Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from Alberto Gonzales

Well, there you go. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who resigned from the Bush administration 16 months ago in the midst of controversies over secret wiretapping and the politicization of the U.S. Justice Department, says he was not to blame for what went wrong during his tenure. "I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror," Gonzales said Tuesday in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Gonzales said he was not responsible for administration policies that caused him to fall into disfavor and is writing a book to explain his take on things. Gonzales was roundly criticized during much of his term after the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, apparently for political reasons, in 2006 and for testifying before Congress that he didn't recall events that led up to the firings. He also was attacked for his role in trying to get his predecessor, John Ashcroft, to approve domestic wiretapping from a hospital bed in 2004. "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said. "For some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with." Gonzales still is under investigation for alleged political meddling at Justice, the Journal said.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Isn't it time for Hamas to get reasonable about this?

Of course Israel has agreed to consider a 48-hour ceasefire in its attack on seemingly defenseless Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis understand that medical supplies and food are in short supply in the coastal territory that is home to 1.5 million Palestinians, and Israel doesn't want to be to blame for more civilian deaths. Of course, Israel doesn't really accept responsibility for anything that has happened, as the Jewish state blames the radical Islamic group Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip last year and has been ruling it ever since. And it cannot be denied that Hamas militants have repeatedly fired missiles into cities in southern Israel, trying to kill Israeli civilians. The new ceasefire plan came out of a discussion between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, on getting humanitarian aid to Gaza residents, according to the Reuters international news service. Kouchner, rotating leader of the European Union, called for a permanent ceasefire, as did the United Nations, the United States and Russia. But "permanent ceasefire" is a contradiction in terms, since it is not possible for two peoples to live side-by-side in perpetuity yet never have any disputes. It's not even possible for two people to do that, much less two entire societies. And it's certainly not possible here, where the groups already are in a number of violent disputes. So, the only way to solve this is to settle it and, to do that, both sides must be amenable to a solution. The Israelis can be persuaded to stop shooting -- they've even offered -- but the Hamas side also must agree to talk. By refusing to sit down, however, Hamas is demonstrating that it will never agree to any kind of settlement. That is why Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian Authority, not Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. If the leaders refuse to meet, which they do, they can talk though other countries -- but they're going to have to talk. The lives of hundreds of thousands of people are, apparently, at stake.

Maybe the courts are not going to fix everything

Tuesday's federal court ruling that two Guantanamo Bay detainees have been legally being held for years by the U.S. government as enemy combatants raises the possibility that this country's legal system might not be able to undue all of the constitution wrecking wrought by the Bush administration. In what seems to be a setback to what seemed to be the steady rejection of policies promulgated by the Bush White House, a Washington, D.C., judge ruled that two detainees were enemy combatants and could be held indefinitely. The ruling, if upheld on appeal, means the Guantanamo Bay detentions will continue well into the term of the next president, Barak Obama. The cases of Yemeni detainee Moath Hamza Ahmed al Alwi and Tunisian Hisham Sliti are the first challenges to be fully heard in federal court since last June's U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized that detainees had the right to file court object ions to their detentions, according to the New York Times. Al Alwi was alleged to have been a bodyguard for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Sliti was an al-Qaida recruit in Aghanistan who attended a military-style training camp. But the United States refused to formally charge the defendants or to reveal its evidence in open court. Most of the court proceedings were held in secret, the Times said. Leon is the judge who ruled last month that five Algerians were held illegally at Guantanamo for nearly seven years and ordered their release.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Billionaire investor bails on Ford

Could the decision of a billionaire investor to sell his stake in Ford Motor Co. at a loss be a signal to the market that the automobile industry will not be able to rebound, even with government help? Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. has completed selling its 133.5 million shares of Ford, a spokeswoman said Monday, according to the Reuters international news service, and the timing is curious. Ford was considered the strongest of the top-3 U.S. automakers and, in fact, was the only one to refuse part of the $17.4 billion emergency loan package offered by the government on Dec. 18. If the automakers were going to be leading the U.S. economic rebound, the way the White House hopes, why would a wary investor like Kerkorian pull out? Not only that, the Tracinda pullout cements a huge loss for the company, which spent more than $1 billion buying Ford shares at an average price of $7.10. The stock is now selling at just over $2 a share. At one time, Kerkorian held a 6.5 percent stake in Ford, Reuters said. The Ford family holds just under 3 percent of the automaker's shares but controls 40 percent of the voting power through a separate class of shares, Reuters said.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Surprise! Foreign forces to stay in Iraq into next year and beyond

Western countries with troops in Iraq must have been gratified Sunday when the Iraqi Presidential Council granted final approval to a resolution allowing the forces to stay after the UN mandate expires Dec. 31. The resolution won parliamentary approval Tuesday, seemingly without the rancor that accompanied yearlong negotiations over the continued presence of more than 140,000 U.S. troops. That agreement was approved in November, according to the Reuters international news service. Great Britain has about 4,100 troops in Iraq and the other countries -- El Salvador, Australia, Romania and Estonia -- have several hundred troops. The resolution authorizes Iraq to negotiate bilateral agreements with the countries, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told Reuters. If it had not been approved by year's end, their troops would have been in Iraq illegally. The way it is now, British forces expect to complete their training mission by the end of May and withdraw completely by July 31. U.S. forces are expected to leave Iraqi cities by July and withdraw completely by the end of 2011. But, as we all know, the 400-pound gorilla sits wherever it wants, and U.S. troops are not going anywhere until the president of the United States orders it. The elected Shiite government in Iraq is fragile, as witnessed by attacks yesterday in Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi, and it protests the presence of U.S. forces much too much. There are many, many things that could go wrong and make it too dangerous for those forces to leave, no matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President-elect Barak Obama say now.

Thanks for the legacy

It was interesting, in a bizarre sort of way, to hear U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice try to put a good face on the outgoing Bush administration on Sunday morning television. Rice, who took over as Secretary of State just after the start of U.S. President George W. Bush's second term, told CBS-TV that history will be kind to the 43rd president, despite what his critics have been saying. "We can sit here and talk about the long record, but what I would say to you is that this president has faced tougher circumstances than perhaps at any time since the end of World War II, and he has delivered policies that are going to stand the test of time," Rice said in an interview that aired on the CBS show "Sunday Morning," according to Cable News Network (CNN). Rice was national security adviser in Bush's first time. Rice said people who think that the Bush administration will go down as one of the worst in history "aren't very good historians." The Rice interview apparently was part of the outgoing administration's farewell tour, with Bush and other officials giving positive assessments of the past eight years in the face of low approval ratings at home and a negative image abroad. "If you're making historical judgments before an administration is already out -- even out of office, and if you're trying to make historical judgments when the nature of the Middle East is still to be determined, and when one cannot yet judge the effects of decisions that this president has taken on what the Middle East will become -- I mean, for goodness' sakes, good historians are still writing books about George Washington. Good historians are certainly still writing books about Harry Truman." Rice also said the Bush administration succeeded on many international fronts, including the Middle East, China, India and Latin America. "When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines," she said. It is true that the Bush administration united the country in a measured response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but then seemed to veer off course in attacking Iraq and reinterpreting the U.S. Constitution. Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, apparently is still at large on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan border despite a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and killed thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Aghanis. The Bush government is scheduled to leave power on Jan. 20, when Barak Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th U.S. president. So, it's not quite over yet.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Five Muslims convicted of plot in New Jersey

Can it really be that five Muslim men from Pennsylvania and New Jersey planned to attack a military base near Philadelphia to kill as many U.S. soldiers as they could? That's what a jury convicted them of Monday after an eight-week trial in federal court in Camden, New Jersey, even though the defendants contended they were just blowing off steam when they discussed attacks on Fort Dix and other military installations. Attorneys for the United States accused the immigrants of trying to wage Islamist holy war, according to the Reuters international news service. FBI agents infiltrated the group after a Circuit City clerk reported they were trying to copy a tape of themselves firing guns in the air and calling for jihad, Reuters said. The defendants claimed there would not have been a plot without the encouragement of the FBI infiltrators. The defendants also argued that they were singled-out because of anti-Muslim feeling after the Sept. 11 attacks. Both of these arguments may be true to some degree. But it is not possible for the two scenarios to be so different. The FBI agents did not help the defendants buy and fire the guns used in the video -- that happened before the government got involved. Yes, men will boast, but there's a big difference between boasting among friends and boasting with weapons. The U.S. attorney says he will seek life-sentences for the five, Reuters said. Sentencing is scheduled for April.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don't expect 'Chemical Ali' to get a fair trial

Does anyone believe the next trial of Iraq's notorious "Chemical Ali" will be fair and impartial? More likely, the next prosecution of Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali for ordering the use of poison gas to kill tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s, will be like the "trial" and hanging of Saddam Hussein. The humiliating execution of the Iraqi president actually was an embarrassment for the government in Baghdad and its U.S. benefactors, because it was so unfair. No matter how terrible his administration was, civilized society demands civilized legal proceedings, not courts where all decisions have already been made, so the administration of justice is a public matter. Saddam was prevented from attending large portions of the trial even though his life was at stake, members of his legal team were assassinated and, no doubt, information known to the prosecution was withheld from his defense. But these are serious violations of rights the United States considers obvious, at least for its own people. If Iraq wants to become a member of the civilized nations' club, which it evidently does, it had better develop a trustworthy, and trusted, legal system. A third trial for Majeed, who has already been sentenced to death twice, according to the Reuters international news service, begins Friday before Iraq's High Tribunal in Halabja, scene of a 1988 gas attack that killed 5,000 Kurds. Majeed and three other high-ranking officials in Saddam's government heard prosecutors describe the gassing while relatives of the victims demonstrated outside, Reuters said. The Halabja trial is being overseen by Judge Mohammed al-Uraibi, a Shiite who presided over the first two trials, Reuters said. Also facing charges in the case are Sultan Hashem, a former defense minister, and two intelligence officers. Majeed already faces death sentences for his role in Saddam's military's "Anfal" campaign, which killed tens of thousands of Kurds, and for his part in crushing a Shiite revolt after the 1991 Gulf War.

U.S. withdraws support for Zimbabwe power-sharing deal

Better late than never. The United States has pulled its support for a proposed power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe, making the departure of embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe a foregone conclusion. The Bush administration's top envoy in Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, announced the policy shift Sunday after advising other southern Africa governments of the change. The change should spell the end of the 28-year Mugabe regime, which led the country from independence to regional power and, now, to disappointment and embarrassment. Frazer said Mugabe, who has struggled to hang onto power since losing the first round of last year's presidential election and claiming victory in a tainted runoff, was "out of his mind," according to the Associated Press in an article published in the New York Times. The last straw, apparently, was a recent outbreak of cholera due to the country's deteriorating infrastructure that Mugabe blamed on biological warfare from the West. But Mugabe has been a burden on his country for years, and it's encouraging, if tragically late, to see U.S. leaders to advocate change. Western nations are now expected to throw their support behind Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was supposed to become prime minister under the power-sharing deal negotiated after the tainted election. Tsvangirai, who won the first round of voting in March but did not get 50% of the vote in the official count, was forced to withdraw from the runoff due to escalating violence by Mugabe supporters. But Mugabe has failed to live up to the terms of the deal so far, even though it would keep him in power -- essentially, a gift from former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who negotiated the agreement. But now, the U.S. decision to pull the plug could splinter support for Mugabe from neighboring countries. Frazer said the United States was finally convinced that Mugabe was not willing to share power. She called Mugabe "a man who's lost it, who's losing his mind, who's out of touch with reality." But South Africa is sticking with Mugabe, at least for now. Thabo Masebe, a spokesman for current South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, said Sunday that "our position has not changed," the AP said. Tsvangirai spokesman Tendai Biti said the MDC would pull out of the power-sharing agreement on Jan. 1 if it hasn't been fully implemented, the AP said.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Canada approves bailout for U.S. automaker subsidiaries

Canada's announcement Saturday that it was offering $4 billion in emergency loans to subsidiaries of failing U.S. automakers must have been good news in Detroit, Michigan, where General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have their headquarters. The announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton MgGuinty came the day after U.S. President Bush announced a $17.4 billion rescue plan for the industry, according to the Reuters international news service. Harper said Saturday that the cost of the industry's complete collapse in Canada was too high. "There are literally across the country hundreds of thousands if not millions of potentially affected families by the distress of this industry," Harper said. "And we are obviously making sure at this Christmas time that, within the confines of our responsibility for taxpayer money, that we are also going to look after their interest." Failure of the U.S. automakers would cost 600,000 jobs in Canada, mostly in Ontario, within five years, according to a provincial advisory panel. Harper said his government would not allow the U.S. automakers to close their Canadian operations. Harper also said he was assured by Bush and incoming U.S. President-elect Barak Obama that they would not let the companies fail. "We may well have much smaller companies but they will not fail in my judgment," Harper said. "The question then for Canada is to ensure that as they are restructured that we retain our market share." The Canadian bailout package also included help for auto parts suppliers and better access to credit for consumers, Reuters said.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Auto industry bailout seems to make sense

It's way too early to tell if the White House plan to offer as much as $17.4 billion in loans to the three largest U.S. automobile manufacturers will enable them to avoid collapse. General Motors and Chrysler are expected to begin borrowing money almost immediately to stay in business, according to the Reuters international news service, while Ford claims to have enough cash to stay afloat for another year. The world economic crisis has taken an enormous toll on manufacturing across the globe, and the large U.S. automakers are particularly vulnerable after years of slumping sales. Of course, the slump started long before the economic crisis, as U.S. automakers ignored logic and, worse, tried to game the market to continue producing gas-guzzling vehicles that offered more profit than fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The market for gas-hogging SUVs, for example, would never have grown so large had not automakers lobbied for, and won, exemptions from clean-air requirements for the vehicles. But to have General Motors and Chrysler fail at the same time at a cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs, with the economy already entering a recession, probably is too risky for the U.S. economy. Most of the money for the loans will come from the $700 billion financial system rescue package currently being distribued by the U.S. Treasury. "If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers," U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday in announcing the program. U.S. stocks rose on the news, with GM shares jumping 10.9 percent. Bush had to create the auto sector program on his own after members of his own party blocked a Democratic Party-backed deal last week. The deal includes a March 31 deadline for the companies to come up with restructuring plans. Democratic President-elect Barack Obama, who will inherit the program when he takes officer Jan. 20, welcomed the loan move as a necessary step. But he said he wanted to make sure workers did not bear the brunt of the restructuring. "My top priority in this administration is to create 2.5 million new jobs and I want some of those jobs to be in the auto industry," Obama said. The U.S. auto slump has impacted car parts makers and other manufacturers worldwide. Mexican conglomerate Alfa said Friday it was halting production at its nine parts plants in Mexico and Japanese automakers also are expected to report lower earnings.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chief U.S. financial regulator was awake the whole time

Nice to see the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hasn't lost its oft-admired sense of humor. Thursday's indictment of seven people, including a former Lehman Brothers salesman, for participating in an insider trading scheme that netted $4.8 million in illegal profits, demonstrates that federal regulators were not asleep at the Big Board when Wall Street bigwigs caused the nation's financial system to hemorrage at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. No, regulators knew enough to watch the salesman who tipped friends and relatives about 13 impending mergers -- Matthew Devlin, according to the Reuters international news service -- for a year before filing the complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. $4.8 million. Maybe that's why U.S. regulators allowed billions of dollars worth of subprime mortgages to be traded back and forth so often they became securities to the world's largest banks, and were used to secure billions of dollars worth of more loans. The crash of the mortgage market is likely not even over yet, despite the multibillion-dollar rescue packages being prepared by countries around the world, and reverberations will likely be felt for many years. The crash even claimed venerable Lehman Brothers, which was forced to file for bankruptcy and sell part of itself to Barclays. But we all can rest assured. The SEC has not been asleep, and at least a couple of insider traders may be going to jail.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

U.S. prepares for life in Iraq without Blackwater

The only conclusion to be drawn from a still-secret U.S. government draft report on the Blackwater situation in Iraq is that Washington finally is taking seriously threats from Baghdad to bar the private security firm. According to the Reuters international news service, the report by the State Department Office of Inspector General recommends that the United States find new contractors to take over the job of guarding diplomats in Iraq. "The department faces the real possibility that one of its primary worldwide personal protective services contractors in Iraq -- Blackwater USA -- will not receive a license to continue operating in Iraq," unnamed sources told Reuters. The Blackwater contract has been under attack since September 2007, when Blackwater guards shot 14 unarmed civilians and wounded 20 others in a Baghdad intersection. Five guards were charged Dec. 8 with 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter following an investigation. The guards alleged that they had been fired upon. The incident outraged the Iraqi public and damaged relations between Washington and the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad. The FBI is still investigating the incident. Sources also told Reuters that the report did not recommend terminating the contract with Blackwater, the largest of several security contractors operating in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chavez keeps the pressure on U.S.

Word from Caracas on Monday that the presidents of Venezuela and Cuba signed a $2 billion trade accord should remind U.S. businesses all next year of the folly of the inflexible and cantankerous Bush administration. The White House alienated so many countries around the world with its over-aggressive attitude that bilateral relationships may be years from resolution. Of course, U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have less than a month remaining in their eight-year term. But the damage to international relationships will be felt for years. The enmity between Bush and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the stuff of legend, and has contributed mightily to the decline of U.S. influence in South America. The deal between Cuba and Venezuela demonstrates clearly the cost of the self-absorbed Bush administration's whiff on an ideal opportunity to end the five-decade embargo of Cuba when Castro's brother, Fidel, gave up power in 2006. The United States could have captured a large portion of the $2 billion in trade and hurried the inevitable reconciliation with Cuba after a five-decade embargo that separated families and alienated millions in the southern United States. The deal between Cuba and Venezuela includes 163 joint projects, a six-fold increase from this year, according to Cable News Network (CNN) . The enmity between Bush and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has become the stuff of legend, and the United States is forced to tolerate Soviet warships visiting the Caribbean Sea because of it. Castro's first foreign state visit since being elected to Cuba's presidency in February also is scheduled to include participation in the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development on Tuesday and Wednesday in Brazil.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

U.S. troops figure to stay in Iraqi cities long after June

Anyone who really thought the United States was going to pull all of its troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June was kidding themselves, no matter what the new security pact says. There really should be no controversy -- U.S. troops are going to stay in combat roles wherever and whenever U.S. and Iraqi officials think they should, and no negotiated agreement is going to change that. The outraged reaction to Saturday's statement by U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is naive, uninformed or both. Odierno said Saturday that some U.S. troops could remain in Iraqi cities after July 1, and an Iraq government spokesman said U.S. troops could stay even beyond the pact's 2011 final cutoff date, according to the Reuters international news service. Odierno said troops could remain if they are supporting Iraqi forces rather than serving in combat, but that is just legalese. The United States has not invested hundreds of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq just to leave before the country has been stabilized; Iraqis themselves have not sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives building democratic institutions just to collapse into anarchy after U.S. troops leave. A spokesman for Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki got it right last week when he said U.S. forces could stay beyond 2011. Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh said in Washington that Iraq's security forces could need as long as 10 years to be ready to take over from U.S. troops. Of course, al-Maliki's office disavowed Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh's statement as a "personal opinion," but that was likely for consumption by Iraqis still outraged by the U.S. occupation. The security pact, which was approved by Iraq's parliament last month, still must be put to a national referendum next year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mugabe constitutional amendment move is cynical

Today's move by embattled Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to publish a draft constitutional amendment implementing a power-sharing deal with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change should not be interpreted for more than what it is. Mugabe has no intention of sharing power with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai or anyone else and publishing the amendment without consulting his supposed MDC partners illustrates this clearly. The international community should not be fooled and should continue to pressure Mugabe to turn the government over to Tsvangirai, the top vote-getter in the March election. Election officials from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, which lost control of the parliament in March, destroyed the ballots they claimed necessitated a runoff between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, making a recount impossible. Mugabe claimed victory in the June runoff, even though Tsvangirai withdrew because of widespread violence he blamed on Mugabe supporters. Tsvangirai and Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki in July, but its terms have not been implemented. Amendment 19 would formalize the terms of the deal, which created the prime minister's post for Tsvangirai, according to Cable News Network (CNN). MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told CNN that the majority party will not support the amendment if it does not address outstanding issues, such as control of vital ministries in the government. The two parties agreed to the amendment last month but Mugabe's party has not cooperated under previous agreements. "In the event that the collaboration that we envisage is not forthcoming, then that will necessitate fresh harmonized elections at some point in time," Chamisa said, according to CNN. Zimbabwe is battling a cholera epidemic that has infected more than 16,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, CNN said. ZANU-PF blamed the epidemic on Great Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How hard is it to pressure North Korea?

Good to see the United States sticking to common sense and demanding that North Korea live up to earlier agreements before being able to take advantage of them. The United States said Friday that future shipments of fuel oil will be held up until Pyongyang signs on to protocol to allow verification of its denuclearization activities, according to the Reuters international news service. At least U.S. officials have been able to reach common ground with its four negotiating partners -- Japan, Russia, China and South Korea -- to hold up future shipments under an accord reached last year. Negotiations between the United States and fuel-starved North Korea over the past 10 years have yielded several agreements but little verifiable progress. North Korea first tested a nuclear device in 2006. The Bush administration has been negotiating with Pyongyang in hopes of reaching a new agreement before President George W. Bush leaves office next month, but talks in Beijing collapsed Thursday, Reuters said. Lead U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill briefed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday on the failure of the talks, Reuters said. "There's the opportunity for North Korea to sign on to this verification protocol," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "That still exists. We'll see. The ball is in their court." About half of the heavy fuel oil promised under last year's agreement remains to be delivered. But how hard can it be to get North Korea to agree to live up to its denuclearization pledge? The country cannot even grow enough food to feed its own people and depends on food shipments from the West to get through winter. Reuters said Pyongyang may think it can get a better deal under Bush's successor, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Timing is everything in war on terror

What a difference a change at the top makes. A month before a new president takes office, the U.S. military plans to change its focus in the war on terror and increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today in Kandahar that the United States will add as many as 20,000 soldiers to its forces in Afghanistan, Cable News Network (CNN) reported. After seven years of war in Iraq, U.S. leaders are finally reacting to the resurgence of the Taliban and to continuous reports that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been hiding there since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Gates, who has reportedly been asked to stay on as defense secretary even after President George W. Bush leaves office, said the United States would move up to three brigades to Afghanistan to supplement the 31,000 U.S. troops already fighting there. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, reportedly requested four brigades, CNN said. But Gates said the Pentagon would not be able to commit any new troops to Afghanistan before the spring or summer of next year.

Will Senate report lead to punishment for Bush administration officials?

That fact that a secret U.S. Senate report on abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, blames former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top senior U.S. officials does not absolve Congress of responsibility. While portions of the report released Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee names Rumsfield, President George W. Bush, Gen. Richard Myers (head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and other top officials, U.S. residents know that their representatives in Congress -- House and Senate, Republican and Democrat -- largely went along with what the administration was doing. With few exceptions, legislators in the top leadership posts of both parties consulted with administration officials -- often secretly -- and signed on to some of the most odious practices championed by the White House. The summary blames Bush administration officials, notably Rumsfeld, for authorizing waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques on Dec. 2, 2002, according to the New York Times. Even though Rumsfeld rescinded that authorization six weeks later, the summary says, prisoner abuse "was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own" but grew out of policies that "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees." The summary was released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona, the Times said. The report itself remains classified.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Administration headed towards small victory at Supreme Court

Skeptical Supreme Court justices appeared poised Wednesday to give the Bush administration a rare victory in its relentlessly hopeless battle to preserve aspects of the greatest executive power grab in U.S. history. The justices seemed reluctant to allow a Muslim resident of New York detained following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to include former top U.S. officials in a civil lawsuit alleging mistreatment, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Javaid Iqbal contends that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller can be held personally liable for Bush administration policies that allowed mass detentions of Muslim immigrants following Sept. 11, even though government officials are generally immune when they act in their official capacities. Iqbal claims he was held in solitary confinement for six months and subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in custody in Brooklyn but was never charged with any terror-related offenses. He was deported to Pakistan after he pleaded guilty to fraud. Chief Justice John G. Roberts told Iqbal's attorneys that they needed to show some extraordinary circumstances that would allow such sweeping liability in the case. "What you have to show is some facts showing that they [top officials] knew of a policy that was discriminatory based on ethnicity and country of origin," Roberts said. An attorney for the U.S. government, Solicitor General Gregory Garre, contended that even such discriminatory conduct was justified in the days and weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Even Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens, who do not vote repeatedly with the court's conservative majority, appeared skeptical of Iqbal's lawsuit. A ruling in favor of Iqbal, who prevailed in the Court of Appeals, could subject Ashcroft, Mueller and other top Bush administration officials to testimony under oath about decision-making in the top echelons of the U.S. government in 2001. A ruling is expected by June.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Negotiations over Congo fighting said to make progress

Reports of progress are emerging from talks between Tutsi rebels and Congo's government in Kenya, where regional diplomats are trying to avoid a repeat of the 1998-2003 war that resulted in an estimated 5 million deaths. A U.N. envoy told reporters in Nairobi that talks are expected to resume later this month, according to the Reuters international news service. "They have made progress in their talks and they will continue," said Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria. "The doors are not closed." Only representatives from Congo's military and Gen. Laurent Nkunda's rebel army showed up for the talks, even though more than 20 armed groups were invited. The talks are aimed at ending fighting in Congo's North Kivu province, which has displaced a quarter of a million people since August. Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) declared a ceasefire with the army after its forces reached the outskirts of Goma, capital of the North Kivu province, in October and the truce has stayed in force for more than a month. But fighting continues between CNDP forces and the Mai Mai militia and Hutu rebels from Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed in 1994. The United Nations has 17,000 peacekeeping troops in Congo.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blackwater Worldwide gets to walk away

The indictments are in. Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards were charged Monday with multiple counts of manslaughter that could earn them decades in prison if they're convicted of shooting unarmed civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in 2007. The five men surrendered to authorities after the indictments were unsealed, the Reuters international news service said. Blackwater, the North Carolina contractor that was hired by the State Department to protect diplomats and others in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and which presumably was responsible for training and equipping its employees, was not accused of any crimes. A sixth guard has pleaded guilty to lesser charges and is believed to be providing testimony to prosecutors. The guards were escorting a convoy of diplomats through a crowded Baghdad intersection when they claim they came under attack and opened fire, killing 14 and wounding 20 civilians. But a yearlong FBI investigation was unable to turn up any evidence that anybody was firing except the Blackwater guards, Reuters said. "The government alleges in the documents unsealed today that at least 34 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed or injured without justification or provocation by these Blackwater security guards in the shooting at Nisoor Square," said Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for national security, according to Reuters. Blackwater, for its part, said its employees acted within the scope of their authority. "Based on the information available to us, we understand that these individuals acted within the rules set forth for them by the government and that no criminal violations occurred," the firm said. Brent Hatch, a lawyer on the legal team representing the guards, said the men were innocent. "They were hired as State Department contractors to protect State government officials," Hatch told reporters in Salt Lake City, where the guards surrendered. "They did their job as they were contracted to do, as they were required to do, and as the State Department asked them to do it." Arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Anarchy in the birthplace of democracy

The irony of anarchy in Greece, the birthplace of Western democracy, is not lost on anyone. Rioting by young people has spread across the country from the major cities of Athens, where the police shooting of a 15-year-old on Saturday sparked the escalating unrest, and Thessaloniki. As of Monday, 34 civilians and 16 police officers have been injured in the rioting, which has destroyed homes, government buildings and offices of the ruling conservative party in Athens, according to Cable News Network (CNN). "We've just lost count of how many demonstrations are taking place now," a police spokesman told CNN. Prime Minster Kostas Karamanlis condemned the violence in a nationally televised speech and promised to punish those responsible for Saturday's shooting. The violence erupted immediately after the shooting, which police said occurred as disaffected young people -- called the "known-unknowns" in Greece -- attacked a police car with stones, CNN said. A police statement said the young man who was killed was attempting to throw a firebomb, but many observers disputed the official account. Two police officers have been arrested in connection with the shooting. On Monday, demonstrators barricaded streets and threw gasoline bombs at riot police in the two largest cities. The Karamanlis government, which holds a bare one-vote majority in Greek's parliament, could fall if citizens grow frustrated over its inability to control the violent demonstrations. The U.S. and British embassies have already warned employees and tourists to avoid downtown Athens and other major cities.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sarkozy tells China to get real on Tibet

Score another one for French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French leader met with the Dalai Lama in Poland on Saturday, despite warnings from China that such a meeting could impact relations between France and China. Not only that, Sarkozy directly implied what everybody has been thinking -- that Beijing is being overly sensitive about the West's continuing contacts with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. "There's no need to dramatize things," Sarkozy said after China canceled a major summit with the European Union this week in protest, according to the Cable News Network (CNN). Sarkozy currently holds the rotating chair of the EU. Leaders from France and China were in Gdansk this week for celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to former Polish President Lech Walesa. Sarkozy told reporters after the meeting that the 30-minute session had gone "very well," Reuters said."I told him how much importance I attach to the pursuit of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership," Sarkozy said. Reuters said Sarkozy told the Tibetan leader, who leads a government-in-exile in the Indian city of Dharamsala, that his concerns about Tibet are "shared in Europe." The Dalai Lama fled China after a failed revolt against Chinese rule in 1959. China denounces the Dalai Lama as a separatist and meets with him only grudgingly, as it did earlier this year before the Beijing Olympics. He remains a revered figure in Tibet, Reuters said. China was outraged when French activists took the streets in April as the Olympic flame passed through Paris in April to protest Beijing's crackdown on pro-independence Tibetans earlier this year.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Former Blackwater guards reported ready to surrender

If the five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards indicted in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last year surrender to the FBI Monday as planned, the U.S. State Department will no doubt portray it as the fitting end to a very bad moment. It is neither. Rather, the indictments merely open another chapter in a tragic story that has damaged the reputation and shaken the very foundation of the U.S. military. First off, let's acknowledge that much of the damage caused by the shooting in Nisour Square in the Iraqi capital can never be healed for the families of the dead and will likely never be over for the former U.S. soldiers accused of committing an atrocity. The Sept. 16, 2007, shooting raised the ire of the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and probably was the motivating force behind the recently agreed-upon Status of Forces agreement calling for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by 2011. The shooting also made clear the need for a debate over the use of military contractors in actual conflicts, a discussion that had been scrupulously avoided by the Bush administration. The five former guards, Donald Ball, 26, of West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, 27, of Knoxville, Tennessee.; Evan Liberty, 26, of Rochester, New Hampshire; Nick Slatten, 25, of Sparta, Tennessee; and Paul Slough, 29, of Keller, Texas, will likely face murder or other charges when a federal grand jury indictment is unsealed Monday. A sixth guard is reportedly in plea negotiations. Blackwater has repeatedly claimed the guards were under attack and returning fire when the Iraqis were killed. The Justice Department, State Department and Blackwater declined to comment on the case Friday, according to the Reuters international news service. Reuters also said Friday that the government informed Blackwater Worldwide that the company will not face charges in the shooting.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dismantling of Bush legacy to continue

Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court would not have agreed to review the case of a Qatari man being held as an enemy combatant in the United States if it wasn't planning to change the circumstances of his detention. But we probably won't know until at least March, when the justices hear arguments in an appeal from Ali Al-Marri, who has been held in solitary confinement, without being charged, for more than six years in the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. According to the Reuters international news service, the federal government suspects Al-Marri, who arrived in the United States on the day before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, of being a member of al-Qaida. But whether al-Marri is or is not a terrorist is only incidental to the larger questions raised by the case. The real issue is whether the president can authorize the indefinite detention of U.S. residents, citizens or not, without charging them with any crimes. Lawyers for the Bush administration say, obviously, that such detentions are acceptable under the extraordinary circumstances of the war on terrorism. But al-Marri's appeal of an appellate court decision from July, contends that the president has overstepped his authority and violated basic American legal principles. Al-Marri is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We are hopeful that the court will ... ensure that people in this country cannot be seized from their homes and imprisoned indefinitely simply because the president says so," said Steven Shapiro, the ACLU's legal director, according to Reuters. Al-Marri was arrested in December 2001 on charges of credit card fraud, lying to the FBI and other charges. He pleaded not guilty, and the U.S. government dropped the charges in 2003 and designated Marri an enemy combatant. According to Reuters, two other U.S. residents have been held as enemy combatants inside the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks. Jose Padilla of Chicago was held in Charleston for three years before being tried and convicted of offering his services to terrorists in criminal court in Miami; and Yaser Esam Hamdi was deported to Saudi Arabia in 2004 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he had the right to challenge his detention in U.S. courts.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

WorldCom's Ebbers asks for clemency; $11 billion doesn't seem so bad anymore

The request for clemency by imprisoned ex-WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernard Ebbers raises some interesting questions. The U.S. Justice Department acknowledged Wednesday that Ebbers, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for masterminding an $11 billion accounting fraud that led to the collapse of the former high-flying telecommunications firm, has asked for clemency from outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, according to the Reuters international news service. Bush, who leaves office Jan. 20, has the power to pardon criminals or commute their sentences. But Bush, who has been inundated with high-profile clemency requests from corporate criminals, has been stingy with pardons so far. Ebbers' request is under review, a Justice Department spokeswoman told Reuters, as are similar requests by former junk bond king Michael Milken and former publishing mogul Conrad Black. Ebbers' appeal of his 2005 conviction on conspiracy, securities fraud and other charges was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Milken served 22 months for securities fraud violations in the 1990s and is requesting a presidential pardon. Black, former head of Hollinger International and a member of the British House of Lords, asked Bush to commute his 6 1/2-year sentence for defrauding shareholders. In light of the $700 billion currently being doled out to rescue an economy seemingly pillaged by Wall Street wheeler-dealers likely to be remembered one day as criminals, what Ebbers, Milken and Black were convicted of doing just doesn't seem quite so bad.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bolivia seeks to indict opposition leader

Is Bolivia's effort to indict the leader of an insurrection in the country's four eastermost provinces an example of good government or repressive rule? That's the question raised by La Paz's decision Sunday to press for the indictment of Branko Marinkovic, leader of an autonomy movement blamed for violent protests that threatened to split the country in September. "We have enough evidence in this investigation to allow us to link Mr. Marinkovic with the acts of terrorism that occurred in several parts of the country in September," government minister Alfredo Rada told state radio, according to the Reuters international news service. Supporters of Marinkovic contend he is the victim of political persecution, Reuters said. Twenty people have already been jailed on charges related to the September violence, in which 17 people were killed and government buildings were attacked. The four provinces, which have white-majority populations and are the country's richest areas, seek more authority over resources and to limit the authority of the central government and its president, Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous leader. Morales took office in 2005 and promptly nationalized Bolivia's energy industry, including its burgeoning oil production. He has aligned himself with Venuezuela's Hugo Chavez, whose animosity towards U.S. President George W. Bush is acknowleged internationally, and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America.

Iraqi court teaches U.S. military a lesson in freedom

It figures to take an Iraqi court to teach the U.S. military a lesson about the First Amendment. On Sunday, Iraq's Central Criminal Court ordered U.S. forces to release an Iraqi freelance photographer who was detained in September but never charged, according to the Reuters international news service. The court found there was no evidence that Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, who freelanced for Reuters as well as Iraqi media, had committed any crimes. Yet Jassam had been held at the U.S. military's Camp Cropper prison near Baghdad International Airport, probably because he had photographed something the military didn't like. Jassam was arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces and his photography equipment seized in a raid on his home in Mahmudiya, Reuters said. Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, was one of the most violent areas of Iraq before a recent falloff in attacks across the country. Unfortunately, Jassam's case is not so unusual. International media rights groups have repeatedly criticized the military's refusal to deal quickly with cases that arise from reporters' legitimate activities in Iraq. In August, the U.S. military freed another Reuters cameraman after holding him without charges for three weeks. "I'm pleased to learn that a court ordered Ibrahim Jassam released as there was no evidence against him," Reuters News Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger said Sunday. "I hope the U.S. authorities comply with this order swiftly [and] reunite him with his colleagues, friends and family." Next up, a lesson about the Fourth Amendment. U.S. forces currently hold nearly 17,000 Iraqis without charges but will have to release them or charge them by next year.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wal-Mart worker killed by stampeding Black Friday crowd

What is wrong with people? One dead and four injured, including a pregnant woman, trampled by a crowd trying to get into Wal-Mart to go shopping? Shoppers at the Valley Stream, N.Y., store found a way to turn "Black Friday" -- so-called because the expected rush of shoppers looking for bargains puts retailers into the black for the first time all year -- into a real black Friday. The annual rite is celebrated all over the country, with anxious buyers sometimes waiting all night for stores to open. The Friday after Thanksgiving is typically the biggest shopping day of the year. But how can so many people lose control of themselves just to shop for consumer goods? The 34-year-old man who was killed was a temporary worker hired over the holidays, according to the Reuters international news agency. Local authorities are said to be investigating whether to file charges against any of the shoppers, at least against the ones caught on the store's security tapes, or against the store, Reuters said. New York's largest grocery workers union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, blamed the tragedy on what it called "Wal-Mart's failure to provide a safe workplace" and called on federal, state and local authorities to investigate. Wal-Mart said it had added more security personnel and workers and had worked closely with local police prior to Black Friday. "We also erected barricades. Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred," Hank Mullany, a Wal-Mart senior vice president, said in a statement. Whether Wal-Mart violated its duty to protect shoppers is up to the civil courts to decide, and whether any crimes were committed will be decided by the criminal courts. But it's not the responsibility of law enforcement to prosecute breaches of common morality, nor should it be. That is entirely up to us.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Swedish banking secrecy laws could be victim of global downturn

The global downturn could lead to the elimination or at least to limitations on Switzerland's famous banking secrecy laws if a U.S.-launched tax investigation has the desired effect. The United States has demanded the identities of 17,000 account holders it claims are hiding billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts to avoid U.S. taxes, but Switzerland has only agreed to consider releasing a few hundred names. Swiss banking giant UBS said Thursday that an internal investigation has found only a few cases of tax fraud, according to the Reuters international news service. "Our investigations have uncovered a limited number of cases of tax fraud under both U.S. and Swiss law," UBS Chairman Peter Kurer announced Thursday at a meeting of shareholders in Lucerne, according to Reuters. Kurer said bank-client confidentiality "is not there to protect cases of tax fraud," hinting at a possible settlement of the U.S. government's claims. UBS has lost billions of dollars in the global economic downturn and has been forced to write off $49 billion in subprime loans. But it's still difficult to trust Switzerland, which still refuses to come clean about its handling of billions of dollars seized by Nazi Germany during World War II and has only reluctantly begun to acknowledge the billions of dollars in deposits from German Jews and others slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps during the Nazi era.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

FBI abused power in pursuing Bush administration critic in anthrax probe

Did the FBI go after U.S. Army scientist Steven Hatfill to the exclusion of other suspects in the 2001 anthrax attacks because he was a Bush administration critic? Recently released records of the FBI's investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks demonstrate the dangers of giving law enforcement agencies unlimited authority to investigate anything and in entrusting enforcement of the Bill of Rights to a government that is hostile to it. The FBI's incorrect focus on an innocent U.S. Army scientist to the exclusion of other suspects probably was influenced by Steven Hatfill's criticism of the government's preparations against chemical attack. According to the Reuters international news service, agents relied on unsubstantiated statements from unidentified witnesses to pursue Hatfill in the poison mailings, which killed 5 and sickened 17 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Hatfill did have access to anthrax and had written a novel about anthrax attacks. But Hatfill turned out to have had nothing to do with the attacks while the real criminal, fellow Army scientist Bruce Ivins, was not on the FBI's radar, even though he presumably had the same access to anthrax. The difference appears to be that Ivins was not a critic of the government. The FBI spent millions of dollars investigating Hatfill and the Justice Department was forced to spend nearly $6 million more to settle after Hatfill sued for breach of privacy rights. The Justice Department even tried to prevent the public from gaining access to the search warrant used by law enforcement to search the homes of Hatfill and his girlfriend during the investigation, but a lawsuit by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times won a court order to release the documents.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Recession is the word from Canada

The word from Canada is recession. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a 30-nation group founded in 1961, recommended Tuesday that Ottawa cut interest rates to help its contracting economy recover, according to the Reuters international news service. The OECD report said Canada's economy will continue to shrink at least until the middle of next year because of the global economic crisis. Stephen Harper, Canada's prime minister, blamed the global crisis on the United States on Saturday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru. "Our closest neighbor and largest trading partner is the epicenter of the financial earthquake and global slowdown," Harper said in a speech to business leaders in Lima. The OECD predicted deficit spending for Canada's federal and provincial governments, a situation unheard of in many countries but standard operating procedure in the United States. OECD's reports said the deficits were "cyclical" and "not alarming," but cautioned against any increased spending, even as unemployment is expected to rise. Sounds familiar.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Season of sharing

Did they or didn't they? Today's subject, of course, is a federal jury's conviction of five former leaders of an Islamic charity who were accused of conspiring to support terrorism and launder money for Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization considered a terrorist group by the United States. Two of the five, Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi, face sentences as long as life in prison for their participation in the Dallas area-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which was said to have supplied more than $12 million to Hamas from 1997-2001. The three other foundation leaders, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, face up to 15 years in prison for supporting Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority last year and set up an independent government in the territory. The foundation was closed by the U.S. government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But lawyers for the convicted men denounced the verdict as "a great injustice" and promised to appeal, according to Cable News Network (CNN). John Boyd, a lawyer for Abu Baker, said there was "no evidence that any of Holy Land Foundation's funds went to anything but charity." Bush administration officials applauded the verdict as a victory in the war on terror, CNN said, even though the federal government took 15 years to investigate the foundation and an earlier prosecution ended in a mistrial. "For many years, the Holy Land Foundation used the guise of charity to raise and funnel millions of dollars to the infrastructure of the Hamas terror organization," said Patrick Rowan, an assistant attorney general for national security, told CNN. "This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise and enable support for terrorist groups." But if the case was such a slam dunk, what took so long? Sure, if the foundation was funneling money to Hamas terror operations, its leaders belong in prison. But it seems far more likely that Holy Land actually was offering humanitarian aid in Hamas-controlled areas and this was a technical -- but hardly egregious -- violation of U.S. law. Constitutional law experts critical of the prosecution probably have it right. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a Bush administration critic, called the case an "example of excessive and vexatious prosecution," CNN said. "Many Muslims believe the intention was to chill Muslim charities in the U.S., and that is exactly what happened," Turley said. "Areas of Palestine are controlled by Hamas and if you want charities to go in, you will give money to outlets that are probably somehow associated with Hamas.", a Web site for defendants' families, said Holy Land did not fund violence, according to CNN. "It simply provided food, clothes, shelter, medical supplies and education to the suffering people in Palestine and other countries," the site said. It would be nice to know what the truth is.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How can General Motors seriously consider bankruptcy?

It's not at all reassuring to hear that directors of General Motors Corp. are considering declaring bankruptcy if efforts to secure billions of dollars in subsidies from U.S. taxpayers prove unsuccessful. The ramifications for the U.S. economy would be dire, since the largest U.S. automaker employs thousands of people and has spawned entire industries of suppliers. But the implications would be even worse, since it seems nearly impossible that a multibillion-dollar corporation with partners and affiliates across the world should be caught unable to keep its doors open. Yet, in a statement released Friday, members of GM's board said a bankruptcy filing was still an option for the company that has seen its share price drop from $42 last year to $3 Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal. What's worse, the board's statement seemingly contradicted comments by Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, who told Congress this week that GM management does not consider bankruptcy a viable option. In other words, GM management and directors don't know what they're doing. And that figures, considering how they drove what was the world's most powerful automaker to the brink of collapse. GM spokesman Tony Cervone told the Wall Street Journal that the company would do everything in its power to avoid bankruptcy. The automaker is said to be spending $5 billion a month to keep operating and will be out of cash in a few months.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Time running out for Mugabe in Zimbabwe?

What is the world waiting for in Zimbabwe? By now, it should be obvious to everyone that Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, has to be removed from office if he remains unwilling to leave on his own. The latest reports from South Africa say Zimbabwe has refused to admit a delegation, which included former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, that wanted to assess the humanitarian crisis believed to be unfolding in that country, according to the Reuters international news service. Zimbabwe's economy is collapsing because of mismanagement and rampant theft of aid and the country, once seen as the southern African region's greatest economy, is suffering from rampant inflation and shortages of food and fuel. Mugabe, who has led the country since it declared independence from Britain in 1980, says the Zimbabwe is being sabotaged by his enemies, including Western nations. Efforts to resuscitate the country's economy are now on hold because of a political crisis, with Mugabe refusing to accept defeat in national balloting in March. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has been trying to negotiate a power-sharing agreement but Mugabe has refused to uphold his side of any proposed arrangement. Yesterday, in Lima, Peru, U.S. President George W. Bush called Mugabe's government an "illegitimate regime" and called for a new government. "We call for an end to the Mugabe regime's brutal repression of basic freedoms and for the formation of a legitimate government that represents the will of the people as expressed in the March 2008 elections," Bush said in the Peruvian capital, where he is attending an Asia-Pacific summit. Members of the humanitarian delegation told Reuters they were denied visas to travel to Zimbabwe despite Mbeki's intervention of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the political conflict between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). "We had hoped to go to Zimbabwe this morning but we had to cancel because the government has made it clear they will not co-operate," Annan said in Johannesburg, according to Reuters. Annan, Carter and Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, represent a group of prominent figures and former statesmen called The Elders. But Zimbabwe's government denied it had refused the three Elders permission to enter the country. "The government of Zimbabwe has not barred Mr Annan and his team from coming to Zimbabwe," Simbarashe Mumbengegwi , the country's foreign affairs minister, told reporters in Harare. Mumbengegwi said the group was asked merely to reschedule the visit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Syria might want to stay an outlaw after all

New efforts to discourage a U.N. agency from investigating allegations that Syria was building a nuclear reactor at a site bombed by Israel demonstrate Damascus' ultimate refusal to conform to international standards of behavior. Syria refused Friday to permit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to revisit the site of the bombing at Al-Kibar, according to the Reuters international news service. Instead, Syria's nuclear energy chief, Ibrahim Othman, attacked the findings of Wednesday's IAEA report that said the bombed structure had similarities to a reactor and said inspectors found large amounts of uranium particles in the area in June. The IAEA report also said Syria had refused to provide documentation requested by the agency and ignored requests to visit three other military sites believed to hold evidence linked to Al-Kibar. "What they are now saying about uranium particles -- collecting three particles from the desert is not enough to say there was a reactor there at all," Othman told reporters after an IAEA meeting. I think to follow up there should be a good reason to say there is something there. In our opinion, this file should be closed." Syria has one declared atomic facility, an old research reactor. The United States saw the report differently, which could endanger recent efforts by Syria to normalize relations with the West. "The report reinforces the assessment of my government that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor in its eastern desert and thereby violating its IAEA (non-proliferation) safeguards obligations," said Gregory Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, according to Reuters. Diplomats said the United States and some allies were now considering blocking a Syrian request for technical assistance in building a nuclear power plant. Washington also might also seek a resolution demanding Syrian cooperation, they said.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CIA blocked inquiries into deaths of missionaries in Peru

Question: Will the long Bush administration nightmare ever end? Answer: Not for years, even after all of the elected officials leave office. Reverberations from what is probably the most incompetent government in U.S. history will go on for decades. What brings this to mind is a classified report released today that an internal CIA investigation has determined that the spy agency deliberately interfered with probes by Congress, NSA and Justice Department to avoid responsibility for the mistaken 2001 downing of a plane carrying U.S. missionaries in Peru. According to the Reuters international news service, the CIA's inspector general said the CIA itself found "sustained and significant" violations of procedure in the agency's conduct of a U.S.-sponsored drug-interdiction program in Peru but had refused to reveal the findings to Congress, the National Security Council and the Justice Department. "Between 1995 and 2001, the agency incorrectly reported that the program complied with the laws and policies governing it," the report said. The 2001 attack killed a missionary couple, Veronica and Jim Bowers, and seriously injured the pilot when a Peruvian jet shot down their plane after the aircraft was tracked by a CIA surveillance plane. Videotape released later indicated the CIA questioned whether the Bowers' plane was carrying drugs before it was shot down. It wasn't. The investigation also found the agency's general counsel advised agency managers not to write anything down to discourage criminal charges being brought against CIA officers and found the agency ignored questions from Condoleezza Rice, then President Bush's national security adviser, about the program. The report was released by U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Public wins right to see documents in anthrax case

Now that a federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to release documents explaining why investigators suspected Steven J. Hatfill in the 2001 anthrax mailings, we the people could learn why the FBI mounted a dogged pursuit of an innocent man that cost taxpayers nearly $6 million in damages. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth ruled Monday that the public had a "strong need" to review the documents filed under seal, including the grounds for searching the homes of Hatfill and his girlfriend, according to the Reuters international news service. The anthrax mailings, which were sent to politicians and news organizations shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, killed five people and sickened 17. The FBI focused exclusively on Hatfill for years, even though investigators eventually concluded that another U.S. Army scientist, Anthrax expert Bruce Ivins, was solely responsible for the mailings. Ivins killed himself in July. Early in the investigation, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly identified Hatfill as a "person of interest." In a 15-page ruling, Judge Lambert said the public need outweighed the privacy concerns raised, perhaps ironically, by the Justice Department. "In this case, the public has a strong need for access to the documents at issue," Lambert wrote. "As conceded by the government, the anthrax investigation was one of the most complex, time-consuming and expensive investigations in recent history. As a result, American citizens have a legitimate interest in observing and understanding how and why the investigation progressed in the way that it did." The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times that sought access to the documents. Hatfill sued the government for violating his privacy rights and was awarded $5.85 million in a settlement in June.

Friday, November 14, 2008

President Bush still clueless as global economic summit convenes

U.S. President George W. Bush unabashedly displayed stubborn cluelessness to world leaders Thursday, a day before the historic global economic summit convened in Washington, D.C. Bush strongly defended free markets and warned against aggressive regulation in his speech, as if the corrupted view of so-called "free markets" in the United States was not at the heart of the global crisis. Indeed, it was the lack of regulation of financial markets that caused the current crisis to erupt in the United States and spread around the world. The summit meeting involving leaders from the world's 20 largest economies is scheduled to begin Saturday at the National Building Museum in Washington. A senior U.S. official told the New York Times that the most that could be expected from the meeting is a commitment to coordinate banking regulations and to continue to meet regularly. World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick warned the gathering to remember the fate of the world's poorest countries, which were not represented yet might suffer the most if economic turmoil continues for years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is religion on the ropes?

It's going to be hard for our earth-centric religions to rationalize this. We're talking, of course, about pictures of planets outside our solar system released today by astronomers at NASA, the U.S. space agency, and by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California. The photographs, taken by the Hubble telescope and two Hawaii observatories, show planets orbiting stars other than our Sun -- proving the existence of other solar systems. The findings of both organizations were published Thursday in Science Express, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to the Cable News Network (CNN). The existence of more than 300 planets outside our solar system ("extrasolar" planets, to our earth-centric astronomers) have been assumed based on observations of gravitational effects on stars seen from earth. "This discovery is the first time we have directly imaged a family of planets around a normal star outside of our solar system," said Christian Marois, lead astronomer in the Lawrence Livermore lab study, according to CNN. "After all these years, it's amazing to have a picture showing not one but three planets," physicist Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore lab said, according to CNN. "The discovery of the HR 8799 system is a crucial step on the road to the ultimate detection of another Earth." The existence of solar systems and planets outside our own was, obviously, not anticipated by early thinkers and is not part of modern religions. Their very existence is a threat to the view of humans as alone in the universe. But, then again, none of the planets found thus far are habitable, as least as far as humans understand life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bush Supreme Court takes crack at monumental issue

Whether a Utah city is obligated to permit a religious group to place a monument in a public park near a Ten Commandments marker is a much more difficult question than appears at first glance. The question, on which the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today, could impact the future of the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom and freedom of speech against government interference as well as the power of government to control public property. And whatever the court decides to do could impact religious displays on public property in communities across the country, especially if the court wants that to happen. At oral arguments Wednesday, the nine justices seemed divided over whether Pleasant Grove City in Utah acted legally when it refused to allow the Summum religious group to put up a monument to the tenets of its faith in a park that contains a Ten Commandments monument, according to the Reuters international news service. Some of the court's most-conservative justices appeared to be concerned that a ruling in favor of the religious group would mean public parks anywhere in the country would be forced to allow privately donated monuments expressing any viewpoint. "You have a Statue of Liberty; do we have to have a Statue of Despotism? Or do we have to put any president who wants to be on Mt. Rushmore?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked, Reuters said. But some liberal justices seemed to agree that allowing one religious message on public property but not others violated free speech rights. In fact, Justice John Paul Stevens even asked whether a city could decide to only allow messages in a public part that it agreed with, Reuters reported. An appellate court ruled that the city must allow the Summum monument to be erected. The city argued that the lower court ruling was in error and a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department agreed, saying the government can choose what monuments and opinions it wants on the National Mall in Washington and in other public parks across the country. "The Vietnam Veterans Memorial did not open us up to a Viet Cong memorial. When the Martin Luther King Memorial is completed on the Mall, it will not have to be offset by a monument to the man who shot Dr. King," the U.S. government contended. The attorney representing the religious group, Pamela Harris, argued that the city cannot allow a Ten Commandments display while denying Summum access for a display about its faith. "That's a violation of the core free-speech principle that the government may not favor one message over another in a public forum," Harris said. Both sides are correct. A public entity cannot choose one religious message over another, but a city (or a state, or the federal government) has a right to determine what it will or will not allow in its parks. There has got to be a reasonable way to resolve this so the government's authority ends where religious freedom is threatened. A ruling is expected by June.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Overwhelmed American Express sells its soul

News that American Express has agreed to greater federal regulation in exchange for access to federal bailout funds is a typical good news, bad news situation. The good news, of course, is that AmEx likely will not implode and disappear like so many of its competitors in the financial services industry -- some with names as well-known as Lehman Brothers. But there's also the bad news. Selling its soul for government intervention cannot be seen as anything other than a total capitulation on the part of AmEx, long a titan of the capitalist system. "Given the continued volatility in the financial markets, we want to be best positioned to take advantage of the various programs the federal government has introduced or may introduce to support U.S. financial institutions," AmEx Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault said today, two weeks after the company's announcement of 7,000 layoffs, according to CNN. The independent credit card issuer operates a small bank, American Express Centurion Bank, and a savings and loan, American Express Bank, which have a combined $50 billion in assets and $14.4 billion in deposits. But AmEx depended on bundling its credit card debts and selling them as securities, an idea that now seems laughable. If some of your loans are risky, how can more of the same loans be less risky? AmEx is the third financial company to convert to a bank holding company since September, joining Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

Deadlock over Zimbabwe government continues -- for good reason

The latest from Johannesburg, host of the latest Zimbabwe power-sharing talks sponsored by the South African Development Community, is that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has rejected a compromise suggested by the SADC to end weeks of deadlock. The compromise, under which Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party would share control of the powerful Ministry of Home Affairs, had been proposed by the SADC to help resolve months of uncertainty following Zimbabwe's disputed presidential election. Tsvangirai's latest rejection came Monday at a SADC summit, according to CNN, which cited a report from the Associated Press. Tsvangirai's rejection of the proposed compromise is perfectly understandable and appears well-justified. Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president since its independence from Great Britain nearly 30 years ago when it was called Rhodesia, is not willing to surrender any power, as his disgraceful efforts to hold onto power following the March election demonstrated. It is an exercise in wishful thinking to believe that a settlement along the lines of Kenya's power-sharing is possible in this case. In fact, it's difficult to understand how it is working in Kenya, either. But in Zimbabwe, where the government encouraged intimidation and violence to subvert the will of the people, any reasonable settlement would appear to preclude Mugabe's continuation in office. It is Mugabe who had been blocking any settlement, likely because once in power, the MDC would be better able to unravel the layers of corruption and deception that has plunged Zimbabwe into poverty and food shortages. In the end, Mugabe will probably be willing to trade it all for some kind of amnesty and protection -- perhaps as an asylum seeker in another continent.

Economic turmoil takes toll on Starbucks

Want to know the real state of the U.S. economy? Look no further than your neighborhood Starbucks store which, if you live in a small or large city, is probably on the next corner. Earnings have been dropping for the massive international coffeehouse chain, despite last year's move to close more than 600 stores in the United States and in other countries. Starbucks shares have dropped below the $10 level, more than 50 percent lower than a year ago, even as the company's stores and coffee products seem to become even more ubiquitous. Analysts say the stock has continued to lose value because Starbucks profits have been lower than expected as cash-strapped consumers cut back on expensive coffee purchases, according to CNN. In its fourth-quarter report, released today, Starbucks reported an 8 percent drop in sales, although its sales for 2008 rose 10 percent over last year. But Starbucks, which forever changed the neighborhood coffeehouse from a locally owned family business to an overly aggressive, corporate powerhouse, still has more than 15,000 coffeehouses worldwide.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Continued bad news from U.S. automakers

Reports from Detroit, Mich., that General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. suffered bigger-than-expected quarterly losses cast further doubt on the survival of the U.S. automobile industry in the global financial crisis. The two largest U.S. automakers said they would aggressively cut costs in the fourth quarter, according to the Reuters international news service. But the two companies, whose share prices have tumbled in recent years, reported spending nearly $15 billion in the quarter just to stay in business. "The issue in short-term liquidity is the state of the auto industry and so we said we're going to put all our efforts on focusing on that issue for now," GM chief executive Rick Wagoner told CNBC television. Let's make this easy for you -- build better small cars that compare favorably with those being built in Japan and Germany. How hard is that to understand? It's more than 30 years since the Arab oil embargo put the world on notice that it would have to be more efficient, yet U.S. carmakers seem not to have heard. Instead, domestic output has involved poor-quality vehicles and heavy-duty lobbying for tax breaks. Why is it still not a crime to run richly profitable and esteemed companies into the ground?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

U.S. finally takes action against rogue Colombia army units

Reports from Bogota offers at least one explanation of why the anti-U.S. rhetoric of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Boliva's Evo Morales seem to resonate in their South American countries. The U.S. government announced today that it had suspended military aid to some army units in Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally, for their roles in the killings of innocent civilians, according to the Cable News Network (CNN). Some of the units had allegedly been involved in "illegal executions" of civilians, CNN said, citing an unnamed U.S. official. The suspension followed Tuesday's resignation of Gen. Mario Montoya, who had recently been feted for the rescue of three long-held hostages, and the Oct. 29 firings of 27 army officers and senior non-commissioned officers for involvement in earlier killings. In a statement last week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the killings "systematic and widespread" and called on Colombian authorities to investigate and prosecute "the perpetrators," CNN said. Fifteen of the 27 dismissed officers had received "some form of individual training" in the United States, the U.S. official said. Under U.S. law, the United States reviews the conduct of Colombian army units before they can receive any part of the $5 billion in military aid it has provided to Colombia since 2000. There were 780 investigations of killings by the military started by Colombia's attorney general between 2003 and 2007, CNN said.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Libya pays damages to settle U.S. lawsuits

News from the U.S. State Department that Libya has paid the last $1.5 billion it owed to settle remaining claims from terrorism cases and open the door to full diplomatic relations with the United States is strange news, indeed. It's hard to think of an outlaw nation like Libya and its crazy leader, Moammar Gadhafi, rejoining the world of civilized nations, but that's precisely what happened today when U.S. President Bush signed an executive order restoring that country's standing, according to the Reuters international news service. After all, this is the same North African country that has been blamed for acts of international terrorism, such as the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, and the 1986 bombing of a discotheque in Berlin. U.S. warplanes bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 after the discotheque bombing that killed two U.S. soldiers. The top U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, David Welch, who negotiated the complex deal with Libya, called the country's rehabilitation from terrorist nation to U.S. ally "historic." The author of the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, applauded Friday's development. "American victims and their families have waited decades for Libya to pay for its deadly acts of violence and today they have received long-overdue justice," he said, according to Reuters. "I am pleased that our relentless pressure and support for terror victims has led to this historic moment." Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Libya in September, the first visit by such a high-ranking U.S. official since 1953, after negotiations that took months to resolve.

Keeping secrets

Is it any wonder that the military tribunal system being used for Guantanamo inmates has been widely panned and discredited? Friday's verdict in the trial of a man accused of being Osama bin Laden's media director, Ali Hamza al Bahlul, is another amazing example. The military jury in the case of Al Bahlul, who could face life in prison, reached its verdict on Friday but officials have decided not to announce it until Monday because the judge, Air Force Col. Ron Gregory, wanted to give the military guards the weekend off, according to the Reuters international news service. While everybody needs a day off once in awhile and the process of moving a detainee from the prison to the court is said to be laborious, it certainly seems astonishing disrespectful to the suspect and disrespectful of his inalienable right as a human being to deprive him of the knowledge of what his future is going to be because of convenience. And this is no exception. The history of the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects and, indeed, its very creation, illustrates a profound lack of respect or understanding of societal principles on the part of the Bush administration and, to the rest of the world, the United States.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"No more" means "a lot more" in market bailout lingo

Surprising news out of Washington today is that the U.S. Treasury Department is not interesting in subsidizing General Motors Corp.'s proposed acquisition of its long-ailing competitor, Chrysler. The Bush administration told General Motors that it could get enough money to survive from the $25 billion in factory retooling funds approved by Congress last month, according to the Reuters international news service. The administration will try to speed up distribution of that money, an unnamed official told Reuters, but does not favor giving the country's largest automaker any more money. General Motors asked for the $10 billion earlier this week, on top of the $25 billion intended to help lubricate the development of fuel-efficient cars, industry sources told Reuters. "Treasury is not negotiating with the automakers, the administration is working to get the $25 billion Congress already authorized to the industry," the official said. But the Treasury Department also confirmed that GMAC and Chrysler Financial, the financing arms of the two companies, would be eligible to sell distressed loans to the government under the administration's $700 billion market buyout plan if they registered as bank holding companies, Reuters said, making that "no more" seem disingenuous. GM has already begun the registration process, Reuters said. To add to the looming cost, ailing Ford Motor Co., the nation's second-largest automaker, also said Thursday that it expected a "degree of parity" if the government gave billions of dollars to GM.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

U.S. government finally focuses on foreclosure victims

Thousands of foreclosures and $700 billion later, has the U.S. government finally recognized that its responsibility is to its citizens, not to its financial system? The Reuters international news service reported Wednesday that regulators are working on a $600 billion program to keep homeowners from losing their homes to foreclosure. As many as 3 million foreclosures could be avoided under the plan being drafted by Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Reuters said. The plan provides federal guarantees to encourage lenders to ease the terms of troubled mortgages at minimal cost, since the intent of the program is to prevent defaults on home loans, according to Reuters. "We are working with the White House and through the policy process on a range of foreclosure-prevention options," Treasury spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli said. That's about the best news yet in the financial crisis threatening to cause a worldwide recession or worse, and it's about time. Instead of worrying about where the banks that caused the problem are going to get taxpayers' money to pay dividends to their shareholders, it's about time somebody paid attention to the real victims of the lending meltdown. "We're always reviewing proposals to help homeowners," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, as if nobody has been paying attention to the attention the Bush administration has been paying to wealthy investment companies. The government will be announcing the program in the next few days, an unnamed source told Reuters.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reality bites chief Palestinian negotiator

Thanks for stating the obvious, but how could anyone still think that Palestinian and Israeli authorities would be able to wrap up a peace agreement before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office? It should seem obvious that both sides know what has to be done but neither has the political will or guts to do it. This non-story returned to the news Monday when top Palestinian peace negotiator Ahmed Qurie told a conference in Israel that "I don't think that we will be able to reach an agreement this year," according to the Reuters international news service. "The process is difficult and the political situation on both sides is difficult," said Qurie, a former prime minister when Yasir Arafat led the Palestinian Authority. Thanks for the help. It doesn't take a genius to speak the obvious truth, but it does apparently take someone with more honesty than Qurie. Qurie, and most analysts, equate the political turmoil of coalition-building in Israel with the open rebellion dominating the Palestinian Authority. These things are not the same. Even Reuters called the situation "divisions among Palestinians and political instability in Israel." Divisions among Palestinians? They're in open revolt, with millions living under a different government than the Palestinian Authority. Political instability? That's politics in most of the West -- and that would be stability, not instability. Egypt has called a summit between the Palestinian factions in Cairo on Nov. 5, and will try to bring them together. Otherwise, there's no point to negotiating with the Israelis.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dalai Lama admits failure of autonomy talks

Troubling news from India is that the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who has long campaigned for autonomy from the Chinese government, has given up hope for a peaceful settlement. "Because of lack of response from the Chinese, we have to be realistic -- there is no hope," Tenzin Taklha, an aide to the Dalai Lama, told the Reuters international news service on Sunday. The statement was somewhat of a surprise since another round of talks between Tibetan and Chinese officials was expected by the end of October. The two sides have been negotiating since China expressed fears that pro-autonomy protesters would try to disrupt last summer's Beijing Olympics. But the Chinese government also accused the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, of treason after rioting broke out in Tibet in March. The Dalai Lama has called for a special meeting of Tibetan exiles in November to discuss the future of the Tibetan movement. "His holiness does not want to become a hindrance to the Tibetan issue, and therefore has sent a letter to the parliament regarding what options he has," Taklha told Reuters. The Dalai Lama advocated a conciliatory approach to negotiations with the Chinese, a philosophy opposed by many exiled Tibetans and by the young, Reuters said. "We are not against the middle way approach of his Holiness; the fact is that China is not sincere and has never been sincere in talking about the middle way," said Tsewang Rigzin, president of the pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress.