Archive for April, 2008

Former Chief Prosecutor Testifies on Behalf of Terror Suspect

Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, testified this week on behalf of Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Since quitting his post late last year, Davis has come out against the military commissions he helped Congress to set up. After his experience as a Guantanamo prosecutor, he concluded that fair trials are impossible because the system had become deeply politicized by the Pentagon. He claims that the Pentagon did not trust the military to run the tribunals and instead relied on political appointees who seemed more intent on outcomes rather than justice. In an NPR interview, Davis talked about the political pressure he experienced as a prosecutor, specifically in regards to evidence obtained through the use of torture.

What I told the Court, for attorneys under our ethical rules, a prosecutor is not allowed to offer any evidence in court that was obtained by illegal means. In the case of water boarding, recently you’ve had the Director of the CIA, the Attorney General, the former Director of the FBI and other senior officials… that have said that in their view, waterboarding constitutes torture. My policy for two years had been we were not going to offer any evidence obtained by waterboarding. When he [former Brigadier General Thomas Hartman] came in, he said, “What makes you think you have the authority to make those kinds of decisions?” Ethically, I think it’s putting the prosecutors in a bind to force them into court to offer evidence that there seems to be fairly unanimous agreement, was obtained by torture.

(Former Brigadier General Thomas Hartman was the person in charge of the military commissions.)

Despite testifying on behalf of the terror suspect, Davis said in the same interview that he remains convinced of Hamdan’s guilt:

I’ve reviewed the evidence, personally approved the charges on him. There’s little doubt in my mind of his guilt. But he’s entitled to a fair trial…a full, fair and open proceeding and this current process in my view, they call it military justice, in my view it’s neither military nor justice… .I think what I’m advocating for, and I think a lot of other people…is that he’s entitled to a fair trial. And as I’ve said, I’ve reviewed the evidence and I think there is ample evidence to prove his guilt, and i think he ought to be held accountable. But it ought to be in a system of justice that we can be proud of and not ashamed of.

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Transcript of Jeremiah Wright’s NAACP speech

“We are committed to changing the way we treat each other. The way we treat the latest immigrants because everybody in here who’s not an Indian do be an immigrant. Some of you all came on a decks of ship and some of us came on the bows and hauls of the ship, but we all are immigrants. The way we treat non Christians and folks who don’t believe what we believe, we’re committed to changing the way we treat each other. The way Sunnis treat Shiites, the way Orthodox Jews treat reformed Jews. The way church folk treat other church folk. The way speakers of English treat speakers of Arabic — Maasalam al hal.

Please run and tell my stuck on stupid friends that Arabic is a language, it’s not a religion. Barack Hussein Obama. Barack Hussein Obama. Barack Hussein Obama. They are Arabic-speaking Christians, Arabic-speaking Jews and Arabic speaking atheists. Arabic is a language, it’s not a religion. Stop trying to scare folks by giving them an Arabic name as if it’s some sort of a disease… .Many of us are committed to changing how we see ourselves. Many of us are committed to changing the way we treat each other. Many of us are committed to changing the way we mistreat each other. And many of us finally are committed to changing this world that we live in so our children and our grandchildren will have a world in which to live in to grow in, to learn in, to love in and to pass on to their children. We are committed to changing this world that’s God’s world, in the first place. Not ours. And I believe we can do it. It’s going to take hard work, but we can do it.” –Excerpt from Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s speech, April 27, 2008

To read the entire speech, click here.

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Playing Musical Chairs with Settlements

Last Friday, Israel announced it was building 100 new homes for settlers in the West Bank. The logic behind this? Well, Israel is building these illegal homes in return for kicking out settlers from two other unauthorized posts. So while it dismantles illegal settlements in one part of the West Bank, it builds new illegal settlements in other parts. Makes perfect sense.

Part of the road map agreement, which both sides recommitted to late last year, stipulates that Israel stop settlement activity in the West Bank.

The U.S. response to Israel’s latest violation of the road map and international law is to press Israel to… stop. I was listening to a BBC interview with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and the woman actually asked him what more do the Palestinians want the United States to do other than condemning Israel’s actions. How about imposing sanctions the same way it did in Gaza and Iraq? Withholding financial support perhaps? Or are such measures limited only to Arab and Muslim populations? I’m sure the world’s superpower can think of something. I would think that after 41 years of lip service, the U.S. would switch it up a bit and try a new strategy.

Friday’s announcement marks the first time the Israeli government approved construction deep in the West Bank, in the settlements of Ariel and Elkana… .Israeli Housing Minister Zeev Boim said the new apartments are needed to accommodate natural population growth.

…by impinging on another population.

And the kicker– according to Boim, “The Israeli government never promised that it won’t build in the settlement blocs.”

I guess that makes it ok then. Does that excuse actually fly in the realm of Reason?

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Republicans Rooting for Hillary

Republicans seem to be absolutely dreading the possibility of running against Obama. McCain’s campaign has been focusing its efforts on smearing Obama while for the most part giving Hillary a free ride, to the point where McCain’s people are attacking Obama’s attacks on Hillary. Earlier this month, Hillary criticized Obama’s infamous “bitter” characterization of small town America and brought up an incident from childhood in which her grandfather taught her how to shoot a gun from behind some cabin in Pennsylvania. Obama responded by saying Hillary was trying to portray herself as “a defender of the Second Amendment, an Annie Oakley, sitting in a duck blind and carrying a six shooter.” McCain’s camp must have felt excluded (I wouldn’t blame them, considering the Dems are busy feasting on one another), because McCain’s senior adviser then came out against Obama’s comments, saying: “It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re accused of being out of touch by a guy who thinks… that you hunt ducks with a six shooter.”

The GOP’s Obama-radar continues with a decision made today by North Carolina’s Republican party officials to scare off white voters by running a television ad that shows the Democratic canididate standing side by side with his controversial former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It then switches to a clip of a furious Wright damning America and a narrator in the background who concludes with, “He’s just too extreme for North Carolina,” in reference to Obama.

This comes only a month after McCain’s senior adviser went on MSNBC and condemned guilt by association tactics: “What Senator McCain has said repeatedly is that these candidates cannot be held accountable for all the views of people who endorse them or people who befriend them. … He believes that people who endorse you, people who befriend you, are entitled to their own views, but you are not held personally accountable.”

Of course, McCain is denying culpability by claiming that he does not approve of the ad and has requested that the North Carolina GOP not run the ad. McCain tries to depict himself as the candidate who takes the high road even though those running his campaign are playing dirty. Despite McCain’s request, state party officials are insisting that running the ad is a matter of “patriotism.” That has so far got to be the most loaded and abused word of the 21st century.

When asked about the ad, Obama said: “My understanding is that the Republican National Committee and John McCain have both said that the ad’s inappropriate. I take them at their word, and I assume that if John McCain thinks that it’s an inappropriate ad, that he can get them to pull it down since he’s their nominee and standard-bearer.”

The RNC is no doubt holding their breath and waiting for Obama to fall because of his massive appeal to different segments of society. Obama warns that once the Democratic party is unified “our appeal among independents and disaffected Republicans is going to be powerful.” Probably why McCain’s campaign will continue to employ cheap tactics and concentrate most of their efforts on Barack Hussein Obama, and not Billary.

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Worst. Debate. Ever.

So apparently last Wednesday’s Democratic debate on ABC was the worst debate in the entire history of debates. It was so bad, the audience booed the moderators when it was all over. I didn’t watch the debate live but I saw clips and read reactions online. “Disgusting”…” biggest sham”…”freak show”…”substance-less nonsense”…just a few descriptions i came across. Is it really that surprising though that mainstream media would duck from its responsibilities and offer up shallow, “substance-less” questions?

One popular political journalist, Andrew Sullivan, updated his blog every few minutes for the entire two hours of the debate in a sort of play-by-play. His final assessment depicts Obama as a tragic hero beaten down by the ruthless media machine:

It was a lifeless, exhausted, drained and dreary Obama we saw tonight. I’ve seen it before when he is tired, but this was his worst performance yet on national television. He seemed crushed and unable to react. This is big-time politics and he’s up against the Clinton wood-chipper. But there is no disguising the fact that he wilted, painfully.

Clinton has exposed herself in this campaign as one of the worst shells of a cynical pol in American politics. She doesn’t just return us to the Morris-Rove era, she represents a new height for it. If she somehow wins, it will be a triumph of the old politics in an age when that is exactly what this country cannot afford. But Obama has also shown a failure to be resilient in this grueling process. In some ways, I’m glad. No normal reasonable person subjected to the series of attacks on his integrity, faith, patriotism, decency and honesty would not wilt. And we need a normal reasonable person in the White House again. But this is still the arena we have. It is what it is. ABC News is what it is. The MSM knows no other way. Obama has to survive and even thrive under this assault if he is to win. He failed tonight in a big way.

*Sigh.

His periodic updates were actually a pretty entertaining read, especially his comments on Hillary. I posted some of his observations below. (fyi, “MSM” is short for mainstream media.) Enjoy =)

=======================================================

8.06 pm. Both opening statements total blather. But she looks a little more comfortable.

8.10 pm. That opening silence was priceless. But he seems exhausted. Since she has had her humanity surgically removed, she seems less so.

8.15 pm. Because she’s shameless, she’s doing better. The appropriation of small-town life as part of her autobiography was a particularly brilliant touch. She was much subtler than her ads have been, or than she has been when she isn’t looking at Obama…

8.27 pm. On Wright, again her shamelessness helps her. His affect is total exhaustion, alas, as if being pummeled with every Rovian tactic has beaten the life out of him. And he is being pummeled by the ABC hosts as well. One reason I like the guy is that he is still human; politics hasn’t killed his soul.

8.31 pm. What kind of question asks a candidate to determine another person’s patriotism? When that person served his country in Vietnam?

8.33 pm. So far, neither Gibson nor Stephanopoulos have asked a single policy
-related question. They seem utterly uninterested in foreign or domestic policy. After the past eight years, we have had half an hour with nothing but process questions. Gibson and Stephanopoulos are clearly part of the problem in this election and part of what has to be reformed.

8.40 pm. Now, it’s flag-pins! I’m just pointing out that we are now almost halfway through this debate and ABC News has not asked a single policy question. It’s pure Rove, sustained and hyped and sustained by Stephanopoulos and Gibson. It’s what they know; it’s easy; and it will generate ratings. It is not journalism.

8.44 pm. Ambers: “Even Clinton advisers can’t believe that ABC asked about wearing the flag on his lapel.”

I have to say I am actually shocked at the appallingly poor quality of the questions: the worst of the campaign so far. Pure MSM process bullshit. Again: it’s now halfway through and there has not been a single question on the economy, foreign policy, healthcare, terrorism, Iraq or any other actual policy issue in this campaign. How much longer can ABC News avoid the actual policy issues in this election?

8.53 pm. They’re actually asking a question about the war. Remember that?

8.55 pm. A reader writes:

This debate is beyond disgusting. The triviality of this whole production from the intro segment to the nature of questions is just gross. There’s no decency or dignity to any of this. “Clinton versus Obama.” Is this a sporting event?

9 pm. Clinton will disappoint her neoconservative supporters by such a strong, unequivocal commitment to withdrawal from Iraq. She is, of course, lying. But she does it so well. They both seem exhausted at this point. But she has the capacity to run on fumes. This is all she lives for. Obama seems off-balance and drained. All I’m learning from this debate so far is that both need a rest and that ABC News is utterly out of touch with their viewers.

9.11 pm. Check out the ABC News comments section. The viewers appear mad as hell at this pathetic shell-game. They should be. Money quote:

My pet snake would be a better moderator than the two dopes ABC has supposedly running this debate! After an hour, we get to a legitimate question??!!! HORRIBLE JOB ABC!!! Just plain HORRIBLE!!!!!

9.15 pm. The longest section on policy so far, in the age of terror, debt, and torture … is about the capital gains tax. And Gibson is clearly trying to get both of them to say something that can subsequently be turned into a gaffe or a GOP talking point. There have been almost no clear, substantive policy questions designed to elicit real information.

9.28 pm. A reader writes:

Has Obama’s message of a new vision of politics ever looked more attractive than after this display?

9.32 pm. No questions on the environment, none on terror, none on interrogation, none on torture, none on education, none on spending, none on healthcare, none on Iran … but four separate questions in the first hour about a lapel-pin, Bitter-gate, Wright-gate and Ayers. I’m all for keeping candidates on their toes. But this was ridiculous. And now we have affirmative action? Again, it’s not illegitimate as such – but the only reason it is asked is to try and trip these people up and make Gibson and Stephanopoulos look smart.

9.38 pm. A reader notes:

You understate how silly the constitutional snippets are. The first snippet, awarding the vice-presidency to the runner-up in electoral votes, was superseded by the Twelfth Amendment!

And Gibson made it the basis for a question if my memory serves!

9.44 pm. If you want to let ABC News know how you feel about this “debate”, here’s the link.

9.49 pm. The closers: Clinton went into rote mode. They both need a rest. Obama’s final words were great: against spin and PR and in favor of an honest conversation at a dire moment in history. It makes you realize that among the forces that have to be defeated if such a conversation is to take place will be the kind of “journalism” we have been forced to endure tonight.

9.51 pm. The big winner is John McCain. Then Clinton who seemed at least awake. Then Obama whose calm was nonetheless trumped by obvious exhaustion. Yes, the Clintons have shredded him. But that’s what they know how to do. It’s also what the GOP knows how to do. Obama has got to get used to this and find a way to withstand it and fight back without enabling the very cynicism it represents. That’s not easy, and we are discovering if he has it in him. Tonight he looked and felt depleted beyond measure. Which is when his supporters have to take the weight.

The loser was ABC News: one of the worst media performances I can remember – petty, shallow, process-obsessed, trivial where substantive, and utterly divorced from the actual issues that Americans want to talk about. At the end of the debate, it appeared that the crowd was actually heckling Gibson. “The crowd is turning on me!” complained Gibson. He has no idea. But he will soon enough.

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Global Food Crisis

Is anyone aware of the food crisis that is apparently engulfing the world? Isn’t it disturbing to watch state security apparatuses flank Olympic torch runners on either side, knowing that the powerful nations don’t show half as much concern over rising food prices that are leading to riots in several countries?

In Haiti for instance, 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers are standing by and watching as desperate civilians continue their looting and rioting. A few U.S. Congressmen have urged that Haiti be relieved of its international debts so it could redirect its money to dealing with the problem. The World Food Program put in a request for $96 million for the small nation but has only received about 13 percent of it. According to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, “Ninety six million dollars is worth about seven hours of what we spend right now in Iraq.” Strangely, the Iraqis are starving too…

With regards the Middle East, NPR reports:

In Tunisia and Morocco, where dissent is not tolerated, police have been deployed recently to quell food protests. In oil-rich Saudi Arabia, boycott campaigns have sprung up to protest the soaring cost of staple foods.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick describes the situation as follows:

In Bangladesh a two-kilogram bag of rice … now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family. The price of a loaf of bread … has more than doubled. Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their incomes just on bread.

Imagine having to spending over a quarter of your income on bread alone…

In Egypt, people are standing in breadlines for hours hoping to buy cheap subsidized bread. In some places, bread is so scarce that it’s being sold behind a barricaded wall. Along with bread prices, cooking oil and rice costs have also soared. With the crisis has come corruption, and Egypt’s local media is rife with reports of civil servants “depending on bribes to make ends meet, and young men extorting ‘protection money’ from small shops; one report even claims the crisis is causing Egyptians to lose their legendary sense of humor.” Oh, you know the world is troubled when Umm al-Dunya is no longer able to crack a joke.

So what’s causing an inflation in food costs? A combination of factors are being blamed. A huge one seems to be the increasing amount of farmers in the West who are redirecting a significant portion of the wheat crop from food to biofuel production. There is also a rice shortage due to droughts, floods and an increased demand in countries like China and India. A rise in oil and energy prices is also blamed. Another factor apparently lies with the U.S. policy of paying some farmers not to grow wheat so as to drive up the cost of the grain. I’m still not sure I understand why it would do that. It seems evil. And why would the U.S government possess such a trait?

Experts predict that the crisis will last for some time and warn that unless the fundamental pressures driving up food prices are addressed, social unrest and anxiety could get worse and spread to other classes. In Egypt for example, “There were a reported 222 strikes or job actions in 2006; that figure soared to 580 last year, and not just in the industrial sector. Doctors, university professors and private-sector workers also are protesting.”

Joel Beinin, a professor at the American University in Cairo, put it this way:

“This is the core of the educated, professional middle-class, which has been the political class throughout the 20th century in Egypt and until now as well. When these people consider job actions or collective protests of a significant magnitude, this is potentially big trouble for the government.”

Ahem. Could this be one of those bothersome, Western-rooted social ills that drive a frustrated and angry Muslim world towards “alternative” means of representation? If I had to spend over a quarter of my income on bread while being beaten over the head by the state police as i’m protesting my family’s slow starvation, I’d be pretty angry at the failure of Nationalism, Arabism, globalism and every other Ism’s failure to provide me with a better life. I could see why vulnerable populations would probably be more inclined to listen to fundamentalists whose rhetoric speaks to their pain and offers them a different vision.

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FEC Closed for Service

In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) – the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections.

I thought this was worth blogging about, being it does involve an integral part of our democracy and is definitely something we, as informed citizens, should be concerned with.

The federal agency charged with overseeing a candidate’s use of campaign finances, such as making sure that all contributions are legit, is out of service. Why? Because the Federal Election Commission needs four commissioners in order to function. Currently, it only has two. The reason being is a two-year-old standoff between the Senate and White House over three nominees, one of whom recently asked that his name be withdrawn because he was hired by a top law firm in the process of waiting. According to Tony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College, this not good: “Not only do we have a dysfunctional FEC at this point, but it is going to be increasingly difficult to find individuals who are going to be willing to serve on the commission.”

And if the standoff between the Senate and White House isn’t resolved before the Senate’s recess in July, the commission will remain closed for business for the remainder of this election year.

How is this translating so far? Well, this past Monday the Democratic National Committee filed a suit against the FEC for its failure to investigate McCain and his possible violation of campaign finance law. The heart of the issue has to do with whether McCain violated the law when he decided not to accept public funding after taking out a private loan, a loan Democrats say he wouldn’t have received had his campaign not promised the public money as collateral. Although the Democrats’ claim has a political motive– seeking to remind voters of McCain’s campaign finance troubles while Obama and Clinton continue to squabble for the nomination- there is a legitimate case according to FEC Chairman David Mason. Mason has said that McCain cannot legally withdraw from the public finance system without FEC approval. Except for the fact that there is no functioning FEC to seek approval from…

So amidst what is the biggest fundraising season in history, the agency created to oversee election spending is effectively useless due to an incompetent Congress and White House. That’s another minus for democracy, in what is already a huge pile of stinky minuses…

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