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Tuesday, February 28, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia seals trade deal with US

Colombia has clinched a free trade deal with the US after nearly two years of talks, US officials have confirmed.

The deal is designed to advance free trade, promote economic development and combat cocaine trafficking, US trade representative Rob Portman said.

The focus appears to be on agricultural products. It should make Alabama’s poultry farmers happy.

More from the NYT: U.S. and Colombia Reach Trade Deal After 2 Years of Talks

The deal with Colombia is important because the country’s economic output, which tops $100 billion, is bigger than that of any other country in the region that has a trade deal with the administration. Two-way trade between the countries was $14.3 billion last year — with American exports to Colombia at $5.4 billion.

The United States, which has provided Colombia with nearly $5 billion to fight drugs and Marxist rebels since 2000, also has an interest in seeing President Álvaro Uribe succeed.

However, Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, part of the advocacy group Public Citizen, said the deal battered generic drug makers in Colombia and important agricultural sectors like chicken, wheat and rice. It also permits American companies to bid on public services contracts, a delicate issue in Latin America, where there has been criticism of foreign conglomerates running services like water.

[...]

While some Colombian producers, like growers of flowers, would benefit, several sectors worry that American agricultural products would swamp Colombia. That could displace farm workers, who might turn to illegal drug crops, like coca, the leaf used to make cocaine.

Rice growers, who are found in much of the country, say they expect to be put out of business eventually.

The deal still has to go to the respective country’s congresses.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo: Toll in Iraq’s Deadly Surge: 1,300

Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week’s bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad’s main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday — blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies were sprawled with their hands still bound — and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

[...]

Morgue officials said they had logged more than 1,300 dead since Wednesday — the day the Shiites’ gold-domed Askariya shrine was bombed — photographing, numbering and tagging the bodies as they came in over the nights and days of retaliatory raids.

And then today: Baghdad bombs kill 30:

Bombs killed at least 30 people in Baghdad and wrecked the tomb of Saddam Hussein’s father on Tuesday as the ousted leader was in court for the first time since days of sectarian violence pitched Iraq toward civil war.

[...]

Twenty-three people were killed when a bomb left at a fuel station in eastern Baghdad blasted people lining up for petrol, police said. At least seven were killed in two other explosions, including an apparent car bomb in a busy street across the Tigris river from the trial in one of Saddam’s former palaces.

Some 115 people were wounded in all, police said, in the bloodiest onslaught in the capital in two months and among the most serious since an alleged al Qaeda bomb destroyed a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra on Wednesday, sparking tit-for-tat reprisals.

And this lacks a certain, well, credibility:

U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, closely engaged in efforts to forge a national unity government, told CNN that Iraq “came to the brink of civil war” but said the present “crisis is over.” He warned, however, that further flare-ups were possible.

He way be right: the bombing today, sadly, could be seen to be part of the pre-Dome pattern of violence. Still, it seems a bit soon to declare the crisis over, since the quelling of the violence came about as a result of a curfew.

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By Steven L. Taylor

First a civilian bus, now this (via the BBC): Colombia rebels kill councillors

Suspected left-wing rebels have burst into a town councillors’ meeting in Colombia and opened fire, killing at least seven people, police say.

The attack happened at a hotel in the village of Rivera, several hundred kilometres south-west of Bogota.

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebel group dressed as police carried out the attack, the authorities said.

I wonder if they are feelong bad that the ELN is getting all the press these days?

In all seriousness, these kinds of acts continue to baffle me insofar as I can’t see how such actions further the revolutionary goals of the FARC. Of course, they may simply underscore that the FARC is nothing more than a thuggish gang of drug runners. A large, well-armed, well-funded gang of drug runners, but drug runners nonetheless.

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Monday, February 27, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Sen. Clinton Says Rove Obsesses About Her

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CBS: Poll: Bush Ratings At All-Time Low

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Wow. That’s gonna leave a mark.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Cheney seen retiring after midterm elections

Quite frankly it reads far more like speculation than anything else. It strikes me as possible, but I am hardly convinced that it is probable.

It certainly would be fun from a politics-watching perspective, however.

Update: Steve Bainbridge plays along with a poll as to Cheney’s replacement.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Paper: Coast Guard Has Port Co. Intel Gaps

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By Steven L. Taylor

(Not that politics isn’t often a comedy break…)

At any rate, if you collected/read comics in the late 1980s, you will find this
ost amusing.

Indeed, if you ever collected comics (and don’t mind the occasional rated-R language) you will no doubt find Dave’s Long Box to be most entertaing.

Another post from Dave that goes along with the one linked above is here (and has the added advantage of being one for the Roger Staubauch fans in the audience).

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via USAT: When sleep is just a dream

Admit it. You’re reading this, but given the opportunity, you’d gladly snooze or slumber. For this is a nation in dire need of a nap.

Guilty as charged. I could definitely use a snooze about now…

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Iraqi forces capture Zarqawi aide: TV

Iraqiya named the man as Abu Farouq and said he was captured with five others in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of the capital.

It said Abu Farouq al-Suri, previously unknown to the media, was captured by the Wolf Brigade, one of several counter-insurgency units operating within the Shi’ite-run Interior Ministry but accused by Sunnis of targeting civilians in their community.

Of course, the burning question is whether or not he is al Qaeda’s #3 man in Iraq.

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