Conflicts in Africa

Why is Africa being ignored on the world stage? The level of conflict and unrest is staggering, yet little attention is being paid to the crisis.

If this scale of destruction and fighting was in Europe, then people would be calling it World War III with the entire world rushing to report, provide aid, mediate and otherwise try to diffuse the situation.

Over the next few weeks, I will endeavor to dig into each conflict and explore its causes and possible solutions. For now, here's a complete list of the countries in Africa with the ones experiencing marked unrest and outright war in bold.

Senate Presidential Candidates Missing Many Votes

As of yesterday, 3/21/2007, the United States Senate has had 88 Roll Call votes. The six presidential candidates holding senate seats have missed a total of 101 votes between them.

Perhaps some of these candidates consider the responsibility of their current job a hindrance to their aspirations, but do we really want a president who doesn't take their responsibilities seriously.

More Government Spying

New FBI "emergency" procedures allow agents to request phone records verbally and no longer require that the agents follow-up with a grand jury subpoena.

In the past, agents were required to make such requests in writing and then follow-up with a grand jury subpoena. Very often, according to a report from the Justice Department's Inspector General, agents failed to do any such follow-up.

The report also documents many cases of FBI agents claiming "emergency" circumstances for such requests where no emergency existed. Instead of cracking down on agents, the FBI has decided to lift any semblance of due process by changing the rules to legitimize their illegal practices.

Guinea Under Martial Law, Troops Firing On Civilians

Since our last report on Guinea, their president has declared martial law and sent troops out with orders to end the unrest and violence.

A report today comes complete with video of troops opening fire on protesters. Guinea has been surrounded by war for the past few years, and it is feared that rebel fighters from those conflicts have been steadily crossing into Guinea and may be partially responsible for the unrest.

The American State Department has encouraged Americans to forgo travel to Guinea and has pulled non-essential staff from their consulate there.

Toward 100 Miles Per Gallon

Can you make, and sell, a car that goes one hundred miles on a gallon of gas? That's a question we should expect to hear soon from the X-Prize Foundation (the people responsible for the civilian space race.)

They are expected to announce a $25 million prize for creating a car that can go 100 MPG and, here's the kicker, selling a to-be-determined number of units.

One of the most promising recent developments that stands a real chance of competing for this prize is the concept of a Hydraulic Hybrid. We've heard of "hybrid" cars before and many people have fears regarding the safety and expense of batteries, but these hybrids don't use batteries.

Battery hybrids have electric motors that run off batteries that are charged by braking, a supplemental internal combustion (IC) engine (i.e., gas engine), and sometimes an overnight charge (i.e, a "pluggable" hybrid.)

Hydraulic Hybrids have a hydraulic motor (basically a system of pumps that use pressurized fluid for power). An IC engine powers the pumps to maintain vehicle speed, but most of the power used in acceleration comes for stored hydraulic energy captured during breaking.

France Outlaws Videos Of Violence Recorded By Ordinary Citizens

On the 16th anniversary of the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles, the French Constitutional Council ruled that a new law banning the video recording of violence by ordinary citizens was constitutional. The law does not prevent the press from making such recordings.

The intent behind the law was to reign-in delinquents who commit acts of violence while a friend records them for later amusement value, but civil liberties groups argue that the law was written deliberately vaguely so as to ensnare citizens unrelated to the attacker as well. They believe the intent is to keep videos of police abuse from being made.

Guinea Unrest Rising

Turing attention away from the Bush Administration and its obsession with warmongering, we report on the growing unrest in Guinea.

Guinea was a French Colony until it was unceremoniously abandoned in 1958. Since then, they have had only two presidents. The government there is widely considered corrupt and the people are amongst the poorest in Africa.

In December, two person friends of the president were arrested and charged with embezzling $2.6 million in public funds. In response, the president, Lansana Conté, entered the jail and freed the two men.

Attack On Iran Could Come In Spring

As has previously been discussed on, the Bush Administration has put the U.S. military on a collision course with Iran. What is new is estimates of how soon the attack could come. Quoting the Gaurdian:

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring.

The Administration claims the build up of naval and air forces, including the deployment of a second carrier group, is meant to contain Iran and force its hand diplomatically.

I have suggested here, in the recent past, that the build up is more about shielding other interests in the gulf from repercussions of an Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities.

The Guardian does, however, make a compelling case for war plans citing the administration's unhealthy affinity for the neo-conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, which is responsible for such memorable administration blunders as the "Axis of Evil" phrase and the current troop surge. They are desperate to see air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and have been working from both within and without the administration since 1992 to see regime change in Iran.

Bush Moves To Circumvent Regulatory Process

Last week, president Bush signed an Executive Order instructing all federal agencies to pass all their regulations and "guidance documents" through an appointee of the administration for approval.

This move coincides with the president re-nomination of Susan E Dudley to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. Ms Dudley has argued in the past that government intervention is not necessary "in the absence of a specific market failure."

The Executive Order provides instruction to agencies along the same lines as Ms Dudley's ideology. Essentially, what she is arguing for is no regulations unless the private sector has failed to address the issue.

This Executive Order runs contrary to the legislative process as Congress often enacts legislation calling for regulation which leaves the specific requirements and implementation up to the bureaucrats that run the agency. It seems likely that Congress will be forced to write more specific details into legislation when regulation is desired. In some ways, that will make the legislation harder to pass as people become concerned about the slow pace at which rules written into law could be adjusted to address market issues.

Minimum Wage Increase Blocked In Senate

In an effort to demonstrate lack of support for the House bill in its current state, Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, called for a vote to end debate on the bill. The vote failed 54-43; 60 votes was required to end debate. Such "cloture" votes are required in the Senate.

The issue is one of tax break incentives desired by president Bush to offset the harm Republicans feel a minimum wage increase will cause to small businesses. Senate Republicans used their ability to block cloture to stop the bill's consideration.

The stickiest issue here, as I understand it, is that any tax related measure must, constitutionally, begin in the house. It is not sufficient for the Senate to pass an altered version and bring the two bills together in conference. Note that the story linked below says otherwise.

What Is Bush Planning For Iran?

If we look at the Bush Administration's Middle East activity as part of one big puzzle, rather than discreet incidents, we start to see a plan that almost makes sense. Consider these tidbits gathered over the past couple of months:

  • The United Nations Security Council, in December, passes a resolution requiring Iran cease its nuclear activities within 60 days. The deadline is due to pass in February
  • President Bush replaces his top commanders in the region, placing an Admiral in change of the U.S. Central Command.
  • The Pentagon orders a second carrier group into the Gulf region, a commitment of a massive number of additional forces.
  • President Bush orders a "surge" of troops in Iraq, particularly around Baghdad, against what seems to be all political common sense.
  • Israel begins to make more noises about strikes on Iranian nuclear targets, perhaps using tactical nukes themselves.

If all of these details are part of one comprehensive scenario, I have some thoughts as to what it is.

House Votes To End Oil Subsidies, Tax Breaks

Yesterday, the House of Representatives, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, completed its 100 Hours agenda with the passage of a bill to end tax breaks and subsidies given to the oil industry.

The bill reclaims $14 billion in lost revenue over the next 5 years, if it is ultimately signed into law. The bill passed on a vote of 264 to 163 with, again, many Republicans voting with the Democrats. That vote, however, is short of a veto-proof majority. The Bush Administration has voiced displeasure with the measure but has not threatened to veto it.

Part of the bill will require the administration to renegotiate leases for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico. When Congress authorized the leases during the 90s, they directed that royalties be paid if the price of oil went over $34 a barrel. The Clinton Administration failed to put such a requirement into the leases. When the price of oil crossed that threshold during the Bush Administration, they decided they were powerless to fix the problem. This bill effectively voids the leases.

The open question is whether the oil-friendly administration will veto the bill, ignore it with a signing statement, or actually follow it.

House Passes Student Loan Bill With Veto-Proof Majority

Yesterday, the House of Representatives knocked off another of the 100 hours legislation items: a 50% cut in the interest rate on student loans.

The legislation passed by an astounding 356 to 71 margin with many, many Republicans crossing over to vote with the Democrats.

One issue in the legislation however is that the reduction is only for five years. The reason it is temporary is due to another Democratic commitment to offset spending increases, which this would be, with cuts elsewhere. To make the reduction permanent would be more expensive than the Democrats wish to see cut in other places.

It is expected that the legislation will be tied up in the Senate, however, as Senator Ted Kennedy is planning to introduce the legislation as part of a much broader education package that is unlikely to garner such broad support.

Israel Planning To Attack Iran?

During Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Israel, the focus of the domestic press was away from the Palestinian issue and was instead focused on Iran. When asked if the U.S. Would support an attack on Iran by Israel, she said:

I still think there is room for diplomacy, but even talk of such action shows how serious it would be for Iran to continue its actions unabated

Clearly a diplomatic non-answer to a tough question. Typically, however, such non-answers can be considered an answer in the affirmative.

In December, the U.N. Security Council approved resolution 1737 which gives Iran two-months to suspend its nuclear activities. Those two months will be up in February. There is little chance that Iran will be found to be in compliance.

There is a rising concern that Israel and perhaps the U.S. will use the expired deadline as a precursor to escalate tensions with Iran and perhaps as a justification for attack.

House Votes In The Face Of Guaranteed Vetoes

This past week, the house passed two pieces of legislation in the face of vetoes promised by president George W Bush.

The first bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, is geared toward expanding federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The bill fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto with 253-174 tally that included 37 Republicans voting for it and 16 Democrats voting against it.

It is unclear at this time when the bill will be considered in the Senate. The bill is favored by the majority of Americans so Senate Republicans may attempt to prevent the bill from being voted on at all to save the president from having to veto the bill.

The second bill, designated to allow the Federal Government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies, passed on a 255-170 vote with 24 Republicans joining a united Democratic caucus. This bill as well is facing a certain presidential veto.

A previously reported, the Republican argument basically boils down to the law not having any effect so why pass it. However, the bill is really a repeal of a specific clause in Medicare Part D that prohibits the government from negotiating. This raises an interesting question. If such negotiations will have no effect, why work so hard to resist them?