Monday, May 29, 2006

The Road to Haditha...

While details are sketchy on a holiday weekend when we pause to remember our war dead and those whose service has taken us, as a nation, to where we are today, one thing is certain, the road to Haditha is a dirty one that is not without painful precedent.

What we now know is only this: sometime in mid-November, a group of marines who appear to have been acting to avenge the murder, by an "insurgent," of one of their comrades days earlier, took it upon themselves to go into this small, yet perilous farming town, in Iraq, and perform wholesale slaughter upon 24 innocent men, women, and children. One woman was described, in a New York Times article, as bending down, and begging for mercy as she was shot "in cold blood," and at close range, by a marine. Even the most hard hearted, indeed those with lead running through their veins, cannot help but be moved by this image, as well as that of a young boy watching his parents brutally murdered arbitrarily, hunted down in a moment of fury, victims of war and the cruellest impulses that characterize human nature.

Arguably, it is this same mean instinct that drove military vehicles to plow into a crowd of civilians in Afghanistan earlier today prompting mass rioting, looting, and cursing of America, and Americans by the Afghan people.

Already the pundits are lining up to predict whether Haditha will be the most audacious, and miserable. act committed by our military, to date, in the name of a war on terror, or if Abu Ghraib will come in first. Already members of Congress are being asked to brace for investigations not only into this lurid affair, but into a most repulsive effort to cover it up, i.e., the report that high ranking military officials approached survivors of the blood bath at Haditha, and handed them checks for $2500 each. What would you consider fair compensation for the loss of a brother, a father, or grandmother? Such an attempt to placate, and appease victims of this tragedy is almost as dreadful as the murder itself. What's more, if the brass knew enough to try to conceal evidence of this senseless act of brutality, then they knew enough to prevent it from happening in the first place.

There are some who will contend that every war has its massacres, that combat fatigue leads to irrational, and random acts which would be unthinkable in times of normalcy. Others might say we may expect more blood to be shed in the name of "new Normal." Some might point to the My Lai massacre, as well as the horrors of Cambodia, to show that even the most horrific crimes are ravages of war, but something is different here. Something dangerous, and deadly, is happening to the men and women we send to combat, starting with Vietnam, when they can smoke dope, listen to Metallica, and blow away an entire village without remorse and, in many cases, without recrimination. When the line of demarkation between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, for whatever reason, and there is confusion as to what is right and wrong, the battlefield swells to the size of human consciousness.

For every obscenity committed by our military like the one, in Haditha, that comes to light, there are dozens more, on larger and smaller scales, where no one has survived to tell of it, and we must look with the furtive glance of one condemned upon those transgressions that cut to the core of what it means to be civilized, after all. For condemned we are, all of us, whether we participated in the massacre or not; we are condemned by our capacity for such unspeakable barbarism. We are condemned, too, by whatever desensitization arises from video game warfare, from growing up around toy soldiers, and plastic guns; from hiding our caskets as our crime of mystifying the wrenching, gutted dying that is war.

Moreover, in some huge way, those who occupy a modern military theatre still confuse the shadow on the wall of a cave with the sun not unlike the warriors of ancient Greece who also thought their Republics could not bleed. Ours is bleeding, and if we persist in living with the lie that we are not all responsible for healing this egregious wound, then we are no less guilty than any marine in the killing field that was Haditha last November.

So it is, then, that the road to Haditha is a long, and twisted path that speaks to the darkest cavity of the human body, the heart, as in the words of Joseph Conrad: 'We have lost the first of the ebb'...The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky-seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." (Heart of Darkness.) Oh, "The horror, the horror" when a member of the human race commits such an atrocity, they gravely diminish us all, and the best way to honor our veterans, especially those who have paid the ultimate price, is by telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and loud enough so that the entire world can hear it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

a cooling off period -- the politics of subversion

The president ordered documents seized by the FBI in their raid of Congressman William Jefferson's office, this week, sealed for 45 days to allow for a "cooling off" period. When the only thing that distinguishes a member of the FBI from the mob is a badge, one wonders about the kind of moral imperative the radical right has claimed, as their signature Mercedes, since they took office nearly 10 years ago.

Arguably, from his remarks, even the president gets that a constitutional crisis looms on the horizon with regard to government checks and balances. What his administration doesn't get is that the process of classification, and declassification, which amounts to metaphysical shredding, is no more blameless than the egregious Watergate break-in. For one who prides himself on his grasp of intangibles like "terrorist," and "axis of evil," this president's protocol for control, and subversion of dissent is palpable.

Let's hold the president to his word when he says that "Those who violate the law--including a member of Congress--should, and will be held to account," and let's hope the "justice" he'd like to be "served" doesn't come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Now there's a four letter word for you--what.

The AP reports today that Vice President Dick Cheney may indeed be called upon to testify in Scooter Libby's perjury trial. It will be interesting to hear what he has, or doesn't have, to say, and whether or not we will soon be talking about a "unitary" vice presidency.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

en vacances...

Iwill be on hiatus for two weeks; my first vacation in nearly 20 years...

Selective Deception...

According to an eye-opener of a report, by the AP this morning, an Australian biological weapons expert, and former U.N. arms inspector, Rod Barton, quotes the head of a U.S. biological team sent to Iraq, in early 2004, as saying it was "politically not possible" to reveal that two alleged biochemical trailers, found in that country, weren't weapons of mass destruction, after all.

In his memoirs, due for release Monday in Australia, Barton also reports that the head of one of the biological teams that was on a quixotic, and futile, search for WMDs discussed how "difficult it is to say anything different," or differ in any way, from the official CIA position, something the Senate should keep in mind during upcoming Michael Hayden confirmation hearings. Moreover, Barton implies that former Agency director, George Tenet, was complicit in this flagrant attempt to stifle information which resulted from field reports by David Kay, and others, being withheld from the public, a charge that Mr. Tenet has denied.

As the Washington Post reported last month, the U.S. fact-finding mission told Washington, in confidence, that the two truck trailers they found in Iraq were not manufacturing bioweapons. Yet, armed with that information, the president still maintained that there were labs, in Iraq, designed for the purposes of mass destruction, and other administration officials, who were also in the know, corroborated this misinformation.

What is stunning about Rod Barton's claims is not that the president, CIA, and others in this administration knew, in advance, that there were no WMDs, and still proceeded to invade Iraq, nor that the president dismissed WMDs as the cause for taking this country to war in a memo to Prime Minister Tony Blair. What is stunning is the disclosure in Barton's memoir,"The Weapons Detective," that a senior CIA officer advised him that he couldn't publish his discovery that the trailers, in question, had no biological, or chemical teeth. By precluding a U.N. arms inspector from publishing his findings, findings that were contrary to the president's pretext for combat, a most insidious kind of censorship took place, one which has cost the lives of more than 2400 service men and women, as well as those of thousands of Iraqi citizens. As the AP reports, the fact that the two truck trailers were harmless was only finally made public in the Iraq Survey Group's last report in 2004.

While it has been said that "truth is the first casualty of war," when it becomes "politically not possible" for an administration to acknowledge having made a mistake, and when a government hides behind falsehood the way a murderer covers his tracks, it comes as no surprise that truth is not the only casualty.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

At Cody's on Mother's Day

Poet Deena Metzger and I will be reading at Cody's Bookstore, on Telegraph Avenue, in Berkeley, on Sunday, May 14th, at 7:30 p.m. Cody's is at 2454 Telegraph Avenue (at Haste).
It is bound to be a high octane, and electric, evening which has even greater significance as Cody's Berkeley, a landmark bookstore for decades, will be closing its doors in July. If you happen to find yourself in Berkeley, do stop by...

Outing Hayden: une petite postscript...

By way of postscript to yesterday's post, USA Today reported, this morning, that the National Security Agency has been c0vertly monitoring the calling records of tens of millions of Americans. And, Bush nominee for CIA director, Michael Hayden, at the helm of the NSA from 1999 through 2005, who was engaged in implementing, if not masterminding, what has become the largest domestic surveillance program of its kind ever, had only this to say in response to these allegations: "No comment."

F.Y.I., AT&T (now Cingular Wireless) is not the only cellular provider in compliance with governmental demands to turn over customer records, Verizon, and Bell South are, too. What's more, alas, this may well prove to be just the tip of the iceberg...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

hard questions for soft times...

As we approach what promises to be a bloody Senate fight for confirmation of the president's nominee for new director of the CIA, four star air force general, Michael Hayden, some questions about the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, the person to whom Hayden will report, immediately come to mind. For openers, what is it precisely that the director of national intelligence does? Is it better for "national security" if the person who heads the CIA has deeper bonds with the national intelligence director, or the secretary of defense, and why?

More importantly, who is John Negroponte, what do we know about his past, and does it matter? Why isn't the mainstream media coming clean, and refreshing our collective memory, about the dirt under his fingernails? What would friends in the Philippines, Honduras, and El Salvador have to say about Mr. Negroponte, if given the chance; moreover, what will future generations have to say about the role of Michael Hayden in implementing a plan for domestic surveillance at the National Security Agency? Are the lives of these two men, Negroponte and Hayden, parallel lines, or do they intersect and, if so, at which point do they intersect; who, where, and what will suffer most as a result of this comingling of dubious energies.

"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society," Buddhist philosopher Krishnamurti once said. When we allow a concept like the "new normal" to be superimposed on us, we not only surrender to an archaic, and ineffectual, ideological belief system endorsed by a fraction of a percent of the American people, but face consequences arguably more grim than the collapse of one empire or another.

Finally, is the intelligence we gather the grist of guided missiles, or the kind that will enlighten, and empower us to find constructive solutions to vexing problems? We must ask the hard questions as history can expect no less of us.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hats off...

Congratulations to the president on nominating four star general Michael Hayden as new head of the C.I.A. But, with all due respect, I think Mr. Bush may have made a mistake, and meant to nominate former California state senator, Tom Hayden, and not the general, for this important post. Right hemisphere, wrong Hayden...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"It's my Party..."

Forget about whether the National Anthem should be sung in Spanish. If the Repubs have any hope of winning even a single solitary seat, in Congress, during midterm elections, they need a theme song. Might I suggest the Lesley Gore hit from back in 1963:

"It's my Party, and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to,
you would cry, too, if it happened to you..."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Oh, and there's this....

from W.C. Fields:

"I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Quote of the Week...

"The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government."
Henry Ward Beecher, born in the early 1800's, a Southerner, and a staunch abolitionist.

(Oh, and is there a connection between Rumsfeld's imbroglio with McGovern, the accusations made, and Goss's resignation this morning; could be, but that may depend upon what your definition of the word "is" is. More likely, someone's gotta take the fall so that Humpty Dumpty doesn't. With Goss's departure, we see yet another way to deflect attention away from the usual suspects who still remain on the payroll, and whose salaries we continue to pay.)

talk about...

Talk about better things to come, it was just reported that CIA Director Porter Goss has resigned.

One can only hope...

NSLs and the folks who love them...

You may have been watching CNN, or your local news, last night, only to see Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, being heckled by several members of the audience, one of whom was a gentleman by the name of Ray McGovern, a CIA vet with more than 27 years of service at the agency. You may have heard the approximately 2 minutes of exchange between the two gentlemen in which Mr. McGovern rightly accused the secretary of defense of lying about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. You may also have witnessed Rumsfeld lie about lying about whether or not he knew, beforehand, that a real, and present danger did not exist, in Iraq. Mr. McGovern reminded us that it was in a memo of January 31, 2003, that our president discussed, with Tony Blair, that most likely there were no weapons of mass destruction, and that the intelligence had to conform to the war plans, not the other way around.

In his interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper last night, Mr. McGovern said that the American people should consider "the irony" of the fact that "the media and the CIA" are now looking into wrongdoing on the part of our leaders, and not heads of foreign states. But, are the CIA, and FBI looking into wrongdoing on the part of our government? Is the media doing its job, or merely dangling its feet in the swimming pool like a small child afraid of the water.

You may recall that the congressman who introduced legislation known as the Intelligence Authorization Act last year, Representative Porter Goss, (R-Florida), was also appointed head of the Central Intelligence Agency, so one strongly doubts if the chickens will cook their own. Moreover, with barely 25% of the American people approving of the job Congress is doing, according to an AP poll released this morning, one can hardly expect to see any Clark Kent heroics, on this matter, from Congress. In fact, when the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, calls for more aggressive oversight, by Congress, of the executive branch, and promises that the Judiciary Committee will be closely following the NSA domestic spying program, with the accent being on the transgressions of this administration and not the newspaper that broke the story, you know something heavy is going on.

Why, when a veteran of the CIA implies that the media and the CIA need to investigate this administration is the FBI allowed to hand out National Security Levels at the rate of more than 30,000 per year since the practice was inaugurated in late October, 2001?

What, you may ask, is the big deal about National Security Letters, and what does an NSL do? With only a piece of paper signed by your local FBI agent, the FBI can demanded detailed information about your communications over the Internet, your bank account, your car rental history, your medical records, your reading habits, and/or anything these folks deem relevant in their ongoing hunt for "terrorists," and/or anyne who openly differs from accepted policy which may include members of Green Peace, as well as grandmothers who meet, after church on Sundays, to protest the occupation of Iraq. Why should we care about NSLs? Apart from the fact that, as the ACLU has so nobly and aptly argued, they violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, through the use of NSLs, the FBI can bypass the issuance of lawful subpoenas to requisition, and access your electronic communication, as well as your cell phone records. Yes, you may not be paranoid after all--Big Brother may be reading your e-mails.

For those of us who embrace at least one conspiracy theory, whether it be that it wasn't a single bullet that took the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or that there was a conspiracy behind 9/11, why are we conspicuously, and egregiously, silent when it comes to the conspiracy (i.e. act of breathing together) on the part of the radical right, and the so-called intelligence branches of government to "fix" the news we get, as well as the level at which dissent may be detonated, around what is politically, and economically expedient for this government?

Why, too, is there a flagrant, and persistent, conspiracy of silence on the part of the mainstream media with regard to what a National Security Letter is, and how it impacts each and every one of us? Why has this demand for personal documents, that has dubious legality, only now seeing the light of day, and only during station breaks on major television broadcasts? If, as Mr. Rumsfeld has asserted, he "serves at the pleasure of the president," the president, and Congress, serve at the pleasure of the American people, and it's time to demand better service for our tax dollars. If we, the people, are to tolerate another 3 years of the Bush administration, we need to remind them, again and again, that their political capital has now shrunk to less than one-third of the American people.

Alas, it must be remembered, too, that Congress voted for, and approved, the USA Patriot Act, which was reauthorized earlier this year, and that it was in the so-called Patriot Act that the insidious weapon against our personal privacy, known as the NSL, first appeared. We must hold Congress, too, accountable for an ongoing campaign of acquiescence with the policies with which the Bush presidency will distinguish itself for all eternity.

As FBI Director Mueller suggested, when questioned by Arlen Specter before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, the number of Americans who have been victims of domestic spying, either through the NSA program, or the issuance of NSLs, is a fraction of the number of Americans. Indeed, using the same logic, one might likewise assert that the number of those who died in that horrific attack on the World Trade Center also represents merely a fraction of the 300 million who live in this country, but we care about them, don't we? Thus, it follows that we must care about our government's attempts to violate our privacy in an attempt to discourage, and ultimately stifle dissent.

We must care, too, about the outrage that, as the Washington Post reported, on Tuesday, the FBI sought personal data on thousands of Americans in 2005 from banks, Internet service providers, and any other cooperating companies, without having to seek a court order, merely by issuing " a form of administrative subpoena" which may be disseminated widely nationwide with no congressional, or judicial, oversight(WaPo).

The release of the numbers of people whose records have been obtained without subpoena only became public this week. And. in 2005 alone, more than 9,200 NSLs were issued seeking detailed records of more than 3,200 Americans (WaPo). Further, the Justice Department has also acknowledged an ongoing increase in the use of secret warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. What is most insidious about NSLs is that it is the government's way of secretly obtaining personal information about its citizens, bypassing court order, and the use of a subpoena which is why it violates the Fourth Amendment right to due process. Secrecy breeds silence, and silence secrecy.

For those of us who have spent countless anguished hours debating one conspiracy theory or another, it's time to look into why it is that this government can be allowed, through oil consolidation, media consolidation, news consolidation, and disinformation consolidation to reach into our pockets not just for what little gas money we have, but for our credit card receipts, library cards, and what little dignity we have left, in violation of our constitutional rights, with no accountability to anyone, but themselves. We need accountability, and higher octane, not just at the pump, and in our stock portfolios, but in our House and Senate, too.

The time to voice our disdain with the direction in which this nation is heading has arrived, and watching a few brave souls do just that, at a Rumsfeld press conference yesterday in Atlanta, was heartening and, one can only hope, a harbinger of better things to come.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"I did not have Sushi with that woman..."

From a friend of a friend in the nation's capitol comes the news that convicted lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and his colleagues (for want of a better word) visited the White House over 200 times in Bush's first year as president. My, my, what an industrious bunch!

We already know that Jumping Jack was a bigtime fundraiser for the Bush team, back in 2000, but the Secret Service recently released logs revealing, as Keith Olbermann reported, that someone from Mr. A's company was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue every business day for 10 months through October, 2001; that's a whole lotta poker games.

For a president to insist that he never met the fallen lobbyist is not only ludicrous, but an insult to every thinking man and woman in this country; if there are any left, that is.

Crime may not...

Crime may not pay, but Communism sure does: Fidel Castro is worth an estimated $400 million!

Our friend Fidel appears to know even more about what to do with cigars than Bill Clinton...

Monday, May 01, 2006

The difference...

There are many who contend that there's a difference between legal, and illegal immigrants in America, and indeed there is: the difference is about $4 an hour.

Who among us can doubt who's being ripped off, and who's being exploited, by being paid half the hourly wage, for the same labor, as so-called "legal" Americans, by having to work in sweatshops for 12 to 14 hours a day, with no breaks, and under strictly feudal conditions.

All those who worry about immigrants stealing their jobs should think instead about what they're stealing from those who merely want to improve their lives. Who among us have ancestors who came over on the Mayflower, and who among them can say that they came here legally.

the only thing...

More often than not, it seems as if the only thing that distinguishes fact from fiction is conscience.

What's sexy about...

What's sexy about the free flow of information, and a free press? When do we get to watch Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon wrap their arms around the First Amendment, and walk down Broadway in protest of this government's back room efforts to prosecute journalists under arcane espionage laws?

In an article in yesterday's New York Times, "There Are Leaks. And Then There Are Leaks," the Big Picture comes to light as all the dots are connected in an ongoing, and unprecedented, attempt to intimidate members of the information -gathering, and relaying, profession. As The Times reports, in the past year alone, a journalist for that paper was jailed for refusing to compromise her oath of confidentiality, a CIA analyst terminated for her contact with reporters, and subpoenas, for the most part, have been routinely upheld by the courts. Even an event as egregious as the FBI's latest attempt to confiscate classified documents from a deceased columnist, Jack Anderson, is something that has gone largely unnoticed, and unopposed, by the mainstream media and the public-at-large. This administration seems no longer to be drawing from the works of Kafka, with respect to their foreign and domestic policy, it now seems to be looking to Gogol, too.

As the article relates, a few months ago, a Republican senator from Texas asked the attorney-general whether it was possible to criminalize a newspaper's disclosure of a clandestine (and illegal) National Security Agency domestic eavesdropping program; Mr. Gonzales' response was: "Obviously, our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they're going to prosecute those violations." Alas, if only Mr. G showed the same alacrity in going after the White House for their subversion of the FISA law. Indeed, were Senator Cornyn, of Texas, to get his way, instead of accolades, The New York Times and The Washington Post would face federal charges. The irony that both newspapers received Pulitzer Prizes for exposing NSA domestic surveillance programs, and secret CIA prisons respectively, is inescapable.

The question one might reasonably be expected to ask is, specifically, which espionage laws might reporters be accused of breaking? The first dates back to 1917, and forbids those with "unauthorized access to documents concerning the national defense" (NYT) from repeating, orally or in writing, any information that would compromise our national defense. A second law, from 1950, prohibits publishing "communications intelligence activities.' As The Times also reports, Andrew C. McCarthy, a one-time federal prosecutor in New York, believes that the newspaper broke both the 1917 and 1950 espionage laws. The underlying question appears to be can newspapers be exempted, under the First Amendment, from espionage laws when it was their intent to reveal wrongdoing on the part of their government?

There are some among us who have been terrified of this administration's attempt to stifle dissent, suppress information, and compromise the concept of confidentiality, as well as the profession of journalism, for the past few years. Then, there are those who prefer to deny that the radical right wing of the Republican Party, apart from setting the agenda since this administration was sworn in, has decimated the public's trust in their news to such a degree that it has become the stuff Comedy Central is made of.

Just Friday, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, for The Los Angeles Times, was forced to capitulate, and withdraw his blog because he wrote controversial comments, using pseudonyms, on other political Web sites. While there can be no question that Mr. Hitzak violated his newspaper's rules, and code of ethics, one wonders if he would have been prosecuted, or given a slap on the wrist, had it not been that he raised the dander (if not the dandruff) of a conservative district attorney from the same party that pressured publishers of the LAT to fire another renowned columnist for that same paper, Robert Scheer.

If daunting, the underlying issue is will it be a cold day in hell before we see the same righteous indignation, on the part of those who bring much-needed attention, when the opportunities for a photo-op are conspicuously absent? And, when will harassment of a free press be deemed a matter of sufficient import for people to line the streets, nationwide, as we can no more afford to depend on celebrities than on politicians to bring us the truth.

We must support our journalists for had it not been for the indominable efforts of two Washington, D.C. reporters, one former president, Richard Nixon, would have been allowed to retire in style, and regale himself in history. We must all stand up for the right to know what our government is doing, as well as defend those who exercise the privilege of bringing that information to us, before it's too late, and journalists, too, join the endangered species list.