Monday, 30 May 2011

Keep us safe!

Two former New York cops were acquitted of rape last week in yet another highlight of the culture of impunity that surrounds the men in blue. [photo: NY Daily News]

Ironically, the two would never have been indicted at all had it not been for the ubiquitous security cameras taping our every movement. The street cameras caught the men returning to the apartment of a woman whom they had been called upon to assist because she was dangerously drunk.

Prosecutors charged that they assisted themselves right into her bedroom and raped her. They were seen returning to her flat three times that night for no apparent reason and were later caught falsifying their records and arranging a phony 911 call to cover it up.

One cop even admitted he crawled into her bad to ‘console’ her. However, the jury hesitated at the lack of DNA evidence and the woman’s faulty recollections and declared them ‘not guilty’.

That is not the same as declaring them ‘innocent’. The whole thing smelled so completely fishy that anyone not a cop would be looking at 25 years. The two were found guilty only of ‘misconduct’ and fired--I guess the city was not eager for them to respond to future damsel-in-distress calls.

But we shouldn’t be surprised at the abuse of the powers that, as a society, we continue to pile onto the security forces that multiply around us. Who dares to suggest that the feds should not snoop into our mails and our library records, that the accused should be put on trial instead of held indefinitely on suspicion? The renewal of the ‘Patriot’ Act (at which Orwell would smile) sailed through Congress last week with hardly a peep of protest over the systematic dismantling of our civil protections. Give the police more power and shut up, seems to be our guiding philosophy.

Cops and their friends have long been permitted to operate outside certain laws as long as they didn’t overdo it. We’re just now getting a glimpse into the huge ticket-fixing industry in New York that defense lawyers already are defending as ‘normal professional courtesies’. That means, if you have the right friends, of course you should be excused from law-breaking. Fahgettaboutit. The scandal only broke open because cops went too far and caused some DUI citations to disappear, upon which the drunken cop-friendly drivers promptly went out and did it again.

Non-white people, however, usually do not have such friends and therefore are subject to the short end of the security stick. They are the ones who will not be surprised or particularly concerned if the U.S. becomes an overt police state because things won’t feel all that different to them.

On the other hand, for those used to more privilege, seeing that guys in uniform can do pretty much anything to you is going to be increasingly startling. The accuser in the rape case (not named in news accounts) was a fashion executive of some sort—if you can snuggle in bed uninvited with someone like that and get off, why worry?

[cartoon: Truthdig]

Saturday, 28 May 2011

How dare they?

The Serbians are really awful. They think Ratko Mladic, their guy responsible for mass slaughter of Muslim civilians at Srebenica, Bosnia, is a big hero and should be protected from international courts that plan to charge him with genocide. What could possibly be wrong with people like that?

[from Wikipedia] The first reports claimed that ‘128 Viet Cong and 22 civilians’ were killed in the village during a ‘fierce fire fight’. General William C. Westmorelandcongratulated the unit on the ‘outstanding job’. As related at the time by the Army’s Stars and Stripes magazine, ‘U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle’.

Initial investigations of the My Lai operation [concluded] that some 20 civilians were ‘inadvertently’ killed during the operation. . . .

In November 1969, General William R. Peers, appointed to investigate the My Lai incident and its subsequent cover-up, was highly critical of top officers [including Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army Major] for participation in a cover-up. In May 2004, Powell, then United States Secretary of State, [and later pre-presidential candidate] told CNN’s Larry King, ‘I got there after My Lai happened. So in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored’.

Army veteran Ronald Ridenhour sent a letter in March 1969 detailing the events at My Lai to President Richard M. Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous members of Congress. Most recipients of Ridenhour’s letter ignored it, with the exception of Congressman Morris Udall (D-Arizona) and Senators Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) and Edward Brooke (R-Massachusetts).

The Peers Commission later confirmed the massacre. However, critics of the Peers Commission pointed out that it sought to place the real blame on four officers who were already dead.

On November 17, 1970, the United States Army charged 14 officers, including Major General Samuel W. Koster, the Americal Division’s commanding officer, with suppressing information related to the incident. Most of those charges were later dropped. The only officer who stood trial on charges relating to the cover-up was acquitted on December 17, 1971.

Lt. William Calley was convicted on March 29, 1971, of premeditated murder for ordering the shootings. He was initially sentenced to life in prison. Two days later, President Nixon ordered Calley released from prison pending appeal of his sentence. Calley would eventually serve four and one-half months in a military prison.

In a separate trial, Captain Medina denied giving the orders that led to the massacre, and was acquitted of all charges. Several months after his acquittal, however, Medina admitted that he had suppressed evidence and had lied.

Most of the enlisted men who were involved in the events at My Lai had already left military service and were thus legally exempt from prosecution. In the end, of the 26 men initially charged, Calley’s was the only conviction.

Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway was quoted in the New York Times as stating that Calley’s sentence was reduced because Calley honestly believed that what he did was a part of his orders—a rationale that stands in direct contradiction of the standards set at Nuremberg and Tokyo where German and Japanese soldiers were executed for similar acts.

Outraged at Calley’s prosecution and sentence, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter instituted ‘American Fighting Man’s Day’ and asked Georgians to drive for a week with their lights on. Indiana’s governor asked all state flags to be flown at half-staff for Calley. The Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, New Jersey and South Carolina legislatures requested clemency for Calley. Alabama’s governor George Wallace visited Calley in the stockade and requested that Nixon pardon him.

After the conviction, the White House received over 5000 telegrams; the ratio was 100 to 1 in favor of leniency. In a telephone survey of the American public, 79% disagreed with the verdict, 81% believed that the life sentence Calley had received was too stern, and 69% believed Calley had been made a scapegoat.

Those Serbians. Horrible nazis. Revolting.
[Women and children killed seconds after the photo was taken. My Lai, Vietnam, March 16, 1968. Photo: Ronald L. Haeberle]

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Lessons from NY-26

Some silly spin is circulating about the game-changing disaster suffered by our Wacko Brigade yesterday in the special House of Representatives election in Buffalo. Let’s dispatch this b.s. and then get to a more important aspect of what happened.

There were three candidates in the race to fill the empty House seat (vacated by a hypocrite who couldn’t keep his clothes on while telling others not to perform sexual acts). Fox & friends will be bursting cranial arteries today to convince people that the Teabagger on the ballot, Jack (Batshit Crazy) Davis, drew conservative votes away from the nice Republican lady who otherwise would have won.

Nice theory, but it doesn’t hold up. The Albany Project, run by a guy who spends his days studying this stuff, noted ages ago that the goofball Davis was attracting support from the disaffected but would deflate by election day. TAP further predicted that a solid majority of Davis backers would then move to the Democratic candidate, which from all accounts is exactly what happened.

But something much more significant that the horseplay of a bored millionaire can be seen in the numbers. Cast an eye at these:

Chris Lee (R) 148,607
Alice Kryzan (D) 109,615
Jon Powers (WFP) 12,104 (the Working Families Party is a natural Democratic constituency and generally stays out of races where it could end up a spoiler)
Total = 270,326

Chris Lee (R) 151,449
Philip A. Fedele (D) 54,307
Total = 205,756

Kathy Hochul (D) 48,530
Jane Corwin (R) 43,836
Jack Davis (T) 9,495
Ian Murphy (I) 1,130
Total = 102,991

Since 2008 was a presidential year, turnout was high at 270,000. But even on an off-year election in 2010, the Republican stalwarts were fired up and turned out in exactly equal numbers, giving shirtless Chris Lee a whopping 70-plus percent. By contrast, Obama voters, dispirited by his compromises and systematically dissed by Rahm Emanuel, stayed away.

Now look at what just happened yesterday: the Republicans’ base evaporated by two-thirds. A hundred thousand of them preferred to stay home and watch TV rather than endorse the Paul Ryan [pictured at right--horrible!] ‘Let-Them-Eat-Cake’ budget. While neither side generated much enthusiasm, red voters who had hitched up with Boner, Cantor, Palin and Gingrich six months ago poured into the divorce courts like they were Wal-Marts on Black Friday.

I hope, however, that no one gets all starry-eyed about the Democrats’ intentions. Obama’s congratulatory statement immediately mentioned the need to ‘create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce the deficit in order to outcompete other nations and win the future’. This is some lame shit. It echoes the principal phony Republican talking point (deficits cause unemployment—oh, please) and repeats stale, testosterone-laced sports metaphors about how great we are/will be.

Obama reveals in these carefully selected phrases that he is an elitist at heart, all about winning and being the best. I believe that the elite he represents has decided that our most important benefits from the twentieth century, Social Security and Medicare, are costing too much. Don’t think that just because the Republicans overplayed their hand and got lost up their own rectal compartments that this long-term intention will be set aside. The tactics will have to shift, but the daggers remain sharpened.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

‘Scott Brown moment’ approaches in NY-26

During Obama’s first troubled year in office with the health insurance reform focusing teabagger minds and the White House unable to generate—and fight for—a credible pitch for its own program, Ted Kennedy died. Then his Senate seat was snatched up by, of all things, a Republican, Scott Brown, which was trumpeted far and wide as buyer’s remorse over the foolish decision to elect Obama in the first place.

Not quite a year-and-a-half later, we may be about to witness the exact replica of that event in reverse as a mere six months of Republican dementia in the halls of Congress and the statehouses of the Midwest give frightened electors a serious case of nerves about their future. A Buffalo House district (NY-26) is holding a special election today to fill a ‘safe’ Republican seat—left vacant after its family-values occupant was caught philandering on Craigslist. The disgraced former incumbent won with over 70% of the vote after half the Democratic electorate sat out the 2010 race.

The district is 96% white and has been held by Republicans for 144 years out of the last 150. But lo and behold, polls show that Democrat Kathy Hochul, pictured above, may win. The national GOP has poured $3 million into the race to prevent the embarrassment. [photo: The Albany Project]

I guess even conservative people in the frozen tundra of upstate New York are not that keen on having Medicare dismantled and food stamps eliminated, given that half the locals probably will die in penury without access to one or both of those programs. Who knows, maybe they finally were convinced by seeing Obama’s long-form birth certificate. In any case watch that space for a chance to see Speaker Boner get a nice, fat Dear John letter from his natural constituency.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Is smoking outdoors like dog poop on the sidewalk?

New York City’s new law takes effect today banning cigs in public parks and beaches. Local TV was all over the story last night, distinguishing itself by providing Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds a million or so dollars’ worth of free advertising each, i.e., showing dozens of shots of people of all ages puffing away. Has no one ever alerted the television news editors that the government banned paid images of people having a grand time smoking cigarettes because it ENCOURAGES the practice?

That’s bad enough though so routine as to be unsurprising. But what ever happened to the he-said/she-said, both-sides-of-the-story trope of American journalism? Most of the reports focused on unhappy smokers. A few did manage to include people who liked the idea of smoke-free parks, but not one reporter thought to look into the scientific evidence, which is readily available, about why outdoor smoke might (or might not) be harmful.

Tufts professor James Repace has public information at his Web site that claims that ‘secondhand smoke from a single cigarette can be detected at levels exceeding known thresholds for irritation for healthy persons at 7 meters from the source. . . . with 4 smokers, irritation can occur at distances as far out as 12 meters’.

Repace may be right, or he may be wrong. But isn’t it the task of journalism to research the facts and present some version of them? I know this is a silly, pointless protest, but it would be nice if the yapping heads filling our airwaves and our brains with endless mush would be encouraged, pressured, forced or humiliated into actually doing some legwork to find out shit instead of just turning their cameras onto a random set of bipeds willing to state their uninteresting opinions.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Posturing or policy? Time will tell

Obama’s new formula for lancing the 60-year-old Israeli-Palestinian boil would be a smart move if the world were ready for common sense in that arena, which remains to be seen. Any forward movement was inevitably going to ruffle the famously tetchy feathers of the Israeli leadership and its slavish echo chamber in the U.S., so that’s no surprise. Will it all amount to another round of meaningless phrase-tossing or lead to real movement? I note that the Egyptians who were transfixed by Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo were flipping channels 10 minutes into his latest oratory [NYT 5/20/11, no longer free to link to on the Web]. They, at least, were singularly unimpressed. In any case there are several curious elements to this sudden tough talk emanating from Washington.

Despite the disclaimers that the Palestinian push for a unilateral declaration of statehood backed by the UN is pointless, the Obama administration is pretty obviously worried about this outcome, especially the possibility that the Europeans would back it and leave Obama stuck with the Israelis on his own. So the Casa Blanca is desperately trying to head it off by offering what superficially looks like something real to the Pals. In exchange for this new stance from Washington, they will be pressured relentlessly and probably successfully to give up the declaration.

Obama is also correctly reading that in the new Middle East the interests of the European allies and the U.S. are not interchangeable. After all, these countries (Egypt, Syria, Libya) actually neighbor Europe and are historical spheres of influence for Britain, France and Italy. So it’s not surprising that the EU nations view the stubborn indifference of the Israelis to their 70-year-old refugee problem and the ongoing settler land-gobble as an immediate thorn that requires a plan of action. The U.S. view, fortified by those expecting The Rapture today, is that none of that matters since the Jews will soon welcome Christ and be converted.

But I digress. Sarcasm aside, the boiling cauldron generated by treating Palestinians as an apartheid underclass is not an urgent concern for the United States even though it bodes ill in the long run. But why not ‘extend and pretend’ like we’re doing with the insolvent banks? American policy has been to push the whole problem off for another couple of decades and enjoy the benefits in the meantime. Obama may have something else in mind, but if so he’ll have to follow up the pretty speeches with something concrete—after two years of kicking the Israeli-Palestinian can down the road with zero results, seeing is believing.

Not incidentally, the coverage of Obama’s smackdown of Netan-yahoo has included references to the importance of Jewish donors to the Democratic Party coffers. If O is abandoned by concerned zionists, where will he/they turn to pick up the slack? The millions of small contributors who got him elected and whom he (and Rahm) then told to get lost?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Bloomberg Kool-Aid & Murdochism

Although Obama is preparing to browbeat those of us unhappy with his first term into submission, plenty of people have dug in their heels to disagree vigorously with him on many issues. But there is a curious wobble on the topic of so-called educational ‘reform’, a.k.a. a full-court press for privatization of a foundational element of our democracy: public education. [photo: Hagen/Daily News]

Why this classically Republican worldview is so close to the Obamanian heart is for psychoanalysts to discover. In any case, New York City is the epicenter of this fight to disenfranchise future generations, and Mayor Bloomberg (of the Bloomberg business behemoth) is leading the charge. The movement suffered a lovely setback when Bloomberg shot himself all up and down one leg with the debacle of the Cathie Black appointment as commissioner of education.

How Bloomberg thought this vapid, corporate hack was going to fly in a field she knew nothing about is a mystery—maybe he thought it was important to put a clueless bimbo in the job to prove how irrelevant it is who runs the city’s public schools. As described here recently, Black was forced out after a few disastrous months.

A little-known sidebar to this loathsome tale is the platinum parachute provided for Black’s predecessor, Joel Klein, who loyally carried hod for Bloomberg’s schemes during his eight-year term. Klein is now ensconced at the News Corporation of Rupert (Valdemort) Murdoch, where he earns $4.5 million a year as head of the newly created ‘educational division’. (The concept draws one’s breath: a Murdoch ‘educational division’ makes sense like a hamburger stand for Hindus.) Klein only pulled a measly $250,000 a year in his last job, so one can quickly see how lush are the rewards for doing the bidding of the ruling elite.

Meanwhile, Klein’s shiny new employer, Murdoch, is busy wiping out dissenting views from any nation-state invaded by his media empire. Al Gore, not exactly a small-time player, has just found his Current TV censored from the Italian airwaves by the Murdoch juggernaut, in cahoots with the professional pimp known as Silvio Berlusconi.

If we were to ask someone like Rahm Emanuel or Larry Summers if they are alarmed by this development, no doubt they could give us a dozen reasons not to worry. This insouciant confidence is the principal deformation of the political debate that is occurring around us today.

In fact, Berlusconi’s increasingly authoritarian Italy is an excellent example of where we could be headed if constant enablers like Obama and his party keep looking for bipartisan agreement at the expense of basic democratic principles. They’ve done marvelously well in that pursuit with things like Guantánamo and the rule of law; with letting the banks get away with massive theft, fraud and usury; and with confusing the public over the supposed horrors of the federal deficit without clarifying that it was created by tax cuts for the rich, unfunded wars and the steady redistribution of wealth upwards. To see present trends as threatening to wipe out dissenting views is not paranoia but realism.

Just as the corrupted Democratic establishment poo-bahs eagerly await ‘reforms’ that will put private business in charge of education, they will sit quietly with arms crossed while media barons like Murdoch gobble up our democratic spaces. The phenomena are two sides of the same tarnished coin. Only popular resistance independent of electoral distractions will slow down these trends.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Finance for weenies

The arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his $3000-a-night hotel for sexual assault (BTW, what makes a room with a bed worth $3000 a night? Maybe DSK thought bonking the maid was included in the tab) not only throws domestic French politics into a tizzy but also threatens the EU’s attempts to hold together its financial house of cards.

Strauss-Kahn’s sex scandal comes at a most inconvenient time. Imbalances in intra-EU trade, disastrous deregulation of the financial sector, cooking of books and the rickety structure of the eurozone have led to three collapsed economies (Greece, Ireland, Portugal) and threats to several more (Spain in particular). The remedy so far has been ‘extend and pretend’, by which German and French banks impose austerity on the impoverished and squeeze out interest payments as a form of permanent indentured servitude, just as the IMF used to do with Latin American and African countries. No matter if the debts are essentially unpayable if you can keep the indebted countries pouring their surplus into Frankfurt and Paris.

Without pretending to follow all the technical details, I gather that there are more intelligent solutions available just as the Latin American debt crisis eventually was resolved through extensive negotiations, Brady bonds and other inventive arrangements based on some more equitable sharing of the pain. However, that outcome required a willingness to recognize that the situation was unsustainable and the debtors’ credible threat of default to focus the mind. The process was also time-consuming and required political leadership rather than demagogic pandering.

These conditions are not present within the European project of the moment, so the fall of DSK is a major earth tremor for an already shaky edifice. It promises debilitating distraction at the IMF and political upheaval within a major player (France), just as the elites need to join hands and sing the proper tunes in unison to prop up the fantasy that All Will Be Well. It’s just the sort of unexpected and messy incident that can expose an underlying weakness and unleash a chain reaction.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


The NY Times’ editorial page encapsulated our political moment Friday in a depressingly precise way. There were four leaders under the masthead:

-Gutting Class Action: This one was about another 5-4 Supreme Court decision by the activist Roberts court in which the incomparable Antonin Scalia searched deep in the record of the first Continental Congress to justify siding with huge corporations that screw consumers. Scalia didn’t find anything credible, but that didn’t stop him and his four co-conspirators from allowing the telecom companies to ‘deliberately cheat large numbers of customers of small sums of money’, in the words of the California Supreme Court, whose decision they overturned. But states are no longer allowed to protect their citizens from the predator corporations under the brave, new Scalian regime.

-But whoa! Just the opposite is true when dealing with Obama’s health insurance reform. Mitt Romney in a Time Warp, editorial #2, is about the famous Romney flip-flop on that measure, inspired by Romney’s own Massachusetts experimentation in new health payment schemes. That was okay, says the presidential candidate, because Obama is presiding over a ‘federal power-grab’, not a noble, local effort to rationalize medical insurance.

-That Didn’t Take Long, editorial número tres, provides insight into why this apparent contradiction is so common nowadays. It’s about Meredith Atwell Baker, recently an appointed commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission and now, Ta-DUM! a well-compensated lobbyist for Comcast, the company that most benefited from her decisions. Expect no Teabagger rallies denouncing this money-grubbing snake for cashing in on her government service. Maybe she will run for elective office soon and benefit from large, secret corporate contributions made possible by earlier court decisions.

And finally, to demonstrate how ignorance is being hard-wired into our system for future generations, we have editorial #4, Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake. This outlines the sadly not-incredible story of how a coal industry trade association inserted its propaganda into widely used children’s educational material. Given the creeping privatization of public education promoted by both sides of the Republicrat biopoly, we can expect much more of this corporate brainwashing to enter the nation’s classrooms so that the outrages detailed in editorials #1, #2 and #3 are not identified as such.

On the very same page, the Times was also slammed by a reader for using the term ‘agonizing decision’ to describe the moment in which one of the culprits in the Galleon insider-trading fraud had to decide whether to take a huge bribe or not. The writer very fairly said ‘agonizing decisions’ are when you have to decide which of your children gets new clothes for school or which bill gets paid out of your paltry unemployment check.

To the Times’ credit, they printed this critical letter. That suggests that our democracy survives, for now. I cannot link to any of these pieces, however, since the newspaper no longer allows free electronic access to its material.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Mr Liberal

Here in the heart of northern liberalism, we get the occasional reminder that our political poobahs are really just a variation on the repugnant-Republican theme that it’s so easy to dislike. Take Charles (the Snake) Schumer: he genuflects at all the correct issues, votes right on abortion, rails against Romney and Sarah Palin, and never misses a photo-op with Obama and Harry Reid.

And yet behind the liberal veneer, Schumer and his entourage (Kirsten Gillibrand, Anthony Weiner and a whole second generation emerging from his school) are quick to pander to any selfish, dumb concern arising from their constituents. Schumer couldn’t wait 24 hours after the bin Laden killing to d up panic over some vague plans to try to put bombs on trains and promptly demanded ‘no-ride’ lists for Amtrak, no doubt scoring points with nervous-nellie corporate suits who don’t give two shits about what that might mean for innocent (non-white) users. Greenwald was killingly funny about this half-baked idea:

‘To replicate [no-fly lists] for trains—all because some documents mentioned them among thousands of other ideas Al Qaeda has undoubtedly considered over the years—is hysteria and ludicrous over-reaction of the highest order. Trains can obviously be attacked without boarding them (indeed, these documents apparently discussed tampering with the rails, which wouldn't require boarding the trains at all). And if there’s a ‘no-ride’ list for Amtrak, why not for subways and buses, too? If Al Qaeda is found to have discussed targeting restaurants, will we have a no-eat list? If Al Qaeda is found to have discussed targeting large intersections or landmarks, will we have a no-walk list? How about a no-shop list in response to the targeting of malls?’

But Schumer could care less about the sense or nonsense of his knee-jerk reaction. He’s sniffing out a pherome from the body politic and spritzing it all over himself, the better to attract votes and campaign cash.

Weiner, a congressman from a Brooklyn/Queens district, is another master of this habit of pumping up stupid and reactionary impulses for personal gain. According to my bike club, when Weiner wanted to run for mayor, he warned the current occupant that his first act would be to ‘tear out your fucking bike lanes’, the ones outer-borough drivers are whining about because they have to share the roadways and give up parking spaces. This is a perfect reflection of the approach of the Schumer-Weiner school: listen carefully for what the comfy, middle-class meatheads are worried about, amplify the rhetoric X10 and parade yourself as the valiant defender of Right. Never mind whether the policy in question is good or bad for the city/state/country or its underlying fairness, prudence or utility.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Expert leadership - to where?

Obama was measured and deliberate in his 60 Minutes interview tonight, showing us how he leads and how he works through and with what he called his ‘team’ several times. After the cowboy style of his predecessor, it is a welcome relief. But amid this masterful performance reflecting a sober mind and an astute managerial consciousness, there was a single and highly significant flash of disdain: ‘Anyone who thinks bin Laden didn’t get what he deserved should have his head examined’, Obama said.

I wonder if our president would apply those words to the Israeli judges who sat through the trial of Adolph Eichmann [above] in Jerusalem back in the 1960s. They were hardly of the opinion that Eichmann deserved to remain among the living, and in fact they eventually condemned him to death by hanging. But for some reason that Obama seems incapable or unwilling to contemplate, they thought it was important to put the logistical mastermind of Auschwitz on trial in a court of law, to hear the evidence and to offer him the chance to speak. Eichmann directly contributed to the deaths of perhaps 2 million Jews, so the Jerusalem judges were not exactly lacking in provocation. But they did not choose to throw him down a well.

Granted, maybe capture wasn’t possible in this case. Maybe bin Laden reached for a weapon and had to be shot. Maybe the complications of bringing out a prisoner were simply too great. But why is the question not even raised?

Once upon a time long, long ago, we believed that even the most heinous criminals should be put through a judicial process and not simply assassinated, and Obama, in another life a professor of constitutional law, could not even muster a moment of begrudging respect for that view. While critics like Glenn Greenwald have noted that the bin Laden issue is a highly emotional one and give people he disagrees with a certain latitude to be inconsistent, Obama spat at those who dare to ask the question.

I haven’t read the full transcript, but apparently Steve Kroft, the interviewer, never even thought of it. We learned nothing about whether the plan was always to ‘take out’ bin Laden or if there had been an option to capture him—highly doubtful in any case since the U.S. government can’t even put the lesser detainees on trial a decade after their capture and insists instead on holding them indefinitely at Guantánamo.

Kroft later flubbed another topic, asking if Obama had ever before ‘ordered someone killed’. Obama dodged that by talking about sending people to war or authorizing drone missile attacks whereas the question should have been, ‘Have you ever authorized assassinations of specific individuals?’ But we already know that the answer is yes.

This points us down a slippery slope. Nothing will prevent other political actors around the world from taking a leaf from our book and resorting to assassination if they think it suits their goals. It will make for an interesting debate at the UN Security Council someday when the ‘taking out’ of bin Laden will offer ample precedent and justification.

Meanwhile, what genius in the Langley CIA headquarters decided to code-name bin Laden ‘Geronimo’? It is mind-boggling that, 40 years after the Wounded Knee stand-off and the awakening of national consciousness about colonial mistreatment of the native peoples of North America, we still dare to act like dumb hicks in Conestoga wagons lost in a Hollywood B movie fantasy. Someone should be fired for slandering an entire group of citizens by this flippant association of the Apache chief with the country’s worst enemy. Would they have dared to code-name bin Laden ‘Jefferson Davis’?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

New Mideast players proliferate

[above: Istanbul] I got an alert from the U.S. embassy in Santiago (where someone apparently thinks I still live) warning me to be careful of attacks on Americans in the wake of recent developments. So much for the blithe triumphalism over the killing of OBL. Perhaps some sage element could have alerted the beery teens waving flags at Ground Zero to celebrate the assassination that a tad less provocation might be in order to discourage retaliation. Oh well.

We are indeed safer today but less as a result of bin Laden’s sudden death than due to the marvelous winds of change blowing vigorously through the Arab world and offering millions of people a political channel to obtain a better life. I suspect Israel would be a safer place, too, if the millions belonging to its Palestinian underclass thought they had a chance to save their lands and their livelihoods democratically and were less tempted by pointless acts of revenge as the sole alternative to helplessness and defeat.

The speeches from Washington have been fairly sober given that we do now have adults in charge, for better or for worse, rather than the insufferable frat boys of a few years ago. But I suspect that the most important speech of the week was not spoken by any American but rather by the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Erdogan. You know, that backward, Islamic country not civilized enough to become part of the wondrous European Union.

Erdogan called on Libya’s Qaddafy to step down, and he later tongue-lashed the Syrians for massacring its inhabitants as well. This is highly significant because the Turks dragged their feet over NATO’s intervention in Libya and just happen to share a border with Syria. So the PM’s comments are not idle chatter or long-distance posturing of the Capitol Hill variety.

Although Obama is riding high domestically, the U.S. has a lot on its hands in the region and considerable weaknesses due to over-extension in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Turks are more and more independent of their NATO allies and may be expected to assert themselves in what happens next.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Good things and bad things about the death of bin Laden

Good: It happened. Major bad guy removed from scene. Perhaps terrorism as a political strategy will be somewhat undermined. For a while.

Bad: It was an assassination. This is not the ideal way of dealing with political or criminal problems. See above. A commentator here in New York quickly crowed that we will not have to ‘put up with’ seeing OBL face trial. Trying people for their crimes used to be a good thing.

Good: It undercut the Wacko Brigade dominating half the country.

Bad: It resuscitated 9/11 chauvinism, eg, pale 18-year-olds with American flags gathering at Ground Zero, a sign at Yankee Stadium last night (“AMERICA FEARS NO ONE”), other manifestations of infantile chest-thumping.

Good: It relied on patient intelligence work.

Bad: It immediately reawakened defenders of torture who said that’s how they got the information needed. (In fact, there is evidence that torture of detainees actually delayed the process.)

: It removes one of the big excuses for systematically depriving us of our civil protections earned through 500 years of resistance to despotic state power.

Bad: It won’t restore them.

: The main, if not only, reason for pouring half our national treasury into propping up the corrupt Karzai narco-regime in Afghanistan has been eliminated.

Bad: It will continue anyway.

Good: Birthers and other demented wackos will shut up for a while.

Bad: They’ll soon start wanking about something else.