Monthly Archives: August 2009

Ramadan Mubarak, Bessaha Wlhna

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The last two years I have spent the first days of Ramadan with my (now) Moroccan wife. Just as she has achieved an appreciation for Rudolph and Santa, I have learned to share in her excitement for Ramadan. Unfortunately this year we won’t be able to spend these first days together. Fret not, I still found my way to a few Moroccan run stores in Madrid and bought some of the typical goodies, including my favorite pastries.

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Filed under Friends / Family, Living la vida española

A Short Hiatus

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I just got back from a short, offline hiatus in Menorca only to find that my Internet service was not working and that Obama had sold out again, pathetic. I think it was a sign to get back to reading books and not the news.

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Status Quo You Can Believe In, Pathetic

The Obama Administration is testing the waters by leaking the possibility that it may abandon a public option component to its health care reform plan. In other words, it will once again cave to the lobbies, special interests, and the right-wing pro-ignorance American Taliban.

On everything from torture, Guantanamo, human rights, the use of military force, transparency, and now health care, Obama is nothing more than pretty words reinforcing the good old status quo. It is pathetic. The worst of all, though, is that so many ridiculously stupid people in the country believe that Obama is a radical. He is nothing but. He has proven to be part of the machine, and his inability to stick to something so basic, such a no-brainer, so elementary in every other advanced country in the world highlights just how dangerously our country is sliding into the abyss of thirdworlddom. Continue reading

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Desperate Times

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Normally when you see someone asking for money on a Metro train in Madrid it is an Eastern European Gypsy woman with baby in arms chanting her “una ayuda por favor, que Dios te bendiga” lament, or a musician or group of musicians playing for change. More and more, especially in my neighborhood, I am seeing homeless men from Eastern Europe who have lost their jobs due to the total paralysis of the construction sector.

But, I was truly shocked this morning when the person on the Metro begging for money was not a Gypsy woman or out of work Romanian but none other than my middle-aged castizo Spanish neighbor who I have been saying hello to in the hallways of my building for the past eight years.

President Truman had said, as I was reminded by my friend Angel, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours”.

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Extraordinarily Hypocritical

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Barack Obama is “extraordinarily relieved” after former president Bill Clinton negotiated the release of two American journalists who had illegally entered North Korea after just five months detention. We are also supposed to express outrage at the Iranian government for detaining three Americans who illegally entered the border into Iran. But while North Korea is a filthy dictatorship and we are an apathetic democracy, it is hard to ignore the fact that we continue to cage people for seven years counting without evidence, trial, and in some cases without violations of American Law. If you want to keep score, it took our government six years to release a foreign journalist illegally detained without trial at Guantanamo.

The extraordinarily relieved Obama Administration would even like the authority to detain anyone it wants indefinitely without any recourse whatsoever. Meanwhile, these journalists must be extraordinarily relieved that they were detained in North Korea and not in Guantanamo or Bagram.

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Your Huddled Entrenched Entitled Status Quo

Every time I hear another bewilderingly silly argument against any move towards real health care reform, I think about that huddled, entrenched and entitled health care industry pouring millions of dollars into politicians’ pockets, yearning to maintain their status quo.

For each and every cry of the end of the world that the Armageddonists predict, there is a lobbyist bankrolling a politician (Go Blue Dogs!) to protect their industry’s turf. As a matter of fact, none of their arguments hold any weight whatsoever, most which are actually more damning of private insurance than any possible government mandated coverage. For example, under private care, your insurance company decides, based on costs alone, whether you can see the doctor of your choice and which kind of treatment, if any, you can receive. And your insurance company only makes money when you are denied treatment, not when you are granted it. In other words, their business is to deny you health care. When you go to the doctor, your insurance company loses.

Then there are the blatantly fabricated and misleading tales of the blunders in foreign hospitals. In Canada this or in England that, as if American hospitals were free from error or negligence. There wouldn’t be a medical malpractice industry without malpractice. That’s Free Market 101. Of course, the Republicans blame the free market of trial lawyers and want to regulate the legal practice.

The most absurd argument of all, though, is about how universal health care will somehow turn the United States into a Soviet style communist nation of lazy people milking the system. Wouldn’t that mean that our single payer public education system is also a form of Soviet style communism endangering our land, and that anyone who has ever studied in or sent their children to a public school is just another lazy-ass freeloader? Should we turn the schools over to the health care industry?

As things stand, we look more like one of those heavily indebted third world dictatorships where the majority of government spending is on the military and almost nothing is invested in the basic necessities of the citizens, like schools, health care, roads, or infrastructure. Even our airports, as one airline expert recently told me, are already light years behind their European counterparts. That’s right, we have the most expensive socialized national defense in the history of the world (though after eight years, longer than World War II, we cannot even defeat cave dwellers), we pay for our wars and trillion dollar tax cuts by borrowing the money from communist China. Yet any heath care reform whatsoever that puts us on par with other industrialized nations would place us at risk of socialism.

Of the G8, we are the only one which does not offer universal health care. With every other highly industrialized democracy in the world providing for the health care of their citizens, maybe we do need such a strong military to protects us against these uppity free market socialists.

I don’t know what’s worse anymore: the ludicrous, baseless fear mongering, the American public’s pathological fear of antiquated socialism by its pro-corporate welfare government, or the Obama Administration’s inability to sell what is seen as a basic public service — like access to water, roads, and education — in every other normal, modern democracy in the world.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44

The Sanitized Abuse

The government with the help of the ever prostrating press has sanitized the countless human rights violations in the War on Terror, especially with regards to torture and detention, by claiming that the detainees are the “worst of the worst”, enemy combatants, and too dangerous to set foot in our supermax prisons.

We now know that many of the detainees were not in fact captured on the battle field but were picked up off the streets in other countries, and that even the stories of those released only to return to the battlefield were pure fabrications; just another case of the press pushing the CIA company line by publishing unsubstantiated leaks. Then there were the Uyghurs (who we only kept in Guantanamo as part of a deal to gain China’s support for our War on Terror), those captured by head hunters without discrimination, and even a foreign journalist from Al Jazeera who was finally released after five years in a cage for doing much less than the two American women who now about to stand trial in North Korea. At least these women got pardoned by North Korea.

A good illustration of just how far we, as a nation, have strayed, take the recent example of Mohamed Jawad, as discussed by Glenn Greenwald,

As I noted last Friday, Mohamed Jawad became the latest Guantanamo detainee ordered released by a federal judge on the ground that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the accusations against him.  Jawad was shipped from his native Afghanistan halfway around the world to the American prison in 2002, when he was no older then 15 and possibly as young as 12, accused of throwing a grenade at two American soldiers in his country.  The evidence against him consisted almost entirely of a “confession” he made after Afghan soldiers threatened to kill both him and his family if he did not confess — threats issued shortly after two innocent Afghans detainees were killed by American soldiers in Bagram prison.  I previously wrote in detail about Jawad’s case here.

. . .  even if the accusations against Jawad were true — and a federal judge just ruled there was little or no credible evidence that they are — it would mean that he did nothing more than throw a grenade at two soldiers who were part of a foreign army that had invaded his country.  Not even the Bush administration ever claimed he had anything to do with Al Qaeda, or was a high-level member of the Taliban, or had anything to do with any Terrorist plots.  Independent of whether the American invasion of Afghanistan was or was not justified, how could an act like that — an attack by a native citizen against soldiers of an invading army — possibly make someone a Terrorist or a war criminal, let alone justify shipping them thousands of miles away to a camp for Terrorists (or, more bizarrely still, trying them in an American criminal court under American criminal law)?

It’s as though we’ve interpreted the laws of war so that it’s perfectly legal for the U.S. to invade, occupy and bomb other countries, but it’s illegal and criminal — it turns someone into a Terrorist — if any of the citizens of those countries fight back against our army.  When one adds to all of that Jawad’s very young age at the time of his detention, the fact that he was repeatedly tortured, and the fact that he’s now been kept in a cage for seven years, thousands of miles from his country, without any charges at all, his ongoing detention should horrify any decent person.

Take away the cleaned up versions, and it is hard to accept our government’s actions or the fact that we are so eager to endorse the abuse. Or are we just a very, very vindictive people.

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The American Mullahs

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On reflecting upon the recent faux outrage about the faux racism of Judge Sotomayor by a panel of almost identical looking senators (both in dress and physical appearance), these gentlemen are beginning to resemble their Iranian counterparts. While the Mullahs allegedly deny the Holocaust, here we have the scrutiny of a senator from South Carolina, a state that until recently flew the Confederate Flag (which is either racist or unpatriotic) and the indignation of the senator from Alabama, a state that had de facto slavery until the 1940s. Never mind that Sotomayor has in the majority of her judicial decisions ruled against plaintiffs in civil rights cases; that Justice Alito who has admitted that his ethnic background affects his judicial decisions recently ruled in favor of an Italian American in the Ricci case; that to Republican senators judicial impartiality means favoring the status quo only; that the Republican Vice Presidential candidate in the last election ran on the platform that her values and insight as a rural woman made her superior to urban men; or that there has only been two non white justices and only two women on the Supreme Court in its entire history. Sotomayor is the racist and white senators must fear her wrath.

And now because a black Harvard professor, an elitist like Obama himself, may have cried wolf, suddenly rejecting the very existence of racial profiling, like Iranian Holocaust denial, has become the conservative battle axe of the day. Nevertheless, the image of the American Mullahs alone speaks volumes.

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The CIA is Officially Above the Law

In today’s Washington Post, CIA Director Leon Panetta essentially immunizes the CIA from compliance with the law. The “it’s time to move on” argument, favoring practicality over principle, places political expediency above the rule of law and ultimately sets a standard for future agency impunity.

According to Panetta we “must find a balance between appropriate oversight and a recognition that the security of the United States depends on a CIA that is totally focused on the job of defending America” (emphasis added). Normally that balance would be found in the application of the rule of law, but if Panetta has already liberated the CIA from having to concern itself with or be confined by the law, then what are we left with to balance?

We are supposed to believe that that balance is to be found in the political process, and because the “last election made clear that the public wanted to move in a new direction”, we have thus moved on. Under a new president, the “CIA no longer operates black sites and no longer employs ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques.” This all comes from an administration whose transparency policy demands the total secrecy and immunity for all past and ongoing activities relating to intelligence gathering and national defense. Yesterday, there were mass public demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur against the Malaysian government’s decade old law permitting detention without trial. Meanwhile, the Obama White House continues to back indefinite detention without trial for anyone who it believes may pose a national security threat, not just those enemy combatants we cannot try in court because the Bush Administration screwed up. Because no one is protesting in the streets, does that mean we’ve moved on?

Then there is the president’s additional “I am going to need you more than ever” argument. In other words, we should not investigate credible claims of crimes because doing so may hurt agency morale. The military regularly investigates its soldiers and officers, so why can’t the CIA? Imagine applying this unique “agency morale” standard to the military, police, government, schools or other institutions; for example not investigating claims of sexual abuse by teachers because doing so may hurt teacher morale? Or by priests because it may damage the reputation of the Church?

In this vein, Panetta does not want the application of the law to the CIA to “taint those public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided.” But that does not mean that we exculpate the Bush Cheney White House who searched for lone, middle level attorneys to rubber stamp, in bad faith, what was clearly contrary to well settled law. There is no reason why, as Panetta fears, that we must follow the age old Washington tradition and scapegoat the “Bad Apples” as the Defense Department did with Abu Ghraib.

Of course, Panetta fails to mention that by refusing to investigate claims of torture, the U.S. is violating International Law and its treaty obligations, and is therefore potentially subjecting CIA operatives and officials to criminal prosecution abroad, restricting their international travel and inevitably tainting their reputations.

Finally, the ultimate problem with this Reconciliation Without the Truth or the Commission approach to the rule of law is that it creates a standard whereby it is almost impossible to foresee a scenario in which the CIA would ever be subject to the law. So, Mr. Panetta, what can the CIA not get away with?

It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.

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