In an op-ed in today's The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker tells Barack Obama that he is not welcome at Notre Dame. Parker seems to be one of those small minded Catholics who cannot tolerate anyone else's ideas and opinions other than her own.
Hey Kathleen, have you ever heard of a "university" before? That's a place where ideas of all shapes and colors are presented in the forum, and anyone can argue or debate the strength of those ideas.
It seems you want the university's world of ideas to be shrunk and limited to your own narrow world view. Why are you so dogmatic? Is the Pope still for you that great spiritual superman in Rome who tells you how to think and what to believe?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
In an op-ed in today's The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker tells Barack Obama that he is not welcome at Notre Dame. Parker seems to be one of those small minded Catholics who cannot tolerate anyone else's ideas and opinions other than her own.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Richard Cohen claims torture works. He writes in The Washington Post today that he believes torture is morally reprehensible but nevertheless he thinks it is effective:
"Yet the debate over torture has been infected with silly arguments about utility: whether it works or not. Of course it works -- sometimes or rarely, but if a proverbial bomb is ticking, that may just be the one time it works. I refer you to the 1995 interrogation by Philippine authorities of Abdul Hakim Murad, an al-Qaeda terrorist who served up extremely useful information about a plot to blow up airliners when he was told that he was about to be turned over to Israel's Mossad. As George Orwell suggested in "1984," everyone has his own idea of torture."
But what Cohen forgets or omits is that it works only if you grab the right guy. If you grab some guy like Christopher Hitchens or some other innocent party, thinking him to be a terrorist, torture does not work and will never work.
I say to Richard Cohen, you are no better in your ethics or in your intellectual analysis than the churchmen in the late middle ages who believed that the wrack and the test by water would make "heretics" confess. Out of 100 people subject to the dripping of the water, how many do you think confessed that they were in Satan's service? They all confessed!
So use torture with all 200+ inmates at Guantanamo and they will all admit that they were part of the Qaeda conspiracy.
And by the way don't stop with merely using water torture. Find that old branding iron and heat it very hot. Then resurrect the wrack, you know, the one with the pulleys. I am sure that you will obtain a lot of "useful information."
Monday, April 27, 2009
Let's have a full and open investigation of how George Bush and Dick Cheney instituted a policy of torture on captives believed to be Qaeda supporters.
Recall that the Inquisition lasted about 400 years in Europe from about 1300 to 1700 when the leaders of the French Enlightenment exposed it and its shameful practices of torture to daylight.
Some of the very same methods used by churchmen in the Inquisition to extract confessions of devil worship and witchcraft show up in what we know about Bush and Cheney's policy of "harsh interrogation methods." Trial by water is a good example. Water has long been used to separate the good from the evil. Suspected thieves and robbers were thrown into the water in 13th Centrury England; if their hair stayed dry, they were exonerated. Officials poured water down the throats of suspects. Most confessed within a few seconds. Of course, even after receiving church absolution, these unfortunates were then taken and burned at the stake in the city center.
Of course water was not the only method. Churchmen used hot coals and the wrack to test the innocence of suspected heretics. Surely God would protect them if pure and innocent. Most were found to be allied with Satan.
Those who claim waterboarding is not torture should watch the video of Christopher Hitchens being recently waterboarded. Hitchens volunteered. He lasted about 20 seconds before he could not take any more. Better yet, defenders of waterboarding - Hannity, Thiessen, Cheney, Rice, Addington, Tenet, et al. - we should waterboard all of them and not stop unless they make a full and complete confession. First let's accuse them of (take your pick): supporting Al Qaeda, practicing witchcraft, planning to detonate a dirty bomb in NYC, being in consort with Satan, practicing socialism, or whatever. Let's see how much water they can stand before they confess.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Stop the rush to apply U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Politico reports in a story by David S. Cloud that there is a move among some Democrats in Congress to press Obama to quickly apply sanctions on Iran.
I say that the Democrats who call for more Iran sanctions are acting on behalf of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman as well as for AIPAC, and are not acting in the interest of the United States or of world peace.
I voted for Obama to put an end to the U.S. policy of mounting a military attack against any country or any one who disagrees with any U.S. policy. Apparently there are also Democrats who agree with war mongering Republicans that the best way to take care of Iran is with U.S. war planes, bombs and tanks. I call upon Obama to resist these militaristic calls to punish Iran and the Iranian people.
Obama needs to sit down with president Ahmadinejad in a dialog of respect and negotiation. And he forcefully needs to confront the war makers in both Israel and the U.S. who want nothing else than to kill anyone who says that Israel is cruel and racist, its inhumane and criminal military campaign against the Palestinians in Gaza notwithstanding.
It is because of torturer-defenders like Michael Scheuer that I want a full accounting of what some CIA employees did in their pursuit of "truth" when it comes to Guantanamo and Qaeda captives.
Scheuer writes an op-ed in today's The Washington Post in which he implies that Obama is substituting his own personal beliefs about torture for realism practice by the CIA torturers.
For starters, let's subject Scheuer and all the other CIA operatives and defenders like Michael Mukasey, Dick Cheney, David Addington, Condoleeza Rice, John Yoo et al. to the test by water. I personally suspect that they are all implicated in conspiring with Qaeda. Look, (according to the rationale implied by Scheuer) if they are truly innocent or they have no actionable information, they will NOT confess no matter how long the waterboarding. But if they are guilty, truly guilty, they will surely blurt out their guilt. How long do you think Scheuer will maintain his innocence?
The U.S. held trials after for WWII for Japanese officials, officers and plain soldiers. The U.S.hanged some of them for war crimes especially for waterboarding American soldiers. Now Scheuer claims that Americans should adopt the same cruel and brutal practices for self-defense. How small, inhumane and sadistic.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Porter Goss, former CIA director under George W. Bush, writes in today's The Washington Post:
"We have given our enemy invaluable information about the rules by which we operate. The terrorists captured by the CIA perfected the act of beheading innocents using dull knives. Khalid Sheik Mohammed boasted of the tactic of placing explosives high enough in a building to ensure that innocents trapped above would die if they tried to escape through windows. There is simply no comparison between our professionalism and their brutality."
This is the same old argument that we can't reveal our methods of torture, oops, I mean, interrogation because then the "enemy" would be prepared for it. I suggest to Porter, arrange to have yourself waterboarded for 10 minutes but take as much time as you need to prepare for it, several months if you want. See if your preparations can allow your to tolerate waterboarding even for one minute. Oh, you can also practice being strung up with handcuffs to the ceiling and practice being in that position for two hours. Then you could practice being put into a coffin-like box for two days. So much for Porter's arguments that revelation of these harsh and cruel methods will allow the "enemy" to get ready for them.
Given the inability of any human to prepare for waterboarding or the other forms of American torture, arguments like those of Porter Goss that we give away "secrets" to the enemy just don't pass the laugh test.
Waterboarding and the like have been around at least since the Inquisition. Recall that the Church found them effective to establish the truth of who was a devil or worshipper of black magic. Back then, recall that there were a lot of witches and Satan-worshippers. And by God the Inquisition and its methods made them confess and come clean.
I would like to see if Porter would himself confess to being part of the Qaeda group if he were waterboarded. Perhaps even Cheney, Bush, Rice and Addington, being waterboarded, would quickly "confess" that they were secretly part of Qaeda and planned the 9/11 attack.
David Broder writing in today's The Washington Post gives us more of the vacuous arguments of the Washinton establishment against holding those who conspired to devise a policy of torture responsible. Broder writes:
"The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials.
"One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has -- thankfully -- made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?
"That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice."
How can anyone connected with Bush, even Broder, argue that the torture policy was "deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials"?
This is so ludicrous. The illegal inhumane policy was devised behind the closed doors of Dick Cheney in consultation with his henchman David Addington, and then dictated to the White House and the CIA.
Let's put these criminals on trial and let the American people hear all the sordid happenings and schemes.
Let's release all the memos and see the true picture of the Bush/Cheney criminal enterprise. As for Yoo, Bybee, Bradbury et al, let's find out how they fit their "legal" arguments around the policy.
Shame on Broder for supporting concealment of the truth about CIA torture.
Friday, April 24, 2009
I heard a BBC Radio News report this afternoon that Israel sent bulldozers to East Jerusalem to take down Arab homes that Israel claims were built without proper permits. The BBC interviewed one lady surrounded by her five sobbing children after they were given five minutes to leave and their home was demolished. (Sorry I don't have a link to provide, but I will try to obtain one in the next few hours.)
Can we have a better example of "ethnic cleansing"? The United States decided to go into Bosnia and Serbia to prevent the rampant inhumane ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. But American politicians seem steadfast in their support of Israel, no matter how cruel or racist Israel appears and no matter how much ethnic cleansing Israel engages in.
Remember that a few days ago at a United Nations conference on racism, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad termed Israel "cruel and racist," and delegations from several European countries made a show of walking out during the speech. Israel's action in destroying homes belonging to Arabs in East Jerusalem is a good example of its cruelty towards Arabs and its embedded racism. Israel just does not want Arabs living in a part of Israel that it believes Jews should populate alone. Given that belief, Arab children put out of their homes peremptorily and families cruelly deprived of their possessions without due and fair process means nothing to the Israeli government.
I disagree with Barack Obama and the others that CIA personnel who carried out the waterboarding and other forms of torture should not face prosecution. I thought that that the rectitude of prosecution of war crimes committed by subordinates was validated and settled at the 1945 Nuremberg trials. Subordinates cannot rely on the defense of "just following orders." Those who engage or commit crimes against humanity need to be held accountable.
If a CIA employee holds down Zubayda or some other suspected Qaeda member while others pour the water, our society must hold this person to account. What could be his/her defense? That he did not know what he was doing was wrong? Hardly.
Even in circumstances where some legal administration hack like David Addington or Steven Bradbury writes a legal memo claiming waterboarding and other harsh methods are legal and permissible, does the defense of the guy who actually pours the water, "I thought it was legal," pass the laugh test? There are certain actions that each person acting with a rational mind must acknowledge offends another's humanity and inherent dignity, notwithstanding some covering legal memo.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Israel's lobby in the United States never stop beating the drums for a U.S. attack against Iran. In an article on Politico, Alexander Burns describes how at the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony today in Washington, speakers urged Barack Obama to take action against Iran.
"“Honoring the dead must not be the sole purpose of remembrance. It must help us shape a better future,” said Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor. “When a regime is again ... terrorizing its neighbors, threatening to destroy the Jewish people, how will we meet this challenge before it’s too late?”
"Meridor kept his message implicit, but the subtext was clear: The world must stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
"Joel Geiderman, the vice chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, was more blunt, drawing a comparison between the Nazis in Germany and the present-day government in Tehran.
"“At least one whole nation has been targeted for destruction with the threat to wipe it off the map,” Geiderman said, alluding to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s belligerent remarks toward Israel. “History should have taught us that democracies that let such pledges stand do so at their own peril.”
"“In the names of the victims, I call on the assembled leaders and the rest of the world to ensure that no country that threatens such destruction will ever obtain the means to achieve it,” he continued. “Nuclear weapons in the hands of aggressor fanatics can’t be allowed.”"
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
There were several troubling developments regarding prejudice against Iran and its nuclear development program.
One was a letter published in today's The New York Times by Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, calling Iran the "greatest evil in the modern world." Foxman seems to be one of those many (not all) rabid Zionists here in the U.S. who would like nothing better than provoke the U.S. attack Iran, bomb its nuclear facilities, and in the process, kill tens of thousands of Iranians.
And what caused Foxman's latest demonization of Iran? Ahmadinejad called Israel "cruel and racist" for its actions in the three-week attack on Palestinians in Gaza this past January. Is there any doubt that Israel and its IDF shot and bombed civilians, closed borders to prevent civilians fleeing the fighting, bombed homes, mosques, schools, and yes, even the United Nations food storage center? Even today, Israel will not permit Palestinians to obtain construction materials to re-build, with the result that hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian families are still without proper shelter.
Second. Hillary Clinton, testifying before a House Committee, said that the U.S. would impose "crippling" sanctions on Iran unless it came to some acceptable agreement about its nuclear program. Viola Gienger writes for Bloomberg on Clinton's statements:
"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. effort to reach out to Iran will be coupled with the threat of “crippling” sanctions should the regime in Tehran rebuff diplomacy to curb its nuclear program."
Remember this is the same Hillary Clinton who said during the campaign that she as president would "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel. We need Barack Obama to put an end to Clinton's intemperate and bellicose language. In truth, the danger comes not from Iran attacking Israel, but just the other way around. The U.S. cannot permit or allow Israel to attack Iran.
Americans need to stop thinking of other countries having different languages and cultures and religions as "enemies." The U.S. should maintain friendly relations with all countries, including Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, to name but a few. Obama needs to make sure all his officers and cabinet members put this principle of foreign policy into place and observe it.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Marc Thiessen gives us in today's The Washington Post a specious reason supporting his assertion that Obama was wrong to release the torture memos: Al Qaeda will use this information to train its operatives to resist questioning and withhold information on planned attacks. (Thiessen by the way is a former speech writer for George W. Bush.)
Oh yeah! Sure! Thiessen's assertion does not pass the laugh test. Al Qaeda is going to train its soldiers to overcome waterboarding? Or being stuffed in a black box together with biting insects? How about training for loss of sleep for seven days? Or being doused with cold water? These Al Qaeda guys sure are tough and made of steel.
I have a good suggestion. Let's waterboard Thiessen and his fellow torture-defending Bush officials, including Dick Cheney, and find out if they have any secrets to reveal. Perhaps Thiessen and Cheney are really Al Qaeda operatives and are planning an attack against some city in the United States.
If they are innocent, well we will soon know. But let's stop the waterboarding or other torture only if and when they admit their terrorist guilt.
When in the cross hairs of very negative public opinion and condemnation for war crimes, as Israel now finds itself, have your shills try to place blame on the other guy. This is what Richard Cohen tries to do in his pro-Israeli piece in today's The Washington Post. "Israel may have killed Palestinians in its unjustified three-week bombardment of Gaza, but Hamas is worse." What the world needs is a full United Nations investigation of Israel's actions, not the whitewash conducted by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) of its own conduct, as if all the charges about killing defenseless civilians, men women, children, were mere "hearsay."
Monday, April 20, 2009
I don't understand the walk-out and protest by several country delegations today during the talk by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations Conference on Racism. What caused the walk-out was when Ahmadinejad said that Israel was cruel and racist. Can anyone seriously disagree with this statement?
As to being cruel, look at Israel's actions in the three-week attack on Gaza this past January. The shooting of women, the killing of children, the closing of Israel/Gaza crossing points with the result that civilians in Gaza could not flee the bombing and the shelling. The dropping of white phosphorous bombs. The destruction of homes, schools, mosques and even police stations.
As to being racist, Israel seems to want to kill all Palestinians and rid itself of the problem of how to allow non-Jews to live and work within its borders. Consider that Israel will not allow any construction materials into Gaza. This means that the Palestinians whose homes were bombed and destroyed by Israeli war planes are living out in the open or in tents or in their ruined houses. One could reason that Israel wants to get rid of all Palestinians.
So Ahmadinejad calls Israel cruel and racist. Does this allow the hawks and neo-cons in Israel to call for war upon Iran? That's the next call we are going to hear - the call to bomb Teheran, kill all Iranians and establish Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Pres. Barack Obama attended the Conference of the Americas for the past several days in Trinidad-Tobago. How things have changed in just a few months since the departure of Bush/Cheney.
Instead of insulting and patronizing other leaders of Latin countries as Bush would have done, or walking out when some leader criticizes imperialistic and militaristic U.S. policy, Obama made it a point to listen and consider viewpoints other than American ones. Obama listened to Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega criticize U.S. interference in Latin affairs and listened to Bolivia's Evo Morales unhappiness with U.S. meddling.
Bush had a list of "enemy" countries. Many on the right seem to have wanted Bush to bomb and attack the "enemies," but Obama seems to be disposed to consider other countries to be friends and allies, not adversaries.
And finally Obama had a chance to meet, greet and shake hands with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Obama still does not know how to pronounce the Venezuelan president's last name (not Sha-vez, but Cha-vez, as in cha-cha). But Obama recognizes that there is no need to see Chavez and Venezuela as the "enemy."
We see the beginning of Pax Obama, a period of peaceful cooperation between the United States and the countries to the south.
There is a report today about still another U.S. missile strike into some Pakistani village in South Waziristan. This is terror inflicted from the sky. Besides it is rough justice. No court, no judge, no jury has declared that these people must die at American hands. Barack Obama should call an immediate halt to these executions.
I have been writing about U.S. missile attacks fired from unmanned drones prowling overn backward agrarian villages in western Pakistan. How many lives have been lost, men, women, children, all at the whim of some CIA agent sitting somewhere in some secret CIA office in Phoenix and pushing the fire button on his computer console controlling the lethal drone?
Today, in The New York Times Week in Review, Scott Shane asks what is the difference between the morality of these drone attacks and the torture authorized by Bush and Cheney on Al Qaeda suspects.
"WHEN the Central Intelligence Agency obliterates a dozen suspected terrorists, along with assorted family members, with a missile from a drone, the news rarely stirs a strong reaction far beyond Pakistan.
"Yet the waterboarding of three operatives from Al Qaeda — one of them the admitted murderer of 3,000 people as organizer of the 9/11 attacks — has stirred years of recriminations, calls for prosecution and national soul-searching.
"What is it about the terrible intimacy of torture that so disturbs and captivates the public? Why has torture long been singled out for special condemnation in the law of war, when war brings death and suffering on a scale that dwarfs the torture chamber?"
Shane does not seem to anwwer to his own question, satisfied to just present it. But
the answer is clear for me: both are equally immoral and reprehensible.
Friday, April 17, 2009
BBC Radio ran a piece last night on a study on rape and assault of female U.S. soldiers by their male comrades in Afghanistan. Sorry I have not yet found the cite. According to the study, over 30% of female soldiers in Afghanistan are assaulted or raped by other soldiers. This is shocking and an outrage. These female soldiers are just trying to do their job in the military, and then the Army allows them to be subject to abuse among their own platoon or company. Apparently no woman is safe from rape in the U.S. military. We need to hear from Barack Obama and Robert Gates on this reprehensible situation.
Second. C.J. Chivers reports today in The New York Times on the U.S. ambush of 13 Taliban fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan. All were killed. Is this the purpose of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to kill local militants? The U.S. has wasted thirteen lives, probably of very young men, resisting a foreign occupier in their land. Do we count this as a "victory" or a "defeat"? For each Afghani life taken in this ambush, how many more local village boys will volunteer to get revenge on the Americans? And how about the U.S. soldiers in this story? Having shot men and boys at close range, will these soldiers ever get over the psychological trauma that a firefight inflicts?
There is no good reason why the U.S. sends American soldiers to Afghanistan. All that results is bad, from the rape and assault of female soldiers to the wanton killing of Afghani men and boys, not even mentioning the purposeless death of American soldiers in pursuing this madness.
The Bush torture memos just released yesterday make for depressing reading. How is it possible that Steven Bradbury, deputy assistant attorney general, could write that protections of the Geneva Conventions against torture did not apply to prisoners held outside of the United States? Or that the seriousness of the threat by Al Qaeda justified the use of waterboarding, dousing with cold water, slamming heads against walls, confinement in small boxes, and other procedures just as reprehensible?
We need to hold to account these people who wrote legal memos justifying these horrendous practices. When Barack Obama says the government will not prosecute those who carried out these methods of torture, this is surely a miscarriage of justice. Everyone who violates the law, especially laws designed to protect the dignity and human rights of prisoners, should be brought before the bar of justice. This includes Steven Bradbury, John Yoo, Douglas Feith, David Addington, John Bolton, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and George Bush.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Thanks to Juan Cole in his Informed Comment today for pointing me to this important study by Iraq Body Count reporting on the large number of civilian casualties, mostly women and children, killed in U.S. bombing raids.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a new study on fatalities among women and children in Iraq as a result of the U.S. prosecuting the war there. The study, in conjunction with Iraq Body Count, is authored by Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks, M.D., M.R.C.Psych., Hamit Dardagan, Gabriela Guerrero Serdán, M.A., Peter M. Bagnall, M.Res., John A. Sloboda, Ph.D., F.B.A., and Michael Spagat, Ph.D.
Write the authors:
"In events with at least one Iraqi civilian victim, the methods that killed the most civilians per event were aerial bombings (17 per event), combined use of aerial and ground weapons (17 per event), and suicide bombers on foot (16 per event). Aerial bombs killed, on average, 9 more civilians per event than aerial missiles (17 vs. 8 per event). Indeed, if an aerial bomb killed civilians at all, it tended to kill many. It seems clear from these findings that to protect civilians from indiscriminate harm, as required by international humanitarian law (including the Geneva Conventions),4 military and civilian policies should prohibit aerial bombing in civilian areas unless it can be demonstrated — by monitoring of civilian casualties, for example — that civilians are being protected."
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The U.S. policy towards Cuba is a farce, and it has been a joke ever since JFK imposed an embargo on trade with Cuba. The New America Foundation sponsored a seminar on U.S. policy towards Cuba and C-SPAN carried the program yesterday.
Consider that the U.S. treats the government of Afghanistan as an ally, notwithstanding a new Afghani law that Hamid Karzai signed last week, plainly manifesting prejudice against women. The law among other things mandates that a woman be available for sex with her husband every fourth day. Furthermore, the law prohibits a woman leaving her house at any time unless she has permission of her husband or father. In other words, in Afghanistan, women are basically property, having no rights and no self-determination. Afghanistan's society thus illustrates medieval sexism at its worst. Yet the U.S. under Obama is prepared to send up to 20,000 U.S. troops there in the next few months to back up Karzai's government.
So why has Cuba been singled out for American wrath? What has Cuba done to merit 50 years of economic boycott? Americans don't like Fidel or his brother Raul. As a result, American policy has impoverished the lives of ordinary Cubans. The U.S. government is unhappy that the Castros don't toe the American line.
Bottom line: the U.S. punishes Cuba for not believing in free enterprise and unbridled capitalism and tries to force ordinary Cubans to renounce the Castro brothers. How's that for diplomacy?
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
There is a horrible cruel report from Afghanistan that the Taliban have executed a young couple 21 and 19 for having sex without being married. The couple apparently was planning an elopement to Iran, but their parents learned of their plans, reported them to the Taliban, and now they are dead.
The BBC reports:
"Correspondents say that the killings took place in a remote and dangerous region, where the government has no access.
"The Taleban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and during that time implemented its austere interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, carrying out public killings and floggings.
"Unmarried men and women were forbidden from talking or meeting in public and women were not allowed out of their homes without a male relative. Girls were discouraged from going to school.
"Extrajudicial "honour killings" have been widely carried out in Afghanistan since then by conservative families angered by a relative who has brought them shame - usually by refusing to marry a chosen partner."
The Taliban show that they are living in medieval times. Forget about human rights or the right to choose whom to marry or to love. Religious fervor dominates society, and the irrational precepts of religion come into domination. The Taliban's is a dark world of religion, unforgiving, anti-female, irrationally obsessed with sex.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Michael D. Shear reports in The Washington Post that Obama has lifted some restrictions in regard to travelling to Cuba and sending money.
"As a candidate, Obama promised to seek closer relations with Cuba, and courted Cuban voters in the key state of Florida. As president, he has signaled that he intends to move toward a greater openness.
"A White House aide said the president believes that democratic change will come to the Cuban nation more quickly if the United States reaches out to the people of Cuba and their relatives in the United States."
Obama is right. But his initial steps call for much more radical change in how the U.S. views Cuba and its political structure. I want to see all U.S. restrictions ended. To boycott Cuba is to hurt the Cuban people, to deny the ordinary Cubano food, medicine and the necessities of life. Boycotts and embargoes never work. They are used to punish political leaders of a country, but the only thing they do is to punish the ordinary citizen.
I call upon Barack Obama, end all embargoes, end all boycotts, stop this silly American ostracization of Cuba. As a genuine step towards this goal, I want to see Obama meet and talk with both Raul and Fidel Castro. Cuba and its leaders are not "enemies." All of the bellicosity emanates from the United States. It is time to begin a new era of friendship and harmony with Cuba and its people.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Today's The New York Times carries a story by Clifford J. Levy on the protests in Georgia aimed at kicking out the Bush/Cheney protege Mikheil Saakashvili.
"Mr. Saakashvili took office in 2004 after leading the so-called Rose Revolution, which ousted a government with Soviet ties. He pledged to pursue a pro-Western course, distancing the country from Moscow, rooting out corruption and reviving an economy that had fallen on such hard times that electricity outages were frequent in the capital, Tbilisi.
"He says the country has made notable progress under his leadership, and many analysts agree that the economy is far stronger. But his tenure has grown steadily more contentious.
"Former aides have deserted him, and a violent crackdown on a demonstration in 2007 hurt his reputation in Washington, his most important supporter. The ruinous war with Russia has further emboldened the opposition, which contends that he bumbled into a conflict that the country could not win."
Recall it was Saakashvili who ordered the artillery attack against South Ossetia last Summer. The war that ensued between Georgia and Russia left Georgia reeling from the destruction of much of its infrastructure and loss of life. This war was not started by Russia, it was a Georgian attack against the population of a province that is inhabited mostly by Russian emigres. Yet Bush and Cheney and a lot of Republicans including some hapless Democrats blamed Russia and Putin.
If and when the voters in Georgia kick Saakashvili out of office, it will be an improvement and a mark of progress towards peace in the Caucasus. Thank the stars that rational minds in Europe opposed Georgia's entrance into NATO. Otherwise Saakashvili could have conceivably drawn all of NATO's nations into his aggressive war against Russia.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Eugene Robinson writes in The Washington Post about the crimes that deserve punishment.
"Who are the "health personnel" who monitored the suffocation sessions and the "stress position" tortures, at times suggesting a pause or a resumption of the agony? Who are the CIA torturers? Who are the Air Force officers at Bagram who might have disapproved of what the CIA was doing but took no steps to stop it?
"I have believed all along that we urgently need to conduct a thorough investigation into the Bush administration's moral and legal transgressions. Now I am convinced that some kind of "truth commission" process isn't enough. Torture -- even the torture of evil men -- is a crime. It deserves not just to be known, but to be punished.
"From George W. Bush on down, individuals decided to sanction, commit and tolerate the practice of torture. They took pains to paper this vile enterprise with rationalizations and justifications, but they knew it was wrong. So do we."
I second Mr. Robinson's call for an complete investigation. We need an investigation of the Bush policies on secret prisons, "harsh interrogation techniques" (aka "torture") and the origins of the War in Iraq.
For some reason unknown, Leon Panetta, now head of the CIA, says there will be no investigation or punishment for those in the CIA who engaged in torture or who set up the dark prisons. This is unacceptable.
Those who followed Bush's unconstitutional policies and directives should be held to account just as the Germans who were put on trial at Nuremberg. Obama should reject Panetta's whitewash and order full public investigations. And he should do it right away. We have all waited much too long for the truth to emerge.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Dan Froomkin in his White House Watch blog in today's The Washington Post reminds us that Obama's Justice Department has inexplicably maintained the bogus doctrine of "state secrets" to try to quash three cases being brought in federal court against government trampling on the Constitution.
The whole notion of "state secrets" as a defense against individuals claiming tortious and harmful action by the federal government is riddled with bogus legal reasoning. What possible could be so sensitive that it could not be revealed to a federal judge sitting in chambers reviewing a case? The whole concept seems intent in bypassing the federal courts and arrogating to the executive privileges and powers not granted in Article II of the Constitution.
On the basis of "state secrets," the Obama Justice Department wants the courts to deny pleas from Guantanamo internees as well as to dismiss a law suit charging AT&T with violating the Fourth Amendment in enabling phone taps. This state secrets argument is just bull, for which there is no credible legal basis. The courts should maintain their own constitutional duties and disregard the Obama government's self-serving legal arguments that revelation of certain facts will jeopardize national security.
If the Obama Justice Department prevails, every suit initiated against the executive or against the federal government is in jeopardy of failing in the face of an argument in favor of "state secrets." Obama should end this charade now, right now, and allow the federal courts and the public to evaluate the cases on their own merits, instead of relying on the specious line of "state secrets."
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The New York Times runs a story yesterday by Eric Schmitt and Christopher Drew on the Obama policy of continuing the attacks on Pakistani villages by unmanned drones operated by secret CIA personnel thousands of miles away. This must stop. What is Obama thinking? Where is the sensitivity to the loss of life in operations like this? How about the innocent men, women and children who are incinerated in their beds as a result of some anonymous CIA agent in Arizona pushing the fire button?
Report Schmitt and Drew:
"But as Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, arrived in Islamabad on Monday, the administration officials said the plan to intensify missile strikes underscored President Obama’s goal to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as to strike at other militant groups allied with Al Qaeda.
Officials are also proposing to broaden the missile strikes to Baluchistan, south of the tribal areas, unless Pakistan manages to reduce the incursion of militants there."
Even some influential Democratic Senators are on record as supporting the drone attacks. Write Schmitt and Drew:
"Influential American lawmakers have voiced support for the administration’s position.
Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, acknowledged last week that “the price is very heavy” when missile strikes mistakenly kill civilians, but he said the strikes were “an extremely effective tool.”"
Levin is sure a militarist. He is the one who made a pact with Lindsay Graham to deny habeas corpus relief from prisoners at Guantanamo. This provision was later judged unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now Levin approves the strikes even though he knows that the missiles will kill innocent Pakistanis. Furthermore, Levin says the strikes are "an extremely effective tool." But where is the evidence supporting this gross assertion? How about the hatred and animosity in the hearts and minds of ordinary Pakistanis who see the bully Americans lobbing missiles of death into backward villages? Or has Levin considered the 100 youth who join the Taliban and Al Qaeda for every Qaeda leader killed in an American attack? So when Levin says these attacks are extremely effective, who does he think he is kidding?
Write Schmitt and Drew:
"The plans have met strong resistance from Pakistani officials and have also worried some former American officials and some analysts, who say that strikes create greater risks of civilian casualties and could further destabilize the nuclear-armed nation.
"“You will be complicating and compounding anti-Americanism here,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and military analyst in Islamabad. “How can you be an ally and at the same time be targeted?”"
Monday, April 6, 2009
Are all Republicans as mean as they sound? Are they all war mongers? Sometimes it appears that way. Consider the response of Newt Gingrich to Pres. Barack Obama's call for nuclear disarmament - he says it is naive and is making America "less safe," repeating a Cheney line. And John Bolton and Richard Perle also weigh in, criticizing Obama. But remember who these guys are - two of the biggest proponents of attacking Iran and bombing North Korea. Imagine the world with Gingrich, Bolton and Perle in charge.
Politico writers Jonathan Martin and David S. Cloud report on Republican reaction to Obama's proposals:
"Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he would have attempted to knock out the missile. And Richard Perle, a former Reagan official who was a leading proponent of the Iraq war, mocked Obama for recently trumpeting the prospect for renewing an arms agreement with Russia, saying the president was practicing diplomacy that is utterly irrelevant.
"“Can anyone imagine a Russian nuclear attack on the United States?” said Perle, who said Obama should worry instead about terrorists getting a mass-destruction weapon, possibly with the aid of Iran.
"“Especially in light of the North Korean launch, I thought his speech was otherworldly," said John Bolton, the conservative former Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bush. "What is he saying about the real, concrete threat from proliferant states like North Korea and Iran? We'll take you to the Security Council. Say, there's a threat! That has had no practical impact on either Pyongyang or Tehran before and will not in the future.""
Politico runs a story by Harry Siegel that a majority of Americans favor the use of military force in preventing North Korea from obtaining or developing intercontinental rockets. This is plain craziness. Drop bombs on people in North Korea because their leaders fire a missile with the ostensible purpose of launching a communications satellite.
"American voters across lines of age, party and gender support a military approach to eliminate North Korea's nuclear capabilities, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey released Sunday morning — and conducted in the two days prior to North Korea's test missile launch on Saturday.
"The poll shows that 57 percent of all voters support such a response, while just 15 percent oppose it. A military response is favored by a majority in both parties — 66 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats — and by 57 percent of both men and women.
"A majority of respondents, 51 percent, also oppose the U.S. offering economic aid to North Korea in exchange for it agreeing to dismantle its nuclear program."
Why can't Cuba and its representatives attend the Summit of America, a gathering of countries from Latin America and North America in Trinidad-Tobago beginning on April 17? Who made the decision not to invite Cuba?
The BBC reports that Fidel Castro asked the leaders of Latin and South America to bring up the subject of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Writes the BBC:
"Fidel Castro has called on Latin American countries to support an end to Cuba's isolation when they meet the US president at a regional summit.
"Cuba is not invited to attend the Summit of the Americas, which opens in Trinidad and Tobago on 17 April.
"In a newspaper editorial, the former president said that the summit would be a "trial by fire" for the region.
"He urged leaders to ensure that both Cuba's isolation and the US trade embargo against it were on the agenda."
Has Obama forgot so soon his promise to talk with countries where there are philosophical and political differences? We know the Republicans would like nothing better than to bomb Cuba to the stone age, given their premise not to negotiate with "enemies." But I don't see how Obama could have approved excluding Cuba and its president Raul Castro.
Almost all the Latin countries support an end to the cruel and pointless U.S. embargo. The real victims of the U.S. action are the people of Cuba who are deprived of ordinary necessities of life. Raul and Fidel Castro are no worse as leaders than Mubarak of Egypt or King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, two "allies" of the U.S. Instead of continuing the embargo, we need to see Obama adopt a more realistic, less cruel, policy of treating Cuba and its people with respect.
Reports the BBC:
"Almost all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean now support an end to the embargo and want Cuba re-admitted to the organisation of American states, says the BBC's Michael Voss, in Havana.
"Mr Castro said that he had seen a draft text of the final statement which the US wants to be signed at the summit. It contained "a great number of inadmissible concepts", he wrote, and did not acknowledge the calls for better Cuba-US ties.
""Who is now demanding our exclusion? Perhaps they don't understand that times of exclusionary agreements against our people have been left far behind," he wrote.
"US President Barack Obama has taken a less confrontational approach to the communist nation than his predecessor, George W Bush, our correspondent adds.
But his administration continues to insist that there must be progress towards democracy and on human rights before the trade embargo can be lifted."
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Think Progress points to a story reporting the killing of six gay men in Iraq. They were shot in the head. Some cadavers had a signed pinned on indicating "puppy," the Iraqi slang for gay. And this is the "democracy" that George W. Bush wasted over 4,000 U.S. lives in establishing and setting free?
How can Barack Obama want to continue to send more troops to Afghanistan when Afghan society is so discriminatory to women? Obama wants to root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda but it seems that members of those groups are part and parcel of Afghan society. The recent You-Tube video of a young girl being flogged in Pakistan's Waziristan area shows how deeply embedded the discrimination is. Furthermore even those who are not Taliban or Al Qaeda seem to prefer a society where a woman is totally subjugated to her husband and cannot leave the home without permission.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I don't understand Barack Obama's thinking in sending 10,000+ more American soldiers to Afghanistan. Obama surely knows that killing people who you think are "enemies" cannot achieve the objectives you want, no matter how lofty they are. True, killing your enemies used to be the only solution, but that was before the Enlightenment, before we had due process and the rule of law.
Obama says his main goal is to stop Al Qaeda. Well then, Obama should try personal diplomacy, given his stardom and popularity in the world. Why resort to bombing and shooting members of Al Qaeda? Obama has the answer, not in airplanes or tanks, but in his self.
If Al Qaeda represents radical and fundamental Islam, then military force and compulsion will do nothing except exacerbate the hatred and distrust of Al Qaeda members for Americans and secular Western customs.
I have good advice for Pres. Obama - stop the buildup of American forces in Afghanistan. Stop the militaristic approach to solving a problem that can never be solved with drones and bullets.
George Bisharat writes in Saturday's The New York Times that Israel's three-week attack on the Palestinians in Gaza show signs of serious war crimes.
Bisharat describes six areas where Israel violated the laws of war and precepts of international law in invading, bombing, killing and destroying Gazan infrastructure.
"Chilling testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions."
Bisharat enumerates six areas where evidence shows Israel and its Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) committed war crimes.
"Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.
"Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel’s winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.
"Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”
"Israeli fire destroyed or damaged mosques, hospitals, factories, schools, a key sewage plant, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and police stations, and thousands of houses.
"Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed. . . .
"Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.
"Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish."
Friday, April 3, 2009
Amnesty International sent me notification today that the U.S. has just completed a massive arms shipment to Israel. How could Barack Obama's administration approve this shipment after seeing what Israel did to the Palestinians in Gaza at the beginning of January. Israel bombed the Palestinians most of whom are under 16 constantly day and night. The Israeli Defense Forces used white phosphorous shells to terrorize the population. IDF soldiers shot defenseless men, women and children in the streets. And there was no escape for the Palestinians. Israel had closed and sealed all of its borders. The result was that civilians in Gaza had no where and no means to flee.
So how could the U.S. re-arm Israel now?
"New information obtained by Amnesty researchers this week confirmed a massive shipment of U.S. weapons was delivered to Israel on March 22nd.
"The administration allowed the delivery, despite clear evidence of Israeli human rights violations, some amounting to war crimes, including the controversial use of U.S. made white phosphorous munitions over densely populated areas. That's the white phosphorous that sticks to flesh and sears it until completely deprived of oxygen. . .
"Last month, our researcher from Gaza came to Washington, DC and met with State Department officials to present our evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza. They told us during those meetings that they were concerned and would review our evidence.
"The State Department has a moral and legal obligation to make sure U.S. weapons don't go to foreign forces with a record of committing gross human rights violations.
"So, what happened? Did they decide against overwhelming evidence that Israel's actions were completely justified and didn't violate numerous international and U.S. laws? Did they put any extra restrictions on the use of these new arms? . . .
"There is no way you and I can let tons of weapons land in Israel's hands with no questions asked."
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Suppose I asked you how you think a business should value its inventory, say widgets? Should it accord widgets on hand a fair market value, i.e., a value that the business could realize if it sold the widgets today? Or should it give a value that the business thinks it could realize from selling the widgets, not today, but a year from now?
Is there anyone who would not say, value the widgets at their fair market value today? Who knows if the business would even be able to sell the widgets in another year?
This is called "fair value" accounting, or "mark to the market."
It is just the same with banks that make mortgage loans. Some of these banks having made these loans now find that there is reasonable doubt whether a certain percentage of them will continue to make monthly payments. In other words, there is reason to believe that a percentage of the borrowers will default, walk away, suffer foreclosure.
Banks want to value the mortgages at full stated value, as if every homeowner were going to pay on time, and as if there were not going to be lots of foreclosures, especially in the sub-prime mortgages the bank granted. Take one mortgage loan initially made for $200,000. Suppose this were a "toxic" loan, meaning there is a good statistical chance that the borrower is going to default and go into foreclosure. If the bank tries to sell this mortgage loan to another bank, how much do you think the other bank would pay? $200,000? $100,000? $50,000? $20,000?
Maybe $20,000 is all the other bank would pay. So FASB (accounting standard board) required the bank to value its receivable at only $20,000. But banks hate this. They claim it is unfair to them and causes their required capital to vanish and disappear. They also say that if they are forced to "mark to the market," i.e., value the loans for what they are worth today, they are in danger of going out of business.
So today FASB at the pressure of many in Congress who have no idea of accounting standards retracted the mandatory rule of "mark to the market." Banks now can value these toxic assets at any number they wish.
Who then knows what a bank stock is worth? If banks can get away with hiding the true value of their assets, why should anyone buy a bank stock?
Warning! Be careful in dealing with banks that applaud this obfuscation and lack of transparency. If they want to hide this stuff, what else are they concealing?
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Yesterday I wrote how prospects for world peace had improved in the flash of an eye by the "cordial" meeting of Richard Holbrooke with the undersecretary for foreign affairs from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Today, however, the mood changes darkly. Reports are flying about the Internet that Israel's new prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is threatening to attack and bomb Iran.
Jeffrey Goldbert reports in The Atlantic:
"In unusually blunt language, Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.” . . .
"But Netanyahu also said that Iran threatens many other countries apart from Israel, and so his mission over the next several months is to convince the world of the broad danger posed by Iran. One of his chief security advisers, Moshe Ya’alon, told me that a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. “This is an existential threat for Israel, but it will be a blow for American interests, especially on the energy front. Who will dominate the oil in the region—Washington or Tehran?”"
Note the intemperate and demonizing language of Bibi. Iranian leadership is a "messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs." Each of the adjectives is without basis. Messianic? In what way? Name one person in Iran who thinks he or she is the new Messiah? Apocalyptic? Oh, really! Do Iranians really want to commit suicide like some in the uneducated Arab street? And how is Shiism, with millions of adherents throughout the world, a "cult?"
What Bibi says is nonsense, but it is designed to make Iranians bogeymen to such an extent that people in the U.S. and Israel will feel no compunction in annihilating them or, to use Hillary Clinton's word during the debate, "obliterating" them.
Obviously Bibi Netanyahu is one dangerous loose canyon now ensconced as prime minister of Israel. The world cannot afford to allow him to attack Iran.
Who is the person in the Obama administration who thinks firing missiles into Pakistani villages and killing dozens of men, women and children is effective? Oh, because they are Taliban and Al Qaeda types? It seems to me that everyone in poor Pakistani villages in Waziristan is an "Al Qaeda type." And many certainly are Taliban because they live in a backward uneducated society that has embraced Islamic fundamentalism.
But that does not mean the United States should kill them. And under what rule of law under international law does the U.S. have the right to enter another country's territory and fire missiles from unmanned drones at people's homes?
No matter how many Talibani Americans kill by these missile raids, others will take their place, probably in the ratio of 100 recruits for each person killed. This American program is doomed to utter failure Obama thinks it will decimate the Talibani or the "Al Qaeda types."
Have I mentioned the hatred and animus that these drones are stoking in the hearts of all Pakistanis? No wonder the leader of the Pakistani Taliban warns that his fellow believers will somehow mount an attack on Washington D.C.
Pamela Constable reports for The Washington Post:
"Baitullah Mehsud, an Islamist leader from the South Waziristan tribal area in northwest Pakistan, called several international news agencies in Pakistan to assert responsibility for the armed occupation of the police training compound that ended with 11 people dead.
"He also told reporters that he was planning to attack targets in the U.S. capital in retaliation for more than 30 strikes by unmanned U.S. aircraft that have targeted suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.
""Soon we will launch an attack on Washington that will amaze everyone in the world," Mehsud told the Associated Press. In a separate phone conversation, he told Agence France-Presse that his forces had carried out the police academy attack near the city of Lahore as an act of revenge for the U.S. drone raids. "There will be more such attacks," he said."
As I said, this reaction is perfectly understandable. If you were a poor Pakistani farmer in some small village, and your neighbor's house was incinerated by an American missile fired from an unmanned drone and piloted by some CIA type thousands of miles away, and you saw your neighbor's whole family, men, women, children all dead from the attack, what would your reaction be?