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A handful of Republicans who have distanced themselves from President Bush on the war in Iraq refused Tuesday to back a plan to withdraw American troops from the conflict, leaving Senate Democrats short of the support needed to force a vote on their proposal. [Link]

President Bush’s top counterterrorism advisers acknowledged Tuesday that the strategy for fighting Osama bin Laden’s leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan had failed, as the White House released a grim new intelligence assessment that has forced the administration to consider more aggressive measures inside Pakistan. The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the Sept. 11 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years. [Link]

A series of roadside bombs exploded early Wednesday in separate areas of east Baghdad, killing 11 people and wounding more than a dozen, police said. The U.S. military reported three more American soldiers had died in action in the Iraqi capital. [Link]

The NATO mission in Afghanistan is being undermined by members’ failure to provide adequate troops and by serious strategic mistakes, a panel of British lawmakers said Wednesday in a report. Echoing concerns expressed by senior British military figures in recent weeks, legislators warned the entire campaign is at risk if key NATO countries continue to refuse to deploy additional personnel…Figures released Tuesday showed Afghanistan’s illicit heroin-producing poppy crop set another record this growing season, despite stepped-up efforts to combat the trade. [Link]

As President Bush fought to keep Congress in Republican hands last year, the White House political director enlisted the nation’s drug czar to attend events with vulnerable GOP incumbents, documents made public on Tuesday disclosed. John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, attended 20 programs — round-table discussions, tours, a town hall meeting and other antidrug events — with Republican candidates from New Jersey to California…They indicate that the former White House political director, Sara M. Taylor, suggested Walters attend the events, and that Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political advisor, thanked Walters for his attention to the candidates. [Link]

A confidential list prepared by the Bush administration shows that Cheney and his aides had already held at least 40 meetings with interest groups, most of them from energy-producing industries. By the time of the meeting with environmental groups…One of the first visitors, on Feb. 14, was James J. Rouse, then vice president of Exxon Mobil and a major donor to the Bush inauguration; a week later, longtime Bush supporter Kenneth L. Lay, then head of Enron Corp., came by for the first of two meetings…The list of participants’ names and when they met with administration officials provides a clearer picture of the task force’s priorities and bolsters previous reports that the review leaned heavily on oil and gas companies and on trade groups — many of them big contributors to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party…Back in 2001, Lundquist was the person to see, and the document suggests that he and his colleagues consulted widely with energy company executives and their lobbyists. [Link]

A Food and Drug Administration plan to close half its laboratories is an assault on food safety that probably would expose more Americans to harm from unsafe food, lawmakers charged Tuesday. The FDA’s ability to police the nation’s food supply has come under withering criticism from Congress amid a string of high-profile cases of foodborne illness, including E. coli-tainted spinach and salmonella-contaminated snack foods. The FDA, meanwhile, says it’s streamlining its operations, including through a plan to consolidate the labs where it tests foods. Members of Congress called that plan misguided and questioned whether it would save money, as FDA has claimed. Worse, they said, is the risk it would harm food safety. [Link]

Despite the five-month American-led security crackdown, roadside bombs, insurgent attacks and even errant strafing from U.S. military helicopters keep the armored-car repair business booming in Baghdad… The war in Iraq has created its own set of economic opportunities, from forged visas and food-ration cards to arms smuggling and militia-run neighborhood power stations. In a country where unemployment hovers around 60 percent, according to the Iraqi Planning Ministry , the mechanically inclined are finding legitimate jobs. A decent armored-car mechanic easily can earn $12,000 a year, enough to support a family of four. [Link]

More than a year after President Bush unveiled a plan for coping with a pandemic flu outbreak, the federal government still has limited capacity to detect a disease outbreak and track its progress across the country. [Link]

Morning Links

A massive truck bomb followed by two smaller blasts ravaged Kirkuk yesterday, police said, killing more than 80 people in the deadliest attack in the troubled northern Iraqi city since the war began…The attacks this month are part of a pattern of increasing violence at a time of heightened tensions among ethnic Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen residents in the city and its environs…The attacks also furthered fears that insurgents pushed out of Baghdad by the increased US military presence are focusing their efforts on the country’s north, which has far fewer troops. [Link]

The situation for Iraqi children is getting worse and, in some respects, was better before the war began, a senior UN official said yesterday. “Children today are much worse off than they were a year ago, and they certainly are worse off than they were three years ago,” said Dan Toole, director of emergency programs for the United Nations Children’s Fund. He said Iraqis no longer have safe access to a government-funded food basket, established under Saddam Hussein to deal with international sanctions. [Link]

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has reached a tentative agreement to buy financial information group Dow Jones & Company for five billion dollars, but the family with a controlling share in Dow is divided on whether to approve the deal, a newspaper report said. The deal will be put to the full Dow Jones board Tuesday evening for its endorsement, according to the report in the Wall Street Journal, the leading US financial daily which is owned by Dow Jones. [Link]

In his most optimistic remarks since the U.S. troop buildup began, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that Iraq has undergone a “sea change” in security in recent months, and that this will influence his recommendation to President Bush on how long to continue the current strategy. After conferring with Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin and other commanders in this provincial capital west of Baghdad, Pace told reporters he has gathered a positive picture of the security environment not only here but also in Baghdad, where he began his Iraq visit on Monday. [Link]

In the pursuit of an elusive enemy the US loosely labels AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq), US Green Berets and soldiers in this remote corner of Iraq have enlisted the help of a new ally that they have christened LRF, the “Legitimate Resistance Force.” It includes ex-insurgents, police dropouts with checkered backgrounds, and former Al Qaeda-linked fighters – all united by a desire to rid Diyala Province of the network’s influence, say US officers…its creation clearly demonstrates a desire by the US to look for grass-roots solutions amid increasing frustration with the combat readiness – and even loyalty – of Iraqi forces….Maliki warned US forces last month against creating new militias in their fight against Al Qaeda-linked operatives. He insisted that all collaboration with local groups must be done through his government. [Link]

Most Iranians support nuclear inspections, a democratic government and normal relations with the United States, a poll by a U.S.-based organization has found. Terror Free Tomorrow found 80 percent of Iranians support full inspections and a guarantee not to develop nuclear weapons in return for aid from other countries. Slightly more than half, however, said they still favor the development of nuclear weapons and think the country would be safer with them. Developing the weapons is considered a “very important” priority for just 29 percent of those polled. [Link]

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, said Monday he’s “extremely doubtful” that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will be able to secure the country and allow American forces to leave any time soon…”The most important is inclusivity,” he added. “That is making sure that you include all elements of Iraqi society in the government,” he said. “They’re not close at all. The president gave them a satisfactory rating. But all they’ve done is create a committee” to work on a host of legislative issues aimed at completing the transition from the Saddam Hussein era. “I am extremely doubtful about it. He’s had quite a bit of time now. He’s known exactly what he’s had to do. He hasn’t done it. His rhetoric is pretty good. His performance is pretty bad,” Hamilton said in an interview with on NBC’s “Today” show. [Link]

The Pittsburgh newspaper owned by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife yesterday called the Bush administration’s plans to stay the course in Iraq a “prescription for American suicide.” The editorial in the Tribune-Review added, “And quite frankly, during last Thursday’s news conference, when George Bush started blathering about ‘sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don’t enable you to be loved,’ we had to question his mental stability.” [Link]

The oil price on Monday skirted record highs above $78 a barrel, prompting policymakers to warn about the inflationary impact of rising energy costs. Brent crude oil, seen as the best gauge of the global oil market, rose to an intra-day high of $78.40 a barrel, just below last August’s all-time high of $78.65. [Link]

The largest morgue in Diyala province is overflowing daily. Officials told IPS they have had to dig mass graves to dispose of bodies. More and more bodies of victims of the ongoing violence are being found every day in Baquba, capital city of the province, 50km northeast of Baghdad…Many victims of U.S. air strikes have been buried under the rubble of their homes for days, sometimes weeks, residents say. The military operation has been launched to target al-Qaeda, amid local reports that the operation began after the al-Qaeda suspects had fled town. People in the town feel targeted by killings from all sides. Foreign terror groups, like those who claim to be following the model of al-Qaeda, have kidnapped many people who are never heard from again….The refrigerators at the morgue are packed beyond capacity, and workers narrate grisly accounts of attempts to access the bodies for identification. [Link]

Dozens of Shiite villagers in the north were massacred by Sunni extremists, two officials said Tuesday, while a car bomb exploded across the street from the Iranian Embassy in the heart of Baghdad and killed four civilians. Meanwhile, Shiite legislators loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr decided to end their five-week boycott of parliament, one of their leaders said. The Shiite protest along with a separate Sunni boycott had blocked work on key benchmark legislation demanded by the U.S. [Link]

May God watch over Eli Israel; and if we cannot summon God, then let us watch over him ourselves.

The US.-led invasion into Iraq and the occupation that continues to ensue in its wake constitute international crimes of war. This truth is widely known and accepted, supporting evidence abounds, and counterarguments have steadily diminished in strength; there is nothing left of meaningful, emotion-neutral dialogue

…and still the cannons blaze.

It is for want of willful action on the part of the people, not for insufficient knowledge or awareness, that the prominent decision makers responsible for this horrible conflict are still able to enjoy their privileges and prestige without fear of reprisal for the evil they have committed and the suffering they have caused. Innocent blood saturates the sands of the Middle East, replenished daily as every yesterdays’ victims fade into the searing heat, and survivors of the lost can be confident they’ll be soon to follow. This uninterrupted cycle of violence and injustice is enabled by the masses who suppress their sympathy and refuse their intervention, those who instead mouth empty platitudes of patriotism and allegiance to a war-loving god. There may be no hope in these masses.

The hope for justice, for the return to peace, rests solely in the potential and the willingness of men and women to act, to resist the repugnant but seductive leadership practices, and the cultural norms they seed, of a government that openly detests and deters foreign states’ right to self-determination and self-governance on their own terms.

We are fortunate, as citizens of a free democracy, to have such an opportunity for action; I am fortunate to write the things I write without fear for my own personal safety. I need fear nothing but the frustration that accompanies the exercise of free speech unmet by a forum of concerned citizens.

But not all are so lucky. Eli Israel, a soldier currently deployed in Iraq with the Kentucky National Guard, has discontinued his involvement in a conflict he believes is illegal and unjustified. This is the sort of precedent that can reestablish a global order of peace, recover global norms of nonintervention upon which stability is based, and at long last restore honor to the American identity. But without support, it cannot do any of these things. The precedent will wither and die if not taken up collectively and sustained by the people, by us.

People of comfort, such as ourselves, can do much to protect those brave few who have the strength and courage to boldly act on the front lines. Opportunities to act on the popular but abstract adage “Support our Troops” have never been clearer.

“Please rally whoever you can, call whoever you can, bring as much attention to this as you can. I have no doubt that the military will bury me and hide the whole situation if they can. I’m in big trouble. I’m in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by people who are not on my side. Please help me. Please contact whoever you can, and tell them who I am, so I don’t ‘disappear’”– Eli Israel

Post written by Daniel Black

Sustainability science at a glance, borrowed from the journal

Returning to the issue of alternative energy sources, a few noteworthy facts about ethanol and AAAS’s endorsement of it remain unaddressed. Consider ethanol in the context of another lucrative avenue for profit- generation touted by corporate tycoons as our culture’s salvation from oil- dependency; it has no realistic potential for providing a sustainable solution to our energy crisis. Whatever observable short-term gains we may acquire from its pursuit and achievement, we can be confident that the crisis will resurface. It is disheartening to observe that the traditional American approach to problem solving, “solution-via-consumption”, has been selected to rescue the natural world from peril. If this is the only model we’ve got, then perhaps we should cannibalize it. We must appreciate all that is at stake and proceed thoughtfully. Central to the issue of alternative energy is, as with any issue, the inherent interconnectedness and codependency of progressive causes.

Eradicating world poverty, ensuring universal access to quality health care, establishing peace and stability in conflict-ridden regions of the world, implementing social/political/economic models that protecting equality and fundamental human rights; these sorts of humanitarian endeavors do not succeed or fail in isolation, rather they influence one another intensely. This is why our commitment to these causes must be socially conscious and mutually intertwined on multiple fronts. Growing corn on unprecedented scales for the sole purpose of extracting its energy content is a self-defeating solution inasmuch as it is obscenely indifferent to the prevalence of persistent hunger in developing countries and the Third World, and in the arena of sustainable energy, this incontrovertible truth is significant.

Maybe you feel that allocating agricultural resources in this manner is acceptable, that thousands of children dying each day of starvation are making reasonable sacrifices for a new method of powering your car. If these egregious imbalances in human rights don’t bother you, then pursuing further discussion on the subject is pointless.

What ought to bother you, in any case, is the evidence that images such as corn escaping a gas pump on the wall of AAAS passively avoid but render painfully clear: that this direction, this technological azimuth if you will, is the one that our society shall take and that its support shall be generated through advertising.

These two precedents, though deep beneath the surface of the energy crisis, must be addressed openly in dialogue; people must be informed and conscious. While the aforementioned social issue, that of world hunger, may only concern one side of the debate, the greater issue of environmental preservation concerns all creatures universally. Environmental issues are not merely the poster subjects of far-left hippies that suffer as subjects of barroom jokes; they are the interest of all who have parented children and would like to see those kids someday raise a healthy brood of their own. They should concern all people who depend, daily, on the availability of clean drinking water, breathable air, and sufficient crop yields to sustain their existence.

Those individuals to whom these criteria do not apply may reasonably argue on the opposing side. It’s really just that simple; there can be no less partisan issue. Global sustainability is essentially the campaign to continue our species’ presence in our world’s ecological communities for all generations to come; it is the scientific equivalent to hope. Those who oppose it -whether for economic ideological disparity, corporate loyalty, deregulatory “free-market” interest, political affiliation, or the general liberal-bashing that lately seems to be in vogue- should be recognized for what they are: obstacles to the very preservation of our kind. What political camp advocates causes more important or urgent than the continuance of humanity?

– -Daniel Black

Protestors gathered on Capitol Hill this past Sunday to express their disapproval of U.S.-supported Israeli occupation of Palestine, an occupation that now exceeds 40 years. A small but diverse and lively crowd, the protestors collectively argued for adherence to applicable U.N. resolutions and international law, protection of Palestinians’ individual human rights and cultural right to self-determination, and the restoration of justice as a practical means of achieving peace.

On the other side of 3rd Street, a counterdemonstration of about 50 “pro-Israel” protestors gathered to express their disagreement. Oddly, these protestors argued for the same abstract principles as their counterparts up on the hill. They claimed to be on the side of peace, supporting democratic values and human rights, and their chief argument centered on denouncing violence and terrorism.

Both groups of protestors allege that truth and moral high-ground was on their side, exclusively. If two groups of people, so diametrically divided over something, forthrightly espouse the same interests, then how can there be conflict?

The conflict, as I understand it, is preordained simply because only one truthful and accurate historical record exists. Each argument, however, employs its own version of history, allowing each to claim fundamental superiority over the other, and on the same ostensible pretenses of justice. Either selective ignorance of historical events or outright dishonesty is at work in one (or both?) of these arguments. An open-minded and independent review of history is necessary in order to responsibly choose a side.

Respecting that the stance of the American Government has been continuously and unconditionally supportive of Israel for nearly 60 years, it is wise to look outside our own mainstream sources so as to eliminate bias. The results of such inquiry, I have found, are unpleasant for those sympathetic to the Israeli cause, and the arguments of the counterdemonstrators, I had noticed, bespeak shameful but silenced awareness. Consider the substance of their central arguments (and logical rebuttals):

1. Israel has the right to exist (this perspective is undisputed by the other side; it succeeds only in distracting people from the pertinent issues)

2. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East (ignoring this argument’s irrelevancy, for democracies are as capable of human rights abuses as any other government, it is a distortion of the truth. Many pro-Palestinian parties in the Middle East -alleged terrorist organizations by the U.S. and Israel- are characteristically democratic and have acquired legislative representation in Middle Eastern governments peacefully through free elections; it is typically the governments of the United States and Israel that behave undemocratically)

3. Israel departed the Gaza Strip but has sustained over 1000 rocket attacks since. (Israel also built a wall around Gaza, isolating its inhabitants from participation in social, cultural, and political life outside. In omitting Israeli violence, which claims the lives of nearly nine times as many children as Palestinian violence, this argument does not present any new information fairly or constructively. It also fails to address the issue of occupation in the West Bank and Golan Heights, far more strategic land areas than Gaza)

4. Israel is the only country that outlawed the use of torture (also irrelevant, also a distortion, it might be worth considering that confessions obtained through torture are admissible in Israeli courts -a different discussion point for a different debate)

5. The Israeli occupation of these territories constitutes “prophecy-fulfillment” (this is an ideological perspective, effortlessly refuted by presenting an opposite ideology that is also conveniently exempt from factual or logical support)

While my personal bias is unabashedly on the side of the Palestinians, I feel these talking points are worthy of examination from any angle. Recognize that as Americans, our culture is not neutral on this issue, that outside the United States and Israel, there is widespread disapproval of Israel’s human rights record, and that this is not a politically contentious issue in the international arena, where violations of international law affect political causes negatively.

-Daniel Black

For all the reasons to de-prioritize ethanol as an alternative source of energy (see An Unusual Sight, an Unexpected Choice), there is one solid truth that would explain why it might be pursued over the others in scientific research, the last disconcerting truth that piques my skepticism,

…ethanol, which already accounts for two percent of what’s mixed into our transportation fuels, promises growth for agribusiness that any stakeholder of any industry would die for, that is, if it becomes the alternative fuel of choice to replace oil.

This may be the deciduous factor between ethanol and all the others: a powerful lobby behind it. (Keep your eye on Presidential Candidate Barack Obama; Illinois stands to gain or lose a fortune on this issue).

Wealthy constituencies (and their handsomely-paid congressional representation) proceeding with their agendas independent of public health or environmental preservation concerns is commonplace, but to observe symptoms of such behavior in the American Association for the Advancement of Science is alarming. The organization is the largest society dedicated to the public advancement of science understanding in the world. It is not-for-profit, autonomous from government, and in addition to advancing science, it is (by self-report) dedicated to serving international society. From the minutes of its first ever meeting, now nearly 160 years ago, the organization committed its endeavor “not exclusively for the benefit of any nation or age.”

Within this large organization are numerous initiatives that reflect their commitment. Progressive programs to further the causes of human rights and social justice account for a great deal of what AAAS does. Specifically focusing on developing the public understanding and appreciation of science, especially among the world’s poorest, AAAS charters projects that ensure all people of the international community, independent of ethic or racial origin, geographic location, or political/ideological background, will be prepared for changes that accompany advances in technology and civilization. With an eye to our natural habitat, other projects focus on “sustainability“, and AAAS provides abundant scholarly resources, an international forum on sustainability science, research and project opportunities, and encouragement for widespread education and pro-environmental action.

For all these accomplishments, the AAAS has my admiration, but for endorsing ethanol, they cause me bewilderment. What of the billions of people in the developing world –cited on the AAAS website– that live in abject poverty? Shall we grow staple crops for their potential to power cars, not for their potential to feed the world’s poor? Are sustainable sources of energy less appealing than those that are profitable? Are these two issues, the issue of poverty and the issue of the environment, unrelated?

– -Daniel Black

Bike-riding down H street NW toward our nation’s capitol every morning, I frequently see an ear of corn, picked and shucked, protruding from a gas pump.  Intriguing, I suppose it must be, to the unfamiliar eye; captions underneath this unusual image invite the observer to learn more about alternative energy on the advertised website.  More specifically, the alternative energy ethanol on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The creative rendition appears on the south-facing wall of AAAS’s office building on New York Avenue, Washington D.C.

AAAS Building, Washington D.C.  With many initiatives underway to find an energy source that reduces dependency on foreign markets, decreases negative environmental ramifications, is renewable and sustainable, and carries few harmful side-effects on public health, this organization chose ethanol.  Several disconcerting truths pique my skepticism.  To name a few,

…ethanol provides a small amount of energy relative to the energy expenditures necessary to acquire and harness it.  The ratio is unfavorable and it is unlikely that science can significantly improve it;

…while appealing in that it will ameliorate our foreign dependency, there is scant hope for a long-term continuous supply of this energy source; a host of intervening variables impinge on its reliability that simply don’t affect the petroleum industry’s to say nothing of the fact that global warming effects and agricultural performance are most undesirably but undeniably intertwined;

…although substantially cleaner than fossil fuels, the combustion of ethanol is still combustion, and no doubt carries untold consequences if burned on the colossal scale that oil is today.  (easily dismissed as baseless, this perspective should be considered with an open mind; the best scientists a hundred years ago couldn’t have foreseen our current environmental turmoil from observing the running of a single gas-powered vehicle.  We should demand of ourselves and our representation this sort of forward-thinking)

Why would AAAS espouse this energy source, specifically and exclusively, on its wall?  Why does it seek support through the medium of street advertising?

– – Daniel Black