February 19, 2009 archive

The Great Unravelling is Starting to Roll


Coalition of human rights groups call for panel to probe alleged torture under Bush by John Byrne

The pressure on President Barack Obama to investigate alleged abuses under the presidency of George W. Bush is growing.

On Thursday, a coalition of human rights groups, including an organization at the New York University School of Law, called for Obama to establish a non-partisan independent commission to probe allegations of torture in the wake of wholesale roundup of terror suspects following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


“Independently of the collective statement, CHRGJ supports efforts to immediately begin investigations into criminal conduct alongside other accountability mechanisms, which should include reparations for victims and other measures to restore justice,” the Center said in a release. “As the new administration deals with the legacy of the Bush administration, the Center believes a commission is necessary — but not a substitute — for criminal investigations and prosecution of secret detention, extraordinary rendition, and coercive interrogation practices.”

Four at Four

  1. The Globe and Mail reports Obama arrives in Canada. “President Barack Obama stepped off Air Force One for the first time in a foreign country, descending a ramp to be greeted by Canada’s Governor-General, Michäelle Jean… Overnight snow left the capital draped in white, while mild temperatures left roads and sidewalks wet and slushy ahead of the President’s drive to Parliament Hill” and his meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

    The NY Times reports that discussions on Trade and oil are on the agenda. “The United States is a major importer of Canadian oil, and Mr. Harper has been trying to win an agreement to exempt Canada’s vast tracts of oil sands, which contain up to 173 billion barrels of recoverable oil bound into sand and clay, from regulation. Mr. Obama is under intense pressure from environmentalists to resist that effort.”

    According to the CS Monitor, Obama is visiting Canada to tighten ties. “Although the two leaders are likely to find common ground on many economic issues, the controversial ‘Buy American’ clause attached to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan signed into law by the president Tuesday has been playing badly in Canada.”

    Obama hopes the strategy for Afghanistan will be one “ultimately the people of Canada can support.” However, he stopped short of “asking Canada to reconsider its plan to pull its troops out at the end of 2011.”

  2. The LA Times reports More troops may be needed in Afghanistan, U.S. commander says.

    A day after President Obama ordered additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan, the top U.S. commander there said Wednesday that he may need still more troops in coming months to bolster an intensified war effort that could last as long as five more years.

    Army Gen. David D. McKiernan plans to use the 17,000 soldiers and Marines Obama authorized to try to break an impasse in fighting with the Taliban in the southern part of the country…

    McKiernan said that last year he had forecast the need for an additional 30,000 troops for 2009 and beyond. The 17,000 ordered Tuesday, combined with the earlier assignment of an Army brigade of about 3,500 from the 10th Mountain Division, provides two-thirds of the need, he said.

    Defense War Secretary Robert Gates thinks in addition to sending more U.S. troops, U.S. “allies must do more as well.” There is still no clear goal for the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan.

Four at Four continues with Israel’s reaction to the nuclear programs in Iran and Syria, and the shoe-throwing journalist’s day in Iraqi court.

Mr. President, Have I Been Rolled On Torture?

Mr. President, have I been rolled? I write today to ask this question, because it is truly, critically important to me as a citizen and a voter. All my life I have derided single issue voters, after all can’t they see that there is a bigger picture beyond their issue? That they find it compelling and are sincere in their commitment is not in doubt, but there has to be a balancing of the issues in any democracy. Now, I find myself in the position of being a single issue voter. It is due to the fact that there is finally an issue that is so overriding, so critical to the very notion of what it means for all of us to be Americans that I find myself in this position. That issue, Mr. President, is the extra legal holding, rendition and torture of prisoners in the so-called War on Terror.  

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

The people in Carson McCullers’ Great Depression era novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter are all victims of injustice.  Mick Kelly, a sensitive young girl; Dr. Copeland, an elderly, hurt and frustrated black man, Jake Blount, a nervous and unbalanced alcoholic, and Biff Brannon, whose consciousness is one mass of timid bewilderment, all struggle to deal with the powerful emotions injustice triggers.

Richard Wright described their fates:

Mick Kelly is doomed to a life of wage slavery in a five-and-ten-cent store; Dr. Copeland is beaten by a mob of whites when he protests against the injustices meted out to his race; Jake Blount stumbles off alone, wistfully, to seek a place in the South where he can take hold of reality through Marxism; and Biff Brannon steels himself to live a life of emptiness.

There was no happy ending, there was no reprieve for any of them from the punishing impact of the Great Depression, but literary critic May Saxton observed that when one finishes reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, “it is not with a feeling of emptiness and despair, but with a feeling of having been nourished by the truth.  For one knows at the end, that it is these cheated people, these with burning intense needs and purposes, who must inherit the earth.  They are the reason for the existence of a democracy which is still to be created.  This is the way it is, one says to oneself–but not forever.”

Pelosi Compares US Justice System With Rwanda?

Via Think Progress

   RS: Do you foresee a scenario in which senior members of the Bush administration are actually prosecuted?

   PELOSI: I think so. The American people deserve answers. Where we are now, in terms of prosecution of White House staff, is that we have charged them with contempt of Congress. We’re talking about Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten and Karl Rove. The natural course of events from here is that the speaker will determine what charge we’re going to pursue, because there are more than one. Under Bush, the Justice Department told the U.S. attorney not to prosecute the case. So the beat goes on – it just gets worse. We don’t know what will happen, because they’ve delayed it a long time.

Pelosi later said that “we should have a full examination” of the Bush administration’s alleged crimes, adding that what Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) “is putting forward, in terms of a truth-and-reconciliation committee, has always been helpful. It was helpful in South Africa, [and] it was helpful in Rwanda.”

Why is Pelosi stating that the US Justice System is as ineffective as Rwanda’s? Our situation is quite different than South Africa or Rwanda.We are not dealing with the same situations…are we? As far as I can tell, there were a small group of criminals at the top of our government for a relatively short eight years. Has our Justice system been so corrupted by them during that time that it is no longer capable of actually….prosecuting criminals?

Or is it possible that since the new administration is apparently continuing some of the Bush Policies from the Global Whine on Terror, that a Truth Commission is easier to control?

Via The Termite

  In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

   The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

   And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

If the unconstitutional and WRONG Bushco policies are embraced by the new administration, real investigations by a First World (unlike Rwanda) Department of Justice might prove….inconvenient.

Or perhaps it is just the obvious. She and the ohter Congressional Democrats are just plain disconnected….and stupid.

Though I can’t find a clip or link…or access the Rolling Stone Interview, on the teevee last night I heard her quoted as saying some thing like…..if there is evidence of crimes found, we will prosecute. If I recall correctly she has made some statement before that she needed to see evidence.

Hey Nancy, you might want to talk to that guy Conyers, who has been collecting evidence for eight years and has reams of it. If someone can find a quote of her saying that, it could be the basis for a nice little e-mail campaign….Send Nancy The Evidence. Anybody got a Rolling Stone subscription?

Beware Nancy! As more and more …evidence….emerges in the Great Unravelling, such as this article by yet another Bush torture victim, the de facto coverup you have been running for the last couple of years will become untenable. Despite your weak efforts to get out front of the wave by pushing a Banana Republic Truth Commission, you might find YOURSELF in the spotlight for your inaction, your previous (unacted upon) knowledge of the Bushco crimes. I believe that is called being an accessory after the fact.  

Top ranked Democratic lawmakers knew what was happening….and didn’t stop it. I guess they think a Truth Commission, rather than an actual criminal investigation, will be kinder to them.

Congress members urge us to lobby them on Moratorium day

This is not exactly a man-bites-dog story, but at least three members of Congress have expressed their support for a campaign to contact members of Congress and urge them to end the occupation of Iraq.

And a fourth has joined protesters at their regular vigil.

Representatives Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, and George Miller — all California Democrats — have written the Raise Hell for Molly Ivins campaign to encourage it to continue raising hell.  Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, joined a vigil in Wyandotte, MI. (He’s at left in photo)

The Ivins campaign has been urging people to use the Third Friday of every month — Iraq Moratorium day — to contact Congresspeople in their home offices and ask them to get US troops out of Iraq. Friday, Feb. 20, is Iraq Moratorium #18.

“Please keep fighting,” wrote Lee, a longtime opponent of the Iraq war.

Late last fall, Woolsey, Lee and Maxine Waters organized 92 members of Congress to sign a letter putting then-President Bush on notice that “we will only authorize funding for Iraq that is used for the safe and orderly redeployment of our troops and military contractors,” Woolsey said.  “We will have many serious issues to deal with in the coming months under a new President, but I will not forget that ending this occupation must be a priority for this Congress and for this nation,” her letter said.

Black History Month at the White House – With Kids!

Please excuse me while I get a little sentimental and mushy today. I know there are important stories to talk about – there are every day. But I just read about one that moved me on several levels.

As you know, February is Black History Month. We’ll leave the discussion about why we need a special month to learn about Black History (could it be that otherwise we don’t hear about it?) for another day. Because yesterday Michelle Obama found a wonderful way to celebrate it at the White House.

The Occupation Will Not Be…Erm, Scratch That

Students–students I know personally!–are occupying Kimmel Hall at New York University. This is a sentimental moment for an old codger. The first building I ever occupied was an NYU library, forty years ago last fall.

But don’t worry, I’m here to neither to wax nostalgic nor to offer advice from the vantage point of my advanced years (“Barricade? You call that a barricade?. Why, a cub scout pack could…”). I wanna give a shout out to the folks from Take Back NYU and their allies from other area campuses for their gutsy action.

Their demands can be found on their website, along with some useful info for the skeptical and the self-righteous: they’ve been trying to negotiate with the administration for several years; the financial transparency they are demanding might have saved NYU from dropping $50 million on Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, their calls for the university to serve the community and promote social justice show that this is not mere self-serving.  

In particular, by making demands explicitly in support of the Palestinian people, which will draw no small amount of flak from Zionists at NYU and elsewhere, they are taking an important step in breaking the hold of the Israel lobby on the cultural and political life of this country. It keeps the heat on, as Hampshire College takes furious fire for its recent decision to divest itself of stock in corporations with major ties to the Israeli military.

The easiest way to support the occupation if you are in NYC is to find when solidarity demos are scheduled and attend! If you can, watch the website for calls to mobilize if a bust seems imminent. I hope today to get hold of some other NYUers from my era (especially ones who didn’t get turfed out and actually graduated) to see if we can crank up some alumni support.

h/t for the title to Isaac Silver

Docudharma Times Thursday February 19

Bond Kit Bond

Boasting About The Stimulus

Which He Voted Against

While Touting Missouri


Thursday’s Headlines:

Border drug war is too close for comfort

Corruption and incompetence cripple reconstruction effort, say aid workers

Charm offensive: Why India’s snake men (and their serpents) are taking to the streets

Israel demands release of captured soldier in return for Gaza deal

Europe opens covert talks with ‘blacklisted’ Hamas

Russia and Ukraine at odds after ambassador’s ‘unfriendly’ remark

Britain has most expensive train fares in Europe

Zimbabwe state employees to be paid in US dollars

Kenyan school offers Somali refugees a modern – and moderate – education

Colombia militia leader confesses to milking public treasuries

A Swiss Bank Is Set to Open Its Secret Files


Published: February 18, 2009

In the hush-hush world of Swiss banking, the unthinkable is happening: secrets are spilling into the open.

UBS, the largest bank in Switzerland, agreed on Wednesday to divulge the names of well-heeled Americans whom the authorities suspect of using offshore accounts at the bank to evade taxes. The bank admitted conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and agreed to pay $780 million to settle a sweeping federal investigation into its activities.

It is unclear how many of its clients’ names UBS will divulge. Federal prosecutors have been examining about 19,000 accounts at the bank, but UBS ultimately may disclose the identities of only a few hundred customers.

Pakistani Accord Appears Stalled

Government, Extremists Make No Move To Formalize Their Pact on Islamic Law

By Pamela Constable, Karen DeYoung and Haq Nawaz Khan

Washington Post Foreign Service

Thursday, February 19, 2009; Page A09

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 18 — A controversial, closely watched peace agreement designed to end Taliban violence in the scenic Swat Valley hung in limbo Wednesday amid criticism in Pakistan and rising concern in Washington.

Neither the Pakistani government nor the Islamist extremists were willing to formalize the accord, announced by Pakistani officials Monday. The proposed pact marks an unprecedented and risky attempt to disarm about 2,000 Taliban fighters, who have invaded and terrorized a once-bucolic area of 1.5 million people in northwestern Pakistan, by offering to install a strict system of Islamic law in the surrounding district.



Obama Proposes Package To Stave Off Foreclosures

Multibillion-Dollar Plan Aims to Help Modify Mortgages

By Michael D. Fletcher and Renae Merle

Washington Post Staff Writers

Thursday, February 19, 2009; Page A01

MESA, Ariz., Feb. 18 — President Obama unveiled a foreclosure-prevention package Wednesday that would pour more than $75 billion into arresting one of the root causes of the nation’s economic spiral by helping as many as 9 million homeowners obtain more affordable mortgage terms.The package, part of the Obama administration’s multibillion-dollar effort to jolt the nation out of its deepening recession, goes beyond what some analysts had expected and was welcomed by many of the nation’s top lending institutions. But it also drew criticism from some housing experts and consumer advocates, who argued that it does not go far enough in addressing some critical aspects of the foreclosure crisis. Many key details of the plan will not be released until early next month.

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


Walls between Us

Is there a time

when people will listen

a place

where they will come

intent on learning

how to shed

their personal baggage

that may stand

in the way

of our rights?

How many years

must pass?

How many miles

must be traveled?

When will you

be willing?

The walls

between us

will not fall

of their own accord

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–December 12, 2008

The Economic Impact of Moose

A Stars Hollow Gazette

So you remember Dana Milbank, Village Idiot?

Ben Bernanke, Fed Chairman and Newly Minted Radical

By Dana Milbank

Thursday, February 19, 2009; Page A03

“Since Ben Bernanke became chairman of the Federal Reserve two years ago,” USA Today’s Donna Leinwand told the crowd at the National Press Club, “the S&P index has declined 35 percent, unemployment rose to 7.6 percent, the highest rate since 1992, and the economy has sunk into a deep recession.”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

How droll.

History will no doubt judge Bernanke as the man left holding the bag when maestro Alan Greenspan left the Fed. But the economic collapse seems to have had a salutary effect on Bernanke: The academic known for his bland answers and brown socks has been liberated in both word and deed. This student of the Great Depression has taken extreme and unprecedented actions to avert a modern-day sequel, and he’s taken the Fed chairman’s lexicon well beyond basis points and LIBOR and M1 and M2.

Ouch.  That’s gonna leave a mark.

But Dana goes on to mumble about nationalization

President Obama over the weekend said a “good argument” could be made for Sweden’s temporary nationalization of banks. And no less a free-market authority than Greenspan, in an interview with the Financial Times this week, said “it may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks,” calling this the “least bad solution” to the financial crisis.

When Bernanke was asked at lunch about his predecessor’s sentiments, he voiced no opposition to the idea. While discouraging government ownership of banks “for a protracted period,” he offered no such objection to short-term nationalization. “Whatever actions may need to be taken, at one point or another, I think there’s a very strong commitment, on the part of the administration, to try to return banks or keep banks private or return them to private hands as quickly as possible,” he said.

Well isn’t that interesting.

Late Night Karaoke

Nikai Thursday

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