Archive for March, 2006

Weinberger, Bushes & Iran-Contra

Friday, March 31st, 2006

On Christmas Eve Day 1992, as many Americans were wrapping holiday gifts or rushing off to visit relatives, the nation’s history took a turn that blacked out key chapters of the recent past and foreshadowed troubling developments in the future.

At the center of that historic moment was former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who died on March 28 at the age of 88. In 1992, he was one of six defendants in the Iran-Contra scandal who received Christmas Eve pardons from President George H.W. Bush less than a month before Bush left office.

If Bush had not granted those pardons, Weinberger would have gone on trial in early 1993 facing perjury and obstruction charges, a courtroom drama that could have changed how Americans perceived key figures from the Reagan administration, including Colin Powell and President Bush himself.

At stake was not only Weinberger’s guilt or innocence but more importantly the legacy of the Reagan-Bush era. Quite likely, too, President Bush would have been caught up in this final unraveling of the Iran-Contra cover-up – and the prospects for his family’s resumption of political power might have been dealt a fatal blow.

The Weinberger trial might have foreclosed the possibility that George W. Bush would ride his father’s reputation to the White House eight years later.

The trial also represented the last best chance to explain to the American people the constitutional conflict that was festering beneath the surface of the Iran-Contra Affair, essentially the President’s assertion of unfettered power to conduct foreign policy even in defiance of laws passed by Congress.

In the early-to-mid 1980s, Ronald Reagan had sought to avoid a head-on clash with Congress by taking his foreign policy underground, using cutouts like Israel to ship missiles to Iran and White House aide Oliver North to funnel supplies to the contra rebels fighting in Nicaragua.

After those operations were exposed in 1986, Congress also tried to avert a constitutional showdown by papering over the illegal presidential actions and accepting the cover story that top officials, such as Reagan and Bush, were mostly out of the loop.

But those unresolved constitutional questions exploded back to the surface after Sept. 11, 2001, when George W. Bush asserted virtually unlimited presidential authority to override or ignore federal law as Commander in Chief. In effect, the younger George Bush was staking out power openly that Reagan and the elder George Bush had exercised only in secret.

Bolivia’s wealthy lowlands threaten to split

Friday, March 31st, 2006

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales is in danger of losing control of Bolivia’s wealthy eastern lowlands, where opposition to his socialist agenda is growing and local authorities are demanding autonomy from the central government based at La Paz in the impoverished western highlands.

Ninety percent of Bolivia’s hydrocarbon reserves are located between Santa Cruz and Tarija, where Mario Cossio, the newly elected governor, has been seeking support from neighboring Paraguay and Argentina to declare a separate state.

“The east will inevitably move toward independence within a year,” said Arturo Mendivil, a lawyer and popular radio host in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest urban center, with a population of 1.5 million.

The Quechua and Aymara Indian communities that dominate the western Andes and form the bedrock of Mr. Morales’ support still harbor an egalitarian culture and welcome the socialist economic policies of Bolivia’s first Indian president, the lawyer said.

White immigrants have mixed more easily with native Indian Guaranis in the eastern plains and forests, by contrast, “creating a European-style entrepreneurial society that has turned Santa Cruz into a corporate center and economic powerhouse,” said local historian Miguel Angel Sandoval.

Racial and ethnic divisions are another source of friction. Santa Cruz beauty queen Gabriela Oviedo caused an uproar when, as Miss Bolivia 2004, she told journalists in Miami that “not all Bolivians are dark, short and poor. In Santa Cruz, we are tall, fair-skinned and educated.”

Exxon Mobil not welcome in Venezuela anymore

Friday, March 31st, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s oil minister said today that Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s second-largest integrated oil company, was no longer welcome in this oil-producing nation.

Exxon Mobil has resisted tax increases and contract changes that are part of a policy by President Hugo Chavez’s government to “re-nationalize” the oil industry.

Rather than submit to new terms that will turn 32 privately run oil fields over to state control, the company sold its stake in the 150,000 barrel-a-day Quiamare-La Ceiba field to its partner, Spanish-Argentine major Repsol YPF, to avoid accepting the unfavorable terms in December.

“There are some companies that prefer to leave” than accept the policy changes, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said in an interview with the state-run TV broadcaster. “Exxon Mobil … preferred to sell to Repsol, its partner in the agreement, rather than adjust.”

“We said we don’t want them to be here then,” Ramirez said. “We have many partners, many capabilities and many countries that are willing to manage our resources with us.”

GW strike group will head south for training

Friday, March 31st, 2006

NORFOLK — The Navy will send an aircraft carrier strike group, with four ships, a 60-plane air wing and 6,500 sailors, to Caribbean and South American waters for a major training exercise, it was announced Monday.

Some defense analysts suggested that the unusual two-month-long deployment, set to begin in early April, could be interpreted as a show of force by anti-American governments in Venezuela and Cuba.

The mission was sought by the U.S. Southern Command, which has its headquarters in Miami and is responsible for all military activities in Latin America south of Mexico.
The Navy was last in the region in force in January 2003, when it used the bombing ranges at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for the final time.

Led by the aircraft carrier George Washington, the deployment also will include the guided missile cruiser Monterey, guided missile destroyer Stout – all from Norfolk – and the guided missile frigate Underwood, based in Mayport, Fla.

“The presence of a U.S. carrier task force in the Caribbean will definitely be interpreted as some sort of signal by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a pro-defense think tank in Washington.

“If I was sitting in the Venezuela capital looking at this American task force, the message I would be getting is America still is not so distracted by Iraq that it is unable to enforce its interests in the Caribbean,” Thompson said.

Jamaica gets first woman leader

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Jamaica has sworn in its first female Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller.
Leaders from around the world attended Thursday’s inauguration in the Jamaican capital, Kingston.

Ms Simpson Miller, 60, takes over from the incumbent Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, who has been in power for the past 14 years.

She has said Jamaica should stop worrying about her gender and concentrate on the island’s problems, particularly the high crime rate.

Ms Simpson Miller was elected president of the governing People’s National Party in an internal vote.

The former local government minister narrowly beat the national security minister and two other candidates to the job.


Ms Simpson Miller has been a popular figure in Jamaican politics since the 1970s.

“She is seen as someone who has really risen through the ranks of the party, coming from a very, very poor section of Jamaica… to the top post,” Radio Jamaica’s Kathy Barrett told the BBC.

“She’s a woman who’s very determined, a firebrand type of politician who has really hit home when it comes to the majority of people – especially women, the poor and the unemployed.”

oh oh another firebrand

Rapper’s family wins trial payout

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Los Angeles authorities have agreed to pay late rap star Notorious BIG’s family $1.1m (£632,000) for errors made during his wrongful death trial.
Lawyers have said that an appeal to overturn a judge’s order to pay compensation was now unlikely.

LA police were found to have withheld relevant documents during a civil case last year and a mistrial was declared.

The investigation into the rap star’s shooting in 1997 has been reopened with a new team of detectives.

Notorious BIG – whose real name was Christopher Wallace – was killed on a street in March 1997, after seven shots were fired into his vehicle. The shooting took place after the Soul Train Awards.

Notorious BIG’s family say they will go ahead with a retrial of their wrongful death case, alleging a police officer was involved in the shooting.

Privatizing the Apocalypse: Nukes for Profit

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Started as the super-secret “Project Y” in 1943, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has long been the keystone institution of the American nuclear-weapons producing complex. It was the birthplace of Fat Man and Little Boy, the two nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Last year, the University of California, which has managed the lab for the Department of Energy since its inception, decided to put Los Alamos on the auction block. In December 2005, construction giant Bechtel won a $553 million yearly management contract to run the sprawling complex, which employs more than 13,000 people and has an estimated $2.2 billion annual budget.

“Privatization” has been in the news ever since George W. Bush became president. His administration has radically reduced the size of government, turning over to private companies critical governmental functions involving prisons, schools, water, welfare, Medicare, and utilities as well as war-fighting, and is always pushing for more of the same. Outside of Washington, the pitfalls of privatization are on permanent display in Iraq, where companies like Halliburton have reaped billions in contracts. Performing jobs once carried out by members of the military — from base building and mail delivery to food service — they have bilked the government while undermining the safety of American forces by providing substandard services and products. Halliburton has been joined by a cottage industry of military-support companies responsible for everything from transportation to interrogation. On the war front, private companies are ubiquitous, increasingly indispensable, and largely unregulated — a lethal combination.

Now, the long arm of privatization is reaching deep into an almost unimaginable place at the heart of the national security apparatus — the laboratory where scientists learned to harness the power of the atom more than 60 years ago and created weapons of apocalyptic proportions.

Uganda’s daily rate of violent deaths is three times Iraq’s, says report

Friday, March 31st, 2006

The rate of violent deaths in war-ravaged northern Uganda is three times higher than in Iraq and the 20-year insurgency has cost $1.7bn (£980m), according to a report by 50 international and local agencies released today.

The violent death rate for northern Uganda is 146 deaths a week or 0.17 violent deaths per 10,000 people per day. This is three times higher than in Iraq, where the incidence of violent death was 0.052 per 10,000 people per day, says the report.

“The Ugandan government, the rebel army and the international community must fully acknowledge the true scale and horror of the situation in northern Uganda,” said Kathy Relleen, a policy adviser to Oxfam, one of the organisations behind the report.

The report, by the Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda, puts the cost of the war in northern Uganda at $1.7bn over the past two decades. It says this is equivalent to the United States’ total aid to Uganda between 1994 and 2002. “Twenty years of brutal violence is a scar on the world’s conscience. The government of Uganda must act resolutely and without delay, both to guarantee the effective protection of civilians and to work with all sides to secure a just and lasting peace,” said Ms Relleen.

India unveils new anti-Maoist strategy

Friday, March 31st, 2006

NEW DELHI — India has devised a new 14-point policy to combat Maoist rebels.

More than 10 Indian provinces are affected by Maoist violence which has killed thousands of people in the last 10 years.

The Hindu newspaper said Tuesday the new policy focuses on the states adopting a collective approach and pursuing a coordinated response to counter the Naxalite (Maoist rebel) problem, and emphasizes that there will be no peace dialogue between affected states and the Naxal groups unless the rebels agree to give up violence and arms.

An important component of the new policy, which was tabled in the parliament early this month, is asking political parties to strengthen their base in Naxal-affected areas so that the youth could be weaned away from the path of Naxal ideology.

Bush to Iraqis: Time to get a government

Friday, March 31st, 2006

“In fact, much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein,” Bush said. “He is a tyrant who exacerbated sectarian divisions to keep himself in power.”