Shortfalls of the Energy Bill: Gas Mileage

Friday, July 29, 2005

In a time when gas and oil prices are ever increasing, and with the administration set to drill in Alaska in order to "limit our dependence on foreign oil", why does the new energy bill not address gas mileage? I believe if the administration honestly cared about limiting our dependence then there would be a bigger push for more compact cars, hybrids and alternate fuel automobiles. Why in this day and age would the auto industry and the administration, for that matter, push people to buy SUVs?

For all cars manufactured in 2004, the average miles per gallon is 20.8. This number is down from the record high, 22.1 miles per gallon, for cars manufactured in 1988. Why then in the last 16 years have we been going backwards? This is not only bad for our pocketbooks, but we are growing more dependent on foreign oil in sharp contrast to what the administration wants.

It gets worse. The model T Ford, invented in 1908, managed to get 25 miles to the gallon. Compare that to the Ford Explorer which manages a pathetic 16 miles per gallon! I believe we are actually becoming more dependent on oil and gas, and maybe that's extacly what Bush and his Texas oil buddies want. It makes it easier to find an excuse for going to war. If this isn't the reason, then why? Why are we going backwards as the oil and gas becomes more sparse? Why in a world where we can put man into space, have we managed to produce cars that get 4.2 miles per gallon less than a car that was made in 1908?

To make this all worse, the miles per gallon number that is on the sticker of the car or quoted by the maker/dealer is not the actual number a driver will receive. It appears the government (EPA) uses emission testing procedures to determine the gas mileage of a car, and not real-life driving. Because of this, drivers only actually achieve about 75% of the miles per gallon that is listed on the sticker.

Good Guys

Thursday, July 28, 2005

After my last post, to be fair I should mention another politician working hard to get answers out of this administration:Rep. John Conyers Jr. You can sign up for his e-mails, but even better is his daily blog, covering all issues.

Clearly his is a "left leaning" blog, and both Conyers and Waxman are indeed Democrats. But, don't think they all have a free pass. I also get the not-so-frequent e-mails from my local politicians, Kerry and Kennedy. In sharp contrast to the Waxman and Conyers e-mails, they are usually loaded with rhetoric and not much in the way of independent thought.

Henry Waxman: Working for Us

In a time when I find little faith in politicians, it is always a pleasure to get the newest Henry Waxman e-mail. This man must truly be the hardest worker in Washington; his reports are worth their weight in gold. I suggest signing up for e-mail alerts and also reading some of the reports on the Committe on Government Reform website. They are a great starting point for getting involved. His recent letter to Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert regarding the $1.5 billion giveaway to Halliburton and Tom Delay's district, secretly inserted into the Energy Bill, is a must read.

In the Name of Security

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Today is a sad day for the American people. Commuters using the public subway in New York City will be forced to undergo random bag checks. How can this be justified? Does the threat of a bomber diminish the rights and liberties of all?

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly assured the public there will be no racial profiling. Apparently, the Transit police will be using a random number search technique, meaning they will search every 4 or 8 people, for example (apparently terrorists travel in certain numbered patterns). Anyone refusing an illegal search will not be questioned or detained, but will not be allowed to enter the station (to use the public subway they pay taxes for). Will this new procedure prevent an attack? Maybe it will and maybe it won't; that is not the issue at hand. This new policy is in direct violation of our Constitution of the United States Fourth Admendment which clearly states:

'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and siezures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be siezed.'

Stop; re-read the Fourth Admendment. Where in there does it allow this type of random search of a person and their effects? This won't stop here. Rail commuters in New Jersey and bus and ferry passengers in New York City are also subjected to illegal searches. Police in Washington, D.C. are considering the same policy for subway passengers. When is enough enough in the name of "security"? Do we allow the government and police to strip all our rights away before we realize the direction we are heading?

"First they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me. [Martin Niemoller]"

Judge, Jury and Executioner

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Why are the U.S. and U.K. fighting a war in Iraq? Some would say it is to spread freedom and democracy, while others may say it's to fight terrorism. If this is so, then what happened in England last week?

Undercover anti-terror police were conducting surveillence of a block of flats located in Scotia Road, Tulse Hill, South London when, at 9:30am, Jean Charles De Menezes, 27, of Brazil stepped out of one of the buildings. Police were immediately concerned with the "suspect" due to his clothing: a bulky winter coat. Mr. De Menezes then proceded to walk to the Tulse Hill station (300 yards away) where he boarded a bus to Stockwell (a 15-min ride). At 10:00am, Mr. De Menezes walked off the bus and crossed the street heading to the Tube entrance.

It is here that the undercover force drew weapons and ordered Mr. De Menezes to stop. To this, the "suspect" ignored the orders of the police and ran into the Tube station, leaping over a ticket barrier. Mr. De Menezes then jumped onto the Northern Line train falling onto the floor. This is when the police decided to empty 5 shots into his head, killing him.

First reports were that the suspect who was shot was an Asian man suspected to have a bomb strapped to his waist. Of course it came out later that Mr. De Menezes was innocent; he did not have a bomb and his only "crime" was not obeying undercover police. Although Blair and police officials publicly apologized, the polioce methods used were never critiqued. Blair had this to say about the actions of the police: "The only way to deal with this is to shoot to the head. There is no point in shooting at someone's chest because that is where the bomb is likely to be."

Former Commissioner of the Met, Lord Stevens, confirmed the "shoot-to-kill-to-protect" policy. In an article written by Lord Stevens posted in the News of the World titled: "Shooting to kill saves tragedy will not change that", the former commissioner states: "But we are living in unique times of unique evil, at war with an enemy of unspeakable brutality, and I have no doubt that now, more than ever, the priniciple is right despite the chance, tragically, of error. And it would be a huge mistake for anyone to even consider rescinding it."

The most troubling part of all this is (as usual) the lack of respect for human life the U.K. government and police have shown. England, a supposed model of freedom and democracy, has now enacted a shoot first approach to policing. So here we are, pitching our version of society and freedom/democracy on the people of the middle east, when clearly the United Kingdom and the United States have the "freedom wagon" in reverse. What kind of society can justify murdering innocent people in the name of safety?

Let us not forget that certain past groups were set up for the "security" of the people (Hitler's SS, Soviet KGB) too.

CIA In Italy

In a follow up to a previous post, an Italian prosecutor last week asked a judge to issue six more arrest warrants to CIA agents involved in the abduction of Abu Omar (Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr). This would bring the total amount of arrest warrants issued by the Italian courts for CIA operatives to 19.

Not only was it wrong for the U.S. to abduct a person off the streets of another country, but the Italian police were investigating this man and had their case blown out of the water. Fortunately for us, this has turned the Italian police investigation onto the CIA and their actions in Milan. So what did it cost the American taxpayer for the CIA to kidnap a man and send him to Egypt to be tortured?

The hotel costs alone were $144,984! That includes rooms at Principe di Savoia, Westin Palace, Milan Hilton, and Star Hotel Rosa. These are all 5-star hotels, with the Principe di Savoia labeled as one of the finest hotels in the world. It is reported by Craig Whitlock, in an article on TomDispatch, that the agents charged as much as $500 a day. How did they transport Abu Omar to Egypt once they illegally abducted him? It appears that they used a Learjet to transport him to Germany and from there he was put onto a Gulfstream V bound for Egypt. Are these security agents being paid by the American taxpayer, or CEO's on an Italian vacation?

Is Iraq Better? Part 4

Friday, July 22, 2005

Are the people of Iraq better off after the U.S. led invasion and occupation of Iraq? Maybe you should ask the women of Iraq that question. After a brief moment of hope, the future of the Iraqi women looks bleak. Reports are begining to surface of violent oppression of women and their rights across the country. Some of the tactics being used to intimidate women are rape, murder, and the throwing of acid onto their faces.

You may think that all muslim countries oppress their women, but the history of Iraq would beg to differ. In 1948, Iraq was one of the first countries in the middle east to have a woman judge. Nazila al-Dulaima became one of the first female goverment ministers on the whole Arabian penninsula. More recently during the Saddam Hussein rule, women played an increasing role in government and business. The Ba'ath Party took control in 1968 and proclaimed on of its goals was the equality of men and women.

In 1970 the Ba'athists passed a constitution which made men and women equal in the eyes of the law. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) women played an increasing role in the military, oil, science, and other male dominated industries. In 1989, 27 women were elected to Iraq's 250-seat national assembly, that's 10.8%. By comparision, in 1989, the British House of Commons had 41 women out of 650 or 6.3%.

Now many of the rights afforded to women during the Saddam years are being stripped away. Women of Iraq are being forced/intimidated into wearing veils, and not just arab or muslim women, but christian women too. Under the rule of Saddam, women were free to choose whether to wear western-style clothes or the traditional black abaya. Recently, the bodies of dead Iraqi women are showing up in rivers and other spots with the veil tied around their heads. A professor from Babylon University told Lesley Abdela (Iraq's war on women) the story of a young female student who refused to wear the veil despite continued death threats. The woman was raped and murdered, resulting in the professor telling his daughter who also attends the university to wear the veil or leave the school.

Another story of oppression comes from a report by Sahar al-Haideri and Wa'ad Ibraheem of the Institute for War & Peace. It reports the story of a christian lawyer named Ishaq living in Mosul. She received a call in the form of a threat to wear the veil or face death, on her way to work a group of men approached her and threw acid in her face.

It is clear that although life was not peaches & cream under the rule of Saddam, women clearly had western-style rights and privileges. Now what we are seeing is a roll-back of women's rights under the new United States imposed government.

Is Iraq Better? The Human Rights Watch Report: Part 1

The Human Rights Watch released a report in January of 2005 titled: The New Iraq? Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody. The research for the report was conducted in Iraq from July to October of 2004.

What is happening these days in Iraq is not the "better off without Saddam Iraq" that the Bush administration sold to the world in the lead-up to and invasion of Iraq. What is starting to surface from first hand accounts and reports like this one is a country of rampant illegal police arrests, extortion, illegal detention, torture and forced statements. The police and intelligence services routinely conduct arrests without warrants issued by the appropriate judicial authorities. The Iraq Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) states clearly in section 5, paragraph 123 that defendants are to be brought before an investigative judge within twenty-four hours of arrest. What the report found was continued instances of people being detained and tortured for weeks, if not months, before being brought before an investigative judge. Pre-trial detention conditions were described as poor, with people being crammed into small overcrowded cells, unable to lay-down with little or no food. Many of the detainees in the report complained of being beaten. Another common complaint by detainees was the practice of the police forcing detainees to sign statements without being informed of their content or having the opportunity to read the statement. More common complaints made by detainees were the police officials threatening them with indefinite detention if they failed to pay money for their release. Detainees also reported not being allowed access to lawyers or family members.

This report, which I will attempt to cover in future posts, consisted of interviews with ninety current and former detainees in Iraq, seventy-two of which alleged they had been tortured. The report focused on three "categories" of detainees. The first category consisted of twenty-one people arrested for their alleged affiliation with an armed group. The second category consisted of fifty-four suspects whose cases were referred to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in Baghdad. This court, set up by the CPA in July 2003, hears serious criminal offenses. The third category of the report consists of fifteen detainees held in seven different police stations for various alleged crimes. In addition to the detainees, Human Rights Watch also conducted interviews with investigative judges assigned to the Central Criminal Court, as well as U.S. troops and other Iraqi government officials and doctors at Baghdad's Medico-Legal Institute. The Institute examined thirty-seven cases referred to them by the courts, and found external injuries consistent with torture or abuse in twenty of them. As one detainee told Human Rights Watch:

"This is much worse than in Saddam's days. Then, it was only the security forces doing it, but now it is also the police."

Here Come The WMD's: Microwave Iraq

What exactly is a weapon of mass destruction? I think most rational people would assume it to be a weapon that can inflict damage or death to a number of people over a large area. Apparently, the U.S. government and the Bush administration have a completely different view on WMDs. The U.S. government has, to date, used chemical weapons and cluster bombs and now they are preparing to use Active Denial System (ADS) weapons in Iraq.

The weapon that will be deployed in the near future is called the Sheriff. This is a vehicle-mounted microwave weapon to be used for crowd dispersal. There are also portable versions being worked on. This new age weapon would fire a 95-gigahertz microwave beam with a range of approximatley 640 meters that heats the skin causing pain within 2 to 3 seconds and then becoming intolerable after less than 5 seconds. The beam will heat the skin to about 50 degrees celsius, which may not pose a danger to the skin during short exposure but could pose significant risk to the cornea. A study published in the jounal Health Physics last year showed exposure from 2 watts per square centimeter for three seconds could damage the corneas of rhesus monkeys. The burning stops only when a person moves from the path of the beam or when the beam is turned off. For the skin to burn, all that is needed is exposure to the beam for 250 seconds.

Not only is this new weapon being deployed in Iraq within the next year, Raytheon (who received a 7.5 million cost-plus award-fee contract to develop ADS's) is working on models to be used at nuclear power plants, and a portable version to be used by police in the U.S.. The government claims that no permanent damage results from exposure to the microwave beam, however not enough human research has been done. The only organization conducting research into the effects of this weapon is the Air Force lab. Can we really trust the armed forces to give a fair and balanced study into the use of their new weapon? Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News ,sums it up best:

"The only people who are doing health research on the effects of electromagnetic
radiation are the people who are developing this weapon-the Air Force Lab.
They're the only people who have any money in the United States to do research
on the health effects, and they're in firm control of the (safety)
standard-setting process... That's a clear conflict."
I am not a scientist and have very little knowledge of electromagnetic radiation, but I do know that if you put something into the microwave and press cooks! I have to say President Bush was correct when he stated before the Iraq invasion that there were WMDs in Iraq. He just should have made the comment after we invaded and deployed these weapons.

Religous Republicans

I just couldn't let this one slip by: yesterday Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) spoke on the nomination process of Judge John Roberts. Speaking of the senate confirmation process that Judge Roberts will go through, Mr. Hatch had this to say about democratic questions of the nominee:

"It's a little like biblical Pharisees, you know, who
basically are always trying to undermine Jesus Christ. You know, it goes on the
same way. If they can catch him in something, they can then criticize and the
outside groups will go berserk."

I could be reading too much into this, but is Sen. Hatch comparing himself and other republicans to Jesus Christ? Is he then attempting to degrade democrats as people who don't love Jesus Christ? It amounts to nothing more than another classic example of the religious middle-aged white men who pull the strings trying to drive another wedge into the class-divide.

Judge John Roberts in Florida

In a follow up, it is also worth mentioning that during the 2000 Presidential recount in Florida, John Roberts was the advisor to Jeb Bush. With Roberts having worked for the Reagan and Bush I administrations and having been an advisor to the person in charge of electing the president who is now nominating him, one has to wonder just how partisan is John Roberts?

Judge John Roberts: A Review

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

President Bush has nominated Judge John Roberts of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for the vacant Supreme Court position. While his views and opinions may be questioned, he is certainly qualified for the position. He has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court in the public and private sector, winning 25 of them. He is regarded by some as the finest oral advocate to come before the Supreme Court in the last 20 years. Judge Roberts is a member of the Republican National Lawyers' Association and the National Legal Center For The Public Interest (Serves on the Legal Advisory Council). He also has stated to the Senate Juciciary Committe that he regularly participates in press briefings sponsored by the Washington Legal Foundation.

Here's a brief look at his biography:
*Born in Buffalo, Ny 1955, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School
*1979-1980-clerk for Judge Henry J. Friendly (2nd Circuit Court of Appeals)
*1980-1981-clerk for Associate Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist
*1981-special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith
*1982-associate counsel to the President in the Office of White House Counsel
*1986-1989-Associate with law firm Hogan&Hartson
*1989-Principal Deputy Solicitor General
*1993-partner with law firm Hogan&Hartson
*July 19, 2005 to present-Judge D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

While certainly qualified for the position, it is the rulings and opinions of Judge Roberts that raises some questions about his nomination.

Judge Roberts was co-author of the governments amicus brief in the case Rust v. Sullivan. In this case Roberts, on behalf of the government, argued for the gag rule which would prohibit family planning programs who receive federal aid from giving any abortion-related counseling or other services. This disallowed such clinics to counsel clients about abortion or even refer them to places where abortions are preformed. In his brief Roberts argued "we continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled...The Court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion...finds no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution." The case had nothing to do with Roe v. Wade and was a clear indication of his views of precedent. It is worth noting here that the Supreme Court upheld the gag rule but on the grounds that the rule itself was not unconstitutional, there was no reference to Roe v. Wade.

Roberts also co-authored the government's amicus brief in the case Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic. The brief argued that protesters from Operation Rescue who blocked women from entering the clinic were not engaged in a conspiracy to deprive women of equal protection.
The Supreme Court accepted the argument 5-1-3. Justice Souter, in his dissent, wrote:

"It is obvious that petitioners' conduct was motivated "at least in art" by the invidious belief that individual women are not capable of deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy, or that they should not be allowed to act on such a decision. Petitioners' blanket refusal to allow any women access to an abortion clinic overrides the individual class members' choice, no matter whether she is the victim of rape or incest, whether the abortion may be necessary to save her life, or even whether she is merely seeking advice or information about her options. Petitioners' conduct is designed to deny every women the opportunity to exercise a constitutional right that only women posesses. Petitioners'conspiracy, which combines massive defiance of the law withe vialent obsturction of the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens, represents a paradigm of the kind of conduct that the statute was intended to cover."
A year after this ruling by the Supreme Court, Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) in an effort to protect women and health care workers.

As Solicitor General, Roberts was the lead counsel for the government in the Supreme Court case Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation. Citizens had brought the case before the court seeking to enforce environmental protections due to the opening of 4,500 acres of public land for mining. The plantiffs argued that they would be "injured" by decision to open the land to mining. Roberts argued that the plantiffs had no right to file claims due to the fact that they had not presented sufficient proof of the impact of the government's actions on them.

Roberts was on the losing end of a 1992 amicus brief which he co-authored on behalf of the government in the case Lee v. Weisman. The brief was in support of letting public high schools include religious activities in their graduation programs.

Also as Solicitor General, Roberts authored the government's Supreme Court brief in the case Burns v. United States. William Burns was convicted of government theft and attempted tax evasion, he agreed to a plea bargain with the government for a sentence of 30-37 months. At sentencing, however, the judge sua sponte issued a 60-month sentence. The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Burns with Justice Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, Scalia and Kennedy stating:
"In our view, it makes no sense to impute to Congress an intent that a defendant have the right to comment on the appropriateness of a sua sponte departure but not the right to be notified that the court is contemplating such a ruling... Such a reading...renders meaningless the parties' express right. The Government's construction of congressional "silence" would thus render what Congress has expressly said absurd."
Roberts also co-authored a brief agruing that the 1989 Flag Act did not violate the First Admendment. The government brief argued that the Court should treat flag burning like obscene words and defamatory statements and allow the government to ban it for the common good. The Supreme Court rejected the argument and ruled 5-4 that the Flag Act was unconstitutional.

In private practice Roberts represented Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc., in their sucessful petition to the Supreme Court. The petition argued that a worker with carpal tunnel syndrome is not disabled such that he/she is entitled to accomodations at work under the Americans with Disabilites Act. Ella Williams, and automobile assembly line worker, was fired because she could no longer preform her duties due to the carpal tunnel syndrome she aquired while working at the plant.

Roberts also was the attorney for Fox Television in the case Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission. In this case Fox won its challenge to the federal government's ownership and cross-ownership rules. This case is too much to get into but we all see the effects of Fox Television and Rupert Murdoch's ownership of television, print, and radio news which this case made possible.

Of all these rulings and briefs, I believe the most disturbing and revealing cases involving Judge Roberts are the cases he has been involved in during the 20 months he has served as a Judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last October in the case Hedgepeth v. WMATA, Judge Roberts upheld the arrest, handcuffing and detention of a 12-year-old girl.

In the 2003 case Rancho Viejo v. Norton, Judge Roberts wanted the full D.C. Circuit to reconsider a panel's decision that upheld a Fish and Wildlife Service regulation protecting the Arroyo Southwestern Toad under the Endangered Species Act. Roberts stated there could be no interestate commerce rationale for protecting the toad. He was quoted saying: "[the toad] for reasons of its own lives its entire life in California."

Last June, Roberts was on the panel that supported the Bush Administration in a case brought to the court by veterans of the first Gulf War. The soldiers were captured and tortured by the Iraqi government and were trying to sue the Iraqi government for damages. They won a settlement of nearly $1 billion in the district court. After the fall of Saddam in 2003, the administration claimed the government of Iraq was no longer in existence and therefore should not have to pay damages. The case is in appeal before the Supreme Court.

Judge Roberts was one of the dissenters in a 5-3 denial of a petition for a rehearing en banc filed by the Bush administration in efforts to aviod releasing records relating to Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. This was the fourth such denial by a judicial panel. The Supreme Court, at the urging of the administration, agreed to review the case, which it sent back down to the Court of Appeals in June of 2004.

In the most recent decision, Judge Roberts was on the 3-judge panel (1-Regan judge, 1-Bush I judge, 1-Bush II judge) which ruled last Friday that the 1949 Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war does not apply to al-Qaida and its members, thus giving no rights to the 520 detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Is Iraq Better? Part 3

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

There are many security/police forces at work in Iraq detaining suspected insurgents and sympathizers. Reports and first hand accounts are surfacing about the practices going on after people are being arrested. Peter Beaumont, a foreign affairs editor in Baghdad, recently wrote the article "Revealed: grim world of new Iraqi torture camps".

In this article he wrote of a man named Hassan an-Ni'ami a suspected insurgent who was detained by commandos from Rapid Intrusion. His "arrest" made the local television news. Twelve hours after the arrest, his body was in the morgue. This is where the trouble starts: this man was detained and then murdered under the watch of the so-called "police" without so much as a trial or formal charges. The tragedy of his story is best characterized by Mr. Beaumont's quote that "What happened to him in his 24 hours in captivity was written across his body in chapters of pain, recorded by the camera."

Mr. an-Ni'ami still had his handcuffs on one wrist, which was swollen. There were multiple burn marks around his nipple, and welts around his chest and back as if whipped with a cable or hose. His nose and arm were broken along with some vertebrae that were pushed in. In addition to this, there were small even sized holes through his left knee as if drilled through. What finally killed this man were the bullets fired into his chest and head from close range.

Another example of this type of "dirty harry" policing is the May 5, 2005 arrest of 14 Sunni farmers, picked up in a market in east Baghdad. Ali Karim, a local fruit vendor, described the people who detained the farmers: "A partrol of more than 10 police vehicles drove up and parked, they were running through the street with their guns, saying that the farmers had a car bomb with them. They pushed them against the walls and asked them for their ID's." This story was coroborated by another vendor, Ahmed Adil.

The bodies of all the farmers were found in a shallow grave the next day. Most of the bodies show extensive torture with some of the bodies blackened by strangulation, brusies to the forehead, fractured eyes, burns, and puncture wounds similar to those inflicted by a spiked knuckle type device.

Tahar Mohammed Suleiman al-Mashhadani was kidnapped from the Abu Ghraib area by the Rapid Intrusion commandos. His body was found 20 days later and was almost unrecognizable to his family for identification.

The director and chief forensic investigator of the Baghdad morgue, the person who has seen some of these bodies, says that although he does not have enough doctors to catalog all the deaths, he sees 700 to 800 suspicious deaths a month.

Some of the people "arrested" by the police forces may be insurgents or criminals and if so they should be charged with a crime and have a trial. Is this what it is all about: an Iraq where security forces kidnap people off the streets and play judge, jury and executioner? Sounds alot like the Iraq of Saddam to me!

Is Iraq Better? Part 2

Thursday, July 14, 2005

General Adnan Thabit is the leader of a counter-insurgency group, the Special Police Commandos, which is about 5,000 strong. A good backround of this group and their actions can be found in the article written by Peter Maass: The Salvadorization of Iraq? The commandos are broken into two brigades; one is lead by Rashid al-Halafi and the other by General Muhammed Muther . Both are former high ranking members of Saddam's army, as well as General Thabit.

Peter Maass traveled with one of the commando units and describes some of these patrols. On one such patrol the commados picked up a detainee who directed them to a house. The commanding officer, Major Falah, decided the informant was misleading them. The captains then began beating the detainee. Maass describes the attack as "a series of sustained blows, it was a dockyard mugging." Of course there are American forces teamed up with the commando units to provide support. On this particular mission the American squad was headed by Capt. Jeff Bennett. During the attack he turned his back to the beating. Asked about the incident, his response was: "If I think they're going to shoot somebody or cut his finger off or do any sort of permanent damage, I will immediately stop them, as Americans, we will not let that happen. In terms of kicking a guy, they do that all the time, punches and stuff like that."

Another of these missions/raids reported by Maass was on March 8. The commados were looking for the suspected leader of an insurgent cell, Najim al-Takhi. When they arrived at his farmhouse he was not present so the commados detained his son (a preferred tactic is to kidnap a family member of a suspected insurgent or sympathizer). They drove al-Takhi's son to another farmhouse down the road and searched for his father but found nothing. Frustrated now, the captain of the commado unit pushed the son up against a wall and raised his AK-47 at his face, removing the saftey. The captain repeatedly asked where the boy's father was, to which the son responded that he did not know his father's whereabouts. Finally after a few minutes of this intense treatment the American officer who was accompaning them, Maj. Robert Rooker, stepped in and pointed the captain's weapon toward the ground. He told him "You are a professional soldier, you know and I know that you need to put the weapon down." At this time the commandos moved roughly 100 yards away and started to interrogate the detainee again, without an AK-47. Maj. Rooker's statement in regards to this was: "They'll shake him up a little bit more, stay back and let them do their job."

Keep in mind now, this is a "suspected" insurgent they were looking for in the first place. They then proceeded to kidnap/abduct his son (who was accused of nothing) and beat, intimidate and threaten to kill him. Is this justice? Is this what Bush and crew had in mind for the people of Iraq? Is this what they want?

Is Iraq Better? Part 1

Somewhere in the leadup to the war, or after the war started, one of the reasonings for the war was to better the life of the people living in Iraq under the rule of Saddam. Three years into this war/conflict/occupation is a good time to take an in-depth (at least as in-depth as I can get from this side of the globe) look at what we installed for a government in place of Saddam.

We all know about the terror and torture that was routine under the rule of Saddam, however recent reports, studies and first-hand accounts have shown the new government and the security forces of Iraq are operating with similar brutality. The main players in this new regime of intimidation and ruthless killings are the forces set in place to safeguard the people of Iraq, mainly: The Iraqi National Guard (ING), The Iraqi Special Forces (ISF) and the Ministry of Interior. The Human Rights Watch has released a 94-page report titled The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody, documenting the many cases of abuse.

The Iraqi government has even acknowledged, on July 3, 2005, that security forces were torturing people very similiarly to practices going on under the rule of Saddam. The response from the spokesman for the Prime Minister of Iraq, Laith Kubba, was: "These things happen. We know that." Saad Sultan, head of a board overseeing the treatment of prisoners at the Human Rights Ministry estimates that up to 60% of the roughly 12,000 detainees in the prisons are subject torture.

A new television show airing on the American financed network Al Iraqiya showing daily in prime time is: "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice." This show, the brainchild of General Adnan Thabit (we will get back to him later) is a reality type program that airs live confessions of detainees. I use the word detainee here because although some of these people may indeed be "insurgents", they are arrested (for lack of a better word) and tortured/interrorgated into giving confessions-many times showing visible signs of abuse. A recent report by the Iraqi Lawyers Association has sharply criticized the new show. The report names 27 Iraqis that are alive, despite televised confessions by people claiming to have killed them.

Who makes it on the show? One such lucky contestant was Khalida Zakiya, a 46 year old housewife. She appeared on the program in February after being detained for 13 days, arrested in Mosul by the Wolf Brigade (more on them later also). What happened in the 13 days of detention without a charge before she gave a confession of supplying insurgents with money and explosives? Zakiya claims she was blindfolded, handcuffed and gagged while being beat by six men with electric cables. She claims one interrorgator threatened to sodomize her with a bottle. On the 13th day she says she was handed a scripted confession which she read on the television show. She was transferred to local authorities when the Wolf Brigade left Mosul. Local authorities deemed her innocent and released her 10 days later. She was even visited by the chief of police for Mosul who appoligized to her in her home on television.

Iraq Update

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

In an update to a recent post I made about archeological sites in Iraq, I thought it would be worth noting (since you won't hear this kind of stuff in the news) that the World Monuments Fund has for the first time in its 40 year history named an entire country endangered. The list was released Wednesday June 22, 2005. That's right the whole country has been listed as well as specific sites such as: the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, the ziggurat in Ur, the temple precinct in Babylon, and the ninth-century spiral minaret in Samarra. Why did we go there again?

Sweet Irony

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The effects of the Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. New London have already started, but perhaps a little closer to home than any of the justices who ruled in favor of New London could have imagined. In an ironic twist of fate, Logan Darrow Clements CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, faxed a request to start the application process to build a hotel in Weare, New Hampshire using eminent domain.
Why is this request of particular importance? The site requested for the hotel to be named "The Lost Liberty Hotel" is 34 Cilley Hill Road, home of Justice David Souter. Souter voted in favor of New London last month and because of this ruling, city governments may take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.
The beauty of the irony does not end there, the hotel will include a museum open to the public which will feature a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. In addition the hotel will supply each room with a copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" instead of the bible. Let the land grab begin. Walmart, your up!

Karl Rove Makes McClellan Dance

Although Scott McClellan did manage to slither and squirm his way around answering any questions at yesterday's press briefing, it may mark a much needed change of attitude in the media.
During the 56 question briefing, Scott McClellan was asked about Karl Rove and the administration's stand on his involvement in the Valerie Plame case 36 times. His responses were a repeated and re-jumbled version of his first answer: "The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point. And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it."
Over and over this snake charming routine played out with the press corps trying to get a comment on Rove and McClellan twisting and turning in avoidance of being cornered in. The press even managed to present McClellan with his own blatent hypocrisy when they quoted his statement on September 29, 2003 (while the investigation was already under way): "If anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired."
Now having nailed down McClellan as already making comments on the case he claims he won't comment on, the press asked him when "he changed his mind and decided to no longer comment on this case." To this McClellan responded: "There came a point when the investigation got underway when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their--or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing." Backed into the corner now and having his pathetic excuse for not answering questions deteriorating by the minute, the press asked McClellan when exactly those overseeing the investigation requested that the White House not comment. The snake was running out of energy and excuses, McClellan's answer to the question was: "Back at that time period." Although they did not receive an answer to the question asked, the press did also manage to expose the fact that 9 months after McClellan's comment on the case in September of 2003, Mr. Bush also made a public comment on the case.
It is becoming harder and harder for the administration to keep their lies and propaganda together. The White House's failure to answer questions about an official from the administration and their involvement in a criminal investigation is a positive sign of weakness. I believe if this was anyone else Rove would be in the weeds waiting with the counter move, devising the gameplan. This time it is Rove in the center of the storm and the White House can't even speak.
Let us not forget what is at the center of the whole issue. The administration, through Karl Rove and Robert Novak, made a clear statement in the lead up to the war in Iraq. The leaking of Valerie Plame's name was retaliation toward her husband Joesph Wilson, who exposed the fake "yellow cake" Iraq/Niger claim (I believe that was reason #10A for the Iraq War) . Mr. Wilson proved the yellow cake claim was false, if not a blatent lie, and the administration leaked the name of his under-cover CIA wife. The message was simple: question the administration and your family is not safe.

Raping The Cradle of Civilization

Friday, July 08, 2005

It is disturbing enough to see the atrocities that we are committing on the people of Iraq; but one other disgusting practice that has been going on since the start of the war is the looting, robbing and general destruction of one of the world's most prized archaeological sites. No matter what your religion is, Iraq is the cradle of civilization and has a history going back over 7,000 years. Whatever name you use, Babylon, Shinar or Mesopotamia, it is here that man first discovered philosophy, religion, math and of course the skill of writing. It is believed that there are over 10,000 significant archaeological sites in the country. A link here to a recent BBC article shows satellite photos of the damage caused to some of these sites by looting. The National Library and the Library of Korans were destroyed by fires in April of 2003. Among the treasures lost forever in these fires were the Ottoman Imperial documents and roughly a million books and ten million documents.
In the ancient 6,000 year old city of Ur, the marines spray-painted Semper Fi onto the walls of the ziggurat (a stepped temple-tower built in the period 2112-2095 B.C.). In the city of An Nasiriyah the U.S. government set up Tallil Air Base. In order to construct this air base the military removed 9,500 truckloads of dirt, thus completly destroying this site.
Elsewhere in Babylon, American forces decided to build a depot. Here, it has been observed by John Curtis (the British Museum's authority on Iraq), there are cracks and gaps where somebody tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate. The 2,600 year old brick pavement has been crushed under the weight of tanks. The wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah have both collapsed as a result of helicopter movement, this after lasting since the sixth century B.C.. To this day machines and vehicles still sit parked on the remains of a Greek theater from the time of Alexander the Great.
Another horrible practice by the military was the filling of thousands of sandbags with sand from
archaeological sites. When the military realized this mistake they actually made it worse by starting the practice of importing sand to the area, thus contaminating everything. Why did the U.S. government decide to set camp in the city of Babylon and thus ruin the entire area? Why did the U.S. government send out 2,000 troops to secure the northern oilfields of Iraq but sent out zero troops to secure the history of mankind? Granted, the military is not to blame for all of the losses of archaeological significance. However, all these artifacts and sites were in perfect order before we invaded Iraq and caused widespread death and destruction.

Iraq Says: Get Out!

Two weeks ago in Iraq, 103 members of the 275 member National Assembly of Iraq demanded “a clear plan for army building and a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops." This is the new government of Iraq that is making this request. I would like all the people who keep saying that we cannot leave Iraq now, to stop and listen to the words of the Iraq government and it's people. They do not want us there, a majority of the American people do not want us there, it's time to leave and let them rebuild the country that we have destroyed.

Global Warming?

What is our congress doing about global warming? We know the administration's stand on the issue: it doesn't exist, and if it did then doing anything about it would hurt our economy. Joe Barton is Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce he recently sent a letter out to three of the world's most prominent global warming scientists demanding to see all the financial support they have recieved. Barton is also demanding to see the funding for every study they have done and the archives for all the studies they have published.
Why would Mr. Barton send intimidating letters to these scientists instead of having them appear before the Congress for a Committee hearing? The answer is simple, in his 11 years on the Committee Joe Barton has not held one single hearing on global warming. Fortunately for us, Henry Waxman is asking the same questions. Mr. Waxman recently sent a letter to Joe Barton requesting him to withdraw his letters of demand and hold a hearing to discuss global warming on an intellectual level. Thanks to Stephen McArthur for bringing this to my attention.

Terror: Here, There, Everywhere

One day after the bombings in London we have to ask ourselves some real questions. Are we winning the war on terror? What is the war on terror? Is Iraq the front in the war on terror, or are we just creating more terrorists? As recently as President Bush's last speech we heard the administrations claim that "we are fighting the terrorists there, so we don't have to face them here." Tell that to the families of the dead and injured from yesterday's bombings. If you are ignorant enough to believe in the propaganda that Bush spews, then how do you explain the attacks yesterday? Clearly this is just rhetoric. We are not fighting terrorists there; we are killing the innocent people of Iraq. Terrorism will not stop when we bomb a nation. Terrorism will only stop when we stand up and stop tolerating our government making decisions on behalf of us, the American people, that cause people to resort to terrorism. Heartless as this may sound, nobody is innocent in these attacks, not as long as we continue to allow our governments to brutalize the people of the world in our name.

Stop, Watch, and Think......

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I would like to ask you now to take a couple minutes and watch this video that was shown to me by Debbe Kennedy at Global Dialogue Center. Now just ask yourself if this is worth it? Is all the killing worth whatever it is that we are trying to accomplish? Do you really want to see more suffering from the families of these dead and injured? It's time to get together and do all that we can to stop this war.

Doing Business In Iraq: Part 2 Custer Battles

Thursday, July 07, 2005

How do you handle security at the world's most dangerous airport? If you're the U.S. government the answer is simple: hire a security firm with 2 years experience that has never guarded a site in the history of the company. This upstart company was founded by Scott Custer, a former Army Ranger, and Mike Battles, an ex-CIA agent. The company, Custer Battles, had less than $200,000 in revenue before the war and saw their revenue jump to over $32 million within six months of winning the Baghdad Airport contract. The airport contract alone was worth $16.8 million, and the new company beat out two more experienced firms. Shortly after securing the airport contract, Custer Battles won a second contract worth $9.8 million to build housing for workers. This contract grew to $21.4 million and problems started surfacing. Custer Battles was missing deadlines, and not paying subcontractors. Despite a Pentagon investigation into fraudulent invoicing (reports of $2.1 million in charges for $913,000 worth of work) the Coalition Authority approved an additional $5.6 million in contract changes. The Air Force in September of 2004 forbid any U.S. agency from issuing contracts to Custer Battles. There is also a False Claims Act lawsuit filed on behalf of the U.S. government against Custer Battles. In addidtion the Justice Department has an ongoing criminal investigation of the company in place. Pentagon auditors tried to look at the company's books in February of 2004 but were unsucessful due to the fact that the contract signed had no audit clause in it. What did this company do in the 15 months before they were banned from government contracts? It seems most of the company is made up of former military personel and some of them have gone public with accounts of the type of work being done by Custer Battles. Retired Capt. Bill Craun quit his work for Custer Battles after being disgusted by the practices of their employees and management. What does this Bronze Star recipient have to say about Custer Battles : "These aren't insurgents that we're brutalizing, it was local civilians on their way to work. It's wrong. What we saw, I know the American population wouldn't stand for." How does current employee Shawn Green handle traffic jams in Iraq: "Usually, you know, we give them a tap at about 20 miles an hour or so." (Keep in mind these are American contractors driving the streets of Iraq) I believe there is a name for the type of people who work for this company: mercenaries. Once again I have to ask the question: why would the U.S. government give such large and important contracts to such a new company? Why did they continue to receive contracts after reports of inflated invoices and brutality? Maybe a better question would be why does the U.S. government have its head in the sand when it comes to controlling and tracking government contracts in Iraq? Could anyone be this careless? Do you not know how much money you have in your wallet/account and how and where you spent that money? Why does the government not keep track of money in this way, or maybe just maybe they don't care. Stay with me here, maybe they even know about these practices of overcharging and they like it. War is good business and there are some companies out there making a killing off of the U.S. taxpayer and the blood of the Iraqi people.

Doing Business In Iraq: Part 1 Halliburton

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The army has just awarded another $4.97 billion to Halliburton for support in Iraq. Add this new number to the $6.3 billion that Halliburton received for logistics support during the first two years of the war. These orders of business originate from a 10-year contract known as LOGCAP( Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) that was won by KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton) in 2001 worth $12 billion.
KBR originally won this contract in 1992 but was stripped of it when the GAO (General Accounting Office) discoverd they had overcharged the Army for work in Bosnia. DynCorp was awarded the contract in 1997, but KBR won it back in 2001.
Why does a company that has recently been accused of $1.4 billion in bogus charges to the government keep receiving huge contracts? Seems this is not a new issue: Halliburton received over $2.2 billion in contracts during the Clinton administration for work in Kosovo. During this time Halliburton was charged with the same type of practices it is now being charged with in Iraq: overcharging for gasoline, supplies and food.
Why would the government keep doing business with a company that has repeatedly abused and overcharged on contracts? Well, dive a little deeper and this turns out to be a deeply imbedded problem in our government for over 30 years. KBR, the subsidiary of Halliburton, started in Texas in the 1940's. They managed to get a state dam project through the help of a Texas congressman named Lyndon B. Johnson.
Guess which company had the most contracts in Vietnam? Guess which company was investigated for overcharging the government? Once again, I ask why would the U.S. government keep doing business with such a company? Just for fun let's take a quick look at some other government contracts that Hallibuton has (these were contracts for the year 2003):
1. Camp Bondsteel and Camp Monteith-Kosovo=$829.2 million
2. Taszar airbase & Camp McGovern-Bosnia/Herzegovinia=$695.2 million
3. Incirlik airbase-Turkey=$100 million
4. Bagram & Kandahar airbase-Afghanistan=$52.2 million
5. Camp Able Century-Macedonia=$30.5 million
6. Camp Lemonier-Djibouti=$28 million
7. Training mission in Georgia=$25.1 million
8. Camp Stronghold Freedom-Uzbekistan=$22.1 million
In February of 2002 KBR had to pay out $2 million to settle a suit with the Justice Department. This suit alleged that the company defrauded the government during the 1990's by inflating project costs. A classic example of the ballooning costs was the GAO study showing that the KBR operation in Bosnia was estimated at $191.3 million when presented to Congress in 1996. A year later the cost was $461.5 million.
Last week the Pentagon confirmed a report saying the Defense Contract Audit Agency is questioning more than $1 billion of Halliburton's bills for work in Iraq under the LOGCAP contract. Finally, a report from last July by the Governmant Accountabilty Office found that the government could save $31 million in Kuwait if it did not do business through KBR.

Would This Fly Here?

Friday, July 01, 2005

An Italian court has charged 13 CIA agents with the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in February 2003. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr was drugged and taken away while walking to a mosque in Milan. The Italian government has made the charge because it claims the CIA did not inform them of the abduction. Whether this man is a terrorist or not remains to be seen. What is most disturbing is the way the United States government is acting across the world.
Ask yourself how the U.S. would respond to, say, the Russian KGB snatching a citizen off the streets of New York without informing the government of their intent. Well, this is how your government works now. When they think they have a suspect, they just scoop them up no matter where on the globe they are. We do this with total disregard for the laws and rules of the country we are acting in. I guess the criminal justice system and our courts and laws are no longer needed: the government says you're bad, then you disappear!

Supreme Court Justices

Today Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, opening a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course Bush will nominate a republican with like-minded views so I believe it is important for us democrats to find a nominee to support. I suggest supporting Judge Edward C. Prado ,a republican from Texas. Judge Prado has a solid track record as a judge and is someone the democrats can have confidence in. Judge Prado does have a website set up where you can write the President, Congress and local media outlets to voice your support. Let's be pro-active on this one and fill the opening with a qualified person.

Inside The Energy Bill: PUHCA Repeal

Tuesday the Senate voted 85-12 in favor of new energy legislation that would repeal PUHCA (Public Utility Holding Company Act). This legislation still has a few obstacles to overcome before it is passed onto the President, and now is the time to act. With a quick look at what PUCHA does, we can easily see why it is so important. First, we have to understand what a holding company is. A holding company owns or holds stock in another company. What PUCHA covers is:
1. limits the geographic spread of utility holding companies, the kinds of business they may enter, the number of holding companies over a utility in a corporate hierarchy, and their capital structure.
2. controls the amount of debt, dividends, loans and gaurantees based on utility subsidiaries, and the securities that parent companies may issue.
3. regulates self-dealing among affiliate companies and cross-subsidies of unregulated businesses by regulated business.
4. controls acquisitions of other utilities and other businesses.
5. limits common ownership of both electric and natural gas utilites.
6. limits the activites and campaign contibutions of officers and directors of holding companies, has control over their accounts, books and records, and regulates them in a number of other ways.
It may look a bit overwhelming but it is really simple, PUCHA does not allow a company to own and control utilites unless they give up their other businesses. Large corporations would like to take the steady reliable profit from the utilities to then invest in more high-risk ventures.
As of right now 5 oil companies control 50% of oil production in the United States. Would it be a good idea to allow them to start gobbling up utilites also? What would happen to the prices? What would happen when the other risky ventures fail as they did in the Great Depression era?
PUHCA was passed in 1935 during the great depression. It was enacted because from 1929 to 1936, 53 utility companies went bankrupt. I urge you to write your congressmen/women, write to the news outlets in your area and let them know you do not want PUCHA repealed.

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