Friday, February 29, 2008

Connecting the Nots...

These days, when watching the President deliver one of his off the cuff press conferences, I'm reminded of a movie, from more than 50 years ago, starring Charlton Heston, "The Ten Commandments." The current referendum on terror takes on a mosaic quality, and one which would inspire only Moses, or a burning bush.

But, one might guess, given his trigger-happy misadventures in Iraq, the President would think twice before delivering any pronouncements on foreign policy to any of the current crop of presidential candidates---not.

Indeed, one would hope he would think once, but instead, Numero 43 delivers his Sermon on the Mount to the beat of war drums, and ridicules Barack Obama for suggesting we can actually talk to our adversaries, both past, present, and future. In fact, the only thing expanding at a faster pace than the national debt, thanks to W, is our list of enemies.

For one whose foreign policy may be summed up in a single word, if hyphenated, "pre-emption," how is it that Mr. Bush has neglected to learn the definition of another one, "proactive." Can it be that, when he got up to the letter "p," he only made it as far as president?

Lest we delude ourselves with the idea that GWB is the only president who made the mistake of believing military intervention in the internal affairs of another sovereign state would pay off -- not. With the Tet Offensive, in Vietnam, LBJ not only preceded him, but established a precedent, and one which, should he find himself president, John McCain will surely follow.

Now that we find ourselves in the Valley of the Nots, why not take a look around at other leaders, and other times, nots have transformed into knots:

For instance, how about George H.W. Bush's televised claim that he did not know about the illegal sale of arms in exchange for hostages in Iran -- not or

Number 42's contention: "I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky."

Followed, of course, by the unforgettable assertion made, just yesterday, by le Prez that we are not in a recession,

but then, in the interest of fairness, we must also consider Illinois Senator Barack Obama's insistence that he did not vote to authorize the war in Iraq or

Senator McCain's slip of the tongue today on the campaign trail when he called himself a "liberal Republican" -- not.

And, then, too, there's also Daddy Warbuck's constant chant "We will not surrender," and may remain in Iraq for the next hundred years.

But, then, aren't we glad that McCain is talking about foreign policy instead of the economy something about which he confesses to know not. (leaving, btw, a hole in his campaign the size of the average crater on the moon, and one easily big enough for any Democrat to learn to swim in!)

On the plus side of the equation, there's last week's decision by the House, not
to cave in to the President and grant immunity to corporations that break the law in the name of "national defense," as well as Speaker Pelosi's decision not
to accept the Executive's refusal to allow White House aides, Miers and Bolton, to honor subpoenas, and appear before a judicial committee.

Oh, and yes, what about that experience issue---there's a hot one for you. Let's not
forget the President was once governor of Texas, a state that has become synonymous with capital punishment ever since.

Guess we know of two people in this country, President Bush, and his designated throne clone, John McCain, who have yet to see Charlton Heston in that movie, "The Ten Commandments," or read the Cliff Notes, either that, or they missed the part about "Thou shall not kill."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Earth to John Edwards

Ralph Nader’s sudden entry into this tight presidential race proves one thing, if nothing else: it’s time for John Edwards to come back out of the shadows, and into the ring.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall of the room when Barack Obama met John Edwards a bit more than a week ago? Not another word has been said about the outcome of that meeting, but Edwards on the same ticket with Obama would be unstoppable.

Even if it means running for vice president, for the second time, we hope that Senator Edwards will recognize that his presence on the Obama ticket will win the hearts, and votes, of other otherwise disenfranchised elements, to ensure a Democratic victory, in November.

Oh, and as a fringe benefit, it may also result in the kind of platform unity that would expose a Nader run for what it really is—a redundancy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Resurrection Complex?

Did we hear right? Is Mitt Romney back in the presidential race, too?

First Darth Nader crawls out of the woodwork, no doubt to the glee of Daddy Warbucks McCain, and now Romney is throwing his hat back in the ring.

What is it with these guys, and their resurrection complex!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Between Barack and a Hard Place

Just when it looked like things were finally starting to stabilize, and the Democrats were about to have a nominee, along comes Hurricane Ralph.

To paraphrase the Stones’ hit, with the news of yet another last minute Nader incarnation, we now find ourselves “between Barack and a hard place.”

This isn’t about whether one “likes” Ralph Nader or not, or even whether he has good intentions. The road to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions. And, frankly, Nader’s motives for wanting a piece of the action are at least as suspect as any other of the contenders.

Make no mistake, this is about one thing and one thing only—his inimitable timing. Like a shark in the water, Ralph Nader smells blood, and blood to him means victory.

Just when it looked like Obama was getting close to having the nomination locked up, when Edwards walked out for the sake of Party unity, and we’re finally down to a two person race, along comes our Nader to virtually ensure that whatever momentum Obama picks up between now and November won’t get in the way of a decisive McCain win.

The Democratic Party must do whatever it takes to keep Nader off the stump. Forget about Al Gore’s role in brokering the convention. Instead, the former vice president’s time may be put to far better use by paying a visit to the former consumer advocate to insist that he withdraw from this crucially important race.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Arizona Workhorse"

The other confirmed lobbyist John McCain has been in bed with besides Rupert Murdoch----
Rick Renzi!

Renzi, the congressman who, back in 2006, McCain called "Arizona's workhorse," and said has "integrity beyond reproach," was indicted yesterday on 36 federal corruption charges.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Wondering if the yellow brick road will lead to another lobbyist --- Jack Abramoff?

Right around the same time McCain enthusiastically endorsed Renzi, Abramoff pled guilty to three counts of fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials. Well, there are bribes and there are bribes---some bribes are delivered under the table, and others come in black silk camisoles.

Overall, from what we've seen, an elephant does a much better job of covering its tracks than anyone the Bush folks would endorse. Yet, there are those who say corruption, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. That anyone claiming to go after special interests should be found to have some "special" interests of his own, and so easily, is alarming.

But, think about this. While I don't suggest making book on it, should Senator McCain be forced back to the bottom of the heap, who will lead the Republican ticket-----Mike Huckabee. And, a quick visit to Huckabee's Web site shows which faction, in the Republican Party, would benefit most from a MCain fall, and why.

Friday, February 22, 2008

for a Senator

Happy Birthday

Senator Ted Kennedy

the heart and
soul of
for a
and many,
many more!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What is it about lobbyists?

Why all this focus on John McCain’s alleged dalliance, eight years ago, with a lobbyist thirty years his junior as revealed, last night, by The New York Times?
The spotlight should instead be on McCain and his confirmed relationship, ten years ago, with another prominent lobbyist–Rupert Murdoch!

The following is an excerpt from a piece of mine, “The Murdoch Muscle,” which appeared on The Huffington Post nearly a year ago. It especially resonates in light of last night’s New York Times disclosures:

“Aside from his loyalty to conservative Justice Thomas, that same month, that same year, 1998, Rupert Murdoch hosted a fundraiser for Senator John McCain who, at the time, conveniently happened to be chairman of the committee that oversees the Federal Communications Commissions. In a fundraiser invite, Murdoch called McCain ‘an outspoken leader for the telecommunications industry.’ (NYT)

I’m sure at least one Republican presidential candidate will take one huge sigh of relief should Mr. Murdoch take the helm of Dow Jones, and the second largest newspaper in the country. How expedient to have, as a friend, the owner of Fox News, the New York Post, The Times of London, and now Dow Jones? That is, unless somebody wakes up before their snooze alarm goes off. "

What is startling now are not the obvious Monica Lewinsky echoes, but instead the evidence that the media mogul who has been trying to buy up print, and now Internet, communications in this country is in bed with the number one Republican candidate for president, and heir apparent to the throne. What’s more, those who attempt to deflect attention away from this by talking about when the story broke are, intentionally or otherwise, pandering to the proponents of media consolidation by chipping away at the backbone of a free press.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Cutting Edge

Since Super Tuesday’s sweep of the primaries, one thing has become crystal clear. Whether it’s Obama, or Clinton, who gets the Democratic Party nomination ultimately doesn’t matter, if the only change that happens is polemical. Risk-takers only need apply.

Leave rhetoric to the rhetoricians. Those who play it close to the vest can’t be expected to make the hard choices, or take the tough path, but only that which is familiar and convenient. And, this election more than any in recent memory, familiarity breeds contempt.

Courage often requires going out on a limb, and we need leadership that is prepared to do that. Progressive leadership requires speaking up on incendiary issues, even if it means alienating important lobbies. More of the same means feeding the war machine, and doing so with their own weapons.

Senator Obama’s advantage is not just his ability, and agility at reaching out to people across racial, economic, political, and social lines, in this country, but in the promise that he will be able to do so internationally, as well. Given that only about 10% of the world’s population is “white,” and that only a fraction of that percentage controls most of the world’s wealth, and starts most of the world’s wars, electing a president who reflects the predominant race is a good place to start on the road to move from a planet in peril to a planet at peace.

Obama’s candidacy may well have the added advantage of facilitating negotiations with the so-called “axis of evil” insofar as his candidacy’s implicit acceptance of cultural, and religious diversity, concepts which are alien to this administration, and its predecessors.

When Senator Clinton says that Obama is “naive” to talk about sitting down at table with the heads of state in Iran, and North Korea it might be naive for her, but not for a man of color given that 90% of the world is either black, brown, or yellow, but not “white.”

Senator Obama has the charisma, charm, wit, and stamina. Even if it may be said that hope is a four letter word, we can still hope he will be ready, willing, and able to cut his teeth on the cutting edge.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


he sits
across from
me on the train
face like
rubber or
a uniform
he has come
from war I
want to
which one but
scar tissue forms
around his mouth and
dark glasses
hide his
eyes .
he tells me
he sees flags
where roses once were
his suitcase is
filled with
rotting teeth
I watch as
he rolls his
across his
lips like a song
he can't remember.
maybe he
mistakes me for
as he clutches
his bottle of
wine maybe
he is convinced
he is
I try to
tell him
this is
his war but
he doesn't
believe me.

By: Jayne Lyn Stahl

Friday, February 15, 2008

Taking on The Lobby

After the horror that was Northern Illinois University Thursday afternoon, Barack Obama announced Friday morning that, as a constitutional attorney, he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, thinks it doesn't only apply to the militia, and that he also plans to use California gun control legislation as a paradigm for a national policy to contain the spread of gun violence.

But, is it really possible to have it both ways? Can one support the right to bear arms, as well as implement the kind of national gun control legislation that will stem the flood of shootings on our nation's campuses, streets, and homes? Essentially, the question is, should Senator Obama become President Obama would he be prepared to take on the most powerful, and influential, congressional lobby outside of the tobacco industry, the gun lobby?

After the spate of campus killings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now at NIU, there is little doubt that the former President, and his attorney general brother, Robert F. Kennedy, would be hard at work on federal gun control legislation now.

Obama is fond of this quote from President John F. Kennedy: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate," but is he any more ready for hand to hand combat with those who put their rifles next to Gideon's Bible in Motel 6's from Idaho to Alaska, those who are the most obstinate opponents of restrictions on the possession, manufacture, and sale of firearms? He suggests that he would support legislation on the order of gun laws implemented, in California, during Gray Davis' tenure as governor.

While California has some of the most draconian firearm laws in the country, requiring that only those handguns be sold, or manufactured, that are listed on the Bureau of Firearms approved list, it's important to remember that private sales are exempted from this restriction. Moreover, one does not need a license to own a handgun in California.

In the nation's capital, all firearms must be registered with the police, and possession of handguns is prohibited, even in one's home, unless they were registered before 1976. And, while this handgun ban is currently being challenged by those who think it violates their Second Amendment right to bear arms, the ban will remain in effect until the Supreme Court hears the case.

Importantly, with the exception of certain counties, in Illinois, site of Thursday's mass shootings and Obama's home state, registering a firearm is not mandated by law, and a Firearm Owner's Identification Card may be easily obtained unless the applicant has been convicted of a felony, or was a mental patient within the past five years, nor is there a carry permit requirement. Notably, the gunman who randomly shot two dozen in a university lecture hall obtained his guns legally.

As one who doesn't profess to know enough about constitutional law to discuss the Second Amendment, I leave it to the Supreme Court to decide what that entitlement is. But, surely the time is ripe to consider some kind of national program, as well as how anyone can demand "Voter I.D.," and not insist upon "Firearms I.D."

One can only hope that, when the Supremes prepare to consider their first gun control appeals case in 70 years, the toxic image of the Virginia Tech shooter will be juxtaposed in their memory along with the Northern Illinois University gunman, as well as others who have taken the lives of middle school students in Oxnard, and done drive-bys throughout our inner cities. One would hope that this, too, would be factored into their deliberations.

Were it possible for the founding fathers to anticipate that, two centuries after their demise, assault weapons would be used by neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, they might have been less ambiguous as to when one has a constitutional right to bear arms. Clearly, as survivors of a revolutionary war, their concept of civilian and militia must have been much different from our own.

Those who like to compare Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy, or his brother and attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, must be reminded that, whether rightly or otherwise, President Kennedy stood up to Cuba, and Bobby Kennedy took on organized crime. We may not be sure of much, but we can count on the courage of both Kennedy brothers to take on the most virulent of corporate lobbies in this country. But, forty years from now, will one be able to say the same of President Obama?

For the past eight years, we've had a President, and a Justice Department, that is too spineless to admit having taken a wrong turn with respect to our involvement in Iraq, yet is not afraid, or ashamed, to tweak the Constitution in ways that compromise freedom of expression, and due process.

For nearly a decade, the Bush administration has lip synched the neo-conservative mantra of respect for human life while, at the same time, forever changing our notion of human rights. One has only to look at the treatment Jose Padilla received at the hands of his captors to grasp that this administration has no more respect for the human rights, and dignity, of its citizens than of those it detains in Iraq, or Afghanistan.

One thing is clear, a McCain presidency will cater to the gun lobby, and not act to seek federal legislation that will limit access to firearms.

What's more, if interpretation of the Second Amendment is in order, one would hope that it would be weighted heavily in favor of the preservation of human life, thus we ask Senator Obama, or any presidential nominee, to look to Washington, D.C., not to California, as a model for gun control legislation, and to work together with gun groups, and law enforcement, to get firearms out of the hands of our children, out of our classrooms, schoolyards, and streets.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Welcome to Rupert Murdoch's America

There’s all this speculation lately about who John Edwards and Al Gore are backing for president.

After yesterday’s announcement that News Corp. is contemplating a takeover over of Yahoo, following closely on the heels of The Wall Street Journal, the question should instead be: who is Rupert Murdoch endorsing? The smart money says that (s)he will be the next president of the United States.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Remembering Danny Pearl

Six years ago, this month, Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was brutally murdered in Karachi, Pakistan.

"Remember Guantanamo" is an essay I wrote four years ago, in December, 2003, which no newspaper would publish. It is posted here, in its entirety, for the first time, and in memoriam for the special man who inspired it with his omnipresent smile, curiosity, and quest for truth that serves as a constant reminder that it's the hunger to know that leads us from darkness into light, a light that can never be extinguished.

Courage means going to those places others dare not tread, at all costs, and clearing a path for those who come after and, in this important sense, Danny Pearl was a deeply courageous man...

Remember Guantanamo

History is a responsibility Americans would rather not face,” Octavio Paz

for Daniel Pearl

After several weeks of detention in a Karachi cell, journalist Daniel Pearl was videotaped before his execution, and given the chance to make a statement. Among the last things he had to say was that he sympathized with those captured, and held, in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Most of us would prefer to believe that Danny Pearl’s final expression of solidarity with others detained who are held indefinitely, and arbitrarily, had been forced from him by his captors. It is far more palatable to think that Danny Pearl was coerced to imply that the U.S., too, is guilty of human rights abuses.

Why else would a man facing his maker express empathy for those who look like his captors, and are jailed by the American government far away from that cell in Pakistan where this courageous, first time father-to-be was to face execution?

But, on the other hand, if Danny Pearl meant what he said, then we, as Americans, owe it to ourselves to find out why he said what he did. In order to do so, we have to examine the cycle of righteousness, and vengeance, that makes the actions of our own administration no different than those governments that comprise the so-called “axis of evil.” Maybe Danny Pearl was inviting an inquiry into human rights violations worldwide, maybe even human rights abuses committed by his own government.

Guantanamo Bay has been in the news a lot lately, but what’s lacking is a sense of context. What do we know about this naval base in Cuba, who are these detainees, where are they from, and why are they being held?

If, from 9/11 on, we’re holding so-called “terrorists,” some of whom are American citizens, at a naval base in Cuba, and denying them constitutional rights based on the premise that they’re on foreign soil, then we need to examine Guantanamo Bay, and our relationship to Cuba over the past hundred years, to establish that they’re not on foreign soil. Even if those detained don’t know why they’re being held, we need to know why.

With Richard Nixon, we had a president that attempted to overthrow an election by means of a bungled burglary. With George W. Bush, we have our first president who was appointed, not elected and who, through linguistic sleight of hand, is attempting nothing less than overthrowing the judiciary with respect to his handling of prisoners at Guantanamo.

There is no small irony in the fact that it was the Supreme Court who appointed the president, and it is the president who is now trying to silence the court. By using a phrase like “enemy combatant,” this administration has detained hundreds of people, around 660 to be exact, using “war on terror” as a camouflage for an all out assault on human rights.

If nothing else, history has shown that words can be instruments of liberation, or torture. These detainees, many of whom are Muslims, have been denied access to lawyers, held for two years without being told why they’re being held, or convicted of anything, not allowed to see evidence against them and, in some cases, deprived of the right to see their own families.

Do we think that we can bypass international humanitarian law, and the Geneva Conventions, both of which require specific protocols, and rights, for handling prisoners of war, by using the label “enemy combatants?” The term, “unlawful combatant,” was coined by Donald Rumsfeld, in 2002, to describe those members of Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, who would qualify as in some way illegal, or outside the realm of protection given traditional prisoners of war. To designate these detainees “prisoner of war” would grant them legal protection under Geneva Conventions, hence the innovative terminology.

In less than a year, the word “unlawful” devolves into “enemy” as the corresponding war on terror intensifies.The president has been adamant in not considering those captured prisoners of war, not granting them prisoner of war status, and the corresponding constitutional, and international, protections normally given.

One of the arguments the administration makes to suggest that the detainees aren’t prisoners of war by Geneva Conventions’ standards is that they weren’t wearing clearly marked uniforms. Such specious reasoning doesn’t fly with those we like to think of as our allies abroad. For an administration that has worked hard to earn the reputation of being linguistically-challenged, by a clever manipulation of language, it has managed to sidestep its responsibility to provide those detained with due process, and other rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as international law.

What’s more, the concept of unlawful combatant is, in itself, unlawful; one can either be classified as a “prisoner of war,” or a “protected person” (civilian) according to the Geneva Conventions. This administration has said that anyone captured, and labeled a “terrorist,” can be considered an enemy combatant regardless of where they are captured, or the circumstances surrounding their capture, thus evading what would customarily qualify as unequivocal human rights abuses.

Notably, it was Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who, following Saddam Hussein’s capture, called him among the most wanted war criminals of our times, and then proceeded to say that Saddam will be given those protections afforded a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions. Why is it that such a heinous war criminal, by virtue of being designated “prisoner of war,” will be afforded those same protections denied to those currently detained at Guantanamo Bay?

Does our system of justice afford greater privileges to one who is believed to have committed mass atrocities than to those for whom justice is denied as a result of a hyperactive executive branch?

Human rights groups around the world have taken up the cause of these detainees, as well as some retired military personnel who fear this administration may be setting a bad example in its mistreatment of prisoners at the base.

As this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, suggests our so-called war on terror is being used as an excuse to trample human rights both in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo BayAside from linguistic chicanery, consider the religious fervor that this administration attaches to abstract terms like terrorism.

If this isn’t alarming in itself, then maybe this is: on November 21, an organization called “Human Rights Watch” wrote an extraordinary expose about human rights abuses committed by the current regime in Washington. The piece was published in The Times of London, and was written by none other than the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, who asserts that at Guantanamo “hundreds have been held without charge for two years, abandoned in a legal black hole.”

Roth goes on to say that even a consummate diplomat like Tony Blair can’t find a way to justify their detention, and that by calling them “bad people,” and “the worst of the worst,” aside from showing that he has a way with words, our president has virtually condemned them. Even Law Lord Steyn, one of England’s most senior judges, recently called holding prisoners at the base a “monstrous failure of justice,” insisting they are being held illegally.

Where is our outrage, as a nation, when an organization like Human Rights Watch is compelled to investigate our practices with respect to protocol for ethical, and legal, treatment of those we incarcerate under the banner of a “war on terror.”

While George W. is off fighting his holy war, his jihad against the jihad, why isn’t anyone in Congress challenging the chief executive officer, and the executive branch, in its total desecration of due process, and jurisprudence, that has been in progress for nearly a thousand years? We have a Congressional Human Rights Caucus that is doing outstanding work examining, and exposing, reprehensible human rights violations around the world. Why aren’t they investigating, and exposing, human rights abuses going on in our own backyard? Funny, isn’t it, how history works.

Presidents Carter and Reagan both supported fundamentalist Moujahedeen, who we now call the Taliban and Al Qaeda, in Afghanistan. Indeed, they were once called “freedom fighters,” under Reagan, and equipped with shoulder-fired rockets. A quarter of a century later, these same Taliban, or suspected Taliban, are labeled “terrorists,” several thousand are thrown in Afghanistan prisons while several hundred are shipped off to Guantanamo, Cuba.

Just last month, one of the authors of the “Patriot Act,” Viet Dinh, shocked everyone by expressing his concerns about the detention of U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomb” suspect as an enemy combatant.

Dinh’s suggestion that the administration’s case against Mr. Padilla was “unsustainable” is stunning. That a former member of the Defense Department, and author of the “Patriot Act,” would challenge this administration in its handling of cases surrounding 9/11 is likewise extraordinary. Just today, a New York federal appeals court overruled Bush by saying that his administration cannot hold Padilla in a military brig, by labeling him an enemy combatant, without the prior authorization of Congress.

The court ruled that the government needs congressional authorization before it can lock up American citizens on U.S. soil. Rumsfeld was ordered to release Padilla from military confinement in Charleston, S.C. within 30 days, saying that he may be transferred to civilian authorities to face criminal charges. While this ruling applies only to American citizens on our soil, and not to those picked up in Afghanistan, it is the first step in addressing the legal tightrope this administration has walked with the catch phrase “enemy combatant.”

In the past two years, much has come to light. We now know that we’re not only holding American citizens at Guantanamo, but citizens of Australia, and the U.K. as they continue not to be told why they’re picked up, what evidence there is against them, or to have representation. According to Philip Heyman, a Harvard law school professor and former attorney general under Clinton, denying these rights amounts to “overthrowing 800 years of democratic tradition,” including habeas corpus and the Magna Carta.

The former Muslim chaplain at the base, Captain James Yee, is among the few who has been afforded the privilege of counsel, and a trial. At least he’s been charged with something, however dubious, transporting classified material, and an attempt at prosecution has been made which is more than one can say for those prisoners to whom he has ministered. A recent New York Times editorial was kind in characterizing the military’s prosecution of Yee as “misguided.”

The prosecution centers around which pornographic Web sites the chaplain has allegedly visited, and with whom he has allegedly committed adultery.With Yee’s trial, we have a modern day version of Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” in the making, and a “war on terrorism” as an alibi for yet another Salem Bay witch hunt. To look on the bright side, Captain Yee has not been detained, he was on payroll, and he hasn’t been branded with the scarlet letter “E,” for “enemy combatant.” That said, his trial could prove to be a trailer for even more ludicrous trials to come.

In future, the Bush administration may even argue that detaining enemy combatants is another application of “Operation Iron Hammer,” the military strategy by which attacks are launched against insurgents before they strike. It follows then that Guantanamo Bay becomes a model for our government’s preemptive strike against its own citizens --- what better way to deter dissidence, and terrorism, than lock up & detention. It works for Castro---why not for George W.

Speaking of Castro, Iraq is not the first instance in which the U.S. has engaged in the noble task of reconstruction following a war. There was, of course, Cuba. Remember when the CIA overthrew democratic secularist Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and, in 1976, trained anti-Castro activist Luis Carrilles to bomb a Cuban airliner killing 73 people? When we train them, they don’t qualify as terrorists.

You may recall, too, that Carrilles claimed to have been funded by CANF (Cuban-American National Foundation), a Miami-based non profit organization, and powerful anti-Castro lobby in Washington that appears to have been involved in other acts that may justifiably be called acts of terror.

In his zeal for this war, George W. Bush may have forgotten the bombings, and other terrorist acts, that were carried out by anti-Castro Cubans living in the U.S. who were funded, and trained, by our very own Central Intelligence Agency.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the U.S. locked up “terrorists,” 30 years later, on the same soil as a government it attempted to overthrow via the CIA- backed downing of a Cuban jet liner by a member of a prominent Miami based anti-Castro organization. Were these acts any less “terrorist” acts because they received the blessing of the CIA in the name of bringing democracy to Cuba?

Can we, as citizens, sanction a White House jihad against a Taliban it once called “freedom fighters?” Is one jihad better than another, or are all jihads created equally? Will our war on terror someday be called a “jihad to end all jihads?” Must we bring our own popcorn to watch our government’s great crusade to bring liberty to the Middle East, and anywhere else in the world we deem worthy of conquering?

If somebody strikes oil in Havana, or we experience a massive sugar shortage, will we, once again, invade Cuba as we did following the Spanish-American War?Among the many differences between Iraq and Cuba is that we destroyed Iraq in order to rebuild it, and that we fought the Iraqi people, not Spain, to make it a colony. Cuba, on the other hand, worked with American forces to win its independence from Spain. Curiously, as a consequence of the Spanish-American War, Cuba didn’t win its independence, but merely its independence from Spain.

Instead of being codependent on Spain, it merely transferred its codependency onto America, then onto the U.S.S.R. In 1903, the naval base was leased from Cuba, by the U.S. for only $2,000 a year, the average rent for a studio apartment in Manhattan nowadays, until the 1980’s when we acquired rights in perpetuity.

Many Cubans believed then, as they do today, that the main purpose for the naval base was to control, police, and spy on Cuba. American attempts to colonize, and control, events in Cuba, following the Spanish-American War with the Platt Amendment until Castro became prime minister in 1959 closely parallel American efforts to “rebuild” Iraq.

Our attempts at controlling Iraq, and keeping the Middle East as a sphere of influence, must also include the installation of leadership that is fundamentally user-friendly to American interests in much the same way as Batista’s puppet regime. If the Bush administration has its way, we will see something like the Platt Amendment coming soon to a theatre near Baghdad.

While our efforts both in Cuba and Iraq are about colonization, we invaded Cuba under the pretext of “Spanish American War,” and Iraq, as an extension of the Gulf War, but in Iraq, we’re fighting the Iraqi people who we call “insurgents,” whereas in Cuba, we fought Spain, thus our mission in Iraq is not dissimilar to our mission in Vietnam, and Korea. The fundamental problem with fighting a people for control of its government is that those who live in the land under siege will ultimately demand and devise an end to occupation not unlike the French resistance to occupying German forces during World War II.

While our current administration, like that of Spain’s at the outset of the Spanish American War, may perceive itself as fighting a holy war, it is all but inevitable that the outcome, for this administration, will be not unlike the outcome was for Spain, and later Germany.

For all his bible thumping, one wonders if George W. ever made it past the Old Testament given the eye-for-an-eye mentality memorably captured on network television as the slain sons of Saddam Hussein were displayed which, by the way, was yet another violation of the Geneva Conventions.

While kudos are being handed out generously for Saddam’s arrest, it’s disconcerting to think that George W.’s foreign policy amounts to little more than the exercise of testosterone over reason. This president appears to suffer a bit of confusion between being middle aged and living in the Middle Ages either that or the great crusades are now in syndication.

By labeling detainees “enemy combatants,” not only are they stripped of any constitutional rights, but they also become our adversaries in this holy war of the president’s making which may just cost future generations the Bill of Rights for which those “insurgents,” of the revolutionary war, fought so hard to obtain. What’s more, this president appears intent on leading us back to the days of the crusades with phrases like “axis of evil.”

Bush has invoked the almighty more than any other president in modern times, which is curious in that, if nothing else, the Patriot Act demonstrates that the “author of freedom,” and the author of the Constitution are not one and the same. When Castro called for the removal of U.S. military bases from Guantanamo Bay, in 1978, the Soviet mission was bombed by anti-Castro Cuban exiles living in the U.S.

A few years later, Ronald Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada, and established a provisional government there. After the invasion, Reagan’s Department of Defense spent $43 million to refurbish the naval base at Guantanamo. This renovation sure came in handy under Bush senior’s administration when open migration was allowed, and 32,000 Cubans were picked up by the Coast Guard, and taken there. It was obvious by then that naval base had another purpose besides being a foot in the door of a former colony.

Of nearly 7,000 detainees held by anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, only about 10% were sent to Cuba. It’s curious why it is that no one talks about the detainees who are still in Afghanistan.
The number of those kept at the naval base went from 50 in January, 2002 to 660 by November, 2003. Only recently has U.S. government agreed to release nearly a hundred of those detained, and little, if any, specific detail has been given as to their demographics. By releasing these detainees, the U.S. is trying to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is its own hubris in holding prisoners in violation of those rights customarily afforded them.

When interviewed recently about the Pentagon’s disclosure of the incarceration of children aged 13 to 15 at the naval base in Cuba, Rumsfeld acknowledges their detention, and then goes on to call these youngsters “very, very dangerous people” suggesting that while there isn’t a formal process for adjudicating the charges they face, “we’re keeping them down there to keep them off the street.”

Using the same logic, why not round up all the members of the 18th Street Gang, and others, in Los Angeles, and ship them off to Guantanamo Bay-----heck, at least we’d be keeping them off the streets? Is it possible that Rumsfeld regards the detention of teenagers, at the Bay, as a kind of after school program? Does the Pentagon suggest creating a military equivalent of “Juvey Hall” to try these youngsters?

Importantly, detainees only get a lawyer when they agree to plead guilty. Any counsel to which they are entitled would have to be appointed by the Pentagon, or approved by the Pentagon, and would be unable to discuss what evidence, or discovery, there is with his client.

How can one be expected to get a fair trial when he’s denied access to the evidence against him? While George W. reportedly would consider appointing civilians to an appeal panel of judges, he could remove these judges, thus they operate solely at the pleasure of the president. Earlier this month, a German judge freed one of the Al Qaeda suspects, from the World Trade Center bombings, citing U.S. secrecy, and a policy of concealment that ironically worked against U.S. interests in that it helped obtain the release of so-called terrorists by international courts.

By not making a captured Al Qaeda operative available for questioning, a Moroccan Al Qaeda suspect in Germany, who was an alleged member of the Hamburg cell that orchestrated the World Trade Center bombing, went free.In a letter to Donald Rumsfeld , Kenneth Roth urged him to release, from Guantanamo, all members of the Taliban as well as any civilians who had no “meaningful” connection to Al Qaeda.

One wonders if the term “meaningful” should read “provable” as, after all, isn’t that which sets us apart from the cell, in Pakistan, where Danny Pearl’s throat was savagely slit, that our system of law requires proof. The burden of proof, as always, lies with the prosecution, not with the defense.Reportedly, at least 59 detainees are being held at the base who can be said to have no meaningful ties with the Taliban or Al Qaeda whatsoever.

How can anyone argue that detention is necessary for national security when some of the civilians held have no ties to any so-called terrorist organization? Does the pervasive fear among security officials that someone has the potential to commit a terrorist act, pending his release, justify detaining someone with no history whatsoever of committing a crime let alone an act of terrorism? Civilians typically qualify as “protected persons,” according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which clearly states that all combatants captured must be treated as prisoners of war, and are entitled to appear before a tribunal.

Importantly, civilians, and those who cannot be directly linked with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban, have not only been detained in Afghanistan, but were transferred to Guantanamo.The Geneva Conventions does allow the U.S. to detain prisoners of war without charging them for the duration of the war that prompted their confinement, but since the war with Afghanistan is over, these detainees must either be criminally prosecuted, or released. To do otherwise is in violation of the Conventions.

To comply with the Geneva Conventions means that one must charge a detainee with a crime formally, inform him of his rights, and permit him access to counsel. There is no legal basis for circumventing these protections. By an attempt at linguistic evasion, our government is setting a grave precedent.

If, as has been suggested, release of these enemy combatants, who comprise a special class, “terrorists,” would be predicated on a victory in the war on terror, such a victory against terrorism might never come. What mandate do we have, or do we wish to set, that entitles us to hold detainees indefinitely? More importantly, what kind of example are we setting to other nations when we ourselves refuse to take the moral high ground, defy international law, and hold soldiers from a now defunct, and as yet undeclared war, without due process?

The Supreme Court now faces appeals from those being held at the base. Two appeals the court has accepted were filed on behalf of 16 detainees – from the U.K. and Australia. The underlying, and fundamental, issue behind these cases is whether the judiciary should be subordinate to the executive branch of government.

The attempt to subjugate the judicial branch to the executive branch is an ominous foreshadowing of the kind of totalitarianism we decry in countries like Cuba, and Russia. Solicitor General Olson, whose wife was killed during the 9/11 attacks, urges the courts not to hear detainees’ appeals citing a 53 year old Supreme Court ruling which posits that aliens under military detention abroad are answerable, and have privileges afforded them only by the executive branch, and the military, and not by the courts.

So, the real question then is---do we consider Guantanamo Bay foreign or domestic? As we’ve seen, the base exists as an American stronghold “in perpetuity,” so those held there are being held in a territory that is considered jurisdictionally as part of U.S. If it helps one to sleep better at night to think that those being stripped of what are commonly considered human rights are “aliens,” and foreigners, be advised that many at the base are U.S. citizens. One case in particular concerns Yasser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen of Saudi descent, who, by being labeled an enemy combatant, has been robbed of constitutional protection.

Would it be appropriate for a Russian citizen of American descent to be held indefinitely in a base created to confine so-called terrorists in Chechnya? Think of the rage that would ensue, and threats against the Russian government made by the current regime in Washington should this Russian-American prisoner be denied his civil, and human, rights.

Indeed, this administration’s response to terrorists is not unlike Putin’s response to Chechnyan rebels which leads one to wonder---is Russia moving closer to democracy, or is the U.S. moving closer to totalitarianism? There are always going to be those among us who will be content to point out----well, at least we’re moving. They confuse movement with progress.

It’s not enough to console ourselves with the knowledge that we’re moving------we have to ask whether we’re moving backwards or forwards. This administration is taking us backwards-- back to the days when leaders were appointed not elected, when due process, and survival itself, was a matter of privilege.If we, as a nation, accept acting illegally, and in open violation of existing laws and treaties, how can we expect those who captured Danny Pearl, and who may yet capture others, to behave any better than we have? Has any empire that preceded us ever considered itself above the law without being a victim of its own arrogance?

Is any power that omnipotent that it can afford to act in opposition to the world community? Maybe this is what Danny Pearl meant when he expressed sympathy for others in captivity. Maybe he was suggesting that being righteous and being right isn’t the same thing, and that injustice is no more justifiable when committed on a naval base operated by the U.S. than it is on a remote stretch of land, in a deserted cell, in Pakistan.

While one can hardly romanticize groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, on the other hand, to engage in the rhetoric of retaliation, and retribution, to operate under the misguided and dangerous notion that our efforts are divinely inspired and driven, is an affront to those generations of Americans who have given their lives to protect our civil liberties.

If words can be agents of torture, as well as liberation, then Danny Pearl’s final words in support of those held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo may have been meant to shed light on the travesties being committed by our own government in the name of democracy; maybe his final hope was that the truth will make a guest appearance between gunshots.

By: Jayne Lyn Stahl

copyright --December 18, 2003

Thursday, February 07, 2008

St. Veto's Day?

A week from now, on February 15th, one day after a holiday traditionally reserved for lovers and named for a martyred Roman saint, the newfangled prescription for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Protect America Act, is set to expire.

Just about every president, since George Washington, has been remembered for something. Abraham Lincoln, of course, for signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Whatever his reasons, it was a good thing. For Franklin D. Roosevelt, it's the New Deal. For John F. Kennedy, it's the peace corps. And, President George W. Bush's legacy may well be empowerment by veto, as well as passage of this first of its kind legislation which will legitimize warrantless, and mostly arbitrary, governmental surveillance of telephone and Internet communications of U.S. citizens.

"Protect America," passed on August 5, was intended to be this Justice Department's remedy for what it views as an archaic FISA law. It not only authorizes intelligence agencies to snoop, collect data, and compromise consumer privacy, but it also contains a provision which grants "protection" from lawsuits that arise as a result of any assistance telecommunication companies give to the National Security Agency in defiance of consumer privacy laws. There are more than four dozen such lawsuits pending now.

The Act is set to expire on February 15th and, for the past six months, the House and the Senate have been working on amendments to the measure which will bar retroactive immunity from prosecution for telecoms that cooperated with the government after 9/11. On Tuesday, the president again engaged his preemptive war on Congress by threatening to use the veto on any version of FISA reform that doesn't include what the administration regards as a legal shield for those companies that broke the law by turning over confidential customer records to the government.

Curious, don't you think, how much concern the White House has about providing a legal shield for telecoms that violate consumer confidentiality laws, but not for journalists, like James Risen of the New York Times, who face subpoena, and possible incarceration, for their efforts to protect, the identity of their sources?

Curious, too, how hard this administration tries to cover its own covert tracks while, at the same time, providing no shield for its undercover intelligence agents when, as in the case of Valerie Plame Wilson, outing that agent poses a palpable, implicit threat to anyone who, in future, dares to call into question a bold-faced governmental lie as did her husband, Joseph Wilson.

Over the past seven years, Mr. Bush opted to exercise his presidential veto at least six times on everything from the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act to legislation, in November, that would have provided more funding for education, job training, and health programs. At the same time, he signed a bill which allocated more than $450 billion for the Pentagon, for fiscal year beginning in October, 2007, an incease of roughly $40 billion over 2006.

Apart from the obvious, this administration seems to think it has divine right of veto, this president's concept of the veto is not unlike Ronald Reagan's notion of detente, i.e. the threat is more potent than the thing itself.

And, to show you just how potent threats are, the White House called upon newly ordained Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence director Mike McConnell to lobby Senate leaders, in a twelve page letter whose contents were disclosed this week, to ensure that "U.S. intelligence agencies (have) the tools they need to protect the nation." (AP)

Clearly, the First Amendment wasn't the only casualty of this administration's "war on terror," checks and balances have fallen by the wayside, too. Is it called autonomy when an attorney general joins forces with the director of an intelligence agency to strongarm the legislative branch of government into cooperating, perhaps in much the same manner as some telecommunications were bullied into data mining, and eavesdropping on their customers?

The House has already stood firm, and opposed granting immunity, retroactive or otherwise, to lawbreakers. The partisan demographics of the Senate, however, make for a bigger fight, as well as for more fertile ground for Bush-appointee lobbyists.

"It is for Congress, not the courts, to make the public policy decision whether to grant liability protection to telecommunication companies who are being sued simply because they are alleged to have assisted the government in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks," quoth Mukasay and the head of the National Intelligence Agency, Mike McConnell.

Surely the attorney general doesn't think the American people are stupid enough to believe that the telecoms are being sued for anything other than breaking privacy laws, and violating their customers' trust? Mr. Mukasay's statement is, quite simply, an insult to the kind of intelligence we will need, as a country, if we are to survive the Bush jihad on our constitutional rights.

A vote, in the Senate, on the "reformed" surveillance bill, which still allows for warrantless eavesdropping, but which is amended to bar immunity, is imminent, and may be expected before the measure expires next Friday. The time has come, maybe, to make our voices heard.

If the president prevails, by power of veto, not only will a dangerous precedent be set in terms of granting corporate America a get out of jail free card, but centuries from now, February 15th may come to be known as St. Veto's Day, a time of moral pollution, and institutional narcolepsy, a time when our civil liberties became martyrs for presidential power.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Happy birthday, Mike Farrell, dedicated human rights activist and
mensch; here's to many more!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Making Change: the Election of 2008

We all look to others as transformers, and to make change when, in fact, the only kind of lasting change that will happen must start with us.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

from Sandymount Strand...

"Ineluctable modality of the visible"

Happy Birthday

James Joyce

Feb. 2, 1882

the invisible still roar in the zurich you left behind, and in your dear dirty dublin, there is not a single, not one, that has forgotten to bloom in your absence.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Beebe Memorial Cathedral: to Senator Ted Kennedy

Dear Senator Kennedy,

Heartfelt thanks for an exuberant, and inspirational appearance, and speech today at Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland. You and Rep. Barbara Lee were both terrific!

As you stood on the podium, and reminded us of a movement, forty-odd years ago, one that embraced the aspirations of all Americans such that their reach exceed their grasp, a time when public service wasn't viewed as a pejorative but a matter of principle, I saw the fire and electricity of a bygone era.

It is not by accident that you have chosen to endorse Senator Barack Obama. Obama reminds us not so much of Camelot, but of a time when words had substance, and when candidates worked to raise the discourse from the merely personal to the visionary.

Senator Obama's presence also reminds us of how important it is to recognize, and seek, a change of course, and to admit that even the president of the United States can make a mistake. One cannot help but recall President Kennedy's last press conference in which he said that he was beginning to rethink his commitment of 15,000 troops to Vietnam, as well as his meeting with a French journalist, days before his assassination, to discuss his thoughts on the need to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and accept the fact that we are in a global economy. This was 45 years ago, and the 43rd president of the United States has yet to accept, and honor that fact.

You are so right to remind us of your brother, and our former president, and the need to revive the spirit of the Peace Corps, to engage an otherwise disenfranchised youth, and to work for the principle of economic justice, a vision shared by Martin Luther King. It is only through our youth that we may reshape this country, and restore those civil liberties and protections which have been compromised by the Bush administration's kamakaze mission on the Constitution

From the laughter, and applause, of the feisty eighty year old African-American woman seated beside me, who worked on the campaign of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to the contagious chorus of Latinos for Obama "si, se puede, si , se puede," one couldn't help but feel a desperation,to the starry-eyed gaze of a UC Berkeley undergraduate waiting at the door, a palpable hunger came from that cathedral-- a passion for substantive, and meaningful change.

Senator, you are so right about the importance of Barack Obama's appeal to a new, emerging generations of Americans, and I hope that you will stand by your promise that Obama provide the same skillful leadership as President Kennedy did, leadership that took risks in the interest of the greater good, not the greater God.

One would expect Senator Obama, too, to show deference for the First and Fourth Amendments inasmuch as he taught constitutional law, and will thus be less inclined to treat the Constitution like a vestigial organ, or an archaism, like his predecessor. One would hope that Barack Obama would respect the Magna Carta, and Geneva Conventions, as well as show good judgment in choosing an Attorney General who will honor human rights and civil liberties.

Maybe, as some are suggesting, if elected, Senator Obama might even consider a superlative litigator with a quicksilver mind like John Edwards for that position in his cabinet. Interestingly, during the Kodak debate, in Los Angeles, it was Obama who suggested that Edwards' voice will be heard for a "long time to come, not Hillary Clinton. One hopes he will remember saying this in a year from now and, if not, will be reminded.

Personally, I don't trust anyone who isn't willing to admit they made a mistake, and I admire John Edwards ability to admit he was wrong in voting to authorize sending troops to Iraq. In the end, this election will not come down to personality, and likability, after all, but to character and judgment. The inability to acknowledge acting in error, or change course, demonstrates a fissure in character that is not unlike the one that has kept us on a collision course in the Middle East for nearly a decade. You are right to point out that Senator Obama's focus is on what's ahead, and not what's behind us.

We need a return to statesmanship, and far-sightedness. We need to affirm the future not as an escape from the past, but as validation that the present can be transformed in ways that enhance the participation of the least, as well as the greatest, among us.

While he doesn't magically combine the eye of a dreamer with the hard edge of a pragmatist like your brother, and our former president, once did, most importantly, Obama's vision, grace, and hopefulness can only improve a tattered moral landscape.

Senator, your lifetime of devotion to those principles for which both of your brothers died will never be forgotten by all those who value courage, and basic human decency.