Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Supressed Facts: Death by Torture

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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.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44

The American Bad Apple

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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.

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Seasons and Longing

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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.

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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.

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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family

American Socialism Defeats European Capitalism

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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

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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?

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Socialized National Defense?

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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

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