Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

High Court overturns Zimbabwe's ban on opposition rallies The police ban on opposition political rallies in advance of the June 27 runoff election has been roundly criticized outside Zimbabwe. South Africa's ruling ANC party issued a statement in which it strongly supported free campaigning, saying that it was critically important for all candidates to be able to make their case to the people.

Given Mukasey's track record, we're not holding our breath on this one, either: Nearly 60 House Democrats yesterday urged the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to examine whether top Bush administration officials may have committed crimes in authorizing the use of harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists. In a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, the lawmakers cited what they said is "mounting evidence" that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of waterboarding and other aggressive tactics against detainees in U.S.-run prisons overseas. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated U.S or international law, the letter stated. "This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law," it said. The letter was signed by 56 House Democrats, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y). The request was prompted in part by new disclosures of high-level discussions within the Bush administration that reportedly focused on specific interrogation practices. Some of the new detail was contained in a report last month by the Justice Department's inspector general, which described a series of White House meetings in which the controversial tactics were vigorously debated.

This is the summer of tornadoes: At least five people are injured after damaging tornadoes ripped through parts of Wisconsin.The powerful storms swept across central and southeastern Wisconsin on Saturday with baseball-size hail and high winds. Authorities say roofs were blown off homes and trees and power lines were toppled. Flash flooding was also reported in areas. Wisconsin emergency management spokeswoman Lori Getter says five people suffered minor injuries north of Madison.

Do you think some of these countries abandoned their embassies because they don't have a functioning State Department than can pursue these matters? The front door to one of Washington's finer addresses, a four-story townhouse valued at $3.9 million, is padlocked and covered with plywood. The brass-toned plate above the entrance reads: "Embassy of the Republic of Malawi." Next door, a barren nine-bedroom residence is assessed at $6 million, even with the bare flagpole out front, the weeds growing in the driveway, the paint-peeled columns and boarded-up windows. The owner: the United Arab Emirates. Across the street, along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue known as Embassy Row, the grass outside a century-old mansion recently reached hip high, Venetian blinds twist sloppily in a corner window and the front door is missing its doorknob. The owner, the Pakistani government, moved out in 2004. Over the past year, the District has fought to eliminate thousands of vacant buildings, sharply raising property taxes to force owners to sell, lease or occupy their real estate. But officials can exert no such pressure on more than a dozen derelict properties that have added a dose of blight to some of Washington's grandest neighborhoods. Each of the buildings served as an embassy or diplomatic residence for countries including Liberia and Malaysia, the Philippines and the Republic of Togo. Legally considered foreign soil in almost all cases, the buildings are exempt from property taxes and the fine print of the city's building code. In some cases, the properties are vacant because the countries have decamped to more palatial confines in the diplomatic enclave off Van Ness Street. In others, the disrepair is a sign of trouble back home as the countries struggle to finance renovations. Then there's the empty brick house on Quincy Street NW, the one with the dead leaves piled at the front door, the ungainly forest consuming the back yard and the collapsed remnants of what was once a garage roof. Neighborhood children refer to it as the "haunted house." Property records show the owner as the Embassy of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was dissolved in 1991.

Jim McKay passed away today...the venerable and eloquent sportscaster thrust into the role of telling Americans about the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, has died. He was 86. McKay died Saturday of natural causes at his farm in Monkton, Md. The broadcaster who considered horse racing his favorite sport died only hours before Big Brown attempted to win a Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes. He was host of ABC's influential "Wide World of Sports" for more than 40 years, starting in 1961. The weekend series introduced viewers to all manner of strange, compelling and far-flung sports events. The show provided an international reach long before exotic backdrops became a staple of sports television. McKay - understated, dignified and with a clear eye for detail - also covered 12 Olympics, but none more memorably than the Summer Games in Munich, Germany. He was the anchor when events turned grim with the news that Palestinian terrorists kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes. It was left to McKay to tell Americans when a commando raid to rescue the athletes ended in tragedy.

Speaking of the Olympics and politics: Police in Nepal's capital broke up a protest Saturday by hundreds of Tibetan exiles against Chinese rule in their homeland, detaining many of them, officials said. The protesters marched about three miles in the heart of Katmandu before police in riot gear blocked them. Police used bamboo batons to beat some and detained at least 450, police official R.P. Dhamala said at the scene. Scuffles between police and protesters left many with minor injuries. Many of the protesters were Buddhist nuns and monks. "Stop killing in Tibet, we want freedom," the protesters chanted as they marched through the narrow streets of Katmandu. Once they reached the main roads, police blocked them, and when they tried to break through the police lines they were detained and taken away in vans and trucks. Officials say they cannot allow protests against friendly nations such as China.

As the ongoing violence of a brutal drug war has disrupted lives from Tijuana to Nuevo Laredo, the elite are increasingly simply picking up and moving across the border to the safety and security of the United States. So many upper-class Mexican families live in the Eastlake neighborhood, a suburb of San Diego, that residents say the area is becoming a gilded colony of Mexicans, where speaking English is optional. "I always say that Eastlake is the city with the highest standard of living in all of Mexico," joked Enrique Hernandez Pulido, a San Diego-based attorney whose practice serves many Mexican emigre clients.

Ouch. University of Missouri receiver Danario Alexander will miss at least the non-conference part of the upcoming season after re-injuring the ACL graft that he underwent after sustaining the original injury in last seasons Big 12 Conference Championship against Oklahoma. “The rest of the knee looked good,” MU spokesman Chad Moller said Saturday afternoon. “There’s no damage to the meniscus or anything else"...“If you get into the middle of the season and something isn’t right,” Moller said, “he’d have the option to redshirt. But right now the hope is that he will be ready to play.” Alexander, who played as a true freshman and just finished his sophomore year has a redshirt season available should he need the additional time to heal properly.

Juan Cole points us to this story from Helena Cobban: Speaking to a civil-society audience of 60 people here in Washington DC today, Iraqi MPs Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan (National Dialogue Council) and Dr. Nadim al-Jaberi (al-Fadhila) both roundly rejected the idea of negotiating any binding longterm Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States as long as US forces remain in their country. Both also, intriguingly, said that the Arab League might be the outside party best placed to convene the negotiation required to achieve intra-Iraqi reconciliation. Ulayyan and Jaberi were speaking at a lunch discussion hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They have spoken to a number of civil society groups here in the past two days. On Wednesday-- as I noted here earlier today-- they testified about their country's situation at a hearing held by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight. While with the Subcommittee, they handed chair Rep. William Delahunt a letter spelling out the view of a majority of Iraq's MPs that any SOFA completed between the two countries should stipulate a total withdrawal of US troops from the whole of Iraq before a date certain.

Yes, the Russians have a can of whup-ass: The Russians are usually credited with building good, simple weapons (like the Kalashnikov series and RPG-7 ) but considered weak when to comes to high tech. A close look at one of their tank-busting smart bombs shows how far they've come, however. The sensor-fused weapon is one of the most sophisticated weapons in the US air-to-ground arsenal. This is a 1,000-pound bomb which releases forty small BLU-108 submunitions, over an area the size of 20 football fields. Each BLU-108 (or "cans of whup ass" as some call them) scans the area below with an infra-red sensor; on detecting an armored vehicle below, it fires an explosively formed penetrator with lethal accuracy. The EFP is capable of piercing the thin top armor and scoring a mobility kill any known tank: basically, there goes your engine. A single sensor-fuzed weapon will knock out several vehicles in a formation; an aircraft armed with several of them could stop a large-scale armored assault in its tracks. (The video, above, is a reconstruction of a B-52 which took out a battalion-sized Iraqi force in one pass using sensor-fuzed weapons.) It turns out the Russian have their own version. This is a 500-kilogram bomb made by Bazalt, termed SPBE-D.

Musharraf refuses to become a useless vegetable: Embattled, U.S.-backed Pakistani Pres. Pervez Musharraf Saturday warned Barack Obama that if he wins the White House, he'd have to change his policies towards Pakistan. Musharraf, whom President Bush considers one of America's closest allies in the war on terrorism, denied that Bush gives orders to Pakistan, a charge that's constantly levelled against both men. The Pakistani president also used his first press conference in six months to reject speculation that he's about to be forced out of office, rumors that have grown so strong that Bush called him at the end of last month to pledge continued American support. Musharraf came out fighting, saying that he isn't willing to accept the newly elected Pakistani government's plan to reduce him to a ceremonial role. "I can't become a useless vegetable," said Musharraf, looking relaxed and confident. "I am elected as president of Pakistan constitutionally. I cannot preside over the downfall of Pakistan." Yeah, well, we have a useless vegetable running things in this country right now, so we know what ya mean.

Hey, just saying what's on everybody's mind: Ever since Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius turned a red state blue six years ago, she's been a potential vice-presidential pick. She was the rare Democrat who could win Republican votes. That's why she's been a fixture all these months in the speculation surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's choice of a running mate. "I think she is being considered," said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, an Obama ally and adviser whose name also has gotten some buzz, although she discounts the possibility. "She has great executive skill, has had success in a very difficult terrain and is thought of very highly by her peers, Democrats and Republicans."

Laura Rozen and Dave Wagner continue the narrative: Enlisting high-level contacts in the White House, Pentagon and Congress, Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen relentlessly pushed a freelance intelligence collection and Iran regime change plan on behalf of another veteran of the scandal, according to a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Thursday. The proposed plan to change the Iran regime, which requested $5 million in initial "seed" money from the U.S. government, was outlined on a cocktail napkin by Iran contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar at a Rome bar during a three-day meeting in December 2001 that brought the Iran contra actors together with two officials from the Pentagon. The Pentagon officials’ attendance at the meeting was authorized by Stephen Hadley, now the top White House national security advisor, the report found. Revelations that Iran Contra figures Ledeen and Ghorbanifar were involved in a new channel to the Bush administration set off alarm bells throughout the US government, and prompted multiple inquiries into whether the channel amounted to an unauthorized covert action and a possible counterintelligence threat. The latter issue was never resolved, after a top Pentagon official shut down the counterintelligence inquiry only a month after it had begun. Later operations would require as much as $25 million, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar advised US officials, but could be financed in part, they said, by a foreign government in exchange for commitments of future Iran oil contracts to the foreign government’s state energy company, believed to be Italy’s ENI. Italy’s military intelligence service Sismi facilitated Ledeen’s Rome meeting, which, highly unusually, was not cleared with the US embassy in Rome or the CIA, even though it involved interaction with a foreign intelligence service.

Put on your troll hat and mask that IP: Bob Cesca points out that Paddy has discovered that Senator John McCain has started a "blog" of sorts, trying in vain to compete with Barack Obama. I smell the golden opportunity for major mockery, and so does everyone else. Must. Monitor. Every. Day. The McCain campaign has unveiled a new blog, dubbed "The McCain Report," that will allow supporters, reporters and bloggers to interact with the campaign. According to the campaign Website: The goal of this project is pretty straightforward: to provide journalists and bloggers with a little more insight into what's going on over here, to provide quotes and information you won't be able to get anywhere else, and to serve as a point of contact for online media. Right, because the media and the McCain campaign were having a huge lover's quarrel over who could kiss each other's ass more...

No comments: