Monday, July 31, 2006

Oh Mel, Poor Mel...

If Mel Gibson thought it was tough being a recovering alcoholic in Hollywood, wait until he sees how hard it is to be a recovering anti-Semite in Malibu...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Is Psychosis Contagious?

"My land is being occupied and I don't have weapons...Put explosives on me now, and I'm ready to go," Shadi Najdi, resident of Srifa, Lebanon (Reuters, 7/23/06)

German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote that there is no such thing as a private language. I think of Ludwig now, and wonder what he would say if asked if there can be private vision, or is vision, something generally believed to be internal, a shared thing? Surely the events of the past 12 days have shown, if nothing else, that division is shared.

As Israel strikes northern Lebanon, wiping out resort towns, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, more than 130 Hezbollah rockets lace into Israel. (WaPo) From Haifa to Kirya Shmona, these enemy twin nations rip into each other. As the U.S. speeds up delivery of much-needed bombs, we can only guess who's arming Hezbollah. These twin forces of destruction have taken on a mimetic quality, a kind of cultural narcissism which tries to pass itself off as holy war is, but fails miserably, and can only fail as it is based on a false model, a counterfeit paradigm of misplaced anger which is what, alas, our great country has now become. So, it is clear that with Israel which has, from the start, modeled itself after the United States, the sins of the father have been visited upon the son.

Strangely enough, when thinking of the concept of psychosis, and pathologies of the psyche, we think of the individual not the collective, or communal, ethos, but what happens when an entire nation, culture, or civilization develops the kind of pathology, and weapons of mass delusion, that enables it to contaminate the entire planet, and pose an immediate and present danger to survival of the human race? What we're seeing today, in the Middle East, shows a kind of perverse codependency between a superpower and its progeny, the U.S. and Israel, as well as a codependency between the Saudis and the Bushies. At its nucleus, this is not merely about addiction to oil, but power and aggression, the line of thinking that the ends justify the means, and might makes right, suggest that national sovereignty has been relegated to the realm of relativism, and statesmanship transformed to brinkmanship.

One has only to think about the meeting between Vladimir Putin and President Bush last week in which the president suggested Russia emulate our democratic ways to recall the Russian president's response that he wouldn't want Russia to have the kind of democracy this nation has created in Iraq. When the transparency of the ideology a superpower is seen, by the rest of the world, as rank hypocrisy, foreign policy then becomes little more than a private joke. A very costly private joke, I might add, one that is daily costing American, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Israeli lives.

Whatever pathology drove this White House, and machinery of government, to invade Iraq, topple one dictatorship, only to replace it with our own brand now drives Israel to emulate us, and invade another sovereign state in the name of a war on terror. But, whether by Israeli might, or American might, the occupation by any state of another can only lead its citizens to the brink of psychosis, as evidenced by statements like "Put explosives on me now, and I'm ready to go."

We who contend, as I myself have in the past, that we cannot sit down at table with a bunch of suicide bombers must face the grim reality that we, by our actions, have created this class of asymmetrical warriors, as our military likes to call them. Those who anthropomorphize evil, and insist we may find it a cave in Pakistan in the form of Osama bin Laden, must also confront the grave, and inescapable truth that we trained evil, armed, financed, then labelled evil a "freedom fighter" in Afghanistan.

In a sane world, no one would want, or expect, anything less than sovereignty for the Jewish state, nor deny that Israel deserves to exist as a nation, or Palestine, Iran, Cuba, or Venezuela. The need for national sovereignty is essential, and must not be confused with nationalism just as pride is not the same as hubris.

When reading today that, as a result of Israel's current invasion of Lebanon "dogs are eating corpses" in the streets (Reuters), less than 100 miles from Beirut at what used to be resorts, one can only wonder when will the insanity end, and how can anyone expect to claim the moral high ground in a battle that can only leave blood smeared on the hearts, souls, and minds of all participants. More nauseating still, war crimes in the name of self-defense accomplish nothing more than sowing the seeds for a future generation of suicide bombers as, after all, Hezbollah arose from the ashes, blood, and tears that was Beirut 24 years ago.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Quote of the Week...

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

Winston Churchill

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Office of Professional Responsibility"

Now there's a title large enough to drive a truck through: "Office of Professional Responsibilty."

You may have heard the rather stunning announcement yesterday when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. and admitted, under intense questioning from Senator Specter, that it was President Bush himself who blocked security clearances for Justice Department attorneys, associates of the Office of Professional Responsibility, to keep them from investigating possible executive branch improprieties with respect to the National Security Agency's surveillance program. (WaPo)

Essentially, by denying security clearances to these Justice Department lawyers, the president personally, and deliberately, derailed an official inqury into its own misconduct, or as a commentator in the New York Sun states: "The government has in effect curtailed an investigation of itself." (WaPo) So, what Mr. Gonzales conceded is nothing less than the fact that this president effectively launched a preemptive strike against the intelligence apparatus he himself put in place in the wake of 9/11. This is not merely a flagrant attempt to manipulate reasons for going to war, as evidenced by the Downing Street Memo, but a decidedly absurd effort at at-will deconstruction. As we have seen, this executive branch classifies, and declassifies documents, and information, opportunistically, and it's now apparent that this is an executive that creates, and destroys, branches of government, as well as judicial oversight for no other reason than political expediency.

Admittedly, there are many, including myself, who have done Mr. Bush a grievous injustice when we surmised that Mr. Cheney was at the wheel while the president was in the passenger seat for the past six years. Mr. Bush has used "signing statements" a record 850 times during his tenure (WaPo) which shows, if nothing else, that Air Force One isn't the only perk, or escape door, for the chief executive of what was once believed to be the greatest country on earth, the ability to tweak the Constitution, with impunity, has its advantages, too.

Of course, the larger question is who needs a law degree when working with this White House? At best, legal training is vestigial, if not downright obstructive to one's professional advancement. When we find ourselves with a president who is not only proactive vis a vis his use of military force, but creative when it comes to how best to deal with laws that are disadvantageous to executive privilege, the degree of cynicism this administration engenders with regard to checks and balances is awe-inspiring. Moreover, the damage to the democratic process done by Bush, Cheney, and Co. may well outlive the cockroach.

Yet, there are many, including myself, who thought that when push comes to shove, Mr. Gonzales' respect for truth and justice would prevail over his fealty to his president. Evidently, we were dead wrong. If not breaking the law, this president is surely skirting it, and when considering how the attorney-general responds to presidential hubris, one can only ask "where's the beef?"

Who can we expect to challenge, investigate, and ensure that illegal acts do not slip through the cracks if not the attorney-general? Further, what do we call a government in which keepers of the public trust grant immunity, to an executive branch, from an egregious attempt to obstruct justice by precluding judicial review of a spurious surveillance program? Where are the officers, and the professional responsibility, in this Office of Professional Responsibility? Simply by virtue of having been appointed by the Supreme Court, does that exempt a president from judicial review, and official charges of misconduct, and must we say, throw away your law degree, Mr. G, we're in whole new territory now.

Shame on the House

On the issue of stem cell research, the president's veto today clearly reflects his opinion that "murder is wrong," according to his press secretary, Tony Snow. (WaPo) If this is the case, then why did he give the command to send troops to Iraq? Surely war involves murder, no?

Shame on the House of Representatives for failing to defeat this president, and his abortive logic, as well as enabling him to dismantle science, by way of stem cell research, and thereby affirm an agenda which prioritizes appropriating funds to destroy rather than save human life.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hoekstra Unplugged...

As you, no doubt, know, chair of the House intelligence committee, key Republican, and overt administration homeboy, Peter Hoekstra, is now outspoken about his disdain for this president's covert intelligence operations. In a letter published in yesterday's New York Times, Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan, complained of being "left in the dark" (WaPo) about policies which this president, and his architects of deception, term "classified," or "unclassified," based on whim, and not on the right of a legislature to oversee a runaway executive branch.

"Some people within the intelligence community brought to my attention some programs that they believed we had not been briefed on. They were right," Hoekstra asserts. (WaPo) Further, he states "It is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing." Ay!!!!! After reading this, one wonders if Franz Kafka wrote the Declaration of Independence, and not Thomas Jefferson. When members of Congress are caught tripping over their own feet to get an administration to come clean about illegal, and clandestine, operations performed by this government against its own people, one can only deduce that the concept of checks and balances, too, is now getting music on hold.

But, the larger question is, why didn't anyone grill Attorney-General Gonzales, a few months ago, when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC), and coyly alluded to other covert surveillance programs? You'll recall that Mr. Gonzales said not once, but several times, words to the effect of "The programs I'm speaking of today" when insisting that surveillance was primarily international. Did the attorney-general have to hit members of the Senate Intelligence Committee over the head, so to speak, with the obvious, that he was only responding to questions that had to do, specifically, with the National Security Agency programs? It is only thanks to the New York Times, and not members of the House or Senate intelligence communities, that we now know the extent of government spying, and that it isn't only the NSA that is involved, but also is the Treasury Department. Where is congressional oversight when we need it most? And for having made the disclosure, the Justice Department aims to prosecute newspapers, editors, and publishers when they ought to be going after those who conceal these illegal operations in defiance of the legislature, and the American people.

Until Representative Hoekstra's letter was published yesterday, the most notable Republican to challenge this president on his secret espionage programs was Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Arlen Specter. To complicate matters more, on June 29th, Hoekstra is said to have written to John D. Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, about an "administration briefing to reporters" (WaPo) which played down the importance of 500 chemical weapon shells reportedly buried by Iranian troops which were uncovered in 2004. The real issue here is not uncovery of the shells, but where in the hell does an administration that dares to play global bully come off telling members of the press what they can, and can not, report. Moreover, where is the intelligence in "national intelligence" that not only strives to keep members of Congress "in the dark," but conceal vital information from the eyes and ears of its citizens.

There is no small irony in the fact that the head of national intelligence, Negroponte, strove to conspire against a free press, and in defiance of the First Amendment, to conceal information from members of the intelligence community, as well as from the taxpayers who pay his salary.

Any arguments in defense of a hyperactive "executive community" are not only specious, but destined to become endangered specious.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


from Heinrich Heine...

"When the heroes go off the stage, the clowns come on."

from Oscar Wilde...

"Society forgives the criminal. It never forgives the dreamer."

Way to Go, Mexico!

Estimates put as many as 100,000 people in Mexico City, the nation's capital, yesterday to protest "chicanery" (AP) in the results of their presidential election which declared Felipe "free trade" Calderon a winner. Populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was onhand, and promised the crowd of the poor, and disenfranchised, of his country that he will not go quietly into that night, but will take his case to Mexico's Supreme Court, if necessary, and have the election declared "illegal." (WaPo)

Interesting, isn't it, how people in Mexico show up to contest their presidential elections while, in America, we just press the Snooze button. How many took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to speak out against election fraud in 2000, and whose side did the U.S. Supreme Court take? Is it plausible to condemn abortion and, at the same time, accept aborted elections?

We can learn a thing or two from our friends south of the border as we've already had not one, but two stolen elections and, unless we open our eyes, another just down the road.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Heil, Liberator!

"Light infantry is your branch of choice because the coming race war and the ethnic cleansing to follow will be very much an infantryman's war. It will be house-to-house, neighborhood-by-neighborhood until your town or city is cleared and the alien races are driven into the countryside where they can be hunted down and 'cleansed." Thus spake Steven Barry, in the neo-Nazi National Alliance magazine "Resistance," as cited recently in an article by John Kifner.

Mr. Barry, a Neo-Nazi and a member of this nation's military, only one of what could be thousands who, according to a recent Defense Department inquiry, openly espouse racism, anti-semitism, and belong to group whose founder, William Pierce, wrote what was later to become Timothy McVeigh's bible for the massacre in Oklahoma City. Back in 1996, Mr. McVeigh himself revealed he used his service in the Army to advocate his far-right ideology while, at the same time, being housed, fed, and clothed by our tax dollars. Notably, our tax dollars then went on housing, and feeding him in prison, as well as his subsequent execution. McVeigh was not a model soldier and, regrettably, it seems that despite a "zero tolerance" policy for hate crimes, we have many, many more where he came from.

"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, as Mr. Kifner also reports. Why so many born-again Nazis in our military? Reportedly, recruiters are hard up for warm bodies to fill combat boots in a most unpopular war. The SPLC reports a Defense Department investigator, Scott Barsfield, saying that not only is the Army recruiting white supramacists, "commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." Lovely, doncha think? We're sending skinheads, and gang bangers, into Iraq to "liberate" Baghdad and, all the while, they consider themselves in training for a "coming race war," and "ethnic cleansing" when they come home.

So, we now have hundreds of storm troopers in training, in our military, who even have their own Web site "Stormfront" where, as Kifner reports, one participant writes: "There are others among you in the forces. You are not alone." How reassuring. How patently, and unapologetically, absurd that we deposed one dictator, Saddam Hussein, and supported war crime charges against another,Milosevic, in Bosnia, for ethnic cleansing when many of our own infantrymen, in Iraq, are now star spangled terrorists in training, planning acts at least as heinous as anything Al Qaeda or any other group of card carrying barbarians can conceive. These are our sons and daughters, mind you, just as the young "ex-soldier, "the Iraqi vet (at 21, no less), Steven Green, who was charged last week with the rape, and murder of a young woman and her family, to which he pleaded an emphatic Not Guilty.

Oh, yes, and these National Alliance members, as well as other skinheads who have infiltrated our military can exclaim, with equal fervor, that they, too, are "not guilty" in light of the ever growing social acceptance of antisemitism among their parents, and in the community at large, an acceptance which has become resoundingly clear with repetition of key phrases like "Israel lobby" coming not from mouths of Army reservists, or Marines, but Harvard professors, no less.

Mind you, lobbies, on the whole, tend to be a perverse bunch witness the tobacco lobby, the gun lobby, Jack Abramoff, the king of lobbies, but where the Israel lobby is concerned, one is left only with a handful of challenging questions, such as, if this lobby is so effective, and American Jews are so powerful, why have we yet to see a Jewish president? Why is it that the heads of most Fortune 500 companies, in this country, aren't Jewish? How come there are still private, members-only clubs that won't admit Jews? Yes, there are those who say "the Jews own Hollywood," but can it be that this is one of the only industries from which Jews have not been excluded? Hollywood, and the garment industry! Make no mistake, those who hide behind rhetorical phrases, and decked-out theories are really, at their core, not that godawfully different from a few 20 year old boys in foxholes who, in desperate moments, cry out "Sig Heil!"

While the intent of those who theorize that defense of Israel, as an ally, and the interests of rich American Jews may not be garden variety antisemitism, it is a creeping, and insidious, kind of hatred that was notably, and memorably, present in the days of the Weimar Republic, in Germany, back in the late 1920's. After all, it was members of the Academy, in Germany, who turned against the Jews; it was the ideologues, not the soldiers, who caused the wholesale slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.

And, alarmingly, what we're now witnessing among hundreds of recruits to the Army who articulate hate, and are still allowed to remain in uniform, is an acceptance of the simple, heinous fact that war is, after all, the ultimate hate crime, and that theirs is the same kind of conceptual contagion that was instrumental in the most brutal, and barbarous crimes ever committed by this race.

If there is any good news to come of this whole mess, in Iraq, it is that more and more youngsters, in this country, are learning to "just say no" to battle which is now, as it has always been, not about honor, but about doing the rich man's dirty work.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A word of advice from Albert Einstein...

On this day after Independence Day, and North Korea's test launch of 7 missiles over Japan, some thoughts about this administration's handling of foreign affairs come to mind. If it were possible to resurrect one of the greatest minds of this millenium, and escort him to the Oval Office to meet with President Bush, he might say, as he has before:

"It's not that I'm so smart. It's just that I stay with problems longer." Albert Einstein

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Too Many Tragedies, Too Little Time...

Do you remember where you were on the morning of October 3, 1995 when the "Not Guilty" verdict was announced to a packed courtroom, and criminal charges against O.J. Simpson were dropped? Okay, now how many of you remember where you were on December 7, 1989? 12/7/89 was the day that Carlos DeLuna was executed, in Texas, for the murder of Wanda Lopez in Corpus Christi a crime for which, according to the Chicago Tribune, he was posthumously vindicated.

On that chilly October morning, in 1995, I happened to be in the midst of one of my many bicoastal incarnations, this time as an advertising sales representative for a Queens newspaper, and was between appointments. While walking down Bell Boulevard, I passedthere was a packed coffee shop with about a dozen people glued to a television screen, and even more folks congregating outside.

I poked my head in, and asked a guy sitting at the counter, "what's going on?" "Shhhhhhh," he admonished me, "they're about to read the verdict in the O.J. trial;" "How do you find on the charge of first degree murder: "Not guilty, your honor, "and so on, and after each verdict was read, there would be this gut wrenching a cappella scream from the peanut gallery "Oh my gawd, no!" One woman literally went so far as to rush out onto the street, and I ran after her. She was downright hysterical. "Oh my gawd, oh my gawd, this is America, how can they let this happen? He's guilty as sin, he's guilty as sin. How can they let him walk?" Trying to calm her down, I explained that this is the criminal justice system we have, a person must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden must be on the prosecutor to establish guilt, and that if it takes one guilty man walking free to keep an innocent man from being put to death, then so be it. I believed that then, I believe that now.

Oh what a difference a decade makes. So-called "victim's rights" have, in some cases, changed the equation such that the presumption of innocence has gone the way of Grimm's fairy tales. As a society, we have become so adept at compartmentalizing that we think of torture as something confined to prisons and detention centers, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba, and not as a systemic ingredient in everyday incarceration in our own country. The media has become so hyperfocused on foreign affairs that it often ignores, or understates, denials of due process, sloppy Miranda, and wrongful conviction. Make no mistake, the face of wrongful conviction is as inescapable on death row as smog, in L.A., on a hot summer day. It is your face, it is my face, it is the face of the boy next door, or that of his sister.

How neatly the judicial system has come to accept confession as a staple of culpability without factoring in that there are those who, for some inexplicable and ineffable reason, feel guilty--no matter what the crime, guilty for simply having been born. Yet, we as a culture, were naive enough to believe in lie detector tests, for generations, until, only recently, when science has admitted that the results of polygraphs are, at best, questionable.

If you shone a light in my eyes, and pulled a rope tight around my feet, so tight I could feel it cut my skin, started to mess around with your belt like you were preparing to sock me with it, promised to keep me up for weeks, and deprive me of all but water and burnt toast for days on end, kept interrogating me for hours and hours, not even letting me get up to use the bathroom, I suppose I'd confess, too. Given enough sleep and food deprivation and, given you're convincing enough, I might even begin to believe my confession myself, that's the scary part.

Better still, think about this, capital punishment means never having to say you're sorry, never having to admit that maybe, just maybe there was a mistake. As the Chicago Tribune reported recently, just in the past 19 months , we've had news of not 1 but 4 convicts who were definitely wrongfully executed over the past dozen years, or so, a number that is bound to grow. Putting a man to death means never having to admit that maybe, just maybe, he is capable of change, that perhaps the system does work, and he has learned how to serve in a positive way, and maybe make up for all his senseless killing. Just last year, the state of California put Stanley Tookie Williams to death, and by doing so, denied the possibility of redemption not just for a one-time gangster killer, but for the community that survives him. To me, this is flagrant deprivation of civil liberties and, for a society to be free, the same due process must be guaranteed to all those we detain, citizens and non-citizens, not just those who are privileged to get to stand before the Supreme Court.

But how does forgiveness play in Peoria, you might ask? How can middle America cope with the the possibility that maybe, just maybe, a 20 year old who was capable of heinous and horrific crimes could be a poet someday like Gary Gilmore, and deeply repentant. Will we forgive the Gary Gilmores, or will we do unto them what they've done unto us, and if we condemn, and kill them, what does this say about our way of life, this land of the free, home of the brave, where prosecutors have been known to cover their tracks, conceal their mistakes, even at the cost of the lives of innocent men as was the case with Mr. DeLuna who met his maker on the 7th of December, back in 1989 for a killing that another man, Carlos Hernandez, repeatedly admitted to having committed.

Why don't we hear a cappella shrieks when innocent men are administered lethal injections, given the electric chair, or die by their own hand in our nation's penitentiaries? If we demand that a person be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt before we convict them, now that we have DNA, a scientific way to establish culpability, shouldn't the same standard apply for capital punishment as for criminal conviction; don't we have it backwards? How about this--instead of using DNA for ex post facto, and posthumous vindication, isn't it only logical that we demand DNA proof before even considering state-sanctioned murder?

Yes, yes, we're all on overload, and have yet to digest those horrific, and gothic, photographs from Haditha, and Abu Ghraib, but if we want to look for human rights abuse, and tragedies, we needn't look as far as Iraq, or even Guantanamo Bay, we have only to look in our own backyards, at those serving 20 year sentences for murders the evidence overwhelmingly fails to support; some of whom have, over the years, been cause celebres, others who were cause celebres with a short shelf life, and still others who have transformed their own confinement, and pain, into a vehicle to win release for those around them.

One such gentleman falls in the latter category, a fellow by the name of Joe Giarratano, who was convicted of capital murder, more than 25 years ago, and who is now pushing 50, whose life was spared by then Virginia governor, L. Douglas Wilder, only two days before he was scheduled for execution. Mr. Giarratano who is, by all accounts, an extraordinary fellow was spared death only to be condemned to a "supermax" facility, Red Onion Prison where, to the best of my knowledge, he now spends his days reading, writing, studying criminal law,and trying to do the right thing despite serious liver problems, and abundant evidence pointing in the direction that he was wronged by a conviction for which he is serving the better part of his life. When boxes of material evidence some of which, no doubt, contain all important DNA, somehow disappear during an investigation following attempts, by counsel, to have that evidence examined, it's clear that somebody has an investment in maintaining the status quo at the expense of fact.

As a young man, Giarratano was tried, and convicted of the murder of a woman friend with whom he was staying, and the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Evidently, after a self-induced stupor of drugs and alcohol, he awoke in the morning to find both women dead, didn't recall how they got that way, and assumed it had something to do with him. It was Joe who called the police, and confessed to the crime. asking to be put to death, even attempting to do himself in, believing in his guilt. His own mother believed he was guilty, and would have been comfortable with his execution.

It was through the efforts of Giarratano that fellow inmate, Earl Washington, was vindicated. Joe drew an immense amount of public attention himself, both here and abroad, but when the spotlights dim, there he sits, to this day, a man who, by all accounts, is completely, and utterly, clean of the charges against him in a maximum security prison in Virginia where, from some perverse, and twisted sense of justice, more than likely he will finish his days, unjustifiably, and this should make us all GODDAMN ANGRY... yes, folks, this should make us at least as angry as on that bone chilling fall day, in 1998, when a man who, doubtless, slaughtered his wife, and her lover in Brentwood, got to walk out of the courtroom with every pearly white in place, a free man, to play golf, eat pasta, and raise his children. It should infuriate us at least as much that, due to an obscure, and obscurantist, "21 day rule" in the state of Virginia, which prohibits any new evidence from being introduced in trial once three weeks have passed since a verdict was reached, a man who would be cleared by any reasonable judge, by any rational jury, is condemned to suffer the indignity of a life sentence in a maximum security prison, with no thought given to his health.

Somehow, I keep coming back to that moment, on Bell Boulevard, and a screaming woman who was livid that a guilty man got to go free, and I think, if only there was half as much rage for every person who is forced to confess a crime he didn't commit, for every inmate on death row who is put to death for something he had no part in, for every honorable convict, like Joe Giarratano, who is innocent, yet forced to suffer, in silence, in Red Onions, across the country, based on legal technicalities, or a stubborn criminal justice system that is unprepared, for whatever reason, to admit that it is wrong.

This is not about making Mr. Giarratano, or any convict in any of our nation's prisons, a poster child for human frailty, or an asymmetric symbol of the American coda for crime and punishment. To do so would be an even graver injustice than has already been done. Instead, it is my purpose, and that of every thinking human being on the planet, to show that reason cannot coexist, side by side, with the kind of contempt for life that posits a universe in which a capital crime is ever righted by the death sentence.

It would seem in a sane, and just, world, whether innocent or not, a man with pressing health issues deserves to be released, if only on humanitarian grounds, but in the era of Abu Ghraib, I guess expecting anything humanitarian to happen is a stretch. Still, there are men like Joe who survive because they not only believe in humanity, they count on it, and because, in their hearts, there is room for compassion, as well as the truth.

Sadly, it seems as if, in order to survive in this country, Justice has to wear blindfolds, until such time as we are roused, from our sleep, by cries like that shot heard round the world, and can speak for those who have lost their voice, see for those who have lost vision, rejoice with those who have known great despair, and think for those who have yet to find their moral compass.

from W.C. Fields...

"A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money."

W.C. Fields

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Crimes of Opportunity

"A crime of opportunity," they like to call it, our friends in the military, and what an inopportune time for the disclosure that, in mid-March, in a town virtually a stone's throw from Baghdad, Mahmoudiya, the stunning murder, and rape, of a civilian woman and her family, by group of soldiers with the 502nd Infantry Regiment, was premeditated. What are these soldiers charged with? Not merely violating, and taking the life of, a young Iraqi mother, her child, husband, and brother-in-law, but burning her body afterwards in a dastardly attempt to cover their tracks.

We who have become narcotized, if not paralyzed, by news of mutilations, beheadings, all manner of torture conceivable to anyone, or anything, even remotely human, for even the most obdurate, and insensate, among us, this crime can only spark the kind of disgust that makes our blood boil. Even more terrible is the allegation today, by an anonymous military source, that these suspects appear to have planned the rape, and killing, at least a week before it was executed. (AP) This same military officer uses the phrase "crime of opportunity" to describe the brutality visited upon this civilian family, (AP) with the implication that there was no impetus, or specific event, that caused it, but merely the fact that the opportunity, or climate, for such gross inhumanity, presented itself.

What is a "crime of opportunity," and what does it mean? Is it about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? And, if so, as a soldier in Iraq, are you not likewise a victim; can it not be said that war itself is a "crime of opportunity?" If so, then we have a plague of opportunists running this country. Moreover, it may be argued, too, that capital punishment is such a crime, one that avails itself of the kind of infectious irrationality which proved toxic to previous empires, and which, no doubt, will prove fatal to ours, as well.

But, can we accept that this family just happened to be in the wrong place, or that the soldiers acted as they did only as a result of where they were situated, an argument implied by the military? Or, is it simply that the soldiers were at the wrong place at the wrong time, too. More importantly, is there really any difference between what these infantrymen did, and an equally barbaric civilian murder, say, for instance, that of Nicole Brown Simpson? Was that not also a "crime of opportunity" and, if not, how may we distinguish between the two. Is barbarism more acceptable on the battlefield? The signers of the Geneva Conventions didn't think so. Or, is it that we tolerate crimes of passion better than those of dispassion? Have we, as a culture, managed to survive by learning how to keep ourselves at so many removes from reality that it no longer breathes, and bleeds; just how many removes does that take?

A society that accepts premeditation, and murder, in its own country, or in a foreign land, suffers from what may only be seen as an opportunistic infection in its moral fabric, one caused by an organism that is not normally the source of disease in humans. For humans to develop apathy toward the pain, and suffering of other humans is, in a word, inhuman.

Honor may well be the first casualty of such war crimes as are taking place in Iraq but, sadly, honor, too, has become opportunistic, and a victim of the kind of corporate lust that drives young men to grab what doesn't belong to them. Whatever "normal" was left in the "New Normal" manufactured by the Cheneys, and Rumsfelds, to enhance the bottom lines of big oil companies, Halliburtons, and Fortune 500s, has been eradicated, and replaced, by the kind of insidious lethargy that can only convert choir boys into cold blooded killers.

Alas, we find ourselves, yet again, behind one-size-fits-all jargon that hides a fundamentally flawed, decayed and, in the best sense of the word, deviant, rationalization for the subversion of right and wrong in the name of a jihad against an illusory axis of evil. Where, pray tell, is this evil axis lurking now? Where does it rear its ugly head most effectively? in the caves of Pakistan, the theatres of battle, or in the mirror staring back at us, those of us with the stomach to look at our own reflection, and call ourselves human after the dread that greets us in our morning news, the moral carnage left by cannibals who daily consume this country, and overwhelm this continent, with their bankrupt greedy little hands dripping, yet again, with the blood of slaughtered children. So, it must be asked, who must we abhor more, the infantrymen who raped, and killed, this poor young Iraqi woman, or their commanders, including the commander-in-chief, who sold them into battle, and put us all in a place where everything, right or wrong, has been forever turned upside down.

No matter the angle, there can be no question these suspects, this group of servicemen from the 502nd Regiment, must be tried, as criminals, charged with premeditated murder, and the full weight of the criminal justice system brought to bear upon them. They have lost their right to hide behind a uniform, or a flag. This is no longer a military matter, but one that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a human being in society, and it must be addressed as such. These acts of barbarism foisted upon innocent Iraqi families transcend military courts, and must be a wake-up call to our collective social conscience that this kind of violence cannot be confined to the theatre of battle, but must, sooner or later, infect us all.

While this president thought, not too long ago, that his marginal victory, in the 2004 election, gave him some political capital, he may rest assured that it has all been spent on the collateral damage that has come as a direct result of his incompetence at playing global monopoly, and waging war. In a week when the Supreme Court issued a monumental ruling, shooting down Mr. Bush's efforts at establishing feudal, and futile, military tribunals, even the Pentagon must be forced to acknowledge crimes that go beyond its boundaries, as well as the boundaries of civilization.

There isn't much we may be sure of nowadays, but one thing is certain--when conscience calls, it always calls collect.

in light of Independence Day...

a quote from John F. Kennedy:

"Things do not happen. Things are made to happen."