Tuesday, January 30, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYTSuicide Attack Is First in Israel in 9 Months:

After nine months without a suicide bombing in Israel, a Palestinian walked from Egypt across the open desert border, hitched a ride from a wary Israeli motorist and then blew himself up on Monday inside a bakery in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, Israeli officials said.


Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad claimed joint responsibility for the attack, and identified the bomber as Muhammad Faisal al-Siksik, 21, from northern Gaza.


The last suicide bombing in Israel was an Islamic Jihad attack on April 17, when 11 people were killed at a small restaurant in Tel Aviv.

The gap in attacks and the location of this one does indicate that Israel’s security fence and other countermeasures appear to be working.

The town was apparently a target because Israel’s web of defenses and travel restrictions on Palestinians has made it extremely difficult for bombers to reach Israel from the West Bank, the source of virtually all suicide bombings in Israel in recent years.

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Monday, January 29, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

Via USATLiberal talk radio network Air America finds a buyer, Franken will leave:

The network says Franken’s last day on the air will be Feb. 14, and his noon-3 p.m. ET time slot would be taken by Portland, Ore.-based talk show host Thom Hartmann.

The network didn’t say why Franken is leaving, but Franken told the AP earlier this month that he had contacted Minnesota lawmakers to seek advice about a possible run for the Senate.

One guesses that Franken is serious about a Senate run.

I do wonder, however, if he really has the proper temperament for politics.  Running for office/governing are a tad different than being a highly partisan radio host.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Here’s a little geopolitics (or, perhaps, geopolitical economy) via Reuters: Cocaine is king on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast:

In the past four years, Mora said, his force had seized 11 tons (tonnes) of cocaine and 40 northbound speedboats. There are no estimates of how many managed to complete the trip but as a rule of thumb, narcotics experts say that for every vessel intercepted, at least four get through.

According to the U.S. government’s latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, most of the cocaine that ends up in the United States is shipped by speedboats, each capable of carrying 1.5 to 2 tons of cocaine, through the Western Caribbean, a route described as a “natural conduit for illicit drug trafficking organizations.”

The report estimated that several hundred “go-fast vessels” leave the northern Colombian coast each year and added: “A go-fast boat is by far the hardest target to find and collectively they represent our greatest maritime threat.”

The smugglers’ craft of choice is a fiberglass vessel powered by three 250 horsepower motors for a top speed of 70 miles per hour (110 kmh) — faster than the obsolescent patrol boats of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Command.

And not only is the Miskito Coast strategically located for such activities, the poverty in the area means that recruiting workers is quite easy:

What the U.S. sees as a threat, many of the impoverished inhabitants of the area see as an opportunity. Apart from steady incomes for those providing logistics support, many harbor hopes of winning the cocaine equivalent of the lottery — finding 25-kilogram (55-pound) waterproof parcels of cocaine floating in the sea after being dumped by smugglers pursued by the navy or spilled in accidents.

One parcel would be worth around $75,000 here, a huge sum in the poorest region of the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti). Half of Nicaragua’s 5.5 million people live on less than a dollar a day.

Rags-to-riches tales involving seaborne cocaine have become part of the local lore on the coast, and the islet of Sandy Bay is spoken of frequently. A Miskito-speaking community of a few hundred people, it has changed from wooden shacks and transistor radios to solid homes built of stone and sprouting satellite dishes.

“Somebody who fishes out a cocaine parcel would see it as a blessing from God, not a reason to alert the authorities,” said Capt. Jose Echeverria, head of the port authority in Bluefields. “Take poverty and joblessness, add easy money and you get a bad mix.”

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By Steven L. Taylor

The LAT has an interesting story in today’s paper about a free speech case currently before the US Supreme Court:  Woman’s crusade against bar spawns free speech case.  The case is about whether prior restrain orders can be issued in defamation cases.  The basics have to do with the crusade of a Newport Beach woman against  bar next to a cottage she owns.

The basics:

Lemen owns a cottage only feet from the restaurant and led a campaign to restrict it because she said it disrupted the neighborhood. Aric Toll, 41, a chef who bought the restaurant and bar with his parents, filed a defamation lawsuit against Lemen, saying she was ruining his business.

After a trial, a judge ordered Lemen to stop videotaping Toll’s customers and barred her from telling anyone that the bar makes sex videos, dabbles in child pornography, distributes illegal drugs, encourages lesbian activities, has mafia links, is a whorehouse or sells tainted food — all false statements, the court said, that Lemen had made. She appealed the order before it could be enforced.

Courts around the country have disagreed over whether such “prior restraint” orders in defamation cases are constitutional, and cases involving them are multiplying as people sue to stop alleged defamation on the Internet. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld prior restraint in cases of national security and obscenity, but not in a defamation complaint. When it took up the question in a case brought by the late attorney Johnnie Cochran against a picket, the high court said only that the order against the picket was unconstitutionally broad.

Duke University constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky is paying his own way to California and working free of charge to tell the California Supreme Court today that the order violates Lemen’s right to free speech.

If Lemen loses, such court orders might become “a regular remedy in defamation cases,” Chemerinsky said. Newspapers could even be barred from covering a person who won one, he said. In his view, the only appropriate remedy for defamation is monetary damages.

One needs to reads the entire piece to get a feel for the situation.  One gets the impression that Lemen is, well a tad eccentric, and one wonders why some of her behavior (like sitting in front of the establishment and laying on her car horn for half an hour straight) isn’t considered harassment or at least disturbing the peace.

Still, one also wonders why, if the Village Inn believes that their business has been damaged that they can’t put a monetary value on the damages.

I certainly would think that Lemen could be ordered to stop making videotapes and taking still pictures of the customers.  Indeed, it seems like there ought to be a legal remedy to her behavior outside of the issue of speech.  I am guessing the fact that she owns property adjacent to the Inn makes a restraining order a moot option.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

John Edwards can do whatever he likes with his money. However, I am not sure how one goes around campaigning about the “Two Americas” whilst living in this house?

Setting aside any attempt simply taking a shot or even calling the obvious hypocrisy card, one really has to wonder about his political judgment and the sincerity of his message. If he is going to build his entire campaign around being the son of a mill worker and the concept that there is a rich America and a poor America, then it seem odd that he would build such an ostentatious house.

His political acumen is doubly suspect when one notes that he has recently been focusing on the very topic of houses (via the Star-Telegram):

Edwards had hit the talk-show circuit with his book Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives, which describes the childhood homes of more-or-less famous people, including his own modest mill-village houses.

More info on the house here (via the McClatchy Newspapers), Edwards fields questions about his decadent digs:

Visitors to the estate leave the highway and take a long winding road to the house, which is set in a clearing. The building is valued for tax purposes at $4.2 million, making it the most expensive house in Orange County, according to Tax Assessor John Smith.

The main living section of the house is 10,778 square feet and has a tax value of $3.1 million, according to tax records. It has five bedrooms, 6 ½ baths and a library. A second wing of the house is connected by a heated enclosed walkway, valued at $192,664, and is lined with family and political photographs.

The second wing, called “The Barn” by the family, has 6,336 square feet and includes a lounge and offices that are 70 percent complete. It has a current tax value of $567,403. It also has a basketball court, which is 60 percent complete and valued at $300,960; a racquetball court, 70 percent complete and valued at $41,000; and a pool, according to tax records.

And I must confess, this comes across as sounding silly:

Elizabeth Edwards said the gym fulfilled her husband’s dream of having his own basketball court to use when he wished.

“Every kid who grew up in North Carolina has exactly the same dream,” she said. “Even though he is 53 and not in basketball shape, he goes down and shoots.”

The racquetball court, Elizabeth Edwards said, was a sort of “valentine” from her husband to help with her lifelong battles to control her weight.

She said there is nothing “grandiose” about the house and that it was designed to be a functional home with room for her children to play outdoors and a large kitchen to entertain friends and family.

“This house is a truly fabulous family home,” she said. “The house has one fireplace, no grand staircase. It’s not unlike our lives in smaller quarters for over 30 years, starting with John’s apartment in Oakwood.”

She portrayed their lifestyle as lacking pretension.

“We don’t take fancy vacations,” she said. “When the kids were young, we used frequent flyer miles to take a trip to Europe. We don’t have jewelry. We don’t have furs. We don’t have fancy cars. Those kinds of accoutrements don’t matter to him. What matters to him is home.”

Again, I have no problem with the Edwards’ spending their money as they see fit. However to pretend like a $6 million+ compound isn’t “grandiose” is to be out of touch with reality. And despite the protestations to the contrary, I think it does cause political problems given Edwards’ central campaign theme.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Mortars hit Iraqi girls’ school; 5 dead:

Mortar shells rained down Sunday on a girls’ secondary school in a mostly Sunni area of western Baghdad, killing five pupils and wounding 20, witnesses and police said. At least seven other people died in a series of bombings and shootings across the capital, mostly in Shiite areas.


The mortar attack occurred about 11 a.m. at the Kholoud Secondary School in the Adil neighborhood of western Baghdad. Several projectiles exploded in the courtyard of the school, shattering windows in the classrooms and spraying pupils with shards of glass. Pools of blood smeared the stone steps and walkways.


The area has been the scene of reprisal attacks by Sunni and Shiite extremists that have persisted as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers prepare for a security crackdown. A Sunni group, the General Conference of the People of Iraq, accused Shiite militias and said the markings on the mortars indicated they were manufactured in Iran.

The amount of hatred needed to purposefully target a school full of children is enormous.  Clearly, though, the militants on both sides of this sectarian conflict wish to disrupt any hope of normal life until one side wins.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

McClatchy Washington Bureau reports that Gonzales appoints political loyalists into vacant U.S. attorneys slots:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is transforming the ranks of the nation’s top federal prosecutors by firing some and appointing conservative loyalists from the Bush administration’s inner circle who critics say are unlikely to buck Washington.

The newly appointed U.S. attorneys all have impressive legal credentials, but most of them have few, if any, ties to the communities they’ve been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.

The nine recent appointees identified by McClatchy Newspapers held high-level White House or Justice Department jobs, and most of them were handpicked by Gonzales under a little-noticed provision of the Patriot Act that became law in March.

Now, it is always easy to look at the activities of those in Washington and find oneself assuming the worst, especially when one is predisposed to be critical of a given administration.

On the one hand, the notion that an appointment process is political is hardly a surprise, nor is it odd to see a given branch (or a specific administration) seeking to increase its power (indeed, James Madison foresaw that very activity in Federalist 51).   Still, the current administration has shown an especial interest in fortifying the power of the executive, so these types of moves tend to receive understandably more scrutiny.  And the fact that this has something to the do with the Patriot Act has the effect of raising additional flags.

More to the point:  the fact that some US Attorneys are being fired and their replacements are being selected under this less than transparent process is concerning.

Here are the basics (from the above-linked article):

Traditionally, the top assistant U.S. attorney in each local office temporarily fills any vacancy while home-state senators search for preferred candidates to present to the White House for consideration. If it takes more than four months to find a permanent successor, a judge can extend the temporary appointment or name another acting U.S. attorney. Ultimately, the candidates must be confirmed by the Senate.

Gonzales gained the ability to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite terms as a result of a change to the Patriot Act that stripped federal judges of their appointment power.

It seems odd to have made this change–why would the AG be inherently better to manage this job than judges?  What does such a move have to do with improving the federal government’s ability to deal with terrorism (ostensibly the purpose of USA PATRIOT)?

At a minimum I am not a fan of interim appointments for undefined amounts of time–especially for positions that ultimately are supposed to go before the Senate.

The degree to which Gonzalez’s actions are considered nefarious (or even problematic) likely is shaded by one’s views of the administration.  Still, there does appear to be a shift in approach:

Several prosecutors said prior Republican administrations avoided such tight control.

“Under Reagan and the first Bush administration, we worked very hard to push the power out to the locals,” said Jean Paul Bradshaw, who was a U.S. attorney in Kansas City under President George H.W. Bush. “Local attorneys know how a case will play in their areas, what crimes are a problem. Ultimately, these decisions are better made locally.”

Peter Nunez, a U.S. attorney in San Diego under President Reagan for six years, said prosecutors have expressed frustration with the strict oversight from Washington.

“I’ve heard nothing but complaints over the last six years about how many things the Justice Department is demanding relating to bureaucracy and red tape,” Nunez said.

At a minimum, the past focus on local connections makes sense and it does appear that there is a very plausible argument to be made that the goal of the administration is to assert greater control in this realm.

However, the situation takes on a more disturbing hue when one focuses on the fact that these are not just replacements of persons leaving office. 

For example (via an editorial from the NYT ):

The federal investigation into Congressional corruption is approaching a crucial deadline and potential dead end. Feb. 15 is the last day on the job for United States Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego, the inquiry’s dedicated prosecutor, who is being purged by the Bush administration.

Her investigation led to the imprisonment of former Representative Randy Cunningham, the California Republican who took millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for delivering lucrative government contracts. But just as Ms. Lam was digging into other possible wrongdoing, the White House decided to force her from office without explanation.

The same editorial notes:

The administration is defenestrating at least six other U.S. attorneys. Yet Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is refusing to provide Congress with details on these unmerited dismissals. He insists that there’s no attempt to quash fresh Republican scandals and says only the “very best” will be named as replacements.

This is, under the best interpretation, odd.  Under the worst it looks like an abuse of power.

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By Steven L. Taylor

FYI: there’s new stuff at the Politics of Colombia and PoliSciFi (click thru via the upper left-hand portion of the page).

And from the Self Promotion Department, I would note that it is perfectly acceptable (indeed, encouraged!) to blogroll the main site and any of the sideblogs that make up the Collective.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Head of Bolivia gas firm resigns

The head of Bolivia’s state energy company has said he is resigning because of differences with the government of President Evo Morales.

Juan Carlos Ortiz is the second head of the company to resign since Mr Morales nationalised Bolivia’s gas industry.

The country has the second-largest natural gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

Taking over an industry and thinking one can just command it to do as one wills is harder than it looks.

One of the more interesting aspects of this situation is that the customer most effected by the nationalization is not some once-imperial power from outside the region. Rather, it’s Brazil.

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Friday, January 26, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Ivins hospitalized in ongoing battle with cancer

Liberal Texas columnist Molly Ivins has been hospitalized in her ongoing battle with breast cancer, her assistant said Friday.

Ivins may be able to go home Monday, Betsy Moon said.

“That’s the day the doctors said,” Moon said. “We’re not sure what’s going to happen, but she’s very sick.”

That doesn’t sound good. Hopefully she will recover quickly and be able to return home soon.

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