07 March 2006

China Touts Benefits of Plastic Trees

It was only a matter of time before Christmas was officially brought to you by Bejing's Foreign Minister in charge of mass-produced, pre-lit, spruce-like tree substitutes. The Register (U.K.) reports:
China has sought to demonstrate its environmental credentials and play down US fears over its economic muscle by pointing out that without it, the traditional American Christmas just wouldn’t happen.

Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, listing the benefits of US-China trade in Beijing today, said that an ever-growing forest of Chinese-made plastic Christmas trees not only brought joy to the world, but were preventing deforestation in the US itself, Reuters reports.

China isn't the first country to spring to mind when considering green policies. Apart from the somewhat smoggy impact of its rapid industrialization, its factories have recently developed a nasty habit of releasing toxic waste into major rivers.

Still, it clearly excels in the recycling of one commodity – justifications for its trade surplus with the US.

Today’s comments sounded eerily like a similar statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, back in Februay. According to Xhinua, Qin said "According to the documents I've read, the vast majority of Christmas gifts and trees are made by China.”

The sub-text is clear. “Back off, or your (made in Shanghai) stockings will be empty next year.”
Great. What's next, the Great Pumpkin is brought to you by the Cuban Peoples Gourd Collective?

Annan Says Coalition May Be Violating "Law"

Lord God King of the MoonBats, Kofi Annan, states that coalition and Iraqi defense forces may be illegally detaining thousands of people who really want to kill westerners or anyone else who doesn't think the way they do (o.k. the editorial addition was mine). The ASSociated Press reports:

U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraq's authorities may be violating international law by arbitrarily detaining thousands of people, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report published Tuesday.

The report, which studied the situation in Iraq over the last three months, said Iraq's prison system remains a major concern and lamented that an investigation into allegations of torture in Iraqi Interior Ministry jails had not yet been made public as promised.

Annan's criticism of Multinational Forces and the Iraqi authorities in responding to violence was among the strongest he has made, although many of his claims were not new. He said the detainment of thousands of Iraqis "constitutes de facto arbitrary detention."

"The extent of such practices is not consistent with provisions of international law governing internment on imperative reasons of security," the report said.

While Annan praised Iraq's December elections, he also noted a rise in sectarian strife and said attacks against places of worship were higher than ever. Baghdad's Forensic Institute alone received 787 bodies, 479 of which had gunshot wounds, since early December.

"Repeated bombings against civilians, mosques and more recently against churches are creating fear, animosity and feelings of revenge," Annan wrote.

Annan repeated his strong concern about a Feb. 22 bombing that destroyed the golden dome atop a Shiite shrine in the mainly Sunni city of Samarra. The attack set off two weeks of sectarian revenge attacks, mainly targeting Sunni mosques, clerics and neighborhoods.
Ah yes, International law. I forgot.

05 March 2006

Interview with U.S. Coast Guard Director of Port Security

On 3 March 2006, Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone, Director of Port Security, U.S. Coast Guard participated in an interactive interview with members of the public via Whitehouse.gov. The questions were obviously screened; however, the questions asked seemed to adequately address current concerns regarding port operations, as well as current Coast Guard operations. Whitehouse.gov reported:
Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be here today to entertain your questions. The purpose of the Coast Guard is to protect the public, both with regard to waterways as well as maritime safety, and serve the citizens of the United States. Often in the Coast Guard we say our job is to protect people from the sea in search and rescue operations and the sea from people, in regard to the environment. And so today, I know port security is on the minds of many of the people. I'm happy to answer any of the questions you might have.

Edward, from Chicago Illinois writes:
Given the current rate of protection at our ports, what is the likelihood of a terrorist group infiltrating our defenses and detonating an explosive device of great magnitude at one of our busiest ports? For example, using a speed boat to slide past our overburdened coast guard.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
In the Coast Guard we have established a system of layered security, so that first we can focus on identifying threats overseas, before they reach the United States. Second, we have numerous programs to identify and then intercept the threats--in this case vessels--as they move closer to our shores. 96 hours prior to a vessels' arrival into the United States, we screen the vessels' cargo, people, and background on the operating companies to identify what type of risk profile the present. By that we mean risks associated with the safety of the ship, the security of the ship, or the environmental threats that ship might bring. We determine at that time whether we are going to board the ship in open ocean or possibly let the ship go to an anchorage near shore or allow it to go to a pier (dock side). In each case for these boardings, specialized teams go on board with equipment and verify the condition of the ship, its crew and cargo manifest, as well as the condition of the vessel. We examine its cargo with special equipment to ensure it's safe for off loading operations. If a vessel is found to be non-compliant with U.S. and international law, we can take actions to either direct the vessel to correct its condition at the dock, offshore, or not allow the vessel in at all and direct to another port, but not in the United States.

Edward, in regards to your specific question about a domestic speedboat attack, we have boats--both Coast Guard and state and local--that are armed patrolling our water ways and vessel traffic systems with cameras to monitor our largest ports. This detects and intercepts a vessel that presents a risk or threat profile. We have security zones, which are areas where vessels are not allowed to enter, established around our highest risk operations and critical infrastructure. If a vessel attempts to enter into that area, the Coast Guard is authorized to use force to stop the vessel. We also provide escorts for large passenger vessels and ferry vessels, as well as high-risk vessels such as chemical carriers and liquefied natural gas carriers to ensure their safety. These small boat teams are specially trained to address a multiple small boat attacks, not just a single boat attacks.

With regard to security, since July 2004, we have boarded 16,000 vessels and have found numerous violations, many of which we could correct and allow the vessel in to handle cargo. However, there were 144 cases where the vessel was not allowed to come into U.S. waters.

The Coast Guard is not alone in this effort. We received the port from the customs and border protection officers both in foreign ports, where they check cargo before it departs, as well as upon arrival in the United States. If we believe any cargo or individual presents a significant threat to the United States, we can deny entry into U.S. waters.

Beverly, from Cincinnati writes:
How will Dubai's port authority impact on homeland security? Dubai isn't the United States.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
First, Dubai, as a country, gains no additional authority within our ports, as a result of this transaction. They would own a terminal, or a facility, they don't control the port operations. They have no responsibility for security or safety for the port as a whole. However, they do have responsibility for the safety and security operations within the fence lines of their facility. Again, as I mentioned earlier, a vessel has to be pre-screened for its crew or passengers, its cargo and its operations companies history before it will be considered for entry into the United States.

A vessel that contracts with Dubai might never make it here if the U.S. Coast Guard feels it is a threat to the United States. Most vessels do not present that threat profile and are legitimate operations, but we know that even legitimate operations can be compromised as we know from the war on drugs. As such, we also conduct random boardings of vessels.

When a ship does arrive to begin off-loading cargos, again, the border protection uses a targeting to identify the highest risk cargo, which requires further screening, such as x rays and radiation detection, immediately as the cargo is off-loaded.

We have regulations under the law that requires facility owners to control access to its facility and maintain security operations on board. The Coast Guard inspects and randomly checks the facility to ensure continued compliance with that law. Again, since July 2004 when these laws went into place, we've issued 700 violates, 44 have caused facilities to shut down or cease cargo operations until the major problems were corrected and a process put into place to ensure they could not be repeated. So there is accountability for Dubai Ports World. This is the same for them as any other company.

Additionally, for Dubai Ports World, we put additional requirements on their operations. We are requiring all employees of their company to undergo and provide information about them, to allow the Coast Guard to run background checks through intelligence databases and law enforcement databases, to ensure they don't present a threat to the United States. This will be a continuous process. If any of their names show up later in a database, we will receive notification and be able to take immediate action. We don't expect the employee profile to change drastically in their operations, and most of the people employed are U.S. citizens or longshoremen or stevedores (who do the work of handling the cargo).

Robert, from Connecticut writes:
Is there any added threats to having a foreign nation control domestic ports and entry points into the United States?

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Any time a foreign owner or state-owned business is considering investing in the United States, we must look and must examine to see if they present an increased threat to our country, as that potential could be very real. The reason I say "increased" threat is that we live in a world that always has some level of threat in it--that is why we already have protective measures in place. That is also why we as a country have armed forces, which includes the Coast Guard.

Again, no foreign nation will control our ports. They are buying the cranes to move cargo and they lease the property from the state or local government to carry out the cargo removal operations from a vessel and its loading onto either trucks or railroad cars, to transport to middle America. The majority of workers at these facilities have no idea what is in the boxes they are moving, however management or lead supervisors do. The lead security officer and company security officer will be required to be U.S. citizens who have undergone background examinations that meet law enforcement standards. They will be the only individuals that we, in the law enforcement community, provide security related information to. Even those individuals will not know Coast Guard and state and local law specific operations.

Again, they will be held accountable to provide security of their terminal. We will also have exercises and tests of the security operations at the facility conducted on a every three month basis, to ensure the people who operate in that environment have been trained to detect a security event and know what actions to take to mitigate that event and contact Coast Guard and law enforcement authorities to respond.

An example might be finding a stowaway on a vessel or a person who tried to come into the United States found on the facility. They are required to have procedures to respond to this type of case, and many others.

In the case of cargo, if the container has broken seals, then we also are notified. These checks are conducted as the container is removed from the vessel, while stored at the facility, as well as the condition of the container as it departs the facility.

Louis, from Butler,PA writes:
Why is it that foreign companies are operating our port facilities? Thank you

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
The United States is still the land of opportunity and these companies see our country as a very good business opportunity. Just as we invest overseas in oil companies, where we have port facilities that are U.S. owned and operated in foreign countries. The majority of container facilities, in fact, are foreign owned or operated in the United States. Also, over 90% of the ships that carry these cargos are foreign owned and operated, not necessarily by the same companies, but in some cases. This is not the case with Dubai Ports World.

Also, one other reason is that they know we have a system of government and judicial system that sets the standard which is fair and bound by law. They are not subject to issues such as bribery or pay offs in order to conduct their business.

In addition, the United States is a very secure country, so there is less risk doing business within our borders.

Finally, the United States is the largest consumer of goods in the world, so it is a great marketplace to conduct business.

John, from Texas writes:
I would like to congratulate you on the great job the USCG did during Katrina. They are the agency with expertise in search and rescue and their command and control structure has the ability to call on needed assets in a hurry, even from the rest of the military. Do you think the USCG should have a bigger role in managing disaters and Homeland Security?

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
John, thank you for recognizing the heroic efforts of the men and women in the Coast Guard who responded to that terrible disaster. We do believe that our contingency planning in advance of the storm and our command and control, as well as the training and expertise of our people, allowed us to perform our mission well.

The Coast Guard in the maritime environment has responsibility to lead, dependent upon the type of disaster that takes place. The Coast Guard is only, however, the size of the New York City Police Department, to provide a little perspective. We train all our people to be leaders and we work to empower them to the maximum extent possible. As such, when significant events take place, their leadership and experience is called to bear in response to disasters where significant response is needed in the maritime environment, meaning on our nation's coasts and inland waterways or Great Lakes. We have federal responsibility as federal on-site coordinators for those events and are responsible for large geographic areas. Those are currently the responsibilities of our captains of the ports, who are charged with covering 96,000 miles of coastline and inland waterways.

In the case of Katrina, five of our captains of the port lead the responses in those maritime environments. However, Katrina also swept far inland and called for a response much broader than just our inland waterways. The most senior leaders in the Coast Guard are admirals, are trained as principal federal officials that the Secretary of Homeland Security or the President could call upon to take an overall coordination and leadership role of the response operation. That occurred for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

The structure for the national response plan allows the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the flexibility to bring their best leaders from any agency to respond to the emergency based on the location and emerging situation at hand. The Coast Guard is just one agency whose senior leaders have this training.

On a daily basis, the Coast Guard is trained in incident response for chemical and oil spills, as well as search and rescue, or major casualties such as a vessel explosion and fire, or a catastrophic accident such as a sinking ship or a collision at sea.

What we are talking about is a much larger scale operation and cooperation. Many of our activities involve working with marine industry, as well as state and local authorities. As such, when an event takes place we already have an understanding of each other's capabilities and shared assets that could come to assist with an emerging situation. Such proved of Katrina.

Marilyn, from Texas writes:
With all of the hoopla from all quarters, most of it political what is the real scoop from the military about the port security? It seems to me to make sense that the deal should be approved since other ports are foreign owned and the Saudis have foiled terrorist attacks. Also it doesn't make sense that our great president who is so concerned about national security would suddenly abandon ship.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
As my Commander-in-Chief, I know the President's top priority is the safety and security of America and Americans. The President also relies on all of the departments under his direction to examine every aspect of this transaction to ensure that it will not provide increased threat to the United States. If any of the departments or the President believes after full investigation and review, as well as additional requirements placed on Dubai Ports World have been completed, that this provides an increased threat to the American public or our adhered interest, he would not let it go through, as would none of the departments.

As I stated earlier, the reason the Coast Guard exists is to provide for the safety and security of the public and I can assure you that if there was anything that needed to be done, we would require it. Again, we are not the only agency responsible for the safety and security of the public. Upon completion of the review of this case and the information we have been provided, we do not believe this transaction presents in and by itself any significant threat to the U.S. ports.

Most of the discussion about this transaction is about vulnerability, not threat. The U.S. Navy made 600 port calls to the Port of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last year. The UAE aided in the fight in Kosovo and is aggressively combating terrorism in their region.

I know many people in the U.S. Navy, and I know that they would never dock their ships in a place that they felt was a high threat environment. The UAE is not such a place as U.S. ships dock there regularly.

Dawson, from South China, ME writes:
I understand 2 of the attackers of 911 were from this country, UEA.It seems to me that it would be very difficult for a Arab to convince an American or even a Brit he should aid in the smuggling of WMD for the purpose of attacking us. A Arab dealing with another Arab is a total different story.

If this deal does go down how can you insure the American people that this government that played a vital part in moving money for the 911 attacks as well as other attacks against U.S. properties will not be coroperative again in aiding Al Queda or that its employees will provide loyalty as a American or Brit would?

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
It concerns me anytime a country's government is painted with a broad brush, because of the acts of a few individuals.

The same concerns could be made by a U.S. citizen because there was a shoe bomber from England to blow up an airplane or the London subway system was bombed by citizens residing in their country.

In no way do I think England is any less an ally to the United States or less concerned and dedicated to removing terrorism from their country.

The UAE, through their actions, has demonstrated a commitment to the United States to aid in the war against terrorism, provide support for our U.S. Armed Forces overseas and even providing relief to Katrina victims.

Thus, you won't hear me make a broad brushed statement about the country of UAE, because of the acts of a few within their country.

Jo, from Owensboro KY writes:
The media has reported how unsecure and vulnerable our port system is to a terrorist attack. Can you state what some of the changes that have been made to the security of the port system since 911? Thank you.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
After 9/11, the Coast Guard required 3200 commercial faculties to provide security physical improvements and modify their operations to meet new security regulations, as well as training for their personnel.

Over 11,000 U.S. flagged commercial vessels were also required to have security plans and personnel trained to ensure the safety and security of cargos, as well as passengers on their vessels, such as ferry vessels and large passenger vessels.

Additionally, the U.S. Government provided 12 maritime safety and security teams, which are tactical small boat teams to protect our most critical infrastructure and highest risk operation areas. The Coast Guard was also provided with increased helicopters with aerial use of force that can stop vessels from the air.

The Coast Guard was also provided almost 4,000 additional personnel to increase boardings, escorts, and patrols of our ports and waterways, as well as conduct boardings, inspections and examinations of foreign flagged vessels and U.S. port facilities.

Additionally, the Coast Guard was provided funding to support annual large scale exercises such as to responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or a transportation security incident, involving more than one geographic area, to make sure we are prepared for catastrophic events whether natural or manmade.

In addition, we've been provided increased detection capabilities for vessels offshore before them coming to the United States and have required all large commercial vessels over 300 gross tons to have transponders on their vessels that allow us to track their movements. Again, a vessel could be detected prior to coming to the U.S. This requirement is for both U.S. and foreign flagged vessels.

For more information regarding the security precautions the U.S. Coast Guard is doing and has done, I encourage you to visit the U.S. Coast Guard web site.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Thank you for all of your great questions.

Before I go, a word about safety. We are about to approach boating season and some may even choose to go on the water early because the air is warm. Everyone who goes boating has to ensure their boat is in good operating condition following the off season and everyone needs to understand the water temperature is nowhere near the air temperature and is won't be close for months to come.

It is always critical to wear your lifejacket and that you tell a friend or family member where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. Always have some form of radio to call for help in case of emergency on the water from your vessel's operation to an unusual weather change, to "I'm lost."

And if you find yourself in the water, your best hope for survival is to take those preparations, as well as, the most critical element--your lifejacket. I can't over emphasize the wearing of a lifejacket, and it's not just for children. We have more fishermen who die from falling overboard without wearing their lifejacket than any other community, and most fisherman don't let anyone know where they are going in a n effort to protect their secret "favorite spot" for fishing. So to the fishermen--tell a really good friend where you are headed! For the kids who are online, make sure your parents wear their lifejackets, too.

One final note. If you are young, smart, energenic and you want to make a difference saving lives while protecting your country and our way of life, and you want to have lots of fun, join the Coast Guard!
I concur, Go Coast Guard!

Open Post Thanks to The Mudville Gazette, Freedom Watch, Right Wing Nation, Conservative Cat and Don Surber.

Hamas' Talks with Moscow

Over the past week, many sides have chimed in on the recent talks between Putin's govenment and Hamas.

Today’s online edition of Haaretz.com reports on recent discussion between Hamas’ leadership and Moscow.

Olmert: Russia's talks with Hamas harm effort to isolate group
Russia's talks with Hamas leaders in Moscow have harmed world efforts to isolate the militant group that is setting up a new Palestinian government, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

Olmert said it was a "mistake" to invite Hamas leaders for talks before the group changes its policies and accepts the basic international demands of recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence.

Despite Israel's objections to the invitation, Hamas leaders were in Moscow over the weekend for talks. They met the Russian foreign minister, but Putin did not agree to see them.
Meanwhile, the Jordan Times reports:

Hamas says Moscow talks 'important breakthrough', rejects pressure
RAMALLAH — Hamas leaders on an official visit to Moscow yesterday called talks with the Russian government an "important breakthrough" and rejected pressure on the group to recognise Israel.
Open Post Thanks to The Mudville Gazette, Jo's Cafe, Don Surber, Stop the ACLU and Right Wing Nation.

04 March 2006

Kelo-ing Conaway Proves Costly

The rudderless ship known as the Yolo County(California) Board of Supervisors seems hell-bent on acquiring the 16,300-acre Conway Ranch via eminent domain. So bent, that they have amassed nearly 2 million dollars in legal and consultant fees. All this before the projected theft acquisition price of 60 million dollars. I have commented on this many times in the past, and I am still amazed that people whose jobs depend on the mood of the electorate would want to be associated in any way with the words "eminent domain." The Davis Enterprise reports:

WOODLAND - Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting was marked by at-times angry exchanges about the mounting legal costs - creeping close to $2 million - of acquiring the Conaway Ranch. At issue was an item from the county counsel's office on the board's consent agenda. Items on the consent agenda are routinely approved by the board with little or no discussion. This time, however, the item was taken off consent by the chair, Frank Sieferman Jr., to allow nine people to speak in opposition to the payment of up to $687,000 from the county's General Fund to the Sacramento law firm of Somach, Simmons & Dunn. The money will be used chiefly to pay for the county's continuing effort to buy 16,300 acres of the Conaway Ranch by eminent domain.

As of Monday, the county had spent $1.26 million on legal fees (primarily to the Somach law firm) and on professional fees to financial consultants, land appraisers and public relations firms. With the addition of the $687,000 approved on Tuesday, the county is coming very close to spending $2 million on a lawsuit that will, at its conclusion, allow the county to spend a minimum of $60 million to become the ranch's owner.

A valuation trial by jury has been set for June 13 by Yolo County Superior Judge Tim Fall, who ruled in November that the county had a right to buy the ranch from an unwilling seller, the Conaway Preservation Group. Attorney Stuart Somach represented the county at the court trial. County Counsel Steve Basha told the board Tuesday that he would pursue settlement discussions. A pretrial settlement conference has been set for April 13.

Ernie Head of Davis and Dudley Holman of Woodland spoke to the board. Both men belong to the Yolo Taxpayers' Association.

"This is a mistake,"” said Holman, former Woodland mayor, regarding the purchase of the ranch.

"I'm trying to restrain my anger,"” he added, pointing out that the county has many immediate needs it cannot afford to address, while the purchase of the Conaway Ranch will put the county in debt. "“The debt can only be paid by selling the assets you profess to want to secure,"” he said.

"It just seems you don't know where to stop on this issue,"” added Blake Harlan of Woodland, who argued with Supervisor Mike McGowan over the definition of a farmer vs. a developer.

These "evil developers" rightfully purchased the land for future use as mitigation lands to offset impacts from development in other areas. In addition, a majority of the Conway Ranch is located within the federal floodplain, which makes it off limits to development without crossing MAJOR hurdles.
"“Your arrogance as usual is overwhelming,"” he said to the supervisor.

"“I think you owe the public an economic analysis of the purchase and the return to the taxpayers,"” said Stan Lester of Winters. "“This is all being done behind closed doors - it's very scary."”

"The business plan is still in the works and we are not at liberty to discuss it,"” said Sharon Jensen, chief administrative officer for the county.

Supervisor Chamberlain said he would not approve the additional expenditure.

"“I'm against buying Conaway Ranch to begin with,"” he said.

Chamberlain said he wanted the county to make a deal with the ranch owners without lawyers and judges getting involved in the negotiations.

"“We need roads and levees,"” he said. He said the county's money should be spent on lawyers to approve a deal after the negotiations take place.

McGowan listened to the public comment and then summarized the county's history with the ranch and blasted the current owners.

"“Their intention is not to protect the ranch,"” he said. "“I believe this to the core of my being."”

The supervisor said if the county had not stepped in to buy the ranch, the same people who are criticizing him today would watch the land being sold and the water being shipped south and would say: "“How could you let this happen?
Another interseting fact, the ranch enjoys massive water rights. Aside from the fact that polls have shown that nearly 70 percent of the registered voters in Yolo County opposed the theft acquisition, a huge portion of this fiasco would be financed by the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which happens to own the nearby Cache Creek Casino. Hmmm, a local governmental agency accepting financial contributions from a sovereign nation to steal land from the rightful owners? What could possibly go wrong? It is not like the tribe is looking for approval of a massive expansion of their resort, including the construction of a new golf course that would need gobs of water are they. Oh, that's right, they already have approval for that project. How do you spell quid-pro-quo? At least McGowan didn't try to day that the egrets, ducks and other waterfowl were a blight.
Supervisor Mariko Yamada of Davis also refused to be moved by critics of the purchase.

"I will stand my ground," she said.

Sieferman agreed with Chamberlain on the need for a negotiated settlement.

"If we could remove the emotion, that's where we'll find a solution,"” he said.

The board approved the expenditure of $687,000 on a 4-1 vote with Chamberlain dissenting.
Still, the Supervisors of Yolo County are steamrolling towards acquisition of the land from "evil land developers" despite polls to the contrary, taxpayer groups and one lone supervisor dissenting, a former mayor restraining and a Governor possibly veto-ing.

Amazed as I am, it is happening daily -- an auto repair shop in Oakland (CA), a Baptist Church in Long beach (CA), a successful diner in Arcadia (CA), single-family residences in Long Branch (NJ), commercial property in Seattle (WA) and the list goes on and on.

For shame.

Open Post Thanks to Jo's Cafe, Don Surber, Stop the ACLU and Right Wing Nation.

Vail Opens Arms, Slopes, to Wounded Troops

Did this appear in the NYTimes or The Davis Enterprise? Nope. DOD reports that the good, and well-heeled, folks of Vail Colorado have opened their very expensive doors to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
VAIL, Colo., March 3, 2006 --– Twenty-four servicemembers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan are here reaping the hospitality of a community first established by returning World War II veterans and to schuss down the slopes of this world-class ski resort.

The guests, all patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., along with their spouses or guests, are participating in the third annual Vail Veterans Program that kicked off March 1 and continues through March 5.

The all-expenses-paid program is hosted by Vail Mountain and the Vail community and gives wounded war veterans an opportunity to learn how to ski and snowboard, event organizer Cheryl Jensen said.

"For many of these veterans, the trip to Vail is their first adventure outside the hospital," Jensen said. "This program is all about providing an inspirational experience that focuses on the abilities versus disabilities."

Jensen said the experience is a huge confidence builder for young, athletic troops who are now learning to live with disabilities.

The event includes three all-day private ski and snowboard lessons through Vail's Adaptive Ski Program. The program specializes in providing ski and snowboard classes for people with disabilities. Using specially modified ski equipment, including "outriggers" -- poles with miniature skis attached to them for balance -- the skiers are learning to maneuver through Vail's slopes and trails.

Five of this year's group members participated in the program last year, and Jensen said it's exciting to see how much they've improved, both in terms of their medical conditions and their skiing abilities. Many other of this year's participants are on skis for their first time, but Jensen said they're making great progress and supporting each other as they tackle the challenges of skiing.

"These servicemembers have been through a lot of trials and tribulations together, but this gives them the opportunity to experience something positive together as well," Jensen said. "They're a really wonderful group and have been tremendously supportive of each other."

Countless volunteers and 25 local businesses and organizations are donating lodging, meals, lift tickets, ski equipment and personal time to make the grassroots effort a success. "Without the community, it just couldn't happen," Jensen said.

Participants arrived in Vail to a hero's welcome from local elementary school children and are getting the red-carpet treatment during their stay. Tonight, guests will ride the gondola to the top of Vail Mountain for dinner at the Eagle's Nest Restaurant, and tomorrow night, the Vail Fire Department will treat them to a homemade lasagna meal at the fire station.

"There is an unsaid promise to protect their families while they protect our freedom serving abroad," said Craig Davis, president of the Vail Professional Firefighters Association. "Inviting the veterans to dinner at our home is the least we can do to pay tribute."

Jensen introduced the Vail Veterans Program because she recognized the value it could bring to wounded veterans. "I knew what adaptive skiing can do for people with disabilities, especially people like these who are healthy and athletic," she said. "Skiing can change their lives."

One former participant told Jensen it had done just that for him. "That's the inspiration for this program, to see that it can make a difference," Jensen said.

Jensen called the program just one small way to show support for the troops. "They've all made tremendous sacrifices for us, and this is an opportunity to thank them," she said.

The program is small by design to promote bonding among participants, but Jensen said she's hoping to add a second winter program and possibly a summer program as well.

The Vail community has a strong track record in supporting the troops and actively supports the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. In late January and early February, the Vail community hosted the 2006 Vail Armed Forces Week event. Two Marines who had been awarded the Purple Heart Medal, a 3rd Cavalry Division soldier who served in Iraq, and their families, and three wives of Navy SEALs killed in June 2005 participated.

"I want to express my appreciation for the invaluable support you provide to our men and women in uniform," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote to Paul Donen, the key organizer, following the event. "As a member of the 'America Supports You' team, your organization helps strengthen the bonds between our military and the Americans they serve.

"Thank you for letting servicemembers and their families know how much their fellow Americans value their courage, commitment and sacrifice," Rumsfeld wrote.

I've been to Vail a few times (very few mind you) and have always enjoyed myself. I think I may go again and stop by the Fire Department and the Eagle's Nest restaurant to say thank you.

Posted openly to The Mudville Gazette, The Uncooperative Blogger, Stuck on Stupid, Third World County and Adam's Blog.

Bush Says No Deal to Pakistan

Not that this was a surprise, but this was a surprise. I thought that the President might treat India and Pakistan the way my in-laws treat my wife and sister-in-law. They are close enough in age and have basically the same weaponry, so my in-laws make everything "equal" at Christmas and birthdays. It sort of smoothes things out. To turn the cold side of the pillow to a member of "the club?" While on his soil? I don't know. The NYTimes reports:
ISLAMABAD, March 4 -- President Bush made clear today that Pakistan should not expect anytime soon a civilian nuclear agreement like the one the United States reached only days ago with India, and he bluntly said that the two archrivals on the subcontinent cannot be compared to each other.

Mr. Bush said that he and Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, had discussed a civilian nuclear program for Pakistan during talks this morning.

"“I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories," Mr. Bush said at a joint outdoor news conference with Mr. Musharraf on the grounds of the presidential palace, Aiwan-e-Sadr. "So as we proceed forward, our strategy will take in effect those well-known differences."

Mr. Bush had never been expected to endorse a nuclear agreement with Pakistan, the country of A.Q Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program who has confessed to running the largest illegal nuclear proliferation network in history. But it was striking that the president spoke so directly as his host, Mr. Musharraf, stood at his side.
Again, not that this surprised me, but I am surprised.

Open Post Thanks to The Mudville Gazette, The Uncooperative Blogger, Stuck on Stupid, Third World County and Adam's Blog.

02 March 2006

Nonsensical Proliferation Panic?

A recent Op-Ed piece from the Jordan Times suggests that non-proliferators are waging a war of panic-laden rhetoric against would-be proliferators. The Jordan Times reports:
Lost somewhere in the mists of history is the knowledge that it was the pro-American shah of Iran who initiated Iran's quest to build a nuclear bomb. And it was the anti-American revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini that initially suspended work on the bomb, from 1972 to 1985.
A slight correction is in order here. The work was not initially halted by the good will of the Khomeni regime, but rather by bombs dropped by Iraqi war planes during the Iran - Iraq war. Work on reactors continued on a minor scale following the 1979 revolution.
Fanning the panic of proliferation has been a mainstay of the Bush administration, supported in the wings by the British government and, more recently, by France's President Jacques Chirac.
So, when Tehran makes statements such as "...the process of enrichment is a sovereign right of any state" and breaks off negotiations, we should assume that this is the panic of proliferation brought on by the west?
It is a high-stakes game that can slide too easily into the call for regime change, as it did with Iraq. Yet current would-be proliferators are arguably not as dead set on proliferating, nor even as advanced in their capabilities, as their antagonists suggest. But unyielding critical rhetoric combined with a lack of incentives to back down seems to only have the effect of making the likes of North Korea and Iran more determined than they ever were. Moreover, today's game overlooks the success of previous policy in persuading countries to give up and unwind their nuclear armaments' plans or stocks of bombs — South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and Kazakhstan and, most recently, Libya. This was because the right incentives were put before them.
Uranium enrichment on Russian soil isn't enough of an incentive?
In fact, the Libyan nuclear programme had gone on for many more years than has either the Iranian or North Korean. Despite a great deal of assistance from Pakistan's rogue nuclear weapons entrepreneur, A.Q. Kahn, Libya appeared seriously slowed, if not stalled, by apparently insurmountable difficulties. Iran may well be trying to build nuclear weapons, but it doesn't give the impression of being in a tearing hurry. Its heavy water moderated research reactor will not be online until 2014. Those who have suggested an earlier timetable ignore the slow progress made on completing the Bushehr reactor, a light-water nuclear power reactor initially ordered from Germany in 1975.
Joe Public is being led by the nose on nuclear weapons' policy. It has become nothing more than a political game.
Political game? I don't think so.

Daily Open Post Thanks to Right Wing Nation, The Mudville Gazette, Don Surber, Outside the Beltway, Bloggin' Outloud, Is It Just Me? and Jo's Cafe.

01 March 2006

San Francisco Supervisors Call for Bush Impeachment

Once again, the ship of fools officially referred to as the City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors, have provided more evidence that San Francisco is truly the land of nuts and flakes. The Board has "passed a resolution asking the city's Democratic congressional delegation to seek the impeachment of President Bush for failing to perform his duties by leading the country into war in Iraq, eroding civil liberties and engaging in other activities the board sees as transgressions." Not long ago, supervisors from the city that is the home of the five-time NFL champion San Francisco Forty Niners adopted a resolution recommending that the City and County of San Francisco adopt the Seattle Seahawks as its official football team for the duration of the 2006 playoff season. In case you didn't know it, S.F. has also banned the sale or ownership of handguns. SFGate reports:
San Francisco's supervisors jumped into national politics Tuesday, passing a resolution asking the city's Democratic congressional delegation to seek the impeachment of President Bush for failing to perform his duties by leading the country into war in Iraq, eroding civil liberties and engaging in other activities the board sees as transgressions.

The supervisors, in voting 7-3 for the resolution, made it likely that San Francisco again will become grist for radio and TV talk shows. The city has appeared in the national media spotlight recently for voters' passage in November of a nonbinding measure banning military recruiters from public high schools and for Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval's recent comment on a Fox News show that the United States doesn't need a military.

Supervisor Chris Daly, one of the most progressive members of the board, sponsored the resolution, which also calls for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Daly said the measure is justified in light of the administration's case for and handling of the war in Iraq, the federal government's inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina and recent revelations about a domestic wiretapping program.

"I think the case is clear, and I think it's appropriate for us to weigh in," Daly said.

Speaking in opposition to the resolution, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier said, "I don't think that we need to be calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, as much as we may not like them ... and as much as we don't like the policies that they put forward."

Joining Alioto-Pier in voting against the resolution were Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Sophie Maxwell. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick was absent.

Mayor Gavin Newsom didn't want to pick up the impeachment drumbeat, but he offered a sarcastic response when asked his position on the nonbinding resolution.

"It's probably going to shatter the status quo in this country when it passes,'' he said with a smile. "I imagine, immediately, Congress will probably convene into session and begin impeachment proceedings.''

Open Post Thanks to Rhymes with Right, Don Surber, Stuck on Stupid, Bloggin' Outloud, Freedom Watch, Third World County, Outside the Beltway and The Mudville Gazette.

Media Misquotes Coast Guard

Once again, the MSM runs with a story before fully understanding the breadth and scope of an investigation or audit. In the constant struggle to beat the competition, MSM --– particularly the print media --– rush to press without having all the facts. This is a classic example. The text below includes excerpts from a WaPo article dated 28 February 2006 and statements made from senior U.S. Coast Guard officials on 27 and 28 February 2006.

Coast Guard Saw 'Intelligence Gaps' on Ports– Washington Post
The U.S. Coast Guard, in charge of reviewing security at ports operated by a Dubai maritime company, warned the Bush administration it could not rule out that the company's assets could be used for terrorist operations, according to a document released yesterday by a Senate committee.
Now that we have what the Post thinks the U.S. Coast Guard reported, let's go to official statements from official Coast Guard officials, which are officially posted on the official U.S. Coast Guard public affairs site.

Statement by Coast Guard Spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Carter on Port Transaction Analysis 27 February 2006 -- U.S.C. G Headquarters News Site
Washington - "What is being quoted is an excerpt of a broader Coast Guard intelligence analysis that was performed early on as part of its due diligence process. The excerpts made public earlier today, when taken out of context, do not reflect the full, classified analysis performed by the Coast Guard. That analysis concludes ‘that DP World's acquisition of P&O, in and of itself, does not pose a significant threat to U.S. assets in [continental United States] ports.’ Upon subsequent and further review, the Coast Guard and the entire CFIUS panel believed that this transaction, when taking into account strong security assurances by DP World, does not compromise U.S. security."
Statement by Vice Adm. Terry Cross on Coast Guard Due Diligence in Support of the CFIUS Process 28 February 2006 -- U.S.C.G. Headquarters News Site
Washington - "Early in the CFIUS process, the Coast Guard's initial review identified potential intelligence gaps. Since completing its initial intelligence assessment, the Coast Guard has continued its due diligence by auditing all P&O operations in the United States, examining DPW operations outside the United States, obtaining formal assurances from DPW regarding ongoing access to information on personnel and operations, and further evaluating the proposed transaction in conjunction with other elements of the intelligence community. These additional efforts have reinforced the conclusion of the Coast Guard's initial assessment, and the Coast Guard continues to believe that, 'DP World's acquisition of P&O, in and of itself, does not pose a significant threat to U.S. assets in [continental United States] ports.' In fact, the Coast Guard will have more information about the affected terminals under DPW ownership than it currently does under P&O's ownership. During the 45-day review period, the Coast Guard will continue to work diligently within the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community to ensure that port security concerns are fully raised and objectively analyzed."
I think I'll go with the official version this time around.

Open Post Thanks to Don Surber, Stuck on Stupid, Bloggin' Outloud, Freedom Watch, Third World County, The Mudville Gazette, and THM's Bacon Bits.

Guantanamo Detainee Challenges Force Feeding

The last time I checked, the U.S. Forces at Gitmo were responsible for the health and welfare of the detainees. AFP, via Yahoo! News, reports:
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A Yemeni held at the Guantanamo US "war on terror" detention camp has launched a court challenge to US forces force-feeding inmates on hunger strike, a lawyer said.

The action taken by Mohammed Bawazir alleges that he and other detainees were given treatment amounting to torture to force them to take intravenous feeding.

Rick Murphy, the US lawyer taking the action for Bawazir, said that federal judge Gladys Kessler had given US authorities until late Wednesday to give their version of the facts.

Bawazir has been detained at the camp for suspects held in the US "war on terror" since early 2002. He joined a hunger strike by many of the inmates in August 2005 to protest against the conditions of their detention.

According to US lawyers who have had restricted access to the detainees, US military authorities have recently changed their tactics to make the hunger strikers accept nourishment.

Before January, Bawazir and the other hunger strikers had been force-fed through a tube.

The lawyers said that since January 11, Bawazir has been forcibly strapped into a chair -- with his legs, arms, head and midriff tied to the chair -- to be fed.

They said a new larger feeding tube has been used, increasing the pain during insertion and extraction. Four bottles of water were poured into his stomach through the nasal tube even though he has never refused to drink water by mouth, the lawyers said.

They added that Bawazir was denied access to a toilet while being fed and for an hour or more afterwards.

Documents sent to the court said that Bawazir abandoned his hunger strike on January 22 "only because of brutal treatment that respondents (the US military) began inflicting on January 11".

The action argues that the tactics being used are against a recent law passed by Congress which banned the use of torture against detainees held by the United States anywhere in the world.

The US authorities have repeatedly insisted that the Guantanamo detainees are treated humanely.
Should U.S. Forces use I.V. methods to keep detainees healthy?

Open Post Thanks to Don Surber, Stuck on Stupid, Bloggin' Outloud, Freedom Watch, Third World County, The Mudville Gazette, and THM's Bacon Bits.