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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Jimmy Carter Faces Down Darfur Officials

Oct 3, 9:51 AM (ET)


KABKABIYA, Sudan (AP) - Former President Carter got in a shouting match Wednesday with Sudanese security services who blocked him from a town in Darfur where he was trying to meet with refugees from the ongoing conflict.

The 83-year-old Carter walked into this highly volatile pro-Sudanese government town to meet refugees too frightened to attend a scheduled meeting at a nearby compound. He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into the town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.

"You can't go. It's not on the program!" the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as "The Elders."

"We're going to anyway!" an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. "You don't have the power to stop me."

U.N. officials told Carter's entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way. Carter's traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to get into a car and leave.

"I'll tell President Bashir about this," Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Carter later agreed to a compromise by which tribal representatives would be brought to him at another location later Wednesday. But the refugee delegates never showed up.

The Darfur conflict began when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed - a charge it denies. More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in four years of violence.

Most refugees appeared too frightened to speak in Kabkabiya, a North Darfur town that has long been a stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia.

Branson said some refugees had slipped notes in his pockets. "We (are) still suffering from the war as our girls are being raped on a daily basis," read one of the notes, translated from Arabic, that Branson handed to The Associated Press.

The note said that on Sept. 26, a group of girls had been raped, and a refugee had also been shot two days ago. Branson said it had been handed over by an ethnic African man.

The visit by "The Elders," which is headed by Nobel Peace laureates Carter and Desmond Tutu, is largely a symbolic move by a host of respected figures to push all sides to make peace. Tutu visited a refugee camp in south Darfur, but the U..N. Mission in Sudan deemed it too dangerous for Carter to make a similar visit.

Carter instead flew to a World Food Program compound in Kabkabiya, where he was supposed to meet with refugees, many of whom were chased from their homes by pro-government janjaweed and Sudanese government forces.

But as the meeting was set to get under way, none of the nongovernment refugee representatives arrived, and Carter decided to walk out into the town to try to talk with them.

"We are in the security field. We're not that flexible," said the security chief, Omar, after the confrontation ended. He said Carter already breached security once by walking to the school and would not be allowed to breach security again.

"This illustrates the challenges that communities and humanitarian workers face in Darfur," said Orla Clinton, spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in Sudan who witnessed the incident.

Carter later returned to the North Darfur capital of El Fasher and where he was planning to meet with community representatives later Wednesday.

"The Elders" delegation is trying to use their influence at a crucial time - with peace talks due to start in Libya and the deployment of a 26,000-strong hybrid African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force to begin later this month.

Tensions are running high after rebels overran an AU peacekeeping base in northern Darfur over the weekend, killing 10 in the deadliest attack on the beleaguered force since it arrived in the region three years ago.

Carter said he felt the trip was proving effective. He said al-Bashir told him this week that Sudan has committed $100 million to a fund for Darfur's reconstruction and another $200 million has been pledged by Chinese diplomatic allies.

Carter said the main goal of the three-day visit to Sudan was to seek guarantees for free and fair elections throughout the country in 2009. Observes fear the elections could be postponed and warn this would imperil the fragile peace in southern Sudan and worsen the conflict in Darfur.

The 2009 vote would be the first democratic election in Sudan since al-Bashir came to power in a military and Islamist coup in 1989. Carter said al-Bashir vowed to allow the election to take place during a private meeting between the two in Khartoum.

"If the CPA fails to fulfill its commitment to free and fair elections and democracy in this country, all other efforts will be futile," Carter said, referring to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 21 years of civil war between the government and Christian and animist rebels in the south.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Report: Millions Wasted on Gov't Travel

Does this come as any surprise?

Oct 2, 6:07 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal employees wasted at least $146 million over a one-year period on business- and first-class airline tickets, in some cases simply because they felt entitled to the perk, congressional investigators say.

A draft report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, is the first to examine compliance with travel rules across the federal government following reports of extensive abuse of premium-class travel by Pentagon and State Department employees.

The review of travel spending by more than a dozen agencies from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, found 67 percent of premium-class travel by executives or their employees, worth at least $146 million, was unauthorized or otherwise unjustified.

Among the worst offenders: the State Department, whose employees typically fly abroad on official business.

Many of the cases involved high-ranking senior officials or political appointees who claimed exceptions to federal travel rules by citing old medical records or questionable approval from a subordinate employee.

Investigators found that senior officials often flew business- or first-class because they felt entitled to the perk.

The higher airfare for traveling in one of the premium classes resulted in expenses often five to 10 times more than what was authorized under government travel rules.

"With the serious fiscal challenges facing the federal government, agencies must maximize their ability to manage and safeguard valuable taxpayers' dollars," investigators wrote, suggesting agencies recoup the extra cost from those who abuse travel policies.

Under federal rules, government employees generally must fly coach for both domestic and international travel unless the flight takes 14 hours or longer. A few exceptions apply when the employee receives agency approval based on a medical condition, security concerns, lack of availability of coach seats or when required "because of agency mission."

Government investigators found that employees openly flouted the rules and agencies did little to check their abuses. Among the waste cited:

_An Agriculture Department executive took 25 premium-class flights costing $163,000 and said the extra expense had been authorized by a subordinate. In 10 of those trips, the traveler claimed exceptional circumstances to justify the pricier travel to western Europe, even though agency policy forbids premium-class travel unless the flight time is longer than 14 hours.

_Thirty-two State Department employees flew from Washington to Liberia in premium class over a six-month period. Five of those travelers did not have authorization for premium class; three had duplicate tickets and no evidence that the duplicates were refunded; and 17 were not properly justified, as their trips did not meet the 14-hour rule. These flights cost $293,000 and comparable coach-class tickets would have cost $124,000 - a difference of $169,000.

_At the Pentagon, a political appointee took 15 premium-class flights and cited a medical condition as justification for the $105,000 in expenses. However, the only evidence of a medical condition was a note signed by a fellow Pentagon employee, not a physician, attesting to surgery from several years earlier. The Pentagon did not have a doctor's certification from the employee as required by agency policy.

_Nine Justice Department employees charged the agency $35,000 for premium-class air tickets to Frankfurt, Germany, claiming the flight time was over 14 hours. Investigators found the employees added a separate flight to their calculations to reach the 14-hour total, a practice not allowed under government travel rules. Also, two of the flights were not authorized.

The GAO, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, said it was referring all cases it found of improper and abusive travel to the respective agencies and inspector general's offices for possible administrative action and repayment of the difference between premium-class and coach-class travel.

The report comes as some lawmakers are pressing to strengthen government sunshine laws by requiring agency disclosure of business-class travel to Congress. Currently, business-class travel accounts for 96 percent of the premium travel claimed by federal employees.

"No one disputes the fact that government officials need to travel, as not all work can be done behind a desk. Nor should all premium-class travel be eliminated. But the rules are there for a reason and the federal government should enforce them," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

Coleman noted that after a 2003 GAO report uncovered abuses in Pentagon travel, the department tightened policies and has since dramatically reduced its use of premium travel.

"We simply need the necessary oversight mechanisms in place to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are spent properly," he said.

The latest GAO report noted that several government entities are not subject to government rules on premium-class travel - among them, the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. - opening up more opportunities for unnecessary waste.

Those entities often allow members of their board of governors to travel business or first class for shorter flights overseas and sometimes domestically. In one case, a deputy director of FDIC flew business class from Washington to London and back at a cost of $7,200, while a coach- class ticket would have cost $800.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My my, what a long time it's been...

Aw, you know how it is, it flies when you're having fun.

Fun these days consists of the acquisition of toys varying in price from pennies to dimes. Latest toy: a nice external hard drive. What more could a girl want? Maybe two external hard drives.

So, when something is new you try to destroy it with over-use as the implement. Enter...transferring files.

In the process of moving files, one does catch up with a lot of total junk and razzmatazz. Some good dirty pictures too. The one of Minnie with her boobs over Ashcroft's shoulder being a particular favorite.

Ashcroft who?

Yeah...lots of flotsam over the dam. A few nasty dead guys, and some time to reflect.

Here then is an old letter to friends right after a fateful event:

A Howl, Not the Last

My friends,

I have received a couple of queries as to whether I have fallen upon my dagger, or slipped into a hot tub with a glass of hemlock tea and a single edge razor blade. Or thoughts to that effect.

No. Resoundingly, NO.

What I am at this point is angry. Better that than tears any day. We, the Democrat voters fought a good fight, but not good enough. Politics is like sex. Nice and gentle is alright, but harder, harder, faster, faster gets you to the howling point.

When did anyone ever fight in the trenches, and keep his nails clean?

The right-wing is filthy, and playing the game by the rules when you're the only one that does...well that's just plain stupid.

John Kerry has me pissed off bigtime because there will always be a doubt about Ohio in my mind. I think some investigation should have been demanded. I also feel his conceding so quickly, against the advice of his running mate, was a terrible blunder. He looks weak now, and that's another bouquet of roses we handed the King of Chaos.

Bush can now do what he wants to do. He's a lame duck that can, and probably will, shoot bullets.

Rehnquist is half dead, the majority of the Justices are so old they creak, and 3-4 new Justices will be selected by a religious fanatic with a very odd take on morality.

All the arguments have been made...why go on?

There is a reason. WE AIN'T DEAD YET! There are many elections at the local level that will take place in the next four years. VOTE. Don't roll over now, and don't fall asleep at the thought of politics. They run your life.

Start giving very serious thought to future candidates at any level. Look for the most progressive ones and do what you can to further their aims.

Frankly, what some say about the Democratic Party is too true. It is old, weak, conciliatory, right leaning, and generally indistinguishable from the GOP.

Watch Barack Obama. Learn from that fine man. And let's make the initials GOP stand for Grand Old Prat-fall in the coming years.

Screw them. And this time, fight dirty, just like they do.

"This time" is coming faster than you think. In 2006 Rick Santorum will be running for re-election. He wants to be Pope. Those of us here in PA have to "just say no". I have no doubt he would love to run for prez some day. 'Round about now, you should be saying something expressive like, ewwww.

I leave you with that thought.

For those who had the sensitivity to ask, I thank you. I am fine. Really pissed off, and that's fine too.

Thursday, November 04, 2004 3:55 PM

Well, I think it's interesting....

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cheney, Bush, and Gonzo

In keeping with my credo, "Good Taste At Any Cost", I present three men with no lips. This may or may not affect their ability to taste good things, but assuredly, it doesn't affect their ability to behave tastelessly.

Click image for enlargement, to see what small really means.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards

I am saddened to hear of Mrs. Edwards's medical report diagnosing her condition as being a return of the cancer she had been treated for.

I send my best wishes to the Edwards family, and my hope that somehow Mrs. Edwards triumphs over this disease, in spite of the odds.

Good luck Mrs. Edwards. My thoughts will be with you.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oh Ji Ho and the Korean Caste System

Note: Oh Ji Ho is a Korean actor who has recently achieved much deserved acclaim in his country for his role in a TV romantic comedy/drama titled, Fantasy Couple, or at times referred to as Couple of Fantasy.

Asian movies and dramas have a certain liquidity when it comes to titles, an aspect that can be both frustrating and amusing.

I am a hard core fan of Oh Ji Ho's, so, when the news broke in The Korean Times, that his woman friend had committed suicide, I was horrified at the tone of the article by staff reporter,Chung Ah-young, and the often ugly response of the Korean public.

In the blogs that I publish having to do with Asian film/drama, I do not post the link to the article. It has already achieved it's purpose in slandering a newly, and vastly popular actor, who has been working hard at his craft for more than the seven years the author, Chung Ah-young, cedits him with.
Link to the article.

Here then, is a take on...
Oh Ji Ho and the Korean Caste System

"Judging from the many hits I’ve had here at the site, I feel it safe to assume the word about Oh Ji Ho’s lady friend committing suicide has hit the fan, and everyone wants to hear all about it.

"I probably know as much about it as you do, but do you know…?

"Korea has a distinct caste system, although they are loath to call it that. Instead they excuse it by calling it tradition. I have despised it since I became aware of it, and I don’t excuse it on any grounds.

"There was an amusing piece about K-Dramas posted at K-PopVideo recently. I thought it was pretty funny and close to the bone, so I posted it at The Hyacinth Papers.

"Yes, it’s funny, but, there is something unfunny about the nasty truth it reveals.

8. When someone hits a subordinate, it is always on the head, and most often across the back of the head.

"My note: why feel so free to hit a subordinate?

9. The wealthy have contempt for those without, and those on the lower rungs kiss the feet of their superiors. Korean society treats the wealthy and the poor completely differently.

"This applies to those public figures that have achieved fame also. And it is a very powerful force in the culture of Korea, and within families where the bludgeon of guilt is useful.

"If a family doesn’t want a son or daughter to marry someone they don’t feel fits their idea of ‘correct’ in terms of status, for one thing, the marriage is almost impossible to achieve. (See My Lovely Km, Sam-soon for the perfect example, or if you can stomach it, see Memories of Bali, an unfunny terrible story of family, business, and propriety according to the omnipotent parents who lean on custom like a crutch, and wield it like a club, in order to control, and incidentally destroy, their younger son who loves a ‘common’ girl. Nobody wins in that one.

"Oh Ji Ho is a victim of this societal structure, this caste system. He is a Korean. He was raised with the customs, and has evidently buckled under their weight. You have to have seen Memories of Bali to appreciate just how intense that weight can be. It is The Irresistible Force.

"You have no doubt seen the news coverage regarding Oh Ji Ho. In a sense, it makes him look so guilty because he lied.

"Guilty of what? Self protection?

"Yes, he did not tell all when the news first leaked out. His career is in jeopardy now, and in fact it may already be in ruins because this unhappy woman killed herself, and initially he denied being involved with her.

"According to some articles I’ve come upon in a very conservative online version of the news(The Korea Herald), suicide has become almost a national pastime. I just typed the words korea suicides into Google, and got 1, 800,000 entries to choose from. It seems to have become the awful solution for so many woes.

"When I view this situation in that light I see it from a perspective that is very saddening, but also more understandable. I have trouble with Oh Ji Ho’s denial, but I also have a real problem regarding doubtless extreme blame that will be launched at him from so many sides.

"The bottom line is this though: This young woman made a choice. She took her own life. She was not murdered. She killed herself.

"I am not romantic enough to believe that love is something you kill yourself over.

"In my country, it would be viewed as a tragedy for all involved, definitely including Oh Ji Ho. He would be supported by those who care about him. He would very likely not be dumped alongside a cliff because he has become a financial liability. Actually, here he would not become one. We are not as a nation, so full of self-righteousness.

"He will feel guilt for the rest of his life because the culture has failed him as it has so many others. It has formed him; it has overburdened him with obligations to a skewed societal structure. The woman was a bar hostess. So what? If he loved her here, they'd be left alone to live their lives and flourish. That's called Democracy.

"The Korean culture creates people who are driven to be successful from the first minute they enter school. They are obligated the second they are born. Bucking up against the parental, scholastic, employer related, public related wall of demanded obedience to that society is to crash and burn.

"It will be easy for some to say things about him that are damaging to him because they have an image of this man that is not accurate in the least. It is a dream.

"He is imagined to be a hero of some sort. He is imagined to be a great lover. He is fantasized about as the rescuer who will ride in and take many women away from their drab lives. He is envisioned as a prospective husband to thousands of wishers.

"He is none of these things.

"He is human. He has his failures and flaws of personality. He has weakness and fear within himself. He is, simply put, just like me. And if you are honest with yourself, just like you too.

"I will continue to support him, and I will continue to give all my heart over to understanding the entire thing with clarity, and good judgment.

"There is a song sung by Tom Rush from a long time ago. One line always stands out in my mind. It is, “Don’t confront me with my failures, I’ve not forgotten them.” Right.

"And just before you say, “I would never have done what he did”, remember this: never is a long time, and you don’t know what’s around the corner."

Posted at the Oh Ji Ho website.

If you wish to support Mr. Oh as an actor with a right to continue his career in peace, and hopefully, prosperity, you are requested to send cards or short notes of encouragement to Mr. Oh. See the site dedicated to him for details.