Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pathetic dogs

Congressional Democrats rolled over like abused dogs and exposed their cute, furry bellies to be stroked by the President today while signing off on a "compromise" wiretapping bill that gives the White House virtually everything it wants, including effective immunization from prosecution for telecom companies which blatantly and repeatedly violated individual personal privacy laws.

What's worse is there was no reason or need to make this horrid deal. None. Whatsoever. The previous (bad) temporary agreement expired in February, and its not like there have been huge issues since then, or even a lot of political pressure on Dems to come to an agreement, any agreement. The FISA law which has been in effect since the 70's has been more than sufficient. The next time I see masses of Americans rallying along the Mall in support of providing lawsuit immunization for big corporations will be the first.

I assume telecom lobbyists made enough monetary promises to buy what they needed. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother.

Monday, June 16, 2008


McClatchy is out with part two of its series on US abuses of prisoners, this time focusing on events at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, incidents which have been overshadowed by Guantanamo, but which McClatchy says may have been worse.

Two prisoners at Bagram were beaten to death. One of them suffered ... well ...

I played soccer somewhat seriously for more than 25 years before retiring from the game six or seven years ago. I have had multiple surgeries to both ankles and knees. Dozens of stitches to them. My shins have been smacked so often I have lost all feeling in them - I can (and have) had gashes to the bone there and had no idea until someone pointed out I was bleeding. I have at least some small idea of of the type of beating one's legs can take.

Nothing like this though ...

According to the article detainee Dilawar died at Bagram on Dec. 10 2002. The army medical examiner reported he had been repeatedly struck on his leg to the point the tissues in it were "falling apart" and had "basically been pulpified".

Of course, we don't torture prisoners. The administration says so.

The paragraph toward the end of the story has this boiler-plate statement from the Pentagon:

"The Department of Defense policy is clear — we treat all detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for unlawful enemy combatants at war with this country."

I'll laugh ... after I am done vomiting.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Much, much too late

As everyone knows by now, the Supreme Court finally got around this past week to telling the administration "hey, you can't just torture prisoners indefinitely ... at some point you have to, you know, actually provide a reason for imprisoning them."

Dear leader declared from Italy that while he might disagree with the decision he would abide by it. I am not sure why he should all of a sudden feel bound to abide by our Constitution, a flimsy piece of paper has not stopped him before. Of course, in the same set of comments where he graciously agreed he might be bound by the ruling he also suggested his administration would immediately start looking for ways to legislate around it.

I'd admire his stick-to-it attitude much more if it was dedicated to something like a reasonable national health care policy, a responsible approach to resolving issues along our border with Mexico, lowering the national debt or developing a coherent energy policy rather than finding excuses to detain people indefinitely so we can torture them whenever it suits our whim.

Even if dear leader goes against form and does actually obey the Court's decision, it's too late, the damage has been done.

Without question some number of the prisoners are bad, evil individuals who deserve to be locked away for life. However, it's also indisputable some number are guilty of nothing other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most fall somewhere in between. One question would be should we resort to torture even with the "worst of the worst" (answer: no, we should be better than that), and another has been how many even merit that appellation. The administration has in the past claimed all of them do, that it has infallibly managed to send only those guilty of the worst crimes, or, at least, planning to commit the worst forms of misdeeds, to Guantanamo.

Of course, this has been provably wrong for some time, as some number of detainees have already been determined to not be guilty of what they were accused of and released ... generally after spending months or years in a prison where they were regularly abused.

McClatchy Newspapers published the first part of what will be a five-part series today detailing the findings of its eight-month investigation into the prisoners at Guantanamo. McClatchy has been, throughout, the best source of truly investigative reporting regarding the war and its motives, and this piece is yet another must-read. As it makes clear, administration officials have known for years that many, perhaps most, of the prisoners kept in Guantanamo had no reason to be there and were not sources of operational intelligence. However, in an administration which could not bring itself to admitting it was anything less than infallible, releasing these prisoners, or even moving them to another location where they might be treated humanely, was never an option to consider.

Instead, we set up a system where individuals have been held for reasons they were not told based on evidence they could not see provided by individuals they could not know about. Kafka would be so proud.

Darth Scalia has already predicted this ruling will lead to more deaths. Of course, this claim will never be able to be proven either way. What is provable is our nation has resorted to torturing innocent individuals. We have violated nearly every human right imaginable, all purportedly for the "best" of reasons.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hopefully this latest ruling will help take their first steps down the road out of the abyss.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Unmentioned history

Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, and the NY Times is reporting Hillary Clinton will officially throw her support behind him this Friday. A black man as the Presidential nominee of a major U.S. Political party is unquestionably an historically significant event, and there has been much ink spilled and syllables uttered discussing the importance of his victory.

Even internationally this seems to be the case ... while listening to an international call-in show on NPR people from all over the world were commenting on how closely people in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, wherever had been following the race, and how significant Obama's victory was.

All of which is true ...

Had Clinton won the nomination it would have been nearly as historic. I say "nearly" because we have already seen women as the leaders of other major Western powers, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel coming immediately to mind. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any black man who has held a similar position among the generally considered major states.

... but ...

As important as Obama's victory might be in a historical sense, what is more import in my mind is the lack of race as a major issue of either his campaign or his opponent's.

That's not to say race was completely excluded. Obviously it came up a different times during the campaign. Equally obviously some number of people voted for Obama because he is black, and some number voted against him for the same reason. How many voted each way we will never know.

However, at no point in during the campaign was race ever a singular, major issue. Health care was ... Iraq policy ... Experience vs. change ... any number of other topics ... but Obama did not ultimately win (or lose) the race because of his skin color, just as Clinton did not either win (or lose) the race because of her gender. The vast majority of voters, those who voted for him and those who voted against didn't see Obama as black, or colored, or a man of color, or even a man.

They saw him as a candidate ... one with positions they liked or didn't, but a candidate rather than a black candidate. Enough saw him as the best candidate he now has the opportunity to be president. He won based on his positions, his eloquence, his ability to convince voters to support him.

Which is how it should be, of course... but I confess I am surprised I lived to see the day.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sympathy for some, not for others

So Clinton staff and supporters are, not surprisingly, complaining about the decision on how to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida ... and I guess that's their job, since the decision essentially removes any last hopes Clinton had to win the Democratic nomination. Until Clinton actually concedes, her staff and supporters should be pressing hard for anything that might advance the cause of their candidate, as long as it doesn't reflect negatively on her opponent.

Regarding the states themselves, I have some sympathy for Florida's plight. It's my understanding Republicans in the state were the major force behind moving the primary date up, and that while numerous Democrats did vote in favor of moving the date, even had they voted against it wouldn't have made a difference. By state law, all candidates had their names on the ballot, and while I do believe the final gap in the state would have been considerably narrow had the candidates actively campaigned there (Clinton finished with 50%, Obama with 33%), at least the case could be made it was a level playing field - no one campaigned, and all names were on the ballot.

Michigan is a different matter ... the Democratic governor and legislature pushed for the early date, in contravention of clear party rules, rules they were informed would be enforced prior to their ever moving the date. They moved the date anyway, then are shocked ... shocked ... that the consequences they were told would ensue were actually applied.

If the voters and delegates of Michigan are upset about this (and they should be) then the proper direction to express their ire is toward Governor Granholm and the state officials who voted to change the date even after they were told any delegates would not be seated.

Trying to claim all the Michigan delegates should be seated, with the results standing as they were, a position pushed by various Clinton staffers and supporters, is not just laughable, but derisively laughable. If anyone actually made that case in front of me, I would consider them not even worth listening to. They wouldn't even be wrong. Obama and Edwards did the "right" thing by having their names taken off the ballot (something Florida law prevented) while Clinton chose to leave her name on. To think being the only real option on the ballot other than "Uncommitted" didn't have a major effect on the tally is ridiculous. To further claim Clinton should get the 54% of delegates she won while Obama should get none (since his name wasn't on the ballot) is ridiculous.

The last primaries are Tuesday. Once those are done, there will be serious pressure placed on any unpledged superdelegate (including Arizona's CD8 rep) to pick a side and announce it by the end of the week, or start of next week at the earliest ... at which point in time everyone needs to pull together and focus on McCain. Even if Dems win more seats in the House and Senate (which looks likely), it will be hard to achieve much on Iraq, spying on citizens, torture, bad health care policy or anything else Republicans favor and Democrats oppose while a Republian wields the veto stamp.