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Gary Ackerman’s blast at SEC? Just theatrics from AIPAC loyalist who once took cash from Bernie Madoff.

Yeah, yeah, blah, blah: Ackerman at last shows interest in the SEC’s operations.

Congressman Gary Ackerman‘s rip-snorting attack on the SEC for not catching Bernie Madoff‘s scam is good entertainment, but it’s only bluster to impress his constituents who got took.

Still, it’s not a bad dog-and-pony show from a congressman who used to take campaign contributions from Madoff, as federal records show.

Despite his spot as vice-chair of a subcommittee overseeing the SEC (which presupposes that he had an interest in Wall Street’s functioning before he assumed that post), Ackerman showed practically no interest in the SEC’s operations until the current Wall Street meltdown.

An examination of bills sponsored by the longtime but relatively low-ranking congressman reveals few measures relating to the SEC. Actually, I could find only one or two, and they were recent. (Please, Gary, correct me if I’m wrong.)

Who should really care what these House members say to the SEC? They’re just posturing. The real can of whup-ass was opened yesterday by whistleblower Harry Markopolos.

Ackerman’s own blistering attack on the sitting-duck SEC officials is easily explained: The congressman represents parts of Queens and Long Island, but he also represents conservative Jews across the country and in Israel as one of Jewish-hawk lobby AIPAC’s most ardent loyalists. Madoff’s scam deeply cut into that constituency of Ackerman’s. Shouting “Shonda!” at the SEC should keep him in good stead with those folks.

He may not have been too active on the SEC front until recently, but Ackerman has over the years introduced a slew of bills at the behest of AIPAC and even the Israeli government.

Not to mention the fact (which I’ll mention again) that, back in the ’90s, Madoff himself (also a Democrat and ardent supporter of Israel’s government) gave Ackerman $1,200 in campaign donations.

Known as a social-issues liberal but a firm friend of Israel’s hawks, Ackerman did Israel’s and AIPAC’s bidding last May, as Ira Glunts noted last summer:

Ordinarily, the American Israel Policy Action Committee (AIPAC) has an influence on U.S. foreign policy which goes unchallenged. In the case of the current House resolution, H. Con. Res. 362, despite the intense pressure exerted by AIPAC, some members of the United States House of Representatives who initially were about to rubber stamp this reckless non-binding resolution promoted by the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, are having a change of heart. After receiving many thousands of messages which pointed out that the resolution could be interpreted as Congressional authorization for military action against Iran, some legislators began expressing their own reservations.

On May 19, 2008, a 12-member House delegation led by House Speaker Pelosi met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. At that lunch meeting, Olmert proposed that a naval blockade be imposed on Iran in order to stop its uranium enrichment program. Present at this meeting were: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, and AIPAC loyalists Reps. Nita Lowey and Gary Ackerman. Three days after this meeting, Mr. Ackerman introduced the resolution H. Con. Res. 362 in the House….

Many people, already alarmed by U.S. and Israeli saber-rattling, were startled at the aggressive tone of the AIPAC resolution. They reacted especially adversely to the clause prohibiting imports of refined petroleum which appeared to demand a blockade. Even if a blockade did not materialize, passage of the resolution could be understood by the Bush administration as a Congressional authorization for the use of force against Iran.

At the very least, passage of H. Con. Res. 362 would indicate a lack of Congressional resolve to prevent the U.S. from expanding America’s Middle East war to Iran. This is especially worrisome in light of the fact that, as Seymour Hersh has written in The New Yorker, a Congressional delegation led by Nancy Pelosi has already authorized 400 million dollars for covert operations in Iran aimed at arming dissident groups and subverting Iranian nuclear sites.

Ackerman’s middling career in Congress has been dominated by his continual introduction of measures aggressively favorable to Israel. See the Jewish Daily Forward for a 2006 account of Ackerman’s power as an extension of AIPAC in Congress. Too bad he wasn’t focused more on the SEC back then.

 

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‘Times’ declares war on news, gets right in your grille — for a change

The Times as Jimmy Cagney and the reader as Mae Clarke. It’s about time.

A banner day for the New York Times.

Newspapers that don’t go out for blood are worthless. The Times often should be itself flayed because it so often doesn’t take full advantage of its tremendous resources and usually undeserved clout and instead exudes arrogance and condescension.

This morning, however, its reporters slapped on their fedoras and got the goods, and their editors snapped out of it, rolled up their Brooks Brothers sleeves, and laid it on us.

Like Jimmy Cagney shoving a grapefruit into Mae Clarke‘s face in The Public Enemy (1931), Ethan Bronner‘s “U.N. and Red Cross Add to Outcry on Gaza War” calls a war a war and shoves the details into your face during your breakfast before you have time to take your first sip of coffee:

“International aid groups lashed out at Israel on Thursday over the war in Gaza, saying that access to civilians in need is poor, relief workers are being hurt and killed, and Israel is woefully neglecting its obligations to Palestinians who are trapped, some among rotting corpses in a nightmarish landscape of deprivation”.

You can see that Bronner’s piece doesn’t fiddle around with the paper’s usual stiff, officious lede followed by some boring, pseudo-analytical claptrap about how something affects decision-makers.

Bronner’s second paragraph is the kind of thing you usually see as the lede of such a story:

“The United Nations declared a suspension of its aid operations after one of its drivers was killed and two others were wounded despite driving United Nations-flagged vehicles and coordinating their movements with the Israeli military. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called for an investigation by Israel for a second time in a week after the more than 40 deaths near a United Nations school from Israeli tank fire on Tuesday”.

The paper’s still not up to speed on the fact that many Jews, both here and in Israel (particularly in Israel), are angrily opposed to the war on Gaza.

The peace movement among Jews gets prominent play in the vibrant Israeli press and in other outlets around the world. But not in the U.S. media.

However, you can always go to New York’s own Forward, thank G-d, where the indefatigable Nathan Guttman‘s “Peace Groups Lose First Major Gaza Challenge On Capitol Hill: Attempts by Activists To Shape Resolution Come Up Short” opens a window on news that most of the rest of the U.S. press routinely ignores.

Enough of the negative stuff about negative stuff: The Times does deserve another kudos or two or three: Another example of today’s fired-up Times is a Paris dispatch from veteran Alan Cowell, “Gaza Children Found With Mothers’ Corpses”:

“The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had discovered “shocking” scenes — including small children next to their mothers’ corpses — when its representatives gained access for the first time to parts of Gaza battered by Israeli shelling. It accused Israel of failing to meet obligations to care for the wounded in areas of combat”.

Years ago, Cowell did a bang-up job writing such pieces day after day for the Times from apartheid-era South Africa. Now he’s filing stuff about apartheid-era Israel.

Even the paper’s editorial page this morning took off its kid gloves, dismissed its manservants and maids, and unleashed a sneer or two at its fellow Establishment members. Labeling the confirmation hearing for the new Secretary of Health and Human Services a “cuddly welcome for Mr. Daschle,” the editorial board climbed down from the pedestal it has built for itself and started punching at the incoming Obama regime:

“…The hearing before a Senate health committee was mostly a love-fest as senators from both parties expressed admiration for their former Senate colleague….

Unfortunately, the hearing did not tell us much at all about how the incoming Obama administration intends to pay for its emerging health care programs or how, for all of his smoothness at the hearing, Mr. Daschle will deal with the very real and very big differences his team has with Republicans on this and other vital issues.

Instead, the senators avoided asking such tough questions, and Mr. Daschle bent over backward to reassure Republicans that he would not try to ram anything too unpalatable down their throats….”

A welcome dose of cynicism instead of the expected deadly dull civility and caution.

Yes, there are still some nits to pick in the Times, but this morning the paper emits a louder buzz than usual.

Tally-ho! Release the hounds! The paper usually acts more like C. Montgomery Burns hounding the beleaguered folk in Springfield. This morning, it’s dogging a newspaper’s proper targets.

While you’re wiping the grapefruit off your face, click on these items, front-loaded this morning only with other Times pieces, most of which have surprisingly hard-hitting, newsy ledes…

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

N.Y. Times: ‘Latinos Recall Pattern of Attacks Before Long Island Killing’

N.Y. Times: ‘Senate Allies Fault Obama on Stimulus’

N.Y. Times: ‘As His Inmates Grew Thinner, a Sheriff’s Wallet Grew Fatter’

N.Y. Times: ‘Fatal Avalanches Rattle Ski Country in the West’

N.Y. Times: ‘Bill Easing Unionizing Is Under Heavy Attack’

N.Y. Times: ‘Nationwide Inquiry on Bids for Municipal Bonds’

“The federal investigation that prompted Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico to withdraw his nomination as commerce secretary offers a rare glimpse into a long-simmering investigation of possible bid-rigging, tax evasion and other wrongdoing throughout the municipal bond business.

Three federal agencies and a loose consortium of state attorneys general have for several years been gathering evidence of what appears to be collusion among the banks and other companies that have helped state and local governments take approximately $400 billion worth of municipal notes and bonds to market each year”.

N.Y. Times: ‘For BlackBerry, Obama’s Devotion Is Priceless’

Bloomberg: ‘Excrement, Insulation, Bike Paths Trim CO2 Emissions in Cities’

Wall Street Journal: ‘A Wolfe in Regulator’s Clothing: Drug Industry Critic Joins the FDA’

N.Y. Post: ‘KID PERV IN AIDS SCARE’

Bloomberg: ‘Brokers Disdain Toaster Salesmen in Bank America’s Merrill Deal’

N.Y. Post: ‘SLAY FESS: REALTOR SENT ME OVER EDGE’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Business Warms to Obama, but Frictions Loom on Climate’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Gotti hit man dips his foe in acid, but loves mommy’

N.Y. Post: ‘CAROLINE HAS “A MINUS”: GOV’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Wall Street Is Big Donor to Inauguration’

N.Y. Post: ‘JUST LIKE OL’ CRIMES: NYPD’S LETUP STIRS FEARS OF ’80S FLASHBACK’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Brooklyn Nets Arena cutbacks? Bruce Ratner scales back plans; Star architect Frank Gehry may go’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Lehman Brothers Plans Private-Equity Spinoff’

N.Y. Post: ‘UPSTATE “PONZI” HITS CHURCHES’

N.Y. Post: ‘FORMER GOPER MIKE WANTS TO GET BACK IN’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Bailout Pact Of GM, U.S. Would Block A UAW Strike’

Bloomberg: ‘London Boom Time Bill Comes Due as Bankers Buy Coffee on Credit’

N.Y. Post: ‘PUSH VS. TERRORIST “CELLS”‘

N.Y. Daily News: ‘I snapped & whacked her: Chilling confession in Linda Stein slay aired’

N.Y. Post: ‘MTA’S “GREEN” BACKS’

N.Y. Post: ‘NY CIVIL WAR BONES FOUND’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Hedge-Fund Middlemen Get Pinched’

N.Y. Post: ‘RATTNER BLOWOUT: BOTTLENECK DEVELOPS IN POSSIBLE CAR CZAR APPOINTMENT’

N.Y. Post: ‘MORTGAGE RATES DROP’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Chevron Warns of Hefty Drop in Earnings’

Bloomberg: ‘Billion-Dollar U.S. Verdicts Vanish After Appeals, New Rulings’

N.Y. Post: ‘DTV DELAY BACKED BY OBAMA’

Bloomberg: ‘Obama Must Tackle Fannie, Freddie’s Federal Ties’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Panel Steps Up Criticism of Treasury Over TARP’

Bloomberg: ‘Al-Jazeera Said to Mull Bid for English Soccer’s Mideast Rights’


Bloomberg: ‘Madoff’s Three-Bedroom Riviera Retreat Belied Ponzi Scheme Role’

Bloomberg: ‘Merkin Intimidated Co-Op Board While Building Funds Madoff Lost’

N.Y. Post: ‘FINAL MADOFF PLUNDER PLAN’

Bloomberg: ‘Uma Thurman No Help to Arpad Busson in Madoff Fraud’s Nightmare’

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S.: Madoff Had $173 Million in Checks’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Con Hits Boston, Home to Victim Shapiro, Ponzi’

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A Thousand and One Arabian Nightmares

Saudi King Abdullah’s message of peace in NYC leaves his subjects back home in pieces.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia played New York City for a sucker yesterday with his homily about peace and mercy.

Even in a city that thrives on chutzpah, Abdullah’s lovefest publicity stunt has no equal.

The king was so polite right from the start of his speech yesterday at the U.N. Peace Through Dialogue meeting:

“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, Your Majesties, Highnesses, Excellencies, His Excellency the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Your Excellency the Secretary-General of the United Nations:

“Peace and the mercy and blessings of God be with you.”

And now a word from the U.S. State Department’s March 11, 2008, human-rights report on the peace and mercy during 2007 in the Saudi Arabia of King Abdullah:

• Violence against women and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. Limitations on the rights of foreign workers remained a severe problem.

• [Ministry of Interior] officials were responsible for most alleged incidents of physical abuse and torture of prisoners, including beatings, lashings, and suspension from bars by handcuffs.

• During the year according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the press reported 153 beheadings of individuals who were convicted of murder, narcotics-related offenses, and armed robbery, as well as of rape, sorcery and adultery.

Sorry, King Abdullah, were you saying something about “instruments to cause misery”?

“In the presence of this gathering of international leaders and representatives and members of the General Assembly — the conscience of the United Nations — and in front of the whole world, we state with a unified voice that religions through which Almighty God sought to bring happiness to mankind should not be turned into instruments to cause misery.

“Human beings were created as equals and partners on this planet; either they live together in peace and harmony, or they will inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred.”

No wonder it’s so hot in Saudi Arabia. All those flames of misunderstanding. According to the State Department report on 2007 events:

• On May 23, religious police allegedly beat to death 28-year-old Suleiman al-Huraisi who was detained for the possession and sale of alcohol. After a three-month investigation, MOI officials charged two members of the religious police. On November 28, a court citing lack of evidence acquitted them.

• On June 1, a member of the religious police reportedly arrested Ahmad al-Bulawi in Tabuk on suspicion of being in “illegal seclusion” with an unrelated woman. An autopsy revealed he had been beaten on his face before dying at the religious police center. On July 30, the Tabuk General Investigation and Prosecution Authority ruled that the arresting authorities, members of the religious police and a security guard, were not guilty of any wrongdoing.

• During the week of August 5, a Bangladeshi man died in Medina while in the custody of the religious police. They arrested him for allegedly washing a car while he should have been attending prayers. The head of the religious police, Ibrahim al-Gaith, claimed that the man had fainted and that there were no signs of assault. At year’s end the case was pending with the Shari’a court of Medina.

If washing your car is a sin punishable by death then I’ll live forever. But that’s another story. Sorry, King, I was preoccupied. What were you saying?

“Dear Friends: Throughout history, preoccupation with differences between the followers of religions and cultures has engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and considerable bloodshed without any sound logical or ideological justification.

“It is high time for us to learn from the harsh lessons of the past and concur on the ethics and ideals in which we all believe. Matters on which we differ will be decided by our Omniscient Creator on the Day of Judgment.

“Every tragedy suffered in today’s world is ultimately a result of the abandonment of the paramount principle enunciated by all religions and cultures: The roots of all global crises can be found in human denial of the eternal principle of justice.”

If there is an Allah, he’ll remember for eternity this episode cited in the State Department report:

In March 2006 in Qatif, seven men found a woman and her male companion together in a car and gang-raped them both.

The perpetrators were sentenced to between eight months and five years in prison and between 80 and 1,000 lashes. The same court also sentenced the woman and her ex-boyfriend to 90 lashes for being unmarried and alone in a car with an unmarried person of the opposite sex at the time of the incident.

On November 14, after her lawyer requested a review of the case, the Higher Court of Justice sent the case back to the Qatif General Court which increased the woman’s sentence from 90 lashes to 200 lashes and six months in prison and increased the perpetrators sentences to between two and nine years each.

The court also suspended her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, for “insulting the Supreme Judicial Council and disobeying the rules and regulations,” reportedly for his efforts to publicize the woman’s case. The court confiscated al-Lahem’s license and asked him to appear before a disciplinary session at the Judicial Investigation Department of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

On November 24, the MOJ issued a statement “clarifying” the role of the two victims who “exposed” themselves to the crime because of their behavior. The statement stated that because the victims were alone in the car, they had violated Shari’a and were thus liable for punishment. On December 17, King Abdullah pardoned both victims, citing his authority to overrule judgments not specifically prescribed by Islamic legal code.

Now that’s what I call tolerance, King. Fill me in:

“Terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilization. They would not have appeared except for the absence of the principle of tolerance. The alienation and the sense of loss which affects the lives of many of or young, leading them to drugs and crime, became widespread due to the dissolution of family bonds that Almighty God intended to be firm and strong.

“Our dialogue, conducted in a constructive manner, should, by the grace of God, revive and reinstate these lofty ideals among peoples and nations. No doubt, God willing, this will constitute a glorious triumph of what is most noble over what is most evil in human beings and will grant mankind hope of a future in which justice, security and a decent life will prevail over injustice, fear and poverty.”

The State Department report does agree, King Abdullah, that your minions are constantly searching for evil:

During [2007], the religious police harassed and detained citizens and foreigners of both sexes.

[In 2006, Saudi officials] received numerous complaints of beatings, humiliation, confiscation of personal property and unnecessary body searches and the use of coercion to sign confessions. . . .

The government and/or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, several individuals died after beatings that took place while in the custody of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as the religious police or Mutawwa’in. . . .

The government also punished persons for various offenses with amputations for theft, and lashings, including for alcohol-related offenses or for being alone in the company of an unrelated person of the opposite sex. In contrast to previous years, there were no reports of lashings in the women’s prisons.

I cut you off, King Abdullah. Were you saying something about a hand?

“We will continue what we have commenced, extending our hand to all those advocating peace, justice and tolerance.

“In conclusion, I would like to remind all of you, and myself, of the words of the Holy Qur’an:

” ‘O Mankind! We have created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that ye may know each other. Very, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you.’ “

Or, self-righteous. Whatever.

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Dead presidents in Africa and on Wall Street

Still no word on whether Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, Teodoro Obiang, is alive or dead.

Last week, it seemed that one of the world’s most notorious despots — also a valued customer of the Bush-connected Riggs Bank in D.C. — was finally dead.

This story in Kenya’s Daily Nation immediately surfaced: “Equatorial Guinea president denies rumours of his death.”

Classic.

But that story was based on the word of the dictator’s aides. And some of Obiang’s aides have been known to torture prisoners with stinging ants, so, you know, not everybody on his staff might be trustworthy.

The president himself has still not surfaced.

Unlike on Wall Street, where millions of dead presidents have surfaced — stuffed into the pockets of the bankers who sparked the financial meltdown.

Today’s Wall Street Journal points out that Merrill Lynch’s “head of strategy,” Peter Kraus, is leaving after less than two months on the job with a “buyout bonanza” of at least $10 million — and maybe $25 million — in his pocket.

When melting-down Merrill was swallowed up by Bank of America, thousands of Merrill workers were sure to be fired. But a clause in Kraus’s contract kicked in. The WSJ story notes:

He isn’t affected by a provision in the government’s rescue plan that curbs executive compensation, a person familiar with the situation said. Those restrictions cover the CEO, chief financial officer and three other highest-paid executives of the firm.

Many other Wall Street execs have buyout clauses that kick in when control of the companies they work for changes hands. So Kraus won’t be the only one walking away with all those dead presidents.

We can only hope that Kraus is not going into “public service.” Not that he wouldn’t make out like a bandit if he chose to.

When Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson quit in 2006 to become Treasury Secretary, he had to rid himself of his Goldman stock. After negotiating with his own company on a settlement, he walked away with a cool $110 million for his shares and options — don’t think for one second that Paulson had spent much to obtain those shares; like other Wall Street execs, he got most of them just handed to him.

That deal gave him the experience he needed to figure out how to curb executive compensation during the bailout.

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Torturing despot Obiang, a U.S. pal, reportedly dies

One of the planet’s most despotic despots, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, ruler of tiny but oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and a star figure in the Riggs Bank scandal in 2004, may be dead. At last.

Unlike some of his prisoners, death didn’t occur through torture by stinging ants.

Afrol News is reporting the ailing Obiang’s “possible death or irreversible coma.” That’s the situation also of his little country.

The Bush regime has helped out Obiang in numerous ways (here’s Condi Rice with him in April 2006), and Obiang repaid the favors, at one time stashing some of his loot at Riggs National Bank in D.C., a former institution formerly owned by Bush family crony Joe Allbritton with a taste given to Dubya’s uncle Jonathan Bush.

For details of Obiang and Riggs, see my August 4, 2004 item “Yes, Protect the U.S. Treasury! Please!,” in which I noted:

The dangling thread that just this year [2004] doomed Allbritton’s control of the bank was its link to Teodoro Obiang, dictator of Equatorial Guinea. He stashed millions of no-questions-asked dollars he got from — who else — U.S. oil companies in good ol’ Joe Allbritton’s friendly downtown D.C. bank, according to Senate investigators and others. When that was publicized in Senate hearings, thanks in large part to [Michigan senator Carl] Levin, the fabric of those expensive suits and ties inhabiting snooty Riggs Bank crumbled to dust.

As for Equatorial Guinea, well, people there are tortured by “stinging ants,” according to our own State Department. Let’s put that in context by quoting the entire sentence from the U.S. government’s 1998 report: “Police reportedly urinated on prisoners, kicked them in the ribs, sliced their ears with knives, and smeared oil over their naked bodies in order to attract stinging ants.”

The document continues, “According to credible reports, this torture was approved at the highest levels of the [Equatorial Guinea] Government and was directed by the chief of presidential security, Armengol Ondo Nguema, who is also President Obiang’s brother. Ondo Nguema allegedly taunted prisoners by describing the suffering that they were about to endure.”

For other greatest hits of Obiang, see my September 7, 2004, item, “Tales from the Vault,” and this April 2005 item.

U.S. oil companies have danced the tango with Obiang for years, as noted in the Washington Post‘s 2004 piece “U.S. Oil Firms Entwined in Equatorial Guinea Deals: Riggs Probe Led to SEC Inquiry on Corruption, Profiteering.”

But even those scandals didn’t stop our government from continuing to give Obiang a hand. Check out Ken Silverstein‘s August 9, 2006, Harper’s piece, “Obiang’s Banking Again: State Department and Washington insiders help a dictator get what he wants.”  [via guinea-ecuatorial.net]

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Daily Flog: Kicking the habit but blindly drunk, hounded by Afghans, woofed at by Hillary

Running down the press:

To the dismay of headline buffs, the New York Post let a good one slip away this morning. Buried in its canned Weird But True roundup is the news that Italian priest Antonio Rungi planned a beauty contest for nuns, “Miss Sister 2008,” but canceled it under pressure.

And this isn’t a separate splash in the Post?

The tab decided to focus on the other beauty content, the one in Denver, where it managed to get in a well-justified shot at Hillary:

HILL: ‘BARACK’S MY CANDIDATE’; BUT HEAPS MORE PRAISE ON HER BACKERS THAN ON HIM

Brendan Scott and Maggie Haberman crafted a solid lede:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton last night declared that former rival Barack Obama “is my candidate” and urged her backers to let go, lay down their swords and vote for him over John McCain.

But while throwing her political weight behind her one-time foe, Clinton said little that boosted Obama’s personal story, political résumé — nor did she defend him against GOP attacks that he’s unqualified for office.

Good piece, but the Post didn’t have to kick its headline habit by practically ignoring the beauty contest for nuns.

Christ, it merited separate pieces in outlets around the world — even in the government-controlled Kazinform in Kazakhstan.

The Calgary Sun headlined it “Sisters’ Pageant Just Nun-Sense,” and the Daily Mash in the U.K. proclaimed, “Nun Lovers Devastated” before veering off into its usual satire by “quoting” Rungi:

“I wanted to reflect the inner beauty of my holy sisters. But if you just want to look at nuns’ tits then I suggest you try the Jesuits.”

Even the mostly moribund Chicago Sun-Times found space amid its Demo convention news to weigh in with “Beauty Contest Doesn’t Have Prayer.”

Isn’t it big news when a priest is obsessed with female beauty?


Salon: ‘We drive as we live’

Kevin Berger had the good sense to hitch a ride on NYC’s mad streets and expressways with Brooklyn’s Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. (See Vanderbilt’s blog.)

Reporting from the front (seat), Berger weaves:

“You have to be careful here,” [Vanderbilt] says. “People come blazing out of the Battery Tunnel with an E-Z Pass and don’t stop for you.”

“I notice you didn’t signal,” I say.

“It’s New York drivers. It’s one thing I’ve observed from living here: They will not slow down. It’s almost like you’re taunting them. I was told in Boston that signaling is revealing your intentions to the enemy. It’s the same here. You’re better off not signaling.”


Times: ‘Clinton Delivers Emphatic Plea for Unity’

Ridiculously lame headline that doesn’t even back up the story’s angle, which is surprisingly heady, at least in the second graf. Unfortunately, even there, Patrick Healy and his editors made sure that the syntax was typically stiff and stilted:

With her husband looking on tenderly and her supporters watching with tears in their eyes, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton deferred her own dreams on Tuesday night and delivered an emphatic plea at the Democratic National Convention to unite behind her rival, Senator Barack Obama, no matter what ill will lingered.

Mrs. Clinton, who was once certain that she would win the Democratic nomination this year, also took steps on Tuesday — deliberate steps, aides said — to keep the door open to a future bid for the presidency. She rallied supporters in her speech, and, at an earlier event with 3,000 women, described her passion about her own campaign. And her aides limited input on the speech from Obama advisers, while seeking advice from her former strategist, Mark Penn, a loathed figure in the Obama camp.


Times: ‘Taliban Gain New Foothold in Afghan City After Attack’

Too bad that Carlotta Gall‘s important story from Kandahar has a feature-y lede on such a good hard-news piece. The significance of a Taliban jail break in June starts in her third and fourth grafs, and you have to give the Times credit for surprisingly using such adjectives as “spectacular” and “catastrophic” in the same sentence:

The prison break, on June 13, was a spectacular propaganda coup for the Taliban not only in freeing their comrades and flaunting their strength, but also in exposing the catastrophic weakness of the Afghan government, its army and the police, as well as the international forces trying to secure Kandahar.

In the weeks since the prison break, security has further deteriorated in this southern Afghan city, once the de facto capital of the Taliban, that has become a renewed front line in the battle against the radical Islamist movement. The failure of the American-backed Afghan government to protect Kandahar has rippled across the rest of the country and complicated the task of NATO forces, which have suffered more deaths here this year than at any time since the 2001 invasion.

Why she didn’t lede with the fourth graf is beyond her editors. And that contributed, no doubt, to the soft headline on a story carrying ominous news about what may turn out to be a watershed moment in the worsening Afghan War.


Times: ‘A Decline in Uninsured Is Reported for 2007’

As predicted in yesterday’s Press Clips, the big dailies mostly limped home in the race to report the bad economic news eructated by the Census Bureau.

But there was some good nagging. Go straight to Steven Pearlstein‘s column in the Washington Post. He cuts through the bullshit:

Hey, good news on the income front: The Census Bureau reported yesterday that median earnings for full-time male workers rose by $1,653 last year, to $45,113, after adjusting for inflation.

Another year like that, and maybe the typical male worker will finally catch up to where he was in 1973.

The Times‘s Ian Urbina focused almost solely on the health-insurance angle of the stats.

The WashPost‘s news story, by Michael A. Fletcher, takes another angle, the poverty rate.

But Urbina’s focus on the health-insurance figures is at least serviceable because he throws in the big caveats very high. (Disclosure: I’ve edited Urbina’s work and respect it.)

And Urbina got some good context that dampens the supposedly good news about the number of uninsured Americans:

Health-care experts and advocates for the poor said the report also presented an outdated picture regarding health insurance. The rate of people without health insurance declined to 15.3 percent in 2007, from 15.8 percent a year earlier.

“In 2007, at least 26 states made efforts to expand coverage, but as the economy has turned downward so have state efforts,” said Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ms. Rowland added that insurance premiums had risen faster than wages and inflation, causing more people to seek insurance from public programs.


Daily Scotsman: ‘Young Scots risk losing their sight in bid to get blind drunk’

The best story of the day, and it’s too bad that the big U.S. papers ignored it.

The Times, for instance, limited its Scotland coverage this morning to “the Royal Bank of Scotland announced on Wednesday it appointed a trio of non-executive directors in effort to address weaknesses on its board.”

Fascinating. Now here’s the interesting news out of Edinburgh, courtesy of Craig Brown:

With one of the highest rates of binge drinking among teenagers, Scotland already has an unenviable reputation with alcohol. But now experts are warning about a new trend among young people that is aimed at speeding up the process of getting drunk – pouring shots of alcohol directly into their eyes.

Known as “one-in-the-eye”, it involves using shot glasses in a manner similar to that of eye-wash.

Despite the risk of blindness, users hope that by absorbing the alcohol via the membranes of the eye, it will enter the bloodstream more quickly and have a stronger effect when it reaches the brain.

Brown’s piece continues with a taste of history of this, like, totally insane practice, dude:

Originating in the bars of holiday resorts on the continent, the dangerous fad has caught on in university bars and nightclubs, despite potentially catastrophic consequences.

One leading doctor warned those who indulge in the craze are seriously endangering their sight.

Expect more hipsters than usual staggering around Williamsburg’s streets.


Daily News: ‘Hillary Clinton leaves no room to doubt support for Barack Obama’

Talk about going blind:

Playing the role of healer, an impassioned Hillary Clinton delivered the most dramatic speech of her storied life Tuesday night – even if it wasn’t the one she wanted to give.

Moving forcefully but gracefully to tamp down the enduring bitterness over her tough primary battle with Barack Obama, Clinton unequivocally beseeched her Democratic supporters to follow her lead and vote for the Illinois senator in November.

Ludicrous, though you can’t help but perversely love the 19th century feel of “unequivocally beseeched.”

Fill the inkwell and fetch the carriage, my good man! I warrant there’s no dearth of speechifying to report to the citizenry!

 

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Daily Flog: Warning to whitey, desired streetcars, soiled Lennon, two Georgias, Target practice

Running down the press:

Daily News: ‘First look at wife of John Lennon slayer in decades – she says let me be’

Jesus Christ! I’d forgotten that Mark David Chapman was such a sicko/twisted Lennon wannabe that he had also married a woman of Japanese descent.


Post: ‘ARK. ASSASSIN GUNS DOWN TOP CLINTON ALLY’

Congratulations to the Post for not only mentioning in the second paragraph that the shooter had just been fired from a Target store but also for showing the maturity not to hammer into readers that grim irony, as I am immaturely doing right now.


Post: ‘COLOR BY NUMBERS: MAC GAINS MORE WHITES VS. OBAMA’

Good story, better head. The fourth graf is key:

McCain has closed the gap by padding his lead among whites, Southerners and white evangelical Christians.

At least that should make the rest of us whites feel better — that we’re not quite as bad at acting on our institutionalized, internalized racist impulses.

Being upfront about race is something that much of the media is not doing. Witness this CNN story:

“McCain, Obama to address ‘values voters’ “

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama plan to appear together Saturday at a minister-moderated forum held in a church as thousands of evangelicals plan to gather in the nation’s capital to pressure both men move further to the right on social issues.

“Values voters” my shiny metal ass. The rest of us also vote our “values.” These are white conservative Christians (99 percent of them), so call them that in the headlines. Christ, there are even political parties in Europe that use “Christian” in their names.


Newsday: ‘Revealed: Julia Child was a U.S. spy in World War II’

This AP story is old news, but it does remind us why she seemed to have such mixed feelings about turkey.


Post: ‘BRETT FEELIN’ UP THE CREAK’

Clever hed on this:

The 38-year-old Favre – who turns 39 in October – had his fifth practice yesterday morning for the New York Jets, but he admitted his arm wasn’t exactly feeling lively.

Brett Favre is one pro athlete who talks like a real person, unlike the platitudinous Derek Jeter, for example, or the former Giant blowhard Jeremy Shockey or the guarded-beyond-all-reason, high-paid choker Alex Rodriguez. Favre sez:

“I didn’t throw the ball very well this morning, underthrew some throws. No pain, but I’m 38 years old. It’s got to be fatigued a little bit. . . . I felt 38 today, I’m not going to lie to you.”

In his case, he probably won’t. A rare celebrity.


Times: ‘In a Generation, Minorities May Be the U.S. Majority’

Warning to whitey: Your reign as The Man will end sooner than predicted. Sam Roberts reports:

The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.

The British press doesn’t whitewash this news with P.C. tentativeness. The BBC’s lede, for example:

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 – eight years sooner than previous estimates.

The big change is among Hispanics and Asians whose share of the population is set to double to 30% and 9%.

The Times more subtly emits a red-alert tone:

“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington.

Unless you’re talking about the Cherokee Nation. In that previous monumental conflict in Georgia (even before Sherman’s march), Andrew Jackson ethnically cleansed the Cherokees, herding them to the Ozarks along the Trail of Tears and replacing them with slaves and ballcap-wearing, NASCAR-loving rednecks.

Anyway, the Times just loves trend stories, and here’s a trend in the Times itself: Just last week (as I noted on August 7), the paper blared “‘Minorities Often a Majority of the Population Under 20’ “

Next topic for the Times: How do we protect the Upper West Side from these Visigoths?


Human Rights Watch: ‘High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas’

Yes, NYC-based Human Rights Watch has an open bias as a Goody Two-Shoes, but also does some great reporting — unlike its better-known but stodgy fellow NGO Amnesty International — so why not include it in “the press”?

Mainstream international papers, like the Guardian (U.K.), have no problem giving HRW full credit when it breaks news stories. This morning the Guardian‘s Mark Tran notes:

Human Rights Watch provides the first independent confirmation that Georgian villages in South Ossetia have been looted and burned.

HRW is somewhat schizoid as a news source, because it always follows its great nuggets of news with predictable appeals to officials to stop the madness. For example, today it reports:

Forces on both sides in the conflict between Georgia and Russia appear to have killed and injured civilians through indiscriminate attacks, respectively, on the towns of Gori and Tskhinvali, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed its deep concern over the apparently indiscriminate nature of the attacks that have taken such a toll on civilians.

Memo to HRW: Lose the second sentence, please, because your news reporting speaks for itself and you’re clouding the impact of that reporting with that squishy, predictable statement of “deep concern.” (I guess HRW feels it has to do that, but I ignore such statements of concern — who could disagree with such sentiments? — and take its reporting seriously. Keep reading this item and you’ll see why.)

U.S. papers refuse to include HRW and like groups in their press club, but the Internet dissolves that separation because HRW’s reports are as freely and directly available as news from other sources.

You may have forgotten — and the mainstream press has done nothing to help you remember — that HRW broke one of the most grim and explosive stories (so far) from the Iraq War.

Back in September 2005, HRW revealed that U.S. troops at Camp Mercury, outside Fallujah, proudly called themselves “Murderous Maniacs” as they tortured and beat up hapless Iraqi prisoners merely for sport — and in a highly sexualized way that was worse than at Abu Ghraib. As I wrote back then:

In a shocking new report, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne reveal that they or their fellow soldiers routinely beat, tortured, stripped, humiliated, and starved Iraqi prisoners in 2003 and 2004 at a base near Fallujah, often breaking bones, either at the request of superiors or just to let off steam.

HRW wasn’t guessing, nor was it chiding from its Fifth Avenue offices. It waded right in and talked to U.S. troops about it. From its own report, “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division”:

The accounts here suggest that the mistreatment of prisoners by the U.S. military is even more widespread than has been acknowledged to date, including among troops belonging to some of the best trained, most decorated, and highly respected units in the U.S. Army. They describe in vivid terms abusive interrogation techniques ordered by Military Intelligence personnel and known to superior officers. . . .

The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers.

Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC [Prisoner Under Control] tent on their off-hours to “Fuck a PUC” or “Smoke a PUC.” “Fucking a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “Smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

Three years later, HRW has made its own march into Georgia. So keep tabs on its reporting. For that matter, keep checking the Guardian‘s Georgia page.


NY Observer: ‘Penguin Group Wins Rights to Steinbeck Novels’

Minor note on a major author, especially compared with Tony Ortega‘s unique yarn about Steinbeck and Mexican-American farmworkers in today’s Voice: “John Steinbeck’s Ghosts.”


Times: ‘Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software’

John Markoff‘s piece about a court ruling in favor of open-source software is a little confusing, but the upshot is that a major pothole has been patched on our major transportation artery, the information highway.


Times: ‘Conflict Narrows Oil Options for West’

In other transportation news: Good piece by Jad Mouawad about our latest loss in the centuries-old Great Game in Central Asia, and bad news for us SUV owners:

[E]nergy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs.

Times: ‘Downtowns Across the U.S. See Streetcars in Their Future’

Yet another transportation story.

Unfortunately, the Times blows this story by just briefly noting that cities and even small towns across the country had functioning streetcar lines until the mid 1950s, and not mentioning at all that it was the automobile lobby that killed them as it pressured pols to build the Interstate Highway System.

I don’t blanch at this new development because when I was a kid in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I depended on the kindness of streetcars. Public transit is a blessing, no matter how much my fellow straphangers grouse about the MTA and Long Island Rail Road.


Post: ‘BIZMAN HAD A “LOT” OF NERVE’

Carolyn Salazar‘s lede is right to the point:

An enterprising squatter transformed a vacant Brooklyn lot into a thriving million-dollar business — an illegal parking lot and chop shop, prosecutors said yesterday.

Whereas powerful pol Shelly Silver is squatting like Jabba the Hutt on a vacant lot on the Lower East Side, as the Voice‘s Tom Robbins reports.


Daily News: ‘Gloomy Gotti trip to Sunshine State’

The latest installment of news about the fading Italian-American Gangster Era. John Marzulli reports:

Junior is on the move.

John A. (Junior) Gotti, aka Bureau of Prisons inmate 00632-748, began his journey to Tampa Wednesday to be arraigned on racketeering and murder charges.

Who gives a shit?


Daily News: ‘Elizabeth Edwards stayed with cheating husband John for children’s sake’

A perfect example of how the Daily News almost always lags behind the Post in tabloidian terms. The lede:

An anguished Elizabeth Edwards decided to stay with her cheating husband because she is dying and worried about their two young children, her closest friend says.

Only five tabloidian buzzers: “anguished,” “cheating,” “dying, “worried,” and “closest friend.” Yesterday, I noted eight in a Post Edwards lede.

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Iraq Government Takes the Day Off

U.S. officials already banned from travel in Baghdad.

Despite Sunday’s gun battle in Baghdad in which 20 civilians were killed by Blackwater mercenaries, there are new reports that the Iraqi government may not cancel Blackwater’s contract after all.

No surprise there, because Iraq’s foundering government seems to have been canceled.

Radio Free Iraq reports that the Iraqi Parliament called off its September 18 session because a majority of its members didn’t show up for work. The parent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service says in today’s roundup:

Only 115 out of 275 parliamentarians appeared for the session. Meanwhile, a committee formed by the United Iraqi Alliance has failed to lure parliamentarians loyal to Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr back to work, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on September 18. The news channel also reported that “some members” of the so-called moderates’ front in the parliament asked two members of the Iraqis List to leave the list and join the front in exchange for government posts and other privileges.

U.S. officials have already been forbidden to travel outside the Green Zone. Iraqi officials, targeted by insurgents, don’t want to travel either.

Bring in more mercenaries! That seems to be the message. Tel Aviv-based Dominic Moran of Zurich’s International Relations and Security Network (ISN) reports today:

The Iraqi government appears to be backing down from an earlier pledge to revoke the operating license of the largest private foreign security contractor in the country, Blackwater USA.

Providing a good roundup of U.S. mercenary work, Moran also notes:

The [Sunday] deaths again turn the spotlight on the extensive use of private security contractors by US government agencies in Iraq. Blackwater is the largest private security firm involved in the conflict, with an estimated 1,000 personnel on the ground, and has benefited from at least US$750 million in US State Department contracts since mid-2004 according to the UK daily The Guardian. Many contracts have allegedly been secured without a tendering process.

The current use of private security contractors in Iraq is unprecedented in scale for a US overseas entanglement, with security companies employing around 48,000 personnel. Most work on limited rotations cycling in and out of the country with the expiry of contracted agreements. The same is true in Afghanistan.

The unprecedented reliance on the services of private security contractors was underlined Tuesday with the US decision to suspend all overland travel by its diplomats and related civilian workers beyond the confines of the Baghdad Green Zone.

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Forget the Future? Not on 9/11.

Why Uzbekistan is something to think about on this day.

karimov-wreath-ground-zero3.jpg

Past offense: Uzbek despot Karimov lays a wreath at Ground Zero in 2002

By this time on the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 horror, you will have seen plenty of images of pols trying to launch themselves from the sacralized Ground Zero — though Rudy Giuliani got scorched on his latest takeoff when some victims’ families accused him of exploiting the tragedy now that he’s a presidential candidate.

Giuliani, who would never have been a presidential candidate if not for 9/11, was the first pol to exploit Ground Zero, but he’s not the last, of course, and he’s probably not even the most worrisome. In 2002, Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov used the sacralized 9/11 site as a photo-op — with the blessing of Giuliani’s successor, Mike Bloomberg.

Why bring up Karimov’s Ground Zero visit five years after the fact? Who cares if a foreign pol desecrated what has become sacred ground? The reason is that Uzbekistan is nothing but an Iran in the making, Karimov is its shah, and we’re the dupes who have helped prop him up. All that in a world that’s more dangerous than it was six years ago.

Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists since our 2003 invasion. Uzbekistan, which is about as geopolitically strategic (see map below), is liable to become such a training ground for terrorists even without a U.S. invasion.

uzbekistan-map.jpg

Our fairly warm relationship with Karimov grew warmer after 9/11, when we enlisted in our “war on terror” this dictator who conducts a war of terror on his own people. Dangerous move by the Bush regime, because the radical Muslims who will probably take over undemocratic Uzbekistan when the aging despot dies or is deposed will also have long memories. They’re sure to remember that, under the once-secret “rendition” scheme, we shipped Muslim prisoners to his jails for interrogation. They’ll also remember how our government stood by and did nothing during Karimov’s notorious Andijan massacre of dissidents in the spring of 2005 and then tried to suppress an independent investigation of the slaughter.

Expect to see those images of Karimov at Ground Zero and cuddling with Bush used eventually as devices to stir up hatred of the U.S.

The Central Asian “republic” is destined to be the next “-stan” to push its way into headlines, and the news will be bad. Am I crazy? Yes. Am I wrong about Uzbekistan? I don’t think so. Here’s how the mainstream International Crisis Group summed things up late last month:

Uzbekistan remains a serious risk to itself and its region. While 69-year-old President Islam Karimov shows no signs of relinquishing power, despite the end of his legal term of office more than half a year ago, his eventual departure may lead to a violent power struggle.

The economy remains tightly controlled, with regime stalwarts, including the security services and Karimov’s daughter Gulnora, exerting excessive influence, which drives away investors and exacerbates poverty. The human rights situation is grave, and those who seek to flee abroad live in constant danger of attempts to return them forcibly.

While the government cites the “war on terror” to justify many policies, its repression may in fact be creating greater future danger. Efforts at international engagement have been stymied by its refusal to reform and to allow an independent investigation of the May 2005 Andijan uprising. Little can be done presently to influence Tashkent, but it is important to help ordinary Uzbeks as much as possible and to assist the country’s neighbours build their capacity to cope with the instability that is likely to develop when Karimov goes.

If understanding our history with Karimov and Uzbekistan is important, then recalling how we “handled” the shah and Iran is instructive.

Yes, Karimov is following right in the footsteps of Shah Reza Pahlavi. What’s worse is that our government is traipsing down the same garden path with Uzbek’s dictator as we did with the shah. And our relationship with Karimov and his NSS is similar to our relationship with the shah and his dreaded secret service, SAVAK, which was shaped by the CIA. Alfred McCoy, in A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, wrote:

There was little public reaction in the United States to revelations about the CIA’s ties to the Shah’s secret police.

Yet Iran provided an important cautionary tale. By buttressing the shah’s rule with riot police and ruthless interrogation, the CIA unwittingly contributed to the rising opposition that eventually toppled his regime. After training his police, Washington underestimated the stigma attached to torture and stood by, confused, while its key Persian Gulf ally lost legitimacy. The lesson was clear: Torture introduced to defend the shah had instead destroyed the shah.

Karimov rules the same way the shah did. We haven’t been as close to Karimov as we were to the shah, but our allowing Karimov to use 9/11 as a symbol back in 2002 was cynical: The Bush regime buttered him up as an ally, and Bloomberg was careful not to offend him because of New York’s large number of Bukharan Jewish emigres, many of whom supported him.

Karimov himself is pretty cynical: In his own nation, he generally tolerates Jews and even protects them, because the Bukharan Jews have lived there for a thousand years and pose no threat to his power. But he harshly represses Christians — and even the Muslims who make up nearly 90 percent of the California-sized country of 27 million people.

As I pointed out a couple of years ago, New York’s Jewish Week described the strange embrace of Karimov by the city’s Bukharan Jews:

Most of the estimated 40,000-strong Bukharan Jews living in the New York area appear to be maintaining their community’s longstanding support for Islam Karimov, the beleaguered president of their native Uzbekistan, despite international media reports that Karimov’s army responded to an uprising and prison break by firing on protesters and killing 500 or more people, including innocent civilians.

That support comes with a caution, though.

The United States, several prominent Bukharan leaders said, should stand by Karimov in this crisis for fear that Islamists might take over the country and persecute the estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Jews remaining there. But these leaders contend that Karimov must change course and allow more democracy and economic liberalization.

George W. Bush‘s relationship with Karimov isn’t quite as old as Karimov’s relationship with Uzbek Jews. Bush’s dealings with Karimov date back to 1997, when Dubya was still the hangingest governor in U.S. history: Enron’s Ken Lay, Bush’s biggest campaign contributor, wanted to make a deal with Uzbekistan so Lay instructed Dubya to meet with one of Karimov’s minions to grease the skids.

By 2002, the Bush regime wanted to curry favor with Karimov because Uzbekistan borders on Afghanistan. When Karimov visited the States, he got the royal treatment. At Ground Zero, the dictator looked like the religious type, right? I mean, he laid a wreath and even signed his name on a memorial wall.

Bloomberg gave Karimov freer rein in New York City than he gave the 500,000 Americans protesting at the Republican National Convention in 2004. And in December 2005, Bloomberg blasted a New York transit strike as “morally reprehensible.” But it was OK for the mayor to roll out the red carpet three years earlier for a morally reprehensible dictator.

Anyway, by the time of the 2002 visit, Karimov was already known as a harsh despot, and Bloomberg tried to keep the news pretty quiet that he was schlepping a dictator around town. You couldn’t find on the mayor’s website the photos of him and Karimov in the mayor’s office or of Karimov at Ground Zero. But the pix were trumpeted on the Uzbekistan government site.

Five years after his visit to Ground Zero, Karimov is surely nearing the end of his 20-year reign — one sign is that there’s more and more repression in Uzbekistan.

Forum 18, an Oslo-based religious-freedom group that snoops on repressive regimes around the world, noted just the other day that Karimov and his secret police, the National Security Service, have stepped up their spying on religious communities. Forum 18’s Felix Corley wrote on September 5:

Members of a variety of religious communities have told Forum 18 News Service of hidden microphones in places of worship, the presence of NSS agents during worship and the recruitment of spies within communities. … “Two secret police officers sit in each church across the country — but not just churches, they are there in mosques and in other places of worship,” one Protestant who preferred not to be identified for fear of reprisals told Forum 18 News Service.

But the NSS has also stepped up its covert spying on and within religious communities of all faiths in recent years as the climate in the country has grown more repressive. Few religious leaders are prepared to talk to outsiders about such spying, fearing reprisals if they do so.

It’s one thing for a predominantly Muslim country to spy on Christians or for a predominantly Christian nation to spy on Muslims — that happens in many places. But Karimov is playing with fire, just as the shah did in Iran, because he’s hassling Muslims in a Muslim country. Forum 18’s Corley noted:

The NSS keeps a very close eye on imams and future imams. The independent news website Uznews.net reported on 1 February that the NSS keeps the Islamic University in Tashkent under close scrutiny. The university was opened with great ceremony by President Islam Karimov in April 1999 and is the flagship educational institution for Muslim students, some of whom go on to become imams.

Uznews said that students complain that the authorities regard them with mistrust. They know that each one is being closely monitored by the NSS. One first-year student was quoted by Uznews as reporting that as soon as they join the university, all students without exception face meetings with NSS officers. “During the meetings, you are given to understand that from now on we are under the constant surveillance of this service,” the student reported, “and they have to approve all the steps we take in advance.”

Students that are too pious, too devoted to their studies or who question any aspects of the teaching they are being given are regarded with the most suspicion and face “serious problems”. Those who questioned the teachers’ approach, citing the hadiths (oral traditions attributed to the Muslim prophet Muhammed), faced pressure not only from senior university officials but from NSS officers, Uznews reported.

Uznews notes that this NSS surveillance and intimidation leaves students as “frightened shadows” who have received only a superficial Islamic education.

Karimov’s day of reckoning with his country’s Muslim radicals is approaching. And it won’t help Americans worried about the spread of terrorists that our government is supporting him till the bitter end.

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Pentagon Acquits Itself Well on Abu Ghraib

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jordan‘s acquittal of charges in his court-martial over Abu Ghraib tortures should have been no surprise. Only a week ago, some of the most serious charges against Jordan — including that he lied — were dropped just before the court-martial began.

It didn’t matter that the Abu Ghraib scandal — and its coverup — reached all the way up to the White House of Dick Cheney. Check out my August 22 piece, “Chains of Command,” for links to the Washington Post series on Cheney and to great stuff by the New Yorker‘s Seymour Hersh.

The Post‘s Josh White reports today:

The jury of nine colonels and a one-star general concluded that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., was not responsible for training or supervising soldiers who have been convicted of abusing detainees at the prison. Jordan was also cleared of charges that he personally abused prisoners, after prosecutors tried to link him to supervising the use of forced nudity and the use of military working dogs to intimidate detainees in interrogations in late 2003.

What’s curious is that White’s story today doesn’t at least mention the previous dropping of charges. After all, White’s excellent August 21 story reported it:

Military prosecutors dropped two charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan yesterday, hours before his court-martial for allegedly abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was set to begin at Fort Meade.

The dismissal of allegations that Jordan lied to investigators in the 2004 probe of the notorious abuses was a last-minute surprise in the military courtroom at the Maryland Army base. Based on new evidence that surfaced over the weekend, prosecutors determined that Jordan had not been read his rights before giving detailed statements to Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led the seminal investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. Those statements are therefore inadmissible in the proceedings. …

The development was a significant victory for Jordan’s defense attorneys, who had been arguing for suppression of the statements. Jordan gave extensive statements to Fay outlining his role at Abu Ghraib and explaining specific incidents for which he has been criminally charged. In May, Henley also tossed out statements Jordan gave to Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, because Taguba also did not properly advise him of his rights. Now, none of Jordan’s statements can be used against him.

White explained the situation quite well in his earlier story, just before the court-martial trial began:

Fay’s failure to read Jordan his rights appears to be a major oversight in the probe, and prosecutors did not explain the discrepancy. The move reduces Jordan’s potential sentence almost by half, to a maximum of 8 1/2 years.

It was the latest in a series of odd twists in Jordan’s case. Prosecutors have recommended for years that Jordan face administrative punishment rather than trial. An investigative officer once advocated a reprimand to avoid a public rehashing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. And emerging evidence has now led to the dismissal of eight out of 12 original charges against the Army officer. Jordan said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes he is a scapegoat because authorities want an officer to go to trial as a final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal, even though a more senior officer who admitted approving the use of dogs, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, received only a reprimand and a fine.

Jordan, 51, is the last soldier to face charges related to the Abu Ghraib abuses and the only officer to go to court-martial for alleged crimes there. A jury panel of nine Army colonels and one brigadier general is expected to hear opening statements in the case today, and yesterday each member told the court — under questioning by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, one of Jordan’s defense attorneys — that they would not use Jordan’s trial as “a referendum on Abu Ghraib.”

In any case, don’t let Abu Ghraib slip down the memory hole. We’ve known for a long time that the genesis of the abuse was in D.C., that it was a rogue presidency, not just rogue soldiers. Read Hersh’s June story on Taguba and Taguba’s own 2004 report.