Thursday, July 30, 2009

U.S. court system tries to heal itself in detainee case

Yes, it's frustrating how long this is taking. Finally, gradually, it looks like the U.S. court system is going to clean up the worst abuses of the Bush administration. How else to interpret Thursday's decision by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., ordering the release of a young Guantanamo Bay detainee who alleged he had been tortured in detention in Afghanistan and mistreated while in U.S. custody? "Enough has been imposed on this young man to date," Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle told in a crowded U.S. District Court courtroom, according to the New York Times. Mohammed Jawad has been in custody since he was accused of throwing a hand grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and their Afghani interpreter in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, in 2002. Jawad may have been as young as 14 when he was captured, the Times said. Federal prosecutors have been trying to get Jawad before a military tribunal under the system set up by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. But a military judge ruled last year that the case against Jawad was largely based on confessions he gave after being tortured. Those concerns were reflected in Huvelle's ruling on Thursday. She said the government's case was "riddled with holes," including violations of Jawad's rights and the fact that the confessions would likely not be admissible in court. Huvelle also said from the bench that she "hoped" Jawad would be returned to Afghanistan, where his lawyers said he would be released to his family, the Times said. Unfortunately, the new administration of President Barack Obama has not been much help in this case, the Times said, despite his promise during the 2008 campaign to close the Guantanamo prison by the year's end. A U.S. Justice Department spokesman told the Times on condition of anonymity that the government was considering filing charges against Jawad in civilian court, which could mean years of further delay. It looks like closing the prison was an easy position to take rhetorically but is turning out to be quite difficult and complex as a practical matter. For the courts, years of permitting the government to unabashedly commit gross violations of detainees' rights may finally be coming to an end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Negative market reaction to Yahoo-Microsoft deal probably reflects reality

That Google shares fell today after the long-awaited deal between Microsoft and Yahoo was finally announced was a given -- it can't be good for Google that two of its largest competitors for the Internet search market have joined forces. But the fact that Yahoo's share price also dropped does not bode well for the future of this arrangement. The 10-year deal, under which Microsoft's new Bing search engine will power searches on Yahoo sites in exchange for a share of revenue, still must be approved by regulators in the United States and Europe, according to the Reuters international news service. Yahoo and Microsoft were motivated to reach a deal in their effort to challenge Google's dominance in the search market. Google has 65 percent of the U.S. search market versus Yahoo's 19.6 percent and Microsoft's 8.4 percent, Reuters said. Yahoo turned down Microsoft's $47.5 billion takeover offer last year. Analysts quoted by Reuters said the market was not energized by the deal because Yahoo did not receive any upfront payment as expected. "Those that were looking forward to a take-out, the deal today was rather disappointing -- it's not as good as what investors expected," said Marc Pado of Cantor Fitzerald & Co. "Overall, it's a big positive for two companies that have been struggling to keep up with Google. This consolidates their resources and allows them to make a more concerted push as the No. 2 entity," said Ross Sandler of RBC Capital Markets. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz applauded the deal and said the lack of an upfront payment was not a deterrent because the agreement would be lucrative for her company.
While Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz had previously said that any deal would require a partner with "boatloads of money," she said on Wednesday that the revenue share agreement in the Microsoft deal was more valuable to Yahoo than a one-time payment. "Having a big up-front cash payment doesn't really help us from an operating standpoint," she said in a conference call with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Reuters said. Microsoft is expected to pay Yahoo 88 percent of search revenue from Yahoo sites for the first five years, while the companies continue to keep their advertising businesses separate. Yahoo said the deal will boost its annual operating income by $500 million and to increase cash flow by $275 million. The companies said they were hopeful the deal would close early next year, Reuters said.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Venezuela and Colombia break diplomatic relations

News from Caracas that Venezuela will withdraw its ambassador from Colombia and "freeze relations" with its neighbor should be no surprise to U.S. residents and can even be seen as reassuring. The cantankerous disagreements between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former U.S. President George W. Bush reflected badly on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, given how well Chavez seemed to get along with others. Now, the Bush administration looks a lot better. Tensions began rising Monday between Venezuela and Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally, over Bogota's announcement that it had found weapons in the hands of Marxist rebels that had originally been purchased by Venezuela. "I've ordered to withdraw our ambassador from Bogota, to withdraw our diplomatic personnel," Chavez said in a televised Cabinet meeting, according to the Reuters international news service. "We will freeze relations with Colombia." Colombia's government has been battling FARC insurgents since the 1960s. Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said his government would investigate how the antitank weapons got to FARC but had no comment on the severing of diplomatic relations with Venezuela, Reuters said. Chavez called allegations that his country sold the antitank missiles to FARC a "big manipulation," Reuters said, and said Venezuela would import farm products from other countries. Venezuela and Colombia have a recent history of sour diplomatic relations despite billions of dollars in trade annually. According to Reuters, Chavez believes Colombia's invitation to host U.S. troops to fight drug trafficking is a threat to his government. But Chavez also needed to bolster his popularity, which has suffered in the past year as falling oil price crimped government spending, Reuters said. In 2008, the two countries massed troops along their long border after Colombia bombed a rebel camp in Ecuador.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

United States shouldn't threaten war unless it means it

Was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton serious today when she warned Iran that it would not permitted to possess nuclear weapons or even produce nuclear fuel for power plants? Did she really mean to threaten war against the Shiite country that had regarded Washington with emnity since the 1979 revolution that overthrew a U.S.-backed ruler who had imposed a monarchy on Iran? That's certainly what it sounded like Sunday when she told Iran's leaders on NBC's "Meet The Press" television show that the country's efforts to develop nuclear weapons was "futile" and said the United States would not permit Tehran to produce its own nuclear fuel, according to the New York Times. "We’re trying to affect the internal calculus of the Iranian regime,” Clinton said. "What we want to do is to send a message to whoever is making these decisions that if you’re pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we’re not going to let that happen.” Well, if something sounds like a threat, looks like a threat and feels like a threat, it's reasonably certain that it's a threat. Is the United States really going to attack Iran, or enlist its allies to, if Tehran continues defying international economic and diplomatic sanctions aimed at bringing an end to its nuclear research? For its part, the rest of the Obama administration immediately began backing away from Clinton's most-threatening comments. Senior officials said Clinton was offering her own opinion but also agreed with her statement that the United States was committed to defending its allies in the region, which presumably include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq, and Turkey. “You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil, nuclear power,” Clinton said as if speaking to Iran's leaders. “You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control." But what if Iran continues to ignore the international community's demands, what then?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Revelations about Bush government keep on coming

Yesterday's news from New York that Bush advisers discussed using U.S. soldiers to arrest a group of terror suspects in a suburb of Buffalo, on Lake Erie near the border with Canada, underscores the risk posed to the United States by its own self-righteous leaders. It's painfully obviously now that the Bush administration was so panicked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that it was willing to throw out more than 200 years of Constitutional experience and tradition as part of its poorly considered response. According to the New York Times, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking officials, including now-infamous Justice Department attorney John Woo, advised then-President George W. Bush in 2002 that he had the authority to use U.S. troops on U.S. soil without the express authorization of Congress. U.S. troops have not been used domestically in a law enforcement capacity since the Civil War, and their use in that capacity is generally considered barred under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, the Times said. Woo is the Justice Department lawyer whose memorandums were used to justify the use of brutal interrogation techniques on suspect al-Qaida operatives from 2002-2005. To their credit, opposition to the proposal came from within the administration by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council attorney John Bellinger, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Justice Department official Michael Chertoff and others. “Frankly, it was a bit of a turf war,” a former senior official told the Times. “For a number of people, crossing the line of having intelligence or military activities inside the United States was not worth the risk.” Bush eventually ordered the FBI to make the arrests of the Lackawanna Six, a group of Yemeni Americans who had been communicating with al-Qaida. The six pleaded guilty to terror-related charges in the first domestic terrorism case following the Sept. 11 attacks. Other unnamed former Bush administration officials opposed the use of troops, the Times said. “What would it look like to have the American military go into an American town and knock on people’s door?” another former official said during the internal debate. The Times said Bush was regularly briefed on the Lackawanna case by Muller and CIA Director George Tenet. If the new Obama government is sincere about wanting to avoid a full-blown investigation of the Bush years, some serious voluntary truth-telling is going to have to begin. Let's start with you, Mr. Cheney.

Friday, July 24, 2009

From Russia with love?

Was Russian President Dmitiri Medvedev sending a peace message to Washington as one of his top diplomats threatened economic sanctions against companies that sell weapons to Georgia? In a television interview broadcast Sunday, after U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine, Medvedev referred to both states as independent "countries," according to the New York Times, even though Russia has vociferously opposed their efforts to join the Western alliance. Medvedev acknowledged his country's desire for "normal, working, friendly relations with the United States -- mutually beneficial relations" in the interview with Russian television station NTV, the Times said. On Friday, just as Biden returned from a visit to Georgia and Ukraine, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO, said Medvedev had decreed that sanctions would be imposed on any company that helped the two former Soviet republics rebuild their military arsenals. Georgia's armed forces were routed last year in a brief war with Russia over two provinces that broke away from Tblisi. Many observers speculated at the time that Russia's anger over the two country's bids for NATO membership was actually the reason for the war. Of course, Biden did not specifically promise military aid, even though such an arrangement would seem logical, but assured Georgia and Ukraine that the United States would not abandon them if it got friendlier with Russia, the Times said. Adding to the drama, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Thursday that the United States was committed to upgrading the Georgian military to NATO standards, the Times said. So it seems that Medvedev was trying to defuse the obvious friction when he told NTV that better relations between Russia and the United States would not cause "deterioration of our ties with other countries or of U.S. relations with some other countries, including Ukraine and Georgia.” Then again, Medvedev did not explain why Moscow has not withdrawn its troops from Georgian territory as required by the accord that ended last year's war.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Annual meeting of Asian nations could see progress on North Korea

Nations concerned about North Korea's continuing refusal to give up its nuclear weapons program hope Thursday's scheduled address by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the ASEAN Regional Forum will help break the frustrating stalemate. The annual security meeting, which is expected to be attended by high-ranking officials from Asian and European countries, also is expected to focus on the behavior of the military junta ruling Myanmar, according to the Reuters international news service. Clinton is expected to be sharply critical of Pyongyang's activities, which has included an underground nuclear detonation and a series of ballistic missile tests in the past year. "Full normalization of relations, a permanent peace regime, and significant energy and economic assistance are all possible in the context of full and verifiable denuclearization," Clinton is expected to say at the meeting, according to a summary of her planned remarks, Reuters said. "North Korea's ongoing threatening behavior does not inspire trust, nor does it permit us to sit idly by." But Clinton has not given any indication that she expects a breakthrough in dealings with Pyongyang, which has refused to budget despite offers of billions of dollars in aid by the West and the imposition of escalating U.N. economic sanctions. During last year's election in South Korea, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Seoul was willing to set up a $40 billion investment fund, equal to twice Pyongyang's yearly economic output, if North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons. On Myanmar, formerly Burma, Clinton raised concerns this week that the military government was sharing nuclear technology with North Korea. For its part, a top North Korean official said Pyongyang would not stand for being repeatedly criticized at the meeting and has reportedly downgraded its representation to lower-level diplomats, Reuters said.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dealership closure decisions prompt Congressional investigation

The extraordinarily complex undertaking that is the restructuring of the U.S. automobile industry was in full view today when a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee opened hearings on dealership shutdowns negotiated by General Motors, Chrysler and the Obama administration. At issue is both the thinking behind the decisions to close more than 3,000 dealerships and a pending bill that could reverse all or many of those decisions, according to Cable News Network (CNN). The head of the administration's Task Force for the Auto Industry, Ron Bloom, a former investment banker, testified today that the closures were critical to the restructuring effort, CNN said. But some members of the subcommittee have objected to some of the individual shutdowns and raised the specter of unfairness or worse. "They had a criteria, but I don't know what their criteria was, what the data was," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), according to CNN. "Some were profitable, and there's even concern that there might even be others open in areas where they closed them." Given the unfortunate tendency of Washington politicians to speak in semitruths, it is difficult to tell whether the Congressional concerns are legitimate or just part of seemingly relentless Republican Party efforts to discredit the administration. Indeed, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said his concerns included some of the closures but went beyond them to the future of the U.S. economic system. "Every day, I guess I get a little more concerned about what the administration is doing in regard to the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies," he said. "It seems to me that literally the administration is declaring war on capitalism." Rep. Dan Maffei (D-New York), who authored the bill, said he was concerned about the owners of the dealerships that were ordered to close. "It's really an issue of fairness and whether these dealers, given that they've got these big taxpayer-paid-for bailouts for GM and Chrysler, whether the dealers who employ 50 people each on average and are big parts of local communities, shouldn't have some sort of say over how these dealer networks are going to be reorganized," Mattei said, according to CNN. "We felt it was not fair for these dealers, given that the bankruptcy was negotiated in part by the federal government and with federal money, that the dealers would have to not be able to have their rights." Not all dealerships forced to close were left with nothing, CNN said. GM offered its franchises up to $1 million in closing payments and gave them over a year to sell their inventories. GM also reversed dozens of closing decisions after dealers appealed to the company. But Chrysler didn't offer any payments, forced dealerships to shut down within three weeks and had no appeal process.

Friday, July 17, 2009

House panel to investigate effort to conceal secret CIA program

From Washington, D.C., comes word that the House Intelligence Committee has decided to formally investigate the Bush White House's effort to conceal from Congress the existence of a secret counterterrorism program. The program, which is so secret that its purpose has still not been revealed even as controversy about it roils the U.S. Capitol, was made public last month in a briefing by Obama CIA Director Leon Panetta, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Panetta said he had ended the program as soon as he found out about it, and that he understood that the CIA withheld information about it from Congress under orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney. In a statement released today, the intelligence committee's chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) said the probe was intended to find out if information was deliberately withheld from Congress in violation of federal law. "I intend to make this investigation fair and thorough," the statement said, "and it is my goal that it will not become a distraction of the men and women of the CIA. However, in order to assist them fully and keep them well-resources, it is the responsibility of the executive branch to ensure that the committee is kept fully and currently informed of all anticipated intelligence activities. The CIA said Thursday that the program was never fully implemented and was not a significant part of the country's efforts to battle al-Qaida and other violent extremists, CNN said.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

2009 California budget held hostage -- Day 16

The failure of state leaders to resolve California's latest budget crisis really should be blamed on its action-hero governor, whose inexperience has gone beyond being a source of amusement to an outright disgrace. No doubt, California voters thought they were voting for compromise when they ousted former Democratic governor Grey Davis and elected Schwarzenegger back in 2003, and then re-elected him in 2006. Instead, what they got was even worse legislative gridlock. The issue made news again today because an expected budget compromise collapsed yesterday, according to the Reuters international news service, and the state has been forced to pay its bills with IOUs. Democrats hold a two-thirds majority in the state Assembly but are six votes short of two-thirds in the Senate, and California is one of the few states that require a supermajority to pass a budget. And that is the problem, at least on the surface. Schwarzenegger has so little influence on his party colleagues in the state Senate that he cannot even convince three to change their minds and support the budget. Actually, this is colossal arrogance by Republicans and utter incompetence by Schwarzenegger. Millions of California residents and businesses depend on the state to conduct itself professionally; today, they are hostages to political bickering. The state legislature really only has one job, to pass the budget. The governor has the power to do pretty much everything else. So why do Californians spend millions of dollars every year to keep its legislature meeting in luxury and pay its legislators lavish salaries, if they can't even accomplish this?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Palestinians back away from peace deal

Are there still many among us who are surprised to hear that the Palestinian Authority is backing away from reaching any kind of peace deal with Israel? Word from Ramallah today that the PA would refuse to make any kind of deal with Israel that allowed the expansion of settlements in the West Bank is yet another indication of how far from seriousness the talks have strayed. Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio on Sunday that "there are no middle-ground solutions for the settlement issue" and that all settlement activity must stop, according to the Reuters international news service. Erekat said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told U.S. President Barack Obama the same thing in a letter yesterday, Reuters reported. But readers of this blog understand by now that the settlement issue actually is a non-issue designed to enrage the populace and delay any comprehensive peace between Israel and the PA. If the PA is planning to establish a free state that protects its citizens' rights, the only way settlement can be an obstacle to peace is if peace is not really being contemplated and the proposed two-state solution is not being seriously considered. Two countries at peace would allow the free movement of citizens between their borders -- it would not matter where the homes were located. If Israel wants to continue to build and expand settlements in territory promised to the Palestinians, it should go ahead -- but with the assumption that it is not guaranteed sovereignty over them in a final peace deal. Sovereignty is, after all, the only issue that can only be resolved with direct negotiations between the aggrieved parties. But reaching such a deal necessarily means that the Palestinian people give up their preposterous 'right of return' claims and the pretense of shared sovereignty over Jerusalem and its holy sites. It also means that the Palestinians must stop teaching their children to hate Jewish people. The Palestinian leadership is afraid to do this because it is afraid of angering radicals in its community who have shown no hesitation to resort to violence. But peace is a long-range proposition that can only be accomplished with a long-term commitment to pluralism. That will involve suppressing violent groups and changing the community dialogue from hatred to hopefulness, from demonization to democracy. Sadly, nobody who pays attention to the Middle East can image the PA being ready to commit to that.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What did we expect from the Bush administration?

Saturday's revelation that the CIA deliberately withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from the members of Congress who were supposed to oversee it certainly helps explain, at least in part, the initial reluctance of the new Obama administration to investigate the previous government's illegal activities. This is going to be big -- the Bush administration's excesses violated a lot of laws and principles, and put the future of the country at risk -- and a lot of former officials probably are going to end up in prison or have to fight furiously to stay out. No doubt, President Barack Obama did not want to be distracted from his sweeping domestic agenda at the start of his term. But Congress should have no such reluctance because its authority was compromised -- unless, of course, it is that such an investigation will reveal the failure of elected representatives to properly live up to their oversight responsibilities. Hopefully, the new Democratic Party majority in both houses of Congress will recognize the damage done to the government traditions under the U.S. Constitution and work to see that it never happens again. Assuming reports are true, and there are no indications so far that they are not, new CIA director Leon Panetta told the House and Senate intelligence committees that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the agency not to reveal to Congress the existence of a still-secret counterterrorism program, according to the New York Times. Panetta said he ended the program when he took office. The issue of whether the Bush administration was candid with Congress has been roiling Capitol Hill since May, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said she had not been told that the agency had waterboarded a terror suspect in 2002. The National Security Act of 1947 requires the president to ensure that the Congress intelligence committees are "kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States," the Times said. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on Cheney's purported role in the concealment from Congress. "It's not agency practice to discuss what may or not have been said in a classified briefing," the spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, told the Times. “When a C.I.A. unit brought this matter to Director Panetta’s attention, it was with the recommendation that it be shared appropriately with Congress. That was also his view, and he took swift, decisive action to put it into effect.” Intelligence and Congressional officials told the Times that the unidentified program did not involve interrogation or domestic intelligence activities, but was started following Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Friday, July 10, 2009

General Motors emerges from bankruptcy after crash diet

The rich elite in the United States must be different from ordinary folks. How else to explain the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that brought the largest U.S. automaker, General Motors, out of bankruptcy in a lightning-quick six weeks and lighter by tens of billions of dollars in debt. With the completion of the sale of assets Friday to a company set up solely to liquidate them under bankruptcy court supervision, GM returns to the competitive world of automobile designing, building, servicing and selling -- largely under the same management that led the company's decline, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Of course, there'll be some major differences -- GM is now more than 60 percent owned by the U.S. Treasury. In addition, by the end of next year, the new GM will also be lighter by tens of thousands of jobs and thousands of dealerships across the country. "This is an exciting day for General Motors, one that will allow every employee, including me, to get back to the business of designing, building and selling great cars and trucks and serving the needs of our customers," GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said, CNN reported. "We deeply appreciate the support we've received. We'll work hard to repay the trust, and the money, that so many have invested in GM." But Henderson, who took over the top spot at GM after the Obama administration forced out then-CEO Rick Wagoner as a condition of loaning the automaker as much as $50 billion, faces a daunting challenge. GM lost most of its market share, now 20 percent of the U.S. market, in the last few decades, was overtaken by Toyota Motor Co. of Japan as the world's largest automaker, and even lost its standing as a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. GM also will be losing its Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands, and previously decided to drop Pontiac. Henderson even said that he didn't know if GM would be able to repay the billions it borrowed from the treasury, according to CNN, but probably wouldn't have to borrow more next year. "This is a precious second chance," he said. "There are no third chances." Even if there were, who could afford them? GM has lost $88 billion since 2005 while its debt rose to $54 billion, CNN said. Bondholders who loaned money to GM before the bankruptcy will end up with around 10 percent of the new company, CNN said, but shares will not traded until next year at the earliest.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

OAS suspends Honduras

Maybe the decision by the Organization of American States to suspend Honduras after its military overthrew elected leftist president Manuel Zelaya will bring enough pressure to force the junta to step aside, but it's hard to see at this point how that will be accomplished. The OAS voted 33-0 on Saturday to bar Honduras from participation in the organization, shortly after its secretary-general, Jose Miguel Insulza, returned from Washington, D.C., following an unsuccessful effort to broker a deal to return Zelaya to office, according to the Miami Herald newspaper. The resolution passed by the OAS called the military coup an "unconstitutional altertation of the democratic order" and bars Honduras from receiving loans or other aid while still requiring the nation to adhere to the diplomatic union's human rights rules. A spokeswoman for the new military government in Tagucigalpa, the Honduran capital, dismissed Insulza's effort as insincere and said her country had withdrawn from the OAS before the meeting. "We saw that our good faith was taken advantage of and we were not listened to," Honduras Deputy Foreign Minister Martha Lorena de Casco said, according to the Herald. "Honduras has been viewed as a small, poor country. It's said and unfortunate, but the freedom of Honduras is not for sale." Military leaders apparently were alarmed by Zelaya's advocacy of a referendum polling Honduran voters to see if they would accept extending his term of office as a power grab, on a par with efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to convince voters to lift constitutional limits on his time in office. Zelaya had frequently clashed with Honduras' attorney general, Supreme Court and military leaders, the Herald said. But Zelaya immediately won the support of most countries, including the United States. The deposed leader vowed to return to Honduras on Sunday, even though the ruling junta cautioned that he would be arrested if he did.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Industry experts fear GM still stuck in same gear

Nice to hear that automobile industry experts have begun to question General Motors' decision to choose a longtime veteran insider to run the largest U.S. automaker after the federal government made removal of the old CEO a condition of extending billions of dollars in loans. Cable News Network (CNN) said today that "many" industry experts are questioning whether 25-year GM insider Fritz Henderson is the right person to make the major changes needed to turn the largely moribund carmaker around, an issue raised here three months ago. Like the Ford Motor Co. and bankrupt Chrysler Corp., GM has been unable to build fuel-efficient vehicles that could compete on quality with rival Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda, even more than 30 years after the first OPEC oil embargo heralded a sea change in world fuel supplies. GM filed for bankruptcy protection at the urging of the Obama administration on June 1. "The removal of managers and executives has been mainly at lower levels, thinning ranks and taking out layers. It's not replacing people who made the mess and created the culture," said former GM market research and planning executive Rob Kleinman. Now managing director of consulting firm RAK & Co., Kleinman said what GM needs now is a management overhaul if it is to return to profitability. "Most successful turnarounds have been led by outsiders," he said. "The fact that Fritz [Henderson] seems dedicated to keeping the management team in place makes me extremely uncomfortable." In fact, GM's domestic rivals are being run by former industry outsiders, with Ford hiring Alan Mulally from Boeing in 2004 and Chrysler now headed by Fiat CEO Sergio Machionne, who was not in the industry when he was hired by the Italian carmaker in 2004, Reuters said. "You need some fresh blood in there," said industry analyst and consultant Erich Merkle. "The culture is not one that fosters speed, especially speed to market." But Henderson insisted Fortune magazine that he can bring about the necessary changes, CNN said. "I know the industry inside and out; I know the industry well," he told the magazine. "I think that does bring some experiences that can be very helpful in terms of change because I know what needs to be changed." And David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, called Henderson a "high-speed decision-maker" who already has made important changes in GM's executive culture, CNN said. But Kleinman said GM was suffering from being out-of-touch with consumers and a decided lack of accountability, things a corporate insider would be unlikely to be able to fix.

Iran's Islamic government facing fundamental doubts

In the aftermath of a disputed election, citizen protests violently quashed by security forces, arrests of dissident leaders and closures of newspapers, Iranian reformists have begun questioning the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's government, the Cable News Network (CNN) reported Wednesday. Ahmedinejad's chief opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has claimed the June 12 election was improper and has demanded a revote, issued a statement saying the government had created a "bitter coup d'etat atmosphere" by its actions, including the media crackdown. "If we do not stand our grounds now, then we will have no guarantees that we won't be at this exact point in the future, face to face with the bitter events of this election," Mousavi said. Mousavi also called for the release of arrested dissidents and said he had proof of election fraud. The statement followed the publication of a letter condemning the government from Mehdi Karrubi, a third presidential candidate, in his political party's newspaper. Further publication of the paper was promptly blocked by the government, CNN said. Karrubi, a 72-year-old cleric, said the government's actions were grounds for annulment of the election. "I will not recognize the legitimacy of the government which has resulted from this process," Karrubi said in the letter. Perhaps Iran's leading reformer, former president Mohammad Khatami, called on Iranians to keep fighting for a fair election. "We must not lose our social capital this easily," Khatami told the progressive Iranian newspaper Tahile Rouz, Reuters said. "I know Mousavi as one of the faithful, original and valuable capitals of our revolution, and considered his return to the political scene as a great chance." Twenty people were killed and more than 1,000 detained in the protests that followed the election. But whatever is going to happen in Iran apparently will have to happen by July 26, when Ahmedinejad is scheduled to take the oath of office before parliament for his second four-year presidential term.