Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Supressed Facts: Death by Torture


Read “The Supressed Facts: Death by Torture” by Glenn Greenwald.

If you’re not going to call it torture, but over 100 detainees died during the process, then what do you call it? And if this isn’t torture, then what is torture? We know when other governments commit human rights violations, but what can our government not do?

In the meantime, it all — the continued indefinite detention without trial, the secrecy, and impunity — has become Obama policy.



Filed under Essays, Obama 44

The American Bad Apple


In the U.S. we have this game we play. Some major violation of our fundamental values occurs and instead of blaming the system or society at large, we blame the Bad Apple.

In the case of Abu Ghraib, we blamed a few bad apples — even though it was obvious then and even more obvious now that bad apples were simply following orders. But God forbid that we ever point any blame at the system. Even President Obama now has made it his policy that any information that may reveal extreme government abuse be kept secret lest it damage our national image.

Take the most recent and obvious example: Bernard Madoff. This one Bad Apple gets a 150 year prison sentence and we are expected to believe and accept that he acted alone in a vacuum, regardless of the fact that he ran a sizable operation. He even maintained office space in the building where I work in Madrid. Earlier this year, 60 Minutes ran “The Man Who Figured Out Madoff’s Scheme” about how Harry Markopolos discovered Madoff’s fraud within five minutes of looking at the numbers. Between 2000 and 2008, Markopolos on five separate occasions sent detailed materials to the SEC revealing Madoff’s fraud. Of course, the SEC did absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, the moral of the story is that Madoff gets his punishment — 150 years for being the Bad Apple.

Sigh relief. Once again, the rest of society is off the hook.


Filed under Essays, Obama 44

Seasons and Longing


I only ever really feel homesick at the change of each season. And now that summer is very much upon us, especially in Madrid where it has been consistently over 90F (32C) for the second straight week, I very much miss home. I miss my brother’s rooftop in Brooklyn (though I have only been up there twice). I miss the drive from Washington to the Bronx through New Jersey. I miss the C&O Canal. I miss Georgetown. I miss the Washington humidity. I miss cooking out. I miss my mother’s garden. I miss the Bay Bridge. I miss the fruits and vegetables on the way to the Eastern Shore. I miss opening the window and being on the beach in Bethany. And I miss my family.


I suppose I am lucky living in Europe. I am in wonderful Madrid and spend at least a little time each month in Paris, probably the most beautiful city in the world. Nevertheless, whenever the seasons change — from hot to cold, cold to hot or in between — I always miss home.


Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family

American Socialism Defeats European Capitalism


It’s ironic that the entire spirit and competitive structure of American professional sports is effectively socialism in practice – its anti-trust violating franchise system, player drafting, revenue sharing, salary caps, player unions, etc – while the European model is almost pure capitalism where only the fittest of the fittest survive, the rich teams always get richer, and the individual athletes have very limited bargaining power.

And guess who wins? Contrary to every belief dear to an American’s heart, the socialist, even communal American model, with its unexportable and indigenous sports, outperforms the Europeans every time. While American football, baseball, and basketball generate astronomical revenues, Europe’s under regulated football is an ongoing soap opera of corruption, scandal, negative balance sheets, and losses.

Who’d have thought that socialism could be more profitable, sustainable, and at least in the mind of Americans, more entertaining. And who’d have thought that the Americans, with considerably less skill, would beat the European champions at their own game (USA 2-0 Spain).

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Filed under Digressions, Football/Soccer, Living la vida española

Barack W. Obama


This week there were two good examples of the press finally confronting Obama for his hypocrisy in furthering Bush secrecy and torture policies. First it came from the admitted Obama supporter Bob Herbert who wrote,

It was thought by many that a President Obama would put a stop to the madness, put an end to the Bush administration’s nightmarish approach to national security. But Mr. Obama has shown no inclination to bring even the worst offenders of the Bush years to account, and seems perfectly willing to move ahead in lockstep with the excessive secrecy and some of the most egregious activities of the Bush era.

The new president’s excessively cautious approach to the national security and civil liberties outrages of the Bush administration are unacceptable, and the organizations and individuals committed to fairness, justice and the rule of law — the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others — should intensify their efforts to get the new administration to do the right thing.

More than 500 of the detainees incarcerated at one time or another at Guantánamo Bay have been released, and, except for a handful, no charges were filed against them. The idea that everyone held at Guantánamo was a terrorist — the worst of the worst — was always absurd.

Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, noted that Mr. Obama had promised to bring both transparency and accountability to matters of national security. It’s the only way to get our moral compass back.

And then yesterday it was White House reporter legend Helen Thomas who, as Glenn Greenwald recounts, interrupted Obama’s press conference to inquire about the obvious hypocrisy in the president’s stance on secrecy:

For the last question at his press conference yesterday, Obama was asked by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux about his reaction to that video and to reports that Iranians are refraining from protesting due to fear of such violence.  As Obama was answering — attesting to how “heartbreaking” he found the video; how “anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust” about the violence; and paying homage to “certain international norms of freedom of speech, freedom of expression” — Helen Thomas, who hadn’t been called on, interrupted to ask Obama to reconcile those statements about the Iranian images with his efforts at home to suppress America’s own torture photos (“Then why won’t you allow the photos –“).

The President quickly cut her off with these remarks:

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, Helen. That’s a different question. (Laughter.)

I suppose for John McCain, maybe, President Obama’s cynicism and the subsequent laughter are all manifestations of the beacon of hope and freedom that the U.S. shines on the world. I can just hear McCain and Lindsey Graham — along with cheering masses, Fox News, all of the ultra conservative pundits who populate the so-called liberal media (Krauthammer & Co.), and the yes-Mr. President faux liberals — invoking the spirit of Ronald Reagan, “Mr. President, rebuild that [Guantanamo] prison.” And Obama complies, most articulately, of course.

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Goodbye Lenin, Mr. McCain, the Cold War is Over

This morning on my way to work I suffered listening to John McCain talk utter crap on Face the Nation. Besides the obvious senility of still thinking we’re living the Cold War (reminds me of the movie Goodbye Lenin), McCain spewed this crap about the U.S. being a beacon of light of freedom in the world. According to the Senator,

I’m not for fomenting violence, nothing except to say that America’s position in the world is one of moral leadership. And that’s what America is all about. And frankly, it’s not only about what takes place in the streets of Tehran but it’s also about what takes place in America’s conscience. . . . The fact is that America has been and will be the beacon of hope and freedom.

This of course is the same John McCain who was caught on tape singing “Bomb Bomb Iran”. Thanks, Mr. Greenwald, for reminding us of the cynicism from those on the right who have spent the last few years trying to get us to bomb Iran and who now want Obama to do more to protect those Iranians that McCain & Company until now were sharpening their knives to attack. And remember Silliary’s obliterate Iran declaration? Wow! Talk about a beacon of light.

It’s funny because these same guys were also praising the results of the recent Lebanese elections where the so called “Pro West” parties won. I have no idea what “Pro West” means, but I can tell you that those who won in Lebanon and even those who are now protesting in the streets in Iran would disagree with American conservatives on almost every issue affecting the Middle East, from Israel to Iraq.

Finally, you have to love the criticisms against the Iranian government for calling the protesters terrorists. Since when did our press ever not call a Muslim protesting in the street a terrorist?


Filed under Essays

Socialized National Defense?


What I don’t understand is why Republicans think that government cannot do anything right at home, but can’t do anything wrong abroad. We can deride government workers as inefficient and inept, but any criticism of the military is anti-patriotic. Why do we think that military officials and soldiers are any better or more effective than our civil servants? So if a national health care system would amount to socialism then surely  spending trillions of tax payer dollars on the military is socialized national defense. And if, as we are lead to believe, we have the most state of the art military and the finest soldiers the world has ever known, couldn’t the government also do the same for health care? Continue reading


Filed under Essays

Neither the Free(d) Nor the Brave

As Glenn Greenwald continues to remind us, there is something inherently comical in the right wing’s insistent irrational fears about putting criminals in American jails. Nevertheless, other nations are not so afraid of justice. Bermuda and Palau apparently are taking in the Uighurs who have been in the Guantanamo for seven years. The U.S. government has known for years of their innocence, but has kept them in cells because it didn’t want to offend the Chinese (who finance our government and wars).

In another example of hypocritical journalism by the New York Times, Timothy Egan questions whether, due to local politics, the American student charged with murder in Italy will receive a fair trial. At least she gets a trial. Italy, like other nations, is even trying terrorist suspects, instead of locking them up in offshore torture shelters. Why? Because that’s what civilized nations do.

Numerous countries that aren’t the U.S. — including those targeted by Terrorist threats at least as serious as those faced by the U.S. — have routinely and repeatedly given what are called “trials” and “due process” to those it accuses not merely of harboring terrorist wishes, but also actually having carried out atrocious terrorist attacks.  During the Bush era, even the U.S. — when we were moved to do so — successfully did the same.

Giving real trials to people whom the state wants to imprison — even accused Terrorists — is what civilized, law-respecting countries do, by definition.  By contrast, lawless and tyrannical states — also by definition — invent theories and warped justifications for indefinite detention with no trials.  Before the U.S. starts talking again about “re-claiming” its so-called leadership role in the world, it probably should work first on catching up to the multiple countries far ahead of it when it comes to the most basic precepts of Western justice — beginning with what ought to be the most uncontroversial proposition that it will first give due process and trials to those it wants to imprison.  Shouldn’t the claim that the U.S. cannot and need not try Terrorist suspects be rather unconvincing when numerous other countries from various parts of the world — including those previously devastated by and currently targeted with terrorist attacks — have been doing exactly that quite successfully?

But best of all is the Obama Administration’s justification for covering up photos of torture under the umbrella of state secrecy, completely undermining the Freedom of Information Act. Once again, Mr. Greenwald:

Whether there is value in disclosing these specific torture photographs is a secondary issue here, at most [though in light of the ongoing debate in this country over torture and accountability, as well as the irreplaceable value of photographic evidence in documenting government abuses (see Abu Ghraib), the value of these sorts of photographs seems self-evident].  A much more critical issue here is whether the President should have the power to conceal evidence about the Government’s actions on the ground that what the Government did was so bad, so wrong, so inflammatory, so lawless, that to allow disclosure and transparency would reflect poorly on our country, thereby increase anti-American sentiment, and thus jeopardize The Troops.  Once you accept that rationale — the more extreme the Government’s abuses are, the more compelling is the need for suppression — then open government, one of the central planks of the Obama campaign and the linchpin of a healthy democracy, becomes an illusion.

Where does all of this leave us? In a land that is not of the free, not of the freed, and certainly not the brave.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44

Cognitive Dissonance

While imprisoning and torturing hundreds of detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere for years on end, the Bush Administration claimed that those detainees had absolutely no habeus corpus rights. In other words, they could be detained without ever having the right to contest their detention, being presented with the evidence against them or getting their day in court. The Supreme Court disagreed and finally some of the detainees were released because there was absolutely no credible evidence against them, including this man after seven years in Guantanamo.

Of course, many Americans, especially conservatives, believe that the government should be given complete deference, even with shady evidence, to detain people without any oversight whatsoever. It is ironic to think that these same conservatives who are so offended by any form of domestic government intervention have blind faith in the government’s actions abroad. They are bothered by the government acting within the law at home, but convinced that the government should not be subject to any laws when outside its borders. It’s like saying that you only trust someone when they are not subject to any rules.

Even more ironic is that our press and society can find fault with the imprisonment of American journalists in Iran or North Korea, but remains unphased when the American government detains a foreign journalist for five years without offering him any legal protections whatsoever. Even the North Koreans and Iranians feigned trials.

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The Despicable State of Our Leading News Sources


Yesterday’s New York Times ran a story entitled “U.S. Lawyer Agreed on Legalities of Brutal Tactics“, giving the completely misleading impression that the the Bush/Cheney enhanced interrogation policies were legitimized by government attorneys. The story was based on three emails penned by former Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, that were leaked, as described by Glen Greenwald,

clearly from someone eager to defend Bush officials by suggesting that Comey’s emails prove that all DOJ lawyers — even those opposed to torture on policy grounds — agreed these techniques were legal, and the NYT reporters, Scott Shane and David Johnston, dutifully do the leakers’ bidding by misleadingly depicting the Comey emails as vindication for Bush/Cheney.


After having read the three emails myself, it is truly astonishing that a journalist can honestly print such misleading garbage. The emails indicate the immense pressure the government lawyers were under to approve the Bush Cheney techniques and the lawyers’ discomfort in doing so, not their validation.

This story by a reputable newspaper like the New York Times just goes to show the despicable state of our leading new sources. As Greenwald writes in his previous piece, also in reference to shady journalism at the Times,

The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as “torture” — even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantanamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word “torture” to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries — reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks.


Filed under Essays