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The Daily Journal: January 4, 2007

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Their turn to screw up

Capitol Crucible
Return of the Democrats

And renewed respect for the middle class? At least that's what Democrats are promising with their 233-202 majority in the House, and 51-49 majority in the Senate. From The Times: Jubilant Democrats took the gavels in the Senate and House today for the first time in 12 years, pledging a new era in Congress and a new effort at bipartisan progress. “I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California after her election as the first woman in the nation’s history to be Speaker of the House. [...] Ms. Pelosi made it quite clear earlier that her party intends to flex its newly acquired muscle. [...] Throwing a dart at Republicans, she envisioned “a new direction that is there for all of the people, not just the privileged few,” a direction that “builds and strengthens the middle class.” As Ms. Pelosi assumed power, her predecessor sat quietly at his desk. Representative J. Dennis Hastert, who turned 65 on Tuesday, is now just a Republican congressman from Illinois, out of the Speaker’s chair and out of the leadership. [...] Ahead lie issues that have deeply divided the lawmakers and their constituents: Iraq, immigration and stem-cell research, for instance. A major question is how far the Democrats will try to go in rolling back what the Republicans did in their 12 years in power, like cutting taxes and trimming government regulation. [...] Iraq looms as probably the most divisive issue on Capitol Hill -- “probably the most unsuccessful implementation of a foreign policy in my lifetime, perhaps in history,” Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the new House majority leader, called it in an interview on MSNBC. Yes, Mr. Hoyer acknowledged, President Bush will get an additional 20,000 troops for the Iraq war, since many Democrats, including Mr. Hoyer himself, see a need for more troops. But, Mr. Hoyer said pointedly, “We need to find out specifically what he wants to do with those troops.”" The full story...

Good. Send more of them into a fire no one can control, no one has any idea how to control, In other words, as far as the Iraq war is concerned it's business as usual.

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A Reporter's Journey
Return to Baghdad

McClatchy Newspapers' Hannah Allam compares the Iraq she left a year ago to what it's become today: "When I was last here in 2005, it took guts and guards, but you could still travel to most anywhere in the capital. Now, there are few true neighborhoods left. They're mostly just cordoned-off enclaves in various stages of deadly sectarian cleansing. Moving trucks piled high with furniture weave through traffic, evidence of an unfolding humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Iraqis. The Sunni-Shiite segregation is the starkest change of all, but nowadays it seems like everything in Baghdad hinges on separation. There's the Green Zone to guard the unpopular government from its suffering people, U.S. military bases where Iraqis aren't allowed to work, armored sedans to shield VIPs from the explosions that kill workaday civilians, different TV channels and newspapers for each political party, an unwritten citywide dress code to keep women from the eyes of men. Attempts to bring people together have failed miserably. I attended a symposium called "How to Solve Iraq's Militia Problem," but the main militia representatives never showed up and those of us who did were stuck inside for hours while a robot disabled a car bomb in the parking lot. [...] On one of my first days back, I took a little tour with my Iraqi colleagues to get reacquainted with the capital. We decided to stay on the eastern Shiite side of the Tigris River rather than play Russian roulette in the Sunni west. Even on the relatively "safe" side of the river, a dizzying assortment of armed men roamed freely. In the space of an hour, we encountered the Badr Organization militia, the Mahdi Army militia, the Kurdish peshmerga militia, the Iraqi police, interior ministry commandos, the Iraqi military, American troops, the Oil Protection Force, the motorcade of a Communist Party official and Central Bank guards escorting an armored van." The full story...

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Bush Snoops Again
Will Search Mail Without Warrant

The guy knows no bounds. But then we knew that already. It's just a matter of discovering how far he'll go. From the New York Daily News: "President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned. The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions. That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. Bush's move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise. "Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill. Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail. "The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington. "The danger is they're reading Americans' mail," she said. "You have to be concerned," agreed a career senior U.S. official who reviewed the legal underpinnings of Bush's claim. "It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we've ever known." [...] Critics point out the administration could quickly get a warrant from a criminal court or a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to search targeted mail, and the Postal Service could block delivery in the meantime. But the Bush White House appears to be taking no chances on a judge saying no while a terror attack is looming, national security experts agreed. Martin said that Bush is "using the same legal reasoning to justify warrantless opening of domestic mail" as he did with warrantless eavesdropping." The full story...

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Bill of Wrongs
10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations of 2006

Even in India, Bush had few friends on Thursday

From Slate:

  • 10. Attempt to Get Death Penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui
  • 9. Guantanamo Bay
  • 8. Slagging the Media
  • 7. Slagging the Courts
  • 6. The State-Secrets Doctrine
  • 5. Government Snooping
  • 4. Extraordinary Rendition
  • 3. Abuse of Jose Padilla
  • 2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006
  • 1. Hubris

See 's detailed explanations here...

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The Ashley Story
Disabled. Frozen. Ethical?

From the UK Guardian: "Ashley's parents call her their Pillow Angel, a moniker that is a reference to the love and joy they feel for their nine-year-old daughter and the severe disabilities she has suffered from birth. She cannot sit up, walk or talk, is fed by tube, and, as her parents put it, "stays right where we place her - usually on a pillow". Ashley won't know this, as she is brain-damaged and has the awareness, her doctors say, of a baby, but she has become the subject of a passionate argument in disability circles and beyond. Her name is becoming synonymous with the debate about the acceptable limits of medical intervention in the care of disabled people. The cause of the controversy is the "Ashley Treatment" - a course of surgery and hormone supplements devised for her at her parents' request and with the blessing of doctors - that will for ever keep her small. It involves surgical operations, including a hysterectomy, and hormone prescriptions that will, in effect, freeze-frame her body at its current size. Although she has a normal life expectancy, she will, physically, always be nine years old. Her growth has been suspended at 4ft 5in (1.3 metres), rather than the 5ft 6in she would probably otherwise have become. Her weight will stick at around 75lb (34kg) rather than 125lb. [...] Three years ago she began to show early signs of puberty, and they grew anxious about the impact of fertility and of her rapidly increasing size and weight on the quality of her life. In discussions with doctors at Seattle Children's hospital they devised the treatment: removal of Ashley's uterus to prevent fertility, excision of early buds on her chest so that she would not develop breasts, and medication with high doses of oestrogen to limit her growth by prematurely fusing the growth plates of her bones. The parents insist that the treatment, carried out in 2004, was conceived for Ashley's benefit and not their own ease or convenience. With a lighter body and no breasts, Ashley will have fewer bed sores and lie more comfortably. And a smaller Ashley can be cared for and carried. [...] But as news about the treatment became known, Ashley's parents were surprised by the virulence of some of the response. Comments on chatboards have included: "Ouch - this smacks of eugenics"; "I find this offensive, truly a milestone in our convenience society"; "This smells, I can't agree with this". Outrage has also been expressed by organisations representing disabled people across the US, with many asking why a course of treatment that would not be countenanced for an able-bodied person should be allowed in this case." See the full story...

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Totalitarian Hold-Out
Kim Jong Il's Korea

His own biggest fan

The Christian Science Monitor today starts off a two-part series on North Korea, the world's stand-by boogey-nation. Relevant excerpts: "Certainly, Kim has become a skillful player on the world stage. He retains firm hold of the most totalitarian state on earth. His nation has survived an epic famine. Kim has astutely nullified a dawning realization among his people that the world beyond North Korea's borders is a better place. He's even created a new image for himself at home - not as a towering patriarch - but as a figure of sympathy, a beleaguered, America-taunted leader who eats soldier's gruel and deserves care by the masses. He's played a smart propaganda game in South Korea, where some elites admire him as a nationalist torchbearer for "true Korean-ness," and for outwitting the great powers. Now, Kim has tested a nuclear weapon - the eighth nation to publicly do so - and has developed a ballistic missile program. [...] Kim is a bit unsure, frightened of China and the US, and may suffer from a learning disability. Kim's sister-in-law told a diplomat that Kim is "often timid." His father may not have offered him much respect. [...] Yet Kim reportedly micromanages the entire country. His state is a hermetically sealed cult that allows no debate; even top generals and their extended families undergo loyalty tests. A half-dozen concentration camps hold 200,000 inmates, a dozen intelligence units spy on the people and each other. North Korea has the world's fifth-largest army." The full story...

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Un Montage par Murat
Henri Cartier-Bresson
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Postcard from the Cyclades
Shards of an Ancient Ritual

From The Australian: "Unlike its larger, postcard-perfect Aegean Sea neighbours, Keros is a tiny rocky dump inhabited by a single goatherd. But the barren islet had great significance for the mysterious Cycladic people, a sophisticated pre-Greek civilisation with no written language that flourished 4500 years ago and produced strikingly modern-looking artwork. A few kilometres from the bustling resorts of Mykonos and Santorini, Keros is a vast repository of art from the seafaring culture whose flat-faced marble statues inspired the work of 20th-century masters Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Out of all the documented statues - known as Cycladic figurines - in museums and collections worldwide, more than half were found there. New excavations by a Greek-British team of archaeologists have unearthed a cache of prized prehistoric statues, all deliberately broken, that could help finally solve the Keros riddle. When they were unearthed, the white marble shards were jumbled close together like a pile of bleached bones: an elbow here, a leg there, occasionally a head. British excavation leader Colin Renfrew, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Cambridge University, believes Keros was a hugely important religious site where the smashed artwork was ceremoniously deposited. "What we do have clearly is what must be recognised as the earliest regional ritual centre in the Aegean," he says. This could put it on a par with the sacred islet of Delos, also in the Cyclades, revered from early antiquity until Christian times as the birthplace of Apollo, god of music and light. However, the finds on Keros date to about 1500 years before the cult of Apollo started on Delos." The full story...

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