Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Silencers are for Guns not People

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece called “Another Poster Child for the NRA” in response to a horrific and disturbing account of a young police officer, in a small town in Wisconsin, who apparently went insane, out of jealousy, and killed his girlfriend, and several friends. As one who has the utmost respect for law enforcement, what I found so shocking was that it was a member of the force who committed this crime.

It was never my intention to rant against the National Rifle Association, or law enforcement, but instead call for a closer look at a national ethos which enables, and legitimizes, the use of weapons, and deadly force in lieu of dedicated problem solving.

No sooner did my piece appear than I was besieged with hate mail, most of which came from National Rifle Association members, some from law enforcement, and the military, all of whom mistakenly seemed to think that I was targeting them with my comments. To the contrary, it is the intellectual climate, rife with fear and prejudice, one that provides safe haven, and immunity, for paid assassins while locking up protestors who belong to Code Pink. This newfangled militarism makes one nostalgic for the culture of narcissism..

So, by way of rejoinder: for openers, no one in their right mind would blame any one person, or group, for the outrageous escalation in violence in American society, much of it involving hand guns, in recent years. About a decade ago, then President Bill Clinton said “Every single day there are 13 children who die from guns.” How many more children are dying from guns today? Yet, there hasn’t been any gun control legislation since 1994, and those who defend their right to bear arms are ostensibly unnerved by the prospect that their friends, the hunters-in-chief, are leaving town.

Why this egregious absence of legislation attempting to stem the proliferation of assault rifles, hand guns, and illegal firearms in the past several years? A virile, righteous, and omnipresent gun lobby has successfully managed to silence their opposition, as has a vice president who, while he may not have the best aim, is himself a devout hunter, and a foreign policy which caters to the hunter ethos. Silencers aren’t only being used for firearms; they’re now handy ways to stifle dissent, too.

Indeed, the gun lobby has never been in better shape in Washington than it has been under the tutelage of President George W. Bush, so not a peep has been heard from those whose custom it is to speak out against guns, and the rash of violence in our nation’s public schools; schools like Columbine, Virginia Tech, in our nation’s inner cities, cities like Compton, East Los Angeles, in our nation’s workplaces. We’ve not heard a peep from the usual suspects who would be active in speaking up for more stringent laws to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of our youngsters.

Increasingly, in a world in which the American flag has become synonymous with another four letter word “duck,” and yet another “bomb,” this is not time to mince words. These folks who equate what they think of as their constitutional empowerment have, for the past several years, had a free ride, but now that a changing of the guard is in sight, they cling to their illusions of entitlement like a leper clings to what little skin he has left. And, to parody the Dylan Thomas poem, it’s as if every gun-toting Tom, Dick, and Harry decided not to go “gentle into that night,” but to “rage, rage, against the dying of the might.”

The gun lobby has managed to exercise that might religiously, and faithfully, to quiet their opposition, over the past half dozen years, because they have been the vocal majority, but that may be about to change, and they may well lose their leverage once the hunters, and Bible-thumpers, leave town. And, faced with the prospect of another Clinton in the White House, and the real prospect of yet again having to defend their right to bear arms, those who extol the virtues of the Second Amendment while ignoring the First and Fourth Amendments may be scared, scared of losing their leverage, scared they may be slipping. Violent crime isn’t slipping, though.

We’re experiencing what may be called a renaissance in violent crime, and can anyone not ask how it is that a youngster in high school can amass an arsenal in his bedroom which would rival any one might expect to find in a bunker in Baghdad, and how it is that moms and dads are giving Johnny his first gun for Christmas, as well as access to the kind of cache that could decimate an entire schoolyard? Why does it take a shooting at Columbine, or Virginia Tech to wake people up?

No one is suggesting, for a moment, that even if guns were to be eliminated from the face of the earth, random, and heinous crime would disappear with them. Where there’s a will to do grave bodily harm, there’s always a way.

It isn’t use of a weapon, per se, but the abuse of weapons, in general, and the lack of oversight that requires our attention. It’s not an issue with an occasional bad apple, in law enforcement, that requires our attention, but a culture in which intellectual lassitude is a way of life. Anyone possessing even a modicum of reason, whether they be a member of the NRA, or the AARP, can see there’s a need for all of us to sit down and talk about the proliferation and abuse of legal and illegal firearms, and how to keep guns out of the hands of those who can least handle them, even if they’ve been deputized to do so.

If it’s true, as we hear, that "guns don’t kill people;" rest assured that ignorance does. Awareness, and education, are essential steps in the direction of finding a solution, not sweeping, under the rug, all those who dare to speak up in violation of a code of silence that is as outmoded as it is deadly.

From the beginning of time, the forces of darkness have somehow managed to overpower, and silence, the forces of light. This explains the phenomenon of extinction. And, if things continue at this rate, we, too, will be staring down the barrel of an existential shotgun. One can only hope that it isn’t loaded.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The best way to check executive power...

Executive power should be checked at the door along with hats, scarves, and other mufflers.

Any world leader who makes so much noise that he can't hear the will of the people belongs in the coatroom not the Oval Office.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rhetorical Point Men

The president's weekly radio address this week had to do phishing---no, not the kind that results in a lot of spam in your mailbox, but the kind that got major Internet Service Providers and telecommunication companies to redact their own policy; the kind that got Congress to approve the legislation, last year, that grants the executive branch, and any other players, immunity from prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1994.

Yes, this is the kind of fishing this president knows best, as well as the kind , that preoccupied his second in command, Mr. Cheney, and propelled him to assert that the world "cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions." (AP)

And, pray tell, which "terror-supporting state" is the vice president referencing? The one in Tehran, or the one that has supported Musharraf in Pakistan for the past decade? Josef Stalin would be proud of George W. Bush, albeit a bit saddened that he will no longer be remembered as the only Great Purger. Bush and Co. have done with language what Stalin did to his dissidents, no, not only torture, downright mutiliation. One has only to witness phrases like "axis of evil," "enhanced alternative interrogation techniques," "unlawful enemy combatants," and "war on terror" to know that this is one administration not seeking to protect the right to life of the English language.

Moreover, the Senate, last month, has opened the door to war with Iran by approving a resolution to label Iran's Islamic Iranian Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization." How convenient to use words like "knowledge," "terror," and "evil" as a means to abort information and justice. But, it gets even better.

At his news conference last week, the president nearly waxed poetic when he said "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." Now then, don't you especially like the ubiquitous "them," the one size fits all variety which can just as easily accommodate Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Al Qaeda, Pakistan, China, and Russia? Don't you just love this concept of foreign policy in syndication; it's like watching re-runs of re-runs of re-runs with that sinking been there, done that, weak in the knee feeling you get when you know something's happening, but you don't know what it is, like the song goes.

Dame Dana Perino, White House spokesperson, who is almost as adept at damage control as her boss is at damage, was quick to point out that 43 isn't making "war plans," after all, but just a "rhetorical point." There's room on his dance card, a top military commander has said, for more misadventures like the one that has already cost us the lives of more than 3800 service members, as well as the lives of countless more Iraqis, "collateral damage," than anyone is ready, or willing, to admit.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Protect Who Act?

Congress appears to be on the verge of reaching agreement on some aspects of the so-called Protect America Act, or the "spying bill," which grants immunity to telecommunication companies accused of turning over private customer records to the National Security Agency. (WaPo)

The legislation which aims to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act such that warrants are now optional with the vehicle will make an appearance before the Senate next week where it is expected to pass. And, this bill is as much about protecting America as the Iraq war is about bringing democracy to the Middle East. The only ones being protected here are those who continue to break the law under the guise of national security. From the presidential veto, it's obvious that this administration isn't interested in granting immunity from prosecution to parents who are unable to pay their children's medical bills. There are more carcinogens trying to pose as laws coming out of Congress, these days, than on any freeway in America.

What's more, when was the last time you've heard of a White House giving an order to any company, let alone a communications company, which has tens of millions of customers, not to testify in court under a state secrets law that has yet to be written. But, what the hell, if one can grant retroactive immunity, why not enforce a law that isn't on the books? Oh, and why not cook the books, too, while we're at it as the Downing Street Memo has shown. The past six years proves that not only does crime pay, but it pays handsomely--for the upper one percentile of the population of this country, that is.

On Monday morning, let your Senators, whose salaries you pay, hear about whether you're willing to have your personal phone calls, and e-mails, intercepted as millions of Americans already have, and whether it's okay with you for those telecommunication behemoths like A T & T, and Verizon, to be granted immunity from prosecution for breaking the law that protects your privacy.

Look at it this way, would you grant immunity unless you thought that a crime was committed? The Constitution isn't the only casualty of the "war on terror;" common sense is, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Press On

Congrats to the House for passing, by a landslide, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007. We can only hope that the Senate follows suit. This is crucially important legislation, make no mistake, but this is not the end of the road either. Regardless of where there is a Republican or Democrat at the helm, as long as government is allowed to manipulate which stories editors publish, and can censor that which is less than flattering to them, we place freedom of the press in jeopardy.

Moreover, as long as reporters are concerned about thoroughly investigating, and/or reporting a specific event for fear of editorial reprisals, then freedom of the press is in jeopardy. Too many journalists have been sacrificed at the altar of self-censorship, in recent years, in their coverage of the war in Iraq, as well as another all but inevitable military confrontation with Iran.

It's high time that the newspaper, and media industry stood up to the Redactor-in-Chief, and his Static Department, not only to protect the confidentiality of their sources, but to assert that they are more than propaganda-delivery vehicles for the White House.

A federal shield to insulate members of the press from prosecution for adhering to their professional standards is an important first step, but it is precisely that, the first step, and far from the last one.

The days of rolling over when senior members of any administration pay a visit to editors-in-chief of major newspapers, for the purpose of discussing how best to market an unpopular war, are over; starting now.

We must press on for openness, accountability, and honesty in government.

Cogito ergo sum

translates, in Bushspeak, to: "I veto, therefore I am."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More on Condi and the Code of Silence

When the House Oversight Committee met today to discuss corruption in Iraq, as well as a formal resolution that objects to the administration's policy of withholding information about Iraqi corruption, and how it affects the so-called insurgency, committee chair Henry Waxman spoke about the State Department's ongoing efforts to hinder any congressional investigation. Rep. Waxman said that "Incredibly Secretary Rice directed these officials not to answer any questions about the extent of corruption in Iraq and its effect on political reconciliation and the insurgency. Her position is that all information that reflects poorly on the Maliki government is classified. The State Department even retroactively classified memos about corruption in Iraq after the Committee requested them."

Reportedly, Secretary of State Rice offered to answer the committee's questions only on the condition that they agree to keep the information they receive "secret."

As Henry Waxman says, "these efforts to stifle debate are an embarrassment," but are they legal? When the State Department, the Justice Department, and the executive branch decide that they're not answerable to Congress, and the American people, there is nothing left but the illusion of a representative government. Clearly, the President isn't the only one who takes his orders from a higher authority; Condi Rice does, too, only her "higher authority" happens to be sitting in the Oval Office.

Apart from confirming what we already know, namely that this administration has turned driving in reverse into an art form, granting retroactive immunity from prosecution to telecommunication companies that break established privacy laws, and retroactive classification to a State Department are little more than thinly veiled attempts to cover the tracks of a government gripped with fear of discovery of its own complicity, and carpetbagging in an increasingly broken war.

Any pledge of secrecy, and coterie of silence, is an insult to every taxpayer, and should be front page news!


Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde!

"Only the superficial don't judge by appearances."

Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 15, 2007


I miss the good old days when people were more concerned about horsepower than fire power.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What Condi Needs to Worry About...

Some breaking news for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Instead of worrying about Vladimir Putin's "broad powers," she should read the headlines of her own nation's newspapers, be concerned about those "broad powers" her boss has borrowed instead. Condi told reporters, at a news conference yesterday, "In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development." (AP) A big, heartfelt amen to that.

And, during that same exchange with members of the press, Rice also observed " I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma." If nothing else, this administration appears to have masterd the fine art of projection. Feel free to substitute the words "White House" for Kremlin, and "Congress" for Duma, and you'll see, a perfect fit!

Condi's concerns for a tamper-free Russian presidential election, in the coming months, is also ironic inasmuch as her close colleague, and our last attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, was forced to step down due to lingering questions as to whether he lied, in sworn testimony, about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys many of whom reportedly refused to play ball and prosecute voter fraud cases as part of a white collar effort to steal yet another U.S. election.

So, in light of her concern for what she calls "creeping authoritarianism," I thought it might be worthwhile to compile a laundry list of things, closer to her own backyard, that the secretary of state ought to worry about:

1) For openers, how is it that fully six months before terrorists bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the government met with head honchos of telecommunications companies like Qwest Communications and attempted to elicit their cooperation in intercepting, and recording the private telephone conversations of "tens of millions of Americans" in defiance of the Telecommunications Act? (WaPo)

2) How is it that the National Security Agency later claimed that bypassing FISA, and ordering warantless electronic monitoring of ordinary U.S. citizens, had anything to do with 9/11 when the infrastructure for this illicit program was being put in place months before before 9/ll?

3) Why is it that the government "withdrew" a contract worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" when a former head of Qwest Communications, Joseph P. Nacchio, refused to submit to pressure, and join the chorus of telecommunications companies, like A T & T, who cooperated with the NSA's program to data mine personal records? Is there a link between Nacchio's stepping forward, talking now, refusing to be redacted, and the current charges of insider trading being levelled against him? (NSA) This is more like the relatiatory measures we most often associate with organized crime, not government. Moreover, where were the attorney general, secretary of state,and the Justice Department when the head of a major telecommunications company expressed his own worries about the legality of a program to secretly spy on millions of Americans. Could they all have been out to lunch at the time? If so, when are they due to come back?

4) Yes, indeed, as Rice rightly asserts "everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary" --- not just the Russian judiciary; the American judiciary, too! When is the last time you can recall an attorney general not merely stepping down, but hiring a defense attorney? How convenient, too, that the lawyer Mr. Gonzales recently retained to represent him was deputy attorney general under his good friend, and the president's father, George H.W. Bush. What an incestuous lot!

Putting incest aside, for a moment, and looking at how quickly Congress rolls over for this unitary executive whose broad powers guaranteed passage, and finalization, of the USA Patriot Act, and virtually guarantee passage of "Protect America Act" legislation which radically revises FISA, and legalizes warrantless surveillance of Americans, many of whom seem to be more preoccupied with whether Britney Spears is wearing underwear or not.

Yes,, Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore, especially when every major Internet provider has been asked to turn over Web habits of its customers with promises of immunity from future prosecution. We're not in Kansas anymore when the same Supreme Court that handed this president his White House, back in 2000, has been neutralized, and made to tow the line like every other branch of government.

And, finally, while she's in worrying mode, it seems only right that Condi look into why it is that "innocent people have been killed" (NYT) in Iraq by Blackwater guards. When our so-called allies, the Kurds, themselves say that convoys were not being fired on when they shot Iraqi citizens in the back while they were running from their cars.

Given that Blackwater was reportedly founded by a mega-wealthy evangelical Christian, who'd have thought that they'd serve as an auxiliary volunteer bunch of thugs whose numbers aren't factored into the numbers of those openly killing Iraqi "insurgents" for their own soil Can it be that, not only are the numbers of Iraqis sacrificed at the altar of the almighty buck manipulated, but, factoring in the role of Blackwater and other military contractors in adding to the carnage, that Rice and the Bush administration underestimate the number of forces in Iraq by about 50%? If you hold a gun, and aim it at "the enemy," what are you if not a soldier?

But, what Condi needs to worry about most is how military mercenaries can be engaged in shootings that can only be called entropic criminal events, as well as how it is that her buddy, the president, has managed to get away with unprecedented, and unparalleled wartime privatization. George W. Bush has done, with private military contractors in Iraq, what he was unable to accomplish with social security. He has, in essence, made a business out of putting world stability in peril in the name of maximizing corporate profit.

So, while she's in the neighborhood of human rights, and busy lambasting Russia's president for torture, and dubious interrogation tactics in Chechnya, Condoleezza Rice might want to pay a visit to Guantanamo Bay, as well as take a long, hard look at "extraordinary rendition."

It would be really extraordinary if the secretary of state would explain how a country that claims to hold the moral high ground has all but shredded the Magna Carta, and may well be remembered as much for Abu Ghraib as the Statue of Liberty.

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Open Letter to Al Gore

Dear Vice President Gore:

Heartfelt congratulations on a well-deserved award, and reward, for your efforts not merely on behalf of the environment, but all those who will clean up the mess we make for generations to come. Bravo!

As one who was honored, and delighted to be at Senator Barbara Boxer's rally yesterday in San Francisco, I express my personal gratitude for your inspired remarks on the need for a moral imperative, historical perspective, as well as to "reclaim our democracy" from those who have now succeeded in demonizing the process that has been, for centuries, synonymous with human rights, and equal representation under the law.

On the train ride home, I sat next to a gentleman who was also at the Barbara Boxer rally. We talked about politics, and whether you would throw your hat into the ring. I said that some things transcend politics, and world peace is among them. This is something that you have always known, and is now being acknowledged.

It turns out that my new friend, on the train, happens to be an Episcopal priest. We both agree that your devotion to global warming, and the threat to our survival as a planet, is how you have chosen to serve not merely a mystical godhead, but humankind.

Life isn't always fair. It isn't fair that you "lost" the election, in 2000, even though you won the popular vote. It isn't fair not only for you, but for the country, as well. But, justice was served today. It is judicious, and right, for you to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as you are one whose service will continue as long as you share the same air as the rest of us on the planet. We may rest assured, too, that the air will be a whole lot cleaner now as a result of all your hard work..

Thanks from me, and those as yet unable to form that word.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Letter to a Young NRA Member

(the below e-mail was sent to a gentleman who happens to be a member of the NRA who wrote to me to protest my characterization of the NRA in a piece I wrote, "Another Poster Child for the NRA," which appeared on this blog, and elsewhere, earlier this week...)

Dear Stu,

Thank you for your thoughtful note. I think my article was misunderstood entirely. I never intended to attack the NRA, or its members; that would be like attacking AAA because someone got killed by a drunk driver. To the contrary, I attacked any attempt to legitimize the culture of violence, and try to make assault rifles respectable.

As today's shooting by a 14 year old in a Cleveland school clearly demonstrates, access to handguns is flat out too widespread. After all, the officer who went bezerk in Wisconsin, on Sunday, and shot 7 people was 20 years old, not much older than the Cleveland teenager. As a society, and as human beings (whether members of the NRA or the AARP), we need to think about what message we're sending to our young people by mystifying guns, and fanning the flames of violence both here and in Iraq.

The shooting of those two Christian Iraqi women by western convoys, near Baghdad, yesterday was reprehensible. We are role models not just to our children, but for the whole world. I'd rather teach my son how to use a dictionary than a gun, but I respect your mother's decision. She obviously raised a man she can be proud of. Alas, you are increasingly in the minority. The incidence of accidental shootings, in homes with guns, is far greater than in homes where there are no guns, obviously. Phil Specter's lady friend would still be alive if they played with a toy gun instead of a real one.

We all make choices. All of our choices have voices. The victims of drive-by shootings, inner city violence, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Cleveland all cry out for greater regulation of assault weapons. John Lennon would, too. Ironically, he wrote the lyrics: "Happiness is a warm gun," and only a few years later, his life was cut short by a firearm. As another songwriter has said: "how many more will it take till we know that too many people have died?" The answer isn't blowing in the wind; it's at our front door; keep assault weapons out of the hands of as many Americans as possible. Our children will be grateful for this, and the rest of the world will be, too.



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Euripedes has a question for Congress...

"Where do we seek justice when the injustice of power is our destruction?"

Monday, October 08, 2007

Remembering John Lennon

John Lennon would have turned 67 years old Tuesday were it not for the agitated roar of yet another madman's gun. If he were still with us, I think he might well ask when we, as a society, will outgrow our wars and weapons, and cultivate diplomacy and compassion instead.

To those, especially, who call themselves "Christians," like John McCain, and then advocate more violence on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and arguably in Iran next, he might also ask: how can you try to pass this counterfeit religion off as true faith? John had a sixth sense for mendacity, and there's even more mendacity now than when he was here.

And, a final word to all those who continue to support the National Rifle Association, oppose gun control, as well as "give money to people with minds that hate," you prove one thing, and one thing only: this world doesn't deserve the likes of Mr. Lennon any more than it deserves the likes of you. Go back to the cave you crawled out of. There must not be one more ounce of innocent blood shed to protect your flag, and your so-called constitutional right to bear arms. We have met the "terrorist," and it is us!

The world is a little smaller by virtue of the heinous act that took the life of John Lennon. Rest in peace, John, as peace is what you wanted most, and peace is what most eludes us to this day.



You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be alright
Alright Alright
You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be alright
Alright Alright
You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know know it's gonna be alright
Alright Alright

Sunday, October 07, 2007

six feet under

There's lots of people pulling for me, even if they're six feet under....

Another Poster Child for the NRA

Only a few hundred miles outside of Milwaukee, in a town of 2,000, a twenty year old "off-duty" deputy sheriff, and part-time police officer, apparently went bezerk, and went on a shooting spree, at an undisclosed private house, taking the lives of at least six people. The suspect, whose name is being withheld, was himself fatally shot by "authorities," some of whom may have worked at the same sheriff's office. Many of the specific details of this crime are being withheld, and t here is only speculation about the motive. (AP) A mother of one of the victims suggests jealousy might be behind the killler's rampage.

Okay, it's not like this is the first time a police officer has been involved in a violent crime, and okay, maybe we can rationalize this outrageous, and horrifying event by noting what a rare occurrence it is to see members of law enforcement committing homicides. Oh, and yes, maybe it's completely inappropriate to talk about ready access to firearms of all kinds, especially when we're talking about police. But, what does the police manual, in Crandon, Wisconsin, say about carrying a weapon when off duty? Yes, of course, this appears to have been a crime of passion, so one wouldn't expect the deputy sheriff to consult his manual beforehand.

That said, there appears to be far greater leniency with respect to the carrying, and use, of weapons by members of law enforcement in this country than is desirable.
Interestingly, as you know, police officers in Great Britain don't carry guns, and that country has a much lower incidence of violent crime.

There are many who will use the "rotten apple" argument iin defense of America's law enforcement, and say that police departments needn't bother taking a closer look at the way they train their recruits with respect to when, where, how, and why they discharge their weapons, tear gas, and tasers. Maybe they're right. The commission of a crime like this by a police officer is clearly an anomaly, but we, as a society, can no more afford complacency, and apathy, when it comes to the actions of those we entrust with enforcing our laws than with those we elect to higher office.

And, factoring the National Rifle Association, and the abuse of legal, and illegal, weapons in this country, out of the equation, there have been way too many images, on the news, lately of policemen holding down an agitated, and anguished 45 year old woman at a Phoenix airport,.as well as rounding up members of Code Pink at a recent Lieberman/ McCain rally, and tasering an overzealous undergraduate at a Florida university for refusing to succumb to campus police after making controversial comments about impeaching the president. Oh, this is only what has been captured on camera. You wouldn't have to be there to guess how law enforcement handled the so-called Jenna 6, in Louisiana, when making their arrests judging by some of the amateur video that has made its way to primetime news of big city police beating up Rodney King, and others like him in inner cities around America.

But, what does this have to do with a clearly deranged young man who, possibly after what may have been little more than a lover's quarrel, does in his girlfriend, and her whole family? Simply this, when we are bombarded with news accounts of soldiers gunning down innocent Iraqi citizens, of Los Angelenos being tear gassed for speaking out against draconian measures targeting illegal immigrants, of riot police routinely making their presence felt at anti-war protest rallies, of youngsters being tasered, whether they be students at a college in South Florida, or young men of color in our nation's inner cities, how can any reasonable person possibly expect anyone who has access to a gun not to model the kind of obscene, irrational behavior that destroyed the lives of six, and will force the state attorney general of Wisconsin to consider what the evaluation process is, and how it is this 20 year old got to be a member of a sheriff's department in the first place. Hopefully, too, the attorney general will place more restrictions on the use of deadly force by the police on the police, or on any human being. Deadly force is no substitute for due process.

While one often thinks of Charleton Heston when thinking about the NRA, in this age of the cowboy, any gun-toting madman will do just as well..

Hopefully, the terrible event that took place in Wisconsin today will compel us all to examine empowerment by weapon, as well as an issue increasingly swept under the table, that of police brutality, and abuse of power. We know we've arrived when the "authorities" who shot the off-duty deputy sheriff to death themselves face review. We have become far too accepting of fatal shootings by on-duty police officers just as we're far too tolerant of those who think it's their constitutional right to bear arms, even when, increasingly, it's at the expense of innocent life.

The officer who fired his gun, and took the lives of six isn't the only poster child for the NRA; each of his victims is, too.

Collateral Damage

It isn't only the collapse of home mortgages, and escalating foreclosures, we need to be concerned about. The Constitution has now become a victim of "collateral" damage, too.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who needs approval ratings when you have lifetime immunity?

While President Bush's approval ratings fell to their lowest level yet, with only 31% of Americans giving him a big thumbs-up for his job performance, he, Cheney, Rice, and crew can sleep easier knowing that their military junta, which has been reinforced by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, grants them blanket immunity from prosecution for war crimes.

Now that The New York Times has just released two previously classified memos, proving that then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fibbed when he said that this administration doesn't approve torture, the phrase "alternative interrogation methods" can be revealed for what it is--a transparent euphemism. This "hidden legacy of President Bush's second term and Mr. Gonzales's tenure at the Justice Department" (NYT) flies in the face not merely of the Geneva Conventions, but exposes this administration for its unprecedented human rights abuses.

The White House was uncharacteristically quick in denying allegations that it secretly authorized the use of practices that amount to psychological, and physical, torture on detainees. Indeed, had they responded this quickly to Hurricane Katrina, there wouldn't have been half as many deaths, or people displaced. But, then, there's no oil in New Orleans, now is there?

That said, a $60 million dollar question (allowing for inflation) remains: if Scooter Libby could be indicted, tried, and convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in Plame-gate, now that he's a private citizen, why isn't Alberto Gonzales facing perjury and obstruction charges with respect to the dubious veracity of his sworn testimony at a Senate hearing, the purging of millions of White House e-mails, psychological mauling of his predecessor while he was gravely ill in hospital, as well as masterminding the unwarranted, and unprecedented, wholesale firing, mid-term of U.S. attorneys who refused to play ball in voter fraud prosecutions.

Congress, whose approval rating barely surpasses that of the White House, has played one handed poker too long. It's all well and good for our elected representatives to hold their little hearings, but why the hell aren't we being treated to photos of the former attorney general on his way to federal court where he can finally put his hand on King James, and swear to tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and where he may be criminally prosecuted for failing to do so? Moreover, if the executive branch's former hired gun points in their direction. when asked who gave the command to tweak torture such that it doesn't translate into English, it is up to Congress to revoke the Military Commissions Act of 2006, reinstate the War Crimes Act, and let the chips fall where they may.

Now that John Ashcroft has spoken, it's time for Alberto Gonzales to talk, in a court of law, about who was pulling the strings while he magically appeared at his predecessor's bedside, as well as who ordered him to sign off on hitherto anathema detainee questioning practices, and why. Yes men do what they are told, and Mr. Gonzales is no exception.

The buck seldom stops far from where it begins. The time for answers is here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Urge the Senate to Pass the Federal Shield Law

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will be meeting this week to decide on the fate of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, HR 2102, SB 1267 which will guarantee immunity from prosecution to journalists who refuse to compromise the confidentiality of their sources in federal court proceedings. This is an essential piece of legislation, and one that must not get lost in the shuffle of breaking news, or the noose of government control over the press and the media will be allowed to tighten exponentially.

While 49 states now have shield laws which affirm that communications between reporters and their sources are as privileged as those of attorneys and their clients, this protection applies only to state, and local cases, not federal cases. (SPJ). Passage of this bill will prevent any federal prosecutor from bringing a journalist before a grand jury again, and coercing him to reveal the identity, or confidential information given him by his source. Passage of this bill will preclude any federal judge from holding in contempt, and issuing jail time, to a reporter who refuses to compromise the confidentiality of their source.

This legislation clearly stipulates that a journalist can only be forced to divulge this privileged relationship under rigorous, and extreme conditions such as if the court considers it necessary in order to "prevent imminent and actual harm to national security," or "imminent death or significant bodily harm." What's more, anyone who is involved with the "gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news and information for dissemination to the public" will be considered a "journalist," and will be shielded from prosecution for refusing to comply with a federal court's demand for naming names, or supplying documents.

As you know, the past seven years has seen an unprecedented number of freedom of information act requests. Clearly, the only way we have been able to unearth what this administration has been up to has been through the use of FOIA. Ironically, though, the Bush regime, which has distinguished itself by its unparalled, and continuous withholding of information, documents, testimony, in defiance of congressional subpoenas, as well as its willful, and arrogant, destruction of millions of White House e-mails, has hauled more reporters before grand juries, and placed them behind bars for refusing to violate their professional guidelines than any administration before it.

At a time when a record number of journalists have been killed, 75 last year alone making 2006 the deadliest year for journalists on record, we must urge the Senate to pass this federal shield law not merely to empower reporters, and a free press, but to empower each and every one of us; to give us back the truth of our elections and our wars.

Nearly one year ago to the day, half a world away, Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in her elevator, after having written a scathing expose of torture, and prisoner abuse by her government in Chechnya. We are no closer to knowing who killed her today. And, right here in our own backyard, Oakland Post editor, Chauncey Bailey, was brutally slain only feet away from his office. It's alleged that his killing had to do with his investigation of a black Muslim splinter group. It is unacceptable in a free society, in any society free or otherwise, in anything that remotely resembles "civilization," however uncivil, that a reporter should be savagely sacrified in the name of perpetuating silence, or a culture of blindness, one that thrives in secrecy and denial.

That Richard Nixon would never have been forced to resign, in disgrace, over Watergate had it not been for the tireless work of two intrepid Washington Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, is widely known. That these reporters would never have heard a peep from Deep Throat were they not able to guarantee him, and their other sources, that their identities would be held in strictest confidence.

What better way to pay tribute to a tragically murdered journalist, in Russia, than by restoring dignity to a profession that has increasingly come under fire, and under manipulation by a government not unlike that of Vladimir Putin's, one that has repeatedly demonstrated how it would like to stifle not merely dissent, but the free flow of information.

It's up to us to ensure that the legacy of the 43rd president of the United States isn't death of the First Amendment by strangulation. He took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to dismember it. Contact your Senators now, and urge them to provide a federal shield for those who, in the tradition of the Japanese reporter shot dead in Burma, spend their last moments on earth taking photographs so that generations from now, people will know what really happened. Urge your Senator to pass this legislation because the truth, to you, is that important, too.