Saturday, September 30, 2006

Scandal In Congress, Again

The readers should be warned that every once in awhile this blog becomes partisan and biased. The following post is one such biased effort.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page. His departure sent Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate less than six weeks before midterm elections in which Democrats are making a strong bid to gain control of the House. He had been considered a shoo-in for a new term. The resignation further complicates the political landscape for Republicans, who are fighting to retain control of Congress. Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats to regain the power they lost in 1994. Foley's aides initially blamed Democratic rival Tim Mahoney, a former Republican, and Democrats with attempting to smear the congressman before the election. This might be the typical reaction in an election race but then irony sets in.

What is ironic is that Foley in addition to being a member of the Republican leadership, serving as a deputy whip also and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee; Foley was the chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, had introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect. Such inappropriateness is not new to Congress that has seen affairs over the last decade claim the political lives of many members. In 1983, the House censured two lawmakers - Daniel Crane of Illinois and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts - for having improper relationships with pages.

In 2003, Foley faced questions about his sexual orientation as he prepared to run for Sen. Bob Graham's seat. At a news conference in May of that year, he said he would not comment on rumors he was gay. He later decided not to seek the Senate seat to care for his parents.
Republican’s will try to forget him as soon as possible by distancing the Party and senior leadership from him. In fact, Florida Republicans plan to meet as soon as Monday to name a replacement in Foley's district, an area around Palm Beach County that President Bush won with 55 percent in 2004 and is now in play for November. Though Florida ballots have already been printed with Foley's name and cannot be changed, any votes for Foley will count toward the party's choice. Conservatives will most likely use Foley as a whipping boy, an attempt to use his alleged sexual orientation for political means. This would be wrong, and in itself inappropriate, but the attempt will be made.

Therefore, a disclaimer, of sorts, should be made known. If Mark Foley is gay, his actions do not represent homosexuals who are fighting for social and legal recognition. Mr. Foley’s actions shame heterosexuals too, for his actions perpetrate a fraud upon those who support gays and struggle for them. More importantly, however, Mr. Foley has been disloyal to the institution he was elected to. Congress has had, at times, a sordid history with members’ actions. Mr. Foley’s has now been added to that list, but the idea of representative government, child advocacy and the larger issue of being a responsible person have been betrayed.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Leap Of Faith

The Iraqi government declared an immediate curfew in the capital, Baghdad, on Friday to run until Sunday morning. A three-day curfew was put in place in Baghdad and three provinces in February after the bombing of an important Shia shrine sparked violent protests, but pedestrians were allowed to walk to mosques.

This move affects both vehicles and pedestrians, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister said. The spokesman did not reveal why a curfew was being put in place, but sectarian violence and blasts have been increasing in recent days. Late on Thursday, the brother-in-law of the new chief judge in Saddam Hussein's trial was shot dead in Baghdad.

Vehicles have been barred from the Iraqi capital on a number of occasions in recent months, but now there is another curfew, announced on state broadcaster Iraqiya. "The government has decided to enforce a curfew on vehicles and individuals starting from Friday evening until 0600 on Sunday morning."

Shia and Sunni militia groups have increasingly been engaged in tit-for-tat attacks on each other since the al-Askari shrine was bombed in February. A Sunni-led insurgency that erupted after the ousting of Saddam Hussein is also continuing. On Wednesday a US military spokesman said that there had been a spike in violence coinciding with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Monday, and that suicide attacks were at record levels. While Iraqi security forces are making a concerted effort to end sectarian violence by targeting death squads, the killings continue.

This is of course, not a accurate portrayal of Muslims nor those Arabs who call themselves Shia and Sunni. Such sectarian tensions always have been a part of Iraqi culture. However, it is hoped that during this holy month both sides can be blessed spiritually; that these individuals are truly touched in the profound way to stop the fighting. This is a hope that leads to another, a hope shared by countrymen everywhere: an end to the American occupation. The question is are Iraqi’s ready to take this leap of faith?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The war in Iraq is inspiring new terrorists and worsening the threat to America. This is the estimate by America’s 16 spy agencies in their National Intelligence Estimate, written in April, but partly leaked this past weekend.

Of course, this notion has long been considered self-evident by opponents of the war in Iraq. The question is can the Democrats, traditionally seen as weaker on security, use this report and make political gains before November’s congressional elections?

It is true that until now, the Democrats have been tripped up by Iraq. Grassroots supporters and activists hate the war as do leaders like Howard Dean the chairman of the Democratic national committee as well as Nancy Pelosi, Democrat minority leader in the House of Representatives. However, many prominent Democrats did support the invasion of Iraq, specifically Hillary Clinton, likely to run for president in 2008. The result has been internal convulsions, though not quite the same as what happened to the Democratic Party during the Vietnam ear. The party as a whole is torn between those who see near civil-war in Iraq as an obvious target for attacking President Bush and, on the other side, the Democratic would-be presidents, who need to look tough on terrorism and supportive of the armed forces. The result has been fodder for Republican spin-doctors and neither wing fully prevailing.

The estimate should be an opportunity for Democrats to make up their minds. President Bush denied on Tuesday September 26th that the war has made America less safe and he agreed to declassify parts of the document. But damage has been done: some of the report reflects what many anti-war voters have been saying. “The Iraq Jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives” says the report, and is recruiting “supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

President Bush’s troubled foreign policy has been rich opportunity for the Democrats for some time. Some two-thirds of voters apparently think America is less respected than before, and a similar share believe that other leaders have little respect for their president. The trouble has been that the Democrats’ own views are hardly inspiring. In early September they proposed a “Real Security Act”, a 500-page bill that is more a rambling foreign-policy manifesto than clear alternative policy. True the Democrats want more done to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, they want to achieve “energy independence” by 2020, and for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be fired. They also propose screening 100% of incoming air- and sea-borne cargo at foreign ports, and working to turn other recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission into law.

As the months close on the Congressional election, Democrats can boast a few advantages on other aspects of foreign policy. Democratic populism on trade and outsourcing thrills middle-Americans, including white-collar workers who worry that globalisation means lost jobs and declining wages. The relatively small number of black voters President Bush wooed by paying attention to AIDS and development in Africa in 2004 largely left him after Hurricane Katrina last summer.

But on other issues, the Democrats are indistinguishable from Republicans: both parties staunchly support Israel, a mistake, though understandable as Democrats have kept most Jewish voters. Where the Democrats have lain low, which is disgraceful has been during the debate about coercive interrogations of terror suspects, content to let the Republicans fight among themselves. Here is an issue that clear opposition should be heard, though sadly, the American public has been left with silence. For those who care the question still remains, can the Democrat’s rally around this intelligence estimate, find their voice and fight a strong opposition campaign that may return both House’s of Congress to them? We shall soon see.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Truth, Lies, & President Clinton

In a contentious taped interview that aired on "Fox News Sunday," former president Bill Clinton vigorously defended his efforts as president to capture and kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him," Clinton said, referring to Afghanistan. "We do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is one-seventh as important as Iraq," he added, referring to the approximately 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The fact that Mr. Clinton has to defend the efforts as President that the 9/11 Commission reported and in its findings found no fault with is truly sad. As Republicans get prepared for the Fall elections their tactic of wrapping candidates and the Party as a whole in the flag while campaigning on the issue of national security does not seem to work due to two factors.

One factor is an energized Democratic base, lead in part, by a vocal and energized former President. Another factor is that the American electorate at large no longer believes that the Republican Party can handle the issue of national security better than their Democratic opposition.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Son's Mission

On occasion this blog intentionally diverts from political news of note to discuss other topics. Readers of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy should be pleased with the news that an unfinished book by Tolkien has been edited into completion by his son and will be published next year.

Christopher Tolkien has spent 30 years working on The Children of Hurin, which his father started in 1918 and later abandoned though extracts from The Children of Hurin have been published before. The story involves the elves and dwarves that feature in much of Tolkien's work.

With a coup in Thailand, social protests in Mexico and Hungary and very testy Iran it was thought to give some uplifting news today. Hope all enjoyed.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mexico Finale

Mexican leftists, who say the July 2 election was stolen, declared their candidate their "legitimate president" on Saturday, a symbolic move reducing the risk of street protests to make the country ungovernable.

Aides said Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the election, would use mainly political means rather than widespread protests in leading opposition to conservative President-elect Felipe Calderon. While supporters voted to swear Lopez Obrador in at a ceremony on Nov. 20, just days before Calderon takes power. Lopez Obrador said he would name ministers to his parallel government and that it would operate from voluntary donations. As quoted in Reuters he said, "we won the presidential election. I accept the post of president of Mexico because we reject an imposition," he told cheering followers who gathered under torrential rains. "We will never give up."Earlier yesterday, leftists protested against President Vicente Fox at the nation's Independence Day military parade.

But the campaign has clearly lost momentum and few now doubt Calderon will rule the country, although he will continue to face constant sniping from Lopez Obrador and a large bloc of leftist lawmakers in Congress. However, more and more Mexicans want Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of the capital, to end the protests. Though much about the Mexican election is still disputed and bitter it is hoped that having Mr. Lopez Obrador as a vocal opposition in the Mexican Congress and not in the streets is better for the Mexican people and Mexico.

Friday, September 15, 2006

George Clooney & Darfur

Actor George Clooney on Thursday told the U.N.'s most powerful body that if it did not send peacekeepers to Sudan's Darfur region millions of people would die in what he called the first genocide of the 21st century. Clooney was addressing Security Council members at an informal briefing organized by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which recently set up a Darfur Commission of Nobel Laureates.

In the report on CNN, Clooney said, "after September 30 you won't need the U.N. You will simply need men with shovels and bleached white linen and headstones." Nice quote, Mr. Clooney. Dramatic for the microphone and gathered press, but bleached linen and shovels are the things Darfur has gotten familiar with over the last twenty years. What is different now is that the mandate of African Union peacekeepers in the region expires at the end of the month and the Sudanese government has refused to approve their replacement by a U.N. force. Clooney did stress the point that if U.N. forces were not sent to replace them, all aid workers would leave and the 2.5 million refugees who depend on them would die. This is true and the world needs to be reminded of this simple fact over and over again.

This genocide has been happening for twenty years making sporadic headlines until most recently in the past three years more international pressure has been brought to the issue. Mr. Clooney is not the first celebrity to find a cause to fight for. In the mid-eighties Bono threw a concert to get rid of hunger in Africa. The concert was a success though the mission result is a perpetual process. Make no mistake if this genocide continues unchecked it will not be the last. It is sad though that an A-list Hollywood actor is the best hope for women and children in Darfur.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Big Brother Bear

Ukraine has told NATO it is shelving its aspirations to join the Western defense alliance because of widespread public opposition and to preserve the former Soviet republic's relations with Russia. "We have explained that because of the political situation in Ukraine, we will have to take a pause, but the time will come when a decision will be made," new Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich told a joint news conference Thursday and reported on CNN, after talks with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and NATO ambassadors. Russia fiercely opposed the previous pro-Western Ukrainian government's intention to join NATO's Membership Action Plan, a path towards eventual entry into the U.S.-led military pact. Yanukovich, regarded as closer to Moscow than reformist President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power in an Orange Revolution after defeating Yanukovich in a flawed 2004 election, said he did not want to complicate Ukraine-Russia relations. On Wednesday, Ukraine won the promise of negotiations early next year on broader ties with the European Union that could include a free trade deal.

All this means is that what Moscow (Putin) and allies in the Kremlin wanted to accomplish but were blocked in 2004 now have been successful in completing. This is very unfortunate indeed. For central and eastern European neighbors, particularly Poland, this is a possible confirmation of their worst fears. A Ukraine that is once again a puppet to a regime in Moscow, for the West it is equally disappointing. Mr. Yanukovich adding to remarks with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Ukraine had to convince society. Such a move only convinces those who were skeptical of Ukraine worthiness to join NATO like France that they were right, while confirming what critics view as cow-towing to Russian demands. Society was convinced by Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 now we are just confused.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Let The Game Begin

Moderate Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who has bucked President Bush on tax cuts and the war in Iraq, defeated a conservative challenger Tuesday in a contest that could be crucial in the larger fight for control of Congress. With 72 percent of precincts reporting, Chafee had 25,728 votes, or 55 percent, to Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey's 20,750 votes, or 45 percent.

This is a disappointment to Democrat's nationwide who had hopped for a Laffey win. With Chafee out of the November election it was widely speculated that Laffey would lose to his Democratic opponent and thus open the Rhode Island Senate seat to a Democrat, while in the process adding to the hopeful seat gains needed to take back control of the Senate from the Republican's.

Is it really a disappointment? Was Chafee's primary win really in doubt? Even the most optomistic Democrat and in this election year there are many, would with a shrug, concede that Chafee was going to win. Does this detract from the other nationwide primary outcomes? No, not at all. Primary wins by incumbents and challengers, particularily in the Southwest indicate that all is still going according to Democratic plan. Much of this is hope and either political side of the ideological aisle should suddenly become over confident (this is true for Republican's who wipe their brows at Chafee's primary win). There is still much, much more campaigning to do, especially since the contenders know each other now. Let the game begin.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hallow Anniversary

Five years after terrorists used airplanes as weapons to attack the United States, families of some of the nearly 3,000 victims gathered at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania for solemn ceremonies. President Bush is taking part in tributes at all three locations.

This blog will include some biased opinions. I have tried since the conception of this blog to purposefully write on events offering, as my header suggests, an unbiased and apolitical viewpoint. As some world events have dictated, I broke from this endeavor, however not without a warning to readers. On the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001 I stray once more.

Most American's look to this day with sadness. I wish not to detract from the seriousness of the crime committed or the lives lost. I wish though to gently remind those who have observed this solemn day of the countless acts of terrorism that have occurred before September 11, 2001. We American's like to personalize this tragedy and in doing so forget the centuries of conflict and thousands of lives lost in Ireland and Spain and Palestine. The Day of the Jackal was a good book to read and had sufficient material to be turned into two films by Hollywood, but the seriousness of Carlos, and the psychological, physical as well as financial terror inflected on Western Europe over the past thirty years has been forgotten. Forgotten too are the countless acts of "little" terror inflected throughout South America and Africa in the past forty years. As I observed my moment of silence I thought of those who died on September 11 and I also thought of those who have died during the time periods listed above. This global war has been raging for a long time. The main players have changed as well as motives but the violence is universal. Two concepts that can not be forgotten.

Every news show is marking the anniversary and television shows on this days events have been made, including two feature films. I might see one such film today but then again, as I try to decide what is more respectful I might just choose to take a long walk in reverence to those who died.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Beginning Of The End

Tony Blair has faced further questions about his leadership this week.
In a joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart Mr. Blair repeated a call that he wanted an end to personal attacks in his party. Earlier in a speech in London he warned the Labour Party risked defeat at the next election if in-fighting continued. His comments came after former Home Secretary Charles Clarke criticized the PM's likely successor Gordon Brown. If all the bloodletting and fighting over his departure date has taken its toll on the prime minister - and there was a fresh round of it in Saturday morning's papers - he was not letting it show. Addressing an audience of loyal Blairites, at a long-planned event in central London, Mr. Blair was in relaxed, almost jovial form. The prime minister was not in denial exactly - the first thing he said when the standing ovation at his entrance had died down, was "I haven't gone yet".
But he had obviously decided to treat the events of the past week as a bit of a distraction, a minor bump in the long road to the eventual "triumph of Blairism", as last week's leaked memo had it.

Gordon Brown has begun a fight back against his critics by insisting he had nothing to do with an attempt to unseat Tony Blair as prime minister. In an interview for the BBC's Sunday AM, Mr. Brown said he had told anyone who had asked him that it was for Mr. Blair to decide when he stepped down. The chancellor said he would welcome a leadership contest. Mr. Blair later said he "accepted the assurances" when asked if he believed Mr. Brown had not tried to unseat him. In the BBC interview, Mr. Brown swept aside claims he lacked the ability to get on with other ministers. He insisted he was a "team player" but said chancellors sometimes had to "say no" to other ministers in the interests of the country. Yes, this is true but for sake of Cabinet continuity and Labour Party unity current Party infighting must stop.

Two recommendations are offered here. The first of which is that Mr. Blair should step-down by this October. Next May, local elections take place and with Labour lagging in the polls behind the Conservatives and their charismatic leader David Cameron having a new Labour Party leader like Mr. Brown is the best course of action. The second recommendation is that this course of action be made public at the Labour Party conference. The infighting between those who follow Mr. Brown and Mr. Blair would cease. It would also for a moment, and a moment is important, stop the countless speculation in the press that whom, until recently where the opposition. One thing is for certain the next few months will be interesting.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Darfur, Again

Western policy is in near despair over Darfur, and governments are turning to Russia and China to see if they can put pressure on the Sudanese government to accept a UN peacekeeping force.

The problem is that while the government of Sudan has said the current and cash-starved 7,000-strong force from the African Union can stay after its current mandate runs out at the end of September, it insists that the AU troops cannot be incorporated into a more powerful replacement UN force of up to 17,300 soldiers and more than 3,000 police.
It said that such a UN force, mandated only last week by the Security Council, would violate its sovereignty and suggested that it was a bridgehead for the removal of an Islamic-oriented government. Furthermore, it hinted that the force might attract Islamic fighters to combat it, because Osama Bin Laden has already identified Darfur as a battlefield.

Instead, the government says it intends to send its own troops to fight against the rebel forces that did not accept the recent peace deal agreed in Nigeria, especially the National Redemption Front. This is the worst possibility since any increase in fighting, making the provision of aid difficult or impossible. What else needs to be remembered is that Africa does not always follow the script. The African Union force apparently does not even have enough money to pull its troops out, so it might stay anyway and if a deal can be worked out, it might yet form part of a UN force.

Monday, September 04, 2006

No Rest For The Worker

It is hoped that visitors to this blog have had a pleasent weekend. A relaxing long-holiday. If one would peruse through my prior posts around holiday's one will read biased and unflatering statements on the specific occasion. Labor Day is no different so leeway is requested now.

First a little history. Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Tuesday in September in the United States since the 1880s. The September date has remained unchanged, even though the government was encouraged to adopt May 1 as Labor Day, the date celebrated by the majority of the world.

Labor Day is generally regarded simply as a day of rest and, unlike May Day, political demonstrations are rare. Maybe they should be? The bulk of our labor force is no longer in factories but in retail. They do not work in mills but rather at McDonalds and grocery stores around the country. So as the various forms of celebration like picnics and barbecues, fireworks, water shows and many public art events allow families to travel before the end of summer and teenagers to party before school starts the people who need the day off to rest are in fact at work.

Enjoy your week.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Unpleasent News From Afghanistan

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is expected to soar by 59% this year, providing 92% of the world's supply of opium, the United Nations says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime predicts a 6,100-tonne harvest of opium, with much of the rise coming in Taliban strongholds in the south.

The US is the main backer of a huge drive to rid Afghanistan of opium. But a top US drugs official warned Saturday that Afghanistan could be "taken down by this whole drug problem". The $2.7bn drugs trade accounts for about a third of Afghanistan's economy. The simple fact is that Afghanistan is increasingly hooked on its own drug.

This has occurred because in the northeast warlords and weak government are to blame, the. Granted public opinion is increasingly frustrated by the fact that opium cultivation in Afghanistan is out of control, but for farmers poppy crops buy the food. And here is the rub. The political, military and economic investments by coalition countries, investments that were to support the Afghan population, in essence, prevent this very problem from occurring, is not having a visible impact on drug cultivation.

President Karzai must make significant arrests and convictions using the judiciary that the coalition had helped train and establish. This is one reason why the massive program to destroy poppies and offer help to farmers to grow alternative crops that has been under way for two years has had little effect. It is hoped that effective action by the President Karzai will help control this problem and in time destroy it altogether.