Archive for April, 2009


Why We Must Prosecute
Torture Is a Breach Of International Law

By Mark J. McKeon
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Sept. 11, 2001, when the twin towers were hit, I was sitting in a meeting in The Hague discussing what should be included in an indictment against Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia. I was an American lawyer serving as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and there was no doubt that Milosevic should be indicted for his responsibility for the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners. As the head of state at the time those crimes were committed, Milosevic bore ultimate responsibility for what happened under his watch.

While at The Hague, I felt myself standing in a long line of American prosecutors working for a world where international standards restricted what one nation could do to another during war, stretching back to at least Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg trials. Those standards protected our own soldiers and citizens. They were also moral and right. So I didn’t understand why, a few months after the attacks in 2001, the Bush administration withdrew its consent to joining the International Criminal Court. Wasn’t accountability for war crimes one of the things America stood for? Although staying with the court did mean that the United States would be subject to being charged in that court, how likely was that to happen? Surely we would never do these things. And, in any event, the court could only assume jurisdiction over a person whose own government refused to prosecute him; surely, that would never happen in the United States.

And yet, seven years later, here we are debating whether we should hold senior Bush administration officials accountable for things they have done in the “war on terror.”

In 2001 and the following few years, we at the international tribunal built a strong court case against Milosevic. We presented evidence that he had effective control over soldiers and paramilitaries who tortured prisoners, and did worse. We brought into court reports of atrocities that had been delivered to Milosevic by international organizations to show his knowledge of what was happening under his command. And we watched as other heads of state were indicted for similar crimes, including Charles Taylor in Liberia and, of course, Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

At the same time, I watched with horror the changes that were happening back home. The events are now well known: Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo; secret “renditions” of prisoners to countries where interrogators were not afraid to get rough; secret CIA prisons where there appeared to be no rules. I tried to answer, as best I could, the questions from my international colleagues at The Hague about what was happening in and to my country. But as each revelation topped the last, I soon found myself without words.

I hope that the United States has turned the page on those times and is returning to the values that sustained our country for so many years. But we cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves.

To say that we should hold ourselves to the same standards of justice that we applied to Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein is not to say that the level of our leaders’ crimes approached theirs. Thankfully, there is no evidence of that. And yet, torture and cruel treatment are as much violations of international humanitarian law as are murder and genocide. They demand a judicial response. We cannot expect the rest of humanity to live in a world that we ourselves are not willing to inhabit.

The writer was a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 2001 to 2004 and a senior prosecutor from 2004 to 2006.

While I agree with McKeon I cannot see any reason why he hasn’t mentioned Bush and Cheney. There is plenty of evidence that the decisions violating international law were made at the highest level of US government, and since McKeon names other heads of states such as Milosevic, Taylor and  Saddam Hussein, I cannot see any reason why he left out the last US president and vice president. After all, we are talking about judiciary processes dealing with their actions; they may be held innocent until proven guilty, but a decision about their involvement should be made by the court system and not politicians and their political parties.

[Image was not part of the Washington Post article]

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Published: April 27, 2009

The chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Sheila C. Bair, said in a speech on Monday that her agency should have broader powers to take over and close a variety of financial institutions to prevent taxpayers from shouldering the losses on firms deemed too big to fail.

Instead of just seizing commercial banks, Ms. Bair said the F.D.I.C. should be able to take over troubled insurers, bank holding companies and other insolvent financial institutions and force stockholders and bondholders to bear the cost.

“Viable portions of the company would be put into the good bank, while the ailing portions would remain at the bad bank to be sold or closed over time,” Ms. Bair said at a speech at the Economic Club of New York.

So far, the federal government has committed to spend $12.8 trillion — which includes the bailouts of the insurance giant American International Group and the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — to resolve the credit crisis. As part of that, more than $90 billion has been spent to shore up Citigroup and Bank of America.

Ms. Bair said that the concept of “too big to fail” should be “tossed into the dustbin” in favor of a resolution program that would clean up the balance sheets of insolvent institutions so they can reorganize as better capitalized companies. The notion of too big to fail “has contributed to unprecedented government intervention into private companies,” she said.

“Taxpayers should not be called on to foot the bill to support nonviable institutions because there is no orderly process for resolving them,” she said.

Other major financial figures, like the hedge fund manager William A. Ackman, have also called for expanded government power to seize insolvent banks. In a discussion on “The Charlie Rose Show” on Friday, Mr. Ackman called for the unsecured creditors of troubled banks to swap their debt for equity.

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Source: Free exchange

An interesting addition to my post on Is Obama serious about saving the planet? The Pew Institute just released a survey titled Luxury or Necessity? The Public Makes a U-Turn (this survey just looks at the US population).

Of course, luxury and necessity are very relative terms, and the current economic disaster reflects that fact in the survey with sometimes surprisingly steep declines for consumer items on the necessity ladder (like cloth dryers, aircons and TVs). But there are also interesting long terms trends in comparisons between 1973/1983 and 2006 where cars and dishwashers and dryer ratings remain pretty unchanged.

But what is important right now is that economic pressure hitting the hip pocket seriously makes people think about what their real needs are and therefore what they can do without. And interestingly enough the trend to thrift by and large is not just driven by those most affected by the recession/depression; cutbacks and new evaluations are often made across the demographic board.

Unfortunately though one thing has not changed: American’s love affair with the car; it has remained solidly glued to a spot around the 90% mark since 1973. This would be an area where an American president could truly start a radical change campaign, one which could seriously contribute to saving the planet, but such a president hasn’t shown up yet.

Below are the graphs from the survey; for a better and more complete understanding of the results and their interpretation visit the survey’s web page.



Well, maybe not the whole world – there’ll always be limitations. But it’s a great concept: Open Web. Rather than going to several different social websites you belong to (or at least to places like Digsby) AND to get your daily information fix (apart from twitter) from blog aggregators AND to go to your bank’s home page AND to visit different shops you wanna check out and maybe purchase goods from AND so on, you do it all – from your own home page. No need to ever leave it to go through those routines. It’s a dream that’s not so far away. But it’s not without problems of course. One is that it’s also a marketer’s dream. The other is that it could become a privacy nightmare.

For more info see the following excerpt – written by the micro-marketer Stevel Rubel on aptly named Micro Persuasion.

Communities come and go. Hubs seem to lose their innovation edge just as consumers grow more fickle, new venues emerge and viable monetization options remain scarce. If history repeats itself, Facebook and Twitter will one day be replaced by something else. However, this time it will be the open web.

A group of standardized technologies are emerging that will evolve social networking from destinations we visit into something bigger – a federated address book that makes every single web site that chooses to adopt them entirely social.

Jeremiah Owyang at Forrester Research has been thinking about this deeply. This week Forrester is releasing a paper that outlines a five year vision for how the open web, thanks to connective technologies like OpenID, will become one giant social network. This global brain will follow us everywhere and influence every purchasing decision.

While Forrester doesn’t get this tangible, here’s a fictional scenario to consider.

Today online shopping means visiting, reading reviews from strangers and conducing a transaction.

Tomorrow, as everything becomes social, you will be able to shop Amazon directly from within your iGoogle page without ever having to visit the site. What’s more, Amazon will show you what your Gmail address book friends have publicly said about a product and/or its category in any one of thousands of online communities. Finally, to help you further Amazon will offer an aggregated view of your friends’ friends opinions in a way that protects their identity.



Support the GetUp campaign below!

That’s how The Age announced news we’ve been dreading to hear: Gunns is close to finding offshore investors for its controversial pulp mill in Tasmania and may begin construction soon.

Gunns just won’t give up on this destructive mill, but so far together we have foiled their every attempt. We’ve fought too hard to give up now.

Without international finance, or an overseas joint venture partner, the pulp mill will be history. That’s why we need to pull out all stops and publish a massive newspaper ad this week in the European Financial Times: the paper we know hits every bank in Europe. This ad needs your urgent help:

Last year when we showed Gunns’ long-time banker ANZ the weight of opposition against the mill, they pulled out.

In the spirit of fairness we sent an advance copy of this ad to all banks considering financing the mill to give them a chance to declare otherwise. Within days, three of the four main contenders have told us they will not finance the mill.

We know this ad works.

But to stop the remaining contenders we need to show the weight of public opinion against this project. Click here to chip in:

Thanks to your efforts, no Australian bank will touch this project. This ad, hitting the desks of every financier currently contemplating giving the green light to a project we thought long-dead, will send shockwaves around the European finance community.

Thanks for being a part of the solution,
The GetUp Team

PS – Imagine the boardroom meeting: “Thousands of people chipped in to fund an ad to stop us financing this project… Are we sure we want to be involved? Let’s take another look at our figures…”

Chip in to pulp the mill once and for all.

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Swine flu humour

Posted: April 28, 2009 in humour


[Source: xkcd; thanks to Harry]


Not that I feel really concerned about it but I thought it might be of interest, especially for people whose countries are affected by the swine flu. If you’re interested in tracking swine flu cases there is now a Google maps app to help; zoom in for a country view. The sidebar provides details for the specific cases with age of patient and location of infection.

Further information links: and

[Source: AppScout; thank to Harry]

Bob and Tom – Cameltoe

Posted: April 28, 2009 in humour

A Facebook link my mate Harry posted – one could argue it’s sexist but also just see it as something really funny – gave me a good belly-laugh 😀


Well, let’s not talk about Obama’s affiliations here to his campaign donors, like the US coal and oil industries, or the same connections the Democrats have, which make both of them of course have obligations that already will go against any radical changes America needs to make to start working towards ecological sustainability. Let’s look instead at Obama’s vision and values which he claims to hold, at least at some of them. Let’s see what they are and how they relate to the environmental promises made by him.

A good place to investigate might be Obama’s inaugural address which, on the surface, seems to contain commitments to radical change and a shift in values. Here are some of the quotes with which he still mesmeries social justice and environmental movements in America:

  • “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
  • “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”
  • The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
  • “[earlier generations] understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”
  • “we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense”
  • “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”
  • “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” [Source: Ecoglobe]

The question is: what do all these lofty words really mean? Given that Obama so far had only 100 days in office, do we have to wait for an answer till let’s say he’s half way through his term? Or can we already find either answers or clear indications for how to interpret those high-flying ideas? Let’s take a look at the White House website to see what Obama’s agenda says about ‘Energy and the Environment’, the only item that seems to have some direct link to ecological sustainability.


Maya Angelou (American Poet)

Posted: April 27, 2009 in creativity



Maya Angelou, born April 4, 1928, is an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Angelou recited her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She has been highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees.

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