A lot is happening, not that you’d know it unless you’re paying attention.
The North Koreans are happily enriching uranium again, as are the Iranians. We’re in the middle of completely screwing over Honduras while ignoring what Venezuela is in the middle of doing.
And what is that you ask? Well the Washington Post fills us in:
But Mr. Chavez has clearly forged a bond with one leader who is as reckless and ambitious as he is: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The growing fruits of this relationship, and its potential consequences for U.S. security, have not gotten as much attention as they deserve.
Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.
Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been investigating the arrangements, says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”
“The opening of Venezuela’s banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles,” Mr. Morgenthau said in a briefing this week in Washington at the Brookings Institution. “The mysterious manufacturing plants, controlled by Iran deep in the interior of Venezuela, give even greater concern.”
Big deal. I mean, look at what Honduras has done.
Mr. Morgenthau’s report was brushed off by the State Department, which is deeply invested in the Chávez-is-no-threat theory. State “will look into” Mr. Morgenthau’s allegations, spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Chávez is off to Moscow, where, according to the Russian press, he plans to increase the $4 billion he has already spent on weapons by another $500 million or so. Mr. Chávez recently promised to buy “several battalions” of Russian tanks. Not a threat? Give him time.
And, of course, as a little jab at the US, Chavez recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia and buying tanks in Russia.
North Korea, as mentioned, is back to building nuclear bombs. But don’t worry, all the signs are present that they’re willing, once again, to do a little bartering. They’ve announced they’re open to two-party talks with the US. That means, they’ll talk and the US will pay for them to quit making bombs. And they’ll agree until the next time they need a little cash.
But don’t worry – Honduras is going to pay the price for their constitutional misbehavior. And besides, our president gets to play “King of the World” in a couple of weeks might even have the chance to give Moammar Qaddafi a hug while he is at it.
Yup – it’s looking good out there.
Yes, I’m again addressing presidential leadership, or the lack thereof. While it appears that President Obama has finally decided he has to “step up” in the health care insurance reform debate, he’s seems to be AWOL in that department concerning Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama lays it out pretty succinctly:
I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, “the good war” has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool’s errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration’s support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).
Of course the assumptions Abu makes in his paragraph above are only valid if there’s someone in charge and leading the effort. A decision was supposedly made in March, in terms of policy and goals, and the assumption was made it would be executed. But apparently that’s not the case. And, as in the case of health
care insurance reform, the evident lack of leadership has caused there to be a noticeable shift in the debate and a tremendous drop in support for the war effort. Again, a major policy issue is left to twist in the wind for lack of a leader.
Abu Muqawama, obviously recognizing this problem, throws out a solution:
What needs to happen? Well, first off, I guess we should decide what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. (Again, when we set about reviewing ISAF operations in June and July, we thought this question had already been resolved in March.) Once that question is settled, the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it’s understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.
This is a very critical issue that needs to be resolved now. That means the Commander-in-Chief needs to act like one and do what is necessary to resolve this policy issue. He needs to make a decision, give guidance to the proper agencies which directs them in how he wants his decision implemented and, finally, take responsibility for the war.
As a certain someone is learning, governing and actually leading is much harder than standing off to the side and tossing bricks while regaling everyone with how much better you could do the job. Thus far, the job performance has been anything but impressive.
Iran, as we all know, is a theocracy. That means Islamic law and thus Islamic clerics, have great influence. One of the clerics which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly consults, has recently laid out the Iranian version of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. It is rather revealing, both about the mentality of those that we’re fighting (and make no mistake, we’re engaged in a war with Iran, even if only through surrogates) and the religion they claim.
It appears, at least in the version of Shi’a Islam this cleric claims, that the use of rape, torture and drugs are perfectly permissible for use against enemies of that state – after ritual washing and proper prayers, of course.
“Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?” was the follow-up question posed to the Islamic cleric.
Mesbah-Yazdi answered: “The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it’s acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed.”
Lovely – religiously sanctioned rape and sodomy. And, of course in the case of Iran, that means state sanctioned rape.
These questions were apparently raised after allegations of rape surfaced in connection with election protesters the regime had jailed. Oh, and you’ll love this little disclaimer:
This reply, and reports of the rape of teen male prisoners in Iranian jails, may have prompted the following question: “Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?”
Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: “No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape.”
Because we certainly wouldn’t want anyone enjoying it – no word about what they’re supposed to do if the rapist enjoys it. Rinse and repeat, I suppose.
As for women?
A related issue, in the eyes of the questioners, was the rape of virgin female prisoners. In this instance, Mesbah-Yazdi went beyond the permissibility issue and described the Allah-sanctioned rewards accorded the rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam:
“If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi’ite holy city of] Karbala.”
What a job description – a “rapist-in-the-name-of-Islam” who, while committing what any other civilized country would consider a heinous crime punishable by life behind bars is promised “Allah sanctioned” pilgrimage equivalents, depending on the status of his helpless prisoner. Always a nice bonus to get your Haj credits while performing such a valuable service for the state.
As we rip ourselves apart debating the cruelty of blowing second-hand cigar smoke in the face of a detainee caught trying to kill Americans, consider what our adversaries gladly reveal about their own moral code. That’s not to condone or rationalize torture by our side. It is instead to provide a reality check for those who need it.
Iranians love to tell the world how they are one of the world’s oldest civilizations and will expound at length about the contributions their civilization has made to the rest of the world. While it’s true that Persia has indeed make a number of outstanding contributions over the centuries, modern Iran is a religiously warped and perverted state which apparently regularly churns out religious leaders such as this whack job. The problem is he’s not hidden away in some mental hospital jibbering only to some health care professional who shakes his head in amazement before quietly closing the door of his cell and leaving him there alone until the next session.
Instead he’s an adviser to the President of the country and what he says is being acted upon throughout the prisons and jails of Iran. What a miserable, awful place. It is hard to imagine living in a country in which religious leaders not only condone but encourage and incentivize the behavior you read about above, isn’t it?
For you lovers of the state, this is a cautionary tale – anything can be made legal, as demonstrated above. And, as a wise man once said, “the state is coercion”. The combination, unfortunately, can, and does, bring exactly what Iran now suffers.
As you recall when Honduras invoked its Constitution and kicked out its sitting president for violating it, President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica stepped forward and volunteered to act as an intermediary to help settle the “crisis”.
It was, apparently, only a “crisis” to those outside Honduras and now we’re beginning to understand why. It seems Arias wasn’t at all the honest broker everyone thought he was. Cato@Liberty reports:
President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has joined the trend in Latin America of calling for a new constitution that would expand executive powers and get rid of “unnecessary checks” on the president’s authority. Although Arias has less than 9 months left in office and can’t run for reelection, his brother and current minister of the presidency — a primer minister of sorts — has openly said he’s interested in running for president in 2014. A new constitution with expanded executive powers would fit him just fine.
But Arias is also apparently at war with the media which to this point is still free and able to oppose the changes for which Arias is calling. The Arias argument against the media sound very familiar:
However, the most disturbing aspect of Arias’ call was his harsh criticism of the media. Borrowing from the script of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Arias described news outlets as “corporations interested in making a profit” that don’t necessarily pursue the “public good.” He asked the media to “tone down” its criticism of government officials, and said that journalists “should understand their role within a higher framework.” He complained that news outlets claim to represent the public interest, without any control or accountability.
This is precisely the formula followed by the new leftist despots in Central and South America. Use the system to subvert the system and expand the executive’s power to a defacto dictatorship. The first step, of course, is to rewrite the country’s constitution to abet their grab for power. And, of course, along the way it is critical that they silence and then control the media.
This formula isn’t a hard one to discern, and the the result is obvious. Despotic governments imposing ruinous socialism while a muted press is powerless to do anything about it.
And where is the US is all of this? Busily engaged in undermining the one government, Honduras, which has actually stepped up to thwart the formula and enforce its constitution.
The US should be on the side of self-determination and the rule of law. Instead, we’ve ended up on the side of power-grabbing future despots and potential ruling cliques of nepotism. How did this happen, and why hasn’t the national media shined its light on Arias’ interests in this dispute? Could it be that it would make Obama look like a bumbling fool on the international stage — or worse?
Good questions with no easy answers. However, one has to wonder why the media hasn’t gotten into the details of what is happening in Honduras and why it is so heavily opposed by the players in the region, such as Chavez, Ortega and Correa. There’s an unacknowledged revolution going on which is neither good for the people of the region nor good for the US and we seem to be not only blind to the fact, but implicitly and perhaps unknowingly aiding it. And now we find Arias too is a player.
Honduras is the only country in the region saying “no” to the trend and they’re under increasingly heavy fire to give in. In fact reports now say the Obama administration is contemplating cutting off foreign aid to Honduras unless they reinstall Mel Zelaya in the presidency. The willing ignorance the US is displaying concerning the problem in Honduras cannot be seen as anything but pandering to the likes of Chavez, Correa and Castro. It certainly isn’t based in respect for a nation’s laws and their right to self-determination – and that certainly makes the Obama administration look foolish on the international stage.
There was a bit of a push-back a week or so ago on Twitter by Brits who wanted us to quit dissing their National Health Service and to say how very happy they were with it. However a report from the Patients Association seems to beg to differ with the happy Twits. They’ve found that the care provided within the NHS is really nothing to brag about:
In the last six years, the Patients Association claims hundreds of thousands have suffered from poor standards of nursing, often with ‘neglectful, demeaning, painful and sometimes downright cruel’ treatment.
The charity has disclosed a horrifying catalogue of elderly people left in pain, in soiled bed clothes, denied adequate food and drink, and suffering from repeatedly cancelled operations, missed diagnoses and dismissive staff.
The Patients Association said the dossier proves that while the scale of the scandal at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust – where up to 1,200 people died through failings in urgent care – was a one off, there are repeated examples they have uncovered of the same appalling standards throughout the NHS.
Interestingly, much of the complaining has to do with the nurses in the system:
While the criticisms cover all aspects of hospital care, the treatment and attitude of nurses stands out as a repeated theme across almost all of the cases.
Claire Rayner, President of the Patients Association and a former nurse, said:“For far too long now, the Patients Association has been receiving calls on our helpline from people wanting to talk about the dreadful, neglectful, demeaning, painful and sometimes downright cruel treatment their elderly relatives had experienced at the hands of NHS nurses.
“I am sickened by what has happened to some part of my profession of which I was so proud.
“These bad, cruel nurses may be – probably are – a tiny proportion of the nursing work force, but even if they are only one or two percent of the whole they should be identified and struck off the Register.”
The charity has published a selection of personal accounts from hundreds of relatives of patients, most of whom died, following their care in NHS hospitals.
Now I have no idea how the government bureaucracy which is charged with hiring and firing medical personnel in the UK works, but it is a bureaucracy and I’m sure it has a very long and difficult procedure that is required before anyone can be let go. Additionally, my guess is that the UK suffers from a nursing shortage just like most of the rest of the world. So it is my guess – and that’s all it is – that the nurses cited in the report, which they claim are probably a “tiny proportion”, have been complained about for years. I’d further guess that should another report be authored in another 5 years by the Patients Association, the same complaints received now will be received then because, given the shortage and difficult procedure necessary to fire a nurse, the same nurses will be working and performing just as they have in the past.
But that’s just me guessing based on my experience with government bureaucracies. And, I’d further assert that it is and always will be a systemic problem with any government bureaucracy.
Honduras continues to refuse to buckle to international pressure to restore constitutionally ousted leader Manuel Zelaya. The latest rejection came from the Honduran Supreme Court:
Honduras’s supreme court has rejected a Costa Rica-brokered deal to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya to power and ordered his arrest if he returns.
The ruling also affirmed the legitimacy of the government of interim leader Roberto Micheletti.
The move comes on the eve of a planned visit by a delegation from the Organisation of American States (OAS), which backs the Costa Rican proposal.
It is unclear if the court ruling will affect the delegation’s plans.
The court reminded Mr Zelaya that he faces several charges – including crimes against the government, treason, and abuse of power – and would be subject to trial if he re-entered the country.
Citing their own constitution, the court declared Zelaya’s ouster legitimate and Micheletti’s ascension to power as “constitutional succession”.
I know this has been tough sledding for Honduras, but I have to admit a sense of pride in a country which sticks up for its constitution in such a way and refuses to be intimidated by those who would be happy to see it torn up and ignored.
Remember the uproar on the left about “rendition” and how that sort of thing was simply “un-American”, unconstitutional and a legal travesty? I’m not going to pretend I don’t agree with many of the arguments made then. But that’s not the point of this post.
The point is how the left was again punked by the man in the White House. Recall this from the Obama campaign website:
“From both a moral standpoint and a practical standpoint, torture is wrong. Barack Obama will end the use torture without exception. He also will eliminate the practice of extreme rendition, where we outsource our torture to other countries.”
As a candidate last year, President Obama vowed to end “the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries.”
And 7 days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting the CIA from conducting “extraordinary rendition”.
But last week a Lebanese man was snatched by the FBI in Afghanistan. His claims sound faintly familiar. He charges he was stripped naked, subjected to a cavity search and photographed among other things:
In court papers, Azar said he was denied his eyeglasses, not given food for 30 hours and put in a freezing room after his arrest by “more than 10 men wearing flak jackets and carrying military style assault rifles.”
Azar also said he was shackled and forced to wear a blindfold, dark hood and earphones for up to 18 hours on a Gulfstream V jet that flew him from Bagram air base, outside Kabul, to Virginia.
Before the hood was put on, he said, one of his captors waved a photo of Azar’s wife and four children and warned Azar that he would “never see them again” unless he confessed.
“Frightened for his immediate safety . . . and under the belief he would end up in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to be tortured,” Azar signed a paper he did not understand, his lawyers told the court.
His crime? Terrorism? A Taliban leader? A person making terroristic threats? Someone who had engaged in combat against Americans?
Well sort of – he apparently inflated some invoices. And the Obama administration was out to serve warning that they just weren’t going to put up with that.
Now, I recognize that we only have his word about what was done to him, and he could certainly be embellishing certain aspects of his incarceration for effect, but the FBI admits to part of it apparently feeling that this invoice padder was a threat on a par with Osama bin Laden and should be treated accordingly:
Prosecutors, however, said that Azar was “treated professionally,” kept in a heated room, offered food and water repeatedly and “provided with comfortable chairs to sit in.”
They said he was photographed naked and subjected to a cavity search to ensure that he did not carry hidden weapons and was fit for travel. Court records confirmed that Azar was shackled at the ankles, waist and wrists and made to wear a blindfold, hood and earphones aboard the plane.
Prosecutors also said that FBI agents read Azar his rights against self-incrimination on three occasions, and that he “voluntarily” waived them.
The FBI agent in charge, Perry J. Goerish, denied in an affidavit that Azar was “told he would never see his family again unless he confessed.”
Additionally an accomplice who was arrested with him has not made similar charges, but has pled guilty to those charges.
But the bottom line is a foreign national was snatched in Afghanistan, shackled, blindfolded and whisked off to an undisclosed location (it ended up being the US) and, in effect, treated just like the terrors suspects the CIA had taken previously.
Yet the LA Times decides:
Their case is different from the widely criticized “extraordinary renditions” carried out after the Sept. 11 attacks. In those cases, CIA teams snatched suspected Al Qaeda members and other alleged terrorists overseas and flew them, shackled and hooded, to prisons outside the United States without any arrest warrants or other judicial proceedings.
Ah, well, there you go – this apparently was legal, so, you know, that makes it all okay. Pretty much exactly the same thing except this time there was a legal veneer to help everyone, to include the LA Times, declare this case is “different”.
Yeah? Seems just like old times to me.
OK, not precisely, but you could infer that from remarks made by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez:
“President Obama is lost in the Andromeda Nebula, he has lost his bearings, he doesn’t get it,” he said.
His remarks were apparently a reaction to something Obama said about the situation in Honduras as well as Latin America as a whole:
Last week Obama said critics of U.S. involvement in Latin America who are now asking Washington to do more to restore the ousted president of Honduras “can’t have it both ways.”
Saying you can’t ask for help on the one hand and then demand the US get out of Latin America on the other apparently makes you a space cadet lost in “the Andromeda Nebula”.
“We are not asking you to intervene in Honduras, Obama. On the contrary, we are asking that “the empire” get its hands off Honduras and get its claws out of Latin America,” Chavez said in a rambling weekly television and radio show.
Well so far so good on improving relations in Latin America. Of course, if you read the article, you’ll see that Reuters goes out of its way to make the case that this is all a side-show and in fact, Chavez thinks Obama is ok. I guess, like the reporting on the economy in which the media finds negative numbers that aren’t as negative as expected to be good news, this somehow qualifies as good news on the foreign relations front.
At least in Venezuela. Apparently the game of golf is the latest thing under assault in the socialist paradise Hugo Chavez is fashioning:
After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.
“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on, mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.
Meanwhile, the rubber-stamp National Assembly passed a bill that will broaden the state’s control of what is taught in schools:
The bill would order schools to base curricula on what it calls “the Bolivarian Doctrine” — a vague reference to ideals espoused by 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, such as national self-determination and Latin American unity.
Or, more simply said – socialism. Unsurprisingly, it has generated protests a colleges and universities – not that Chavez cares.
Meanwhile, as the economy continues to tank, Chavez is using the dictator’s normal first choice to divert attention from economic problems – claiming there is an external threat.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday raised tensions with Colombia over a U.S. troop plan, accusing his neighbor of sending an army patrol over their Orinoco River border and ending a Colombian gasoline subsidy.
Chavez made his remarks on the eve of a regional summit in Ecuador, where the persistent Washington critic will try to fuel opposition to a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to seven of its military bases.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch U.S. ally, says the troop plan is necessary to fight drug traffickers. But Chavez claims a greater U.S. presence in the region is a direct threat to him and risks sparking war in South America.
Where have we seen all of his before? And how predictable is this as well?
Poor Venezuela – they’ve got a tiger by the tail and they’re in for an awful ride. They’ve allowed this goon Chavez to manipulate the democratic process into autocratic rule and he’s now developed into not just a threat to the freedom and liberty of his own citizens, but a threat to other nations.
Anyone can see this isn’t going to end well. I feel for the people of Venezuela.
Katherine Jean Lopez had this to say the other day at The Corner:
Yesterday, at a rally for R. Creigh Deeds in Virginia, President Obama said: “I don’t want the folks who created the mess do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”
For Barack Obama, democracy appears to be a distraction. He really does seem to view himself as a Caesar.
Shortly after taking office, Obama held a meeting with governors. At the time, one person in the room relayed Obama’s request that critics and skeptics of the stimulus plan keep their concerns to themselves. Just let me do it, was his attitude. He got pushback and he wasn’t happy. He wanted democratically elected state governors to shut up so he could do as he pleased. He knows better and we should respect that, seems to be the attitude.
There seems to be quite a bit more of an authoritarian streak in Barack Obama than one might think. I was willing to dismiss the first statement at the Deeds event as a little red meat for the locals. But I wasn’t aware of the second incident, which makes dismissing the first a little less likely.
Then this story coincidentally showed up which adds fuel to the fire:
President Obama has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions of bills enacted into law since he took office, provoking mounting criticism by lawmakers from both parties.
Apparently Obama feels much the same as his predecessor did about the laws passed by Congress – he doesn’t have to obey provisions he doesn’t care for:
They were reacting to a statement Mr. Obama issued after signing a bill that expanded assistance to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank while requiring the administration to pressure the organizations to adopt certain policies. Mr. Obama said he could disregard the negotiation instructions under his power to conduct foreign relations.
Other laws Mr. Obama has said he need not obey as written include format requirements for budget requests, limits on whom he may appoint to a commission, and a restriction on putting troops under United Nations command.
While there is some argument to be made about Congress getting into the foreign relations area, there’s certainly none which should arise from budget questions or other domestic legal considerations. However, there is a very easy way for Obama to confront Congress over areas he thinks they overstep their bounds – veto the bill. Instead, displaying that authoritarian streak, he chooses to disregard the law and do what he wants to do through a signing statement.
All of this after calling Bush’s use of signing statements “abuse” and promising much greater restraint than practiced in the previous administration. Thus far, at least according to a Democratic Congress, no such restraint has been practiced and it appears Congress deems his use to date just as “abusive” as they did George Bush’s use of signing statements.
Two things are obvious, at least to me – one, he has an agenda and he doesn’t like anyone standing in his way as he tries to accomplish it, to include the law. And two, he’s a glib pretender when it comes to bi-partisan ship or opposition in general. He wants none. The two statements highlighted by Lopez above are simply extended examples of his “I won” quote (and the not so subtle but implied “so shut up”) Obama gave not long after taking office.
Lopez entitled her NRO posting, “American Caesar”. The more I watch this guy operate, the more I’m coming to believe she may have a point.