China Propping Up Dictatorships

| Wed Mar. 15, 2006 3:42 PM EST

Tim Johnson of Knight Ridder takes a look today at how China has been propping up the military junta in Burma (now, of course, called Myanmar by those who run the country) through trade and other economic ties:

China has a habit of coddling repressive regimes. In places such as Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe and Myanmar, all under some type of international sanction, China has stepped in with diplomatic protection, usually in exchange for market access for its goods or a stake in oil fields or other natural resources.

Yet in remote corners such as this one, snug against the hilly frontier with the nation once known as Burma, China is resisting global efforts to end a decades-old military dictatorship. How China deals with Myanmar reflects how it wields its power in the early 21st century. It seems more than a little bizarre to refer to the Myanmar government as a "decades-old military dictatorship" without noting that the junta's currently carrying out genocide—or something very, very close to it—against ethnic minorities in the eastern part of the country. (See Nicholas Thompson's excellent report in Legal Affairs last year about one man's attempts to raise awareness about this issue.) All the same, this is a serious issue.

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Abizaid on our long-term vision for a military presence in Iraq

| Wed Mar. 15, 2006 3:27 PM EST

Can you say "permanent bases"? Gen. John Abizaid can.

The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil, the Army general overseeing U.S. military operations in Iraq said on Tuesday.

While the Bush administration has downplayed prospects for permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid told a House of Representatives subcommittee he could not rule that out.

..."Clearly our long-term vision for a military presence in the region requires a robust counter-terrorist capability," Abizaid said. "No doubt there is a need for some presence in the region over time primarily to help people help themselves through this period of extremists versus moderates."

Abizaid also said the United States and its allies have a vital interest in the oil-rich region.

"Ultimately it comes down to the free flow of goods and resources on which the prosperity of our own nation and everybody else in the world depend," he said.

Last year, Joshua Hammer, writing in Mother Jones, wondered why the U.S. government was spending billions of dollars to build "enduring" bases in Iraq if it didn't plan to occupy the country for any longer than necessary. And, more recently, Tom Engelhardt brought us up to date with this piece on the "massive and ongoing" U.S. base construction there.

U.S. steps up its aerial bombing campaign

| Wed Mar. 15, 2006 10:22 AM EST

Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter confirms that, as predicted, the US has stepped up its air war in Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - American forces have dramatically increased airstrikes in Iraq during the past five months, a change of tactics that may foreshadow how the United States plans to battle a still-strong insurgency while reducing the number of U.S. ground troops serving here.

A review of military data shows that daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year.

In addition to the obvious and extremely serious moral downside here--air strikes obliterate civilians in large numbers--the piece notes some practical drawbacks to relying on aerial bombings at the expense of combat patrols.

In the town of Samarra, for example, insurgents last month were able to spend several hours rigging explosives in the dome of a Shiite shrine that they later destroyed, in part because American troops patrolled less. The shrine's destruction triggered a week of sectarian violence that killed hundreds. U.S. soldiers interviewed in Samarra three weeks earlier said patrols in the city had been significantly reduced because the number of troops had been reduced by two-thirds.

(Not that the combat patrols were working out that great.) And then there's the hearts-and-minds dimension.

A tribal sheik who lives on the outskirts of the troubled Anbar town of Ramadi, who asked that he be identified as Abu Tahseen instead of by his full name out of fear of possible retribution, said that the strikes create more insurgents than they kill because of the region's tribal dictates of revenge.

"They (the Americans) think: `As long as there are resistance fighters operating in this spot, we will wipe it out entirely,'" Abu Tahseen said, using the term for insurgents favored by Iraqis sympathetic to their cause. "As you know, our nature is a tribal one, and so if one from us is killed, we kill three or four in return."

Good for Knight Ridder for taking the elementary trouble to compile the statistics from press releases provided by the U.S. Central Command. Though the U.S. air war in Iraq has gained a bit more media attention since Seymour Hersh took it up in the New Yorker last December, the topic is generally little covered--except by the likes of Dahr Jamail and Tom Engelhardt.

Israel's Iran options?!

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 8:18 PM EST

Crazy talk on Iran by way of the Jerusalem Post:

The Pentagon is looking into the possibility of Israel launching a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. In the past months there were several working-level discussions trying to map out the possible scenarios for such an attack, according to administration sources who were briefed on these meetings.

...One of the questions Pentagon analysts are grappling with is how an Israeli attack - if launched - would affect the US and its forces in the region and whether it would force the US to follow with further strikes in order to complete the mission. The US is also discussing what could be the possible avenues of retaliation Iran would take against US's forces and interests in the region.

Well, I don't think you have to grapple very long before concluding that the Iranian response--in Israel as in Iraq--would be fairly robust; and that the Iranians are not apt to make any great distinction between Israeli and U.S. aggression. (Why start now, after all?)

Elsewhere, in congressional testimony, an expansive Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently considered loopy options short of all-out airstrikes.

If force were to be necessary, the options are much broader than an air raid like that which Israel mounted in 1981 against Iraq's Osiraq reactor. For instance, Israel put a stop to Egypt's missile program in the early 1960s by arranging the sudden premature death of German scientists working on those missiles in Egypt. Iran's nuclear program is a series of sophisticated, large industrial plants which could encounter industrial accidents.

Women, Men, and Money

Tue Mar. 14, 2006 6:14 PM EST

According to this month's Money Magazine, finances still cause strife in many marriages.

Okay, so this shouldn't be news to anyone. But what is notable is that the majority of the couples surveyed divide their financial responsibility along very traditional gender lines. Women tend to be responsible for determining daily spending while their husbands plan long-term investments, retirements etc. According to the magazine, dividing duties up this way doesn't necessarily foster communication:

States Take On Electoral College

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 4:05 PM EST

If you're one of those (totally awesome) people who are obsessed with improving our electoral system, this should come as good news. The New York Times reports on an innovative new state-level campaign to abolish the electoral college:

Past attempts to abolish the Electoral College by amending the Constitution have run into difficulty. But National Popular Vote, which includes several former members of Congress, is offering an ingenious solution that would not require a constitutional amendment. It proposes that states commit to casting their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. These promises would become binding only when states representing a majority of the Electoral College signed on. Then any candidate who won the popular vote would be sure to win the White House.
Come to think of it, had John Kerry won 60,000 extra votes in Ohio in 2004—or not been robbed by Diebold, if that was, you know, the case—and won the presidency while losing the popular vote, there finally would have been a serious bipartisan push to abolish the electoral college. (Okay, that wouldn't have been the only upside to a Kerry victory, but still.) Now no one seems to care, though.

Bear in mind, the possibility that a popular-vote winner could lose an election isn't the only downside to having an electoral college. (Among other things, it forces presidential candidates to pander only to a few select "swing" states.) I tried to lay out the full case against our totally outdated and arbitrary way of picking presidents a while back and still think most of that still holds up. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but it would be nice to fix it finally.

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Iraq Body Count Continues to Rise

Tue Mar. 14, 2006 3:45 PM EST

The bodies of 87 people were discovered in Iraq over the last twenty-four hours. All were killed execution-style, with 29 of them found partially naked in a stacked grave. This is the second wave of mass killings since the bombing of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra several weeks ago. Sectarian violence continues to rage, and Shiites living in primarily Sunni areas are abandoning their homes in fear for their safety.

President Bush, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, is starting to acknowledge the threat of civil war. "I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth," he said. "It will not. There will be more tough fighting and more days of struggle, and we will see more images of chaos and carnage in the days and months to come." As civil unrest continues to take its toll on Iraqi civilians, the Iraqi government is still struggling to adapt to the new distribution of power, as the Sunnis (once powerful under Saddam Hussein), are now governed by the Shiites. And the Shiites, who have been shut out of power for the past 14 centuries, are not about to give that up just yet.

Meanwhile, the CNN/Gallup poll found today that the war in Iraq has driven Bush's approval rating to the lowest of his presidency—36 percent. With approval ratings so low, the pressure is on the administration to try to pull out some of the 130,000 troops in Iraq, before the midterm elections.

Canada has its warmest winter ever, and other global warming news

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 3:39 PM EST

Looks like there might be something to this global warming stuff after all. Here's AP:

TORONTO — The winter of 2005-06 has been Canada's warmest on record and the federal agency Environment Canada said Monday that it was investigating whether it was a sign of global warming.

From December through February, which is considered meteorological winter, the country was 3.9 degrees above normal — the warmest winter season since temperatures were first recorded here in 1948.

Environment Canada climatologist Bob Whitewood said it smashed the previous record set in 1987 by 0.9 degrees.

....Whitewood said the last 10 winters had been warmer than normal and along with this winter reflect a trend that could be explained as global warming.

Hmm, yes, I can see how he might infer that.

Hockey-playing Canadians are said to be "disappointed" about thinner ice. No comment from the thousands of pregnant seals "forced to give birth on shore by unusually mild weather that has prevented the Gulf of St. Lawrence from freezing."

Apropos, it's been at least a day since we last drew attention to this Mother Jones story about the plight of adorable polar bears doomed to (probable) extinction thanks to pollution and global warming. (Their Arctic home is literally melting beneath their feet.)

In other climate change news, NASA has roused itself long enough to tout a survey it says confirms "climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in Earth's largest storehouses of ice and snow." The story has an agency researcher noting an "internal NASA allow scientists greater freedom." Which, if true--and don't count on it--will be quite the cultural shift.

New national security guidelines reflect significant semantic changes

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 10:45 AM EST

At the end of last year, National Security Advisor Stehpen Hadley did some word tinkering with the "Adjunctive Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information." The result is that the government now has broader, vaguer power to deny information to those seeking it. The overall change puts emphasis on loyalty to the U.S. government, and allows those holding information to look at various "suspect" factors rather than singling out a specific violation as grounds for denying classified information. It also places particular burdens on gay citizens that did not exist before.

For example, in addition to the already existing requirements for U.S. loyalty--things such a voting in a foreign election or expressing a desire to divest oneself of American citizenship--the new version says that the vocalization of allegiance to another country disqualifies a person from receiving information.

Under the category of "personal conduct," Hadley has added:

Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include: credible adverse information that is not explicitly covered under any other guideline and may not be sufficient by itself for an adverse determination, but which, when combined with all available information supports a whole-person assessment of questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations, or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information.

Deliberately providing "false or misleading" information to an employer could also disqualify a person from receiving classified information under the revised guidelines.

And under "psychological conditions," there is a definition of "adverse behavior":

Behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment… that is not covered under any other guideline" is now a condition that could render an individual unfit for approval.

However, a former sentence that would permit access to be denied because of "reliable, unfavorable information from neighbors or coworkers" has been removed.

In the area of leaks, the earlier version of the document listed one condition that could arouse a security concern; the current version lists nine, many of which are related to computer technology, and some of which are related to efforts to gain information "outside one's need to know."

The 1997 version stated that sexual orientation "may not be used" to disqualify applicants, but Hadley's new version states that clearances cannot be denied "solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual." Also, the 1997 version eliminated "adverse sexual behavior" from disqualifying an individual if the behavior was "not recent." However, the new version states that the behavior cannot be used for disqualification if it "happened so long ago, so infrequently, and under such unusual circumstances, that it is unlikely to recur."

In the "criminal conduct" section of the document, Hadley has removed the word "acquittal" from a list of factors to be considered in granting access to information. He has also added discharge from the military "under dishonorable conditions" as a reason to deny access. And though it was removed in the past, Hadley has re-instated the abuse of prescription drugs after a prolonged illness as a reason to deny access.

Contraceptive issue becomes hot in Connecticut

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 9:08 PM EST

20% of hospitals in Connecticut do not routinely offer contraceptives to all rape victims, but there is now a pending proposal that would make it illegal to not offer them. Rape counseling activists argue that not only should all hospitals provide contraception to rape victims, but that making women who are already traumatized go to another hospital or pharmacy to get them is contributing to their trauma.

The state has four Catholic hospitals which are, of course, opposed to offering contraception of any kind. What makes the Connecticut conflict interesting is that the state's Victim Advocate, James F. Papillo, is a Catholic, and is opposed to the proposed legislation, which he calls an "attack on religious freedom." Papillo's remarks resulted in calls for his resignation and also a reprimand from Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell. But--stay with me here--Rell has also said publicly that she is not sure the legislation is necessary.

To make matters even more interesting, Democratic senator Joe Lieberman has spoken out against the legislation, saying that he believes that hospitals who refuse to provide contraception "for principled reasons" should not be forced to do so. "In Connecticut," he said, "It shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital."