Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From John O'Donohue

"A New Year Blessing"


by: John O'Donohue

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

Irish poet John O'Donohue passed away, in his sleep, suddenly on January 3, 2008. He was 52 years old.
To hear him read this poem, and to learn more about him, go to:

New Year's Resolution

"You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve in that which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning."

James Joyce

"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Opiate of the People

The C.I.A. is reportedly now giving Viagra to Afghan chieftains in exchange for information about the Taliban.

And, by the end of 2009, our government will also have spent about $8 billion, or $40 per converter box, to give us High Definition Digital TV.

Monday, December 29, 2008

April 12, 1861

Ran into a former neighbor this afternoon, a fellow refuge from New York, who's in the stock market----poor thing. he looks like hell---dissheveled like he hasn't showered, shaved, or had more than four hours of sleep in weeks.

Last time I saw Chris, it was summer, and hotter than hell. I asked him then what he thought of the candidacy Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton----he smirked. A conservative Republican, no doubt, I thought. He's strictly a McCain man, he said; no surprise.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting, for a minute, that he's one of those weird dudes, you know, the David Duke types, who manage to pass themselves off as card carrying normal, but who burn crosses on people's lawns as a hobby.

But, I couldn't help but think what it must be like to be a Klansman now, to have your whole world turned upside down. After all, these guys in the white hoods manage to hide neatly within shooting distance of some of our major cities outside Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

We're about to watch folks like my former neighbor undergo a kind of cultural insomnia, the kind of ontological restlessness one typically expects only in Fortune 500 nightmares.

Inexplicably, and suddenly, I pictured my neighbor meeting some Klan buddies for an Anheuser Busch, or a Heineken, behind Safeway where, when nobody's looking, they plan their next lynching. I realize I'm in danger of stereotyping here. Were Rush Limbaugh, and the wannabe chief of the GOP also in danger of stereotyping with their "magic Negro" song, and what does it say about the vestiges of racial corruption that remain in post-bellum America?

Comparisons between the Lincoln days, and the emergence of Barack Obama are valid. But, if you happened to find yourself in Huntington, New York on the morning of April 12, 1861, you would not have heard an announcement over a megaphone out your window saying "good morning, and welcome to the Civil War," it kind of crept up on us back then, just like it has now.

And, when we look at what's going on in Gaza we watch as the enmity between Semites grows. One can't help but think it's scary how fast hate spreads in the name of freedom.

Gaza: Stop the Bloodshed--End the Occupation

In the wake of Israel's escalating bombardment of Gaza, and this latest violence against Palestinians which has been condemned by many in the Israeli press, and media, The New York Times reported late Sunday:

"At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, women wailed as they searched for relatives among bodies that lay strewn on the hospital floor. One doctor said that given the dearth of facilities, not much could be done for the seriously wounded, and that it was 'better to be brought in dead.'"

Obviously, the media, in the U.S., have dropped the ball on Gaza. What's going on there should never have happened in the first place, let alone percolate to the point of explosion, and it would end quickly were it not for American compliance, as well as the absence of investigative journalism. The Israeli press have been more vocal in opposition to militarist aggression by its government. The press, in this country, have been effectively sup-pressed, and co-opted.

This is no longer about who is right and who is wrong. It is no longer a question of who struck whom first any more than what is going on now in Gaza is about the moral culpability, or political viability, of Hamas.

The ongoing occupation, and decimation, of Gaza defies reason, and forces one to ask whether there can be any justification for wholesale slaughter that is going on there. There is only one solution, and that involves compromise. All who think of themselves as human beings are also victims of this violence.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Connecting the Haves and the Have Nots

David Cay Johnston, investigative journalist and best-selling author of "Free Lunch," writes:

"Notice that in the current bailout, foreclosure relief has been minimal and the official debate is wrapped in language about moral hazard, and borrowers who were irresponsible. Unmentioned is the role of the 2005 bankruptcy law in prompting people who are in a financial squeeze to choose, intelligently, to stop the mortgage payments, so they can keep up with their monthly credit card payments, fueling a surge in foreclosures...almost 11,000 extra subprime mortgage foreclosures each month are traceable to the 2005 law."

Johnston adds: "Let’s start with going after people who cheated and abused the tax system. There is no moral argument for cheating on taxes, especially calculated cheating that requires the use of tax professionals and planning."

What kind of inverted logic can rationalize a government ethic that bails out Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, AIG, and is planning to do the same for the big three automakers, as well as allows the upper one percentile of its citizens to shelter billions in taxes and, at the same time, denies working men and women, who are the backbone of this country, who find themselves in debt over their heads relief from credit card debt, and usurious high interest rates? We trust that President-elect Obama will honor his campaign commitment for greater regulation of the credit card industry. We also hope that he will revisit the 2005 bankruptcy reform bill, and acknowledge how damaging it has been to home owners and renters.

Leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties have allowed the 2005 bankruptcy reform bill to pass, and Johnston is right on the mark when he connects this insidious legislation with the ever-escalating rise in foreclosures.

Mr. Johnston's article, "Invade the Caymans," appears in the Dec. 22, 2008 issue of Tax Notes.

Quote of the Day

From Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories:

"At present, we have a global law that does not treat equals equally; the weak are held accountable, while the strong enjoy impunity. This represents law without justice, inviting charges of hypocrisy and double standards. My work as a scholar and engaged citizen has been dedicated to advancing the cause of global justice based on a legal order that learns to treat equals equally whether states or individuals."

Falk was denied entry into the OPT, by Israel, earlier this month.

"V" as in Viagra

Apparently, the CIA has found a new way to get information about the Taliban from Afghan chieftans that doesn't involve torture. They're giving out free Viagra, and getting great results.

Why didn't anyone think of giving some to G.W. Bush, in 2003, before he invaded Iraq?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dec. 31: By Way of Follow-Up

In a previous post, I wrote about a plan by Time Warner Cable to shut fourteen public access stations, in Los Angeles, on Wednesday, December 31st.

Anyone who thinks that public access television exists simply to provide a soap box, and that there are other, more effective ways for the community to participate, must be advised that the uncontested, and unopposed closure of one means of access threatens all others down the line. If a cable behemoth is allowed to eliminate public access, what next, viewer-supported programming?

As the Caucus for Producers, Writers, and Directors, the only group that includes all four guilds (WGA, DGA, PGA, and SAG) writes, in a letter to California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr., " Since the wave of media consolidation that began after the deregulation of the media in the early 90's we have been prime advocates for media issues that affect the creative community....Public Access has been an important step for many young filmmakers and independent producers and access studios have provided training for countless individuals now working in the entertainment industry. Public Access is also a vital community service that we need now more than ever."

Importantly, the City of Los Angeles has done nothing to preclude Time Warner from doing away with the public access system in what is the hub of the media industry. Indeed, the only person empowered to prevent this closure is state Attorney General Edmund G. (Gerry) Brown.
Los Angeles, as a municipality, is responsible for operating public access channels, and no cable company has the right to shut them down until, and unless, the City has the opportunity to replace the channels.

In the words of actor, and activist, Ed Asner: "The studios should not close until the public's rights are secured and replacement of the lost facilities are in place."

Stanley Sheinbaum, another longtime opponent of censorship, writes "Cable operators pay franchise fees from revenue generated by cable subscribers who will be harmed when public channels are taken away."

The response from those who abhor monopolies, and the ability of media conglommerates to strongarm the community must be swift, and decisive. Whether you live in Santa Monica, New York City, Boston, or Des Moines, Iowa, should Time Warner prevail on December 31st, what happens in Los Angeles will affect you eventually.

Those who are concerned about protecting the integrity of the First Amendment, independent programming, and preventing a media shark from swallowing all the little fish, must act quickly by contacting California Attorney General Brown at:, and urging him to seek injunctive relief under the California Business and Professions Code 17200, Section 3, Unfair Business Practices.

Unless we act to stop it, Time Warner will pull the plug on fourteen public access studios, in California, on Wednesday. First public access channels, what next?

Friday, December 26, 2008


Playwright Harold Pinter died this Christmas Eve. He was 78, and succumbed, after a long battle, to cancer of the esophagus. Maybe, as he once said, "I think it's enough for me. I've found other forms now."

He was born and raised in Great Britain, the son of working class Eastern European Jews. Poet, author of 29 stage plays, such as "The Birthday Party," and screenwriter of "Betrayal," and "The French Lieutenant's Wife," Pinter was also an accomplished actor. His last appearance, back in 2006, was in a British production of "Krapp's Last Tape" by his good friend Samuel Beckett.

A fighter for social justice, Pinter served as vice president of International PEN where he was vigilant about speaking out against torture of imprisoned writers, and in defense of freedom of expression. "Being thrown out of the U.S. embassy in Ankara with Arthur Miller, a voluntary exile, was one of the proudest moments of my life," he once said.

The 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature was an equally ardent opposer of the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 U.S. war in Afghanistan, who predicted the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 who called the American president a "bloodthirsty wild animal" condemning both Bush and Tony Blair as "war criminals." We're glad he lived to see the demise of the Bush era.

In the end, there isn't a hell of a lot more to say except thanks for stopping by, Harold Pinter, and, in the words of Samuel Beckett, for working "to find a form that accommodates the mess" as "that is the task of the artist now."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Dec. 31: Time Warner will pull 14 California public access stations

An open letter to California Attorney General Jerry Brown:

On December 31st, Time Warner Cable plans to pull fourteen public access channels and fourteen studios, in Los Angeles, a city whose name has, for generations, been synonymous with media and broadcasting. This move will act to solidify recent gains in media consolidation, as well as set a dangerous precedent for television programming nationally.

Those of us born on the cusp of the McCarthy era, who are old enough to remember both McCarthys, also recall a time when another administration whose high crimes and misdemeanors would have gone undetected were it not for the free flow of information, and the ability of newspapers to pursue diverse paths in investigative journalism, a prospect which would be nearly impossible today.

Active dissent is greatly diminished in a climate in which independent programming is not enabled to survive. Allowing a cable behemoth, Time Warner, to eliminate more than a dozen public access channels means, in effect, green lighting standardized programming that exists solely to feed the corporate coffer at the expense of creative, community participation.

Bottom line, Mr. Attorney General: there needs to be diversity for the First Amendment to thrive. There needs to be citizen participation in a democracy, and no monopoly can be allowed to defeat that which is intrinsic to individual growth.

The Caucus for TV Producers, Writers, and Directors, Ed Asner, and all of us who are concerned about the life expectancy of an intellectual environment that embraces independence of thought, and diversity, call upon you, as chief law enforcement officer in your state, for injunctive relief, and a temporary restraining order against Time Warner to prevent them from pulling the plug on public access channels in Los Angeles this New Year's Eve.

A people without access to their airwaves is one without access to their government. On this, I know we agree.

by Paul Krassner


by Paul Krassner

The economic crisis has made its way into the nation’s syndicated comic strips. A few have included references to companies going bankrupt.

In “Rex Morgan, MD,” Rex’s family is on a cruise. In the ship’s library, his wife June asks, “Is there a rental fee for the books?” “You can keep the books,” the librarian replies. “The cruise line is bankrupt!”

In “Sally Forth,” Sally tells her office co-workers, “Okay, everybody, calm down. The company is not going bankrupt…”

And in “Candorville,” at a hearing on the bailout of the failing comic-strip industry, Garfield the cat states, “Bankruptcy is not an option, Senator.

On another day, Dagwood Bumstead testifies, “If you allow us to fail, this worldwide recession could easily become a depression. Take it from us, we remember the last Great Depression….Congress refused to keep ‘Little Nemo’ alive. Two years later, there were soup lines.”

And on yet another day, a senator argues, “Let’s not pussyfoot around the REAL issue. The labor unions are milkin’ you dry. Elite workers rakin’ in upwards of $9 an hour…Before we give you a dime of taxpayer money the unions should be crushed, disemboweled and shot out the nearest cannon into the Gates of Hell.”

Dilbert says, “Uh, I didn’t know the comic strip industry HAD a union.” Huey Freeman from “The Boondocks” responds, “That’s because you’re a tool of our corporate overlords.”

In “La Cucaracha,” a couple in a car during the week before Christmas agree that “Shopping for bargains is even better during a bad economy…See?! THAT mall is having a ‘TWO for ONE’ sale.” As they drive closer, they see that the marquee reads: “2 for 1 Sale –- Buy This Empty Mall, Get One Free.”

And finally, in “La Cucaracha,” at yet another hearing, a senator asks, “Why do you feel you need a government bailout, Mr. Claus?” Santa explains, “Because I can’t figure out how to make a PROFIT by giving out all my inventory for FREE.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

one day a year...

There's only one day a year we get to celebrate poets and outlaws. That day is Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Corruption Destroys Afghanistan"

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Corruption Destroys Afghanistan

By Michael Winship

Just when you’ve finally gotten your mind around the enormous $700 billion financial bailout – even if none of us are really sure where all that money’s going – there comes an even greater, breathtaking price tag.

The amount is $904 billion -- that’s how much we’ve spent on American military operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, since the 9/11 attacks; 50 percent more than what was spent in Vietnam, reports the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. Their study does not include the inestimable toll in human life.

Of that money, nearly 200 billion has gone to Afghanistan, where 31,000 American troops are nearly 60 percent of the NATO peacekeeping force. When he becomes President, as promised during his campaign, Barack Obama will oversee the deployment of at least another 20,000 troops there.

This has been the deadliest year for American forces in Afghanistan since the war began. Our military faces a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda, better trained, better armed, supported from sanctuaries in Pakistan.

But in an op-ed piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post, Sarah Chayes – the former National Public Radio reporter who has lived in Kandahar province since shortly after 9/11 -- argued that America’s and Afghanistan’s biggest problem comes from within – our continuing support of a corrupt and abusive Afghan government that’s driving its people back into the arms of the fundamentalists.

Chayes, who organized a co-op of Afghan men and women making skin care products from herbs and botanicals as an alternative to the opium poppy trade, wrote, “I hear from Westerners that corruption is intrinsic to Afghan culture, that we should not hold Afghans up to our standards. I hear that Afghanistan is a tribal place, that it has never been, and can't be, governed. But that's not what I hear from Afghans.”

Chayes followed up that article with an interview conducted by my colleague Bill Moyers on the latest edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. She told him that the United States and its NATO allies have had to convince themselves and public opinion in each of their countries that “this is a democratically elected representative government [in] Afghanistan in order to justify the sacrifices in money and troops."

But the Afghans see it differently.

What they see instead, she said, is a restoration to power under President Hamid Karzai of the gunslinging, crooked warlords who were repudiated when the Taliban first started taking over vast parts of the country a few years after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

The “appalling behavior” of officials in the current government, including rampant bribery, extortion and violence, is a serious factor in the Taliban resurgence – it’s estimated that they now have a “permanent presence” in 72 percent of the country, according to one think tank, the International Council on Security and Development.

Chayes said, “There are people who don't like the Taliban but may kind of knuckle under to them because, on the one hand, the government isn't doing anything better for them. And the Taliban are going to kill them if they don't visibly divide themselves away from the government.”

An Afghan woman in her cooperative compared it to "a man trying to stand on two watermelons. The Taliban shake us down at night, and the government shakes us down in the daytime."

"The Taliban are aided and abetted by Pakistan, " Chayes continued: “It has been obvious to me that the Pakistani military intelligence agency [ISI] has been basically creating, orchestrating this so-called Taliban resurgence since the end of 2001. So why are we paying Pakistan $1 billion a year? “… We need to realign our policy… What you have in Pakistan is a fledgling civilian government that's kind of fighting for its life. And it's not in a position to be able to challenge this military intelligence agency very powerfully. We need to get with that government and figure out and scheme with it how do we reign in this state within the state that is the military intelligence agency, which has been manipulating and instrumentalizing religious extremism for the past 20, 30 years… in a very myopic way, to forward its regional agenda both in Kashmir and in Afghanistan?”

Additional American troops are important now, Chayes said, and suggested that NATO allies who face opposition at home to sending additional combat forces could instead send a corps of experienced officials – from retired mayors to agriculture experts – who could rigorously mentor Afghan public officials and potentially reform their ways. Reconstructing infrastructure is important, she said, “But you don’t get infrastructure if you’re passing it through corrupt channels.”

So if nothing changes, Bill Moyers asked, should American men and women continue to give their lives in support of a government overrun by Afghanistan’s criminal class? Chayes rephrased the question: “If we are not willing to even begin to challenge President Karzai… then why are we sending people to die?”

In his tour of Iraq and Afghanistan this past week, President Bush told Karzai that he could count on us no matter who’s in the White House: “It’s in our interest that Afghanistan’s democracy flourish.”

To which Sarah Chayes’ friends in Kandahar would reply, “What democracy?”

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Thursday, December 18, 2008


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

William Butler Yeats

Remember Guantanamo: for Danny Pearl

Five years ago today, I finished working on an essay that I began researching right around Daniel Pearl's birthday on October 10, 2003, and about a year after his murder in Karachi, Pakistan.

Wall Street Journal reporter, and father-to-be, Pearl was savagely killed, as you recall, back in February, 2002. The article attempts to show that instead of working to overcome that kind of brutality, our government tried to figure out ways to simulate, and perfect, it.

My personal journey into uncovering, and exposing, the activities of an administration bent on twisting, bending, and insulting the Constitution, and international law, began on the day Danny Pearl was assassinated, and has yet to stop.

I sent the article, "Remember Guantanamo," to editors of all the major mainstream newspapers, and even magazines like "The Atlantic Monthly." It would have no takers. Newspapers from San Francisco to New York to Washington, D.C. would have no part of what I had to say yet, within months of my writing "Remember Guantanamo," Gitmo, and human rights abuses that took place there, became the subject of many editorials.

During his interview with ABC News earlier this week, Vice President Dick Cheney insisted that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba needs to remain open until what he calls "the end of the war on terror." Clearly, the only kind of commerce his administration has been willing to engage in with Cuba is that which brings the greatest profit to the prison-industrial complex in which he has vested interest.

Additionally, during the interview, Mr. Cheney gave a hearty thumbs-up for waterboarding, and other "enhanced alternative interrogation techniques." We thought it might be instructive not just for the vice president, but for anyone else who thinks that redefining the ways in which prisoners of war have been treated for generations, and implementing widescale government surveillance programs would keep us safe to remember not just his final words, but the torture to which an American citizen, and journalist, Daniel Pearl was subjected.

It's been a long five years for all of us.

We're hopeful that both President-elect Obama and newly appointed head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, will keep their promise to close Gitmo, and take a long hard look at the heinous treatment received at the hands of U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo then and now. We suspect this is what Danny Pearl would want.

Remember Guantanamo

for Daniel Pearl

"History is a responsibility Americans would rathernot face." Octavio Paz

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., 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 Bay.

Aside 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. 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." George W. 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 concedes 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 our current secretary of defense 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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

a word about Caroline...

just something to think about:

Would there be all this hoopla about Caroline's "credentials," in her appointment for the Senate, if her name was Carl, and not Caroline?

Size 10

During a press conference with Prime Minister Maliki, on Saturday, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the president. Bush quipped: "It's a size 10 shoe," which only proves he missed his calling. He should have been a shoe salesman.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Darwin was a good biologist. He wasn't much of an economist."

Congressman Barney Frank

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Chaos is the better part of life.


On Thursday night, I went to see a breathtaking film. "Milk," as you know, chronicles the life and times of activist, and first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk.

Apart from the once-in-a-lifetime stellar performance of Sean Penn, it was an amazing piece of filmmaking, and this from someone who lived in the Castro in the early 1970's, and who was in San Francisco the day Harvey Milk was shot and killed in City Hall.

"Milk" captures the paradoxical nature of a city long thought to be liberal, radical, and progressive,and unearths a dark, provincial, conservative side which, in my youth, I came to experience firsthand.

In November, 1978, I was living in San Francisco, on one of myriad treks from New York which started back in 1972.

My favorite haunt from the early 1970's was Castro Street where I rented an apartment back in 1973 right over Andy's Donuts. Even back in 73, the neighborhood was diverse---part-family, part-gay, part-outlaw, part-artist. Ah yes, those were strange, and bifurcated, times.

Everybody blended together well, but the vast distance between the polarized worlds was plain to see, a difference that is explored brilliantly in "Milk" when the film juxtaposes images of Dan White's small town christening with that of Harvey Milk's big city defiance of convention too easily misconstrued as deviance.

After a short junket back to New York, I returned, and found a furnished room in a palatial Pacific Heights flat which was owned by the widow of a prominent San Francisco judge. Elsie was a prim and proper woman in her mid-60's. The apartment was fastidious. I had my own bathroom, so the only time we saw each other was in the shared kitchen. Elsie didn't work---she was clearly well provided for by her husband.

Our bedrooms were on opposite sides of the flat, so I had much-needed privacy. But, every now and again, when I thought that she was out running errands, I'd bring home some guy for a mid-afternoon romp, and we'd frolic for a few hours, then he'd leave. Back then, for me, a naked man was like a Christmas present unwrapped. Somehow, I knew that wouldn't sit well with Elsie.

One day, Elsie was standing in the foyer with her arms folded. "Do you have such low self-esteem that you would allow some man to come and use you for sex?" she asked. I recall laughing, and saying "What makes you think he's using me? I'm using him!"

So, clearly we didn't see eye to eye on things, I thought, but Elsie, through the eyes of a 30 year old, was a relic of a bygone era. At times, I wanted to see her as a character from Tennessee Williams play, or Ibsen; a source of amusement more than disdain.

Until, that is, the afternoon of November 27, 1978 when I came home, waited patiently for Elsie to finish up in the kitchen, but finding her there greeted her hysterically. "What's wrong?" she asked --- tears streaming down my face. "Didn't you hear what happened today? Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were killed. They killed Harvey Milk" I screamed--sobbing.

Elsie dropped the dish towel, and turned to look at me marble cold: "Oh, he was just a faggot," she said, "just a faggot."

I felt every ounce of blood sink to my shoes, and I felt like my feet had been cemented to the floor. With whatever energy I could find, I stormed out of the room: "I'm moving out now." I told her I couldn't live with anyone who used the word faggot, except affectionately.

She told me I was paid up through the end of the month. "And," she said, "I have a month's security of yours." I told her she could keep my security, packed my bags, and went back east.

There are lots of Elsies in the world. Some of them are judges' wives, some of them are judges, some sit at the helms of Fortune 500 companies, some dare to lead our armed forces in battle; all of them will ultimately stew in their myopic infernos.

Harvey Milk wasn't just a hero for gays, bissexuals, transsexuals any more than Cesar Chavez was a hero for Chicanos. Harvey Milk was a hero for everyone who has ever felt different.

When he stood on his soapbox on Castro Street, and screamed into the crowd "I'm Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you," he wasn't talking about recruiting you to join his lifestyle. Harvey Milk was urging us to join him in daring to be ourselves.

The film brilliantly intersperses footage with quotes from a letter Milk wrote which was only to be read after his assassination. "Give them hope, hope, hope;" his last words.

Being different has always been a dangerous affair, look where it got Galileo, Joan of Arc, look where it got Jesus.

If he could be here with us now, Harvey might agree that the struggle doesn't end with hope; it begins there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Floyd and Me

Photo taken by Howard Dyckoff at PEN Oakland Awards ceremony on December 6, 2008 of Floyd Salas, president of PEN Oakland, and me.

Bush's Farewell Hallelujah Chorus

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Bush's Farewell Hallelujah Chorus

By Michael Winship

With all the interviews President Bush has been giving out lately, you'd think he has a new movie coming out for Christmas. ABC, NBC, National Review, Middle East Broadcasting, the Real Clear Politics website – even a talk with the Washington Post's NASCAR expert.

For a fellow who's sometimes gone for months without a press conference, suddenly, the President's a regular chatterbox, spreading the word in these final days that his eight years in office really, really weren't all that bad. Honest. Regrets, he's had a few. But only a few. Or so he told ABC's Charlie Gibson: "I think I was unprepared for war… In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents – one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

But of course he anticipated the war. He and Cheney and the neo-con biker gang had been gunning for an invasion of Iraq long before 9/11. Not that Gibson followed up and asked about that.

This is a President, you'll recall, who once said he couldn't think of any mistakes he's made. Instead, he regrets what he sees as the blunders of the intelligence community, not himself.
"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," he said to Gibson. "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is [sic] a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."

Truth is, as far as intelligence goes, the President heard what people thought he wanted to hear, shaped it to his purpose, turned his agents loose to scatter rumors and hearsay on the Sunday talk shows, and bullied a frightened Congress into compliance. He stirred up fears of smoking guns and mushroom clouds where there were none.

Nor was he ready to take the rap for the financial meltdown, even though he said he was sorry people were losing their jobs and savings. As he explained to ABC's Gibson, "You know, I'm the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President."

Odd syntax aside, point taken. Many of the seeds of economic woe were planted by lax oversight and deregulation during Bill Clinton's watch (and Ronald Reagan's and that of the President's father). But whatever happened to, "The buck stops here?"

This legacy tour – few dare call it victory loop – is all part of a strategy, the Washington Post reported, devised two months ago at a meeting in the White House, when White House counselor Ed Gillespie "began meeting with agency heads as part of an effort aimed at compiling the major accomplishments of the Bush administration."

The Los Angeles Times got hold of two pages of positive talking points that have been sent out to officials so they can be included in speeches and interviews. According to the Times, the memo states that the President "'kept the American people safe' after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained 'the honor and the dignity of his office.'"

Would that the mainstream media would open up the questioning to the rest of us. For one, Mr. President, did you value abject loyalty over know-how and wisdom?

Mother Jones magazine reports that recently Republican Senator George Voinovich asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for questions to ask Barack Obama's political nominees. He got back more than he bargained for – a 150-page list of issues left undealt with during the Bush years.

Among the revelations within the GAO's report, according to the magazine's Jonathan Stein, "The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Agriculture have no plan to work together in the event of a food-borne disease outbreak or terrorist attack. The Department of Defense's security clearance process takes so long it jeopardizes classified information. The EPA's chemical risk assessment program is improperly influenced by private industry…

"Problems like the politicization of the Justice Department are not mentioned. But this report serves as a peephole into the myriad internal problems of the executive branch, depicting a federal bureaucracy that is rife with mismanagement, inefficiency, and faulty communication practices--all of this combining to jeopardize both the nation's health and security."

No one has asked George Bush about this. Instead, the reporters granted the President's valedictory interviews have asked perfunctory softball questions about Iraq and the economy, then segued to inquiries about domestic life in the White House and what he'll do in Texas after January 20.

For one, the man who Newsweek once said was too busy making history to read it, is going to write some – he told National Review's Byron York and Rich Lowry that his interview with them was "jumping jacks for my own book that I'm going to be writing."

Will it answer any of the tough questions? Perhaps. But almost certainly not the biggest one, from which he will divert, splintering off into a thousand digressions and self-deprecating anecdotes: Why?

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Bush: On the Line

There's a full moon over Washington today, and the lifeline to George W. Bush's legacy can't get a signal after the Senate's historic defeat of a measure that would have prevented the inconceivable bankruptcies of the big three automakers.

The Senate has been busier than usual lately, and the bailout question has been allowed to steal the spotlight from release of findings by the Senate Armed Services Committee, after a two year study, that it is the Bush administration, not rank and file soldiers, who are responsible for the systematic, and vastly underreported, abuse of detainees in Iraq, at Gitmo, and in Afghanistan. The fact that this report isn't shocking is, in itself, shocking.

But, the Senate isn't the only governmental body tripping over the carcass of a corrupt executive branch just as Vice President Dick Cheney isn't the only whose ethics come with the label "assembly required." Unitary, or otherwise, no one can deny that this White House is certainly unique, and will be recalled, for generations to come, as one that has distinguished itself by its linguistic sleight-of-hand, and attempts to bypass international law.

According to The Associated Press, the President, and his henchmen, are working overtime to ensure that the full extent of damage inflicted upon detainees never sees the light of day in its last ditch effort to bar access to memos, and other legal documents, which would corroborate allegations of torture by human rights organization.

An administration which has also distinguished itself by its unparalleled prowess at covering its tracks will yet get to retire with impunity, at least with temporary impunity. But, one day, these documents will come to light, and when they will, there will be no question that this executive branch (which, by the way, includes Mr. Cheney), spearheaded a regime that left America morally, as well as financially, bankrupt.

The only question that remains, in the next few weeks, is whether the President will have the added bonus of adding insult to injury by allowing his partners in crime in the Senate to inject ideology into the catastrophic collapse of the auto industry. Those who voted down the auto bailout bill, in the Senate, show contempt for working men and women in this country, and a Scrooge-like callousness for the heartbreak of what will be massive layoffs.

And, speaking of contempt, there is no restoring the reputation of an administration that has scrupulously sought to sabotage the Bill of Rights, and Geneva, as well as destroy evidence of what can only be called war crimes by U.S. military personnel, acts of torture that were not merely approved, but orchestrated, by the executive branch, as this latest report from the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee establishes.

The "bad apple" argument advanced by some, like former Department of Defense spokesman, Larry di Rita, can only go so far as, indeed, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." It wasn't just a few "bad guards or interrogators" that crossed the line in interrogating detainees, but administration policy to train them to do so.

Likewise, the collapse of the freewheeling, unregulated, survival of the fittest ethos that brought us the demise of Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and that is now bringing Wall Street, and the auto industry, to its knees is not coincidental to leadership, but with the collaboration of leadership. Those who attempted to show who has been profiting most at the expense of the home mortgage debacle, like Eliot Spitzer, experienced falls of their own.

While he's about the business of granting last minute pardons, Mr. Bush may be prevailed upon to pardon those automakers whose ruin will have global ramifications. Whether he likes it or not, we're still on his watch, and it is time for this President to act to protect not just car manufacturers, but the millions of jobs that will be lost with their demise.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Requiem for An Educator: In Memoriam James O'Keefe

Last night, the planet lost an extraordinary man. Last night, the world lost a teacher.

In a country that values superstars, and power, those prize fighters for justice, equal rights, and basic human decency often slip between the cracks. Those who devote their lives to informing, and encouraging, embracing, and inspiring our youth seldom find themselves in the big print of major newspaper obituaries.

But, when the planet loses a real teacher, the beauty of that life must be acknowledged, and celebrated.

Few understand that if there is salvation, it is in the simple things, like laughter, that it resides. James O'Keefe knew this instinctively, and he passed on this knowledge to all who were fortunate enough to call themselves his students. He passed on his acceptance of diversity, his appetite for discovery, his love for literature and, in the end, his love for life.

James succumbed to his battle with brain cancer. He was fifty, and only recently married. He was never bitter, never angry, not once, but always concerned with matters above and beyond himself.

Everything seems small compared to mortality, but some have been known to take death down a notch or two. James O'Keefe was one of them.

He was heroic in defense of equal pay, and parity, for part-time faculty. He was a man who wanted to do something good for those he leaves behind. For this, he was a hero to me.

I was honored to keep the seat in his office warm, this semester, his map of Ireland hanging across from my desk, and all things James everywhere.

In the short time I knew James, he wouldn't mind if I called him friend. He touched my life in ways that few ever have or ever will. He taught me that courage isn't the stuff of Hallmark cards, and that humor, even in the face of invincible, crazy death, is what keeps us human.

Oscar Wilde once said "I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability;" not so when it came to James O'Keefe.

in the blush

he sits
in the blush of
prompted by
the faint promise of
aftershave on
lips his
sneakers wide with
wonder if only
to ride
him I would
him in
my eyes
he hungers for
this is
my dream
of the
hollow man
he leaves

by Jayne Lyn Stahl
12/08/08 from "Riding with Destiny"

From Greg Palast...

Obama's "Way-to-Go, Brownie!" Moment?
by Greg Palast
for the Huffington Post

Has Barack Obama forgotten, "Way-to-go, Brownie"? Michael Brown was that guy from the Arabian Horse Association appointed by George Bush to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brownie, not knowing the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain from the south end of a horse, let New Orleans drown. Bush's response was to give his buddy Brownie a "way to go!" thumbs up.

We thought Obama would go a very different way. You'd think the studious Senator from Illinois would avoid repeating the Bush regime's horror show of unqualified appointments, of picking politicos over professionals.

But here we go again. Trial balloons lofted in the Washington Post suggest President-elect Obama is about to select Joel Klein as Secretary of Education. If not Klein, then draft-choice number two is Arne Duncan, Obama's backyard basketball buddy in Chicago.

Say it ain't so, President O.

Let's begin with Joel Klein. Klein is a top notch anti-trust lawyer. What he isn't is an educator. Klein is as qualified to run the Department of Education as Dick Cheney is to dance in Swan Lake. While I've never seen Cheney in a tutu, I have seen Klein fumble about the stage as Chancellor of the New York City school system.

Klein, who lacks even six minutes experience in the field, was handed management of New York's schools by that political Jack-in-the-Box, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire mayor is one of those businessmen-turned-politicians who think lawyers and speculators can make school districts operate like businesses.

Klein has indeed run city schools like a business - if the business is General Motors. Klein has flopped. Half the city's kids don't graduate.

Klein is out of control. Not knowing a damn thing about education, rather than rely on those who actually work in the field (only two of his two dozen deputies have degrees in education), Klein pays high-priced consultants to tell him what to do. He's blown a third of a billion dollars on consultant "accountability" projects plus $80 million for an IBM computer data storage system that doesn't work.

What the heck was the $80 million junk computer software for? Testing. Klein is test crazy. He has swallowed hook, line and sinker George Bush's idea that testing students can replace teaching them. The madly expensive testing program and consultant-fee spree are paid for by yanking teachers from the classroom.

Ironically, though not surprisingly, test scores under Klein have flat-lined. Scores would have fallen lower, notes author Jane Hirschmann, but Klein "moved the cut line," that is, lowered the level required to pass. In other words, Klein cheats on the tests.

Nevertheless, media poobahs have fallen in love with Klein, especially Republican pundits. The New York Times' David Brooks is championing Klein, hoping that media hype for Klein will push Obama to keep Bush schools policies in place, trumping the electorate's choice for change.

Brooks and other Republicans (hey, didn't those guys lose?) are pushing Klein as a way for Obama to prove he can reach across the aisle to Republicans like Bloomberg. (Oh yes, Bloomberg's no longer in the GOP, having jumped from the party this year when the brand name went sour.)

Choosing Klein, says Brooks, would display Obama's independence from the teacher's union. But after years of Bush kicking teachers in the teeth, appointing a Bush acolyte like Klein would not indicate independence from teachers but their betrayal.

Hoops versus Hope

The anti-union establishment has a second stringer on the bench waiting in case Klein is nixed: Arne Duncan. Duncan, another lawyer playing at education, was appointed by Chicago's Boss Daley to head that city's train-wreck of a school system. Think of Duncan as "Klein Lite."

What's Duncan's connection to the President-elect? Duncan was once captain of Harvard's basketball team and still plays backyard round-ball with his Hyde Park neighbor Obama.

But Michelle has put a limit on their friendship: Obama was one of the only state senators from Chicago to refuse to send his children into Duncan's public schools. My information is that the Obamas sent their daughters to the elite Laboratory School where Klein-Duncan teach-to-the-test pedagogy is dismissed as damaging and nutty.

Mr. Obama, if you can't trust your kids to Arne Duncan, why hand him ours?

Lawyer Duncan is proud to have raised test scores by firing every teacher in low-scoring schools. Which schools? There's Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto with children from homeless shelters and drug-poisoned 'hoods. They don't do well on tests. So Chicago fired all the teachers. They brought in new ones - then fired all of them too: the teachers' reward for volunteering to work in a poor neighborhood.

It's no coincidence that the nation's worst school systems are run by non-experts like Klein and Duncan.

Obama certainly knows this. I know he knows because he's chosen, as head of his Education Department transition team, one of the most highly respected educators in the United States: Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

So here we have the ludicrous scene of the President-elect asking this recognized authority, Dr. Darling-Hammond, to vet the qualifications of amateurs Klein and Duncan. It's as if Obama were to ask Michael Jordan, "Say, you wouldn't happen to know anyone who can play basketball, would you?"

Classroom Class War

It's not just Klein's and Duncan's empty credentials which scare me: it's the ill philosophy behind the Bush-brand education theories they promote. "Teach-to-the-test" (which goes under such pre-packaged teaching brands as "Success for All") forces teachers to limit classroom time to pounding in rote low-end skills, easily measured on standardized tests. The transparent purpose is to create the future class of worker-drones. Add in some computer training and - voila! - millions trained on the cheap to function, not think. Analytical thinking skills, creative skills, questioning skills will be left to the privileged at the Laboratory School and Phillips Andover Academy.

We hope for better from the daddy of Sasha and Malia.

Educationally, the world is swamping us. The economic and social levees are bursting. We cannot afford another Way-to-go Brownie in charge of rescuing our children.

(and, on a personal note, I love this guy!)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights is...

60 years old today, and as relevant now as it was the day it was signed...

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages.

Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

For the complete Declaration, please visit:

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Feeding Frenzy

Now that the shock has worn off, it is crystal clear that today's arrest of a Democratic Illinois governor is, to borrow a phrase from President Bush, so much "political theatre."

The feeding frenzy this has touched off among Republicans is enough to make even the most jaded Rovians drool.

One can only marvel at the impeccable, state of the art, timing of the federal sting into a corruption scandal which captivated the FBI for the past year--- just a month before an historic inauguration which gave the Democrats a virtual mandate.

President-elect Obama is, yet again, exercising good judgment by swiftly dismissing any knowledge of, or role in, the Illinois governor's affairs, and moving in.

Blagojevich -- Where Is the Rezko Connection?

The NYT reported this morning that Rod blah, blah, Blagojevich, governor of Illinois, was arrested, this morning, on corruption charges that stem from his alleged attempts to sell Obama's Senate seat "to the highest bidder."

It turns out that Governor Blagojevich had been under surveillance by the feds. for a year now. Why? There appears to be a connection, however adroit, to the Tony Rezko corruption case.
If there is a link with Rezko, what is it, and why isn't this the focus? Who's taking the fall for whom?

Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who was behind this arrest, as well as that of I. Scooter Libby, said that "Abraham Lincoln would be rolling over in his grave" were he to see some of the escapades of the current Illinois governor.

We have breaking news for Mr. Fitzgerald. By now, Lincoln would be planning a pajama party for other presidents who would also be rolling over in their graves, like Jefferson, and Adams, not so much by merchandising of political appointments as by the extraordinary proliferation of wiretaps, and FBI surveillance, by the Bush administration. And, yes, Martha, we're still on GWB's watch.

If memory serves, another big state governor, Eliot Spitzer, was also defrocked thanks to a government sting, and later busted for consorting with call girls and allegedly participating in a prostitution ring. Assuredly, that wasn't really why Spitzer was ousted.

By no means am I defending Rod Blagojevich, or comparing his impeachment with that of Eliot Spitzer. We get closer, every day, to understanding who gained the most from Spitzer's fall.

Any governor who tries to sell political appointments, and oust newspaper editors who disagree with him, is not anyone worth defending, even if he is innocent until proven otherwise.

But, there is a larger issue at play here. There is no small danger in what have become commonplace government sting operations, and FBI surveillance measures, a statement with which Lincoln, Jefferson, and Adams would no doubt agree.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Shinseki and Volcker: Military Contracts and Banking

Make no mistake, this is not about questioning the integrity, judgment, or credentials of retired Army General Eric Shinseki. After all, it was Shinseki who told a congressional committee, back in 2003, that it would take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to attain victory in Iraq.

As the President-elect himself has indicated, the ability to envison, and anticipate, are crucial components of leadership. No one would deny that the general is in possession of the requisite skills both to lead troops in the Army, and to perceive, as well as implement, necessary programs in the V.A.

But, since his retirement, Shinseki appears to be more interested in sitting on the boards of military contracting firms than in closely following developments in veteran's affairs. According to an article in The Washington Post, he is now on the boards of Honeywell International and Ducommum. Ducommum, as you may know, primarily services the aerospace and defense industry by manufacturing parts for aircraft. And, here's where it gets interesting, General Shinseki is also on the board of First Hawaiian Bank.

Shinseki isn't the only Obama advisor with a background in banking. Paul Volcker, who is slated to be head of the President-elect's economic team, after leaving the Federal Reserve in 1987, became chair of the New York banking firm J. Rothschild, Wolfensohn, & Co. J. Rothschild et. al is a corporate investment firm spearheaded by Wolfensohn who later became president of the World Bank.

Just as General Shinseki is on the board of First Hawaiian Bank, Paul Volcker has had a relationship with Chase Bank, as well as a long association with the Rockefeller Family. If you're looking for a spokesman for the lumpin proletarian, Volcker's not your man.

As Alan Greenspan's predecessor, and a former Federal Reserve Board chair, Volcker, unlike Greenspan, is a registered Democrat, but market manipulation is, and always has been, a bipartisan affair.

Interestingly, too, Mr. Volcker is a member of the G30, (Group of 30), a global body of financiers and academics whose interest lies chiefly in international capital markets, financial institutions, and central banks, so when we speak of markets, we're playing in a larger ballpark.

Who better to advise the 44th President of the United States on economic recovery than someone like than a former Federal Reserve Board chair with a state of the art record in helping to rescue two administrations from free market excesses? Absolutely. If we're willing to go down the slippery slope of free market fundamentalism all over again, Paul Volcker is our man.

Though it would be hard to argue given the current infatuation with all things Obama, there is a valid question as to whether or not Mr. Shinseki's position as board member of major defense contracting firms, poses a conflict of interest insofar as it may reflect more concern with the profit margin from manufacturing military aircraft than for the post traumatic stress with which our troops return from war.

More importantly, we must ask if Barack Obama's appointments of those with ties to corporate behemoths like Rockefeller, Chase Bank, and Honeywell reflects the kind of financial hawkishness that has brought us to the edge of the abyss from which we're trying to extricate ourselves.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Some thoughts on Pearl Harbor Day...

On this, the 67th anniversary of the day the Japanese launched a surprise military strike on a U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii , I'm reminded of the words of Austrian psychiatrist, Victor Frankl: "no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them."

Dr. Frankl, who survived four concentration camps including Auschwitz, and witnessed firsthand the horror that man can foist upon man, cogently reminds us that there can be no excuse for the devastation that was Hiroshima nor for the internment of thousands of Japanese in U.S. detention camps, and the brutality to which they were subjected.

Similarly, the high crimes and misdemeanors that were committed by an administration that alleged to be avenging the deaths of 3,000 who perished in the bombing of the World Trade Center is no justification for more killing, and state-sanctioned torture.

Whenever an inmate is sentenced to die for any crime he commits, the state that orders his murder has blood on its hands for, as Victor Frankl rightly says, "no one has the right to do wrong.".

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Way to Go, Obama!

After this morning's radio address, and e-mail announcement from the Obama/Biden transition team, I'm thrilled that Obama is stepping up to the plate, and clarifying his relationship to his advisors, as well as letting the American people know that, from now on, we will have "a seat at the table."

In a signature move that will set him light years apart from the Bush gang, memos, as well as minutes, of meetings will be posted on, and the Web site will be open to all who want to post comments, or simply keep apprised of what their government is up to.

What a delightful change after a regime of secrecy, classified documents, and withholding information not just from citizens, but the press. What a breath of fresh air!

Happily, too, today, the President-elect clarified that his advisors will follow his blueprint. He is the architect; they are the construction crew that will do the heavy lifting. He will be the idea person; they will be the ones who fine tune how those ideas will be implemented. Excellent!

As you know, in this morning's address, Obama has instructed his economic team to come up with the draft of a recovery plan that will create 2 million new jobs, and invest in infrastructure from installing energy-saving lightbulbs in federal office buildings to rebuilding public schools, as well as ensuring that every student has access to the Internet.

Bravo! This is exactly the kind of leadership many of us have been waiting for.

And, we hope, too, along with Senator Russ Feingold, that President Obama will also see fit to "restore the rule of law," as Feingold recently explained to Bill Moyers, and that he will revisit the USA Patriot Act, revisions to FISA court that allow for warrantless surveillance on American citizens, as well as all other challenges to the First and Fourth Amendments brought on by George W. Bush and company.

National security doesn't come from locking people away indefinitely, without charging them with any crime, without having evidence that they've even committed a crime, and without giving them access to counsel unless they confess guilt. National security doesn't come from intercepting international phone calls under the pretext of trying to find terrorists when the terrorist-in-chief, Osama bin Laden, has been allowed to roam from cave to cave, with impunity, and with no attempts made to intercept his phone calls, or e-mails.

National security doesn't come from outsourcing the torture of a Muslim American citizen to United Arab Emirates who, in the space of only a few months, have allegedly beaten him at the request of the U.S. government. Naji Hamdan, according to his brother Hossam, was only just released from UAE custody "after he gave up and signed whatever they gave him. He was willing to sign anything. Now they have put him into the criminal court system" where "he is with criminals, like killers and drug dealers." (McClatchy) Hamdan is a naturalized U.S. citizen. We don't ship American citizens to Abu Dhabi to be tortured in the name of a "war on terror."

We are confident that Thomas Jefferson, and the founding fathers, are looking to President Obama as a breath of fresh air, and as one who will set the ship of state right after eight years of being on a disaster course.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Barney Frank...

is right when he talks about bailing out the big 3 automakers, and says that for Congress "to do nothing, to allow bankruptcies and failures in one, two or three of these companies in the midst of the worst credit crisis and the worst unemployment situation that we've had in 70 years would be a disaster."

Further, it would be criminal dereliction of duty, especially in light of today's jobs report showing 11 consecutive months of job losses, so I strongly agree with Rep. Frank, Chair of the Financial Services Committee, that action is required and fast.

Indeed, as goes Pompeii, so goes Rome.

On Second Thought

When I awoke this morning, I had some second thoughts about my piece, "Elixir or Delegator," in light of some statements Barack Obama has made, over the past few months, and in light, too, of news today that he intends to start making inroads on health care. Among the many joys of having a mind is that one can change it.

For what it's worth, I agree with the President-elect when he says there can only be one president at a time. Like it or not, he has to wait until he's sworn in to do the heavy lifting. For now, it's up to George W. Bush to make decisions about bailouts and snailouts as he's still on company time.

Given his propensity to bail out coke dealers, and former White House aides who perjured themselves, as well as his most recent legislation which attempts to finalize governmental molestation of the environment, I think President Bush ought to be left with the foul aftertaste of history's contempt for any wrong decisions that are made. He broke it; he bought it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Elixir or Delegator?

It's reassuring to see Barack Obama's team of advisors is almost the size of the National Guard, and to think that, instead of an alligator at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we'll have a delegator. And, as an added bonus, it may even be a way to avoid bringing back the draft.

No one would question the value of intellectual diversity, especially when looking at some of those Obama has chosen to be his economic consultants, who have backgrounds as diverse as Paul Volcker and Robert Reich.

Obama's economic appointments are surpassed only by his national security advice crew which includes a retired marine general, Jim Jones, a current defense secretary, Robert Gates, and a former presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, whose campaign mantra was "end the war," but who may change her tune when she replaces Condi Rice to something like "end this war." Maybe we could use a little Chicago street smarts?

And, for those optimists among us, there is a consolation prize: at least Obama won't be outsourcing his foreign, or economic, policies to India, or China. Still, his repeated insistence that he is in charge can't help but fly in the face of logic given his swiftness in transforming a unitary executive into one willing to collaborate with friends, foes, partisans, nonpartisans, as well as political agnostics, but the buck stops where?

What a refreshing change, indeed a novelty, to have, as our next president, a team player instead of wannabe royalty but, again, one can't help but ask --- the buck stops where? Whose call will it be as to how much money is appropriated in the next budget for defense spending? Will an advisor make that decision, or the president, or the president in conjunction with his advisors? Will national security be a priority, or will there be an equal budgetary emphasis on health care, and programs for those hardest hit by this catastrophic economic freefall?

We already know, despite voting against the Iraq war initially, what Obama's stand is when it comes to the war on terror, Afghanistan, bin Laden, and setting a definitive date to withdraw from Iraq, is not fundamentally different from that of his predecessor. The main difference appears to be that the President-elect will listen to his generals on the ground rather than the Almighty.

But, may we infer from his national security appointments that the Department of Defense will be as top drawer under President Obama as it was under George W. Bush? Or, may we deduce that, one of the primary reasons Mr. Obama has taken on such a large fleet of advisors is so that, should either his foreign or domestic policies not get off the ground, there will be plenty of blame to spread around?

More importantly, what can Obama do to counter arguments such as this one? He can speak up maybe, and let his own ideas on defense spending, and bailing out Detroit, come through loud and clear.

There are others who observe that the chief achievements we may expect from a first term Obama administration are enhanced possibilities for good will among former adversaries, the certain prospect of progressive Supreme Court nominations, and an economic "correction" that may well incorporate a seismic shift, or redistribution, of income from the haves to the have nots. These would all be worthy accomplishments.

No one would suggest, at this point in world history, that any new president, whether American or European, could be an elixir, or magical formula, for instant global peace; however, one would like to know what this administration's agenda is, and how it intends to get there.

We look forward to a commander-in-chief who likes to talk, but we also need talk about priorities. In the end, a prerequisite for taking the wheel isn't the ability to redefine "round."

And, clearly, it makes no sense to go from a White House that consulted no one with Bush and Cheney doubling as the Lone Ranger and Tonto for the past eight years to one that is Who's Who of domestic, and foreign, experts, and that can stand in as a small army if we find ourselves hard pressed for forces in Afghanistan. It would help to know which playbook we're working from that redefines withdrawal as redeployment.

It takes intelligence to know how to listen, wisdom to seek counsel, and courage to take a stand. We know Mr. Obama has courage, and that he will act when he thinks the time has come. We can only hope that he sees the time is here.

While the honeymoon has barely begun, the ether will eventually wear off in the delicatessen of broken promises, and like that character in a Samuel Beckett play, we may yet be asking "Is it time for my pain killer yet?"