Feb 282011


GENEVA –  The U.S. military is “repositioning” U.S. forces to be ready should it be called to assist with the situation in Libya, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
Most likely U.S. forces would be asked to provide humanitarian relief, but that decision has not been made yet, Col. Dave Lapan said. 
In addition, no decision has been made on whether or not to set up a no-fly zone, an effort that would require NATO support, he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday that Britain would join allies in creating a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan people from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s military, Reuters reported.
“We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets,” Cameron said.”We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people. In that context I have asked the Ministry of Defense and the Chief of the Defense Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone.”
The European Union slapped its own arms embargo, visa ban and other sanctions Monday on Qaddafi’s regime, part of an escalating global effort to halt his bloody crackdown on critics in the North African nation.
In a series of fast-paced developments, France pledged to send two planes with humanitarian aid to Libya’s opposition stronghold of Benghazi while Germany mulled a two-month cutoff of oil payments to Qaddafi’s regime. The moves came after days of increasing protest against the hundreds, and potentially thousands, of deaths caused by Qaddafi’s military resistance against the popular uprising in his country.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the European measures, including a freeze on assets, aimed to reinforce the U.N. Security Council-mandated sanctions against Libya approved over the weekend.
She said the EU also was putting “an embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression” and urged coordinated action by nations to help people across North Africa and the Middle East.
A more complex set of negotiations, she added, were being held over the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.
Diplomats gathered in Geneva on Monday — including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ashton, to coordinate action against Qaddafi’s regime. Clinton was pressing European leaders to enact tough sanctions to force Qaddafi to stop his violent attacks and step down after 42 years in power.
In Paris, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said planes were taking off for the eastern city of Benghazi with doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment.
“It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories,” he said on RTL radio.
France’s government is studying “all solutions to make it so that Colonel Qaddafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power,” Fillon added.
Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, proposed cutting off all oil and other payments to Libya for 60 days to make sure that Qaddafi’s regime does not get more money to hire mercenaries to repress anti-government critics.
Westerwelle called Qaddafi’s violent crackdown on protesters “a crime.”  “We must do everything so this murder ends,” he said after meeting with Clinton.
“We must do everything to ensure that no money is going into the hands of the Libyan dictator’s family, that they don’t have any opportunity to hire new foreign soldiers to repress their people with,” Westerwelle added.
The German action is significant because 85 percent of Libya’s oil goes to European customers. Last week, both Britain and Switzerland froze assets belonging to the Libyan leader and his family.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, said he has personally urged Qaddafi to step down and set up a transitional government to prevent further violence. Blair told Monday’s edition of The Times newspaper that he made two telephone calls to the embattled dictator last week, but that the message that he should resign was rebuffed. He described the Libyan leader as being in denial about his situation.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called on the world’s powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and compared Qaddafi’s violent suppression of opposition forces to genocides in Rwanda, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and Sudan’s Darfur region.
“For the sake of humanity, go now,” Rudd advised Qaddafi in a speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He later told The Associated Press his nation supported the creation of a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over Libya aimed to prevent the type of aerial bombing unleashed on the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, killing hundreds in the Spanish Civil War. A no-fly zone would require the approval of the 15-member U.N. Security Council.
“Guernica is known throughout the world for the bombing of the civilian population. We have seen evidence of that in Libya. Let us not simply stand idly by while similar atrocities are committed again,” Rudd told the AP.
Fillon said the prospect of a no-fly zone over Libya needed U.N. support, “which is far from being obtained today,” and he questioned whether NATO should get involved in a civil war in a North African country. The NATO chief has already rejected intervening in Libya.
Lavrov, the Russian minister, said he and Clinton didn’t talk about a possible no-fly zone over Libya in their meeting Monday.
Clinton came to Geneva to make the administration’s case for stronger action against Qaddafi.
“We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and those troops that remain loyal to him,” Clinton told reporters a day after President Barack Obama branded Qaddafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power immediately.
British and German military planes swooped into Libya’s desert over the weekend, rescuing hundreds of oil workers and civilians stranded at remote sites. The secret military missions signaled the readiness of Western nations to disregard Libya’s territorial integrity when it comes to the safety of their citizens.
“Right now, our attention is focused on Libya — and rightly so,” Ashton told the Human Rights Council. “The fact that so many colleagues from across the world have gathered here today tells us something big. That what is going on — the massive violence against peaceful demonstrators — shocks our conscience. It should also spring us into action.”
Some 1.5 million foreigners were in Libya before the uprising began. Turkey said Monday it had evacuated 18,000 citizens. More than 20,000 Chinese workers and 10,000 EU citizens have also left Libya, and tens of thousands of others have fled into the neighboring countries of Tunisia and Egypt.
The U.N. Security Council has instructed International Criminal Court to look into possible crimes against humanity occurring in Libya, only the second such referral. The first was in 2005 when the U.N. asked the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal to probe mass killings in Darfur.
Feb 282011

by Tula Connell, Feb 28, 2011

Editor’s Note:  Austerity measure or a fire hazard?  Third world techniques introduced to a declining superpower. 

This from AFL-CIO Political Communications Director Eddie Vale who’s on the ground in Madison, Wis.

As we speak, Gov. Scott Walker & the Senate R’s are literally having the windows of the capital bolted shut to keep people from passing food into the building to the people inside.
Our attorneys are collecting affidavits from the people who witnessed this, along with people who have been illegally denied access to a public, government, building.
 We will be filing for a TRO [temporary restraining order] to open the Capitol.
It is a sad for democracy when Governor Walker and his R Senate allies are locking the people of Wisconsin out of their own state capitol.

Feb 272011

International Business Times

Gunmen have attacked and bombed Iraq‘s largest oil refinery, Baiji, shutting down the facility and killing at least five employees.

“Armed men entered the refinery and shot dead two of the engineers,” said Abdul Qader al-Saab, the facility’s deputy chief.

“Then they detonated bombs at one unit, the al-Shamal unit, of the refinery, which represents 25 percent of the refinery’s production. In the morning, we came to put out the fire, which erupted as a result of the bombs.”

Baiji, located in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad, was badly damaged by a fire. It was one of Iraq’s three most important refineries and at one time was controlled by Sunni insurgents to finance their activities. It produced about 150,000 barrels of oil per day (other sources its capacity is almost double that figure).

Analysts said that while attacks on pipelines are common, targeting a refinery itself is rare.

Ahmed al-Jubouri, the governor of Salaheddin province, told Reuters “it’s a big loss for the whole country. All Iraqi cities depend on its production.”.
Officials said the damage was severe and would take at least two weeks to repair.

The attack followed days of protests across Iraq against the corruption of the current regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and its perceived failure to provide jobs and basic services, including fuel.

Another oil refinery, in Samawa in southern Iraq was also shut down by fire, but reports indicate this was not due to a terrorist attack.
“Yet another concern is the attack’s impact on the country’s oil industry as a whole, which only recently has begun to spring back to life. The government has been trying to lure foreign investors to build four new refineries, without much success” said Ruba Husari, editor of Iraq Oil Forum, according to the Washington Post. “It has been difficult to get international companies to come to construct these. Now you have another element of risk.”

Feb 262011

“Lawmakers will soon start debating” … yeah right, it seems like the PATRIOT Act is a permanent reality. I’d like to know more about the scope of this “lone wolf” provision. Via the Washington Post:

President Barack Obama has signed a three-month extension of key surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act.
The law extends two areas of the 2001 act. One provision allows law enforcement officials to set roving wiretaps to monitor multiple communication devices. The other allows them to ask a special court for access to business and library records that could be relevant to a terrorist threat.
A third provision gives the FBI court-approved rights for surveillance of non-American “lone wolf” suspects — those not known to be tied to specific terrorist groups.
Obama signed the three-month extension of the provisions Friday. They were to expire Monday.
Lawmakers will soon start debating a multiple-year extension of the provisions, which have drawn fire from defenders of privacy rights.

Feb 262011

Ma’an News Agency

Protesters said at least
10 people were detained

HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets at protesters in the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday afternoon, where clashes left at least nine people injured, Palestinian medics and the Israeli army said.

Four international activists and two Palestinians were detained, organizers said. The military said that only one person was arrested.

The Palestinians injured by rubber-coated bullets were transferred to the Hebron and Al-Ahli hospitals, Red Crescent officials said. The Israeli army also said five border police officers were injured.

The demonstration, which called for the reopening of one of the city’s main streets, came on the anniversary of the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron by a Jewish extremist.

Protesters, who waved Palestinian flags chanting “Down with the occupation!” and “Hebron is Palestinian,” said they were trying to reopen central Shuhada (Martyrs) Street, once home to the city’s main market.

Israel largely closed off the street, citing security, after the 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinians and international activists participated in the protest.

Among those who inhaled tear gas were Hebron governor Kamel Hamid and practically every journalist who covered the event. Palestine TV reporter Sari Al-Ewaiwi was injured in his left hand by stun grenade.

The protesters also backed Egypt, Tunis, and Libya, and condemned US policy toward settlements.

Israeli forces tried to suppress the protest by forming a human wall. Some of the protesters entered the street and refused to leave, but soldiers kicked them, a spokesman for the group Youth Against Settlement said. Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouthi was barred from the area.

Some of the estimated 1,000 protesters, who included Israelis and foreign activists, threw stones at troops, who responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

“There was a violent and illegal riot in Hebron,” the Israeli military said, putting the size of the crowd at around 300. An AFP photographer and correspondent said 1,000 people attended the rally.

The Israeli military said the crowd “confronted security forces in an effort to enter the Jewish community and the forces used riot dispersal means and the riot was dispersed.”

Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, is also home to around 600 right-wing religious Jewish settlers, most of whom live in the area around Shuhada Street.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court backed an appeal by Palestinian traders, ordering that the settlers be evicted and the market reopened, but the orders were never implemented.

Under a 1997 accord with the Palestinian Authority, Israeli troops evacuated 80 percent of the city but continue to protect the settlers living around the site, which they also consider holy.

Feb 262011

Global Voices

One month after a revolution began to demand political reform, Cairo’s Tahrir Square was again the scene for bloody violence as the Egyptian army moved to quash continued protests for civilian rule.

Two weeks since the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt remains grappled in a tug of war between protester demands for immediate democratic reform and a potent military refusing to cede power.

The use of force by the Army on thousands of peaceful protesters yesterday is a stark contrast from several weeks ago, when the Army appeared to be sympathetic towards public calls for Mubarak’s resignation.

Citizen journalists from Cairo reported on Twitter that the army beat protesters with clubs and electric prods, and had sexually abused women.

Yesterday’s violent confrontation suggests that patience on all sides is wearing thin, as protestors become increasingly frustrated at the military’s reluctance to implement promised democratic reform.

It is also clear that, although Mubarak is no longer ruler, the army-backed political system that empowered his dictatorship for 30 years remains largely intact.

Egypt’s revolution has entered a new phase as reform efforts are now aimed at reducing the military’s role in political affairs. Protestors may be in for a long fight as the violent suppression of protests yesterday reveal an Army determined to hold onto its influence in the volatile country.

Feb 262011

Boiling Frog
Sibel Edmonds

(Satire) According to our inside sources a new Bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Prozac will be launched before the end of the 112th Congress. The primary purpose of the Prozac Caucus will be to raise awareness and advocate for this ‘miracle drug’ aka ‘happiness pill,’ on the grounds of combating homegrown terrorism and domestic violence, lowering the national divorce rate, and increasing the level of general job satisfaction among the restless American workforce. “Increasing the level of general satisfaction and happiness, while decreasing the effects of violence and despair inducing factors such as anxiety and depression, are the major keys to achieving long term national security, family unity, and work force stability. With Prozac we believe we can achieve all that and more,” said a congressional aide who wished to remain anonymous. The caucus will have an interactive website with easy-to-print promotional materials and a password protected section for physicians titled ‘Patriotic Physicians for a Secure America.’

Let’s start with what is a congressional caucus, or at least what it is supposed to be, in theory that is. A congressional caucus is a coalition of House and Senate members who meet to discuss specific legislative priorities and policy issues. Caucuses ‘supposedly’ allow members to discuss issues to determine their positions and make sure their votes are informed. They can also give ‘advocates’ a chance for a group of legislators to champion their cause on the Hill. You may go ahead and change ‘advocates’ to ‘lobby and you’ll be even more on target.

When we look at the long list of these caucuses, a list that initially had only a few but seems to lately  have taken off rapidly, we see some caucuses that seem rather ‘ordinary and expected;’ for example,  Children’s Environmental Health Caucus or Congressional Dairy Farmers Caucus. We also see some ‘amusing’ ones, such as Congressional Bike Caucus, Congressional Soccer Caucus, and Congressional Boating Caucus.

You follow me so far? Okay, then there are more than a few caucuses that are ‘confusing:’ Democratic Israel Working Group, Congressional Israel Allies Caucus, Congressional Friends of Jordan Caucus, and other ones for Turkey, Jordan, etc.  Why do I say ‘confusing’? Well, in the above paragraph we outlined the caucus definition, which includes ‘giving advocates, aka lobbies, a chance to influence, aka lobby, their cause through the members of their caucus. In this case, the advocates, aka lobbies, are foreign, and this means ‘direct foreign influence,’ and that in turn would make the representatives in these caucuses who then influence and lobby the rest of the Congress ‘foreign agents.’ Think of it as two-tiered foreign lobbies: First, the registered foreign lobby influencing the target caucus, then, the caucus acting as a lobby for that foreign lobby to influence and lobby the rest of the Congress.

Finally, there are some ‘just plain eyebrow-raising’ caucuses that have been popping up and gaining momentum recently. Probably you haven’t heard of them. Please don’t kick yourself for not knowing. Save that kick, or cancellation of subscription, for the news media you’ve been following. Okay, back to ‘eyebrow-raising’ caucuses. Here is one example:  The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Caucus, which has recently changed its name to the Unmanned Systems Caucus. Thanks to Corey Pein’s WarisBusiness site I was made aware of this scandalous caucus:

The motivation for members to join the UAV Caucus (not to be confused with the A/V Club) may be national security or job creation, but the caucus is also where members of Congress directly show their allegiance to an industry that donated generously to their war chests.

How much? In the 2010 election cycle alone, UAV-related political-action committees donate more than $1.7 million to the Caucus’ 42 members.

In February 2009, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), at the time the ranking Republican on House Armed Services, co-founded the UAV Caucus. He began to hold meetings on the future of the military systems and by the end of the year he had launched a website–on House servers–for the caucus, which was ostensibly designed to provide news on UAVs and connect members of Congress with the industry.

caucus has served as the Congressional booster for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The UAVSI “Advocacy” page gives am overview of all the ways its members can maximize that relationship;In addition to whatever legislation and appropriations, caucus support has manifested in the opportunity to give committee testimony, visits from Congressmen, keynote speeches, meetings with legislators on “AUVSI DAY,” roundtables, facility tours, but perhaps most notably, a tech fair sponsored by McKeon’s office at the Rayburn House…

We filtered the 200 AUVSI corporate members to only the “Diamond” and “Platinum” members, then further narrowed the list to only those with corporate PACs. A stark picture emerged: Altogether, these PACs accounted for $1,788,800 in contributions in the 2010 to the members of the caucus. This figure doesn’t include members who weren’t reelected, such as AUV Caucus co-founder Rep. Allan Mollahan (D-WV), who was defeated in last year’s Democratic primary. Two of the newest members of the caucus—Rick Berg (R-ND) and Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)—received nothing from these PACs, probably because their incumbent opponents were the defense industry’s favorites.

You can read the rest of Pein’s revelatory piece here, but I think you all get the point on ‘eyebrow-raising’ caucuses. I guess it wasn’t a really long leap from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Caucus to the Bipartisan Caucus for Prozac!
The expected chairman of the upcoming caucus who would neither deny nor confirm the formation of the Caucus for Prozac had the following to say (of course on the condition of anonymity):

“Listen, I’ve always taken pride in being a constitutionalist, and the formation of this caucus is further proof…Somewhere in the Constitution it says people should pursue happiness and their government should help them go get it. See? This is exactly what this caucus is about: help and encourage people to get happiness!”

The congressman may have been a bit under the ‘happiness pill’ influence. He must have meant the Declaration of Independence; not the ‘Constitution,’ and, the passage he must have been thinking of was probably this:  ‘All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…’Oh well, at least they are taking the pill they are anxious to sell others.
The expected co-chairman from the opposite party also commented off the record:

“As a nation we are losing our edge, our competitiveness, in so many areas; manufacturing, R & D, services…even in the Global Happiness Index!! We are America. We must be number one. It is time to declare war on unhappiness! With this caucus we are doing just that: declaring war on unhappiness, and getting competitive on the happiness front. If unhappiness is the enemy, this pill is the weapon to kill it…to quash the damn thing. With this caucus we’ll get Americans to swallow this pill… swallow it big time, and in no time they will rank number one again…at least in the happiness department…”

The expected cochairman was talking about the annual World Happiness Index report on countries. Judging from his hawkish tone and aggressive language, he was either not taking the pill, or, exhibiting one of the known adverse reactions to it. The follow up call to check on this was not returned.
With the new trend taking hold in the formation of congressional caucuses, some refer to them as neo-caucuses, other members are frantically working to stake out new territories and mark their turf. There are many empty caucus spots to grab: The Caucus for McDonalds, The Caucus for the F-35, The Caucus for JP Morgan, The Caucus for Pepsi Cola …So many caucuses to form, so little time!

Feb 252011

Michael Monk

In the “flashback quote of the day” at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, he highlights words from candidate Barack Obama, made in a 2007 speech (and referenced in Slate). That quote is as follows (spoken word differs slightly from the prepared text quoted by others, what follows is transcribed from the video):

And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.

Well, will we see it? Or will it end up like the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a public option, or restoring constitutional checks and balances? He has given credence lately to false framing from the right with his freezing of pay of government workers, extention of the Bush tax cuts, a “deficit commission,” more budget cutting, and lip service to looking into deregulation when deregulation led us to financial collapse. Will he find those shoes?