Monthly Archives: May 2010

Extraordinarily Hypocritical or Extraordinarily Ordinary: Obama’s Brand of Change

It’s hard to think of a single area of U.S. policy where then candidate Obama promised change and now President Obama has not completely reversed his former position and reverted to the policies of Bush & Co. Some may call Obama a socialist, but he has moved his position on almost every single issue, a shift that he himself seems to justify as finding middle ground; ironically the middle is in right field. I guess the only change we can believe in now is Obama’s change of heart.

In a series of excellent articles over the past few days, Glenn Greenwald has exposed many of the hypocrisies in Obama’s Bushness and Democrats’ acquiescence to that Bushness:

Few issues highlight Barack Obama’s extreme hypocrisy the way that Bagram does. As everyone knows, one of George Bush’s most extreme policies was abducting people from all over the world — far away from any battlefield — and then detaining them at Guantanamo with no legal rights of any kind, not even the most minimal right to a habeas review in a federal court.  Back in the day, this was called “Bush’s legal black hole.”  In 2006, Congress codified that policy by enacting the Military Commissions Act, but in 2008, the Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that provision unconstitutional, holding that the Constitution grants habeas corpus rights even to foreign nationals held at Guantanamo.  Since then, detainees have won 35 out of 48 habeas hearings brought pursuant to Boumediene, on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to justify their detention.

. . . This is what Barack Obama has done to the habeas clause of the Constitution:  if you are in Thailand (as one of the petitioners in this case was) and the U.S. abducts you and flies you to Guantanamo, then you have the right to have a federal court determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold you.  If, however, President Obama orders that you be taken to from Thailand to Bagram rather than to Guantanamo, then you will have no rights of any kind, and he can order you detained there indefinitely without any right to a habeas review.  That type of change is so very inspiring — almost an exact replica of his vow to close Guantanamo . . . all in order to move its core attributes (including indefinite detention) a few thousand miles North to Thompson, Illinois.

As IOZ writes,

Considered historically, it will become clear that the job of Republican governments is to invent novel, ad hoc expansions of state power, while the job of Democratic governments is to consolidate and systematize them. Far from repudiating supposed Bush-era “excesses,” the Obama regime has sought–usually successfully–to entrench and to codify them. This is just the latest example.

Now that’s cynicism we can believe in. It makes you wonder whether what is most extraordinary about Obama’s presidency is just how ordinary his politics have become. I don’t mean to be a hater, but we need to demand more from our political class, and that includes the President. Continue reading

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Why Can’t Soldiers Just Get Along?

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From Washington Post’s Tom Toles. Of course, the notion that they cannot is a fabrication of politicians.

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More from Mi Vieja

Some recent favorites from my often tasteless friends at Mi Vieja:

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Robert Fisk: Tea with Bin Laden…and other stories

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“The distinguished Middle East correspondent of The Independent [Robert Fisk] recalls the culinary highs and lows of an extraordinary career – from feasting with kings in Jordan to eating under fire in Afghanistan.”

Robert Fisk: Tea with Bin Laden…and other stories:

When the Iranian Revolutionary Guards closed the roads to journalists after Ayatollah Khomeini’s return from exile in 1979, I decided to travel the country by rail. Secret policemen and soldiers always forget trains. They like road-blocks; and the journalist who wishes to elude them must remember Michael Collins’ old maxim, that no one ever sees a man on a bicycle. No one ever sees a journalist on a train. So Iranian state railways – and their single-carriage restaurant cars – became my home for weeks. Continue reading

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Round Midnight

As mentioned, since reading Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original, my interest in Monk’s music has been rekindled, and I am listening to little else these days. But, in particular, I have become completely addicted to “Round Midnight” — an original Monk composition that became a classic Jazz standard even before Monk himself recorded it and is now the most recorded Jazz standard of all time — of which I have countless Monk versions, as well as excellent interpretations by Cootie Williams, Miles Davis (with Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane), Ken McIntyre, Barry Harris, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, and George Russell (with Eric Dolphy on Sax).

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In the Name of the ?

It’s funny watching the trailer of In the Name of the Father, almost 20 years after it came out on video, especially at a time when it appears that, as Glenn Greenwald describes, with each new terrorist attempt — ironically, each one less sophisticated than the last — the popular response is to find new ways to strip away the rights of the people:

What’s most amazing about all of this is that even 9 years after the 9/11 attacks and even after the radical reduction of basic rights during the Bush/Cheney years, the reaction is still exactly the same to every Terrorist attack, whether a success or failure, large- or small-scale.  Apparently, 8 years of the Bush assault on basic liberties was insufficient; there are still many remaining rights in need of severe abridgment.  Even now, every new attempted attack causes the Government to devise a new proposal for increasing its own powers still further and reducing rights even more, while the media cheer it on.  It never goes in the other direction.  Apparently, as “extremist” as the Bush administration was, there are still new rights to erode each time the word Terrorism is uttered.  Each new incident, no matter how minor, prompts new, exotic proposals which the “Constitution-shredding” Bush/Cheney team neglected to pursue:  an assassination program aimed at U.S. citizens, formal codification of Miranda dilutions, citizenship-stripping laws, a statute to deny all legal rights to Americans arrested on U.S. soil.

The U.S. already has one of the most pro-government criminal justice systems in the world.  That (along with our indescribably insane drug laws) is why we have the world’s largest prison population and the highest percentage of our citizenry incarcerated of any country in the Western world.  It is hard to imagine a worse fate than being a defendant in the American justice system accused of Terrorism-related crimes.  Conviction and a very long prison sentence are virtual certainties.  Particularly in the wake of 9/11 and the Patriot Act era, the rules have been repeatedly rewritten to provide the Government with every conceivable advantage.  The very idea that the Government is hamstrung in its ability to prosecute and imprison Terrorists is absurd on its face.  Decades of pro-government laws in general, and post-9/11 changes in particular, have created a justice system that strangles the rights of those accused of Terrorism.  Despite that, every new incident becomes a pretext for a fresh wave of fear-mongering and still new ways to erode core Constitutional protections even further.

It really is the case that every new Terrorist incident reflexively produces a single-minded focus on one question:  which rights should we take away now/which new powers should we give the Government?  We never reach the point where we decide that we have already retracted enough rights.  Further restrictions on rights seems to be the only reaction of which our political and media class is capable in the face of a new attack.  The premise seems to be that if we keep limiting rights further and further, we’ll eventually reach the magical point of Absolute Safety where there will be no more Terrorism.  For so many reasons, that is an obvious myth, one that ensures that we’ll reduce rights infinitely and with no discernible benefit.  We’re not the target of Terrorist attacks because we have too many rights; we’re the target because of our own actions, ones that we never reconsider in light of new attacks because we’re too busy figuring out which rights to erode next.

The reality of the world today is that our safety is always at risk, especially in public places, both by the terrorist loonies (even more foreseeable when the CIA is drone attacking other countries) and by the run of the mill All American Shooting Spree lunatics. The only difference being that the All American Shooting Spree is much more frequent and is always followed, not by a call for limiting rights, but by cries to reinforce the rights of gun owners. And won’t that be an interesting case of Right Wing cognitive dissonance when the first terrorist gets his hand on a gun purchased at a gun show?

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An American Original

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For most of 2009, I was a very good boy. Instead of buying new music, I did my best to recycle from the fairly vast collection that I already had – because, of course, the more music you have, the less of it you can enjoy.

And then my frugal trend suddenly took a turn for the worse. Over the last few days, I have been totally engrossed in Robin D.G. Kelly’s new book, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. What a fantastic read, especially if you are a Jazz fan. The problem is that the book inspired me to fill in some of the gaps in my Monk collection, picking up

Revisiting some already in my collection, particulary,

And also getting my hands on a few rare gems by other Monk contemporaries:

  • Cootie Williams: 1941-1944 (with some of the first ever recordings of Monk compositions “Fly Right (Epistophy)” and “Round Midnight”, and with Bud Powell on piano).
  • Sahib Shihab: Jazz Sahib (with Bill Evans on piano)
  • Abbey Lincoln: Straight Ahead (with Coleman Hawkins, Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Mal Waldron, and Max Roach)
  • Pepper Adams: 10 to 4 at the Five Spot (with Donald Bird, Doug Watkins, Elvin Jones, and Bobby Timmons).

Some critics of Kelly’s work complain about inclusion of African American-centric political commentary, of which I assume they mean references to slavery and the racial violence and discrimination that occurred during Monk’s life. But it would be hard to tell the story of a Twentieth Century African American – one whose great-grandparents and grandparents had been born into slavery and, like his fellow black Jazz contemporaries had difficulty traveling freely in certain states and were often harassed by the police – and not recognize that these factors essentially shaped their lives. Ignoring them is a denial of the American experience.

In any event, the book is thoroughly enjoyable and sheds light on Monk as a family man and homebody, a generous teacher – and not the eccentric hermit he was made out to be – but someone fully focused, dedicated and unwavering in the pursuit of his own unadulterated artistic identity. Monk never changed his style, not when he was being laughed at, not when he finally achieved recognition twenty years later, and certainly not thereafter.

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