Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Incredibly Incompetent Conservative Government

While spokespuppet Peter Van Loan was complaining that he was "bored" by the opposition questions about Berniergate during question period today, it was revealed that Steve, in the midst of his overseas romp, misled the world and further tarnished Canada's reputation when he stated that Italy's Berlusconi had agreed to lift the conditions on his troops that restrict them from participating in combat in Afghanistan. In fact, Berlusconi had said his government is only considering the move.

Steve doesn't have a foreign affairs minister to blame for that mistake.

In the meantime, Van Loan kept insisting today that Steve had only found out about Bernier's document gaffe on Monday afternoon when Couillard, through her lawyer, had returned those papers to the government on Sunday. No matter which way you slice that information, the only word to describe the sequence of events during that 24 hour period is "incompetence". Either someone failed to notify Steve or he knew exactly what was going on and intentionally brushed it aside until Monday while continuing to insist that there was nothing to see here, folks.

Ironically, Van Loan (Freudian?) slipped during question period and said that Steve had found out about the situation on Sunday afternoon, a gaffe he quickly blamed on "fatigue". I'd be fatigued too if I had to keep popping up on behalf of Steve in the house like one of those plastic novelty figures in a Whack-a-Mole game. Bobbing, weaving, and lying takes a lot of energy.

Calls for a public inquiry that the Cons want to avoid like the plague definitely aren't without merit though. Erika Simpson, writing for the Middle East Times posits what may have been contained in those documents. They were classified for a reason and although we may never know what they contained, the government's willful ignorance in refusing to conduct a transparent public investigation speaks volumes about their lack of concern for Canada's national security.

One BQ MP also asked the government on Thursday to inform the house about the type of passport Ms Couillard had while she travelled in diplomatic circles with Bernier. That was dismissed by Van Loan with the now infamous "private lives" excuse. Interesting that they never used that excuse when Steve gave the green light (after a lot of pressure) to an examination of the Mulroney/Schreiber investigation - although they've done everything possible so far to stall that one too.

So many scandals and no place to hide...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Berniergate: Down the Rabbit Hole

Let's play what's wrong with this statement?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected an expanded probe, telling reporters there is no evidence to suggest official secrets have been revealed, and he dismissed outright questions about electronic eavesdropping.

"There is no evidence to indicate that documents have circulated," the Prime Minister said at a media briefing in Paris, where he is meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The documents were returned to the government of Canada, but it is our intention to review the incident to ensure that that is the case ... We have no information that would suggest that any secrets have been revealed."

Now, I may just be a lowly blogger, but it seems obvious to me that when you make a conclusion about an investigation you haven't even launched yet, you're either:

a) psychic
b) in denial

As CBC's Don Newman rightly called today's question period "The Peter Van Loan Show" since he was the designated talking-point spokespuppet on the Bernier affair who could barely look anybody in the eye - not his usual bully posture, quite obviously - it was apparent that 2 words had come down from Steve's office to attempt to minimize the situation that has embarrassed Canada around the world because Van Loan repeated them over and over:

Asked if a larger investigation should be launched, Mr. Harper fell back on previous statements that he won't intrude on individuals' private lives.

"As we've said, private lives are private lives, and the government of Canada does not intend to get into the business of investigating private citizens."

Setting aside the fact that the last sentence flies in the face of everyday reality (the government never investigates private citizens - ever?), the Cons seem to think that they've found the perfect angle to deflect the growing calls for a proper investigation - the "private lives" excuse.

They don't seem to understand that when a person like Bernier's ex-girlfriend who's had ties to some rather notorious criminals in the past and is involved in this type of security breach, her personal life is very much the business of the government. These were classified documents left in her possession and the public has the right to know what may have happened with the information contained in them, regardless of the embarrassment it may cause this prime minister. We all know what would have happened if the situation had involved a member of any of the opposition parties. There'd be calls from the Cons' benches for blood. (And why wasn't Bernier fired, instead of being given the chance to resign?)

Yet, Steve thinks he can continue to insult our intelligence:

Ms. Couillard alleged in a taped television interview Monday that Mr. Bernier had been careless with government papers and that she had recently learned her bed had been bugged with a microphone.

Asked about the bugging, Mr. Harper said "I have absolutely no reason to believe it's true."

Shorter Steve: "I don't want to believe it's true."


In the interview with the French-language TVA network, Ms. Couillard said she had her house checked by experts after she came back from a supper with a friend and found that her alarm system had been disarmed. The experts, she said, found clear marks that a microphone had been tacked to her bed, and removed in a "classic clean-up operation."

So you see, Steve, you are not going to get away with shelving this situation in the file labeled "private lives". Ms Couillard has the right to know whether or not her home was bugged and, thankfully, that answer will not be decided by you, no matter how much you want to control absolutely everything that goes on in this country.

You might find it comfortable in that rabbit hole you've chosen to inhabit but, with the dirt piling up around you, you'd be wise to pop your head out and face reality every now and then - especially since you're currently running around the world meeting with leaders who rightfully ought to have serious concerns about confidentiality because of Bernier's actions and your refusal to properly investigate what really happened.

(Photo credit: Reuters)


And the award for Most Creative Blog Post About Berniergate goes to pale at A Creative Revolution for Weekend at Bernier's.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bernier Resigns

It's about time.

It seems that while Conservative spokespuppet Peter Van Loan was again ducking questions about Maxime Bernier's former girlfriend on Monday during question period, insisting that the scandal had absolutely nothing to do with national security, she was busy telling a Montreal teevee station that Bernier had left a secret document in her apartment.


And Steve is still in denial:

Bernier submitted his resignation a few hours before TVA in Montreal aired an interview with Julie Couillard, in which she said that the former minister left a government document in her apartment in April.

"It is a very serious mistake–regardless of who the minister is, regardless of personal life–to leave classified documents in an unsecured location," Harper told reporters in a hastily called news conference on Parliament Hill.

"The minister has recognized this error himself and offered to resign," the Prime Minister said.

Harper, who has previously turned aside questions about Bernier and Couillard as an intrusion on the former minister's personal life, said, "This is not to do with the minister's private life or the life of a private citizen."

What? Pardon? Huh?

This was all to do with Bernier's private life. Who does Steve think he's kidding?

Oh yes, I forgot. He's leading The Government of Responsibility & Accountability™. How silly of me. I guess I'd make a really bad Conservative.

Stay tuned on Tuesday for what should be one huge schadenfreudesque session of question period.

Can we get Mr Public Safety, Stockwell Day, to resign now too? That would really make my week.


And the award for Most Understated Headline of the Day goes to: Canwest for this gem - Bernier's tenure was 'brief and undistinguished:' historian. Their story also includes this tidbit:

Bernier left briefing materials from the recent NATO summit in Romania in Couillard's residence. These included a set of briefing notes as well as his "prep materials" for the summit.

But nothing to see here, folks. Move along now...

But, wait...CBC teevee is reporting that Couillard was concerned her house may have been bugged. By whom? No one seems to know at this point.

And the new minister of foreign affairs? (No drumroll). David Emerson, whose Wiki page has already been updated.


"Ex-petite amie" Couillard's interview (in French) has now been posted to TVA's site.

Update: Here's her full interview in English.

CTV is reporting that Bernier and/or Couillard could be charged for the security breach relating to the classified documents she had in her apartment. What Stephen Harper had written off when he said he "I don't take this subject seriously" earlier Monday could snowball into one of the biggest scandals of his term.

Bernier's letter of resignation:

"Prime Minister,

This is to inform you that I am resigning my post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, effective immediately.

I informed you late this afternoon that last night I became aware that I had left behind classified government documents at a private residence.

Prime Minister, the security breach that occurred was my fault and my fault alone and I take full responsibility for my actions.

I have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to conduct a thorough review of the situation.

Thank you for the trust you have shown in me. I will do everything I can to serve the government well in my capacity as Member of Parliament."

Yours truly,

Maxime Bernier

An internal investigation by those two ministries definitely won't and shouldn't satisfy the opposition or the Canadian public - not when we already know how this Con government likes to cover its butt in every possible way.

A Special Comment of My Own to Keith Olbermann

No doubt, following his Friday Special Comment Completely Unhinged Pundit for Obama performance of the year, (transcript), Keith Olbermann spent the entire long weekend sprawled out on his fainting couch while minions dabbed his forehead with a cold cloth and fed him seedless grapes while fanning the man down from the hysterical fever he wound himself into in reaction to Hillary Clinton's mention of the timing of RFK's assassination last week.

Keith Olbermann, the man who signs off his shows with Edward R Murrow's signature line, "goodnight and good luck", is no Edward R Murrow.

I can't ever imagine that Murrow, who used his journalistic power to rail against Joe McCarthy's communist witch hunt, would ever have said to Hillary Clinton at the mere mention of the word "assassination", "You cannot say this!" as you chose to, Mr Olbermann. Murrow did not stand for censorship. He stood for truth. What an insult that the Obamakin Bloviator-in-chief, Keith Olbermann, would pretend to be the reincarnation of a journalist like Murrow who fought for freedom of speech and thought.

And it's quite obvious that though Olbermann yelled his way through his laundry list of things that Clinton has supposedly been "forgiven" for, he has not forgiven her for any of them. Not with that tone. Not with that rage. Not with that ego. And not with that continual level of vitriol towards her as he twists her words to make her even more of an enemy to the people than George W Bush - as if that's even possible.

While he tried to couch his bombastic outrage against the mention of the dreaded "a" word by saying that it might invoke who knows what against all of the presidential candidates, we all know better. This was not about concern for the safety of McCain or Clinton, this was solely about Obama - the man to whom the Kennedys "passed the torch" and who has repeatedly been compared to the Kennedy brothers - cast as the new Democratic saviour who can do no wrong.

Your entire viewing public is not that naive, Mr Olbermann.

You saw an opportunity for a self-gratifying ego and ratings boost. Why else would you publish a preview of your comment on Daily Kos Obama before you went on the air? You know who's paying your bills now - all of the hyperbolic Obama supporters who are willing to drool over the mention of your name since you've become their MSM pied piper. All of those hysterical Obama supporters who went on throughout the weekend about how "Hillary wants Obama dead" and/or that her reference to the Kennedy assassination was a coded "dog whistle" with the hopes that "someone" would kill him so she could win the nomination.

Those are the sentiments you're helping to fuel.

It's insanity and you know it. And, if you don't, Obama certainly does:

"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Sen. Clinton and I have been campaigning," he told the Puerto Rico radio station Isla, "sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make. And I think that is what happened here.

"Sen. Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it," he added, "and I would take her at her word on that."

You see, Mr Olbermann, that's the difference between the type of mass delusions you choose to peddle and reality. Then again, General Electric doesn't collect the massive ad money from Senator Obama that your wild rantings need to bring in to sustain your show, does it? Obama can afford to tell the truth. It seems you can't afford to actually be rational when it comes to Clinton anymore since it's so fashionable and profitable to grossly exaggerate practically anything she says for your benefit and for the benefit of your corporate overlords.

You see, Mr Olbermann, that's yet another reason why your bloviations so insult the memory of Murrow. While he implored the corporate television owners to do what he felt was their duty to inform instead of focusing on the almighty advertizing dollar as their main motivator, you continually brag about your ratings and too often, during this Democratic race, have only offered half-truths that favour your chosen candidate, Barack Obama, because you know that preaching to the angry anti-Clinton mob is what keeps many of your viewers tuned in.

Murrow must be rolling over in his grave.

You're effective when you rant against the war crimes of the Bush administration; when you expose their crimes and endless human and civil rights violations; when you actually stand on rational principles of justice and fairness that they have so abused. But to use the same amount of outrage you employ about those human tragedies and the death of democracy - assassinated bit by bit by the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney - against a candidate you simply don't like and do not support is the worst kind of political theatre and sensationalism.

I certainly won't tell you what you cannot say, Mr Olbermann. I feel no need to censor you. But it seems that you would do yourself, your viewers, and your corporation a favour if you took a deep breath once in a while to actually process those feelings of outrage that you have before you turn them into yet another Special Comment that embarrasses all involved - including the memory of your idol, Mr Edward R Murrow.

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

- Edward R. Murrow

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Propaganda

“The goal of modern propaganda is no longer to transform opinion but to arouse an active and mythical belief”

- Jacques Ellul

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This Week in Gitmo & Torture

Oh, shed a tear for Robert Gates who woefully laments that the Bush administration just can't shut down Gitmo. It's "stuck", you see, because some countries either refuse to repatriate their prisoners or are willing to but might set them free. The fact that Bushco created a hellish legal limbo by asserting that the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War does not apply to the so-called Gitmo "unlawful enemy combatants" has brought the Pentagon to where it is now which is, as one of my favourite bloggers Marisacat would put it: is one huge "congealing fuckball".

Come to think of it, has anyone asked Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton how they will go about fulfilling their promises to close Gitmo considering these prisoners are basically men without a country now?

Meanwhile, a defiant Afghan prisoner became the 6th to boycott the sham military tribunal system this week:

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — An Afghan detainee was dragged from his cell to his first pretrial hearing at Guantanamo on Wednesday, then refused to participate, telling the judge he felt "helpless."

Mohammed Kamin joined a growing detainee boycott of the war-crimes trials at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base in southeast Cuba. The military judge, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie, said Kamin tried to bite and spit on a guard on the way to the courtroom.

Wouldn't you? The fact is that Kamin is helpless. These are nothing but show trials.

And, shouldn't this fact be a matter of huge concern to the American public?

The U.S. military says it plans to prosecute roughly 80 of the 270 men imprisoned at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to terrorism, the Taliban or al-Qaida.

What of the rest of them? Detained indefinitely without charge? Is there anyone, besides the staunchest, delusional, neocon bedwetters out there who still thinks what's going on in Gitmo is anything near humane?

I'm sorry. I forgot that the US public is too wrapped up in election fever right now while it tries to survive the war-created recession and ridiculous gas prices to pay attention to a little thing like the human rights of people its government has shipped off to some prison in Cuba to rot forever. And protesting and impeachment are just so passé. The Dems are so busy, after all. (Apparently, it's taking years for them to actually find their collective spine. Don't hold your breath. It's probably somewhere underneath that table that Pelosi took impeachment off of before the last election.)

And yet there are still those who believe the Democrats will actually do something quickly about what's happening there (just wait until they win the White House year...maybe...they say) and are quite happy to natter on about superdelegates and Michigan and Florida - as if that's all going to mean anything in the scheme of things considering the torture, death, and destruction this administration has brought to the world. All of the candidates crow "the US does not torture" as if it's true and these people are America's next best hope? And their supporters actually let them get away with saying that without challenging it?

Just how many Americans even heard about this testimony this week?

Bremen, Germany - In a landmark congression-al hearing Tuesday, former Guantánamo detainee Murat Kurnaz described abuses he said he endured while in US custody – among them electric shock, simulated drowning, and days spent chained by his arms to the ceiling of an airplane hangar.

Lawmakers were also provided with recently declassified reports, which show that US and German intelligence agencies had determined as early as 2002 that Mr. Kurnaz had no known links to terrorism. Still, he was held for four more years.

And the Pentagon's reaction to the torture allegations:

Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, refused to comment on his treatment, but said in a written statement, "The abuses Mr. Kurnaz alleges are not only unsubstantiated and implausible, they are simply outlandish."

Implausible? Outlandish? They were policy at the time, sir. Your president has even admitted that. There are memos that prove it. Maybe you should talk to the FBI:

Does this sound familiar? Muslim men are stripped in front of female guards and sexually humiliated. A prisoner is made to wear a dog’s collar and leash, another is hooded with women’s underwear. Others are shackled in stress positions for hours, held in isolation for months, and threatened with attack dogs.

You might think we are talking about that one cell block in Abu Ghraib, where President Bush wants the world to believe a few rogue soldiers dreamed up a sadistic nightmare. These atrocities were committed in the interrogation centers in American military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And they were not revealed by Red Cross officials, human rights activists, Democrats in Congress or others the administration writes off as soft-on-terror.

They were described in a painful report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, based on the accounts of hundreds of F.B.I. agents who saw American interrogators repeatedly mistreat prisoners in ways that the agents considered violations of American law and the Geneva Conventions. According to the report, some of the agents began keeping a “war crimes file” — until they were ordered to stop.

These were not random acts. It is clear from the inspector general’s report that this was organized behavior by both civilian and military interrogators following the specific orders of top officials.

[and on the article goes...]

And what did the White House do about those warnings from the FBI? It ignored them, as expected. And we're not talking about low-level staffers here. We're talking about officials like John Ashcroft and Condoleezza Rice. They knew what was happening and did nothing. So, excuse me for wanting to scream when I see some Pentagon hack feign outrage about a man's torture allegations by sticking his head up his ass while mumbling "the US does not torture". Only an inhumane fool in the deepest denial believes that. Apparently, there are still far too many people in the United States who also fit into that category or who simply don't care anymore as they wait, wait, wait for the next presidential daddy (or mommy) to fix everything. Guess who else is waiting? All of those unseen prisoners who don't have a voice. Just how much longer should they be expected to wait?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Best Wishes to Ted Kennedy

Diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour today.

My thoughts are with him and his family. Fight on, senator Kennedy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Quote du Jour: Bush & God

From The Independent:

...the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath says Mr Bush told him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian President: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

And "now again", Mr Bush is quoted as telling the two, "I feel God's words coming to me: 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God, I'm gonna do it."

When asked to comment, God said, "I didn't ask him to do anything. Don't blame what this guy does on me."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Video: Chris Matthews OWNS Republican Kevin James

Does it get any more humiliating than this? I don't think so.

Watch as Republican radio host Kevin James makes a complete fool of himself:


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Torture Investigations and Gitmo Developments

Last week, the US house judiciary began hearings into the evolution of the Bush administration's decision-making related to the approval of torture ("enhanced interrogation methods"). David Rivkin, a former Reagan justice department official, testified that the idea of prosecuting anyone involved in crafting the policies was "madness" while fellow panelist, law professor and head of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn, reminded the committee that if the US fails to appropriately investigate and prosecute these war crimes (which Bush has already admitted to), there are more than a few countries waiting in the wings to act on those prosecutions. She also laid out the legal case under current US laws and treaties.

Phillipe Sands, who also testified before the committee and who recently authored the book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values said he's already been contacted by officials in other, unnamed countries who plan to use the contents of his book to further their investigations that could well lead to those criminal indictments Rivkin thinks are "madness".

Sands' book, which I have yet to read, follows the case of the so-called "20th hijacker", Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose case interestingly enough was dropped on Monday. Coincidence? Probably not.

The attorney said he could not comment on the reasons for the dismissal until discussing the case with lawyers for the other five defendants. Officials previously said al-Qahtani had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorized by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Critics of the tribunals have faulted a rule that allows judges to decide whether to allow evidence that may have been obtained with "coercion." U.S. authorities have acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding by CIA interrogators and that al-Qahtani was treated harshly at Guantanamo.

Al-Qahtani last fall recanted a confession he said he made after he was tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo.

The alleged torture, which he detailed in a written statement, included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel.

And that's just one blow of at least 3 that I know of that the farcical military tribunals process has suffered during the past week alone.

In the continuing saga of Canadian child soldier, Omar Khadr, Liberal senator Romeo Dallaire on Tuesday, in the harshest terms uttered to the Conservative minority government yet due to its unwillingness to bring Khadr home, had this to say:

“The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties, in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against those rights and conventions, you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all,” he said.

That prompted a heated exchange with Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who asked Mr. Dallaire if what he meant was that Canada's failure to act to protect Mr. Khadr was equivalent to recent al-Qaeda atrocities in Iraq.

“Is it your testimony that al-Qaeda strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?” he asked. “Is that your position?”

Dallaire was adamant.

“If you want a black and white, and I'm only too prepared to give it to you, Absolutely,” he said. “You're either with the law or not with the law. You're either guilty or you're not.”

Khadr alleges he's been tortured by US officials and his lawyers find it suspicious that some of his records are now missing:

GUANTANAMO BAY–The Pentagon disputes claims that political pressure prematurely halted an investigation into the alleged abuse of Omar Khadr when he was detained in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said army investigators did not substantiate the allegations of harsh interrogations at the U.S. base in Bagram.

Following a court hearing Thursday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Khadr's military lawyer accused the government of a cover-up since the investigation appeared to stop in October 2006 – the same month U.S. President George W. Bush signed the military law under which Khadr is charged.

During that hearing, the judge also threatened to suspend Khadr's trial because the US government was withholding documents related to his Gitmo imprisonment.

Attorneys for Omar Khadr say details of his interrogations and mental health could provide grounds to suppress self-incriminating statements at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

At a pretrial hearing, Judge Peter Brownback, an Army colonel, criticized the prosecution team led by Marine Maj. Jeffrey Groharing for demanding an expedited trial despite failing to obtain the documents from the detention center.

"I have been badgered, beaten and bruised by Maj. Groharing since the 7th of November to set a trial date," Brownback said. "To get a trial date, I need to get discovery done."

His frustration highlights the dueling interests of two military entities at Guantanamo — the tribunal system, which airs the backgrounds of terror suspects in detail, and the Joint Task Force, which tightly restricts information about inmates whom officials describe as some of America's most dangerous enemies.

Brownback said he understands the military's worry that the documents might identify prison officials who fear retribution. But he ordered the government to provide the records of Khadr's day-to-day confinement by May 22, in complete or edited form, or he will suspend proceedings.

It almost looks like the so-called military tribunals system is falling apart.

On top of that, in the Hamdan case:

(CNN) -- A military judge's ruling that a Pentagon lawyer improperly pressured prosecutors could hurt efforts to try top al Qaeda suspects held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, a defense lawyer said Monday.

The ruling called allegations that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the Office of Military Commissions, exerted improper influence on the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan "troubling" and ordered Hartmann to stay out of the prisoner's prosecution.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said the ruling is likely to stall the pending case against Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, and complicate the prosecutions of other al Qaeda figures before the military courts set up by the Bush administration.

"It would seem that they need to go back to Square 1 wherever the HVD [high-value detainee] charges are concerned or risk the fact that they may be so tainted from the start that they will never survive," said Swift.

With Bushco in its last throes and so desperate to get a big conviction of someone - anyone - before they finally leave the White House they've so severely soiled and in order to boost McCain's bid for the presidency, the next few months will be crucial. But it seems their legal house of cards is finally crumbling to the point where the fates of the remaining Gitmo prisoners may be suspended indefinitely or at least until te next president is chosen.

Are the Gitmo judges finally fighting back against the political pressure or have they concluded that to be involved in a faux, extra-legal process might also mean complicity in war crimes? At this point, while they still operate under the thumb of the Bush administration, it's impossible to know.

One thing is certain though. It's absolutely unacceptable for the remaining presidential candidates to simply parrot the Bush line "the US does not torture" especially when the CIA continues to operate all over the world under the public radar. Torture is a subject they don't seem to want to touch except in terms of useless platitudes. That's not enough.

As was also stated during last week's committee hearings there is also a case that can be made against the lawyers involved in drafting the now infamous torture memos since they could end up being charged with complicity to violate the US and international laws against torture.

On June 26th, Cheney's chief of staff is supposed to appear before the committee after being subpoenaed to do so but Cheney is citing "executive privilege" to stop that from happening. You'd think that if what they did was all legal, they'd have nothing to hide.

Also scheduled to testify in the future are John Yoo, John Ashcroft and Douglas Feith. As far as I know, former Pentagon lawyer (and new corporate counsel to Chevron), William Haynes, whose political interference at Gitmo is now legend has not yet been called. Philippe Sands urged the committee to get his testimony as well since he is a vital piece in the torture policy puzzle.

When this all comes down - and it will, if not in the US but in some other country - the potential number of defendants and the ensuing spectacle may well rival that of the Nuremberg trials in scope but there will always be suspicion when anyone in power tries to ensure the American public and the world that "the US does not torture". And so there should be.


Bill Moyers' May 9th interview of Phillipe Sands

C-SPAN video of the house judiciary committee hearing

Center for Constitutional Rights Supports National Lawyers Guild Call for Dismissal and Prosecution of John Yoo

The Cult of the Presidency - a look at the evolution of the imperial presidency. The question for this year's presidential candidates is: just how much of that power are they willing to give up so they'll once again be accountable to the people? No one has answered that one sufficiently yet and in the face of the war crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration, it is perhaps the most critical question of all.


Accused September 11 planners set for court on June 5

Is Bushco hoping for executions just in time for the November elections? Or will the judge involved derail the cases, especially the one against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, on grounds that torture was used to coerce their confessions? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Obama, Wright & Racism

I've taken my time since last Tuesday's Obama press conference in which he disowned his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to stand back and gather my thoughts about the entire episode because the issues involved are more complex than they've been presented in the media (and because I've had a tough week health-wise - which makes it that much harder to think).

The conclusion I've reached is that no one is blameless in this affair: not Obama, not Wright, and not the media. Further, none of those involved has completely accepted responsibility for their part in what happened. And that guarantees that the situation is not over.

Let me start off by saying that I agree with much of what Glen Ford wrote at Black Agenda Report and some of what Bill Moyers had to say after Obama's latest proclamation.

Here are my thoughts on the situation:

Barack Obama knew some of Wright's rhetoric would be a problem if presented to the greater public back when he did not invite Wright to appear at his campaign kick-off. He then apparently thought that out of sight meant out of mind, even though he appointed Wright to his African American Religious Leadership Committee. Obama cut his teeth in the Chicago political scene but, perhaps since he didn't have to fight his way up the ladder, he naively thought he could get away with stuffing Wright into a position that he thought nobody would pay attention to. Wrong. Obviously. Anyone running for president ought to know that absolutely everything about their life is on the table the minute they announce their intentions.

Where the media failed (or perhaps succeeded, depending on which political faction of the media you refer to) was in playing the endless loops of the most damning Wright soundbites but you'll note that when that same media endlessly looped Wright's damning statements about Obama last week after his press club appearance, you didn't hear one peep from Obama about the fact that they had just done exactly the same thing to Wright. Of course not. Because, this time, Obama was "the victim".

The victim of what, though? What most "outraged" Obama was that Wright had said he was merely acting like a politician - saying things politicians need to say to get elected. Now, unless you are one of the many Obama kool-aid drinkers who inhabit the media and the so-called progressive blogs, how can Wright's opinion be denied? Obama is a politician. Of course he'll say what he needs to to get elected.

Obama claimed that perhaps didn't know him as well as he thought. I wonder aloud if perhaps Wright knows Obama better than he knows himself because what those of us without blinders on know is that although Obama's Philadelphia speech was all about supposedly beginning a dialogue on race in America, he did absolutely nothing after that to actually facilitate one. No town halls. No media appearances about race or racism. No mailings. No promise to focus on issues of importance to the African-American community. No. And the AA community can't count on that kind of leadership coming from Obama since he's neutralized their issues (see Glen Ford's piece linked above).

Obama is what Shelby Steele calls a "bargainer". Wright, on the other hand, is a "challenger". He's the kind of black person who is not afraid to place AA issues on the table - right in your face - in the style of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And that makes people feel uncomfortable. Dog forbid that anyone be made to feel uncomfortable about the continued oppression of blacks and other minorities in the Good Ole US of A. That's why, after Obama's Philly speech, I knew that this 'dialogue on race' wouldn't be happening - and it isn't.

Instead, what's been going on is the misuse of the racism issue by so-called progressives to attack Hillary Clinton and anyone who dares to support her (or McCain, for that matter). As I was telling a friend today, when I wrote about the Israel/Lebanon war daily on my blog, I knew that telling the truth about the IDF's actions would see me tarred as being "anti-semitic" - a ridiculous charge - and what some of Obama's most radical supporters have now managed to achieve is to propagate the same kind of extreme reaction ie. "you're a racist" if you write or say anything critical of him or his campaign. Keep in mind, these are the very same people who've decried the right-wing kool-aid drinkers - those Bush 28 percenters - as being out of touch with reality. They've now become what they loathed the most. Neitzche was right: "If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you." And for some, it consumes them. Here's yet another example of what happens when you cross Obama supporters. Is that the "new" politics of changeyhopeiness that he speaks of? No. But some of his supporters are so afraid that he'll be "denied" the nomination that they're willing to stoop to what are commonly Rove-approved political tactics.

There's no doubt that there are radical Hillary supporters as well but what's different is this need some people have to protect Obama at all costs. That weakens him. They just don't see it. And they obviously don't have enough faith to believe that his message is what the voters will buy. Instead they seem to think they have to force feed it by stuffing it down peoples' throats. It's a very strange dichotomy - the antithesis of his rhetoric.

Now, getting back to Jeremiah Wright. I really don't have a problem with much of what he's preached, although his stance on the US gov't planting the AIDS virus is not something I agree with. I have to say though that Wright was wrong when he proclaimed that an attack on him was an attack on "the black church". There's no such entity as "the black church" just as there's no such thing as the "white" or "Asian" or "Latino" church. Has there been an attack on Black Liberation Theology as it's been presented in the media? Yes. Have Wright's preaching style and mannerisms been attacked? Absolutely. Is he getting more attention just because, as Moyers said, he's a black preacher? I'd say not necessarily.

The public is quite familiar with the extremist evangelical white male preachers and while they make outrageous, jaw-dropping, hateful statements, that fact just isn't "news". We're used to it. But Wright, in his black evangelical style which many find just as extremist, became a novelty to many who had never witnessed that type of preaching before. It didn't shock me, however, as someone who worked in the past for a Jamaican reggae magazine in Jamaica and who had studied Rastafarianism (beyond just smoking the ganja) - a faith that is all about black repatriation to African roots. Anyone familiar with the roots reggae scene has had a glimpse into those beliefs. So, "black liberation" beliefs ought not be news either. But, because, there still is so much racism and intolerance in America, ideas like those expressed by Wright were seen as threatening and unpatriotic. Why? Because America still won't have that "dialogue on race".

Around and around it goes.

Anyone clinging to the idea that Obama is the new mix of MLK and Malcolm X is just fooling themselves and the fact that Obama has been quite comfortable to be that "blank screen" on which everybody can project whatever they want him to be on his vague persona (while at the same time complaining that people don't really know him) while he talks about coalition building with anybody who's willing to join up (Republicans included) shows that his idea of getting rid of "divisiveness" is just to congeal everybody's needs into one big unity ball. Life doesn't work that way. Neither does politics. It's messy and trying to be all things to all people ensures one thing: failure.

I've wondered what bloggers and the media would say if Hillary Clinton consistently received 80-90% of the female vote. I have no doubt that women would be painted as unthinking automatons if that was the case. Yet, the fact that Obama receives such massive support from the African-American community is justified as just being expected. After all, blacks have waited centuries to have one of their own as president. I don't doubt that's true for many but I would hope that that's not the only explanation. I haven't seen anyone in the media attempt to address that reality but there have certainly been strong opinions expressed along the lines of Hillary not being able to win over that voting bloc. That's just one of the many reasons America needs that "dialogue on race". And maybe while they're at it (tilting at windmills here, I know), they could actually talk about the rampant sexism that's been directed towards Clinton. It's been absolutely vicious online but apparently that's okay because Hillary deserves it - or some such nonsense.

I'll tell you one thing: this race has brought to light the ugliest side of so-called Democrats and progressives online and off. Some Obama supporters now want to talk about "healing" the party. There's been a plethora of those diaries over at Daily Kos since they crowned Obama king after Tuesday's results. The response? Overwhelmingly negative and juvenile. There will be no "healing" until Hillary disappears, as far as they're concerned. But don't let that fool you either. There are still numerous people over there still obsessed with the Lewinsky scandal. These are people (Democrats, supposedly) who will hold grudges for decades. Healing? Not bloody likely. Meanwhile, McCain maintains decent poll numbers and could actually win in November. What's wrong with that picture?

I don't know if the party is hopelessly divided, as some seem to think. What I do know, however, is that Democrats have a helluva lot of growing up to do. That is glaringly obvious. And those who call themselves "progressives" (a term which no one has ever been able to define for me as it relates to the Democratic party - that mainly centrist entity that panders to the military-industrial complex, big corporations, big money, and lobbyists) ought to be thinking damn hard about their behaviour if they want to win this election in November. As it stands right now, I sure don't think they deserve to. And, when the only other viable alternative is yet another Republican, I can't even begin to conceive of what America will look like the next 4 years. It will be only slightly different, I'm convinced, but how that manifests itself is an open question.