Iranian Revolutionary Guards: Terrorists in Disguise

The Washington Post reports that the ‘United States has decided to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a “specially designated global terrorist,” according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group’s business operations and finances.’

The reason? Iran’s constant and increased meddling in Iraq, Afghanistan and, well, the entire the Middle East for that matter. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is helping out terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah: with training, knowledge, and equipment. Seemingly, the US has had enough and has, therefore, decided to label the private militant group of the Mullahs terrorists.

Why is this significant? The WaPo explains:

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said — a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.

The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that “provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists.”

In other words, the US can attempt to make sure that the Revolutionary Guard does not get any money - or at least as little as possible. Of course, considering that the Revolutionary Guard is headed by the leaders in Tehran, it means that the US will make it official that Iran uses terrorism as a foreign policy. We all know this to be true, but there is a difference between knowing something and making it official (policy).

A ‘U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced,’ explained: “Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately. It increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business with these people.”

We can be sure that Tehran will not be happy with it and that the rhetoric will escalate. The financial tricks, however, the US has to fight terrorism have proven to pay off. Iran can say all it wants, the Revolutionary Guard can object all it wants, but it will suffer significantly financially. As Ed Morrissey explains at Captain’s Quarters, “it’s a brilliant escalation of the economic battle that the Bush administration has waged against the Iranians. They already have staggered under the weight of international sanctions. Now their businessmen and their partners abroad will face even more pressure, and that will eventually erode the Iranian economy even further — and the hardliner’s position will become more tenuous than ever.”

With Ed, however, I believe that it is not as simple as that. There is also a problem: “Under the Geneva Convention, the IRG fits the definition of a legitimate military force. They wear uniforms, and answer to legitimate government authority. While the Quds force undeniably works outside of those boundaries to perpetuate terrorism, the IRG as a whole has more plausible deniability.

What happens when we start labeling uniformed military as terrorist organizations?”

Although I think the move might make sense in a way, it seems to me that we cannot label armies, legitimate armies, terrorist organizations. Once we do that, the line between terrorists and armies is blurred. The result can be that captured members of the revolutionary guard will not receive the same treatment members of others armies get. This could create a firestorm and a domino effect, not to mention global outrage. Like it or not, the Revolutionary Guard is a legitimate army - not a terrorist organization (as Ed points out, one of the main differences is that RG members wear, here it comes, uniforms). They are recognizeable, they are easily identifiable… They are soldiers, not terrorists, no matter how badly they may behave.

Hillary Clinton: Strong, yes; likeable, maybe

CNN reports:

"Democrats consider New York Sen. Hillary Clinton the most electable candidate in the presidential field, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out Monday afternoon.

Democratic voters polled in the new survey also consider the senator from New York to be the strongest leader and the most experienced, but Sen. Barack Obama has a light edge on likeability.

Clinton gets her lowest marks when Democrats are asked which candidate is the most honest.

Fully 59 percent of those questioned in our new poll say Clinton has the right experience to be president. Only 9 percent feel that way about Obama. Meanwhile, 47 percent say she would be the strongest leader, and 46 percent say she is the most qualified to be commander in chief."

Clinton’s weak points according to CNN:

"One appears to be honesty. Just 28 percent say that Clinton is the most honest candidate, compared to 24 percent for Obama.

The other is likeability: 34 percent say Obama is the most likeable candidate, topping Clinton on that measure by three points."

Nothing new there.

I have said it before: people do not have to like Clinton for her to win. Most people did not like Thatcher either. They did not like her, but they thought she was strong and a good leader. Same goes for Clinton. Clinton does not have to convince 51% of the American voters that she is likeable, and a good and honest person. She has to convince them that she will lead the country well.

'Bye Bye Arctic Ice'

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average, and the area of the Arctic covered by ice in the summer is shrinking. The quality of the ice cover that is its thickness is also decreasing.

Using satellite data and advanced analytical tools scientists have predicted that the Arctic will be free of summer ice by 2040.

What is causing the Arctic ice to melt? It is clearly due to global warming and partly also due to a shift in wind patterns from time to time.

Hitherto the Arctic ice presented a bright surface which reflected most of the sun's energy back into the atmosphere. But with dark spaces of open water increasing the sun's energy is being absorbed by the Arctic waters thereby increasing their temperature and would not only accelerate the decay of Arctic ice but also climate change across the world.

This will have major consequences for not only wildlife in the region like the polar bears, but an Arctic free from ice will fundamentally change the lives of those who live there.

Apart from opening up new sea routes and a consequent increase in trade and commerce the world may gain access to the mineral resources that are known to lie below the Arctic sea bed. Russia's Arctic North is estimated to contain up to 25% of the world's oil and gas reserves. The total reserves may be much more. Little wonder then that the Russians have been claiming most of the Arctic as belonging to them and this also explains why only recently they planted the Russian flag below the North Pole. The Canadians too have begun to claim large parts of the Arctic.

As the world's ice disappears, glaciers would melt, fresh water supplies would reduce and sea levels rise across the world. It is high time the world got together to fight global warming.

Washington Cracks Down on Lobbying

For ages lobbyists in Washington and some lawmakers have simply had a whale of a time. Funded by annual budgets running into billions of dollars and located mainly on Washington's legendary K Street these lobbyists have over the years come to significantly influence almost every area of government. Expensive gifts for lawmakers and their staff, free vacations and lavish entertainment have been the order of the day.

What is lobbying? It is a concerted effort to get a particular result from someone in authority. Usually this means government authority. Reputed to have started during the tenure of President Ulysses S Grant, over the years the term has come to refer to the political wheelers and dealers in the capital. Nowadays it is an accepted profession. Flush as they are with funds these people are an important source of campaign funding. Since most of them are linked to big corporations the nagging fear has always lingered that lawmakers may be corrupted once in office.

A few days back Congress passed an entirely new set of ethics and lobbying rules. Lobbyists can no longer offer lavish hospitality as in the past. They face up to five years in prison and stiff financial penalties if they do so. The only exception is for "widely attended events."

Federal prosecutors are clearly on the warpath and may even end up treating certain campaign contributions as bribes.

Rules were there earlier but were meant for lawmakers and not for lobbyists. They were also rarely enforced. For instance since 1995 under the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act most professional lobbyists are required to register themselves and file reports twice a year. However there were many loopholes in these rules. Now indications are that the government means business.

These rules are the result of recent scandals which have damaged the image of the political system. However serious doubts remain as to whether, if at all, these new rules will ever be enforced. Till such rules are strictly followed ethical conduct of government will be no more than a pipe dream.

Pig Fever - The Latest Threat

It is not widely known that pig fever can infect humans and even cause death. Countries around the world till now were battling recurrent outbreaks of bird flu. In fact this disease seems to have become endemic in some nations. Till now this disease has proved to be the most troublesome to control after the mad cow disease.

Of late cattle in the UK have been affected by the foot and mouth disease.

The latest outbreak is of swine fever in Romania. This fever affects only pigs and wild hogs. It is incurable and the infected animals have to be slaughtered and their carcasses buried or burnt.Eradicating it has so far proved very tough but vaccination against the disease is possible and offers a certain degree of protection. This is not the first time that the disease has surfaced in Romania. It has occurred earlier as well and in fact Romania is banned from exporting pork to the EU.

The disease spreads via natural secretions from imported animals and is highly contagious.

This disease is known to infect humans as well. People who eat infected meat can catch the disease. In fact even inhaling the air near the sick swine is dangerous and could cause infection.
The rate of fatality in humans infected by the disease is disturbingly high.

Popularly known as the African Swine Fever epidemics have devastated pig herds in Benin, Nigeria, Togo and other African countries.In Africa it is usually controlled by major surveillance operations, strict border controls to check movement and a compensation scheme for the owners of the slaughtered animals.

In Europe outbreaks have occurred in Italy and Portugal as well, in the past.

What comes to haunt experts whenever such an outbreak occurs is that someday one virus will mutate into a form easily transmitted to humans and sweep across the world with catastrophic results. The warning bells are ringing loudly. It is time all the nations put their heads and resources together to fight these imminent dangers rather than wasting time elsewhere.

Bloggers Give Clinton a Mixed Reception

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York walked into the lion's den here Saturday, drawing applause as well as boos and hisses from an audience of progressive bloggers during a presidential candidates forum in which she became the target of sharp criticism from several of her Democratic rivals.

The forum at the second annual Yearly Kos convention drew all but one of the Democratic presidential candidates, and it helped cement the bloggers as an increasingly significant constituency inside the party. The 90-minute session displayed many of the qualities for which the blogosphere is known -- it was free-wheeling, occasionally raucous and consistently passionate, with candidates competing with one another to earn the affection of the audience.

In contrast to past debates, Clinton was on the firing line because of her often-difficult relationship with bloggers over her initial support for the Iraq war, and because her opponents saw a chance to paint her as the Establishment candidate before an audience hostile to inside-the-Beltway power politics.

Clinton emerged with some scrapes but also was praised by some prominent bloggers. She tried to court the progressive audience, praising its members for aggressively standing up to President Bush and the right, while avoiding making statements that might compromise her during a general election campaign if she becomes the Democratic nominee.

Clinton came under attack for declining to join former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who is quite popular with bloggers, and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in pledging to not take campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists.

"I think my party, the Democratic Party, the party of the people, ought to say from this day forward we will never take a dime from a Washington lobbyist," Edwards said to rising applause from the audience of more than 1,000.

Asked whether she would agree with that, Clinton said, "I don't think, based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe in, anybody seriously believes I'm going to be influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest."

With that there were groans and hisses, and Clinton, who had braced for such a reaction and seemingly had waited for it through nearly an hour of debate, responded: "I've been waiting for this. This gives us a real sense of reality with my being here." She added, "A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans."

When the moderator, New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai, turned back to Obama a few minutes later, the senator immediately challenged Clinton's position.

"I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don't have disproportionate influence," he said. "The insurance and drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years. Now Hillary, you were talking earlier about the efforts you made back in '93 [trying to reform health care]. Now you can't tell me that that money did not have a difference. They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest."

With that the audience erupted in cheers of approval, and Edwards, sitting on Clinton's right, joined in the applause.

"I'm losing control," Bai quipped, before giving Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) the floor. Kucinich turned the issue of campaign contributions back on Edwards, asking whether he would be willing to stop taking money from hedge fund executives.

Edwards declined, saying he will continue to accept donations from people who are not Washington lobbyists.

The debate featured seven of the eight Democratic candidates: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Kucinich, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and former senator Mike Gravel (Alaska). Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) skipped the forum because he is on a book tour.

Dodd was as animated as he has been at any debate, and he led the call for public financing of political campaigns. Richardson pressed his experience as a former United Nations ambassador and a sitting governor. Gravel derided his rivals as good people trapped in a corrupt system. "All politicians walk in the mud," he said.

When the candidates were asked about the Iraq war, Kucinich said Democrats should use the power of the purse to cut off funding. Clinton said Senate rules make it difficult for Democrats to do so because they need 60 votes to shut down debate. Dodd responded, "It's better to get 25 votes for something meaningful" than 60 votes for something that isn't.

All the candidates participated in separate breakout sessions with the bloggers, most immediately after the debate. Clinton initially said she could not do a breakout session because of a scheduling conflict, but agreed to one before the debate when it became a new point of contention with the bloggers.

She arrived shortly after noon and immediately put on a charm offensive. When her microphone malfunctioned, she quipped, "Vast right-wing conspiracy." As she began her opening remarks, she acknowledged her tenuous relationship with the bloggers. "I'm aware that, you know, not everyone says nice things about me. It's a burden I have to bear."

Then she thanked them "for caring so much and being so involved in helping us create a modern progressive movement in America. What you have done in a relatively short period of time is really to stand up against the right-wing noise machine."

She then took questions for about 30 minutes, at times associating herself with the audience's views, at times standing apart. She defended, for example, the welfare overhaul passed during her husband's administration after one questioner urged her to say she would repeal it as president.

The only time she was booed during the session was when she said she is a fan of the Chicago Cubs, not the Chicago White Sox.

Edwards, who was the leader in the most recent unscientific straw poll by the Daily Kos blog, continued his attack on Clinton during his breakout session. Highlighting the difference between himself and Clinton on taking money from Washington lobbyists, Edwards said to boisterous applause, "The choice in front of America is very clear."

Clinton's performances drew mixed reviews. "Hillary's visit was equivalent to a visit from a head of state to a country just recently recognized with diplomatic status," said Andrew Rasiej of TechPresident, the go-to site on how the candidates are campaigning online.

"Look, she's here because she's just pandering, like everyone else, to find an area of alignment," said Matt Stoller, formerly of the popular blog My DD, who recently founded Open Left.

Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, the founder of Daily Kos, for which the conference is named, gave Clinton good marks. "I think she did very well," he said after the candidate forum. "I think she's done a great job of defusing the hostility."

"We've got a ways to go," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said when it was over. "There are others here who have historically done better in this community. We obviously hope that we will continue to do better and better."

House Passes New Energy Bill

There is a growing realization that dependence on fossil fuels must simply be reduced.

One important way to do so is to reduce oil consumption by utilities. Already most US states grant subsidies for installing solar power generators. These panels can be easily fitted on rooftops and generate sufficient power to meet a substantial part of the total utilities requirement. In off peak hours the excess power generated can be fed into the local grid. Credit is received for the power contributed to the grid. Subsidies are around 20% on an average but in New Jersey it is a whopping 70%.

The US Department of Energy, in partnership with Owens Corning, launched Energy Savers in 1998. It provides useful tips to Americans save energy and money at home.

With energy consumption rising worldwide the the choices we make today about how we intend to meet our energy requirements in the future will impact our environment and our lives.

In a huge step forward the House passed a new Energy Bill on Saturday requiring most utilities to produce up to 15% of their electricity from renewable resources such as solar and wind power.

The Bill also seeks to provide money for increased research spending on development of alternative fuel technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Part of the funding for the above projects is to come from reducing tax breaks presently enjoyed by the oil industry. It thus seeks to provide an integrated energy and environmental policy for the first time.

Longer term goals include enhanced standards of energy efficiency for appliances and automobiles. A conscious decision to reduce carbon dioxide emission is also on the cards.

Fortunately, with advances in technology all these are in the realm of possibility. Although in the short term energy prices are likely to increase the longer term benefits are simply too large to be ignored.

Uncle Sam is Watching You !

The Senate yesterday approved a Republican plan which arms the government with sweeping powers to keep watch on terror suspects.The Democrats tried to reduce the sweeping powers sought to be given to the intelligence agencies.They failed because several of their party colleagues voted in favor.These agencies can now eavesdrop on suspects without a court order.

All this is fine in theory but past experience has shown that such powers have often been used against ordinary americans as well.

The Bill is not entirely new.Efforts in this direction have been going on for some time.Soon after 9/11 Congress passed the USA Patriot Act that vastly expanded the government's authority to spy on its own citizens without judicial approval or public accountability.

The Patriot Act has already given powers to the Govt. to even search private property and also to mount electronic surveillance. But the disturbing factor is that it has given powers to search through records held by third persons such as financial records, medical histories, university records etc. Now that we are living in a computerized world it means that a person's entire life is laid threadbare before these agencies. What is worse is that these sources are forbidden from disclosing to a subject that his records have been examined.

The question that arises is whether such an Act violates the Constitution or not? Experts would have us believe that it violates fundamental freedoms like freedom of liberty and speech.

Maybe, given the present global situation, it is perhaps a small price to pay for National Security. What is certain though is that the public debate on the issue promises to be a long and bitter one.