Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Hallelujah Glory Hole Choir

Now that Senator Larry Craig is having his fifteen minutes of infamy along with such other notable tycoons of family values as defrocked Rep. Mark Foley, the absurdity of his having been a vocal, and virulent, opponent of gay marriage isn't lost on anyone.

What is getting lost in the shuffle is the perfunctory manner in which we, in America, accept dragging someone through the public square on charges of "lewd behavior" without questioning exactly what the phrase means, who gets to apply it, and what penalty must be paid. How willingly we give up our personal privacy.

Make no mistake, the issue isn't whether or not this Idaho senator deserves outrage, and stoning---the issue is whether the neo-Conservatives who still walk among us will be allowed to turn his arrest into a backlash against gay men and sodomy. What takes place between consenting adults is, after all, their business. It's the context, not the act, that is tacky and sleazy.

After all, what constitutes "public decency?" Who gets to decide that, and at what price? In recent years, the Federal Communications Commission has been caught with its pants down when it comes to this matter, too.

Larry Craig's real "crime," apart from the obvious hypocrisy, is perjury if, as he said, he entered a false guilty plea. What bitter irony given Craig's role in working to impeach a former president, Bill Clinton, for lying before a grand jury.

If the radical right is permitted to use this sensationalism, and widescale titillation, to reactivate homophobia, then every person who reads, or writes, about what would be considered a tasteless, and insipid act, if committed by "ordinary" folks in a men's room, will be used as an indictment against all homosexuals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Injustice is...

a form of torture.

If you've been following the recent Abu Ghraib trials, you may wish to note that Army Lt. Col. Jordan was acquitted today, in a military court, of failing to control his subordinates, but convicted of a lesser charge of not following an order.

Now that Gonzales has "resigned" as attorney general, it's time for Congress to ensure that crimes against humanity, like those committed at Abu Ghraib, make it to civilian courts, too, where this army officer Jordan might justifiably have been convicted on all counts.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Invincible President

On my way out to pick up the morning paper, I saw my neighbor in her housedress which looks like it dates back to about 1955. "He's leaving, you know," I said. "Who's that?" she asked. "Alberto Gonzales," I patiently told her. "Oh, you mean the guy from San Jose." "No; the attorney general of the United States."

I couldn't help but marvel at how red state and blue state could live side by side separated only by a row of empty trashcans, all the while oblivious to ideology, and wars of ideology, despite the sophistry that tries to pass itself off as foreign policy these days.

She calmly put one hand on her hip, as if to cushion her retort, and said "Oh, Bush, well, he's getting rid of everyone, but it's not going to help. He's still going to have to leave when his term is up."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"and in her wake"

In memorium, my small poem for Philomene Long, poet, visionary, descendant of Irish royalty, ex-nun, sister, mother, and beloved wife of poet John Thomas...

"and in her wake"

for Philomene Long

a legend
in her
the flame.

past participles...

Rude is the past participle of ignorant.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Who's Packing in Pakistan

The real story in the president's speech, on Wednesday, to the group Veterans of Foreign Wars isn't that he compared Iraq to Vietnam, but the fact that he didn't mention Pakistan when talking about his homegrown hallucinogen, otherwise known as the war on terror. Mr. Bush spoke of Afghanistan, Vietnam, Japan, but never once acknowledged General Perez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, who came to power as a result of a military coup, and whose dual role as president and army chief shows that he has as much respect for his country's constitution as this president has for ours.

Pakistan was conspicuous in its absence especially in light of the release, last week, of a declassified report, by the National Security Archives, which chronicles its role in funding, and arming, the Taliban in the seven years leading up to 9/11. The report shows not merely who's packing, but who's supplying them with the weapons. Documents recently obtained by the National Security Archive not only demonstrate what we already know, that Pakistan has provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden for years, but also that Islamabad has supported the Taliban not merely in the years prior to the World Trade Center bombing, but in subsequent years, as well. President Musharraf now says "There is no doubt that Afghan militants are supported from Pakistani soil." (NSA) Documents released a week ago indicate, too, that "the Taliban was directly funded, armed and advised by Islamabad itself."

Think about this: while American servicemen and women were in neighboring Afghanistan hunting down the Taliban, Uncle Sam was in bed with General Musharraf and a regime that we now know was working toward a Taliban victory in that country to the tune of billions of dollars since 2001. Moreover, just a day after release of these previously classified reports, the White House opted to "blacklist" Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. as a "terrorist" organization.

One wonders how the White House determines who is, and who is not, a terrorist group. Iran's Revolutionary Guard qualifies, yet Pakistan, where the mastermind of 9/11 has safely hid for more than half a decade, where journalist Daniel Pearl was savagely slain, where a Kashmiri group which is financed directly by the Pakistani government is allowed to grow and develop training camps together with Osama bin Laden, doesn't even receive honorable mention as a "terrorist organization." What's more, according to newly released documents, that country's own intelligence service has been "funneling supplies into Afghanistan and to the Taliban forces."

More than a decade ago, and five years before 9/11, the report discloses that Pakistani intelligence allocated approximately $45,000 a month to Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA), the Kashmiri militants who also sought out more funding from other terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden. It was noted, at that time, too, that Al Qaeda and Pakistani-funded HUA were collaborating in "terrorist training camps" inside Afghanistan. A leader in HUA also signed off on bin Laden's fatwah against the U.S.. And, exactly one year before 9/11, as noted in the 9/11 Commission's Report, Pakistani aid to the Taliban reached "unprecedented" levels.

If the U.S. knew, back in 1996, that Islamabad has been funding, and harboring not only the Taliban, bin Laden, but HUA,a splinter group with more egregious outreach to international terror groups, then why were U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan, and not Pakistan?

Further, when President, and General Musharraf readily acknowledges that country's ongoing support of Afghan militants, how can the Bush administration justify strongarming Tehran, and try to transform Ahmadinejad into the much-despised dictator that Saddam Hussein was, just before we executed him. After all, doesn't growing the Taliban, as well as a group which has a long, and well-documented history of working with Al Qaeda, and bin Laden, in Pakistan, qualify as grounds to cut off a designated state from Uncle Sam's purse, good graces, and diplomatic immunity?

While the rumblings of skepticism about Musharraf's Pakistan are said to be felt in Washington, D.C., there are no war drums beating for a military strike against Islamabad, but Tehran, and when Barack Obama says that he would put pressure on General Musharraf to cooperate in the fight against the robust Taliban, and the ever elusive bin Laden, he gets called over the coals for it.

Consider the irony that the U.S. is said to have "lost patience" with Iran for allegedly selling arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan (AP) in light of our infinite patience with Pakistan, a country that has not only armed, and funded the Taliban for more than a decade, but has done so on their own soil. Further, when Musharraf openly admits his country's ongoing support of Afghan militants, how can the Bush administration justify strongarming Tehran, and Ahmadinejad, while allowing the Pakistani president to thrive with impunity.

While Musharraf has the distinction of being dubbed a dictator from members of the left and right, in Pakistan, one must ask are all dictators created equally, or are some created more equally than others? Does bin Laden's taking refuge in Pakistan, and the fact that money is being funneled into the Taliban constitute grounds for a being dubbed a "terrorist state," as well as the need for a closer look at that country.

Next month, Pakistan will have an election. That country's highest court has just allowed the return, from exile, of Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister and leader who was ousted by General Musharraf's military coup in 1999. Notably, Sharif was at the helm, back in 1996, when more than $30,000 a month was given to the Kashmiri militant group HUA, which in turn made its way into the hands of bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Not surprisingly, after his ouster, in 1999, Sharif took refuge in Saudi Arabia where he has lived comfortably in exile, and is only now making noises, from London, about coming home. Oh, and quel coincidence, Saudi Arabia also happens to be Osama bin Laden's birthplace.

Our government is backing a country that has been home to bin Laden, and overtly finances the Taliban now, and has done so before the years leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan. If nothing else, we have come to see that America's relationship with so-called "terrorist groups," including the Freedom Fighters, is, in a word, incestuous.

It will be intriguing to watch, in the coming months, to see whether the Pakistani election will be allowed to proceed without interference from the General, and whether he will be sent packing. The election, in that country, will also reveal much about the Bush administration's "war on terror" if this White House endorses either a General who took power as part of a military coup, and in defiance of his country's constitution, or a returning exile from Saudi Arabia who, on his watch, started the insidious cycle of lining the pockets of a notorious Kashmiri militant group.

Either way, any attempt by the Bush administration, or Fox News, to give legitimacy to an attack against Tehran, and/or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, while allowing Pakistan to operate with impunity will be exposed for what it is---hypocrisy, plain and simple.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dean, maybe, but not the same one...

You know you've been into politics too long when you see the headline, "Dean makes landfall in Mexico," and think the article is about Howard Dean!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Use of Dogs

In the fallout from yesterday's revelation that two charges were dropped against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan for his role in the nightmare that has come to be known as Abu Ghraib, it was also revealed that another officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, was chastised and fined for allowing the use of dogs, during an interrogation, without first obtaining "higher approval." (AP) But, it must be asked, by whose authority can it ever be justifiable to use dogs as a method of interrogation.

Given that Pappas is acknowledged to have been the highest ranking officer at Abu Ghraib, and Jordan answered to him, investigators have every right to find out who it was, back in 2003 when these heinous acts of cruelty occurred, who gave the order to turn dogs on captives as part of an interrogation process. And, what a statement about the U.S., and the mainstream media, that we care more about the alleged execution of dogs by a football giant, Michael Vick, than we do about the exploitation of canines, as vehicles of torture, against mostly innocent Iraqi citizens, by our military.

We also want to know why it is that it took an investigator, Maj. Gen. George Fay, three years to wake up, and realize that he "misspoke" when he said he read Army Lt. Col Jordan his rights during their 2004 interview. Fay's epiphany has resulted in a military judge's decision yesterday to drop combined charges against Jordan which would result in his having to spend eight years in jail. While other counts, which mostly deal with the mistreatment of prisoners, still stand, the judge's decision effectively wipes out more than half of what would have been his sentence were the charges of obstruction of justice and making a false statement allowed to stand.

But, more importantly, how is it that some U.S. citizens are incarcerated without charge, and held in military brigs, labelled "enemy combatants," while this former director of Abu Ghraib's interrogation center is relieved of a substantial part of his sentence because the military court that tried him has decided to honor Miranda. Were the Miranda law and habeas corpus intended to apply only to those in the military?

Indeed, Lt. Col. Jordan is right to suggest he is a "scapegoat." Those who were the masterminds of that circle of horror, the photos of which will bear witness in infamy until the ends of time to the unassailable fact that the true arbiters of terror will get to live out their retirement years in plush anonymity, and at taxpayers' expense.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In the old days...

In the old days, I was depraved; now, I'm deprived.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Being Jose Padilla

Now that a U.S. citizen has been convicted of being a "terrorist," one can only hope that his treatment in the brig, which has been declared a "state secret," will be declassified so that it may see the light of day in appeals court which is where this case is heading.

Psychologists, and those who have visited with Jose Padilla over the past three plus years of his incarceration say that they see profound emotional wreckage as a result of his detention. Regardless of whether Mr. Padilla's treatment can be tweaked such that it conforms with his constitutional entitlements, as an American, there is no way in hell that anyone can justify turning an otherwise healthy 36 year old into the shell of a man. If the treatment he received at the hands of his captors is ethical and aboveboard, then why is it classified?

Clearly, too, the time has come to put the entire infrastructure of an illegal, and ominous so-called war on terror on trial, and show that those who maim, humiliate, kill, and psychologically torture in the name of counterfeit, homogenized purity are the true terrorists.

Padilla's conviction would not have been possible were it not for more than 300,000 FBI "wiretap intercepts" (AP) of conversations, many of which took place in Arabic.

Yesterday in a courtroom in San Francisco, the Electronic Frontier Foundation continued their fight against telecommunications behemoth AT&T for its assault on the Fourth Amendment as a result of complying with the government to illegally tap citizen's phones. The phrase "state secret" reared its ugly head, too, in this San Francisco district courtroom. An attorney working with EFF laments that if the case against AT&T is lost, it may be the last time that any court challenges the executive branch on warrantless wiretapping.

Any government that withholds information from court, regardless of the context, on the basis that the data withheld constitutes a "state secret" is not merely insidious, and pernicious, but is one that converts justice itself into a dirty bomb.

One can only hope that, on appeal, Mr. Padilla's lawyers will demand declassification of his days in the brig, and that each and every gruesome detail of how he suffered during confinement surfaces, so the word "terrorist" may be seen to mean about as much as the word "Communist" did during the Red scare days of the 1950's; only instead of hiding under a desk in a deserted classroom, justice now hides under the robes of counterfeit judges

Is it ever okay to compromise someone's sanity in the name of combatting an elusive enemy? Do the ends justify the means and, if so, whose ends are we justifying, and by what means? If this is what the framers had in mind by the Bill of Rights, they would have called it the Bill of Wrongs instead.

Monday, August 13, 2007

in the brig

The Christian Science Monitor today reports that Jose Padilla's "treatment" in the brig is "classified as a state secret."

On the resignation of Karl Rove...

one is reminded of the line from Samuel Beckett:

"Birth was the death of him."

We no longer have a government; we have a covert operation.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

the first casualty...

Human nature is the first casualty of evolution.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Banning Harry Potter

Several weeks ago, a university professor was fired. Ward Churchill, who taught for more than twenty years at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was dismissed for an essay he wrote, shortly after 9/11, which expressed controversial views about 9/11. University of Colorado Interim Chancellor, Phil DiStefano, decided to terminate him for what the chancellor termed "academic misconduct." Churchill is not the only academic to face dismissal, or suspension, for espousing a viewpoint that is considered heretical, or anathema. But, the larger issue here is not academic freedom; the larger issue is censorship, and the insidious practice of this government to outlaw ideas, and convert communication into contraband.

What's more, it's not just what educators write, or talk about that has come under increasing surveillance. If it were up to some conservative Christian groups in California, New York, Minnesota, and Michigan, Harry Potter would be banned, and removed from classrooms, and school libraries on the grounds that the books promote interest in "the occult." (NCAC) Some other titles that made the top ten 2006 banned books list include "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison, for its sexual content, "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson, for homosexuality, "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier, for sexual content," and "Scary Stories," by Alvin Schwartz, for the occult, and satanism.

When they fire academics for essays they write which assert contrarian, and unorthodox views, university chancellors demonstrate the same mindset that prohibits modern classics from being read by students in our public schools. This is a disgrace just as it is a disgrace that we have so-called "free speech zones" in which demonstrators may protest this president, and citizens being arrested for wearing anti-Bush teeshirts. As far as the founding fathers were concerned, the United States of America was meant to be a free speech zone. Yet, an even bigger disgrace is the fact that Paris Hilton got more coverage than the controversy over Harry Potter, or Ward Churchill. Ostensibly, this administration has managed to put a silencer on the press.

Last weekend, when Pearl Jam performed one of its songs, AT & T chose to turn the volume down when lead singer, Eddie Vedder's lyrics included some disparaging statements about President Bush. This same telecommunications giant elected to hand over private telephone records to the government, and thanks to recent measures passed by Congress, they will be able to do so with impunity in perpetuity, or until Congress enacts measures to prevent them from doing so. It is flat out unacceptable for any lyric to be muted out during a concert because it is derogatory just as it is flat out unacceptable that a college educator face expulsion for expressing dissenting views of a national tragedy, however repugnant those views may be.

It is equally unconscionable that the F.C.C. be allowed to issue "public decency" fines to networks for so-called wardrobe malfunctions, and the use of obscenity when no fines are issued to administration officials, like the attorney-general and others, who have lied under oath about warrantless surveillance of civilians, as well as illusory, and elusive weapons of mass destruction.
In late July, members of the Senate launched a bipartisan campaign for "filtering, and monitoring technologies" on the Internet on the grounds that they wish to protect children from sexual predators, and child pornography. Conspicuously absent from these hearings were members of civil liberties' groups who were not invited. (Press Esc) While the measures under consideration are meant to target children, and increase parental controls, there is no doubt that these technologies will set an infrastructure in place which may be used to monitor and filter Internet users of all ages, in future. The potential ramifications to the First Amendment are staggering, and should these filtering measures, which are suppported by Democrats and Republicans alike, pass, they will make the tweaking of FISA laws look like a walk in the park by comparison.

At stake here is a complacent, and apathetic public that is allowing itself to be railroaded, and manipulated by a top-heavy, power-hungry, radical right wing, neo-conservative Christian government which has had phenomenal success in regulating what we see, hear, as well as discuss in our college, and public school, classrooms. And, by extension, in our movie theatres, bookstores, and T.V.s,, too. The fact that a professor was fired without much fanfare, or the kind of media focus given to six men trapped in a midwest mine, or the collapse of a bridge, speaks to the values, and lack of perspective, which enables the same kind of Salem Bay mentality which led to previous witchhunts, and cries of heresy. Had Cryonics existed at the time of Senator Joe McCarthy's demise, and had he requested to be defrosted in Washington, D.C., in the year 2007, rest assured that he would feel perfectly at home there.

There is a cancer in the body politic that has metastasized, and has now spread to our classrooms, book shelves, television screens, newspapers, and public libraries. As with racism, it is not the overt display of prejudice that poses the gravest threat, but the more subtle, and subliminal, often unseen, forms of prejudice. That we can live side by side with space travel, and instant communications with those who live 9,000 miles away and, at the same time, countenance the kind of mind policing that results in silencing dissenting writings as heretical, and occult smacks of ethical leprosy. How can we not be impacted by what we are not allowed to say, or see, as well as what we stop ourselves from saying, and seeing.

Passivity, and acceptance, will prove to be our undoing. In the words of great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, we must not "go gentle into that night," but "rage, rage, against the dying of the light."

Just when you think...

Just when you think you've reached the end of the line, you look up to find you still have another foot to go.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A high price to pay...

Congress needs to be reminded that it is not just another arm of the executive branch, but an independent body which was elected to preserve, protect, and represent the best interests of the American people.

In light of last Friday's signing of a new measure which enables this administration, and future administrations, to intercept, and monitor electronic, and telephonic communications without a warrant, and with no congressional oversight, the only judicious response is outrage at the subservience of our elected officials to the whims, and excesses of a runaway executive branch.

The time has come for both the House and the Senate to stand up to the president, vice president, and attorney-general, and restore dignity to the Constitution which has been ravaged, in recent years, along with the democratic process. When the framers devised the Bill of Rights, they didn't have planned obsolescence of our civil liberties in mind.

While this latest bill comes with the victories of greater taxes on oil companies, and environmental earmarks, the dangers posed by this latest measure to spy on civilian communications, without warrants, far outweigh those gains.

Make no mistake, acquiescence is complicity. When the six month period expires, members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, will be held accountable for this precarious, and precedent setting legislation not just by those who elected them, but for generations to come.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I think age is a very high price to pay for maturity"

Tom Stoppard

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Under Pressure

Confiding today that they were "under pressure" from the president to pass new legislation that enhances the government's ability to eavesdrop, intercept, and monitor communications without a warrant and in defiance of F.I.S.A., the House passed the controversial measure. And, while the bill comes with a six month expiration date, one is not convinced that the institutional lethargy which has seized Congress, over the past six years, in the face of executive hubris, will subside, and give way to much-needed discourse on what constitutes terror, who gets to decide that, what constitutes a legitimate threat, and how to deal with it. (NYT)

If nothing else, passage of this legislation proves that the reign of abstraction launched by this administration ,in the days after 9/11, is thriving, and is no longer limited to phrases like "war on terror," but now extends to granting permission to wiretap, eavesdrop, and otherwise interfere with personal communications, without oversight, as long as those communications "concern a person abroad." Given all those who qualify as persons abroad, one can only surmise that this monitoring ability covers a lot of territory.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, asserts that the measure "does violence to the Constitution," (NYT) which is all well and good, but can we have some specifics please. Americans have the right to know exactly what changes are being enforced for the next six months, what new powers are being vested in this attorney general (who can use a bit of surveillance himself), as well as what constitutes "overseas" communications, who is covered by the phrase "overseas," what paramaters, if any, are in place to ensure that eavesdropping is limited only to those under suspicion. One has come to believe, over the past six years, that everyone is under suspicion, and this is totally unacceptable.

Administration claims that the F.I.S.A. law, of thirty years ago, which requires warrants, is outmoded, but disabling the Fourth Amendment, and setting up an infrastructure in which illegal search and seizure is justified merely by invoking the shibboleth "terrorism suspect" sure as hell isn't workable either. And, as for taking comfort in the fact that this measure is scheduled to sunset in 6 months, keep in mind that the USA Patriot Act was also originally intended to sunset, in a matter of months, and this president managed to bully Congress into finalizing that legislation, too. Congress is conspicuously quiet with regard to the Patriot Act some sections of which are especially pernicious, such as Section 215 which allows federal agents to pressure librarians into turning over records in open-ended investigations.

It's high time that Congress take the vice president's lead, and secede from the executive branch. If Democrats, in Congress, have been bullied, as they claim, into signing this measure, it's only because they've allowed themselves to be overpowered by an executive whose authority knows no bounds. Clearly, this administration is hiding behind abstractions, and a circus of fear. Had members of the House and Senate taken the time needed to closely read the USA Patriot Act, it would never have passed, in the first place, let alone been finalized. An attorney general who, while White House counsel, showed up to the hospital bed of his predecessor to pressure him to endorse a dubious program must be suspect, and any legislation that enhances his power must be equally suspect.

This latest insult to the Constitution should not have been allowed to pass. It is up to voting Americans to demand from all prospective presidential candidates that they carefully articulate, and delineate their stand on the NSA, as well as a program that legitimizes governmental eavesdropping. Set your alarm clock, there needs to be accountability, and answers, when the six months are up.