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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

The Way Forward

In Afghanistan, Election 2006, Election 2008, Global War On Terror, Iraq War, Misc., Progressive Politics, Terrorism on April 5, 2007 at 5:27 pm

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about the War since I started contributing to this blog a few months ago, but comment on a recent post has forced my hand. Much talk has been made on the fact that America must stay in Iraq until is has “acheived victory”, and that “surrender”, “cut and run”, or any option otherwise is paramount to failure. This argument, though, always makes me laugh, while at the same time noding my head, reflecting the intrinsic duality of our mission and our goals in this shattered country.

In many ways, “victory” is no longer America’s to acheive, it’s Iraq’s. When the occupation began in 2002, we dissolved – entirely – any semblance of statehood and public works the country had in a vain hope that we could re-shape it into something more palatable to the West and Iraqis at large. However bad they were, though, the Baathists could at least keep the lights on and the water running. But since we dismissed all public employees and replaced state offices with private contractors, maintaining necessary services became a little tough. The police and army – well-armed, well-trained personnel – were also given their walking papers, making idle hands truly the devil’s plaything. These mistakes, made by acting Pro-Consul L. Paul Bremer, and the administrations desire to deploy half the troops needed to secure a country of this size, helped speed Iraq towards disaster.

We created an immense power vaccum in Iraq which forced it’s people to revert to the only kind of law and order they had left – tribal councils and ethnic divisions – which lead us to the country’s current state of chaos. Though the Maliki government – elected with all of those inked fingers so long ago – has been unable to quell the seething violence throughout it’s country, there is no gaurantee our troops have or will be any more sucessful. If anything, our presence undercuts any authority the government has and intrinsically calls into question its autonomy. High rates of unemployment also fuel both the insurgency and the sense of hopelessness in Iraq. Take away the hundreds of over-fed American corporations “rebuilding” towns and business, give potential insurgents a steady job and a proper wage and see how many are willing to put down their guns for a shovel. We have taken so much from these people, it is time that their home be put back into their own hands. In this way, our vision of Iraq as a stable, legitimately soverign nation will never come to fruition until we leave.

But yet, the omnipresent issue of security surrounds every choice being made, and rightfully so. The fact of the matter is that our men and women sit in the midst of a growing civil war that has the potential to engulf the rest of the region in bloody ethnic cleansing; and the Maliki government is both unable and unwilling to bring the violence to an end at the cost of compromise with their former oppressors. As more and more countries from our “coalition” pack up and leave, the greater our responsibility is to protect Iraqi’s from themselves. It is clear that without our presence, the bloodshed will possibly escalate to ugly proportions, making us neither liberators, nor occupiers, but rather enablers: the country that turned it’s back on the mess it made and allowed it to fester into a horrific genocide. With all these circumstances, though, it is difficult to promote a continuation of a war that has brought to view the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, unprecidented financial misappropriation, the formation of a private mercenary army of over 25,000 that operates outside any jurisdiction and enough tortue and human rights abuses to take the Hague’s present staff into retirement.

One of the most interesting plan I’ve read on constructive disengagement from Iraq came from former Senator and ’72 Presidential candidate George McGovern. In a lenghty, detailed, and amazingly level-headed piece in Harpers magazine last year, George presents a multi-faceted, responsible alternative to a “troop surge”. Though removal of our forces is a key element to this plan, he proposes to replace them with services that would probably prove to be much more effective than our previous efforts. A multi-national security force will be put in place of our military and will include personnel from muslim nations who – unlike us – speak fluent Arabic. Instead of pouring money into Haliburton, we will give our billions directly to established Iraqi government funds for reconstruction, reparations, and the continuing development of State and local government at large, all while being monitored by third party auditors to ensure transparent and responsible spending by both sides. In addition, McGovern encourages the establishment professional training programs for doctors, lawyers, social workers, and more, filling the desperate needs of a country that has experienced a drain of mental capacity along with everything else.

Though my paraphrasing is not doing his plan justice, McGovern’s concept is far more important. Since taking power in the House and Senate, the Democrats have been fervently seeking to withdrawl our troops and finally challenge the administration in an attempt to execute the percieved will of the people. All the while, Republicans have continued to counter their time tables and budget points with shouts of treason and failure. Both parties are desperately trying to make up for their past mistakes and making bold statements to try to carry political favor – Democrats with immediate ends, Republicans with redoubled efforts. Neither, though, is the responsible course of action. The myriad consequences from the abhorrent mishandling of the war cannot be undone by a temporary influx of over-worked troops. And though the sight of these troops coming home is an invaluable photo-op for any Dem who signed their tickets, it must be done in a responsible, methodical, and well planned manner. A quick-fix deadline motivated by political ambition is reminiscent of our “Mission Accomplished” carrier jamboree (case in point, Afghanistan). The point of this horribly long rant is that the issues and consequences involved with Iraq are far more complex than we have been led to believe, and there is no single solution to the war. “Victory” will require compromise between our own warring houses, and will most likely look much different than we have been led to believe. We have been pushed towards dangerous extremism over the last few years, so much so that we have begun to see everything in absolutes. The question before us should not be merely fight or flee, there is a middle ground that must be occupied in order for the country to survive. We must stay in some capacity in order to keep some semblance of security, but we can’t continue such invasive combat operations as the only ones walking the beat. Troops and weoponry must not be the only reflection of America’s presence in the region, either. The surge proposed by the Republicans can have a tinge of bleeding-heart Liberalism if we send an enlarged contingent of benign civilian and financial aid to help heal what we’ve destroyed. For too long, we have represented a single-minded absolutist nation. The way forward must utilize all aspects of American foreign policy, not just the ones that go boom.

“What Happens When Bush Vetoes?”

In Afghanistan, Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Policing, Terrorism on April 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm

From an e-mail sent to me by Chris Dodd for President, which, I suppose, is an organization trying to get Dodd elected president.

If President Bush delays funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by vetoing the war supplemental passed last week, how will Democrats react?

One course of action would be to capitulate and immediately write the President another blank check, devoid of benchmarks and accountability.

But that’s not the right choice, nor is it what Democrats were elected to do on November 7, 2006.

Assuming a veto, Senator Russ Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid plan to introduce legislation next Tuesday mandating that President Bush begin troop withdrawals one hundred and twenty days after passage.

The bill also serves notice that funding for the war will end by March 31, 2008.

Senator Dodd has signed on as one of the first co-sponsors of the Feingold-Reid bill.

Will you lend your support to this important piece of legislation and ask your personal networks to do the same?

http://chrisdodd.com/stopthewar

It looks like they want us to sign something supporting this legislation, which will only be introduced after Bush has smacked down some other legislation.  Well, ridiculous or not, I suppose I’ll sign it.  Feel free to do the same.

Colombia’s Death Squads and Another Forgotten War

In Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, International politics, Terrorism on February 28, 2007 at 3:30 pm

With everything going on in the Middle East, it is easy to get foreign policy blinders and neglect our approach to the rest of the world. Recently, one of George Bush’s most staunch political allies in Latin America, Colombia’s 2nd term President Álvaro Uribe, has come under fire for supposed connections to paramilitary groups and death squads operating throught the country. Considering the $4.7 Billion in aid we’ve given to the country since 2000 – not to mention all of it in the ’80s during the D.A.R.E./War on Drugs Regan years – this has our name all over it at a time when we’ve already got enough policy blunders under our belt. Columbia’s government is obviously in a state of upheaval:

“Eight pro-Uribe congressmen have been arrested for collaborating with paramilitaries, and dozens of national and regional politicians, some of whom have apparently fled the country, are under investigation. Pro-Uribe legislators, as well as the opposition, have called for special elections to “cleanse” Congress and erase suspicions that many may have won because of support from paramilitaries. A decorated colonel has been relieved of his post, and other former military officials are also under investigation.

On Feb. 19, Uribe’s foreign minister,María Consuelo Araújo, resigned after the Supreme Court arrested her brother, an Uribe-allied senator, in connection with the kidnapping of a political rival. Her father, a former governor, another brother and a cousin are also under investigation.

On Feb. 22 came the worst blow. Jorge Noguera, who served as Uribe’s campaign manager and later as head of the secret police, was arrested by the attorney general. Noguera is accused of giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them.”

This is even more troubling when one looks at his approval ratings (in the mid 60s – 70s) among Colombia’s citizenry, and his decent progress towards peace and stability in the country. Losing a popular incumbent leader to a scandal as pervasive and ugly as this could create a serious backlash in a region already foaming with anti-Americanism, to say nothing of undermining the credibility of the Colombian government as a whole. Execution lists and subsidized murder reek of Pinochet, and though we’re not taught about these moments in our own history, be damn sure they aren’t forgotten:

“Representative William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat active in Latin American affairs, said evidence of the right-of-center government’s links to death squads ‘evokes memories of the 1980s in Central America. I think you’re going to see hearings on these issues.’

Aside from the problems in Colombia, Delahunt said that ‘what we have is a Latin America policy that is an afterthought.’ “

There really isn’t much separating this from Afghanistan, where the Taliban – remember them? – has come back in a big way even before they started takin pot shots at Cheney. I guess starting one war before finishing another has unintended consequences. Despite our financial aid and the strings holding up Mr. Karzai, neither he nor the outnumbered NATO force seem to have the muscle or authority to keep this house in order and yet another terrorist group has reaped the benefits of our folly. In Colombia’s case, it might have started as a domestic conflict between the Government, FARC and ELN, but it’s been perpetuated and escalated with our money and our War on Drugs. Plan Colombia certainly isn’t doing them any favors, and it’s ineffectiveness underscores our troubling history in the region as well as our nasty habit of starting wars but not having the ability to finish them.

Whether funded by Opium or Cocaine, it seems as though warloads and guerrillas can continue to operate well out of our reach as long as we’re tied down – militarily, financially, politically and diplomatically – in Iraq; yet another half-assed war. And just as the Afghanistan has fallen back under the thumb of the Taliban, so too is Iraq slipping more and more into the sphere of influence of Iran. If the Uribe’ administration collapses under the weight of it’s own bloody corruption, a similar power vacuum might open it’s mouth over Colombia, in which case Ahmadinejad’s best friend, the great consolidator Hugo Chavez, will be ready to make room for another country in his grand designs for domination. How many more situations like these are waiting for us? When are we truly going to know the cost of our forgotten wars?

Immigration Detention Centers Privatize Food (PS: Food’s top reason for rioting)

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Race, Terrorism, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:26 am

Whew… Could turn into an underreported mess

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau has decided to hire an Alaska Native corporation to take over detention center food service work currently performed by dozens of federal employees.

Fifty-six ICE food service employees at detention centers in Miami; Los Angeles; Los Fresnos and El Paso, Texas; Florence, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., will be replaced by ANC workers, according to a notice posted earlier this month on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. The decision was made after the agency conducted a streamlined public-private job competition, in which officials decided after completing market research that it would be best to outsource the work.

Officials then announced in the notice early this month that, rather than soliciting proposals from all interested private sector companies, they would give the work to an Alaska Native firm. These companies are considered disadvantaged and allowed to bypass some of the normal competitive procedures required to win federal contracts.

…”ICE is not required to even show that this type of contractor is cheaper or better than federal employees, so the results of the … competition don’t matter, much less the way it was conducted,” said one person at the Homeland Security Department, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. ICE is part of DHS.

…A separate agency source predicted that officials may have a difficult time making a smooth transition to a contract workforce.

“I foresee disturbances likely to occur after the new contractors take over,” said the source, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity. “One of the primary reasons inmates [and] detainees riot is the quality of the food service. Contract employees will be held to strict time limits, [and] the quality and quantity will surely suffer as a result.”

Fed’l Agencies May Have to Report All Data Mining Activities

In Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on February 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week approved language that would require federal agencies to report to Congress on their use and development of data-mining technologies.

The language, approved unanimously, is based on legislation, S. 236, co-authored by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. He used the bill language for an amendment to a bill, S. 4, that would implement recommendations of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There is a sharp distinction between the federal government looking at digital records of terrorists and other criminals, and those of law-abiding citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that this technology, which can analyze vast quantities of data, does not unintentionally infringe on Americans’ personal privacy.”

Ricky Martin Defends Anti-War Stance

In Civil Liberties, Culture jamming, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on February 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I know, I know. It’s Ricky Martin. But his is an important audience to reach to continue the swell of anti-war sentiment.

Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who was a headliner at the 2001 inauguration ball for U.S. President George W. Bush, has a message for the American commander in chief about war.

At a recent concert, Martin stuck up his middle finger when he sang the U.S. president’s name in his song “Asignatura Pendiente,” which includes the words, “a photo with Bush.” The gesture last Friday prompted cheers from thousands of Puerto Rican fans in the San Juan stadium.

On Thursday, the Puerto Rican heartthrob repeated his criticism of the Iraq war and explained his changed position on Bush.

“My convictions of peace and life go beyond any government and political agenda and as long as I have a voice onstage and offstage, I will always condemn war and those who promulgate it,” Martin said about his action in an e-mail statement sent to The Associated Press via a spokesman.

Today’s Cartoon

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Direct action, Economic Justice, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Immigration, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Policing, political cartoons, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:45 am

Jack Bauer fills post-9/11 torture void, and then some

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

well put, Political Animal

GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS….Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it’s having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show’s staff that “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

But here’s another observation about TV torture. It’s alluded to in passing in Mayer’s article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

….The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer’s identity was more likely to be an American hero like “24’s” Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That’s one of the ways you know they’re bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing’s changed. It’s still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

Domestic Spying: Errors Cloud Data Mining

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on December 21, 2006 at 10:58 am

Every once in a while the Cato Institute makes an intelligent statement (from Washington Technology):

Data mining’s high error rate makes it wrong for fighting terrorism, according to a new report.

The report by Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, and Jeff Jonas, chief scientist with IBM Corp.’s Entity Analytic Solutions Group, said that data mining results in false positive rates of more than 90 percent. The error rate cannot be reduced substantially, they said, because the underlying analysis depends on the existence of terrorism patterns. These are nearly impossible to discern, because such a small amount of data is available.

“The statistical likelihood of false positives is so high that predictive data mining will inevitably waste resources and threaten civil liberties,” they wrote.

so, Senator, you WON’T be soft on terrorism?!?

In Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Terrorism, US Politics on December 20, 2006 at 10:43 am

You know you’re in rough shape when you slaughter the opposition in a general election and still have to combat framing like this “Key senator says Democrats will not be soft on terrorism.”

A Bit of Good News

In Civil Liberties, Election 2006, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism on November 19, 2006 at 3:36 am

From the Jurist

US Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced legislation Thursday that would restore habeas corpus rights to military detainees and make other amendments to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA). A key provision in the MCA, which President Bush signed into law last month, strips US courts of jurisdiction to consider writs of habeas corpus filed by detainees classified as enemy combatants. Dodd’s bill, the Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act, would restore those protections. The amendments would also narrow the class of detainees identified as unlawful enemy combatants who are affected by the MCA’s habeas restriction. Among other key provisions are the exclusion of evidence acquired by coercion and the exclusion of hearsay evidence that judges deem unreliable.

Earlier this month, lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay petitioned the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to declare the suspension of habeas rights unconstitutional. In an amicus brief in the case, seven retired federal judges urged the appeals court to rule that parts of the MCA violate the Constitution. Dodd’s bill would also provide for expedited review of the MCA to ensure its constitutionality.

Mexican President condemns “assassination” of Brad Will

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, Terrorism, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on October 31, 2006 at 1:03 pm

MSM is still calling it a shootout (there are no guns used on theside of the popular uprising), but they’re referring to Brad’s death as an ‘assassination‘ now. If you doubt the claim that no guns were used, please watch the final, graphic, and painful minutes of Brad’s life – he films his own shooting. I have avoided linking to it until now because it is too difficult for me to watch, but this “shootout” business is just getting to be too much. Please note, when you’re not in a shoot out, you’re simply being shot at.

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) — Mexican federal police, who occupied the southern city of Oaxaca yesterday, will remain “as long as necessary” to establish order after five months of protests, presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said.

Aguilar read a statement from Mexican President Vicente Fox condemning the “assassination” of U.S. journalist Bradley Will. Will, who worked for Indymedia in New York and had entered Mexico on a tourist visa, was killed Oct. 27 during a shootout between protesters and police, the U.S. Embassy said.

For a happier video of Brad, watch this (I recommend skipping to the second song at 3:30 into it).

UN Says Military Commissions Act May Violate International Treaties

In Civil Liberties, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on October 29, 2006 at 1:15 pm

According to an article released this past week, the UN is raising concern over the Military Commissions Act and its compatibilty with international law.

Washington’s new anti-terrorism law could end up violating international treaties protecting detainees, with some provisions denying suspects the right to a fair trial, a key U.N. rights expert said Friday.

Martin Scheinin, the United Nations’ expert on protecting human rights in the fight against terrorism, said the Military Commissions Act signed into law earlier this month by U.S. President George W. Bush contains provisions “incompatible” with U.S. obligations to adhere to treaties on human rights and humanitarian law.

“One of the most serious aspects of this legislation is the power of the president to declare anyone, including U.S. citizens, without charge as an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ – a term unknown in international humanitarian law,” said Scheinin, a legal expert from Finland.

As a result, he said, those detainees are subject to the jurisdiction of a military commission composed of military officers – rather than a civilian court of law.

He also deplored the denial of the habeas corpus rights of foreigners – including legal, permanent U.S. residents – to challenge the legality of their detention, “in manifest contradiction with” the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty the U.S. ratified in 1992.

Another concern, Scheinin said, is the denial of detainees’ rights to see evidence that could exonerate them if the evidence is deemed classified. That, he said, “severely impedes the right to a fair trial.”

Even though it’s great that the UN is saying this, I’m not expecting much to come of it. I mean, after all, it’s not the first time that the current administration has ignored the opinion of the UN and gone ahead to do what it wants. For some reason the UN seems powerless against the US, and that’s a scary thing. I would also like to know where the UN was a while back, before the signing of the bill. Couldn’t they have spoken up then? Why wait until after it’s signed to make such statements.

Election Decor

In Afghanistan, Civil Liberties, Election 2006, Global War On Terror, Sexuality, Terrorism on October 26, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Other countries use U.S. as model for prisoner abuse

In Civil Liberties, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on October 25, 2006 at 11:31 am

One of the key criticisms I heard about the Military Commissions Act and the U.S. treatment of prisoners in the weeks leading up to the signing of the act was that by allowing such actions, we are setting an example for the rest of the world. Given that we treat prisoners in such a way, what happens when a U.S. soldier, a U.S. citizen, or anyone else is labelled as an “enemy combatant,” captured by a foreign government, and tortured? How can we possibly criticize them for it, given that we do the same thing?

When I first heard that criticism, it was offered as a hypothetical situation. But yesterday, a report was published by Reuters that explained how other countries have in fact been citing the U.S. as an excuse/inspiration/model for their treatment of prisoners.

Some countries try to refute criticism over their treatment of prisoners by saying they are only following the U.S. example on handling terror suspects, a U.N. human rights expert said on Monday.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. investigator on torture, told a news conference that “all too frequently” governments respond to criticism about their jails by saying they handled detainees the same way the United States did.

“The United States has been the pioneer of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world,” Nowak said. “Today, other governments are kind of saying, ‘But why are you criticizing us, we are not doing something different than what the United States is doing.'”

He said nations like Jordan tell him, “We are collaborating with the United States so it can’t be wrong if it is also done by the United States.”

Nowak, along with other U.N. human rights officials, has criticized U.S. policies against terror suspects, including secret jails, harsh treatment and the lack of due process. He turned down a visit to Guantanamo Bay because he could not interview detainees and prison officials in private.

He has argued that if there is evidence against detainees, after years in jail, it should be presented to the usually “efficient” and fair civilian courts rather than military tribunals.

Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said the new U.S. law adopted earlier this month, which outlaws rape and most forms of torture, still allows harsh interrogation methods rights advocates say border on torture. And it does not permit appeals in U.S. federal court…

Habeas Corpus: Let’s start with the basics

In Civil Liberties, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Terrorism on October 24, 2006 at 2:19 pm

We have decided to have habeas corpus and the Military Commissions Act become an ongoing theme over the next month, so I figure we should start it off with the basics. Below is some basic background information followed by some ranting:

What is habeas corpus? What does it mean? Many of us hear the phrase thrown around and many of us have used it without truly knowing the history of it. Since Lift While Climbing has decided to focus on posts involving habeas corpus over the next month, I thought the best way to start off would be to go straight to the origins of the phrase – what does it mean and where does it come from?

According to Wikipedia,

In common law countries, habeas corpus (/’heɪbiəs ‘kɔɹpəs/), Latin for “you [should] have the body”, is the name of a legal instrument or writ by means of which detainees can seek release from unlawful imprisonment. A writ of habeas corpus is a court order addressed to a prison official (or other custodian) ordering that a detainee be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he or she should be released from custody. The writ of habeas corpus in common law countries is an important instrument for the safeguarding of individual freedom against arbitrary state action.

In the United States, way back when the original laws were being written (i.e. the Constitution), it was decided that habeas coprus would be a principal foundation of this country. It became something that represented America and something that Americans stood for.

Ever heard of due process, right to a fair trial, innocent until proven guitly, right to appeal, or the Geneva conventions? Those things are all tied to habeas corpus, but now all of that is down the drain due to the Military Commissions Act being signed.

Check out some of the criticisms of the act from Wikipedia:

A number of legal scholars and Congressional members – including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) – have said that the habeas provision of the Act violates a clause of the Constitution that says the right to challenge detention “shall not be suspended” except in cases of “rebellion or invasion.”[18]

The Act has also been denounced by critics who assert that its wording makes possible the permanent detention and torture (as defined by the Geneva Conventions) of anyone – including American citizens – based solely on the decision of the President.[19] Indeed, the wording of section 948b[20] of the act appears to explicitly contradict the Third Geneva Convention of which the United States is currently a signatory, however as long as the Act is not used when dealing with a country or countries that have also signed the conventions, the Geneva Conventions do not hold any weight.

In the House debate, Representative David Wu of Oregon offered this scenario:

Let us say that my wife, who is here in the gallery with us tonight, a sixth generation Oregonian, is walking by the friendly, local military base and is picked up as an unlawful enemy combatant. What is her recourse? She says, I am a U.S. citizen. That is a jurisdictional fact under this statute, and she will not have recourse to the courts? She can take it to Donald Rumsfeld, but she cannot take it across the street to an article 3 court.[21]

One has described the Act as “the legalization of the José Padilla treatment” – referring to the American citizen who was declared an unlawful enemy combatant and then imprisoned for three years before finally being charged with a lesser crime than was originally alleged.[22] A legal brief filed on Padilla’s behalf alleges that during this time he was subjected to sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, and enforced stress positions.[23]

Amnesty International said that the Act “contravenes human rights principles.”[24] An editorial in The New York Times described the Act as “a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts.”[25]

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said, “The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.” [26]

The law has also been criticized for allegedly giving a retroactive, nine-year immunity to U.S. officials who authorized, ordered, or committed potential acts of abuse on detainees.[27]

Unfortuneately, in this country, the possibility of Hillary Clinton having plastic surgery in the past is bigger news than the death of one of the principles the country itself was founded on. Most people probably don’t even realize that she has spoken out against the act, but they do realize that she’s challenging the alleged attacks on her looks as a teenager. The death of habeas corpus should be big news everyday, hands down.

Thank God for Keith Olbermann.  Also, thank God that we have places like youtube where we can watch videos made by people at home.  One good example is the one below where students filmed themselves protesting the Military Commisions Act and used the footage to remix the video for “American Idiot” by Green Day. I’d like to officially call out to all young people: follow their lead and make videos, art, music about this. Spread it on the net. Take media into your own hands!

The Military Commissions Act and Bush’s history of prisoner treatment

In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, Global War On Terror, Immigration, Laws & Regulation, Race, Terrorism, US Politics on October 21, 2006 at 11:02 am

I was doing a little searching on the topic of the Military Commissions Act and found a great piece by Heather Wokusch at the Guerilla News Network.  I decided to repost the entire article below:

What the Military Commissions Act of 2006 means for you

Now that you could be labeled an enemy combatant…

Since Congress recently handed Bush the power to identify American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” and detain them indefinitely without charge, it’s worth examining the administration’s record of prisoner abuse as well as the building of stateside detention centers.

As Texas governor (from 1995-2000) Bush oversaw the executions of 152 prisoners, and thus became the most-killing governor in the history of the United States. Ethnic minorities, many of whom did not have access to proper legal representation, comprised a large percentage of those Bush put to death, and in one particularly egregious example, Bush executed an immigrant who hadn’t even seen a consular official from his own country (as is required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which the U.S. was a signatory). Bush’s explanation: “Texas did not sign the Vienna Convention, so why should we be subject to it?”

Governor Bush also flouted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by choosing to execute juvenile offenders, a practice shared at the time only by Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Significantly, in 1998 a full 92% of the juvenile offenders on Bush’s death row were ethnic minorities.

Conditions inside Texan prisons during Bush’s reign were so notorious that federal Judge William Wayne Justice wrote, “Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions.”

In September 1996, for example, a videotaped raid on inmates at a county jail in Texas showed guards using stun guns and an attack dog on prisoners, who were later dragged face-down back to their cells.

Funding of mental health programs during Bush’s reign was so poor that Texan prisons had a sizeable number of mentally-impaired inmates; defying international human rights standards, these inmates ended up on death row. For instance, a prisoner named Emile Duhamel, with severe psychological disabilities and an IQ of 56, died in his Texan death-row jail cell in July 1998. Authorities blamed “natural causes” but a lack of air conditioning in cells that topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a summer heat wave may have killed Duhamel instead. How many other Texan prisoners died of such neglect during Bush’s governorship is unclear.

As president, Bush presides over a prison population topping two million people, giving America the dubious distinction of having a higher percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other country. When considering that (based on 2003 figures) the US has three times more prisoners per capita than Iran and seven times more than Germany, the nation looks more like a Gulag than the Land of the Free.

The White House has also stifled investigation into the roughly 760 aliens (mainly Muslim men) the U.S. government rounded up post-9/11, ostensibly for immigration violations. Amnesty International reports that 9/11 detainees have suffered “a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some corrections officers” and a denial of “basic human rights.”

Then of course, there’s Guantanamo, where the U.S. is holding hundreds of detainees in top secrecy and without access to courts, legal counsel or family visits. Add to that the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis the U.S. has imprisoned (including a large percentage of innocent civilians) and countless U.S. secret prisons across the globe, and it looks as if incarceration is the nation’s best export.

While Abu Ghraib may have left administration officials falling over themselves with protestations of compassion, it’s worth remembering that the Bush White House has fought hard against the International Convention Against Torture, especially a proposal to establish voluntary inspections of prisons and detention centers in signatory countries, such as the United States.

Put it all together, and last week’s passage of the Military Commissions Act is ominous for those in the U.S. As Bruce Ackerman noted recently in The Los Angeles Times, the legislation “authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any protections of the Bill of Rights.” The vague criteria for being labeled an enemy combatant (taking part in “hostilities against the United States”) don’t help either. Would that include anti-war protestors? People who criticize Bush? Unclear.

In 2002, former Attorney General John Ashcroft called for the indefinite detainment of U.S. citizens he considered to be “enemy combatants,” and while widely criticized at the time, Congress went ahead and fulfilled Ashcroft’s nefarious vision last week. Ashcroft had also called for stateside internment camps, and accordingly, in January 2006 the U.S. government awarded a Halliburton subsidiary $385 million to build detention centers to be used for, “an unexpected influx of immigrants or to house people after a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space.” New programs that require additional detention space. Hmm.

The disgraceful Military Commissions Act and the building of domestic internment camps are yet more examples of blowback from the administration’s so-called war on terror, and we ignore these increasing assaults on our civil liberties at our own peril.

Action Ideas:

1. Read the Military Commissions Act of 2006 for yourself here: Find out how your congressmembers voted on this legislation, and raise the topic when they ask for your vote this November.

2. For more information on U.S. prisoner abuse, check out BBC’s report from 2005 entitled “Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons.” Text and video versions are archived here. You can learn more about U.S. prisoner’s rights from the American Civil Liberties Union.

3. To take action regarding “the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror,“ visit Cageprisoners.com.

GNN contributor Heather Wokusch is the author of The Progressives’ Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now (Volumes 1 and 2). Heather can be reached at www.heatherwokusch.com.

I strongly recommend clicking on some of the links in the article, in particular the one to Amnesty International’s article on the death penalty in Texas. While I had heard of some of this stuff before, it’s worse than I thought. Something must be done to put a stop to this madness.

Santorum, Does that Make Bush Bilbo Baggins?

In Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Election 2006, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, International Public Health, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Terrorism, US Politics on October 18, 2006 at 9:32 pm

For the moment, I’m embarrassed to be from Pennsylvania. 

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the “Eye of Mordor” has been drawn to Iraq instead…

A spokesman for Democratic opponent Bob Casey Jr. questioned the appropriateness of the analogy. “You have to really question the judgment of a U.S. senator who compares the war in Iraq to a fantasy book,” said Casey spokesman Larry Smar. “This is just like when he said Kim Jong II isn’t a threat because he just wants to “watch NBA basketball.’ ”