Observations, reflections and thinking out loud on the way up the mountain and back down again.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Doreen’s Jazz: “Mardi Gras New Orleans” (2007)
Doreen's Jazz playing "Mardi Gras New Orleans" on the sidewalk in New Orleans’ French Quarter in 2007. Performing are Doreen Ketchens doing clarinet and vocals, Lawrence Ketchens on the tuba, and Dorise Blackmon on the guitar.
The Vitter and Craig proposal to protect marriage
Desperate for a wedge issue this election year, Republicans have re-introduced in the Senate an amendment to the United States Constitution to protect marriage. Protect marriage from what is unsaid but clear: gay people. Two of these Senate sponsors are particularly outstanding representatives of their party’s idea of “family values.” This from Steve Benen at the Carpetbagger Report:
Just this week, a group of Republican senators re-introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution, which, as we know, would ban gay marriage.
And once again, the language is pretty straightforward:
Section 1. This article may be cited as the `Marriage Protection Amendment’.
Section 2. Marriage in the
shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.’. United States
This isn’t especially surprising. Republicans are looking at the political landscape, and they’re feeling awfully discouraged. The polls look bad, the base looks depressed, and fundraising looks iffy. Rallying the far-right troops with an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution — even though it has no chance at even getting so much as a hearing — might be helpful to the conservative movement.
But the funny part is looking over the list of the 10 original sponsors. Most of the names are predictable — Brownback and Inhofe, for example — but there are two others whose names stand out: Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho).
Yes, two of the principal sponsors of a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage include one far-right Republican who hired prostitutes and another far-right Republican who was arrested for soliciting gay sex an airport men’s room.
As my friend Kyle put it, these two are “not exactly the poster boys of the family values crowd or particularly upstanding examples of the supposed sanctity of the ‘union of a man and a woman.”‘
I feel safer already.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
"To Be a Liberal"
From Roy Zimmerman's new album "Thanks for the Support" available at his website.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
June 26: International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
In observance of this day, World Public Opinion released a poll of the attitudes towards torture by the citizens of nineteen nations. A majority of Americans – just barely – oppose torture unequivocally. However, 44% of Americans are tolerant of some level of torture (both limited to terrorists and unlimited), the same as Thailand and ahead only of Egypt (46%), Turkey (52%), Nigeria (54%), South Korea (51%), and India (59%).
This from World Public Opinion:
You can read the release here.The four publics that favor an exception for terrorists when innocent lives are at risk include majorities in India (59%), Nigeria (54%), and Turkey (51%), and a plurality in Thailand (44%).
Support for the unequivocal position was highest in Spain (82%), Great Britain (82%) and France (82%), followed by Mexico (73%), China (66%), the Palestinian territories (66%), Poland (62%), Indonesia (61%), and the Ukraine (59%). In five countries either modest majorities or pluralities support a ban on all torture: Azerbaijan (54%), Egypt (54%), the United States (53%), Russia (49%), and Iran (43%). South Koreans are divided.
The poll of 19,063 respondents was conducted in 19 nations, including most of the largest countries-China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia--as well as Mexico, Britain, France, Poland, Spain, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Iran, Turkey, Thailand and South Korea. The nations included represent 60 percent of the world population. The survey was fielded between January 10 and May 6. Margins of error range from +/-2 to 4 percent. The primary funder of this project is the Oak Foundation.
All of the countries polled are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and parties to the Geneva Conventions forbidding torture and other forms of abuse. All but three have also ratified the 1987 UN Convention against Torture. India has signed but not ratified the convention, while Iran has not signed it. The Palestinian territories are not eligible to be a party to the agreement.
The survey presented respondents with an argument in favor of allowing the torture of potential terrorists who threaten civilians: "Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that would save innocent lives." In fourteen nations, a majority or plurality rejected this argument in favor of the unequivocal view: "Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights standards against torture."
Those who favored an exception for terrorists were also asked whether government should generally be allowed to use torture. On average across all nations polled, just 9 percent say there should be no rules against torture. China and Turkey have the largest percentages (18% in both) who believe governments should generally be allowed to torture while France and Great Britain (4% in both) have the lowest.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Switching the constitution on and off
Gary Younge has this assessment in the Guardian:
You may read his entire essay here.… The point of these detentions has never been to see justice done, but rather to provide a teachable moment about the lengths and depths the American state would go to pursue its perceived interests in the war on terror. It was to find a place in which America could operate above and beyond not only international law but its own - a display of unfettered power not merely indifferent to, but openly contemptuous of, global and local norms.
It is a brutal allegory in which Guantánamo is not the exception but the rule: a grotesque exemplar of the Bush administration's reflexive and opportunistic response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, from the bombing of Iraq to the phone-tapping of its own citizens. Like Abu Ghraib and the "black sites" of rendition, the violations that have taken place there are systemic and systematic. Like the broader war on terror, they have been characterised by criminality and ineptitude. The camp has not hosted a single trial, and only 19 of the remaining 270 detainees have been charged.
"To protest in the name of morality against 'excesses' or 'abuses' is an error that hints at active complicity," wrote Simone de Beauvoir, referring to French atrocities in Algeria. "There are no 'abuses' or 'excesses' here, simply an all-pervasive system."
Detain, bomb, invade, torture and spy now - ask questions later. Such have been the impulses of the Bush years. But "now" inherits a past and bequeaths a legacy. "Later" keeps arriving with answers for which a largely quiescent if not compliant American public appears to have little stomach. A power grab for the state; a black hole for legality; a free rein for the military; a vacuum for democracy. Such have been the hallmarks of the Bush years.
And like so much else in these twilight months of this administration, the warped logic that underpins Guantánamo is unravelling at great pace. The recent supreme court ruling that inmates have the same rights to habeas corpus protection as "enemy combatants" held on US soil has shed its final fig leaf. Meanwhile, last week's congressional testimony and the dissenting voices of some of the inmate's military lawyers bear witness to how low the administration has stooped and how high the decision-making has gone. "The laws and constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the supreme court majority. Maybe so. But political cultures are not. They are feathers for every wind that blows, vulnerable to demagogue and democrat alike.
"To hold that the political branches may switch the constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this court, 'say what the law is'," Kennedy continued. But that is precisely what has been happening these past seven years.
Over the past four years at least five military prosecutors have resigned from their jobs or from their cases at Guantánamo because they felt their integrity would otherwise be compromised, citing tainted evidence obtained under torture and political interference. As De Beauvoir's quote indicates, there is nothing uniquely American about any of this. The US programme was modelled on Soviet techniques and has been made possible by the cooperation of other nations, including Britain, that have colluded with rendition. According to the New York Times, the former director of the CIA's clandestine service described Poland, where a large amount of the torturing took place, as "the 51st state".
Put the British in Ireland or the Belgians in the Congo and you get the same result. Gordon Brown's bid for 42-day detention without charge fits the mould perfectly. Occupations abroad ineluctably dovetail with the erosion of liberties at home. The only difference seems to be that, on paper at least, the US has set itself higher standards - a fact that exhausts its one truly renewable resource: innocence. "How on earth did we get to the point where a US government lawyer would say that ... torture is subject to perception?" asked Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, last week. How indeed?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Silvan Zingg: Boogie Woogie and Blues at Ascona 08 Fan Village
Refugees in their own country: Columbia’s indigenous people caught in the middle of civil war
The Embera Indians standing outside a sports hall in south Bogotá look out of place. This is not their natural environment and they don't want to be here. Normally, the indigenous Embera people live in a reserve thousands of miles away amid the virgin rainforests of Chocó in northwestern
Faint rays of Andean sunshine peek through the windows of the sports hall that has become a makeshift shelter for 144 displaced Embera Indians who have been forced to flee their lands. Six large plastic tents with Red Cross insignia are now their homes. Women with babies tied to their backs hold plastic cups and plates as they queue for food served from a government-run soup kitchen set up in the sports hall.
These Embera Indians arrived at Bogotá's bus terminal almost five weeks ago, after three days of trekking through jungle and a long bus journey. They had sold some of their cattle to pay for the bus tickets to the capital. The government put them first in a small temporary shelter run by Franciscan monks and then moved them to this hall located in a park.
The Emberas are caught in the middle of
's armed conflict. The remote and often ignored Colombia provinceof Chocónear the Panamanian border is a conflict zone where guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of (FARC) and government troops fight to take control of the area. Colombia
Alfonso Manucama, an Embera indigenous leader and elected governor of the village of Conondo in Chocó, remembers the day when four army helicopters suddenly landed in the middle of their indigenous reserve three years ago. Embera huts made from straw and palm trees and crops were damaged, says Manucama. Then came the guerrillas, shortly followed by more government troops who shot at each other in and around the reserve.
Since 2005, the Emberas have found themselves intermittently under siege, sometimes for periods of up to 40 days in their own reserve, while fighting goes on. The community, says Manucama, reached its breaking point and reluctantly decided to leave their reserve.
"When there's fighting between the military and guerrillas, we can't leave our homes to fish, to harvest our crops or look after our animals," says Manucama. "We endured hunger and our children suffered from malnutrition and disease."
Over the years, several Emberas have been injured and killed in the crossfire and landmines planted by guerrilla groups compound their problems.
Both government troops and the guerrillas accuse them of taking sides. "We don't get involved in the conflict and don't help either side," Manucama says, "but the guerrillas say we give the army food, while the army says we act as informants for the guerrillas."
Colombiahas the second highest internally displaced population in the world after . It's home to roughly 3 million displaced people, and a disproportionate number are from indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups. Sudan
As the number of internally displaced people continues to rise in
, over-stretched government agencies are struggling to cope. Over 8,500 displaced people from across the country arrived to Bogotá during the first five months of this year. Colombia
Embera leaders say the community feels frustrated, abandoned and hopeless. They've put together a petition to the government, with demands including a local school, bridge, and aqueduct. They also call for compensation for damage to their homes and crops from fighting between the army and guerrillas and they insist that their reserve should not be used as a battle ground.
The Emberas say they're staying in Bogotá until they're convinced the government will heed their demands.
"We come here as innocent victims determined to claim our rights as Colombian citizens and not people with a begging bowl," Manucama says. "We're not going until the government guarantees to help us. We will sleep in the streets if we have to."
The government has said the Emberas are allowed to stay in the sports hall for another week. After that, no one knows what will happen.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Nat King Cole: “Sweet Lorraine”
You can watch and listen to Nat King Cole perform “Route 66” here.
Teaching creationism and burning crosses on the arms of students
Parents and teachers complained for eleven years about a middle school teacher in
teacher undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design, an investigation has found. Mount Vernon
Eighth-graders who were taught by John Freshwater frequently had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater's class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.
For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.
"There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwater's teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the
and state standards," the consultants reported. Mount Vernon City Schools
Freshwater was told to stop teaching intelligent design and creationism, but he continued, the report found.
HR on Call Inc., the consultants who investigated allegations against Freshwater, released their findings yesterday.
school board members will meet today to discuss the report and decide what, if any, action they will take. Mount Vernon
The report confirmed that Freshwater burned crosses onto students' arms, using an electrostatic device, in December.
Freshwater told investigators the marks were X's, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student's arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it.
The family of one student who was burned filed a federal lawsuit last week against Freshwater and the district, saying the student's civil rights were violated.
Yesterday, the family's attorney, Jessica Philemond, said it was "unfortunate" that the school district didn't do anything sooner to stop Freshwater.
"These concerns had been going on for at least 11 years, and the school had not done anything," she said.
A teacher who worked in Freshwater's classroom last year also reported to investigators that Freshwater told his class that homosexuality is a sin.
If homosexuality is a sin then what is branding 12 and 13-year-old kids with crosses? Fortunately, the school board has taken a dim view of this teacher's antics and fired him.
You can read the story here and and follow-up story here. Comments from Obsidian Wings can be found here and at The Plank here.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Joel Charney of Refugee International argues that the United Nations and the non-governmental organizations that provide services need to adjust the way they work to find and meet the needs of these hidden refugees:
Picture these iconic refugee images - an African woman, holding a child, gazing stoically into the camera against a backdrop of huts and tents in a barren landscape. A long line of people, men, women, and children - again, usually African - on the move with all their worldly possessions on their heads and their backs. An emaciated African child being examined in a clinic by a Western doctor or nurse in a vest with a red cross emblem.
These images have become iconic because for several decades they have encapsulated the plight of refugees. But this World Refugee Day is an opportunity to reflect on the ways these images don't really to justice to today's realities.
While conflicts in Africa continue to displace hundreds of thousands of people, this year the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is highlighting the fact that refugee numbers have increased from 10 million to nearly 12 million due to the persistence of refugee crises in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the Afghan presence in Pakistan and Iran, still numbering 3 million, has been a reality for decades, Iraqi displacement increased in 2007, with 600,000 newly displaced internally and still more fleeing into neighbouring countries in the Middle East, especially Syria and Jordan. In all, nearly half of the refugees of concern to UNHCR are from Iraq and Afghanistan alone.
The reality of the lives of Iraqi refugees requires further adjustment of our refugee iconography.
Iraqi refugees are not in camps. They live, virtually invisible, in urban areas, especially in Damascus and Amman.
They are hard to reach with basic services. Some, fearing eventual deportation, avoid registering with UNHCR. They gradually draw on whatever savings they may have brought with them from Iraq. Some try to find illegal employment in low-paying jobs in the informal sector.
Their children have had their schooling disrupted, though after extensive efforts, special international funding has been granted to support the inclusion of some Iraqi children in the school systems of the host countries.
The phenomenon of urban refugees is growing. Among the more than 1 million Zimbabweans outside their country in southern Africa are tens of thousands of people who could qualify as refugees living an underground existence in urban areas of South Africa and Zambia.
In Southeast Asia, host countries largely bar Burmese from accessing refugee camps, leaving them to fend for themselves in urban centres such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
In Latin America, political violence drives the internally displaced of Colombia out of rural areas and into towns, where they live unregistered on the margins of society.
The growth in the number of urban refugees coincides with two other developments: the overall erosion in the commitment of states to asylum for those fleeing persecution and conflict and large-scale economic migration. The twin fears of terrorist infiltration and inundation from illegal immigration have combined to create an environment in which countries of first asylum assume the worst when individuals seeking protection arrive on their doorstep.
Meanwhile, there are an estimated 200 million people now living outside their country of origin, and only a portion of this migration is from poor countries of the global South to the industrialized world.
With high levels of economic imbalance within developing regions and with poverty often associated with internal conflict and human rights abuses, refugee flows amidst the movement of economic migrants are a common phenomenon within the South.
China, Thailand, Malaysia, India, South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt are among countries that are magnets both for individuals fleeing persecution and for those seeking employment and greater economic opportunity.
These developments combine to pose special challenges for protecting the world's 12 million refugees. While camps will still be required and appropriate in some places - in Chad, for example, to shelter refugees from Darfur - the trend will be for more and more refugees to find themselves either forcibly or voluntarily trying to survive among the underclass in urban areas.
UNHCR and the non-governmental organisations that provide services with its support will have to adjust the way they work.
First and foremost, refugees need to be found. This means being sending teams into urban areas and reaching out, like social workers, to identify vulnerable refugees and register them.
It also involves talking to government officials, who need to be convinced that within the mass of urban poor and illegal migrants there are people who qualify for international protection. Ensuring legal status also goes a long way towards preventing statelessness for current and future generations.
UNHCR will need to find creative ways of providing assistance to vulnerable people. Local religious institutions and community-based organisations should play an important role in delivering the aid, but they will need funding. Providing cash or vouchers to individual families, who in turn will choose how to spend the funds, is more effective than setting up feeding centers or special schools and health facilities.
To its credit, UNHCR recognises the challenges inherent in the evolving nature of refugee flows and the response of host countries to their needs for asylum. But experience suggests that it will need time to shift its approach.
It can only help if donor government officials and the general public adjust their own perspectives too, and start to understand the diversity of refugee experiences today.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Terror as an election tool in Zimbabwe
As election day approaches, the authorities under Mugabe’s control and activists with the ZANU-PF, have been conducting nothing short of a reign of terror on the countryside to intimidate supporters of Tsvangirai and the MDC
Joe Trippi (via Mathew Yglesias) tells this story:
Today I spoke with a Police officer who has fled Zimbabwe. On June 11th his unit of 500 officers were called to Police HQ to vote their Mail Ballots. But he and many of the others had not applied for mail ballots. His commanding officer informed him that the department had applied on behalf of all its officers and that they all had to vote their mail ballots immediately.
He was brought into a room with one table and four chairs around it. Three chairs were occupied by senior police officials of high rank — he was told to sit in the 4th chair and was handed his mail ballot and ordered to vote in front of the three commanding officers. This brave citizen of Zimbabwe, a police officer who had served his community for years, slid his ballot under the table, voted quickly, folded his ballot, put it in its envelop and handed it to the officers who were monitoring his vote and left the room quickly.
They opened his ballot and saw that he had voted for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC. He was followed by the Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) who attempted to kidnap him that night at his home. He has been on the run ever since. This officer told me another story of another officer in his unit who actually voted his ballot out in the open, on the table, in front of the three senior Police officers, and was immediately arrested and taken to one of the detention centers that are now being called “Reeducation Camps”.
I asked him what “reeducation” means? He told me “People are only taken there to be beaten”.
And Norman Geras (via Jeff Weintraub) reports on the escalating numbers and severity of cases of systematic violent assault and torture during the past several weeks as part of the Mugabe re-election campaign.The terror campaign being waged by government militia in Zimbabwe has taken on a new dimension - the deliberate application of highly toxic chemicals to the wounds suffered by opposition MDC supporters.
I have evidence that at least seven people, who first suffered severe beatings, had their open wounds sprayed with the dipping chemical Tactik Cattle Spray and the herbicide Paraquat. A nine-year-old girl had Paraquat applied to slashes on her buttocks. The process radically increases pain, and can lead to death.
Yesterday, Tuesday, I saw four victims of this treatment in a private health care centre in Harare run by missionary doctors. All come from Manicaland, where Zanu-PF terror squads are known to be operating. One victim, Tonde Mondiwa, 24, is not expected to survive.
Tonde's arms and legs are covered in blisters, and the skin is peeling off. He told me: "I was beaten up first by the Green Bombers (a Zanu-PF youth militia). Then they poured water mixed with Paraquat on me."
One of the doctors told me: "The cell death in Tonde's skin tissue is rapid, his chance of recovery is now nil." She explained that the chemicals eat through flesh, leaving bones exposed. "This is nothing less than chemical warfare being waged against civilians," she said.
Paraquat is described as a quick-acting, non-selective herbicide, which is poisonous to humans if even a small amount is swallowed or enters the blood stream.
Meanwhile across the country more conventional terror tactics continue to be inflicted on those identified as supporters or activists with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.While Mugabe continues to threaten war and death to those who vote against him, more deaths are being notified. Farai Gamba, an MDC ward organiser in Rusape, was shot dead by militiamen, while the local chairman of a group of independent election monitors has disappeared.
Some militia are making no secret of their crimes. In Buhera South Mugabe's men first murdered MDC supporter Chokuse Muphango, then drove his body through town on a truck, announcing: "We have killed the dog."
You can learn more at Friends of Zimbabwe.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Lieberman v. the mainstream tradition of U.S. foreign policy
In 2006 he faced a challenge in the Democratic primary for the Senate nomination. He was endorsed by most of the national Democratic Party establishment in this race that he lost. National Democrats then endorsed the winner of the primary but Lieberman was elected as an independent. He was allowed to join the Democratic caucus in the Senate as an independent Democrat giving him the advantages of being a member of the majority. He has shown his gratitude by regularly denouncing the Democratic Party and endorsing the Republicans presumptive nominee for president, John McCain.
Jonathan Chait has this analysis of Lieberman’s foreign policy views and inflated self-esteem in The New Republic:
You can read the entire article here.…In a series of speeches, op-eds, and interviews, he has been making the case that he, Joe Lieberman, has resolutely stood behind his lifelong ideology while the entire rest of the Democratic Party has gone off the McGovernite cliff. In his telling, the party was hawkish from World War II through the early 1960s. Then it was taken over by left-wing isolationists who were "viscerally opposed to the use of military force." Under Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the party recovered its hawkish legacy, but, in the last few years, Democrats-- presumably including Clinton and Gore themselves--have "resurrected the profoundly wrong and persistently unsuccessful McGovern-Carter worldview."
You might wonder precisely which ways McGovern's nefarious ideology is making itself felt. Lieberman says that Democrats, who were once "unafraid to make moral judgments about the world beyond our borders," now "minimize the seriousness of the threat from Islamic extremism." Lieberman prefers them to use morally confident language like this:The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman, and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate. To defeat this enemy, we must understand who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for.Oh, wait--that passage was Barack Obama, speaking last summer. Lieberman further complains, "The top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq."
This is a really sneaky formulation. Lieberman is implying that Democrats oppose expanding the military, prevailing in Afghanistan, etc. Actually, they favor all those things. (Obama has proposed adding 92,000 new troops to the military.) Lieberman's statement is literally true--Democrats put a higher priority on Iraq than those other issues-- but misleading. Just because something isn't your "top" foreign policy priority doesn't mean it isn't a high priority.
Yes, Democrats do favor a withdrawal from Iraq. They think the U.S. occupation is not helping to produce a stable government in Baghdad. This is certainly a debatable view, but it just isn't the same thing as lacking confidence in the virtues of American democracy or viscerally opposing the use of force. In Pakistan, the Democratic presidential candidate has advocated military strikes against Al Qaeda, while the GOP candidate has ridiculed such action as impractical. Imagine what Lieberman would say if it was the other way around.
Lieberman's history, which imagines a binary fight between hawks and isolationists, is woefully mistaken. In fact, during the cold war there were three camps: anti-interventionists on the left, liberal internationalists in the center, and hard-line anti-communists on the right. The left opposed the cold war. The center favored containment. The right deemed coexistence with communism unacceptable and advocated "rollback" of communism.
Lieberman's foreign policy views are in the tradition of the right, not the center. In the 1990s, he promoted "rogue state rollback," a neoconservative doctrine that's the direct lineal descendant of cold war rollback. Right-wing anti-communist hardliners opposed negotiations or arms control agreements with the enemy and, at various points, raged against Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan for their soft line.
My colleague J. Peter Scoblic's new book, U.S. vs. Them, opens with the story of conservatives in 1959 creating the "Committee Against Summit Entanglements" to express their horror that Eisenhower would sit down with Soviet premier Khrushchev. The Committee's logic was nearly identical to that which Lieberman now deploys against Obama for his willingness to meet with Iran's leadership. Lieberman tries to use this issue to show that Obama falls outside the mainstream tradition of U.S. foreign policy, but he winds up proving this about himself.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The threat to democracy and civil liberties from the imperial presidency
Nothing more epitomizes this grab for power than then deplorable Guantánamo Bay prison imprisoning hundreds neither as prisoners of war nor as criminals – both with recognized legal protections – but as something entirely different governed by rules just made up on the fly by the White House and, according to those rules, outside the constitutional or internationally recognized protections. The global war on terror has become a cover for a parallel but less discussed conflict of the war on civil liberties and limited executive power.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court – or, to be precise, five of the nine members of the Supreme Court – thought otherwise in their decision this past week upholding habeas corpus.
Blogger Shaun Mullen sums it up this way:
Perhaps the biggest disconnect between the core conservative tenet that the less government and the less obtrusive government the better and the actions of our president, who turned out to be such a faux conservative, are his unprecedented power grabs over the last seven years.
When taken as a whole these power grabs are nothing less than revolutionary in the most uncomplimentary sense of that word since the greatest fear of the Founding Fathers was that the young republic would backslide into an imperial presidency.
That has come to pass some 230 years later with the substantial help of a cowed Congress and a public living in fear, apathy or a combination of the two, and was on display last week when the Supreme Court ruled for no less than the third time -- the first two rulings having been more or less ignored -- that the Military Commissions Act legislating a rump legal system for detenting and prosecuting enemy combatants was out of legal bounds.
This, a 5-4 majority of justices reasoned, was because of the act's suspension of habeas corpus and other kangaroo court trappings which denied terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay the key legal right embedded in the Constitution.
One could logically assume that the War on Terror is being fought to preserve the Great Writ and the other foundation stones of American democracy, but the Bush administration has used the GWOT in a bald-faced effort to undermine those foundation stones and shore up its imperial presidency. In the process it has tracked down and incarcerated, let alone tried and convicted, remarkably few of the truly dangerous jihadists while wrongfully imprisoning dozens or possibly hundreds of petty crooks, goatherds and other innocents -- and then throwing away the key.
The men who founded the United States feared nothing more than an all-powerful executive that could, at its whim, define crimes against the state and detain those so accused without their even knowing of what exactly they were accused. The constitutional system of checks and balances and the bill of rights were written expressly to protect citizens from such an executive. Several wartime presidents have tested the limits of those instruments, and some more blatantly than George Bush. Franklin Roosevelt put Japanese-Americans in camps on mere suspicion that their nationality would render them loyal to the enemy combatant.
But democracy is about trying over time to perfect the union, and so, after Richard Nixon's various crimes against the state, we thought we'd reached the consensus that executive power had to be carefully checked, and we took some steps to do so. But everyone didn't agree with that consensus. There were young men, some then working in the administration of Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, who saw the post-Nixon reforms as usurpations of executive power. Two of these young swashbucklers were Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
They had to bide their time, but, three decades and a major terrorist attack later, they saw their opportunity. They put into place precisely the policies that the founders had feared. They gave themselves the and to hold them indefinitely without specific charges. Nearly 800 people so designated were sent to Guantánamo Bay. No one seemed to have the power to stop it.
But someone did. Last week, the supreme court told the Bush administration, for the fourth time in as many years, that its practices were unconstitutional. The current decision, in a case captioned Boumediene v Bush, is a response to a response. After the third anti-Bush ruling, in 2006, the administration pushed a law through Congress that grudgingly respected Geneva convention rights for foreign "Gitmo" detainees, but denied them the right of habeas corpus. The law was challenged, and the supreme court, yet again, said to Bush: you are acting outside the constitution and you must stop.
When we talk about the presidential election, we talk about race and age and Iraq and the economy and healthcare. When we speak of the supreme court at all, we refer chiefly to abortion rights. The president, of course, appoints the court's justices. There are nine. They leave the bench either voluntarily (retirement) or involuntarily (death). One is 88. Another is 75 and has been living with a colon cancer diagnosis for about a decade. A third is 72 in July, and a fourth is 70 in August.
All the above, incidentally, are part of the wobbly majority that, by a 5-4 margin, ruled against Bush and for the constitution. The rightwing anti-constitutional minority is much younger (Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by Bush, is just 53).
You don't need to be an insurance actuary to see what I'm getting at. The next president, if he serves eight years, will almost certainly appoint one, two or maybe even three justices, who will play a large role in shaping an anti-terrorism policy that is both effective and legal. So what might our two candidates do?
McCain used to be a constitutionalist. He used to say we should close Gitmo. Last week he said the court had just issued "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country". Considering that the supreme court spent most of the 19th century upholding slavery and segregation, that's saying something. He complains we'll see a flood of lawsuits, which is true, but that's the administration's fault for writing bad law.
Barack Obama, who to put it mildly doesn't stand to gain politically from defending the rights of terrorism suspects, drew a sharp distinction with McCain: "That principle of habeas corpus, that a state can't just hold you for any reason without charging you and without giving you any kind of due process - that's the essence of who we are." Obama's apparent seriousness on these questions is supported by a statement he made in May on what he hoped to accomplish in his first 100 days. Without prompting, he included a pledge to "review every single executive order issued by George Bush and overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the constitution".
I don't know how many votes this will net him. But I do know that, if he becomes president, the nation and the world will be grateful.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Lee Morgan: “I Remember Clifford” (1958)
“I Remember Clifford” was written by Benny Golson in honor of Clifford Brown, the influential jazz trumpeter who died at the age of 25 in 1956, Brown had a considerable influence on later jazz trumpet players including Lee Morgan.
Forced marriage as a war crime
Donald Steinberg is the former Ambassador to Angola (1995-1998) and is currently deputy president of the International Crisis Group and a board member of the Women's Commission on Refugee Women and Children. He writes in the Christian Science Monitor:
The UN must protect conflict zone 'bush wives.'
Nearly a decade after Angola emerged from a civil war that killed half a million people, one image from my work there continues to haunt me: that of young women huddled in the shadows in rebel demobilization camps.
They all told the same story. They believed in the rebel movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and its leader, Jonas Savimbi, and ran off to join the rebels. While there, they fell in love with a UNITA freedom fighter, got married, and had a child. Now, they had no interest in returning to their
villages and families.
But it didn't take much investigation to find out that these women had been kidnapped from their villages, forced into sex slavery, and were too ashamed to return to their villages. Despite the best efforts of international aid agencies to assist them, it was clear that most of their lives had been permanently shattered.
The phenomenon of "bush wives" plagues many of the world's conflicts. In northern Uganda, for example, an estimated 1 in 6 young girls in the war-affected region have been kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army.
The pattern has existed under a veil of silence. The abused women rarely come forward to challenge their abusers. Until recently, there have been no mechanisms within peace agreements for addressing these and other sexual abuses against women.
Most peace agreements have been built on amnesties provided by the warring parties to each other. This usually means that men with guns forgive other men with guns for crimes against women.
But there is good news emerging from an obscure source: the Special Court for Sierra Leone. This court was set up to address war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's murderous civil war in the '90s. It was previously best known for its courageous indictment of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, who is now on trial at The Hague.
Earlier this year, the special court ruled in a landmark case that the soldiers in Sierra Leone's rebel Armed Forces Revolutionary Council who forced young girls into marriage committed a "crime against humanity."
The trial court judges were deeply moved by the testimony of expert witness Zainab Bangura, who confirmed that, " 'bush wives' were constantly sexually abused, physically battered during and after pregnancies, and psychologically terrorized by their husbands."
Labeling forced marriage a crime against humanity has a number of important effects. It allows the international community to step in and prosecute whether or not local laws and legal authorities wish to pursue the cases. It validates the suffering of these women and at least partially removes the shame in such cases.
Perhaps most important, it helps remove the stigma of "victimization" of women in conflict that has led to their systematic exclusion from peace processes and postconflict governance.
It would not be feasible, nor necessarily wise, to try each rebel soldier engaged in this practice as an international war criminal. In some cases, the best option will be through indigenous healing and a forgiveness process. Elsewhere, more formal Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, as used in South Africa or Sierra Leone, may be more appropriate.
Still, the decision to label forced marriages as a crime against humanity and the implicit threat of international prosecution has given important new impetus to the development and use of these mechanisms.
The action of Sierra Leone's Special Court is just a first step. The entire international justice system, including the International Criminal Court, must pursue the high-level perpetrators of these crimes. The United Nations and other international peace negotiators should insist on measures to address the phenomenon, including reintegration assistance and psychosocial counseling.
The UN Security Council has an opportunity to step up on June 19 when – under Americas' presidency – it debates the issue of sexual violence in conflict. It should use this platform to formally classify bush marriages as a crime against humanity. Only then will the bush wives in Angola and elsewhere be able to step from the shadows and reclaim their lives.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Clark Terry: "Star Dust" (1967)
In addition to composing and performing jazz, he has promoted jazz education. He provided instruments and instruction for young people in Harlem. He has hosted jazz festivals and jazz camps.
Will the Iraqi government undermine McCain’s position on Iraq?
Senator McCain, echoing the Bush administration, has been saying that General Petraeus will tell us when American troops can be withdrawn and maintaining a beefed up long-term presence has been a centerpiece of his campaign for president. It apparently has not occurred to him the Iraqi government may have different ideas on that subject.
David Corn has this assessment:
John McCain and George W. Bush argue that maintaining high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq is essential for the security of Iraq, the region, the world, and, of course, the Untied States. But that does not seem to be the position of Baghdad.
In recent days, there has been a spate of news reports on the troubled negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government concerning the under-construction agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops and military bases in Iraq. The Washington Post reports on the front page:See the disconnect? McCain and Bush insist that we have no choice but to keep a large number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But Iraqi pols allied with the government look at U.S. troops presence as something that is optional. If these Iraqis can have the Americans there on their own terms, it's fine. If not, their position is, bye-bye.Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"
It's within the Iraqis' rights to set whatever terms they desire. Iraq supposedly is a sovereign nation. (This week, Maliki visited Iran.) But the Iraqis' approach to the negotiations undermine McCain and Bush's defense of the current policy. McCain says it's crucial that the United States remains in Iraq and wins the war. Iraqi leaders are indicating that it ain't so crucial that the U.S. troops stay. (This morning on a conference call with reporters arranged by the Barack Obama campaign, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig noted an "irony": the Iraqi parliament is deeply immersed in the negotiation of this agreement, yet the Bush White House refuses to involve directly Congress in the agreement.)
So what might happen to the McCain candidacy if the talks--which are supposed to lead to an agreement by the end of July--fail and Iraq gives Bush the boot? McCain won't have a war to promote any longer. And he won't be able to depict Barack Obama as a defeatist surrender-monkey who will yank out troops precipitously and endanger every single family in the United States. In other words, half of McCain's campaign will be gone. (On the Today Show this morning, McCain said that "General Petraeus is going to tell us" when U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Iraq. McCain seemed oblivious to this recent news and the possibility that Iraqis may tell the United States when to withdraw.)
If the talks do collapse, one possibility would be a year-long extension of the current U.N. mandate covering the U.S. troops presence in Iraq. That could keep the status quo in place. Yet if it comes to that, the signal from the Iraqi government will still be, we don't want you here in the way you want to be here. Such a development will not help the war-is-all candidate.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Ben Webster and Billy Taylor: “Flying Home” (1958)
You can see and hear Ben Webster perform “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” here and Billy Taylor perform “Joy Spring” here.
The failures of Mandela and the Vatican to speak out against Mugabe
It is not uncommon for criticisms of former liberation leaders to be answered by pointing out the damage previously done by colonial powers or minority governments. The problem with this logic is the sins of the previous oppressors do not excuse the sins of the current oppressors. It is at times like this when there is a need for those with recognized authority to speak up
Two with such moral authority, Nelson Mandela because he is a fellow liberation leader and the Vatican because Mugabe is a devout Catholic, have been silent. Christopher Hitchens has these thoughts in Slate:
The scale of state-sponsored crime and terror in Zimbabwe has now escalated to the point where we are compelled to watch not just the systematic demolition of democracy and human rights in that country but something not very far removed from slow-motion mass murder a la Burma. The order from the Mugabe regime that closes down all international aid groups and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations is significant in two ways. It expresses the ambition for total control by the state, and it represents a direct threat—"vote for us or starve"—to the already desperate civilian population. The organization CARE, for example, which reaches half a million impoverished Zimbabweans, has been ordered to suspend operations. And here's a little paragraph, almost buried in a larger report of more comprehensive atrocities but somehow speaking volumes:The United Nations Children's Fund said Monday that 10,000 children had been displaced by the violence, scores had been beaten and some schools had been taken over by pro-government forces and turned into centers of torture.While this politicization of the food situation in "his" country was being completed, President Robert Mugabe benefited from two things: the indulgence of the government of South Africa and the lenience of the authorities in Rome, who allowed him to attend a U.N. conference on the world food crisis—of all things—despite a five-year-old ban on his travel to any member of the European Union. This, in turn, seems to me to implicate two of the supposed sources of moral authority on the planet: Nelson Mandela and the Vatican.
By his silence about what is happening in Zimbabwe, Mandela is making himself complicit in the pillage and murder of an entire nation, as well as the strangulation of an important African democracy. I recently had the chance to speak to George Bizos, the heroic South African attorney who was Mandela's lawyer in the bad old days and who more recently has also represented Morgan Tsvangirai, the much-persecuted leader of the Zimbabwean opposition. Why, I asked him, was his old comrade apparently toeing the scandalous line taken by President Thabo Mbeki and the African National Congress? Bizos gave me one answer that made me wince—that Mandela is now a very old man—and another that made me wince again: that his doctors have advised him to avoid anything stressful. One has a bit more respect for the old lion than to imagine that he doesn't know what's happening in next-door Zimbabwe or to believe that he doesn't understand what a huge difference the smallest word from him would make. It will be something of a tragedy if he ends his career on a note of such squalid compromise.
As for the revolting spectacle of Mugabe flying in to a Food and Agricultural Organization conference in Rome last week, there were quibbling FAO officials who claimed that the ban on his travel to the European Union did not cover meeting places of U.N. organizations. This would not cover the luxury hotel on the Via Veneto where Mugabe and his wife stayed. And it seems he bears a charmed life in Rome. He was there only recently as a guest at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and was able to claim that he was on Vatican soil rather than Italian territory. Which in turn raises an interesting question: What is it going to take before the Roman Catholic Church has anything to say about the conduct of this member of its flock? Mugabe has been a devout Catholic ever since his days in a mission school in what was then colonial Rhodesia, and one is forced to wonder what he tells his priest when he is asked if he has anything he'd like to confess.
By way of contrast, look what happened to Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo. This Catholic churchman in Zimbabwe's second city was a pillar of opposition to the regime and a great defender of its numberless victims. After a long campaign of defiance, and after surviving many threats to his life, the archbishop was caught on video last year having some fairly vigorous sex with a woman not his wife. Indeed, she was someone else's wife, which made it adultery as well as fornication. You might think the church would have been glad of a bit of heterosexual transgression for a change, but a dim view was taken of the whole thing, in spite of the fact that it bore all the marks of a setup and was immediately given wide publicity by the police agencies of the Mugabe state. Ncube is no longer the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo.
Very well, I do understand that he broke his vows and that the rules are the rules. But he didn't starve or torture any children, he didn't send death squads to silence his critics, he didn't force millions of his fellow countrymen into penury and/or exile, and he didn't openly try to steal an election. Mugabe has done and is doing all these things, and I haven't heard a squeak from the papacy. A man of his age is perhaps unlikely to be caught using a condom, but one still has to hope that Mugabe will be found red-handed in this way because it seems that nothing less is going to bring the condemnation of the church down upon his sinful head.
It is the silence of Mandela, much more than anything else, that bruises the soul. It appears to make a mockery of all the brave talk about international standards for human rights, about the need for internationalist solidarity and the brotherhood of man, and all that. There is perhaps only one person in the world who symbolizes that spirit, and he has chosen to betray it. Or is it possible, before the grisly travesty of the runoff of June 27, that the old lion will summon one last powerful growl?
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Pervez Musharraf: The fall of a dictator
Should U.S. interests be promoted via high level negotiations with hostile powers? Obama, yes – McCain, no
Yet, it is exactly this continuation of one of the worse aspects of the Bush world-view that John McCain promotes in his race for the presidency. Of course, Mr. “straight-talk” won’t come out and say it directly but uses coded language by criticizing Barack Obama for supposedly seeking “unconditional” talks with enemies. (That, of course, leaves open the question as to what exactly it is would be left to be negotiated.)
Josh Marshall says the question is whether we are willing to have negotiations and high-level meetings with hostile powers to discuss our differences or whether we think the current freeze-out approach is serving us well:
Sometimes the national political conversation lapses so far into nonsense that it's necessary to restate the obvious to get things back on track. And that is the case with the debate over whether to hold negotiations or high-level meetings with our enemies without pre-conditions. As you've seen, Sen. McCain is making a big ruckus about Sen. Obama's willingness to do so, even going so far as to run new ads questioning his willingness to meet "unconditionally" -- a loaded reference to the phrase 'unconditional surrender'.
But let's remember what this issue is really about. The Bush administration (and to a much less but still significant degree, the Clinton administration) has held to a policy of refusing to hold any negotiations with rogue states on the theory that we gained by not providing them the prestige of holding direct negotiations with the US. It wasn't framed that way precisely. We were willing to meet as long as certain preconditions were met. So in the case of Cuba, this would mean, changing the form of government, releasing political prisoners, giving an atomic wedgy to Hugo Chavez, etc.; or with Iran, ending their nuclear program, changing their political system, cutting off funding to Hamas and Hezbollah, etc. Laudable aims in most cases, but also ones that amount to demanding that bad-guy country X give in to our maximal demands of a potential bilateral relationship in advance of even saying hello -- something that's obviously not going to happen.
So the question is, are we willing to have negotiations and high-level meetings (even at the presidential level) with hostile powers to discuss our differences (do whatever risks there may be outweigh the possible benefits?) or do we think the current freeze-out approach is serving us well?
Monday, June 09, 2008
McCain and the feminist vote
The main reason they do come around is because once they focus on the other party’s candidate they figure out pretty quickly it is usually in their interest to stick with their party’s chosen candidate. This election will be no different.
Juan Cole has this assessment:
A spate of newspaper articles has appeared profiling women activists who are furious that their candidate was defeated and who feel Senator Clinton was disrespected because she is a woman. It is often alleged that they are so angry and disappointed that they will refrain from voting for Barack Obama this fall.
I have been dismayed by the prominence of identity politics in the Democratic primaries. Working class men supported John Edwards, who sprang from their ranks (though I suspect he hasn't had a callus lately). African-Americans swung behind Barack Obama as soon as they were convinced that he had a chance of winning. According to opinion and exit polls, middle-aged and older white women disproportionately favored Clinton.
A successful, progressive Democratic Party has to be based on principles, not on voting for people who look like you. The principles can unify. Everyone needs health care. Everyone needs social justice. Everyone needs peace and prosperity. The general public, including independents and even some Republicans will vote for these principles. In a presidential contest based on principles, Senator John McCain has disadvantages.
But if we admit the principle that people should vote on the basis of their self-ascribed identity, well, people who consider themselves "white" are still a majority in this country. (Whiteness in American history is not a 'natural' given based on skin color; it is a social status constructed over time in people's minds. Irish Catholic working-class immigrants to the US were not considered white by WASPs in the mid-19th century. The Irish had to work hard to get in.)
Republican strategists have long taken advantage of the representational politics of race and gender. Lee Atwater turned Michael Dukakis into an African-American criminal by tying him to a Black parolee who later committed a heinous crime. Message from the Right? Liberal=Black, and not the Bill Cosby kind, either. The American Republican Party is almost completely a party of "whites." Yet Colin Powell and Condi Rice served as Bush's secretary of state. Why? So as to counter by image the sad reality that is so visible on television whenever the Republican convention is held every four years. Bush even explicitly used their presence in his cabinet to sidestep the question of why he had not done anything for African-Americans (in fact his policies deeply harmed them).
A similar but slightly different dynamics of identity politics involves substituting ethnic shibboleths for political reality. Thus, Bush's social policies enraged 85 percent of American Jews, who are mainstays of American progressive politics. Bush attempted to make up for this deficit by supporting the Israeli Right to the hilt in public, substituting photo ops with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then Ehud Olmert for any engagement with the ideals of real, breathing American Jews. ….
… The rule in telepolitics is that a face trumps policy. Does Bush blithely allow the African-American districts of New Orleans to be wiped off the face of the map? It is o.k. because Condi Rice is in his cabinet.
If women who supported Hillary Clinton let themselves fall for this reactionary trap, they will undo most of the achievements of women in the past 40 years.
A President McCain will support Ward Connerly's deceptive campaign against affirmative action, which has been proven to hurt women's businesses and to help the businesses owned by cranky old rich white men.
McCain has an appalling track record on issues of global women's reproductive rights and health. McCain has also steadily moved toward an absolute anti-choice position, as he attempts to appeal to the Religious Right. A President McCain may well appoint the successor to Ruth Bader Ginzburg on the Supreme Court, and his nominee will be anti-choice. The court is nearing a majority of anti-choice judges, and the long dream of the American religious Right, of overturning Roe V. Wade, is in reach for them. A McCain court could overturn reproductive rights perhaps within a year of its formation.
The Right in another country once advocated that women be limited to Kirche, Küche, Kinder" (church, kitchen, children). There isn't anything wrong with any of those, of course. It is the limitation that is objectionable. That limitation is effectively what John McCain's policies lead to. Think about it.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Wilkerson on Obama and McCain
Clinton suspends campaign and endorses Obama
Senator Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency and endorsed Senator Barack Obama Saturday. (You can read the entire text of her speech here.)
Considered the inevitable nominee prior to the
Yet there was another problem for
Andrew Sullivan sums it up:
Senator Clinton did all she needed to do: thanked everyone and unequivocally endorsed and supported Barack Obama. One theme stuck out to me: she essentially said that even though she was careful to avoid ever saying that she was running because she was a woman and that people should vote for her because she is a woman, that's what she believes in private. That's the theme she spoke of most compellingly. She is Ellen Malcolm's spiritual sister. In the end,
remains wedded to the identity politics of her generation and her time. It's a powerful message after so many long decades and centuries in which women have been denied full equality in law and society. It's a necessary message and a moral message. But it becomes circular and self-defeating when it becomes its own rationale. Clinton
I think history will show that she didn't quite have the talent to do it on her own steam, but that she made it much easier for another woman to become president one day. Her two biggest problems: She first married a man who was her political superior and was then defeated by one. She is a very talented politician but it was her fate to find her career hemmed in by two even more talented ones: Bill and Barack. She made up for it all with enormous hard work, diligence and ruthlessness. At any other moment, she would have won. But this is history and politics at the highest level. You cannot defeat such a moment if you are a Salieri. And she had to deal with two Mozarts.