Friday, June 29, 2007

From the Bench to Benchmarks

While the Supremes have managed to take our focus away from the war in Iraq, over the past few days, with their latest aggravated assault on affirmative action, it's important not to allow what Bush calls "political theatre" to distract us from what will prove to be crucial discourse on Iraq, in the coming months, and confusion as to the difference between troop withdrawal, and withdrawal of our presence in Iraq.

All prospective presidential nominees, of both parties, must account for their position on an "American presence" in Iraq, and asked to clarify exactly what that means. When we hear candidates, from both parties, say they support troop withdrawal, we need to listen to whether or not they propose ending the occupation totally, which must include sending home those military, and private contractors who are making barrels of money off the civil war, carnage, and plundering of Baghdad.

More often than not, the word "benchmark" when applied to Iraq, is thinly guised code for the ongoing presence of Halliburton, and others, to maximize profitability with no end in sight. Arguably, American deconstruction of Iraq may well have been intended not merely for the obvious access to that country's oil, but for the lucrative reconstruction contracts, as well..

It's essential that "benchmarks" be exposed for what they are---euphemisms for corporate deployment and redevelopment. Any candidate for president who claims to have a deadline to bring the troops home must say exactly when they plan to end the occupation, and withdrawal of the mercenaries, as well as the soldiers there.

Some Final Thoughts on Murdoch's Revenge....

While no one can doubt that Murdoch's muscular pursuit of Dow Jones is politically-timed, and politically-motivated, rest assured that if he is reasonably secure in the belief that his new pal, Hillary Clinton, will be more likely to support "benchmarks," i.e. leaving American contractors in Iraq long after the troops withdraw to maximize profit margins, then he will ensure that Fox, Newscorp, and the WSJ are in sync with a Hillary presidency. And, sync or swim, any editor, or journalist, who doesn't fall into place will quickly find themselves out of work.

Yesterday's one-day national walkout by Wall Street Journal reporters, as their press release indicates, to speak up in favor of "journalistic independence" while laudable was too short-lived and, more importantly, little more than symbolic in light of reports that a "tentative deal" with the Wall Street Journal would give Murdoch, and News Corp., autonomy with regard to hiring and firing the paper's editors. Those who have had access to the agreement call it "a far cry" from the newsroom, and editorial, independence insisted upon by the Bancrofts. (Reuters)

Moreover, whether the new owner of Dow Jones, and The Wall Street Journal, should decide it's in his best financial interests to support a Democrat over a Republican as the next president, keep in mind that what motivates Murdoch is not ideology, or even ideas; it's money. Arguably, he'd get into bed with Stalin if the price were right. After all, he got into bed with Beijing.

That said, make no mistake, Rupey is the symptom not the disease. As Bill Moyers points out brilliantly, in his essay, "On Murdoch," the disease is newspaper consolidation. Indeed, if Mr. Murdoch were to withdraw his bid for the Journal, fold his hand, and go home to Australia, the recent hair raising trend of newspaper buyouts and mergers would still exist. Ultimately, consolidation poses a graver longterm threat to editorial independence than Rupert Murdoch ever could.

from Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer...

comes quote of the day.courtesy of The New York Times..

“It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much,” Justice Breyer said.

Breyer was referring to a landmark ruling yesterday, by the Supremes, to limit the use of race as a determining factor which will have profound, and longterm influence on affirmative action.

While many seem shocked by this ruling, few can be surprised given that dismantling of affirmative action, as well as Roe v. Wade were among the principal objectives of the Bush administration's initial push for the presidency, and are consistent with the neo-conservative bent of the Repub lican party, a mindset which has been dormant, of late, but which will doubtless rear its ugly head in the upcoming 2008 presidential election.

Look for the rapid detumescence of moderate Repubican candidates like Rudy Guiliani, and the clear cut emergence of John McCain as the Republican nominee for president. Look for the takeover of The Wall Street Journal, by longtime McCain friend and ally, Rupert Murdoch, as a step in the direction of buying the presidency. Murdoch's hot pursuit of Dow Jones is, unquestionably, politically-timed, and politically-motivated.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Behind Closed Doors

In the last week or so, there has been a lot of important talk taking place behind closed doors. A former attorney general, John Ashcroft, met with members of Congress, in closed session, presumably to disclose why he refused to sign off on the president's NSA domestic surveillance program, and who tried to bully him in to submission. We, who pay his salary, were not privy to that discussion. No doubt, Ashcroft spoke, too, about the original program, and what it contained, in depth.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to the executive branch, including the president and vice president, as well as the Justice Department. These subpoenas, no doubt, also arise from testimony which took place in secret. Defiance of Senate subpoenas casts a long shadow on the Bush White House's previous efforts to depict itself as the high priestess of putative transparency.

Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, describes the efforts of this administration to cover their tracks, and to avoid testifying as "stonewalling of the worst kind." (NYT) Indeed, Mr. Leahy is being kind. This isn't just about stonewalling, or evasion; the efforts of this administration are nothing short of subrogation of the process of discovery, and are in contempt of Congress.. And, while he may contest his parking space in the executive branch, no one but the vice president can deny that he's become too big for his britches; indeed, Mr. Cheney has become Richard Nixon on human growth hormones.

But, the refusal to comply with demands for information, and/or release of documents, as well as an almost aberrational insistence on private meetings aren't limited to the executive branch, and the Justice Department. Earlier this month during his confirmation hearings, the incoming counsel of the CIA, John Rizzo, refused to answer some "tougher" questions, on the NSA program, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying he preferred to respond "in closed session." (NYT) One wonders just how much testimony about unwarranted, and unlawful interception of e-mails and telephone communications will be heard secretly, as well as how much information about which telecommunication companies were co-respondents, and enablers, of this program will surface, how much will be suppressed and whether or not the American public will have to wait another 30 odd years for these "family jewels" to surface, too.

Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reportedly confessed that "alarm bells went off" when he first heard former deputy attorney general, James Comey's testimony about the Gonzales hospital visit to John Ashcroft, and that it seemed to him "clear that there had been an effort to circumvent the law." (NYT) While we applaud the expressions of outrage made by members of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, one can't help but wonder why there isn't a more aggressive push for transparency, and the admission of the press, as well as public hearings? After all, the Committee for Un-American Activities met in open session, and I, for one, can't recall any activities, with the exception of the burglary at Watergate, more "un-American" than the ones we've witnessed in t he past 6 plus years.

While we may be incapable of doing a fast rewind on the Ashcroft closed door hearing, as well as any others, Cryptome reports that there will be a meeting of the Defense Science Board, a panel of about 40 that advises the Pentagon on scientific, or manufacturing acquistion matters of national security, "in closed session" from August 6-16th at the Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The role of the DSB, as Undersecretary of Defense, Kenneth J. Krieg, sees it is to address the "growing threat of missiles, information warfare and biological, chemical, and nuclear weaponry."

With the growing recognition of a failed mission in Iraq, and troop withdrawal all but inevitable, as well as the growing plausibility of some military action against Iran and North Korea, and with all the so-called interest in citizen vigilance to avoid another terrorist attack, how ironic that "all sessions of these (Defense Science Board) meetings will be closed to the public. " Arguably, there are times when release of certain information will pose a clear and present danger to our national security, but at the moment, withholding of information poses a far greater challenge to our own security, as well as world peace.

Whether it's testimony, in Washington, D.C., about tweaking borderline legislation so that it has the illusion of legality, or a Defense Science Board meeting, in Southern California, to discuss "Challenges to Military Operations in Support of National Interests," when information is privileged, and access restricted, oversight can be nothing more than an abstraction.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

Comes from an article, by Gardiner Harris, in today's New York Times which reports that psychiatrists top the list in drug maker gifts...

"According to their income statements, drug makers generally spend twice as much to market drugs as they do to research them."

Beneath Contempt

Okay, so will somebody please explain to me how it is that on the eve of among the biggest corporate take-overs, Murdoch's acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, a move so ominous that reporters nationwide for that newspaper walked out today in protest, and on a day when the president and vice president of the United States were subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about their subrogation of the Constitution via an illegal NSA spy program, CNN could devote a full hour of programming to that latest American fetish, Paris Hilton. Yes, and while we're at it, please explain, too, how on a day that Congress prepared to vote on controversial immigration legislation, the blogosphere lit up with reports of a cat fight between Ann Cobra (ooops, I mean Coulter) and a presidential candidate's wife? Clearly, desire for big advertising bucks has infected not merely the mainstream media, but the mainstream blogs, too. Yes, yes, greed is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Despite any claim she may have to be a product of the cave she crawled out of, Ann Coulter is beneath contempt, and unfit to clean Elizabeth Edward's shoes. She has shown, like many of her conservative colleagues, that she is expert at weapons of mass distraction. Ann Coulter is the "Roseanne" of political discourse, only Roseanne was funny; Ann is simply sadistic. She's making a fortune proving that while crime doesn't pay, cruelty sure as hell does.

It is immensely disturbing to watch anyone profit, and hugely, off personal attacks intended to deflect attention away from their own overpriced, and over-rated vacuousness.Yes, I know, as the Virginia Slim advertisement goes---"You've come a long way, baby." We now witness the entrance, into politics, of alpha females like Ms. Coulter who borrow the "by any means necessary" ethos from their Republican male counterparts and, in essence, out-Herod, Herod. And for those who have all but given up hope on the women's movement, and all the so-called progress made over the past 30 plus years, we have someone like Elizabeth Edwards to show that one can be brilliant, strategic, make a compelling argument, and manage to hit above the belt. If all women were aspire to be even half as evolved as Elizabeth Edwards, the world would be a far saner, and safer place.

Not only are personal attacks beneath contempt but, ultimately, they show the vulnerability of the attacker. One who tries to capitalize on what they think are another's weak points is not only showing their own intellectual limitations, but their own insecurities. The only thing more contemptible than Ms. Coulter's unprovoked, and unwarranted, diatribes against the Edwards is the willingness of the media, press, and blogosphere to go along for the ride, and take much-needed attention away from the ongoing travesties and outrages of an administration that continues to ride roughshod over our rights.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"D.C." doesn't stand for Dick Cheney

an open letter to the vice president...

Dear Messr. Cheney,

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that entitlement is no longer a gentleman's sport. Indeed, the blood of thousands has been shed in the name of protecting, and defending a document that outlines a priceless vision of freedom which has recently been trampeled and eviscerated. While no one is suggesting this is solely your doing, your fingerprints are everywhere in sight.

And, though it may have felt like it at times, over the past six plus years,the nation's capital was not named after you. Indeed, the letters "D.C." stand for District of Columbia, and not Dick Cheney. What's more, the president was inaugurated, back in January, 2000, not coronated, which means there can be no exemption from adhering to the laws, even if they were of his own devising. Being elected means always having to be accountable.

There's only so far massaging the truth can get you, and only history, not elected executives, has immunity. A quick refresher course in Constitution 101 will assure you that yes, the vice presidency finds itself in the executive branch of government, and the oath of office doesn't exempt one from congressional, and judicial oversight. Adherence to the law is not a matter of convenience, or conscience; it is a pre-requisite for leadership.

When the framers wrote about "checks" and balances, they weren't referring to the kind made payable to Halliburton.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The I.C.E. Man Cometh (Take 2)...

Just last week, in Los Angeles, agents from the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a massive raid in which they reportedly collected thousands of illegal immigrants in that city who in addition to being in the U.S. unlawfully, they claimed, had also engaged in criminal activity. This is not the first time an I.C.E. visit resulted in huge wins. Other states, like Florida, have been successful in major sweeps.

It's nice to see I.C.E. making such progress in clearing out illegals in Los Angeles. Now, if only they would make the same inroads in eliminating those, in Washington, D.C., who are there illegally.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rocky Days in L.A.

It's virtually impossible to read The Los Angeles Times these days without seeing marathon coverage of alleged transgressions by city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, a Democrat. There have been charges of misconduct before, but since his press release, in late February, in which Delgadillo went public with his sponsorship of legislation to "criminalize homeless patient dumping," and go after corporate HMO monoliths like Kaiser Permanente, the mania to find and pin dirt on him has been relentless. This isn't so much to ask whether the numerous allegations against the city attorney are justified; this is simply to question their timing, and their purpose.

Shortly after announcing criminal charges against Kaiser Permanente Hospital, last November, the onslaught of invective, and nonstop investigation into wrongdoing began digging back to 1998 for evidence not merely against the city attorney, but against his wife. "Kaiser Foundation Hospital, part of Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the nation will be held accountable for violating state law, and its commitment to its patients," he announced. Michael Stoops, National Coalition for the Homeless, calls Rocky Delgadillo's suit against Kaiser "a precedent" which will "send a notice to institutions that dump homeless patients," (USA Today) but who cares about the rights of homeless patients in a town smitten with celebrity, greed, and corporate lust?

Clearly, efforts by Delgadillo to speak out against the brutal, wanton practice of homeless dumping helped spark some of the outrage that led to a recent move by California Health Regulators to call for revoking the license of Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital where, early last month, a 43 year old woman, Edith Rodriguez, was left to writhe in pain, and die on the Emergency Room floor, but who cares about uninsured indigents who go dying from neglect, and hordes of homeless dumped on Skid Row, and what do the monied folk try to do with a man who tries to stand up for their interests? Crucify him for nonpayment of five parking tickets?

It's not only HMOs, and corporate health care giants, Delgadillo has taken aim at. In April, he announced tough new legislation to "put an end to the rampant outdoor advertising blighting our communities," and less than a month later, he detailed efforts to advocate for the rights of those who are victims of domestic violence, obtaining a $100,000 grant from Verizon Wireless to develop tools to enhance the ability to prosecute those who abuse women and children. Nobody's trying to depict Rocky Delgadillo as Robin Hood, but simply ask if he's being railroaded for trying to do something about the city's many disenfranchised.

Okay, yes, Rocky went after Sheriff Lee Baca, too, for wanting to give Paris Hilton a free pass to do house arrest as Delgadillo thought that keeping her in jail would be more just given the gravity of driving on a suspended license. And, yes, this is ironic in light of recent revelations that his wife faced an outstanding warrant for her arrest as a result of a nearly decade's old traffic case in which she failed to appear in court and face charges of driving without insurance, with a suspended license , and in an unregistered car. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Delgadillos were "chronically late in paying fines" for several parking tickets, and the prosecutor has also admitted to occasionally letting the missus drive his city owned vehicle, without a license, to run errands; he himself acknowledges driving without insurance for a year.

He doesn't deny either that when Mrs. D. was involved in an accident in her husband's SUV, a few years ago, taxpayers picked up the tab for repairs. And, earlier this month , the Los Angeles Ethics Committee approved more than $11,000, in fines, for 30 counts of campaign finance law violations for his failure to account for how some of his 2004 and 2005 campaign funds were spent. These dubious expenditures included meals, flowers, and gifts, as well as payments to consultants. Delgadillo conceded wrongdoing, and settled with the committee. (LAT) In fact, if only the chief executive, and his chronies in the executive branch, were to be half as forthcoming with mea culpas as Mr. D. has been, we would no longer have troops stationed in Iraq.

Undoubtedly, the desire by the state ethics panel to investigate Rocky was not without merit. The allegations of campaign finance law infractions alone would have been sufficient cause to justify a panel inquiry. It is serious when the top prosecutor for a major city enlists "staff members to run personal errands and babysit his children," but it is more serious when those reporting the story fail to address why it is that these allegations have surfaced now, and place them within the context of his ongoing efforts to criminalize those whose inhumanity results in the egregious dumping of homeless people, by hospitals, onto the streets. Tabloid journalism whose focus is advertising revenue leads to mob justice in which a citizen is tried by photo-op, and not by fairness, in the interest of boosting sluggish newspaper sales. From Paris to Rocky, instant celebrity results in high ratings for the media, as well as an intellectual, and ethical climate that contributes to a witch hunt mentality.

When questions that deserve to be asked go missing; questions such as why have all these moving violations managed to surface only months after Delgadillo's legislation to impose criminal penalties on among the largest HMOs in the country for dumping hospital patients, the result is daunting. One cannot fail to see the connection between SB 275, the bill Delgadillo co-authored last year, which prohibits hospital staff from the dumping homeless patients on Skid Row, making violations of this provision "punishable as a misdemeanor," and the current feeding frenzy to divest this city attorney of his job. HMOs, and the folks who stand to profit the most from them, don't like those who champion for the rights of anyone, or anything that cut into their bottom line.

Arguably, Rocky Delgadillo stepped on one too many toes. But, more importantly, what does it say about the press that, rather than expose the possibility that there's a corporate posse actively trying to dig up as much dirt as possible on this Democratic city attorney, are instead cooperating with those interests?

It is hoped that all those who consider the charges against Rocky Delgadillo, city attorney of Los Angeles, will do so within the context of those causes he's championed, and also challenge the timing of the release of allegations against him.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall

Nearly 20 years ago to the day, on June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan admonished Russian President Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall. Several years and several thousand miles from that historical moment, on Capitol Hill today, a former attorney general of the United States met behind closed doors with a House Intelligence panel to discuss, in secret, whether or not the president's clandestine NSA electronic surveillance program broke the law.

Not only was this meeting withheld from citizens, and those who pay congressional salaries and Mr. Ashcroft's pension, but the press was kept out, too.. Indeed, it would seem that reporters were fed tiny morsels of bread by Mr. Ashcroft, as well as Intelligence Committee members, such as chair Silvestre Reyes, who said only that "there was robust and enormous debate within the administration about the legal basis for the president's surveillance program." (AP) Arguably, "robust" is an adjective that might work better when describing Chardonnay than when detailing an admission on the part of one of the framers of the president's "war on terror," an undeniable appearance of wrongdoing on the part of this commander-in-chief and his chief henchmen. But, then, we live in the age of phrases like "unlawful enemy combatants," so why not splurge a little.

And on this day when one is at a loss to find any "good guys" left anywhere comes news from California congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight Committee, that the vice precedent has decided to secede from the executive branch, and declare himself exempt from the procedures required to protect classified information. How very KGB-ish. What's more, Mr. Cheney suggests that if the National Archive doesn't want to grant him immunity, then simply get rid of the offending agency within the archive, or maybe get rid of the whole bloody thing. Hell, why not throw out the Supreme Court, too, if they get out of line---wait a minute, not a good idea, after all, he wouldn't be the vice president now were it not for the Supreme Court. And, if Gorbachev wouldn't go for this logic, Kafka sure as hell would.

Well, I have some breaking news for Mr. Ashcroft who refused to take questions from the press after his closed door meeting, and for Mr. Cheney who thinks he is above the law, and can rewrite the Constitution, as well as for those members of Congress we elected to represent us--we, the people, find your secrecy and simultaneous assault on our privacy to be not merely contemptible, but thoroughly unacceptable. There isn't a hangar wide enough for justice, nor a closet large enough for any who violate the public trust to hide. And, we the people, a portion of whose paycheck, every week, every year, goes to pay for your children's education and fight your wars, we say, yet again, no taxation without representation; you do not get to mete out the truth, and nuance facts, from your foxhole; there can be no representation behind closed doors.

Mr. President, tear down this wall! It is America now that is cowering, and hiding its tracks like a rogue state. It is up to Congress to insist on a change of course, and to demand transparency, glasnost. It is up to members of the House and Senate investigating this duplicitous and dastardly breach of the oath of office to uphold the Constitution, to tell those who break the law then try to make it law, that we see right through them. We see right through their chicanery, mendacity, will not allow ourselves to be spoonfed spin, and then told it's manna. We will not let these born again jihadists turn the White House bought and paid for with our blood, the blood of our ancestors, and with our tax dollars, into the axis of their ugly, hellish white lies.

If, as Mr. Ashcroft contends in his first official statement, he's concerned that "the framework we have for defeating terror, defending the liberty and security of the United States in the context of our Constitution...remains intact," (AP) then let him come out from behind closed doors, let us hear the whole truth, the whole story, and let the chips fall where they may.

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes, courtesy of The Huffington Post, from a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney by Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the congressional Oversight Committee, in response to the vice president's statement that his office does not fall under the umbrella of the executive branch. A refresher course in Constitution 101 appears to be in order.

Chairman Henry Waxman writes: "I question both the legality and wisdom of your actions. ... [I)t would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials."

Somebody needs corrective lenses, and it isn't Henry Waxman.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Anthony Romero on Habeas Corpus

On June 26th, thousands of activists will gather in Washington, D.C . to speak out against the Military Commissions Act, and other imperious legislation that has come down the proverbial pike courtesy of the current regime.

In the words of Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union:

"So on June 26th, we have an opportunity to tell our story and an obligation to speak to Americans in ways that will bridge the partisan divide...It is a story of American strength and American values--of 13 colonies that went to war with a global empire who listed the suspension of the right to trial by jury as a serious grievance against the British King in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence."

Yes, and history has shown that the Declaration of Independence is a work in progress. By the simple act of overturning the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the empire will strike back, and we will, once again, live in a country that would make Thomas Jefferson proud.

Thank you Anthony Romero, and the A.C.L.U., for continuing to remind us that, more often than not, those who fight the wars aren't those who write the laws.

Forget the Gipper; Score One...

for the Ripper...

President Bush made good on his pledge to veto the stem cell research bill today saying that he cannot endorse legislation that supports the destruction of embryonic life. "If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," contends the president.

Apart from the fact that there is no substance to his voodoo science; quel irony given that such concern comes from the mouth of a commander-in-chief who has bled taxpayers, and the public trust, blind to "support" his own personal crusade, the ongoing and deliberate destruction of human life in Iraq.

For this administration, it pays to be an embryo. As far as they're concerned only in the womb is one entitled to privacy, and a fair shake.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Putin Unplugged

While there was little that was novel in the Russian president's press conference two weeks ago, it wasn't so much what he said, but what wasn't reported, that deserves a closer look. Apart from the fact that most major international news organizations were onhand to question Mr. Putin, and one from the Wall Street Journal was among them, for the most part the mainstream media was missing in action, and conspicuously absent in covering either the conference, or Vladimir Putin's remarks. Indeed, apart from an editorial in The Washington Post, Information Clearing House, a few other notable alternative Web sites, and the Russian president's site, were the only ones to distribute the text of the conference.

Judging by the deafening silence, we can sure use cup of homemade Russian glasnost around here, especially given Rep. Henry Waxman's report today that more than half of nearly 90 White House officials who had e-mail accounts with the Republican National Committee have had e-mails disappear including, not surprising, those of Karl Rove. Somebody's trying really hard to cover some bones and, one might say, not without what the president calls "political theatre."

But, who would expect the Russian leader to be such a drama queen? And, anyone who thinks of Vladimir Putin as being as flamboyant as a card-carrying mortician is in for a surprise when they hear him say things like: "Am I a ' pure democrat'? Of course I am, absolutely. But do you know what the problem is? Not even a problem but a real tragedy? The problem is that I'm all alone, the only one of my kind in the whole wide world," and point to "torture, homeless people, Guantanamo, people detained without trial and investigation," as well as findings by Amnesty International that America is the number one violator of human rights worldwide. He further bolsters his claims when he says that Russia "has not abandoned its moratorium on the death penalty."

You can see why the mainstream media ducked when you hear him assert that the Russians didn't initiate withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and that while Russia is "disarming unilaterally...Europe is being pumped full of new weapons systems." Indeed, as he suggests, the Cold War is now over; it's now a virus!

Herein lies the crux of the undercoverage, Putin's revelation that "For the first time in history...there are elements of the U.S. nuclear capability in the European continent. It simply changes the whole configuation of international security." And, Congress is now actively looking into ways to rein in the Bush administration's production of a new generation of warheads, as well as trying to dramatically reduce funding for the so-called Reliable Replacement Warheads program. (WaPo) Yet, while both the House and the Senate are doing a tap dance for our tax dollars, nobody is putting nuclear non-proliferation back on the table. Monica Goodling makes for a better headshot, no doubt, than a Reliable Replacement Warhead does. Maybe it's time to learn something not just about glasnost, but about perestroika, too..

It is Russia, not France or Germany, who now points to the the rogue state that endangers global security with its placement of "low yield nuclear weapons" in Europe under the pretext that it needs to stave off Iranian missiles when, as he suggests, "there are no such missiles." Notably, it is the president of Russia not the United States who categorically exclaims: "We do not want a confrontation. We want cooperation" at this June 4th press conference. The U.S. press has been too busy cultivating its enhanced vegetative state, and preparing for another major stab at newspaper consolidation which, in these dark and dangerous times, is thoroughly unacceptable. Whether it's self-censorship, or too much Paris to waste time on Moscow, for shame, for shame, America; your leaders are running off with your booty, and dictatorships are closer to democracy than you are. The age of empirical monarchy is, once again, upon us.

"There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died," says Vladimir Putin; not in Chechnya, sir. What a statement about the upside down world in which we live that a government whose wanton torture, and murder of insurgents in Chechnya under the ever-widening umbrella of a war on terror should be the one to invoke the name of Gandhi, and not the leader of the so-called free world.

What a statement about the convoluted age in which we live that assertions made by the leader of a totalitarian state should sound more reasonable than those of our own government. Indeed, and coming from not merely a totalitarian, but one who many believe had a hand in the murder of Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in her apartment building elevator, last October, while investigating her government's systematic abuse, and torture of those it detains, and interrogates in Chechnya. What a statement coming from one who gave the command to put down a mass protest for gay rights, just weeks ago, in which many got bloodied. He may get to blink, but on whose watch?

Importantly, the distance between Russia and the United States cannot be measured in miles, but only in heartbeats. Despite the rhetoric, from either side, thousands of human hearts, an ocean of heartbeats, will soon join the endangered species list as a result of the flamboyant, inflated, and mercurial thoughts, and actions of those who claim to work for peace, and pervert the word peace by doing so. The politics of entitlement have quickly transformed into the privilege of concealment, and those who work to cover the tracks of those who surreptitiously infect the planet with their contagion of hate, and fear, are, without question, just as perverse.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Some Thoughts on the Middle East from a Father...

"Nowhere are the dangers of weapons of proliferation more urgent than in the Middle East. After consulting with governments inside the region and elsewhere about how to slow and then reverse the buildup of unnecessary and destabilizing weapons, I am today proposing a Middle East arms control initiative. It features supplier guidelines on conventional arms exports; barriers to exports that contribute to weapons of mass destruction; a freeze now, and later a ban on surface-to-surface missiles in the region; and a ban on production of nuclear weapons material."

President George H.W. Bush, in a speech to the US Air Force Academy, May 29, 1991

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Happy Bloomsday
to all
103 years young today
to Leopold Bloom

"Will you tell him he can kiss my arse? Miles Crawford said...

--He can kiss my royal Irish arse, Myles Crawford cried
loudly over his shoulder. Any time he likes, tell him.

While Mr. Bloom stood weighing the pint and about to
smile he strode on jerkily."

and from James Joyce's Ulysses, too:



--Two Dublin vestals, Stephen said, elderly and pious, have
lived fifty and fiftythree years in Fumbally's lane.
--Where is that? the professor asked.
--Off Blackpitts.
Damp night reeking of hungry dough. Against the wall.
Face glistening tallow under her fustian shawl. Frantic hearts.
Akasic records. Quicker, darlint!
On now. Dare it. Let there be life. "
Happy Bloomsday to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Moyers on Libby

The below essay comes courtesy of Bill Moyers, and Public Affairs Television:

"Begging His Pardon"

By: Bill Moyers

It is well known that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby-once Vice President Cheney's most trusted adviser-has been sentenced to 30 months in jail for perjury. Lying. Not a white lie, mind you. A killer lie. Scooter Libby deliberately poured poison into the drinking water of democracy by lying to federal investigators, for the purpose of obstructing justice.

Attempting to trash critics of the war, Libby and his pals in high places-including his boss Dick Cheney-outed a covert CIA agent. Libby then lied to cover their tracks. To throw investigators off the trail, he kicked sand in the eyes of truth. "Libby lied about nearly everything that mattered," wrote the chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The jury agreed and found him guilty on four felony counts. Judge Reggie B.Walton-a no-nonsense, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key type, appointed to the bench by none other than George W. Bush-called the evidence"overwhelming" and threw the book at Libby.

You would have thought their man had been ordered to Guantanamo, so intense was the reaction from his cheerleaders. They flooded the judge's chambers with letters of support for their comrade and took to the airwaves in a campaign to "free Scooter." Vice President Dick Cheney issued a statement praising Libby as "a man...of personal integrity"-without even a hint of irony about the collusion to browbeat the CIA into mangling intelligence about Iraq in order to justify the invasion.

"A patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and tireless, honorable, selfless human being," said Donald Rumsfeld-the very same Rumsfeld who had claimed to know the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction and who boasted of "bulletproof" evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. "A good person" and "decent man," said the one-time Pentagon adviser Kenneth Adelman, who had predicted the war in Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Paul Wolfowitz wrote a four-page letter to praise "the noblest spirit of selfless service" that he knew motivated his friend Scooter. Yes, that Paul Wolfowitz, who had claimed Iraqis would "greet us as liberators" and that Iraq would "finance its own reconstruction." The same Paul Wolfowitz who had to resign recently a president of the World Bank for using his office to show favoritism to his girlfriend. Paul Wolfowitz turned character witness.

The praise kept coming: from Douglas Feith, who ran the Pentagon factory of disinformation that Cheney and Libby used to brainwash the press; from Richard Perle, as cocksure about Libby's "honesty, integrity, fairness and balance" as he had been about the success of the war; and from William Kristol, who had primed the pump of the propaganda machine at The Weekly Standard and has led the call for a Presidential pardon. "The case was such a farce, in my view," he said. "I'm for pardon on the merits."

One Beltway insider reports that the entire community is grieving-"weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness" of Libby's sentence.

And there's the rub.

None seem the least weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness of sentencing soldiers to repeated and longer tours of duty in a war induced by deception. It was left to the hawkish academic Fourad Ajami to state the matter baldly. In a piece published on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, Ajami pleaded with Bush to pardon Libby. For believing "in the nobility of this war," wrote Ajami, Scooter Libby had himself become a "casualty"-a fallen soldier the President dare not leave behind on the Beltway battlefield.

Not a word in the entire article about the real fallen soldiers. The honest-to-God dead, and dying, and wounded. Not a word about the chaos or the cost. Even as the calamity they created worsens, all they can muster is a cry for leniency for one of their own who lied to cover.

There are contrarian voices: "This is an open and shut case of perjury and obstruction of justice," said Pat Buchanan. "The Republican Party stands for the idea that high officials should not be lying to special investigators." From the former Governor of Virginia, James Gilmore, a staunch conservative, comes this verdict: "If the public believes there's one law for a certain group of people in high places and another law for regular people, then you will destroy the law and destroy the system."

So it may well be, as The Hartford Courant said editorially, that Mr. Libby is "a nice guy, a loyal and devoted patriot...but none of that excuses perjury or obstruction of justice. If it did, truth wouldn't matter much."

Bill Moyers is managing editor of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.

This essay appears on tonight's program.

Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog

Term Limits on the Supremes

For many, the idea of term limits for members of Congress is a good one, and three terms sounds about right. But, in light of Thursday's draconian ruling by the Supreme Court, as well as other recent rulings, it might be time to consider imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices, too.

Yesterday, consistent with what appears to be a trend, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to throw out the challenge to his murder conviction by an Ohio inmate, Keith Bowles, who was sentenced to 15 years to life, back in 1999. Mr Bowles sought to appeal his sentence on constitutional grounds, but the federal court denied his application due to a technicality---he was 3 days late in filing his papers. After being denied on first appeal, he reopened the case years later, and a federal district judge erroneously gave him 17 days instead of 14 to file. So, his appeal was thrown out of appeals court as he passed the deadline, and the Supreme Court upheld their ruling which precluded Bowles from legal remedy to challenge his sentence. Bottom line: regardless of whether Mr. Bowles deserves to do the time he was given, his Eighth Amendment appeal was tossed because of a mistake made by a federal judge, and he missed out on his legal right to appeal. (NYT)

The decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the U.S. Court of Appeal ruling was, in a word, callous, and calluses are for feet not courts. Indeed, since the president's appointment of two new justices to the court, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Samuel Alito, recent rulings increasingly demonstrate that the hard, bony tissue which often develops around the ends of a fractured bone now exemplifies the body politic, too. After all, what is it if not crude and callous to deny someone the right to appeal because he was late for filing his paperwork due to a j]judge's mistake?

So it is then that we can no longer talk about the composition, but the decomposition of the Supreme Court in light of this ruling, as well as one, in mid-April, in which the court upheld the ban on partial birth abortions, also by a 5-4 ratio, again reflecting a slim majority. And, here, too,, we can thank the usual suspects, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, for a ruling that represents the first step in overturning the constitutional amendment that protects reproductive choice. But, whether you're for choice or against it, think that the inmate in Ohio was guilty and had no case for appeal, this literalism, and rigid adherence to technicality, may someday jeopardize your rights, too.

Notably, the minority justices, in the challenge to the Bowles' appeal, did not go gently into that good night. Justice David H. Souter argued that "It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch." (NYT) Souter also suggests that it would have been completely reasonable for the Supreme Court to make an exception, in this case, and decide to allow the appeal to go through and, in effect, "to rely on an order from a federal judge."

But, there appears to be a subtext at work here. By challenging the ruling by a district federal judge who clearly made a mistake in allowing for a few extra days in which to file the appeal, the majority in the Supreme Court asserts its power, its "unitary" judicial rights, not unlike the argument made by its colleague in the executive branch. So, not only is this a Supreme Court on steroids, but one that is setting the stage for validating only those district court rulings, down the road, that support its ideological mindset.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in speaking for his conservative colleagues in the court, effectively said that those who think the rules are "inequitable" should look to Congress to change them: "Congress may authorize courts to promulgate rules that excuse compliance with the statutory time limits." This is wishful thinking on the part of Justice Thomas as, since the midterm election in November, Congress seems to be capable only of passing water, not legislation.

While a prisoner in Ohio just lost out on his constitutional right to appeal what he thinks is a sentence that imposes "cruel and unusual punishment," fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court heard arguments about executing a Texas man who was convicted of murder despite the fact that new evidence surfaced, 10 years after the crime, which strongly supported his claims of innocence. Leonel Herrera was sentenced to be put to death for murdering two police officers. He was scheduled to be executed back in 1992, but won a stay of execution while his attorneys went before the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of executing an innocent man. While Herrera confessed to the murders, he later recanted. And, more importantly, his nephew came forward and told authorities that it was Herrera's brother, Raul Herrera, who killed the officers.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration supported the Texas argument that the defendant had no "constitutional claim to a new hearing," (NYT) and it was the argument of a Texas assistant attorney general, at the time, Margaret P. Giffey, that it was not unconstitutional to execute someone convicted of murder, and sentenced to die, even if indisputable exculpatory ev idence were to emerge that vindicates him when that evidences surfaces after an established time limit. Ms. Giffey stood by Texas law which only allows new evidence to be considered when it is presented within 30 days before the trial ends. So, despite powerful proof that the state of Texas was executing an innocent man, and as a result of the court's refusal to reopen Herrera's case, 45 year old Leonel Herrera was put to death in Texas on May 12, 1993, while crying out that he was innocent until his dying breath.

This barbaric adherence to rules and regulations is not merely medieval, and callous, it is an insult to common sense, justice, and basic human rights. Moreover, this attitude from the highest court in the land is not only "intolerable," as Justice Souter contends, but flat out unacceptable.

While there is much talk, in progressive circles, about impeaching Mr. Gonzales, and Mr. Cheney, their terms as attorney-general and vice president are nearly over. On the other hand, we are only beginning to see the direction in which the newest members of the Supreme Court are taking us, and their rulings will affect, and shape, our constitutional protections, and civil liberties, for generations to come.

So, given that the majority justices, on the court, appear to be such sticklers for sticking to strict deadlines, and time limits, it seems only fair that they, too, comply with term limits. Justice Thomas was right to suggest that it is Congress that makes the rules, and it is Congress that must soon decide to put an expiration date on any appointment to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Happy Birthday...

William Butler Yeats ...


I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before. "

W.B. Yeats
Irish poet and dramaturge
Born June 13, 1865
remains a "monument of unageing intellect."

The New Frontier: Monitoring Academic Research

In a move that would put a huge smile on J. Edgar Hoover's face, the top gun at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in Boston, reportedly paid a visit to Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts to warn university officials to be "on the lookout for foreign spies," or "terrorists" who might be after "sensitive" research. These visits are, at the moment, confined to the state of Massachusetts, yet, according to Special Agent in Charge, Warren Bamford, this is the beginning of a national program. (AP)

Bamford insists that the attempt is not to censor information, or hinder an atmosphere of academic openness, but merely to raise "awareness." He contends that he's only suggesting that if anyone is poking around suspiciously, or expressing "unnatural" curiosity about a research project that university professors, and scholars, should simply give him a call. But, at a time when reports on global warming have been tampered with, and when military reports on killing of civilians have had whole sections blacked out, one can hardly expect this move to go unnoticed among civil liberties' advocates.

That the head of a local office of the FBI should meet with university officials to discuss creating an environment in which those who are accustomed to pursuing unrestricted, and unsupervised, scholarship must now look over their shoulder, is an egregious extension of the USA Patriot Act which advises neighbors to report suspicious behavior by other neighbors to local law enforcement.

And, while chilling, this program appears to be part of a growing practice on the part of government to monitor, and surveil its citizens electronic, and telephonic communications. Some might even argue that academia should not be exempt from governmental surveillance, but the medical research being done at Harvard may one day save their lives. Unfortunately, too, this is not the first attempt to compromise the concept of the university as a haven for expressing divergent, and controversial thought.

Sometime, in the next several weeks, the Board of Regents will decide whether or not to fire a tenured professor of ethnic studies, Ward Churchill, who has taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder for nearly 20 years for an essay he wrote, back in 2001, comparing victims of the World Trade Center bombing, on 9/11, to Adolf Eichmann. You'll recall that, over the past 6 years, Churchill's speaking engagements at several universities were cancelled. Clearly, whether one agrees with his thesis or not, the right to express one's viewpoint, with impunity, in an academic context, was a given until the current terror frenzy took hold. What we have here is not the aroma of mendacity, but of McCarthyism.

What's more, Churchill is not the only educator to question the authenticity of 9/11 to face expulsion from an American university. Ideas themselves have become contraband material for this administration. Last June, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security barred a professor from Athens, Professor John Milios, from entering the U.S. upon his arrival at Kennedy Airport on the basis of "irregularities" in his Visa. Many groups, including the American Association of University Professors, expressed outrage. Notably, Dr. Milios was en route to read from his paper, "How Class Works," at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. when he was detained at the New York airport.

This is not a solitary incident, but represents what AAUP general secretary, Roger Bowen, calls "a troubling pattern" in which foreign scholars are precluded from entering the U.S.Back in 2004, the government refused to grant a Visa to a prominent Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, when he was appointed to a tenured faculty position at the University of Notre Dame. The AAUP joined the ACLU and PEN American Center to challenge the provision of the Patriot Act which was used to bar Ramadan from entering the United States. This process by which Homeland Security intervenes in the routine travel of foreign scholars is one that gets remarkably little notice from the press, or Congress.

Whether it's asking neighbors to observe each other, and report any "suspicious" behavior to law enforcement, or asking scholars to be mindful of possible "foreign spies" in their classrooms, it's part of the same pattern which speaks to an attempt to cultivate a climate of self-censorship, and repression in which behavior is modified such that one avoids the kind of inquiry needed to advance higher learning, and higher order thinking, too. If a university researcher is inhibited, and hesitates to ask the kinds of questions he, or she wants for fear of being labelled a possible "foreign spy," the consequences may be devastating. How can one be expected to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, address issues of climate change, or political dissent in Iran and Israel, if they must concern themselves with whether or not a colleague is taking notes, and monitoring their behavior for the local FBI?

Arguably, the kind of ubiquitous suspiciousness the FBI, and CIA, should be monitoring is the illegal monitoring of domestic and foreign communications in violation of FISA and the First Amendment. The country is at more risk of foreign spies and terrorists infiltrating the government than the university, and we need to quarantine fear as much as TB. Any college official, or federal agent, who chooses to enable this program must be channeling J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI founder notorious for investigating individuals not for crimes, but for their political beliefs and activities.

It was Hoover's penchant, too, for using illegal wiretaps which makes him remarkably contemporary, but even he might be hard pressed to conceive of the day when one of his agents broke bread with head honchos of some of the biggest think-tanks in the country, and asked them to launch a program in which faculty engages in mutual self-surveillance. The ACLU, in Massachusetts, is already speaking out against this nascent, and spreading program, which is a deplorable byproduct of the Patriot Act, and must be stopped, and stopped now.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"A Recipe for National Health: More Colin, Less Rice"

Colin Powell, former secretary of state, isn't stalling when it comes to speaking his mind on closing down the naval base at Guantanamo Bay unlike his successor, Condeeleezza Rice who approaches Gitmo the way most of us approach doing our taxes. In fact, Powell says that he would close Gitmo "not tomorrow but this afternoon," acknowledging that the detention center, in Cuba, has done more damage to America's reputation, and national security than good. (Reuters)

And, while many remember him for his counterfeit claims to the United Nations about weapons of mass distraction, he must also be remembered as being the first public figure, in the Bush administration, to assert that the U.S. is breaking international law, and the Geneva Conventions by its handling of prisoners of war.

Not only does the former general talk about getting rid of Gitmo, but of the revisionist "military commission system" established by the Military Commissions Act, last year, by the Bush administration which skirts the law in innovative, and singularly terrifying ways, he tells Reuters that turning close to 350 Gitmo detainees over to our federal courts would be "more understandable in constitutional terms."

While it would be wonderful if Monday's headlines read "prison in Guantanamo Bay closed until further notice," the underlying, ongoing, and odious problem of transporting terror suspects over global airspace to secret prisons, and/or countries, where torture is not prohibited, extraordinary rendition, would remain unsolved.

And when, only a few days ago, British police insisted they have no proof that CIA planes involved in the activity landed "illegally" at British airports, they did so in defiance of findings by the European Parliament, last year, that the CIA flew 1245 secret flights into European airspace with the United Kingdom coming in second only to Germany in the number of stopovers. As director of the human rights group, Liberty, says: "When politicians spin it's disappointing. When police engage in the same activity it is rather more dangerous." (Reuters)

What's more, a senator from Switzerland, Dick Marty, contends that he was told by American intelligence that Poland and Romania hosted jails to "kill, capture, and detain terrorist suspects deemed of 'high value'," naming Britain as one of the countries that provided "refueling stopovers" while illegally, and covertly, transferring detainees. As the Dylan song goes, " But to live outside the law you must be honest," a concept increasingly missing in action over the past six plus years.

But, how is it that one can refuel without landing? Also, is there anything more than a rhetorical difference between flying over a country's airspace, and landing at its airport? Clearly, allowing the CIA to fly in U.K. airspace would require the same degree of collaboration as allowing the aircraft to land at one of its airports. If, as chief constable of Greater Manchester Police suggests, there is no evidence to substantiate claims, by the human rights group Liberty, that the CIA planes landed in England more than 200 times since 2001, how is it that the European Parliament reported more than 170 flights into the U.K. as of late November? Somebody is clearly not telling the truth here.

Possibly, during one of his recent meetings with outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president asked for, and got, his cooperation with respect to concealing the fact that, since 9/11, British airspace, and airports, provided a safe haven for covert operations by the CIA, operations which are in violation of international law. The larger question remains as to why the European Parliament is investigatiing these unlawful flights, and extraordinary rendition, when the U.S. is barely up to investigating a covert visit to the hospital bed of a former attorney general?

And, while much of European and American media had been squarely focused on manufactured reasons for taking the country, and the world, to war, the egregious, and contemptible practice of holding prisoners of war, using linguistic sleight of hand, as well as secretly flying suspects to be tortured in hiding, and over cooperating airspace, has gone largely unnoticed by the American people, and their elected representatives. Would that it were, but it's not enough to shut down Gitmo, and send those 300 plus back to the United States; it's a good place to start, not stop. Until we eliminate the mindset that would concoct a detention camp for indefinite incarceration without access to counsel, or evidence, in defiance of the Fourth Amendment, we won't solve the problem that brought us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Until Congress, and the Supreme Court, confront the concept of extraordinary rendition, and get to the meat of the human rights abuses committed under the pretext of a war on terror, we may rest assured that torture "made under the auspices of the U.S.A." won't be going anywhere anytime soon, and can only lead to more attacks, and greater condemnation against the United States. And, for those friends who think impeachment is a solution, constitutional amendments, Supreme Court rulings, and legislation are designed to outlive presidents and presidential regimes.

While Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faces a no-confidence congressional vote tomorrow, the issue that now brings him to his proverbial knees, remarkably, is the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, and not his collusion in the core issue of human rights abuses, redefining torture, dismantling of habeas corpus, and dismantling of due process by the Military Commissions Act.

It isn't Mr. Gonzales' competency that 's in question here, but his honesty that Congress will consider in deciding his fate. And, by extension, it is our honesty, as a nation, that Europe, and the rest of the world, will take into account when it casts its no-confidence vote in us as a member of their community, a vote that will affect quality of life,in the U.S., for generations to come.

Despite what anyone may say about him when he was under the White House thumb, few can deny that Colin Powell currently provides positive, and outspoken, leadership with regard to his concern not only for America's image abroad, but for the U.S. Constitution, and the rule of law. One can only hope that Congress, and the Supreme Court will consider the words of this former secretary of state, and close Guantanamo, as well as every secret prison, end terror flights, and get rid of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Paris for Sale

Now that CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and every major news network has succeeded in draining every last drop of advertising dollar out of the plight of this poor little rich girl:

Will someone please explain to Ann Coulter, Fox News, and anyone else who is confused about this case that Paris Hilton was picked up this time, and given a 45 day sentence for violating her parole, and not for drunk driving!


Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, slated to replace ousted Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, has already raised the stakes, in Iraq, by claiming that this is "a generational war" as we're not fighting the Russians, the Chinese, the Koreans, or the Serbians, we're fighting "evil."

We agree with Mr. Mullen that this war will go on as far as the eye can see, as long as there is any money to be made from it.

Make no mistake, our involvement in Iraq, and the Middle East, has nothing to do with evil, and everything to do with profit.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Paris and Other Pariahs

Okay, so maybe we can all sleep a little better tonight knowing that Paris Hilton is neatly tucked away in jail in Los Angeles. Justice has been served. After all, she violated the terms of her parole, so why not take her in handcuffs in the back of a squad car, and show her what law and order is all about. Yes, and while we're at it, why not put her in the middle of the public square, subject her to ridicule, whip her with headlines, and purge ourselves of all that evil envy we all, to some degree, possess.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I hate Paris Hilton, too, because she's young, blonde, and beautiful, because her breasts are firm, and her dreams in tact. Yes, there are times I think-- why not feed her to the gladiators because she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and will return to a palatial estate n West Hollywood while the rest of us serfs can only stutter at her opulence, and say "pass the remote." But, explain something to me, how is it that Augusto Pinochet, a man who killed many thousands in his native Chile, was allowed to serve out his days in his mansion, and not a peep was said by anyone?

How is it that Richard Nixon was pardoned, and left to walk, after masterminding the break-in of Democratic headquarters known as Watergate? How is it that war crimes, and massacres, are taking place every day both here at home, and in Iraq, in secret terror cells, and in state penitentiaries, and no one is saying a damn thing. Instead, the news media can't get enough of the mug shot of a young girl whose freedom, or incarceration, in the final analysis, doesn't mean a bloody thing to anyone but herself, and those closest to her.

We have made a national pastime of scapegoating those who do the least damage to us, as a society, while letting the real criminals walk free, unscathed, and without scrutiny. While Scooter Libby may be next to cry his eyes out in the back of a squad car, and the media blitz will convince us that, once again, justice is being served when those who most deserve to be handcuffed, and carted away will finish out their terms of office with feckless, and tearless impunity. So, while those who feel vindicated by the equalizing of stigma, and penalty as applied to Ms. Hilton are taking a huge sigh of relief, and thinking that, at last, the system works, think about this, for a moment, we have destroyed a human life. Yes, it isn't just her short sentence in a county jail that Paris must put behind her, but the miserable memory of having been subjected, and eviscerated, by ongoing deprecation, and communal venom, and this from this most Christian of countries.

What's happening to Paris Hilton is a crying shame for any of us who have ever known what it is to be ridiculed, and despised, to have your dreams dashed. Anyone who thinks that even one day in jail is a good thing deserves to be there themselves. Moreover, anyone who thinks that the disparity between rich and poor, right and wrong, has been addressed by incarcerating, and humiliating this young girl will be hugely disappointed when they discover it hasn't accomplished a blessed thing.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A word on immigration and neo-nationalism

Apart from the war, immigration is the most explosive issue on the menu, at the moment, and assimilation is all too often confused with patriotism.

With the Fourth of July less than a month away, it pays to revisit flags and flag wavers. Thankfully, despite the best efforts of many to endow it with magical, or supreme powers, a flag is just a piece of fabric; a symbol, yes, but not something sacrosanct. If only those who approach the flag with reverence approached the Bill of Rights the same way, what a great country this would be.

After all, when you think about it, more people have died over flags than from cigarettes, coffee, smog, cars, drugs, and booze combined. When was the last time a war was fought over a martini?

I think Betsy Ross should have inscribed: "Caution: May Be Hazardous to Your Health" on every flag she designed.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On Offense

In a curious reversal of the stereotype of a flag burner, or one we might expect to demonstrate within blocks of a military base, Wednesday's arrest of a mother, in Nebraska, for allowing her 10 year old to "stomp" on an American flag at a soldier's funeral, shows just how much social profiling is starting to break down.

Aside from being a protestor, and mom, Shirley Phelps-Roper is also an attorney, and member of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that attributes the deaths of American service members to God's punishment for a nation that has become more tolerant of gays and lesbians. Group members have reportedly participated in nearly 300 demonstrations in more than 40 states just in the past two years. (AP)

The arrest took place prior to the funeral services when the police noticed her 10 year old son jumping up and down on the flag. While flag desecration is constitutionally protected, there are some prominent congressional members, on both sides of the aisle, who would prefer to change that. According to Nebraska's flag law, "A person commits the offense of mutilating a flag if such person intentionally casts contempt or ridicule upon a flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon such flag."

The 49 year old mother faces 90 days in jail, a $500 fine or both for mutiliating a flag, and disturbing the peace. On the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, she could get a year in jail, and be fined twice as much.

Not only is Phelps-Roper a member of Westboro Baptist Church, she's also the daughter of church founder, Rev. Fred Phelps. Not only is she refusing to back down, she says she eagerly awaits the chance to see her day in federal court. While it is difficult to make heroes of those who would just as soon torment a woman on the way into an abortion clinic, or call someone queer, as incite her child to stomp on an American flag, it is reassuring to see the born again ethos spread to include a newfound affection for the Constitution.

So, now that the left has found religion, the right has found the First Amendment. Who knows? Maybe "Mother Courage," in 2050, will look more like something out of Ayn Rand than Bertolt Brecht.

Even if the incongruity implied by a member of an ultra conservative group, one that would ban sodomy defending her constitutional right to free speech, is vexing, clearly this lawyer mom gets that "committing an offense" on a piece of fabric is not the same as trampling the ideas behind it.
After all, those who conceived the concept of free speech, freedom of assembly, and a free press would have to accept even the most execrable characters, the cross burners. If only those with the moxie to get arrested, and go to court to affirm their right to desecrate a national symbol, would have the courage to acknowledge that the First Amendment, in protecting freedom of expression, affirms diversity, whether it be social, political, or sexual.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What to Wear with Libby...

Something contrite doesn't appear to be in order, at least not according to the judge who sentenced the vice president's former chief of staff to 30 months in prison for perjury and obstructing justice. Apart from the gravity of the charges, Judge Walton was clearly not impressed with the lack of penitence, as well as hubris the defendant displayed in his courtroom.

But, after all, why should Mr. Libby be anything less than smug given that, at tonight's Republican presidential debate, all three of the top contenders have already decided to pardon him. They may not know what to do about Iraq, but there's a consensus when it comes to Libby. Imagine, and this when his mugshot isn't even dry yet.

What McCain, Guiliani, and Romney don't appear to get is that Mr. Libby isn't facing jail time for outing Valerie Plame, but for lying, and actively hampering an investigation into who revealed this undercover agent's identity.

Scooter Libby's date with destiny is in limbo pending the prospect, too, of a presidential pardon. I, for one, can't recall this kind of clamor to pardon someone since Gerald Ford stepped in to rescue Richard Nixon.

Patrick Fitzgerald, special prosecutor in the case, the only one who has consistently demonstrated that he has the chops, waxed quixotic today when he told the press "We need to make a statement that the truth matters ever so much." Well, then, if the truth matters even half as much as Mr. Fitzgerald suggests, it is Mr. Cheney, not his aide, who should start packing a box lunch. After all, it was the vice president who revealed the identity of CIA agent, Valerie Plame, to Mr. Libby in the first place.

The smart money says that, in the end, Paris Hilton will spend more time in jail than Scooter Libby.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Dubious Honor

On the basis of one word, "unlawful," a military judge threw out charges today against a 20 year old Toronto man Omar Khadr, held at Guantanamo Bay, who is accused of having murdered an American soldier, in Afghanistan, when he was only 15. The judge, who is an Army colonel, Peter Brownback, said that Khadr's classification as an "enemy combatant," by a previous panel, instead of an "unlawful enemy combatant" makes him ineligible for prosecution under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Oh, the power of a single word.

Given that not a single detainee, at Guantanamo, has been designated as "unlawful," this ruling has the stunning potential of resulting in dismissals of all charges against any detainee lucky enough to find themselves in front of a military tribunal, or even know what they are charged with. Khadr's attorney, Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, insists that the judge's decision to dismiss his case comes not as the result of a mere "technicality," but instead is proof of "a system of justice that does not comport with American values." (AP)

While human rights abuses, suicides, and related outrages, at the detention camp in Cuba are receiving lots of media attention, few are reading the fine print in the legislation passed, last year, that allows for a new system for trying war crimes in which the prosecution must comply with a 72 hour window for appeals to a court that has yet to be created. Kafka would have loved that! Yes, for now, the "court of military commissions review" , exists only on paper, and as part of the Military Commissions Act which New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, plans to investigate, asserting that the legislation is "riddled with problems and created a process that operates outside the rule of law." (AP)

Arguably, the whole notion of a military tribunal to try detainees, as created by this administration, suggests that the so-called "rule of law" operates within its own vacuum, one that is itself not merely insular, legally anachronistic, but immune from accountability, and congressional oversight. That said, the system is not immune from oversight by the Supreme Court which rejected previous attempts at military tribunals, calling the method by which this administration wishes to try detainees, in a word, unconstitutional. Of course, new guidelines for war trials were quickly put in place, and passed by Congress, which allow for the kind of hearing today that resulted in the extraordinary dismissal of charges against Khadr and, in a related case, of those against Hamdan, too.

More troubling than the notion that one may seek redress from a military commissions review that has yet to be created is a look at the revisionist stance on terror espoused by chief prosecutor in the Hamdan case, Army Lt. Col. William Britt, who contends that one might even argue that the war on terror began in 1993 when the World Trade Center was first bombed. This kind of mangled logic ranks right up there with that of criminalizing certain war crimes, such at conspiracy, retroactively or, for that matter, classifying and declassifying information based on political expediency. Once again, we witness a precedent setting proclivity on the part of this administration to break the law, and then make it law.

But, plainly, there is no nuancing one essential fact, the U.S. now has the dubious honor of being the "first country in modern history to try an individual who was a child at the time of the alleged war crimes," (AP) as well as to try to revive practices that were vestigial even in feudal times.

So it is then that a young man, Omar Khadr, one who isn't even old enough to drink in most states, may yet get to return to his native Canada, and leave Guantanamo Bay where he remains, as a consequence of the ruling of one military judge who turned ambiguous terminology like "enemy combatant" into the samurai's sword it deserves, showing that the law as written and rewritten over the past half-dozen years must surely backfire when an infrastructure of injustice comes apart, bit by bit, thanks to the efforts of those who still remember to read the fine print.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

in the words of a great man, and a great President...

Thomas Jefferson...

" I have the consolation to reflect that during the period of my administration not a drop of blood of a single fellow citizen was shed by the sword of war or of the law.""Equal and exact justice of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.... Freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the HABEAS CORPUS, and trial by juries impartially selected.

These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heros have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which we try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error and alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Oscars for Intelligence

A U.S. attorney, police commissioner, members of the transit authority, and local law enforcement, in New York today, participated in a press conference that rivals the academy awards in their determination to praise each other for foiling an alleged "conspiracy" to plant explosives to blow up aircraft, terminals, and gas lines in one of the nation's busiest, and best loved airports, JFK. While no explosives, or any concrete evidence, has yet to turn up, the investigation into this plan for a massive strike against a major U.S. airport appears to be a slam dunk for an administration aiming to make its citizens more aware of the prospects for "terrorist attacks;" arguably, more of these foiled plots will come to light as the presidential race draws closer.

Does this sound cynical? Well, let me assure you that, having been born and raised only miles from JFK, few could be happier that the 18 month plot haa been averted, and that three suspects have been taken into custody on conspiracy charges. Abdul Kadir, Kareem Ibrahim, and Russell Defreitas are being held, and a fourth man, Abdel Nur is being sought in Guyana. Notably, Mr. Defreitas, a former airport employee, is a U.S. citizen. And, while we m ay take a collective sign of relief that the nation's financial mecca has, yet again, been spared, it is socially irresponsible not to ask if Defreitas will meet the same fate as Jose Padilla, or to ignore the fact that, while precluding another terrorist act, we're still no closer to apprehending the usual suspects, and understanding the root causes of a global wildfire of hatred of U.S. foreign expansionism, and corporate gluttony. Rest assured that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be thrilled, too, to see another attack on a beloved city fail, but to use a so-called war on terror to eviscerate an American citizen of his constitutional rights is not what the framers had in mind.

Moreover, while lately the administration talks more about a growing threat from al Qaeda in Iraq, yet to be addressed is the harsh reality of how our government's policies are fanning the fire of universal contempt for our landmarks, institutions, and people.

While the four alleged to have spent more than a year hatching this latest plot which, had it happened, would have been a devastating blow to aircraft, terminals, and fuel lines, they did not even possess the means to implement ; authorities moved in, and brought three into custody based on its own surveillance, and the belief that one suspect had been planning to travel. So, picture it: law enforcement surveillance of suspects using the Internet to monitor activities of Kennedy Airport; we have surveillance of surveilance. What happens when the watchers are watching the watched who are watching the watchers? No one is looking into the root causes, but only the outward manifestations. More importantly, what happens to free movement on the Internet when government authorities are allowed to track that movement, at will, based on evidence, however dubious, that a "conspiracy" is taking place. I know, I know; we're not suppsed to worry about our First Amendment rights when threatened with an attack on our shores...right?

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly urged New Yorkers, once again, to be "vigilant." In fact , he used the word "vigilant" twice in less than a minute. He's right. All Americans need to be vigilant of anything that looks suspicious, or that could lead to an attack against the city, and country, we love. But, we also need to be mindful of excesses that may result from so-called vigilance, such as the potential for racial profiliing, harsh and illegal interrogation techniques, government surveillance of electronic and telephonic communications, as well as the prospect of domestic internments camps for Muslims, in the U.S., not unlike those for the Japanese after World War II.

Indeed, it may be said that every man or woman who is killed, or kills himself may be seen as a victim of terror in this war. A few days ago, a young Saudi man is alleged to have killed himself while in detention at one of our notorious camps at Guantanamo Bay. He is one of four, since 2002, who has been moved to this most desperate act which doubtless arose, at least partially, from being held without charge, and with no end in sight. Does might give us the right to detain without due process, threaten, and humiliate?

So, while the heads of law enforcement, transit authorities, and U.S. attorneys, in New York, pass out accolades for having deterred another horrific act on our soil, this week, a landmark lawsuit was brought by the ACLU against Boeing aircraft for its complicity in transporting terror suspects, across international airspace, to countries that don't have to comply with Geneva Conventions against torture. It's time we ask ourselves, do the ends justify the means? Can the means be proven to correlate with the ends? Is torture not terror? And, when will we recognize the connection between those crimes we commit, and those that are committed against us. No one regime may be allowed to wipe out world history since the Enlightenment.

There is only one way to end the war on terror, and that is to address the vast, and growing, disparity between wealth and indigence, abundance and famine, and work, with compassion and dignity, to eradicate poverty and fear. This cannot be accomplished with bombs and bloodshed, but undertanding and diplomacy.