Syd? They are all extraordinarily talented, and all would have made their mark in some way, but Pink Floyd would not have been Pink Floyd. Indeed, without Syd there wouldn't have been a Pink Floyd at all.

It was astonishing to see Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and Mason together again at Live8. I imagined Syd up on stage with them. He was, in a way.

After he left the band, Syd made two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. A collection of rarities and curiosities, Opel, was also released. A box set, Crazy Diamond, which I recommend highly, appeared in 1993. A "best of," Wouldn't You Miss Me?, also recommended, appeared in 2001. I have it on right now. "Octopus" may be his best solo song. (See also The Radio One Sessions from 1970-71.)

"Isn't it good to be lost in the wood?"

Syd's solo career was short-lived. He returned to Cambridge, his birthplace, to live out his remaining years in quiet obscurity. He remained a public figure only through his former bandmates.

His story has been told, and told well, by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson in Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd; Tim Willis in Madcap: The Half-Life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's Lost Genius; and Julian Palacios in Lost in the Woods: Syd Barrett and The Pink Floyd. More generally, Pink Floyd's story has been told by many, including Nicholas Shaffner in Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey. Nick Mason, the band's drummer (and the only member to appear on every album), has also published an autobiographical memoir, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. It's a great read -- indeed, a must-read. John Cavanagh has written a good study of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. On DVD, check out The Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd Story and, for some fascinating, mesmerizing concert footage, Pink Floyd -- London 1966/1967.

I am filled with sadness today, but listening to his music lifts me up again. He shall never be eclipsed.

From "Bike" (the last song on Piper):

I know a room full of musical tunes
Some rhyme, some ching, most of them are clockwork.
Let's go into the other room and make them work

From "Jugband Blues" (the last song on Saucerful)

It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I'm grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song

Which ends:

And what exactly is a dream?
And what exactly is a joke?

Wish you were (still) here, Syd.

Shine on.

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What do White House staffers make?

National Journal has the salary list here. Top staffers like Bolten, Rove, Hadley, Miers, Bartlett, and Snow make $165,200 per year. Those at the low end make just $30,000.

Of course, a six-figure salary allows for a comfortable (if not extravagant) existence -- even, one presumes, in Washington. But if it troubles you that someone like Rove makes the maximum, just think what he and all the others at the top could make in the private sector. They're clearly not there for the money. (Surely the power, or the proximity thereto, is enough of a draw.)

To me, this is more troubling: "Those at the bottom of the White House staff pay scale -- the folks answering phones and responding to the president’s mail, for example -- remain stuck at last year’s pay floor of $30,000... At that level, the White House aide who keeps a log of the gifts sent to the president makes about as much as the average starting pay for a public school teacher. At $15 an hour, that’s almost three times the national minimum wage of $5.15."

Gift analysts. Public school teachers. You decide who deserves to make more money.

Something isn't right.

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Need a good laugh (at Bush's expense)?

Check this out. It's pretty funny. (And the fact that it's in German, with subtitles, only makes it funnier. Make sure to watch the whole thing.)

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Are they really changing?

By Creature

Dana Priest, writing in today's WaPo, posits that the Bush administration is "rethinking" their extra-constitutional tactics that have been so un successfully used to keep us safe for the past five years. The administration -- only after getting hit hard by the Supreme Court, their European allies, and their allies in the GOP -- are now looking "to find a path forward" in an "all hands on deck" environment in order to bring their policies in line with the quaint Geneva Conventions.

It would be nice to think that a zebra really could change its stripes, but I'm having a hard time believing that the Bush administration actually will change. That is until Think Progress led me to this from the Financial Times:

The Pentagon has decided in a major policy shift that all detainees held in US military custody around the world are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions, according to two people familiar with the move.

The FT has learned that Gordon England, deputy defence secretary, sent a memo to senior defence officials and military officers last Friday, telling them that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – which prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners and requires certain basic legal rights at trial – would apply to all detainees held in US military custody.

While this stunning flip-flop is great news -- and probably more about politics than anything else -- it's hard to imagine Cheney and Rumsfeld agreeing to this change. What's easier to imagine is that they will use the loophole below to get their inhumane-treatment rocks off from now on:

While the Pentagon order applies to all detainees held by the US military, it does not apply to prisoners held outside the military detention system, such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks who is being held in a secret Central Intelligence Agency prison.

The battle for hearts and minds was lost long ago by the Bush administration. Maybe a move like this will help repair our standing in the world community, but in reality the Bush administration, and their torture tactics, have been a recruiting bonanza for those with terrorist intentions and there is little they can do now that will actually reverse the recruitment tide that they have unleashed.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Stem-cell legislation -- Bush's first veto?

The Denver Post is reporting that "President Bush will likely cast the first veto of his presidency if the Senate, as expected, passes legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research". The source: Karl Rove himself.

This is bipartisan legislation. It even has the support of flip-flopper Bill Frist in the Senate. As I put it last year: "It is imperative that there be more federal support for stem-cell research to support and complement efforts in the private sector, and Bush now finds himself alienated from both the overwhelming majority of Americans and his own party's majority leader in the Senate. (Bush may still end up vetoing the bill. It would be his first.)"

Well, there you go. And here we are.

Conservatives like to think that they promote a so-called culture of life. Some of them express this culture, and their promotion of it, in absolute terms in contradistinction to villainous liberals who, presumably, promote a culture of death. (For more on the ridiculousness of this claim, see here.)

But this veto threat from the base-pandering Bush shows that the truth is quite the reverse. I would not use the terms "culture of life" and "culture of death," nor would I argue that conservatives consistently promote the latter, but stem-cell research can and will save lives. It is, simply, pro-life.

Thankfully, many Republicans, including the Senate majority leader, have come around -- belatedly, but better late than never -- to the right side of this issue. It's quite unfortunate, however, if not surprising, that Bush resists. He may or may not be a "pro-life" absolutist, but many of his supporters are. And he and these supporters, I would argue, get the meaning of "pro-life" wrong. A veto would not necessarily mean that Bush is "pro-death," but it would show that he is closed off -- politically and morally -- to the possibilities of science and to a beneficial (and hopefully benevolent) technology that will save the lives of the living.

The first veto will say a lot about this president and his priorities. If he vetos this stem-cell legislation, he should go before the American people and tell them why he doesn't support this bipartisan effort. And he should explain to those who could benefit from stem-cell research, as well as to their loved ones, just why he refuses to help them.

Are their lives meaningless in the conservative "culture of life"?

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Shamil Basayev is dead

That is, the Chechen rebel/terrorist/mass murderer who was behind the Beslan massacre. From Guardian Unlimited:

Shamil Basayev, the ruthless Chechen rebel leader responsible for terror attacks that led to the deaths of more than 800 people, was killed Monday when a dynamite-laden truck in his convoy exploded in this village of red brick houses next to a muddy field.

It was an accident, but a fortuitous one.

The Times has an obit here. (See also the IHT.) Counterterrorism Blog has more here.

I'm not going to wade into the Chechnya quagmire here, but, whatever my concerns about Russia's treatment of the Chechens under an increasingly autocratic Putin, not to mention about Russia's quasi-imperial aspirations more generally, it's hard not to find some consolation, if not pleasure, in Basayev's demise.

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Allegations of fraud taint Mexico's presidential election

As we reported on Friday, it looked as though right-wing candidate Felipe Calderon had just barely won the presidency over left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. After counting and re-counting, Calderon led Lopez Obrador by just 0.57 percentage points. But, rightly or wrongly, Lopez Obrador isn't about to concede, let alone give up without a fight. According to the L.A. Times:

Lawyers for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Sunday turned in documented allegations of irregularities that they said cost him the July 2 presidential election, and a senior aide warned that Mexico faces an "insurrection" unless all 41 million ballots are recounted.

The warning by Gerardo Fernandez Noroña, the campaign's chief spokesman, was the most explicit high-level threat that the challenger's struggle to overturn his razor-thin defeat could erupt in civil disobedience and violence.

Lopez Obrador lost by 244,000 votes in the official tally, an average of less than two votes per polling place. His demand for a recount has been resisted by election officials and the apparent winner, Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN.

Let me repeat that: "less than two votes per polling place". The U.S., as we all know, is deeply divided along partisan lines of red and blue. But the U.S. is no Mexico.

The problem here -- if in fact there is a problem -- may lie in "irregular tally sheets". Mexico's "electoral institute recounted ballots from 6,524 of the 130,488 polling stations last week," but "Lopez Obrador contends that the limited recount gained him thousands of votes that previously had been uncounted or voided, raising doubts about the fairness of the entire count."

Is he right? Maybe. Above all, a democratic election, whether in an established democracy like the U.S. or in a newer one like Mexico, must not only be fair but be perceived as fair both by the electorate and by the international community. Right now, there are lingering doubts about the fairness of Mexico's presidential election. Calderon may indeed have won the election, but those doubts need to be addressed. Otherwise, how are Mexicans to have any confidence in the election's outcome? How are they to respect the legitimacy of a Calderon presidency? How are they to be swayed from possible insurrection?

The judges of Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal should initiate a full recount. (We know what can happen when a court stands in the way of a recount, don't we? Is the outcome of such an election ever truly legitimate?)

Democracy, more than any other regime, requires such vigilance.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Just another day in the life and death of Iraq VIII

More bloodshed, as reported by the BBC:

Gunmen in the Iraqi capital Baghdad have killed at least 40 people at a fake police checkpoint, in an apparent sectarian attack against Sunni Muslims.

Police say Shia militants stopped cars in the western Jihad district, separated Sunnis and shot them.

Later, at least 25 people died when two car bombs exploded near a Shia mosque in the capital, police said.

A BBC correspondent describes "the style and scale" of the roadblock incident as "breathtaking". According to one witness, gunmen "went into certain Sunni houses and killed everyone inside". As well, "[o]fficials say they are getting reports of drive-by shootings in the area, and the number of deaths is expected to rise".

And there was yet more violence elsewhere in Iraq. The killing continues.

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