Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Saturday, July 22, 2006day link 

 Lt. Watada
picture Lt. Ehren Watada is an American army officer who has refused to be deployed to Iraq based on the war being illegal. Which he's right about, of course. But he's now being court-martialed. Does he have a chance? Probably, as his case is very well founded, and he's a patriotic model soldier, who speaks well for himself, and he has a lot of support. You're not likely to see much of it in mainstream media, but that can easily change. The Nation:
On July 5 the US Army brought charges against First Lieut. Ehren Watada, an infantry officer stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, who has refused to deploy to Iraq with his unit because he believes the war there is illegal. Watada faces up to eight years in jail and a dishonorable discharge. But in trying the 28-year-old officer, the Army is really putting itself, the Iraq War and the Bush Administration on trial.

At the June 7 press conference announcing his decision, Watada argued that the Administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq was "manifestly illegal" because it "violates our democratic system of checks and balances. It usurps international treaties and conventions that by virtue of the Constitution become American law." Watada also said, "As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order."

His refusal to deploy was an act of courage. It was also the product of profound reflection on taking personal responsibility for halting the US government's careening course toward authoritarianism and criminality--and of the legal justification for such acts of responsibility.
Or, see this article, with a video statement from Watada. Or a site with a lot more suporting material.

Being legally and morally right is not enough, unfortunately, as there are powerful forces opposed to letting him get away with it. But, luckily, the U.S. Supreme Court isn't entirely corrupt:
Watada's most crucial legal claims were corroborated June 29 by the US Supreme Court, in what Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger calls "the most important decision on presidential power ever."

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Court rebuked the Bush Administration not only for the Guantánamo tribunals but also for the entire view of executive power the Administration used to justify them. In a 5-to-3 decision, the Court ruled that the President cannot act contrary to "limitations that Congress has, in proper exercise of its own war powers, placed on his powers." That's just what Watada said about Bush's policy two weeks before: "It violates the Constitution and the War Powers Act that limits the President in his role as Commander in Chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit."

The ruling also supports Watada's claim that the Administration is breaking international law. It found the President's conduct illegal because it violated international treaties--specifically, the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. This has ramifications far beyond Guantánamo: It means the government must obey the provisions of the Geneva Conventions--such as the ban on cruel and degrading treatment and the obligation of an occupying power to protect civilians. And it solidifies the incorporation of other treaties--notably, the UN Charter, with its ban on military aggression--into US law. (For a more extended discussion of the implications of the Hamdan decision for the Watada case, see our essay, Hamdan and Watada, on WarCrimesWatch.com.)
But the Supreme Court doesn't have its own police force. So, like in other cases where it is the government that is the criminal, it will be the concerted actions of the public that is likely to determine the outcome.
[ | 2006-07-22 12:45 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Western Union sucks
picture Yesterday I needed to make an important payment, with money I had in my U.S. account. Without thinking it through very well, I decided that the fastest way of getting the money over here was Western Union. "Money in Minutes", you know. Had I thought it through better, I'd have realized that the easiest thing is just to ask my bank to increase my cash advance limit, and then take them out in an ATM. As I'd have to use the same cash advance limit to make a Western Union payment. But I didn't think that through at first.

So, I got my bank to make $1000 available, and went to the Western Union website, and ordered the wiring of the money. And it said it had been ordered, but before the money would be available, I'd need to call them to answer some security questions.

Now, it has been a lot in the news recently that Western Union has blocked money transfers for anybody with an Arab name, in some misguided attempt of hindering the funding of terrorists. Which sucks if you're one of the millions of innocent people named Mohammed. But that doesn't really apply to me.

But it turned out that they've implemented a new elaborate security verification scheme. Which consists of asking me questions based on what they've found in the public record about me. They asked me about 10 different multiple-choice questions. They were basically two kinds: 1. giving me a list of domain names and asking if I've registered any of them, and if so which one, or whether I just don't recognize any of them. 2. giving me a list of addresses, and asking me whether I've had any relation to them, and if so what city they're in, chosen from multiple choices, or whether I don't recognize any of them.

I own lots of domains. But yet they gave me several lists of domains I'd never heard of, which I told them. And they gave me lists of addresses I didn't recognize. Except for one, which was an address I used to have a mailbox at, 15 years ago. And then they gave me a list of 5 cities, to identify which one would go with the address. The problem was that my address at East Broadway was in Glendale, California. But the choices were "Los Angeles", "Riverside", "San Bernardino", and a couple more. I explained that to the operator, that there must be some mistake, the address I recognized was in Glendale, and not in any of those, but if I had to choose one of them, the closest would be Los Angeles.

So, then after all 10 questions like that, he informs me that, sorry, but I don't pass the Western Union expanded security requirements. Which, obviously, are screwed up somehow. Essentially they take the kind of stuff that is in one's credit record, or in domain registrations, and if there's anything that happens to be a bit incorrect, or wrong, or one doesn't remember one's address of 15 years ago, one is out of luck.

Now, the problem is also that they already took my money. I.e. they charged a $1000 cash advance from my account when I ordered the money transfer, which registered on my account immediately. And now the guy says he'll cancel the transaction, but that it is no concern of his how and when my bank responds to that.

A call to my bank, after they opened a number of hours later, reveals that all they see is that I spent $1000 with Western Union, and if anything would be reversed, they'd estimate that it might take 2 or 3 business days. Which in itself is ridiculous, of course. If you can do an instant subtraction, you can of course just as easily do an instant addition. But that is often not how banks work. I can spend my money instantly, but if, say, I do a wire transfer between countries, it takes 5-7 business days. There's no good excuse for that, of course. Anyway, in this case the problem is that my $1000 instead of being transferred "in minutes" got locked up for a few days, and I've already spent my maximum cash advance limit for the day, and despite that there were more money in my account, there was no way of getting at them that day. Oh, I could have gone and bought a huge dinner with it, and VISA would have charged it instantly, but that's a different matter.

So, what sucks? Well, Western Union is really cumbersome, has a dysfunctional set of security requirements, and operators who's job it seems to be to give you a hard time, rather than helping you. And if they don't want your transaction, they keep your money for several days more anyway. Which might well be because the banking system sucks.
[ | 2006-07-22 14:42 | 246 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Imperial Guards
First Post
Not such a long time ago, in a galaxy south-east of Paris, there was a battle between myth and reality. The Empire really had struck back - at least, in the vision of French photographer Cedric Delsaux.
An award-winner in the newcomers' Bourse du Talent competition, he is keen to preserve the illusion behind his Star Wars-inspired images. R2-D2, Darth and his storm troopers may just have been model toys, superimposed on to shots of Parisian architecture, but that illusion works.

[ | 2006-07-22 14:46 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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