Daily Archives: September 1, 2007

Senate blocks mandatory ID implants in employees

That is, until the next 9/11…

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The bill would prevent employers in the state from requiring workers to have the devices.

Los Angeles Times | Aug 31, 2007

By Patrick McGreevy

Tackling a dilemma right out of a science fiction novel, the state Senate passed legislation Thursday that would bar employers from requiring workers to have identification devices implanted under their skin.

State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) proposed the measure after at least one company began marketing radio frequency identification devices for use in humans.

The devices, as small as a grain of rice, can be used by employers to identify workers. A scanner passing over a body part implanted with one can instantly identify the person.

“RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses,” Simitian said. “But we shouldn’t condone forced ‘tagging’ of humans. It’s the ultimate invasion of privacy.”

Simitian said he fears that the devices could be compromised by persons with unauthorized scanners, facilitating identity theft and improper tracking and surveillance.

The bill has been approved by the state Assembly and now goes to the governor.

Nine senators opposed the measure, including Bob Margett (R-Arcadia), who said it is premature to legislate technology that has not yet proved to be a problem. “It sounded like it was a solution looking for a problem,” Margett said. “It didn’t seem like it was necessary.”

One company, VeriChip, has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration to sell implanted identification devices, and about 2,000 people have had them implanted, Simitian said. A representative of the firm did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

CityWatcher.com, a Cincinnati video surveillance company, has required employees who work in its secure data center to have a microchip implanted in an arm.

Similar technology has been used for years to help identify lost pets.

Meanwhile, the Assembly approved a bill that would allow Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and other law enforcement officials to put thousands of inmates on detention in their homes, with electronic monitoring equipment attached to their ankles.

Baca sought the legislation to help relieve overcrowding in L.A. County jails and said he would assign about 2,000 inmates with low-level offenses to involuntary home detention if the governor signs the bill. Currently, inmates must volunteer for home detention. The Senate has passed the bill.

In other legislative action Thursday:

* The Senate passed SB 655, previously approved by the Assembly, which allows a $1,000 fine for county jail inmates found possessing a cellphone, as well as a $250 fine for inmates found with tobacco in county jails where possession is outlawed. Baca sponsored the measure.

* The Senate gave final approval to SB 924, which would place a measure on the February ballot asking voters whether they support the immediate and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The governor has not taken a public position on the bill.

* The Senate gave final approval to SB 33, which prohibits people younger than 18 from using cellphones or text message devices while driving. The governor has not taken a public position on the measure.

* The Assembly Appropriations Committee recommended passage of SB 974, which allows a $60 fee on each filled 40-foot container in the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland to pay for programs to relieve traffic congestion and air pollution caused by port activity.

The committee amended the bill, which now goes to the full Assembly, to allow a local panel of officials to decide how to spend the 50% of the revenues that would go to traffic congestion relief. It did not adopt an amendment sought by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that would have allowed some of the money to be spent on the replacement of two large bridges.

Mexican trucks to roll on U.S. highways

 mexican-truck

Reuters | Sep 1, 2007

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration can proceed with a plan to open the U.S. border to long haul Mexican trucks as early as next week after an appeals court rejected a bid by labor, consumer and environmental interests to block the initiative.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco late on Friday denied an emergency petition sought by the Teamsters union, the Sierra Club and consumer group Public Citizen to halt the start of a one-year pilot program that was approved by Congress after years of legal and political wrangling.

The Transportation Department welcomed the decision and said in a statement that allowing more direct shipments from Mexico will benefit U.S. consumers.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement approved broader access for ground shipments from both countries but the Clinton administration never complied with the trucking provision. A special tribunal ordered the Bush administration to do so in 2001.

“This is the wrong decision for working men and women,” Jim Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, said in a statement after the court ruling. “We believe this program clearly breaks the law.” The Teamsters represents truckers that would be affected by the change.

The emergency stay was sought on grounds the administration’s pilot program had not satisfied the U.S. Congress’ requirements on safety and other issues. But the appeals court ruled otherwise.

SAFETY ASPECTS

The administration plans to start the program on September 6. Transportation Department officials hope to receive final clearance early next week from the department’s inspector general’s office, which is reviewing its safety aspects, and finalize details with Mexican authorities.

The Mexican government must grant reciprocal access to U.S. trucks under NAFTA. That provision is not expected to be a problem, regulators said.

Mexican trucks operating in the United States have for years been restricted to U.S. points near certain large border crossings where their goods are transferred to trucks owned by U.S. firms.

Under the pilot program, Mexican long haul trucking companies that have met safety, licensing, and other U.S. requirements will be allowed to operate their rigs throughout the country. Proponents say this will reduce costs and speed up shipments.

Trucking regulators said in a court filing the goal is to gradually accommodate 100 Mexican trucking companies by the end of the pilot program, or roughly 540 large trucks.

But opponents said those figures do not reflect the number of companies that could seek access to U.S. roads if the pilot is successful, which they said raises safety concerns.

“This (pilot) program is basically a show trial. They haven’t provided notice up front about who will participate. You just don’t know what the program will look like,” said Bonnie Robin-Vergeer, attorney for Public Citizen.

Public Citizen and the Teamsters still plan to proceed with a lawsuit they filed in federal court, challenging the Mexican truck program on broader grounds. That case will not likely be decided until next year.

Trucks from Canada have no operating restrictions in the United States.

Teamsters, Sierra Club fight Mexican trucks entering U.S.

Opponents say the relaxed restrictions will eliminate U.S. jobs and potentially cause unsafe highway conditions.

The Norman Transcript | Aug 31, 2007

For the past 25 years, Mexican trucks have had to stop within a border buffer zone and transfer their loads to U.S. operated trucks. The NAFTA agreement approved in 1994 gave them the right to eventually operate in the U.S. but labor unions representing American truckers and other groups have objected.

That fight may be close to an end this weekend. The Teamsters Union has said it has learned the first Mexican trucks will be coming across the border Saturday. The decision by the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a slap to the unions as it becomes effective on the Labor Day weekend and is one of the busiest travel days of the year.

The Associated Press reports Teamsters, joined by the Sierra Club and Public Citizen, will go to court seeking an emergency injunction to keep the trucks from operating here. The Sierra Club wants the thousands of rigs to meet the same environmental and safety standards required in the U.S.

Opponents say the relaxed restrictions will eliminate U.S. jobs and potentially cause unsafe highway conditions. The I-35 corridor will see the impact of the decision with more rigs coming north. We hope the courts hold up the project until more safeguards are in place. They have already waited 25 years.

France to deploy Mirage fighters to Afghanistan

 bush_sarkozy_proposition

U.S. President George W. Bush with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Earth Times | Aug 31, 2007

Paris – The French government will deploy six Mirage jet- fighters to Kandahar in the south of the country from a base in Tadjikistan, the daily Le Figaro reported Friday. The move is regarded in France as a signal to NATO of French willingness to increase its commitment to the conflict in Afghanistan.

The French Defence Ministry said the deployment of the three Mirage D 2000 and three Mirage F1 CR planes will be carried out in the coming weeks.

Ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire said the deployment is to be made for “operational” and “logistical” reasons. Being based in Kandahar, the French aircraft will be able to significantly increase their time patrolling the skies above combat zones.

The base at Kandahar is home to some 11,000 American, British, Canadian, Dutch and Australian soldiers as well as some 100 planes and drones.

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France’s Sarkozy is Bush’s new poodle

Asia Times | Aug 30, 2007

Bush’s brand-new poodle
By Pepe Escobar

bush_sarkozy_poodlePARIS – With former British prime minister Tony Blair out of the picture, there’s now a newer, leaner, meaner, adrenaline-packed “Made in France” version. Thanks to his unrelenting support for President George W Bush’s war on Iraq, Blair used to be derided in all corners of the globe as Bush’s poodle. Now the new self-appointed lap dog is French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The hyperactive “Sarkozy the First” – as he is widely referred to in France – has just pronounced his first major foreign-policy speech, to an annual conference of 200-odd French ambassadors from posts around the world. He took no time to engage himself in the current White House and neo-conservative-promoted Iran-demonization campaign.

Neo-cons and their ilk in France, plus mostly sycophant media, obviously loved it, with instant geopoliticians raving about the “prudent” and “firm” stand behind Sarkozy’s rhetoric.

He said an Iranian nuclear bomb would be “unacceptable” – as if the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was on the verge of discovering one or two hidden under a pile of exquisite Hamadan carpets.

Sarkozy is in favor of even more sanctions against Iran, but is willing to talk in the event the Islamic Republic suspends its nuclear-enrichment program, which Iran has a right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue. So Iran must renounce an inalienable right for the West to be willing to discuss substance. Sarkozy has already coined the sound bite framing the “catastrophic” alternative: “The Iranian bomb, or the bombing of Iran.”

Sarkozy now officially joins the US thunder and lightning unleashed by the White House, the Pentagon, Republicans, Democrats and corporate media, which all take for granted the “all options are on the table” scenario as far as Iran is concerned.

With the IAEA making steady progress on ironing out misunderstandings on Iran’s nuclear program, and signing an understanding to that effect, the new casus belli du jour for attacking Iran is that it is helping Shi’ite guerrillas kill American soldiers in Iraq. Thus the White House’s proposed designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist outfit – tantamount to declaring war on the elite group.

Sarkozy for his part re-attacks on the nuclear front. Now that’s some real trans-Atlantic entente. Sarkozy said everything must be done to “prevent a confrontation between Islam and the West”. His idea of preventing confrontation is to antagonize Iran and – why not? – Turkey.

Sarko stressed that the “only” option for Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union is a fuzzy partnership framed by a Mediterranean Union (which, he also stressed, should start by 2009). He remains absolutely against EU membership for Turkey. His vague proposal is to set up a “committee of wise men” to study where Europe is heading. The Istanbul daily Zaman tried to put on a brave face, stressing that even though Sarkozy prefers an association, he “will not be opposed” to new negotiations between the EU and Turkey.

Sarkozy vaguely suggested that a possible solution to breach the West/Islam abyss would be for France to “help Muslim countries to have access to nuclear energy” (would Iran be included?). He did not say a word about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization fighting in Afghanistan; just that European meddling in Afghan affairs would be in vain if Pakistan “remained the refuge of Taliban and al-Qaeda”.

Not only pontificating over the troubles of the Muslim world, Sarkozy also criticized a “certain brutality” by Russia and China in their thirst for energy in Africa – much to the delight of Washington. But Iraq, for Sarkozy, remains a “tragedy”. He had to take pains to stress that France “is and continues to be hostile to his war” – something that may distress Washington, but not as much as former president Jacques Chirac’s stubborn opposition to the war.

The only solution in Iraq will be “political”, implying “a clear timetable for the retreat of foreign troops”. Here we have Sarkozy involuntarily joining Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr – and the Iranians.

The Middle East is awash in so much grief that few in the region will bother to listen to what the new French mission civilisatrice amounts to – apart from the hard sell of Louis Vuitton bags to local elites.

Meanwhile in Paris, relatively few voices are concerned over the Bush-Sarkozy lovefest – a measure of how Sarkozy, as former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi once did in Italy, exercises almost universal power over the French media (one of his former top advisers now is at the top at TF1, the private channel that subscribes to the Rupert Murdoch/Berlusconi school of mass television).

The flashy Sarkozy has already been portrayed as the epitome of the new bling-bling right, which has replaced the defunct caviar left; his role models are Rupert “Fox” Murdoch and Bernard Arnault, the first fortune of France and owner, among others, of deluxe conglomerate LVMH.

First a beaming Sarkozy met with Bush in Maine on August 11 during his tabloid-style holidays – complete with pirate Sarkozy invading a paparazzi boat. Then on August 19 he sent dashing Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on a Baghdad tour. Kouchner – who was in favor of the war on Iraq in 2003 – has lost all the credibility he had as “the French doctor” who founded Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). He’s now no more than a Sarkozy messenger boy.

Not happy to be constantly yapping on the phone with his new pal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Kouchner made notoriously skillful French diplomats blush in disgust when he told Newsweek that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had to go. Maliki demanded an apology; at least Kouchner was gentleman enough to acquiesce.

Next month, Sarkozy goes back to the US, to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Not only is he eager to do anything to help Bush and “Condoleezza” in Iraq, he now goes all-out neo-con on Iran. After more than 100 days in power, he’s still immensely popular in France, frantically monopolizing the political spectrum on an around-the-clock basis. But he would be wise to spare a thought for what happens to hyperactive poodles that go against their voters’ wishes.

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Related

Sarkozy sending more French troops to Afghanistan

French Leader Warning of Possible Military Attack on Iran

France to deploy Mirage fighters to Afghanistan

French troops ‘raped girls during Rwanda genocide’

French troops ‘raped girls during Rwanda genocide’

Independent | Aug 31, 2007

By Steve Bloomfield

French soldiers stationed in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 have been accused of “widespread rape” by a Rwandan commission investigating France’s role during the conflict.

The commission, which is due to publish its final report in October, will also provide fresh evidence that French soldiers trained the Interahamwe, the extremist Hutu militia responsible for most of the killing, and even provided them with weapons.

The allegations threaten to plunge relations between Rwanda and its former colonial master to a new low. It could also lead to Rwanda seeking reparations from France at the International Court of Justice. “That is something we are considering,” said one government official.

France’s support for the genocidal Rwandan regime – both before and during the slaughter – has been well documented, but the new report sheds some light on the extent of that backing.

In particular, it provides the first evidence that French soldiers sent to Rwanda during the genocide as part of a UN-mandated force to protect civilians carried out “widespread rape” of genocide survivors. Jean Paul Kimonyo, one of the commissioners, said: “They were asking for Tutsis – not women – Tutsis.”

The commission was established by the Rwandan president Paul Kagame in April last year and is headed by a former minister of justice. France has accused the commission of being little more than a kangaroo court and when the seven commissioners visited France earlier this year, French authorities made it clear that they were not welcome.

Dr Kimonyo, himself a former press aide to Mr Kagame, said he initially shared some of those fears.

“The law which established the commission said France was guilty already. We were very uneasy about it. But the evidence is overwhelming.”

Based on testimony given at public hearings by genocide survivors and former soldiers trained by French forces, plus evidence from piles of official paperwork left by the fleeing Hutu regime, the commission believes it has enough proof to convince the international community.

Dr Kimonyo said: “France was directly involved in the preparation of the genocide. They were training the Interahamwe in a systematic manner. They were training them to kill, to kill as fast as possible as one witness said, using knives and machetes. What were they training them for? It is very disturbing.”

France has so far refused to acknowledge any role it played during the genocide. Instead, last year a French anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, claimed Mr Kagame was responsible for the act which started it, accusing the-then head of the RPF of shooting down the plane carrying then president Jubenal Habyarimana. Most experts believe the plane was shot down by the same Hutu extremists who had been planning the genocide.

Mr Habyarimana’s death prompted a wave of killing by Hutu extremists, that resulted in 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus slaughtered in just three months. In response, Mr Kagame threw the French ambassador out of Kigali, ordered the closure of the French cultural centre and removed Radio France International from the airwaves.

As relations with France have progressively soured, those with Britain have improved dramatically. English has become one of three official languages, Rwanda has applied to join the Commonwealth, and last year they established a national cricket board.

More importantly in Rwandan eyes, the UK has become the largest donor, spending £46m last year. France has gone from being the largest international donor before the genocide to the smallest now.

There are small signs that France’s attitude towards Rwanda may be shifting slightly. The last ambassador had been attempting to build bridges and was widely liked by Rwandan government officials.

The role of France’s new Foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, will be crucial. M Kouchner, who has signalled his intention to visit Rwanda before the end of the year, was there during the genocide, as the head of a French humanitarian organisation. Although he was seen as being close to the French president, François Mitterrand, M. Kouchner later publicly admonished his government’s lack of support for Mr Kagame after the Rwandan genocide ended.

How France intervened

October 1990

Tutsi-led rebel forces, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), invade the north of the country. President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu backed by the French, calls in support. Three hundred French paratroopers secure Rwanda’s International Airport and fight off the invading forces. In a few days 600 more French troops are sent in to “protect and evacuate French citizens”.

1991

France continues to send military advisors and arms. The army grows from 5,000 to 28,000.

February 1992

Lieutenant Colonel Chollet, the commander of French forces in Rwanda, becomes army chief of staff and advisor to the Rwandan presidency.

3 February 1993

The RPF launches a major attack, capturing the town of Ruhengeri and moving towards the capital. Hundreds of French troops are sent to Rwanda along with huge quantities of ammunition to back up the government forces.

20 February 1993

Threatened by the rapid French deployment, the RPF forces call a unilateral ceasefire and withdraws.

6 April 1994

President Habyarimana’s plane is shot down, triggering the genocide of almost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

June 1994

French troops launch “Operation Turquoise”, aiming to establish a “safe zone” in the south-west of the country. Although some killings continue in the zone, President François Mitterrand later claims it has saved “tens of thousands”.

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Related

Sarkozy sending more French troops to Afghanistan

French Leader Warning of Possible Military Attack on Iran

France’s Sarkozy is Bush’s brand-new poodle

France to deploy Mirage fighters to Afghanistan

French Leader Warns of Possible Military Attack on Iran

bush_sarkozy_lovers

New York Times | Aug 28, 2007

By ELAINE SCIOLINO

PARIS, Aug. 27 — In his first major foreign policy speech as president, Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Monday that Iran could be attacked militarily if it did not live up to its international obligations to curb its nuclear program.

Addressing France’s ambassadorial corps, Mr. Sarkozy stressed that such an outcome would be a disaster. He did not say France would ever participate in military action against Iran or even tacitly support such an approach.

But the mere fact that he raised the specter of the use of force is likely to be perceived both by Iran as a warning of the consequences if it continues its course of action, and by the Bush administration as acceptance of its line that no option, including the use of force, can be excluded.

Mr. Sarkozy praised the current diplomatic initiative by the world’s powers, a two-pronged approach that threatens tougher United Nations-mandated sanctions if Iran does not stop enriching uranium for possible use in a nuclear weapon, but holds out the possibility of incentives if Iran complies.

That approach, he said, “is the only one that can enable us to avoid being faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”

Calling the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program “the most serious weighing on the international order today,” Mr. Sarkozy also reiterated his position that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable” for France.

Although Mr. Sarkozy’s aides said French policy had not changed, some foreign policy experts were stunned by his blunt, if brief, remarks.

“This came out of the blue,” said François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris and author of a coming book on Iran’s nuclear program. “To actually say that if diplomacy fails the choice will be to accept a nuclear Iran or bomb Iran, this is a diplomatic blockbuster.”

Mr. Sarkozy’s speech, an annual ritual outlining France’s foreign policy goals, came as a new poll indicated that he had extraordinarily high approval ratings more than three months into his presidency.

According to a TNS-Sofres telephone poll of 1,000 people published Monday in Le Figaro, 71 percent say they are satisfied with Mr. Sarkozy’s performance. A number of other polls put his approval rating higher than 60 percent.

But his debut before his ambassadors was marred by a diplomatic imbroglio involving his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who was forced to apologize to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq for calling for his resignation.

Mr. Maliki had demanded the apology from Mr. Kouchner, who was quoted on Newsweek’s Web site as saying that the Iraqi government was “not functioning” and that he told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by phone, “He’s got to be replaced.”

Mr. Sarkozy made no mention of the diplomatic gaffe. Instead, he went out of his way to repeatedly praise Mr. Kouchner, an outspoken humanitarian activist and former United Nations administrator of Kosovo who left the Socialist Party to join Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative government.

In a subsequent speech to the 180 visiting ambassadors, Mr. Kouchner veered from his prepared remarks to say he had apologized to Mr. Maliki on Monday morning.

But Mr. Kouchner has a reputation for being unable to hide his true feelings. He also suggested in the same sentence that the beleaguered Iraqi prime minister was already on his way out, saying that he “may be leaving us soon.” The audience, made up of ambassadors, other invited guests and journalists, laughed.

Most of Mr. Sarkozy’s speech was devoted to plotting a new, activist course for France’s role in the world, particularly in preventing what he called a confrontation between Islam and the West by working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and crises in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.

Praising his predecessor, he reiterated, “France was — thanks to Jacques Chirac — is and remains hostile” to the American-led war in Iraq. “History proved France right,” he added.

Calling for a concrete deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he described it as “a nation that is falling apart in a merciless civil war,” where the Sunni-Shiite divide could ignite conflict throughout the Middle East and where terrorists are setting up permanent bases to attack targets around the world.

During a headline-grabbing three-day visit to Iraq last week, Mr. Kouchner offered France’s help in stabilizing the country, including mediating among warring communities, and working with the United Nations to play a bigger role.

Although Mr. Sarkozy praised Mr. Kouchner’s mission and said in his speech that France was prepared to engage with Iraq, he did not make a specific proposal.

Mr. Sarkozy, who is often faulted for being too pro-American, proudly restated France’s friendship with the United States, where he spent a two-week vacation this summer.

In a move that is certain to be welcomed in Washington, he announced that France would send more troops to Afghanistan to train the Afghan Army, despite his statement during the campaign that France would not remain in Afghanistan forever. The Defense Ministry confirmed that France would send 150 additional troops.

But Mr. Sarkozy harshly criticized the Bush administration for going to war against Iraq on its own and for failing to address the global warming crisis adequately.

“It is clear now, and I mean it, that the unilateral use of force leads to failure,” he said of the Iraq crisis. As for the environment, he said the United States “unfortunately is not demonstrating the ‘leadership’ capacity that it claims in other areas.”

“When you make a claim of leadership, you have to assume it in every domain,” he added.
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