Saturday, May 9, 2009

Funny quote

They'll basically be a party of gray-haired old men sitting around the country club puffing cigars, sipping brandy and wondering whatever happened to the country. That will be the end of the party.
So sez Mike Huckabee about the GOP. My initial thought is - and this is different from what Huckabee is recommending (i.e., make the GOP even more of BNP-style party than it already is) how? Maybe there would be a slightly different demographic of gray-haired old men sitting around their militia compounds, chugging Coors Lite, still mourning the decline of the US. One thing that Huckabee and his ilk need to consider is that their party has been hemorrhaging sensible conservatives and moderates for the last few years - some of whom are close personal friends and family, others of whom are merely casual acquaintances on the Internet. While these sane conservatives and moderates and I might vehemently disagree with each other on many issues, we at least can hold a conversation without risk of things devolving into a shouting match or some sort of weird cyberstalking behavior. As it is now, what areas of the US that the GOP seems likely to be able to control appear headed to be the mirror image of the more reactionary regions in Central Asia (think of some of the territories controlled by warlords in some of the "Stans" and you'll get the picture - just set aside the superficial differences in religious rhetoric and social customs, and seriously, what's the difference?).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Today is National Nancy Off the Table Day

David Swanson sez:
That's right, children, it's national Nancy Day, honoring the occasion on May 7, 2006, when Nancy Pelosi first allowed Tim Russert to badger her into agreeing that she wouldn't permit the impeachment of Saint George or Father Dick, not even if they barbequed children on the White House lawn.

[snip]

But, fun and games aside, the real reason for Nancy Day is to honor what Nancy Pelosi did for us three years ago. Had she not acted so corruptly and with such absolute absence of spine, "looking forward" today might not mean the same thing at all, since criminal prosecutions and accountability might have already happened and there would be nothing left to do but look forward. In fact, had Nancy not done that voodoo that she does, torture might be over now, not just officially halted. Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan might be forced to get along without our bombs and soldiers, habeas corpus might be considered applicable to just anybody, rendition might not have become ordinary, we might not have laws made and unmade with executive orders because Congress might make the laws without signing statements or secret memos, and Congress's subpoenas might be obeyed. Congress might even be asked to approve or reject treaties. And "state secrets" might just be a category on Jeopardy.

So, count your blessings, boys and girls. Honor your elders. Praise Pelosi, eliminator of impeachment. And be on the lookout for pagan talk about trying, in this modern age, to impeach a guy named Jay Bybee.

Needless to say, in part for her pledge to take impeachment off the table, my blog has been anti-Pelosi.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Speaking of Wire

here's a blast from the past, from the same album (released three decades ago) 154, entitled "The 15th". This particular clip is really just the audio from the studio album. I've also seen some live footage of the band performing this particular tune from around the same time.



Let's follow that one up with a live clip of "Heartbeat", from their 1978 album Chairs Missing:



That particular period of Wire made for some fascinating listening. Their music initially got lumped in with the punk explosion of 1976/1977, but their music would more properly be termed post punk. Their tunes were this mixture of punkish rawness, icy minimalism, existential angst, and an almost Zen-like calm. They also tended not to stand still, constantly revising, refining, and moving on as need be - a quality that must have been vexing to music industry wonks when it came time to promote their newly released records, since by the time they'd tour they'd have little to no interest in performing the songs from those recording sessions. Their mid-1980s comeback produced its share of interesting moments. Then Wire just faded away. I understand that the band is back together, and I read that their new material is being well-received. For me, the moment for Wire passed a couple decades ago, but I'm glad that they're still able to do what they enjoy doing.

The Other Window

When faced with the choice of looking away and facing the cold hard truth, we can inevitably count on a large proportion of Americans to choose the former.

"The Other Window" (from the Wire album, 154)

He took his seat on the foreign train
He thought it pleasant to travel again
Mindful of the journey's end
He read again the letter from his friend

Time passed as it often does

The seat was hard, the carriage fetid
He was dressed for summer, but still he sweated
It was better than being home
Feeling the cold, and living alone

Time passed slowly

Around him people spoke in French
Despite schooldays it made no sense
Occasional stares caught his eye
He was tempted to smile, but

Being shy, time passed

When he looked through the window
For the thousandth time
He saw a black horse fighting for its life

In a barbed wire fence
Fatally tangled
The more it struggled
The more it was strangled

Time sped up

He turned away
What could he do?
The other window
Had a nicer view

Time passed painfully

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Signs of the times

Tent cities and falling wages.

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Yo prometo lealtad a la bandera
de los estados Unidos de America,
y a la Republica que representa,
una Nacion bajo Dios,
entera,
con libertad y justicia para todos."
Muchas gracias, David Neiwert.

Monday, May 4, 2009

David Swanson on an even worse Bybee memo

I'm taking the liberty of quoting the essay in full. This needs to be seen by as many eyes as possible:
Jay Bybee wrote another memo that nobody has noticed, one purporting to authorize crimes far worse than torture, the same crimes the torture was itself intended to create false justifications for. On October 23, 2002, Assistant Attorney General Bybee signed a 48-page memo to the "counsel to the president" (Alberto Gonzales) titled "Authority of the President Under Domestic and International Law to Use Military Force Against Iraq." This was another secret law, but instead of authorizing particular uses of torture (which in reality were far exceeded, engaged in prior to the memos, etc.), this one authorized any president to single-handedly commit what Nuremberg called "the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." And while the torture memos extensively and grotesquely limited the days of sleep deprivation and the hours of waterboarding, the aggressive war memo included only a single paragraph at the bottom of page 47 requiring that:
"Were the President to determine that the use of force in self-defense is necessary to counter the threat posed by Iraq's WMD program, such force should be proportional; in other words, it should be limited to that which is needed to eliminate the threat posed by Iraq."
When this memo was written, our president, vice president, and top cabinet officials were screaming about Iraq's vast quantities of weapons, but Bybee was already crafting his justifications around the idea of weapons "programs."
The result was guaranteed to be massive death, no matter how "proportional" to the nonexistent threat. But the permission was also guaranteed to be wildly exceeded by anybody's definition. The result has been 1.2 - 1.3 million deaths according to Just Foreign Policy's updated figure based on the Johns Hopkins / Lancet report, and according to the British polling company Opinion Research Business's estimate as of August 2007. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Iraqis who have fled their homes has reached 4.7 million. If these estimates are accurate, a total of nearly 6 million human beings have been displaced from their homes or killed. Many times that many have certainly been injured, traumatized, impoverished, and deprived of clean water and other basic needs, including the need to have parents.

And what has accumulated in the evil of the whole? The current occupation of Iraq has seen the United States target civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances; use antipersonnel weapons including cluster bombs in densely settled urban areas; use white phosphorous as a weapon; use depleted uranium weapons; employ a new version of napalm found in Mark 77 firebombs; engage in collective punishment of Iraqi civilian populations; including by blocking roads, cutting electricity and water, destroying fuel stations, planting bombs in farm fields, demolishing houses, and plowing down orchards; detain people without charge or legal process without the rights of prisoners of war; imprison children; torture; and murder. Michael Haas has published a well-documented book with the clear title: "George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration's Liability for 269 War Crimes." Jay Bybee's liability must not be minimized.

Bybee's memo declares that a president has the power to launch wars. Period. The "authorization to use force" passed by Congress is treated as gravy on top of this basic power. According to Bybee's copy of the U.S. Constitution, Congress can "issue formal declarations of war." According to mine, Congress has the power "to declare war," as well as every related substantive power. In fact, there are no incidental formal powers anywhere in my copy of the Constitution.

Bybee dismisses the War Powers Act by citing Nixon's veto of it rather than the law itself, and upholds the "authorization to use force" without mentioning the requirements it included for the president, requirements he later met by lying about weapons and ties to 9-11. Bybee cites letters written by Bush as authoritative. He even cites a Bush signing statement. And, of course, he cites and relies on previous memos produced by his office, the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice.

Bybee relies heavily on the "Bill Clinton sort-of did it and might have done it, and therefore it is legal," argument. For good measure, he throws in Truman and Bush Sr. and Kennedy and Reagan, not to mention an Israeli ambassador's opinion of a U.N. declaration condemning an aggressive attack by Israel. The thrust of the argument is that, because Bush Sr. and Clinton launched strikes into Iraq it's OK for Bush Jr. to launch a whole lot of them. This would be the same as arguing that because Bush Jr. and Obama launched strikes into Pakistan, Obama or any future president can launch a full-scale war there. Legally, this is nonsense. The strikes are as illegal as the war would be. Politically, it's something to consider: do we really want to maintain silent acceptance of such strikes?

Bybee claims not only that a president can simply launch any war he wants, and that the "authorization to use force" somehow adds to that complete and total power, but also that -- in terms of international law -- attacking Iraq would be justified both as authorized by the UN Security Council and as an act of self-defense. The war would not be so much a new war, Bybee claims, as the suspension of a cease-fire that Iraq suspended first. And the Security Council would have authorized a war even though the Security Council itself might claim otherwise. Bybee redefines self-defense as "anticipatory self-defense" and argues that the authors of the UN Charter could never possibly have meant otherwise. And he adds that, in an age of nuclear weapons, anticipatory self-defense can justify launching a war against any nation that might conceivably acquire nukes, even if there was no reason to think that nation would use them to attack yours:
"We observe, therefore, that even if the probability that Iraq itself would attack the United States with WMD, or would transfer such a weapon to terrorists for their use against the United States, were relatively low, the exceptionally high degree of harm that would result, combined with a limited window of opportunity and the likelihood that if we do not use force, the threat will increase, could lead the President to conclude that military action is necessary to defend the United States."
This memo justified a war of aggression and all the crimes and abuses of power abroad and at home that were justified by the war. Jay Bybee has a lifetime appointment as a federal judge wearing black robes drenched in the crimson blood of his victims. His crimes are on paper in black and white for the world to see. If he is not impeached and prosecuted, similar horrors await our planet in the near future.
You'll notice near the end of the essay that there is a link to the Bybee memo in question, in pdf format. Obviously, the hope is that you'll download it, read it on your own, and then decide for yourself as to what conclusions can be drawn.

At Notes From Underground, we've tried to periodically draw attention to the estimates of those killed in the current phase of the Iraq War (that is, the phase initiated by Bush II on March 20, 2003; it is been noted elsewhere that the first phase was initiated by Bush I, and the second supposedly humanitarian phase launched by the Clinton regime), the internally displaced, along with such practices as the use of white phosphorus, depleted uranium bombs, the use of 40,000 pound bombs on heavily populated areas, destruction of Iraq's infrastructure, urbicide, and of course torture. Analysis of the reasons for this particular phase of the Iraq War has been provided as well from time to time (both here and elsewhere). Just as a friendly reminder:
The far less feel-good narrative is that those who pushed for and executed the war knew exactly what they were doing, and are quite comfortable with the massive human displacement that has resulted. In other contexts, it gets referred to as "shock therapy," and indeed Naomi Klein refers to Iraq as just one more test case for Friedmanesque neoliberalism in her recent book, The Shock Doctrine (here's a video that gives you some idea of what to expect from the book - not a substitute for reading the book of course!!). Heck, RickB of Ten Percent makes something of a reference to Klein's book in his post The Surge Doctrine - which is what turned me on to the article I just excerpted (a tip o' the hat to you RickB!). The complete drain of qualified scholars and technicians has guaranteed that Iraq - or whatever it eventually becomes - will be stuck with US and UK firms running the country (for a hefty fee, of course), while the rest of the government is little more than a hollowed-out shell. For some corporate executives, it's quite a racket they're running. The masses of now-disposable humanity, kept largely out of sight and out of mind is by design. Those few Iraqis who manage to make any semblance of a living there will accept ridiculously low wages without complaint for fear of losing even that pittance. As long as the chaos remains contained outside of The Green Zone, everything is just hunky-dory.

In another context, Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas referred to the mass-displacement caused by NAFTA as genocidal. That would seem quite an apt summary of what's going on in Iraq.
What has been particularly startling is simply the banality of the evils committed during the first sorry decade of the much ballyhooed New American Century. In Dostoevsky's classic novella Notes From Underground, the author distinguishes between his protagonist (whom we know as "the underground man") and "men of action." The latter are apparently able to go through life without so much as a thought about what they are doing or why they are doing it. Decades later, Hannah Arendt would make it clear that these "men of action" are the ones most at risk to commit acts of grave evil (her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, in which she introduces the term "banality of evil" is an absolute must-read in order to truly grasp the consequences of action without thought). Harold Pinter, in his Nobel Lecture in 2005 brought up the point once more:
The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable.

[snip]

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.
Got it? No thought. Banality. The terrifying reality of those victimized by imperium is minimized, if not altogether ignored. Those who perpetrate heinous crimes thus far do not only escape punishment, but get promoted - in Bybee's case with a life-time position as a federal judge. Perhaps more terrifying - those who drafted the legal documents, those who promoted these war crimes from the highest levels, are likely much like Eichmann and others who were tried for war crimes after WWII: strikingly normal. Perhaps the common thread is a lack of or an unwillingness to engage in reflective thought - a thread not only common to the individuals involved but to the cultures that nurtured these individuals. Our culture is one that is addicted to "feel-good" messages - what I'm offering up is precisely the opposite. Looking in the mirror, both individually and collectively, at the close of this particular decade will not feel good. Even less comforting for many of my fellow Americans is the realization that they have no control over how others judge us as a nation or as individuals residing within that nation, and that ultimately it will be impossible to suppress those judgments - no matter how harsh they may be. In the famous one-act play No Exit (by Jean-Paul Sartre), there's a famous line in which one of the characters, Garcin, states, "Hell is other people." From as global a perspective as I can offer, let me be the first to say, welcome to Hell.

Kent State - 39 years ago today

Never forget.

It looks like a crusade

US Soldiers in Afghanistan Told to "Hunt People for Jesus... So We Get Them into the Kingdom":

Military officials at Bagram are caught on tape urging US soldiers to evangelize in the Muslim country.

New video evidence has surfaced showing that US military forces in Afghanistan have been instructed by the military's top chaplain in the country to "hunt people for Jesus" as they spread Christianity to the overwhelmingly Muslim population. Soldiers also have imported bibles translated into Pashto and Dari, the two dominant languages of Afghanistan. What's more, the center of this evangelical operation is at the huge US base at Bagram, one of the main sites used by the US military to torture and indefinitely detain prisoners.

In a video obtained by Al Jazeera and broadcast Monday, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him."

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

The translated Bibles appear to be the New Testament. According to Al Jazeera, US soldiers "had them specially printed and shipped to Afghanistan." On the tape, one soldier describes how his church in the US helped raise money for the bibles. Al Jazeera reports that "What these soldiers have been doing may well be in direct violation of the US Constitution, their professional codes and the regulations in place for all forces in Afghanistan." The US military officially forbids "proselytising of any religion, faith or practice." But, as Al Jazeera reports:

[T]he chaplains appear to have found a way around the regulation known as General Order Number One.

"Do we know what it means to proselytise?" Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, says to the gathering.

"It is General Order Number One," an unidentified soldier replies.

But Watt says "you can't proselytise but you can give gifts."
Trying to convert Muslims to any other faith is a crime in Afghanistan. The fact that the video footage is being broadcast on Al Jazeera guarantees that it will be seen throughout the Muslim world. It is likely to add more credence to the perception that the US is engaging in a war on Islam with neo-crusader forces invading Muslim lands.
Most Americans are under the impression that the reason the US has troops in Afghanistan has something to do with preventing Osama bin Laden and his cohorts from using Afghanistan as their training ground. I seriously doubt, that outside of wingnutia, that most Americans would support some form of religious crusade. Unfortunately, what Scahill reports above is precisely what you get when you have a president (the former president Bush II) who uses religious imagery in characterizing the military efforts in Afghanistan (and for that matter Iraq). Leaving aside the question of whether the US should have ever gone to war in Afghanistan in the first place, we can at least note that the war seems to have been spun one way for public consumption, and executed in a much different way outside the public eye.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Can you spare a dime or two?

Not for me - money may be tight, but I think we'll manage to scrape by until the next paycheck. Rather, Arthur Silber could use some help. In a better world, folks with Silber's flair for writing would be in far better financial shape. Alas, his health has been rather iffy over the last few years and his sole source of income appears to be whatever he can get from those who read his essays. Unfortunately, his means of communication - i.e., his computer - seems to be on its last legs, and needs some serious repair or replacement. Agree or disagree with his opinions, but one must acknowledge a depth in his work that is sorely lacking in contemporary American discourse.

A torture memo that slipped through the cracks

This apparently is an oldie but a goody that was recently rediscovered: an emailed memo that directly implicates Bush II in authorizing various torture techniques including stress positions and sleep deprivation:
Jason Leopold had an amazing find when perusing old released FBI documents the ACLU posted has posted on their site. There are about 100,000 such memos at the site, and who knows how much else is buried in that cache? The memo he reports on was first posted by the ACLU in December 2004, but the information in it lay buried until just this week.
Senior FBI agents stationed in Iraq in 2004 claimed in an e-mail that President George W. Bush signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other harsh tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.

The FBI e-mail -- dated May 22, 2004 -- followed disclosures about abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and sought guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were obligated to report the U.S. military’s harsh interrogation of inmates when that treatment violated FBI standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential executive order.

According to the e-mail, Bush’s executive order authorized interrogators to use military dogs, “stress positions,” sleep “management,” loud music and “sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.” to extract information from detainees in Iraq, which was considered a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Bush has never before been directly linked to authorizing specific interrogation techniques at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Bush has admitted, however, that he personally signed off on the waterboarding of three "high-value" prisoners.
Leopold notes that previously the Bush White House (in the person of Alberto Gonzales) stated in 2004, "The president has not directed the use of specific interrogation techniques." But the Senate Armed Services report on Department of Defense treatment of prisoners did note that at the very least it was President Bush himself whose February 7, 2002 Executive Memorandum denying al-Qaeda and the Taliban Geneva protections, “opened the door” to torture and abuse of prisoners.
Like psychologist Jeffrey Kaye (the blogger who runs Invictus), I'll accept that maybe the journalist Leopold cannot call Bush II regime's operatives liars, but those of us not bound by such limits can call 'em like we see 'em. Obama's "let's all forgive and forget, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya" schtick is not going to cut it. Nor is simply limiting investigations and prosecutions to a handful of low-level military personnel acceptable. It is, to say the very least, highly offensive to those who have been victimized. Refusal by Obama to hold those at the highest levels of the US government responsible either betrays a profound degree of naivete or betrays a desire to have available those very same tools of torture for his own sordid reasons. It appears probable that the US will have to learn the hard way what other great (as well as lesser) powers that have engaged human rights abuses and war crimes have learned: those that fail to investigate and where need be prosecute those responsible for said abuses and war crimes on their own terms will eventually have to deal with outsiders imposing the same investigations and prosecutions on far different terms.