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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Post Katrina New Orleans

Douglas Brinkley has a great op-ed in the Washington Post about the administration's current policy toward post-Katrina New Orleans. The article is pasted below:

Over the past two years since Hurricane Katrina, I've seen waves of hardworking volunteers from nonprofits, faith-based groups and college campuses descend on New Orleans, full of compassion and hope.

They arrive in the city's Ninth Ward to painstakingly gut houses one by one. Their jaws drop as they wander around afflicted zones, gazing at the towering mounds of debris and uprooted infrastructure.

After weeks of grueling labor, they realize that they are running in place, toiling in a surreal vacuum.

Two full years after the hurricane, the Big Easy is barely limping along, unable to make truly meaningful reconstruction progress. The most important issues concerning the city's long-term survival are still up in the air. Why is no Herculean clean-up effort underway? Why hasn't President Bush named a high-profile czar such as Colin Powell or James Baker to oversee the ongoing disaster? Where is the U.S. government's participation in the rebuilding?

And why are volunteers practically the only ones working to reconstruct homes in communities that may never again have sewage service, garbage collection or electricity?

Eventually, the volunteers' altruism turns to bewilderment and finally to outrage. They've been hoodwinked. The stalled recovery can't be blamed on bureaucratic inertia or red tape alone. Many volunteers come to understand what I've concluded is the heartless reality: The Bush administration actually wants these neighborhoods below sea level to die on the vine.

These days a stiff Caribbean breeze causes residents to jerk into a high-alert state of anxiety. Still unfinished is the overhaul of what some call the "Lego levees," the notoriously flawed 350-mile "flood protection system" that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers starting building in 1965.

The Corps has been busy fixing the three principal holes that opened in August 2005. Its hard work has, in fact, paid a partial dividend. A decent defensive floodwall is now on the east side of the Industrial Canal, attempting to protect the Lower Ninth Ward.

Unfortunately, that is where the upbeat news nosedives. The federal government has refused to shut the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet canal that helped cause the Katrina "funnel effect" flooding two years ago. In addition, entire neglected neighborhoods still have no adequate flood control.

The answer to New Orleans's levee woes is painfully obvious: money and willpower. Common sense dictates that the endangered areas -- if repopulated (and that is a big if) -- demand levees that can sustain Category 5 storms. It's a national obligation. Entire blocks are moldering away while the federal government lifts only a cursory hand to reverse the desultory trend.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest misperceptions the American public harbors is that Katrina was a week-long catastrophe. In truth, it's better to view it as an era. Remember, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s lasted eight or nine years. We're still in the middle of the Katrina saga.

Bold action has been needed for two years now, yet all that the White House has offered is an inadequate trickle of billion-dollar Band-aids and placebo directives. Too often in the United States we forget that "inaction" can be a policy initiative. Every day the White House must decide what not to do.

The stubborn inaction appears to fall under the paternalistic guise of helping the storm victims. Bush's general attitude -- a Catch-22 recipe if ever there was one -- appears to be that only rank fools would return when the first line of hurricane defense are the levees that this administration so far refuses to fix.

New Orleans appears to be largely abandoned by the Department of Homeland Security, except for its safeguarding of the Port Authority (port traffic is at 90 percent of pre-Katrina numbers) and tourist districts above sea level, such as the French Quarter and Uptown. These areas are kept alive largely by the wild success of Harrah's casino and a steady flow of undaunted conventioneers.

The brutal Galveston Hurricane of 1900 may be a historical guide to the administration's thinking. Most survivors of that deadly Texas storm moved to higher land. Administration policies seem to tacitly encourage those who live below sea level in New Orleans to relocate permanently, to leave the dangerous water's edge for more prosperous inland cities such as Shreveport or Baton Rouge.

After the 1900 hurricane, in fact, Galveston, which had been a large, thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South. Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads.

To be fair, Bush's apparent post-Katrina inaction policy makes some cold, pragmatic sense. If the U.S. government is not going to rebuild the levees to survive a Category 5 storm -- to be finished at the earliest in 2015 and at an estimated cost of $40 billion, far eclipsing the extravagant bill for the entire Interstate Highway System -- then options are limited.

But what makes the current inaction plan so infuriating is that it's deceptive, offering up this open-armed spin to storm victims: "Come back to New Orleans." Why can't Bush look his fellow citizens in the eye and tell them what seems to be the ugly truth? That as long as he's commander in chief, there won't be an entirely reconstructed levee system.

Shortly after Katrina hit, former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert declared that a lot of New Orleans could be "bulldozed." He was shot down by an outraged public and media, which deemed such remarks insensitive and callous. Two years have shown that Hastert may have articulated what appears to have become the White House's de facto policy. He may have retreated, but the inaction remains.

The White House keeps spinning Bush's abysmal poll numbers by claiming that his legacy will rise decades from now the way Harry S. Truman's did. But Truman had a reputation for straight talk and bold vision. If Bush wants history to perceive him as Trumanesque, then he must act Trumanesque.

Bush's predecessors moved mountains. Theodore Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres for wildlife conservation (plus built the Panama Canal). Franklin D. Roosevelt began a kaleidoscope of New Deal programs to calm the Great Depression and Truman oversaw the Marshall Plan rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II. Bush could seize the initiative and announce a real plan to rebuild, a partnership between the government, Fortune 500 companies and faith-based groups.

Unfortunately, right now New Orleans is having a hard time lobbying on its own behalf. Minnesota's Twin Cities have about 20 Fortune 500 companies to draw in private-sector money to help rebuild the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis. New Orleans has one, Entergy, which is verging on bankruptcy. So besides U.S. taxpayers and port fees, New Orleans must count on spiked-up tourist dollars to jumpstart the post-Katrina rebuild.

But this is where the bizarre paradox of living in a city of ruins comes into play. Out of one side of its mouth the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce says, "Come on down, folks! We're not underwater!" Yet these same civic boosters -- viscerally aware that the Bush administration is treating the desperate plight of New Orleans in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind fashion -- don't want to bite the hand that feeds them large chunks of reconstruction cash. New Orleans is both bragging about normalcy and poor-mouthing itself, confusing Americans about what the real state of the city is.

Recently Mayor C. Ray Nagin, born with the proverbial foot in his mouth, tried to explain why the homicide rate in New Orleans is so appallingly high. When a TV reporter asked, Nagin merely shrugged: "It's not good for us, but it also keeps the New Orleans brand out there." This absurd comment -- and dozens like it -- hurts New Orleans's recovery almost as much as Bush's policy of inaction.

Everywhere I travel in the United States, people ask, "Why did you guys reelect such a doofus?" There is a feeling that any community that reelected a "first responder" who stayed in a Hyatt Regency suite during Hurricane Katrina, never delivered a speech to the homeless at the Superdome or Convention Center in New Orleans, and played the "chocolate city" race card at a historic moment when black-white healing was needed probably deserves to get stiffed by the federal government.

And Nagin isn't the only bad ambassador New Orleans has. It also has City Council member Oliver Thomas, Sen. David Vitter and Rep. William J. Jefferson -- all currently in deep trouble for potentially breaking the law. Dismayed by such political buffoonery, Americans have simply turned a blind eye to New Orleans's reconstruction plight. There is a scolding sentiment around the country that Louisiana needs to get its own house in order before looking for fresh levee handouts.

Then there are egregious contractor crimes such as over-billing and price-gouging. The medical infrastructure has largely collapsed. Mercy and Charity hospitals remain closed. A severe crisis in mental health care has erupted and gang violence is on the rise. The Environmental Protection Agency refuses to clearly state that it's safe to live in the metro area. Young professionals, recognizing that there are greener pastures all over the nation, are fleeing in droves.

Even with our trillion-dollar debt and excessive military expenses in Iraq, the American people, if presented with a bold plan, might be ready to save the beleaguered city. Perhaps the people haven't lost their good Samaritan grit.

Let's, for once, put New Orleans on the front burner. After all, Katrina exposed all the ills of urban America -- endemic poverty, institutionalized racism, failing public schools and much more. New Orleans is just a microcosm of Newark and Detroit and hundreds of other troubled urban locales.

How we deal with New Orleans's future will tell us a lot about our nation's future. In 2008 it should really be an up or down vote. Category 5 levees or not? An independent FEMA or a FEMA still ensconced in Homeland Security? Do we pour $40 billion into grandiose Louisiana engineering projects or do we instead put up "no trespassing" signs in the areas below sea level? All are hard choices with various merits and pains.

The important thing, however, is for America to decide whether the current policy of inaction is really the way we want to deal with the worst natural disaster in our history.

Douglas Brinkley is a history professor at Rice University and

the author of "The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina,

New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New Rules May Limit Health Care Program Aiding Children

From the New York Times:

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a monthlong Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said yesterday that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children and would impose standards that could not be met.

“We are horrified at the new federal policy,” said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey. “It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”

Stan Rosenstein, the Medicaid director in California, said the new policy was “highly restrictive, much more restrictive than what we want to do.”

The poverty level for a family of four is set by the federal government at $20,650 in annual income. Many states have received federal permission to cover children with family incomes exceeding twice the poverty level — $41,300 for a family of four. In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent— $82,600 for a family of four — but the change is subject to federal approval.

California wants to increase its income limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. Pennsylvania recently raised its limit to 300 percent, from 200 percent. New Jersey has had a limit of 350 percent for more than five years.

As with issues like immigration, the White House is taking action on its own to advance policies that have not been embraced by Congress.

In his budget in February, President Bush proposed strict limits on family income for the child health program. Both houses of Congress voted this month to renew the program for five years, but neither chamber accepted that proposal. Legal authority for the program expires on Sept. 30.

The administration’s new policy is explained in a letter that was sent about 7:30 p.m. on Friday to state health officials from Dennis G. Smith, the director of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations. The policy would continue indefinitely, though Democrats in Congress could try to override it.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program has strong support from governors of both parties, including Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Sonny Perdue of Georgia. When the Senate passed a bill to expand the program this month, 18 Republican senators voted for it, in defiance of a veto threat from Mr. Bush. The House passed a more expansive bill and will try to work out differences with the Senate when Congress reconvenes next month.

Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

White House Torture Policy

A great op-ed from the Washington Post:

War Crimes and the White House
The Dishonor in a Tortured New 'Interpretation' of the Geneva Conventions

By P.X. Kelley and Robert F. Turner
Thursday, July 26, 2007; A21

One of us was appointed commandant of the Marine Corps by President Ronald Reagan; the other served as a lawyer in the Reagan White House and has vigorously defended the constitutionality of warrantless National Security Agency wiretaps, presidential signing statements and many other controversial aspects of the war on terrorism. But we cannot in good conscience defend a decision that we believe has compromised our national honor and that may well promote the commission of war crimes by Americans and place at risk the welfare of captured American military forces for generations to come.

The Supreme Court held in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld last summer that all detainees captured in the war on terrorism are protected by Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prescribes minimum standards of treatment for all persons who are no longer taking an active part in an armed conflict not of an international character. It provides that "in all circumstances" detainees are to be "treated humanely."

This is not just about avoiding "torture." The article expressly prohibits "at any time and in any place whatsoever" any acts of "violence to life and person" or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Last Friday, the White House issued an executive order attempting to "interpret" Common Article 3 with respect to a controversial CIA interrogation program. The order declares that the CIA program "fully complies with the obligations of the United States under Common Article 3," provided that its interrogation techniques do not violate existing federal statutes (prohibiting such things as torture, mutilation or maiming) and do not constitute "willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency."

In other words, as long as the intent of the abuse is to gather intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not "done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual" -- even if that is an inevitable consequence -- the president has given the CIA carte blanche to engage in "willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse."

It is firmly established in international law that treaties are to be interpreted in "good faith" in accordance with the ordinary meaning of their words and in light of their purpose. It is clear to us that the language in the executive order cannot even arguably be reconciled with America's clear duty under Common Article 3 to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence against their person.

In April of 1793, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote to President George Washington that nations were to interpret treaty obligations for themselves but that "the tribunal of our consciences remains, and that also of the opinion of the world." He added that "as we respect these, we must see that in judging ourselves we have honestly done the part of impartial and rigorous judges."

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America's losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam -- where we both proudly served twice -- America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

The Geneva Conventions provide important protections to our own military forces when we send them into harm's way. Our troops deserve those protections, and we betray their interests when we gratuitously "interpret" key provisions of the conventions in a manner likely to undermine their effectiveness. Policymakers should also keep in mind that violations of Common Article 3 are "war crimes" for which everyone involved -- potentially up to and including the president of the United States -- may be tried in any of the other 193 countries that are parties to the conventions.

In a letter to President James Madison in March 1809, Jefferson observed: "It has a great effect on the opinion of our people and the world to have the moral right on our side." Our leaders must never lose sight of that wisdom.

Retired Gen. P.X. Kelley served as commandant of the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987. Robert F. Turner is co-founder of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law and a former chair of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

Click here to access the full article.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ethiopia Is Said to Block Food to Rebel Region

From the New York Times:

The Ethiopian government is blockading emergency food aid and choking off trade to large swaths of a remote region in the eastern part of the country that is home to a rebel force, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation, Western diplomats and humanitarian officials say.

The Ethiopian military and its proxy militias have also been siphoning off millions of dollars in international food aid and using a United Nations polio eradication program to funnel money to their fighters, according to relief officials, former Ethiopian government administrators and a member of the Ethiopian Parliament who defected to Germany last month to protest the government’s actions.

The blockade takes aim at the heart of the Ogaden region, a vast desert on the Somali border where the government is struggling against a growing rebellion and where government soldiers have been accused by human rights groups of widespread brutality.

Humanitarian officials say the ban on aid convoys and commercial traffic, intended to squeeze the rebels and dry up their bases of support, has sent food prices skyrocketing and disrupted trade routes, preventing the nomads who live there from selling their livestock. Hundreds of thousands of people are now sealed off in a desiccated, unforgiving landscape that is difficult to survive in even in the best of times.

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Torture survivors find help, healing

I received this link from a volunteer at a nonprofit based in San Diego that helps victims of torture. This article is definitely worth reading and I also recommend their website at notorture.org

Click here to read the article.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Protest Journalism

I'm not sure if people have seen this, but I saw a clip on the BBC about MSNBC journalist Mika Brzezinski who refused to lead with a story on Paris Hilton. She not only refused to lead with the story, but shredded it on air. While this is a small event, it does raise an interesting point about the current state of the news media and to what extent journalists should decide which types of news to report or which are more important. I provided a couple of links below:

Click here to watch the video.

Another link can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Senate subpoenas White House over wiretapping

From the LA Times:

The Senate committee investigating the Bush administration's controversial domestic wiretapping program subpoenaed the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the Justice Department today for information regarding their legal justification for the warrantless secret surveillance.

The subpoenas by the Judiciary Committee set the stage for another legal and political battle between Senate Democrats and the administration over its counter-terrorism and law enforcement policies. Earlier subpoenas issued by Democratic lawmakers to current and former White House officials have essentially been ignored.

Legal experts suggested today that the administration would fight or ignore these subpoenas too, throwing the issue into federal court, perhaps even the Supreme Court. The outcome, they said, could be a kind of out-of-court compromise that gives lawmakers at least some insight into the legal machinations surrounding the top-secret National Security Agency program.

Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The General’s Report

Seymour M. Hersh has an excellent article about torture at Abu Ghraib in The New Yorker which can be accessed here. I will only paste a portion of the article, which is a quote of now retired Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba:

“There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff”—the explicit images—“was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this.” He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented what he knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

Lawmakers to Investigate Bush on Laws and Intent

From the New York Times:

Lawmakers say they plan to dig deeper into the Bush administration’s use of bill-signing statements as ways to circumvent Congressional intent.

In a limited examination of the administration’s practice of reserving the authority to interpret legislation, the Government Accountability Office determined that in 6 out of 19 cases it studied, the administration did not follow the law as written after President Bush expressed reservations about some legislative directives. By using signing statements, the president has reserved the right not to enforce any laws he thinks violate the Constitution or national security, or that impair foreign relations.

The accountability office, a watchdog agency, in a report issued Monday, did not pass judgment on whether the agencies were responding to the signing statements or whether the president had the constitutional authority not to comply. But Congressional officials said Tuesday that the findings were alarming since the administration had apparently not complied with the law in 30 percent of the cases scrutinized.

“Federal law is not some buffet line where the president can pick parts of some laws to follow and others to reject,” said Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, one of two senior lawmakers who sought the review.

Mr. Byrd and aides to Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and joined in seeking the study, said their next step would be to explore the signing statements to determine the broad extent of their impact. Mr. Byrd noted that another agency, the Congressional Research Service, had identified 700 provisions in law questioned by the administration.

“Moving forward, I plan to ask auditors to take a look at these provisions and determine what legal violations they find,” Mr. Byrd said. “Once we have the facts, we will be able to determine the next steps.”

The Bush administration’s frequent use of signing statements has been one front in the battle between the White House and some in Congress over the power of the executive branch.

Administration officials said that it was fully within the president’s power to interpret how laws should be carried out by the executive branch and that the White House had acted appropriately to keep Congress from overreaching and meddling too much in the independent executive branch of government.

Click here to read the full article.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Senate Committee Approves Bill for Detainee Hearings

From the Washington Post:

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a bill that would give detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, part of a renewed effort by the Democratic-controlled Congress to challenge the Bush administration on its wartime policies.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) joined all 10 Democrats on the committee in approving the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, which aims to counteract a law passed hastily in October that stripped detainees of their ability to bring their cases to court under the centuries-old legal principle of habeas corpus.

Click here to read the article.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Deal on Immigration Reached

From the Washington Post:

The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement yesterday on a sprawling overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that would bring an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants out of society's shadows while stiffening border protections and cracking down on employers of undocumented workers.

The delicate compromise, 380 pages long and three months in the making, represents perhaps the last opportunity for President Bush to win a major legislative accomplishment for his second term, and it could become the most significant revision of the nation's immigration system in 41 years. Bush hailed the agreement as "one that will help enforce our borders, but equally importantly, it will treat people with respect."

But though immigration proponents and opponents lauded the work done to reach a deal, both sides -- including Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate -- said they could torpedo the legislation in the end, after the Senate begins debate on the bill next week and after the House considers its version in July.

The Senate deal would grant temporary legal status to virtually all illegal immigrants in the country, while allowing them to apply for residence visas and eventual citizenship. A temporary-worker program would allow as many as 400,000 migrants into the country each year, but they would have to leave after two years. And the current visa system, which stresses family ties, would be augmented by a complex point system that would favor skilled, educated workers. Most of those changes would take effect only after the implementation of tough new border controls and a crackdown on the employment of undocumented workers.

Click here to read the full article.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

D.C. Representation Soon?

The Washington Post has an interesting article about how D.C. may be getting representation soon, although there will be a huge political fight if the Senate passes the bill. Click here to read the full article.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Survey of Troops Draws Dismay from Human Righst Activists

From the Washington Post:

More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.

In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey -- conducted in Iraq last fall -- reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.

Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

U.S. Asks Court to Limit Lawyers at Guantánamo

From the New York Times:

The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the request has become a central issue in a new legal battle over the administration’s detention policies.

Saying that visits by civilian lawyers and attorney-client mail have caused “intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo,” a Justice Department filing proposes new limits on the lawyers’ contact with their clients and access to evidence in their cases that would replace more expansive rules that have governed them since they began visiting Guantánamo detainees in large numbers in 2004.

The filing says the lawyers have caused unrest among the detainees and have improperly served as a conduit to the news media, assertions that have drawn angry responses from some of the lawyers.

The dispute is the latest and perhaps the most significant clash over the role of lawyers for the detainees. “There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country,” the Justice Department filing argued.

Under the proposal, filed this month in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee’s case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

The proposal would also reverse existing rules to permit government officials, on their own, to deny the lawyers access to secret evidence used by military panels to determine that their clients were enemy combatants.

Many of the lawyers say the restrictions would make it impossible to represent their clients, or even to convince wary detainees — in a single visit — that they were really lawyers, rather than interrogators.

Click here to read the full article.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Climate Panel Confident Warming Is Underway

From the Washington Post:

The newest international assessment of the consequences of Earth's warming climate has concluded with "high confidence" that human-generated greenhouse gases are already triggering changes in ecosystems on land and sea across the globe.

The second working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was charged with tracking the impact of global warming on specific regions and species, plans to release its final report tomorrow in Brussels. The Washington Post obtained a near-final draft of the report yesterday.

That document -- which follows an IPCC study in February that concluded with at least 90 percent certainty that humans are responsible for Earth's recent warming -- provides a more detailed look at how emissions from automobiles, industry and other sources are affecting life around the world.

The draft says "much more evidence has accumulated over the past five years" to indicate that changes such as longer growing seasons and earlier leaf-unfolding and earlier egg-laying by birds are traceable to human activities.

Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Effort to Pass Equal Rights Amendment

From the Washington Post:

Federal and state lawmakers have launched a new drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, reviving a feminist goal that faltered a quarter-century ago when the measure did not gain the approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures.

The amendment, which came three states short of enactment in 1982, has been introduced in five state legislatures since January. Yesterday, House and Senate Democrats reintroduced the measure under a new name -- the Women's Equality Amendment -- and vowed to bring it to a vote in both chambers by the end of the session.

Click here to read the entire article.

Monday, March 26, 2007

N.Ireland's Parties Seal Power-Sharing Deal

From the Washington Post:

Northern Ireland's Catholics and Protestants agreed to a power-sharing local government Monday, following a deal struck by two political leaders who had bitterly denounced each other for decades but never held a conversation.

The new provincial government will begin on May 8 under terms agreed to by the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the province's largest Protestant party, and Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, the largest Catholic party. Sitting side by side in an ornate dining room in Stormont, Northern Ireland's palatial parliament building, the two fierce rivals pledged cooperation in governance of a province where their followers engaged in a three-decade war that claimed more than 3,600 lives.

Click here to read the full article.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Negotiations On N. Ireland Government In Jeopardy

From the Washington Post:

Northern Ireland's rival Catholic and Protestant political parties engaged in a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations Sunday, racing against a deadline to agree to terms for a new power-sharing government or have London retain full control of the province's affairs.

The British government has given the parties until Monday to form a local government, which is seen as a critical step toward cementing peace following the more than three decades of sectarian war that ended with a cease-fire in 1997. But as of late Sunday, any chance of meeting the deadline appeared in serious jeopardy because the province's largest Protestant party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), insisted that the deadline be extended until May.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, London's top official for the province, said Sunday that Britain would dissolve the 108-member local assembly and scrap plans for local management of day-to-day governance if no agreement were reached by Monday. He said Northern Ireland had achieved "fantastic success" in efforts toward creating a peaceful and prosperous society and warned, "It would be a great tragedy if the politicians managed to blow that success out of the water."

But in an interview with the BBC, Hain also left open the possibility that London would consider extending the deadline if the DUP and Sinn Fein, the province's largest Catholic party, reached an alternative agreement on a power-sharing deal. Hain said any such plan would have to include a specific date for when the parties could agree to begin working together.

"If there's another way forward that has certainty about it, of course I'm not going to turn my back on it," he said.

Hain also said it was "a sign of tremendous progress" that the DUP's leadership said Saturday that it would participate in a power-sharing government if the deadline were delayed six weeks, until May. In a statement made public Sunday, the party said a joint Catholic-Protestant government could make a "meaningful improvement in the lives of all of the people of Northern Ireland." The party also said it would "support and participate fully in a Northern Ireland executive if powers were devolved to it on an agreed date in May."

At a European Union meeting in Berlin, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern discussed the matter with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and said the DUP's wish for a six-week delay was "not something we can live with, it is not satisfactory to us."

Creating a local assembly in which Catholics and Protestants govern together was a cornerstone of the 1998 Good Friday accord, which set out a blueprint for creating a lasting peace. The first assembly collapsed in October 2002 in a storm of mutual distrust between the rival parties. Although the body officially reconvened in May 2006, officials have been unable to come up with a plan for power-sharing between the "nationalist" Catholics, who favor reunification with the Republic of Ireland, and the "unionist" Protestants, who favor continued British rule.

Click here to read the full article.

Terror Database Has Quadrupled In Four Years

From the Washington Post:

Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world -- field reports, captured documents, news from foreign allies and sometimes idle gossip -- arrive in a computer-filled office in McLean, where analysts feed them into the nation's central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects.

Called TIDE, for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, the list is a storehouse for data about individuals that the intelligence community believes might harm the United States. It is the wellspring for watch lists distributed to airlines, law enforcement, border posts and U.S. consulates, created to close one of the key intelligence gaps revealed after Sept. 11, 2001: the failure of federal agencies to share what they knew about al-Qaeda operatives.

But in addressing one problem, TIDE has spawned others. Ballooning from fewer than 100,000 files in 2003 to about 435,000, the growing database threatens to overwhelm the people who manage it. "The single biggest worry that I have is long-term quality control," said Russ Travers, in charge of TIDE at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean. "Where am I going to be, where is my successor going to be, five years down the road?"

TIDE has also created concerns about secrecy, errors and privacy. The list marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. At any stage, the process can lead to "horror stories" of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information, Travers acknowledged.

The watch lists fed by TIDE, used to monitor everyone entering the country or having even a casual encounter with federal, state and local law enforcement, have a higher bar. But they have become a source of irritation -- and potentially more serious consequences -- for many U.S. citizens and visitors.

In 2004 and 2005, misidentifications accounted for about half of the tens of thousands of times a traveler's name triggered a watch-list hit, the Government Accountability Office reported in September. Congressional committees have criticized the process, some charging that it collects too much information about Americans, others saying it is ineffective against terrorists. Civil rights and privacy groups have called for increased transparency.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Arab minority demands say in governing Israel

From the LA Times:

A broadly representative elite of Israel's Arab minority has rejected the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and demanded a partnership in governing the country to ensure that Arab citizens get equal treatment and more control over their communities.

In a manifesto that is stirring anger and soul-searching among Jews, Arab leaders have declared that Israel's 1.4 million Arab citizens are an indigenous group with collective rights, not just individual rights. The document argues that Arabs are entitled to share power in a binational state and block policies that discriminate against them.

Arab citizens, who make up about one-fifth of Israel's population, have always felt alienated by the Star of David on Israel's flag and a national anthem that expresses the Jewish yearning for a return to Zion. They have long protested the disproportionate Jewish share of budget resources, public services and land.

Until now, though, only small groups of Arab intellectuals had dared to advocate collective equality or the abolition of Jewish national symbols.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

U.S. Officials Agree to Release Domestic Spying Documents

From the Washington Post:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other officials said they have agreed to turn over classified documents about the government's domestic spying program to the congressional judiciary and intelligence committees as early as today, ending a standoff that had included threats of subpoenas from Capitol Hill.

The agreement follows Gonzales's announcement two weeks ago that the Bush administration was abandoning a controversial program that allowed the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without warrants because it now has approval for the monitoring from a secret intelligence court.

But the administration has refused to release the court's Jan. 10 orders publicly, and leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees had been rebuffed in their demands for copies of the documents.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

World Court Takes First Case

From the Washington Post:

The International Criminal Court ruled Monday that Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, charged with recruiting child soldiers as young as 10 and sending them into battle, will be the first defendant to face trial at the newly established court.

At a public hearing in The Hague, presiding Judge Claude Jorda announced that evidence presented by prosecutors was sufficient to "establish strong grounds to believe" that Lubanga was responsible "for war crimes consisting of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15."

Lubanga, 46, led a faction in the civil war that broke out in Congo in 1998, drawing in forces from numerous neighboring countries. He was arrested in Kinshasa in March 2005 and moved to a high-security detention facility near the Dutch North Sea coast the following year. A father of seven, he holds a degree in psychology.

Jorda said that children were "led to kill" in clashes between ethnic Hema and Lendu people in the Ituri region, and that some fighters under age 15 lost their lives. Many of the underage soldiers were systematically drugged to numb them against the fear of warfare, he said.

Three boys and three girls, one only 10 years old when Congo's civil war broke out, were among those interviewed in preparing the case.

Backed by 104 countries, the International Criminal Court is meant to replace the current system of ad hoc courts prosecuting war crimes suspects in specific conflicts, such as the ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia. The United States has declined to join, saying the court's proceedings are likely to be politicized and result in unjust prosecution of Americans.

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