Saturday, April 09, 2005
Doggerel of the Day
Her hips swaying and her red lips tight,
then that smile so devastating in its might,
tongue rippling across teeth so white,
breasts rising as I feel the urge to bite.
—Paul Marsden, Member of Parliament, defector to the Liberal Democrats in 2001, now switching back to the Labor Party
Absentee-ballot fraud: A lesson unlearned
His supporters went from house to house picking up uncompleted "postal vote forms"—what we would call in the U.S. "absentee ballots"—then filling them out and signing for both the voter and the witness.
According to Helen McCormack of The Independent,
The judge sentencing Muhammed Hussain, who defrauded 233 voters' postal ballot papers in a local election in Blackburn, Lancashire, said the system was "wide open to fraud".
His comments echoed those of a judge investigating allegations of electoral fraud in local elections in Birmingham, who earlier this week condemned the system as "hopelessly insecure".
After Hussain pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to conspiring to defraud the returning officer, the court heard that the postal voting system was flawed as there was no way of verifying the name and signatures on the ballot paper, and no way of verifying or checking the identity and signature of the alleged witness to the vote cast.
Now in the State of Florida, the Republican legislature has eliminated the latter problem, because they've eliminated the requirement for a witnessing signature on absentee ballots whatsoever.
If you want to throw an election, Florida is the place to come.
Friday, April 08, 2005
Bush's European visit - II
No Child Left Behind: Remedial education
Continuing Het Laaste Nieuws' photo collection
Recalling Bush's European visit - I
It's Guckert/Gannon on CSPAN2! (updated twice)
CSPAN has made an announcement that the panel will be shown at 8 pm EST. The change is not reflected so far on their website.
After the broadcast
This sorry episode was best summarized by a chubby man from the audience who began to yell "This is a fraud!" when the audience questions were cut off.
I cannot imagine what the National Press Club thought they were doing by convening this "panel." Its only news value was the appearance of Guckert/Gannon himself, who did what he does best—self-promotion and whining.
My suspicion is that self-promotion was in fact the aim of the National Press Club—by acquiring Guckert/Gannon they pretty much guaranteed themselves CSPAN coverage. If they hoped to improve the image of journalists, they failed miserably in this corner of the world.
Florida Senator Mel Martinez caught lying—again
Democrats seized upon it to show the crass and exploitative nature of the majority party. All 55 Republican Senators denied any knowledge of the memo's origin. Then the right-wing blogosphere, abetted by such right-wing media outlets as the Washington Post and CNN, began spreading the rumor that the memo had really been written by Democrats, and at least one Republican Senator took up the banner.
So the news that managed to break through the Papal proceedings yesterday was that Sen. Martinez had "discovered" on Wednesday that an unnamed aide—who turned out to be his legal counsel Brian, Darling—had indeed written the memo quite unbeknownst to Sen. Martinez, of course. Mr. Darling resigned immediately and will no doubt appear shortly on a National Press Club panel, along with Guckert/Gannon, where they will upbraid the somber journalists for "disinforming the public."
The whole sordid media campaign is righteously detailed by Media Matters, and I do recommend their account as a textbook illustration of how the right-wing media machine works.
But ABC's The Note yesterday carried the story forward by giving the right-wing media reaction to the news—their basic tack is that they've been "had" by Mel Martinez. The Note quotes Michelle Malkin—
Sen. Mel Martinez told the Washington Times he did not see the Schiavo memo until ABC News and the Post publicized it. But Sen. Tom Harkin told the Post that when Martinez handed him the memo, "[Martinez] said these were talking points — something that we're working on here."
"How could Sen. Martinez describe the contents of the memo if he had not seen it? And who is 'we?'
But then The Note had a recollection—
... remember, from the '04 campaign, when Martinez's Senate campaign put out a nasty mailer on primary opponent Bill McCollum, alleging that McCollum catered to the "radical homosexual lobby?" Martinez said he hadn't seen the flier and disavowed its contents, even though it was sent out with the usual "paid for by Martinez for Senate" line.
Now all of this is "Washington insider" stuff that normally wouldn't raise a blip on the radar. But this story has some interesting and unique features—a right-wing smear campaign that has backfired, a public that is genuinely pissed (and a little bit frightened) by the Republican theocrats' actions in the Schiavo case, and a bunch of media blowhards who've been made to look like the fools that they are.
Mel Martinez is a liar and a snake. Though we have six years to suffer this serpent's representing the state of Florida, we may only hope that the scales will fall from the eyes of the voters even as they emerge on Martinez' reptilian behind.
The Republican party's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy (updated) (8/31/04)
No abortions, no penalties—so what's the problem? (10/22/04)
Oppose Israel? Get arrested. Be an Arab? You're guilty. (3/14/05)
Thursday, April 07, 2005
U.S. to U.N.: Visit Guantánamo but don't touch
Manfred Nowak met Monday afternoon with Pierre Prosper, the American ambassador-at-large for war crimes, and said U.S. officials would not guarantee him the right to speak to detainees in private, an "absolute precondition" for such a visit.
Nowak ... also said his team would need full access to the facilities and the prison population, conditions that Washington hesitated to agree to.
If the U.S. were to let Nowak run around talking to prisoners in private, we wouldn't know whom to punish afterward. Besides, he could get hurt.
Well, there are plenty of other U.S. gulags that Novak can investigate.
Oh... Maybe not. The Aljazeera account says,
... Nowak ruled out visits to other detention centers and said Guantanamo was the only possibility for 2005.
"I raised also Iraq and Afghanistan (with U.S. officials) and the response was: 'Let's first concentrate on Guantanamo and then let's see further,'" he explained.
Unlike other countries, the United States does not offer U.N. special investigators a standing invitation to visit the country or any places under its jurisdiction. In order for a fact-finding mission to take place, permission must be granted by Washington after terms are negotiated.
You can see why the U.S. hates Aljazeera. They've included a photo. All the U.S. versions stick to the text.
The Chinese wire service Xinhua also ran a brief story. The Chinese are naturally very interested in the U.S. position on unlawful detainees.
Lessons in judicial comportment
A judge in Sanford is being hauled before the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) for locking up a number of people who went to the wrong courtroom—because they were sent to the wrong courtroom.
Here's the account given by Rene Stutzman and Robert Perez of the Orlando Sentinel—
The defendants said they were either notified in writing or were directed by court personnel to the wrong courtroom, one next door to where [County Judge John R.] Sloop was presiding at the new Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.
When they didn't appear in his courtroom, Sloop ordered their arrests. However, when the defendants figured out they were in the wrong courtroom and made their way to the correct one, Sloop refused to see them or withdraw the arrest warrants.
They were handcuffed and shipped to the Seminole County Jail. Sloop, in the meantime, went to lunch, then returned to the criminal building and began an unrelated set of hearings.
The defendants spent about eight hours in jail before they were released. According to the JQC's charges, another judge set them free.
And this wasn't the first time—
The JQC charges do not mention seven other people whom Sloop ordered arrested because of a similar courtroom mix-up the day before, Dec. 2. Some of those wound up spending more than one night in jail.
Of course, if defendants were routinely being sent to the wrong courtroom, the judge should have gone to the source of the problem and arrested the Clerk of the Court.
Sloop and his lawyer, Marc Lubet, appeared before the investigative panel for up to an hour and a half last month, Lubet said.
They provided the panel with a great deal of information and paperwork, Lubet said.
That would include a list of his medications.
"I'm not saying he made an error, but any error he may have made was certainly not done with malice or viciousness," Lubet [his attorney] said.
Not done with malice or viciousness? Let me see if I can find the appropriate word ... well, I think I'm going to have to get back to you on that.
Just so you won't think that all the kooks are wintering over in Florida, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC)—the equivalent of Florida's JQC—had the case of Judge Richard N. Allman to decide.
According to Daniel Wise of the New York Law Journal,
The incident occurred in Brooklyn Criminal Court on June 8, 2004, when Allman was presiding over three calendars. He was handling the calendar for his domestic violence part as well as the calendars of two judges assigned to all-purpose parts who were attending a seminar.
According to the record, Allman became angry when the Legal Aid lawyer, Steven Terry, sought to prevent the judge from directly questioning his client, who was voluntarily in court after receiving a fourth warrant issued because he owed money on a fine.
In the ensuing exchange, Allman angrily asked, "Did you go to law school, Mr. Terry? Did you go to law school, yes or no?"
Before Terry answered, Allman called a recess. He then came down from the bench into the well of the courtroom and grabbed Terry by the arms.
After Terry protested, the judge let him go and yelled, "This is my courtroom! You will do what I want you to in my courtroom! Do you understand?"
Despite "highly improper and utterly inexcusable conduct," the commission determined that a censure was the appropriate sanction, mainly because of the rapid steps Allman took to apologize.
The judge got off lightly and against the recommendation of the CJC's own staff. The staff had noted in their brief that—
... had the roles been reversed, Terry would very likely have been disbarred for "physically confronting the judge."If you're in search of irony, drop by a courtroom any day.
"As shocking as it would be for a lawyer to physically accost a judge," a brief submitted by commission staff stated, "it is worse when the judge is the wrongdoer."
Moreover, ... as a judge presiding in a domestic violence part, Allman might have issued an order of protection to prevent the very conduct he exhibited in his courtroom.
There is an "irony," the brief noted, in a judge's presiding over "domestic violence cases while in need of personal anger management."
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Recalling Bush's European visit - I
The Belgian newspaper Het Laaste Nieuws prepared some artwork to mark the occasion of Bush's visit to Belgium. I thought I would run some of them over the next few days, as they are quite compelling.
The paper explained,
Naar aanleiding van het driedaags bezoek van de Amerikaanse president Bush aan ons land, maakte de redactie van hln.be een selectie van de grappigste Bush-foto's en foto-montages.
On the occasion of the three-day visit of the American president Bush to our country the editorial office of hln.be made a selection of comic Bush photos as photo-montages. [my translation]
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
A MEMBER of the Scottish Parliament has been caught on CCTV [closed circuit TV] committing a sex act within the parliament’s grounds.Libidinous behavior? I thought that had been eliminated from the British Isles at about the time St. Patrick was chasing the snakes out of Ireland.
The MSP, who has not yet been identified, appeared on CCTV screens with a male aide performing a sex act on him.
It is now possible that charges may be brought against the pair - who committed the act after-hours in the grounds of the Holyrood building - for lewd and libidinous behaviour.
It is believed that the man involved has been an MSP for some years.He is now.
He is not thought to be openly gay.
It is alleged by a parliament insider that he is currently involved in a heterosexual relationship.
A common allegation, which is best ignored—especially if the representative rants a lot about "family values."
Maybe now they'll take the intrusiveness of those spy cameras everywhere a little more seriously.
What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops?
There really isn't a lot of coverage in your local paper or the nightly news of the state of the State of Afghanistan. Oh, the big events are covered: Laura Bush dropped in for five hours to plant a tree last week. Over the past six months she has been preceded by a stellar cast of drop-ins: Rumsfeld, McCain, Hillary and Limbaugh. (Limbaugh was probably looking for a more reliable source of pain medication for his back, of which Afghanistan has plenty.) But aside from visits from the stars, about all we get are two-paragraph back-page stories of a few soldiers being wounded or killed, which the MSM dutifully report to demonstrate their patriotism.
I get my news about Afghanistan from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which according to its site is "a private, international communications service to Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, Central and Southwestern Asia, funded by the U.S. government. (Excuse me for a moment. My dog "Orwell" is barking about something.)
Also, the "Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors is Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, former editor in chief of Readers' Digest (1989-1996), member of the Board for International Broadcasting (1987-1995), and Director of the Voice of America (1982-1984)."
I mention this by way of saying that anything published by RFE/RL comes about as close to the truth as we're allowed to get. So imagine my surprise when they led this week's report with—
MUSICAL CHAIRS WITH AFGHAN SECURITY CHIEFS
By Amin Tarzi
Authorities have shuffled the security commanders in four of Afghanistan's largest provinces in the past two weeks. The moves appear to be aimed at countering the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan's largest cities, and perhaps serve as a response to the demonstrations that took place in March in the southern city of Kandahar and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.
You don't see acknowledgements like that everyday. The demonstrations mentioned, by the way, are about "the presence of former warlords acting as governors of the two provinces.
The "deteriorating security situation" is thus an ambiguous phrase. I can't tell if Tarzi is referring to the "neo-Taliban" insurgency or the danger of popular uprisings against the government. In any case, the government's response has been not to get rid of the warlords but to move them around.
The U.S. really could have used those 140,000 or so troops currently in Iraq to try to "pacify" Afghanistan, but in their absence we're just going to have to rely upon our allies—that's right!—Tony Blair.
According to Tim Ripley of The Scotsman in a report rather humorously titled "British to lead new hunt for bin Laden,"
Military sources say 5,500 troops will be pulled out of Iraq within the next 12 months, reducing the British presence there by almost two thirds.
Defence sources have told The Scotsman that Britain is preparing to spearhead a new offensive in Afghanistan next year, sending 5,000 troops into the country to lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden and tackle the country’s opium trade.
Military commanders in Iraq believe the campaign there has "turned the corner" and the country’s own security forces are now able to take on a greater burden of the struggle against the insurgency that has gripped Iraq since the United States-led invasion two years ago.
Tony Blair hopes this will allow some 5,500 of the 9,500 strong British garrison in Iraq to be withdrawn by April next year, with the remaining troops being pulled back out of harm’s way to a small number of remote desert bases away from population centres.
Afghanistan is to be the British military’s "main effort" during 2006, according to army officers who say it is hoped that Iraq will have calmed down enough by the spring next year to allow resources to be switched to the new campaign.
First, a British force reduction in Iraq was announced back in September (see "What's up in Britain?"), though from the number of troops cited in the current report, it is clear that that did not occur, perhaps because of the U.S.' need for help with Fallujah.
Second, weasel wordings such as "Tony Blair hopes will allow..." hint that this is a contingent move—contingent upon a continued improvement in Iraq—so don't count
The US military has reported a major drop in casualties in Iraq during March with only 33 hostile deaths among coalition forces, but some military sources suggest that the latest outburst of optimism about Iraq may be misplaced and designed to help Labour’s prospects in the coming general election.
No! The very idea that Blair would make such an announcement to improve his sagging prospects in the forthcoming election! Oh, did I mention that Blair just confirmed that Parliamentary elections are going to be held May 5?
The Scotsman continues,
Hundreds of Scottish soldiers are expected to spearhead a major deployment of 5,000 British troops to Afghanistan next year in a bid to stabilise once and for all the war ravaged central Asian country.
Meanwhile, Tom Engelhardt of the Nation Institute has a major piece on Bush's "Afghan Spring." You should probably read it because his facts don't always agree with RFE/RL's facts, but then he tends to focus on U.S. bases and the universal gulag1 that Afghanistan is becoming. Engelhardt also recommends that all Americans read a Guardian piece by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, "'One huge US jail'."
And finally, again from the RFE/RL report, comes this interesting tidbit—
President says no to possible use of Afghan territory for strikes against IranI don't know about the Iranians, but does President Karzai seriously think the Americans are going to ask?
Hamid Karzai said on 29 March that "there is no room" for the possibility of the United States using Afghan territory for attacks against Iran, IRNA reported. Karzai added that there is no evidence to "prove" that this could happen and that neither American nor Iranian officials have discussed the issue with the Afghan side.
The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan (5/23/05)
Sorry I'm so late today
Meanwhile, if you'd like to opine—or just rant—feel free.
Monday, April 04, 2005
Apes used in Belgian police training manual
This was the front page of the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws on March 31. The paper had discovered that a Belgian police training manual contained photos of George Bush side by side with a chimp.
According to Expatica,
They showed a series of Bush's facial expressions next to those of a chimpanzee making similar faces.
The idea behind the pictures was to make police officers aware of the importance of
The revelation was doubly embarrassing for [Belgian Interior Minister] Dewael as he had signed a letter to Belgian police chiefs urging them to use the manual.
The pictures were apparently taken from BushorChimp.com, which has posted a wonderful selection of simian look-alikes.
Interior Minister Dewael has issued an apology to the American embassy. I don't know why. The resemblance is undeniable.
Statistic of the Day
—poll conducted for the Lowy Institute, a foreign-policy think-tank in Sydney
Why are we torturing people?
With regard to torture, let's forget any moral considerations, since I have none, but stick to the matter of the efficacy of torture as an intelligence-gathering tool. When we take into account that tortured dead men yield no intelligence and that the tactic has further enraged friend and foe alike, it is not inappropriate to ask "Why is the U.S. doing this?" (And I should mention that the media seem not to ask the question.)
At the level of the foot-soldier, the answer is not hard to discern and has been present in all American wars—frustration, anger, revenge. But in the current situation a large dollop of high-level encouragement has been tossed into the mix, producing torture and killing of prisoners on a scale not seen in other American military adventures, or at least not acknowledged.
So the question is not about the corporals and MPs, it's about the military and civilian higher-ups. These are the "cool-headed" decision-makers who must promote or censure a tactic.
It may be that they truly believe torture to be an efficacious intelligence-gathering device. Certainly the training the U.S. military provided to foreign military leaders at what used to be known as "The School of the Americas" might indicate as much. But if so, why don't our leaders make their case and take their stand? I have no doubt they would receive widespread public support if torture were presented as essential to the defense of the country, as was done in the BBC-HBO video "Dirty War."
Or it could be that our leaders are not so "cool-headed" and are unable to suppress their own desires for revenge—somewhat similar to Saddam Hussein's actions against the Kurdish and Shia populations of Iraq, presuming that Saddam ordered those atrocities more out of passion than calculation.
Or it could be ... well, first the facts of Murat Kurnaz' case and then Chris Floyd's answer to the question—
Today we take up the case of Murat Kurnaz, one of the thousands of innocent captives held illegally in the belly of the new American beast: U.S. President George W. Bush's deadly global gulag, where homicide and torture are quite literally the order of the day.All of which, by the way, explains what it was that the U.S. was really trying to teach at the School of the Americas, our school for dictators.
Kurnaz, a German national of Turkish descent, was grabbed from a bus of Muslim missionaries in Pakistan in October 2001, when Bush was getting his first taste of unbridled blood-and-iron power. Although Kurnaz was far from the battlefield in Afghanistan, he was of course guilty of being one of those swarthy Koraniacs, so he was shoved through the beast's guts before ending up in the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, The Washington Post reported.
There he languished for more than two years until he was hauled before one of Bush's "military tribunals" last fall. The khaki kangaroo court duly ruled that Kurnaz was a heinous terrorist who should be locked up forever — despite the fact that both U.S. military intelligence and German police had cleared him of any connection whatsoever to terrorist activity anywhere in the world. Completely ignoring almost 100 pages of exculpatory evidence offered by these experts, the kangaroos relied instead on a brief, uncorroborated memo submitted by an unidentified Bush official just before the proceedings began.
The last-minute Bush memo — clearly intended to keep Kurnaz in chains without charges, without counsel, without appeal, for the rest of his life — "fails to provide significant details to support its conclusory allegations, does not reveal the sources for its information and is contradicted by other evidence in the record," said a federal judge who examined the case. In other words, it was just lies and unfounded assertions — the same scam the Bushists used to "justify" their war crime in Iraq.
The judge ruled that Kurnaz's imprisonment, indeed, Bush's whole kangaroo pen, was illegal and unconstitutional. To which Bush — a staunch defender of law, liberty and civilization — answered: Who cares? So Kurnaz, 23, remains in captivity: year after year of hellish limbo, his youth sacrificed to the caprice of the prissy autocrat in the White House. Meanwhile, Bush is appealing all of the pending judicial challenges to his arbitrary power, while ignoring or skirting any ruling that goes against him. As we first reported here in November 2001, he continues to assert his right to capture, imprison or even assassinate anyone on earth he designates a "terrorist," without any judicial review or congressional oversight of his decision.
The Washington Post — normally a willing handmaiden of Bush's abuses of power, marshalling "bipartisan consensus" behind his blood-soaked foreign policy and much of his morally deranged domestic agenda — seemed uncharacteristically troubled by the Kurnaz case. Perhaps the tyranny was a touch too blatant for the paper's well-wadded consensus-seekers. They brought in an expert on military law to "suggest" that the tribunals might be — gasp! — "a sham," where "the merest scintilla of evidence against someone would carry the day for the government, even if there's a mountain of evidence on the other side." Another lawyer wondered why the U.S. government would ever imprison a man it knew was innocent.
Poor lambs. Now that the American Republic has been well and truly lost — seized by a band of extremist goons after decades of slow rot from corporate and militarist corruption — a few Establishment worthies are bestirring themselves to express some mild perplexity at the hideous reality that has arisen outside their comfortable cocoons. But their questions come too late. The reality is already entrenched.
Each day brings new revelations of torture, murder and government whitewash in Bush's gulag. At least 108 prisoners have died in Bush's captivity so far; dozens of these have been listed as homicides, CBS reported. But last week, the Pentagon declined to prosecute 17 soldiers for brutal murders of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite the recommendation of Army prosecutors. Army investigators also released 1,200 pages of new evidence last week detailing widespread "systematic and intentional" abuse of prisoners throughout Iraq, especially in Mosul; again, the Pentagon declined to prosecute. A trial of low-ranking scapegoats who, under orders, "pulpified" an Afghan prisoner's leg in a fatal beating revealed that such "compliance blows" were taught by the Pentagon as an "accepted way" of dealing with prisoners, Knight-Ridder reported.
As for the cocooners' anxious questions — "Why imprison the innocent? Why the sham tribunals? What's with all this torture stuff?" — there is a simple answer. Bush's gulag has little to do with "fighting terrorism"; it is itself an instrument of terror — state terror — designed to strike "pre-emptive" fear into the hearts of anyone, at home or abroad, who might oppose the Regime's crusade to make the world safe for klepto-plutocracy. Such a system actually requires innocent victims and lawlessness, in order to underscore its arbitrary nature — an essential element of terror. For Bush, Murat Kurnaz is a more important prisoner than a genuine criminal like Osama bin Laden.
"September 11, 2001 ... cannot be the day liberty perished":
Protesters win one on appeal (10/16/04)
Evidence from torture OK, says the government (12/2/04)
Early warning on Guantánamo torture from the FBI (12/6/04)
Dirty propaganda in a "Dirty War" (updated) (2/24/05)
In case you were wondering who is really behind Guantánamo (3/28/05)
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Quote of the Day
—Shepard Smith, Fox News anchor, after erroneously announcing the death of the Pope