Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why we must prosecute

It's simple. Do we want to be much worse hypocrites than we already are?

Why We Must Prosecute
Torture Is a Breach Of International Law
By Mark J. McKeon
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Sept. 11, 2001, when the twin towers were hit, I was sitting in a meeting in The Hague discussing what should be included in an indictment against Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia. I was an American lawyer serving as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and there was no doubt that Milosevic should be indicted for his responsibility for the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners. As the head of state at the time those crimes were committed, Milosevic bore ultimate responsibility for what happened under his watch.

While at The Hague, I felt myself standing in a long line of American prosecutors working for a world where international standards restricted what one nation could do to another during war, stretching back to at least Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg trials. Those standards protected our own soldiers and citizens. They were also moral and right. So I didn't understand why, a few months after the attacks in 2001, the Bush administration withdrew its consent to joining the International Criminal Court. Wasn't accountability for war crimes one of the things America stood for? Although staying with the court did mean that the United States would be subject to being charged in that court, how likely was that to happen? Surely we would never do these things. And, in any event, the court could only assume jurisdiction over a person whose own government refused to prosecute him; surely, that would never happen in the United States.

And yet, seven years later, here we are debating whether we should hold senior Bush administration officials accountable for things they have done in the "war on terror."

In 2001 and the following few years, we at the international tribunal built a strong court case against Milosevic. We presented evidence that he had effective control over soldiers and paramilitaries who tortured prisoners, and did worse. We brought into court reports of atrocities that had been delivered to Milosevic by international organizations to show his knowledge of what was happening under his command. And we watched as other heads of state were indicted for similar crimes, including Charles Taylor in Liberia and, of course, Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

At the same time, I watched with horror the changes that were happening back home. The events are now well known: Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo; secret "renditions" of prisoners to countries where interrogators were not afraid to get rough; secret CIA prisons where there appeared to be no rules. I tried to answer, as best I could, the questions from my international colleagues at The Hague about what was happening in and to my country. But as each revelation topped the last, I soon found myself without words.

I hope that the United States has turned the page on those times and is returning to the values that sustained our country for so many years. But we cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves.

To say that we should hold ourselves to the same standards of justice that we applied to Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein is not to say that the level of our leaders' crimes approached theirs. Thankfully, there is no evidence of that. And yet, torture and cruel treatment are as much violations of international humanitarian law as are murder and genocide. They demand a judicial response. We cannot expect the rest of humanity to live in a world that we ourselves are not willing to inhabit.

The writer was a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 2001 to 2004 and a senior prosecutor from 2004 to 2006.

The original is here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Frank Rich - Now We Know

Frank Rich lays it all out. I highlighted a couple of passages below in red. We are sorely in need of some justice. Question is: will we get it?

The Bush White House's Appalling and Evil Legacy: Now We Know the Whole Story

By Frank Rich, The New York Times.


Did we torture to extract bogus "intelligence" from detainees to make the case for Iraq?

We don't like our evil to be banal. Ten years after Columbine, it only now may be sinking in that the psychopathic killers were not jock-hating dorks from a "Trench Coat Mafia," or, as ABC News maintained at the time, "part of a dark, underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic movement." In the new best seller "Columbine," the journalist Dave Cullen reaffirms that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were instead ordinary American teenagers who worked at the local pizza joint, loved their parents and were popular among their classmates.

On Tuesday, it will be five years since Americans first confronted the photographs from Abu Ghraib on "60 Minutes II." Here, too, we want to cling to myths that quarantine the evil. If our country committed torture, surely it did so to prevent Armageddon, in a patriotic ticking-time-bomb scenario out of "24." If anyone deserves blame, it was only those identified by President Bush as "a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values": promiscuous, sinister-looking lowlifes like Lynddie England, Charles Graner and the other grunts who were held accountable while the top command got a pass.

We've learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years. But as Mark Danner recently wrote in The New York Review of Books, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: "By no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it." When the Obama administration said it declassified four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.

Yet we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government's highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to "24"; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.

The newly released Justice Department memos, like those before them, were not written by barely schooled misfits like England and Graner. John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee graduated from the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan and Brigham Young. They have passed through white-shoe law firms like Covington & Burling, and Sidley Austin.

Judge Bybee's rsum tells us that he has four children and is both a Cubmaster for the Boy Scouts and a youth baseball and basketball coach. He currently occupies a tenured seat on the United States Court of Appeals. As an assistant attorney general, he was the author of the Aug. 1, 2002, memo endorsing in lengthy, prurient detail interrogation "techniques" like "facial slap (insult slap)" and "insects placed in a confinement box."

He proposed using 10 such techniques "in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique." Waterboarding, the near-drowning favored by Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition, was prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II. But Bybee concluded that it "does not, in our view, inflict 'severe pain or suffering.' "

Still, it's not Bybee's perverted lawyering and pornographic amorality that make his memo worthy of special attention. It merits a closer look because it actually does add something new -- and, even after all we've heard, something shocking -- to the five-year-old torture narrative. When placed in full context, it's the kind of smoking gun that might free us from the myths and denial that prevent us from reckoning with this ugly chapter in our history.

Bybee's memo was aimed at one particular detainee, Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured some four months earlier, in late March 2002. Zubaydah is portrayed in the memo (as he was publicly by Bush after his capture) as one of the top men in Al Qaeda. But by August this had been proven false. As Ron Suskind reported in his book "The One Percent Doctrine," Zubaydah was identified soon after his capture as a logistics guy, who, in the words of the F.B.I.'s top-ranking Qaeda analyst at the time, Dan Coleman, served as the terrorist group's flight booker and "greeter," like "Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar's Palace." Zubaydah "knew very little about real operations, or strategy." He showed clinical symptoms of schizophrenia.

By the time Bybee wrote his memo, Zubaydah had been questioned by the F.B.I. and C.I.A. for months and had given what limited information he had. His most valuable contribution was to finger Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the 9/11 mastermind. But, as Jane Mayer wrote in her book "The Dark Side," even that contribution may have been old news: according to the 9/11 commission, the C.I.A. had already learned about Mohammed during the summer of 2001. In any event, as one of Zubaydah's own F.B.I. questioners, Ali Soufan, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article last Thursday, traditional interrogation methods had worked. Yet Bybee's memo purported that an "increased pressure phase" was required to force Zubaydah to talk.

As soon as Bybee gave the green light, torture followed: Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, according to another of the newly released memos. Unsurprisingly, it appears that no significant intelligence was gained by torturing this mentally ill Qaeda functionary. So why the overkill? Bybee's memo invoked a ticking time bomb: "There is currently a level of 'chatter' equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks."

We don't know if there was such unusual "chatter" then, but it's unlikely Zubaydah could have added information if there were. Perhaps some new facts may yet emerge if Dick Cheney succeeds in his unexpected and welcome crusade to declassify documents that he says will exonerate administration interrogation policies. Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantanamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: "A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful." As higher-ups got more "frustrated" at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, "there was more and more pressure to resort to measures" that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration's ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee's memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) "Downing Street memo," in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." A month after Bybee's memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on "Meet the Press," hyping both Saddam's W.M.D.s and the "number of contacts over the years" between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus "intelligence" from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.

Last week Bush-Cheney defenders, true to form, dismissed the Senate Armed Services Committee report as "partisan." But as the committee chairman, Carl Levin, told me, the report received unanimous support from its members -- John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman included.

Levin also emphasized the report's accounts of military lawyers who dissented from White House doctrine -- only to be disregarded. The Bush administration was "driven," Levin said. By what? "They'd say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq."

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to "protect" us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from "another 9/11," torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House's illegality.

Levin suggests -- and I agree -- that as additional fact-finding plays out, it's time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, "to review the mass of material" we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won't vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don't need another commission. We don't need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation's commitment to the rule of law.

This "feels" like the truth. For once. Bastards! The original is here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back from vacation

Yes, indeed, back safely from a week of driving across Texas and visiting with friends and family. Not what we have typically thought of when we think of the term "vacation," but, hey, these days are strange ones.

Spent a few days in Killeen visiting an old friend of my wife. Oddly enough, the second day we were there was the 30th anniversary of the night that my wife and I met, AND on that night, my wife was with this very same friend. The two of them were out having a drink at a bar, and in walks yours truly. The rest is, as they say, herstory.

During this leg of the trip, we went to visit The Vineyard at Florence, which is noted here, but here's another pic.



My wife and her friend love to go to thrift shops, so we made plenty of time for that. While they were out getting all excited about 50 cent clothes (hey, we scored big on this trip), I was most-calmly sitting in the backyard, reading a book and being kept company by the constant cooing of mourning doves and other birds.


Her backyard does remind one of Sanford and Son.


Good coffee, a good book, peace and quiet, now THIS is more like vacation.


All things must end, and we eventually drove west and south into Marble Falls to visit an old college chum of mine. He's now one of the golf pros at Horseshoe Bay, which is just a gorgeous place on the south side of Lake LBJ.


The hill country of Central Texas is always a nice change of pace from Houston's pancakeland. My favorite golf pro took us on a tour of part of the three golf courses at Horseshoe Bay in golf carts, which, incidentally, would do very well in urban settings when your typical ride would be under five miles. Oops, wrong post.

We even took some time to play some miniature golf. Not exactly Putt-Putt, but an actual golf course layout, without the windmills and marauding pirates, but in miniature. You only putt. No irons, no woods, just putters. It was a hoot.

Here are a coupla pics from the "Whitewater" course.



Do I have to say that my favorite golf pro beat the two of us handily?


We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast, the Wallace Guest House, in downtown Marble Falls. Very nice place. Damn comfortable bed
.


When I was making the reservation, they told me that, when I arrived, the key would be in the door. Say what? The key to the room will be in the door. Ok. Oh, yeah, Marble Falls is a small town. We don't really do things like that in Houston anymore.


Sure enough, the key was in the door when we arrived. And when we left, we left the key inside the room. We never even saw the proprietors. A little odd. And breakfast was a coupon good for two at the Blue Bonnet Cafe, a couple of blocks away. Hey, no problem, it was awesome. Haven't had bacon like that in a restaurant in years.

They had a few odd things on the walls, including some odd grammar. Is it me? Or them?


But the clock keeps ticking, and eventually we had to get to Austin.

Hey, a word of warning. If you have even a little tendency towards carsickness or vertigo, do not, I repeat, do NOT EVER take FM 1431 from Marble Falls east into Austin, Texas. My favorite golf pro told me it was the "scenic" route. Oh Lord, I have never been on such a roller coaster in my life. Up, down, up, down, right bank up, left bank down, tilt, roll, hang on! The wife had to close her eyes for most of the trip. I was nauseous and I have an iron stomach.


In Austin we had dinner with a guy and his wife that I had not seen since 1969. The guy, that is. He married her in 1979. We used to live back-to-back growing up in East Texas, and he was one of, if not my best friend. Oh, the whiffleball games we played. For some reason, I totally lost track of him after we moved. Just never kept in touch. I wish I hadn't done that, but it's a little late now. It was great catching up, but we only really had the time of one dinner, so I hope we can get together again and spend more time next time.

Out of all of the things that we regret in our lives, and everybody probably has a few, I regret losing touch with everyone I grew up with in East Texas. There's simply no good reason for it.


Spent the night in Austin at a Marriott. Hey, nicely done on the breakfast Marriott, with free wi-fi too, as it should be. Any hotel that still wants to charge you for internet service, fuck 'em! You hear that sis in Minnesota?


After Austin, it was a short drive down south to San Marcos to visit our two nephews, who are attending school there at Texas State University at San Marcos, nee Southwest Texas State University when I went there in the 1970's. It's twice the size now as it was then.


We were going to hit the outlet malls in San Marcos before getting back home, but we suddenly decided to skip that and hightail it back to Houston. This way, we'd get two full days to recuperate, unpack and unwind before getting back to work. And fortunately, we still have good jobs to get back to. Even better, our new irrigation system for the garden worked great while we were gone! But that's another post.

Here's hoping that America pulls its head out of its ass real soon, prosecutes the Bush Gang, restores the economy, revives peace, solves the energy crisis and builds sex hotels in space. Can't help it! I'm feeling optimistic (today).

Rush and hate speech

It's always refreshing to hear someone speak truth. It's a rarity. There's something really weird about the truth. It can be really powerful. Not that it will be, in this case, but it's nice to hear someone besides the "usual suspects" take Rush Limbaugh to task for his awful talk show bile.

Still, it's rather distressing, and it says nothing good about America, to know that Rush makes $80 million a year spewing filth and is the "most popular" talk radio voice out there. $80 million! For that garbage! What a country!


Freed Pirate Hostage Accuses Limbaugh of 'Hate Speech'

Shane Murphy Returns to Seekonk Home

Shane Murphy, the second-in-command aboard the American merchant ship seized by pirates, lashed out at Rush Limbaugh for the talk show host's racial characterization in discussing the rescue of the ship's captain by the Navy.


Murphy, who returned to his Seekonk, Mass., home Friday, called Limbaugh a purveyor of "hate speech."


In commenting on the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips by the Navy Seals who shot and killed the three Somali pirates who were holding him captive, Limbaugh generated controversy when he called the pirates "black teenagers."

"There you have it, three teenagers shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama," said Limbaugh according to a transcript of an April 14 broadcast on his Web site.

"Just imagine the hue and cry had a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas," Limbaugh said.

Murphy said Limbaugh's remarks were unacceptable.

"It feels great to be home," Murphy said. "With the exception of Rush Limbaugh who is trying to make this into a race issue. It's disgusting."

"The president did the right thing. It's a war. It's about good versus evil. And what you (Limbaugh) said is evil, that is hate speech. I won't tolerate it," Murphy said.
SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images


Murphy said he and his family have had a difficult time since his release and return to the United States. The intense public attention on the rescue of the crew of the Maersk Alabama has made adjustment to a normal family life difficult, he said.

"We have not been left alone. We have not been allowed to go out and even do routine things," Murphy said.

Murphy, who took command of the ship after Phillips was taken hostage, said he and his family are trying to get through it all.

Original is here. Or was, at least.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bill Maher on the GOP

We're back, safe and sound, from vacation. Had a great time re-connecting with old friends and spending time on just being.

Working on a travelogue of sorts, but in the meantime, here's a great op-ed from Bill Maher. He rags a bit on all those pissed-off conservatives. Pissed-off at what we're all not quite sure (they're not either), but it's no wonder they're all worked up after losing the Presidential election by a wide margin and with FOX NEWS constantly trying to whip up everyone into a frenzy. It works. Doesn't take much stirring with these people.

T
he government was right to issue a recent warning about right-wing groups possibly taking up arms and doing stupid shit. All you have to do is listen to Rush or watch FOX for an hour or so (or less), and you'll begin to understand.

The GOP: Divorced from reality

The Republican base is behaving like a guy who just got dumped by his wife.
By Bill Maher
April 24, 2009
If conservatives don't want to be seen as bitter people who cling to their guns and religion and anti-immigrant sentiments, they should stop being bitter and clinging to their guns, religion and anti-immigrant sentiments.

It's been a week now, and I still don't know what those "tea bag" protests were about. I saw signs protesting abortion, illegal immigrants, the bank bailout and that gay guy who's going to win "American Idol." But it wasn't tax day that made them crazy; it was election day. Because that's when Republicans became what they fear most: a minority.

The conservative base is absolutely apoplectic because, because ... well, nobody knows. They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore. Even though they're not quite sure what "it" is. But they know they're fed up with "it," and that "it" has got to stop.

Here are the big issues for normal people: the war, the economy, the environment, mending fences with our enemies and allies, and the rule of law.

And here's the list of Republican obsessions since President Obama took office: that his birth certificate is supposedly fake, he uses a teleprompter too much, he bowed to a Saudi guy, Europeans like him, he gives inappropriate gifts, his wife shamelessly flaunts her upper arms, and he shook hands with Hugo Chavez and slipped him the nuclear launch codes.

Do these sound like the concerns of a healthy, vibrant political party?

It's sad what's happened to the Republicans. They used to be the party of the big tent; now they're the party of the sideshow attraction, a socially awkward group of mostly white people who speak a language only they understand. Like Trekkies, but paranoid.

The GOP base is convinced that Obama is going to raise their taxes, which he just lowered. But, you say, "Bill, that's just the fringe of the Republican Party." No, it's not. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is not afraid to say publicly that thinking out loud about Texas seceding from the Union is appropriate considering that ... Obama wants to raise taxes 3% on 5% of the people? I'm not sure exactly what Perry's independent nation would look like, but I'm pretty sure it would be free of taxes and Planned Parenthood. And I would have to totally rethink my position on a border fence.


I know. It's not about what Obama's done. It's what he's planning. But you can't be sick and tired of something someone might do.


Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota recently said she fears that Obama will build "reeducation" camps to indoctrinate young people. But Obama hasn't made any moves toward taking anyone's guns, and with money as tight as it is, the last thing the president wants to do is run a camp where he has to shelter and feed a bunch of fat, angry white people.


Look, I get it, "real America." After an eight-year run of controlling the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, this latest election has you feeling like a rejected husband. You've come home to find your things out on the front lawn -- or at least more things than you usually keep out on the front lawn. You're not ready to let go, but the country you love is moving on. And now you want to call it a whore and key its car.


That's what you are, the bitter divorced guy whose country has left him -- obsessing over it, haranguing it, blubbering one minute about how much you love it and vowing the next that if you cannot have it, nobody will.


But it's been almost 100 days, and your country is not coming back to you. She's found somebody new. And it's a black guy.


The healthy thing to do is to just get past it and learn to cherish the memories. You'll always have New Orleans and Abu Ghraib.


And if today's conservatives are insulted by this, because they feel they're better than the people who have the microphone in their party, then I say to them what I would say to moderate Muslims: Denounce your radicals. To paraphrase George W. Bush, either you're with them or you're embarrassed by them.


The thing that you people out of power have to remember is that the people in power are not secretly plotting against you. They don't need to. They already beat you in public.


Bill Maher is the host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yes Pecan!

Ah, cheap humor. Really expensive cheap humor...

Ben & Jerry created "Yes Pecan!" ice cream flavor for Obama.

They then
asked people to fill in the blank for the following:

> > For George W. they created "_________".
> >
> > Here are some of their favorite responses:
> >
> > Grape Depression
> > Abu Grape
> > Cluster Fudge
> > Nut'n Accomplished
> > Iraqi Road
> > Chock 'n Awe
> > WireTapioca
> > Impeach Cobbler
> > Guantanmallow
> > imPeachmint
> > Good Riddance You Lousy Motherf**ker... Swirl
> > Heck of a Job, Brownie!
> > Neocon Politan
> > RockyRoad to Fascism
> > The Reese's-cession
> > Cookie D'oh!
> > The Housing Crunch
> > Nougalar Proliferation
> > Death by Chocolate... and Torture
> > Chocolate Chip On My Shoulder
> > You're Sh*tting In My Mouth And Calling It A Sundae
> > Credit Crunch
> > Mission Pecanplished
> > Country Pumpkin
> > Chunky Monkey in Chief
> > George Bush Doesn't Care About Dark Chocolate
> > WMDelicious
> > Chocolate Chimp
> > Bloody Sundae
> > Caramel Preemptive? Stripe

On vacation

Caution: Reality is being altered. I've been on vacation for awhile with the wife, traveling to visit some friends across Texas. We decided to save some money this time, considering the economy. Still, we put a few bucks into the Texas economy and took our time driving across Texas, which can take quite awhile. Some real nice spots in the Hill Country in Central Texas.

Yesterday we visited The Vineyard at Florence (Texas), just outside Georgetown, which is just north of Austin. The owners have sunk quite a chunk of change into this place.

It's a pretty high-end spot, with a full spa on-site. Their website is here.


Really pretty out there, but they are suffering from the economy right now, with their first grapes planted. We'll see about the grapes. I h
ave tasted a whole lot of Texas wines, but I have to say that I have tasted very few GOOD Texas wines.


Seriously, so far, to me, the only Texas vineyard that is producing consistently good wines is St. Genevieve. They are located outside of Fort Stockton, in far West Texas, up in the Davis Mountains, and you can find the wine all over Texas. I think they have nationwide distribution now.



The weather is gorgeous. Low humidity. Light breeze. A high of 78 today. Texas can sure have some nice weather. Time for a nap. It is, after all, vacation time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Olberman on Torture Memos

Somehow, someway, someone needs to be held accountable for the U.S. descent into torture and brutality. The old saw of "we were only following orders" is just bullshit.

No one has to obey an order that is illegal. Those people working in the prison at Gitmo and elsewhere ought to have at least a cursory knowledge of the Geneva Conventions. I'm sure, or at least I hope, that there had to be SOME people at Gitmo who refused to torture the prisoners.

Sure, what happened to us on 9/11 was horrible and heinous. But does that give us license to descend into barbarism? No, it doesn't. But with a barbarian thug like Bush at the helm, our descent becomes just a little more understandable. Not excuseable, however, just a little more understandable.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Richard Cohen: Bush Failures

I look forward to more retrospectives of the Bush "presidency." He and his gang screwed up so much crap that it was overload, it was impossible to keep up with all the pratfalls and disasters. Fortunately we (still) have somewhat of a press corps that can dig up information and put things in a sequence that us mere citizens struggle to match.

The depth and breadth of Bush's failures will fill volumes, and I have no doubt that he will soon become universally recognized as our worst President ever. Thanks to Pat for locating this one.

Failures to Communicate
By
Richard Cohen
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Former president George W. Bush and some of his White House aides are gathering in Dallas this week to plan the future George W. Bush Policy Institute. There, I guess, they will ponder grand themes and marble foyers, but I propose they begin by simply renaming the place. I suggest naming it the "George W. Bush Institute of Management Failure" and dedicating it to studying how this presidency went so wrong -- a task as big as Texas itself.

Bush's tenure was truly remarkable. He left office with the lowest presidential poll ratings in 60 years, two wars begun and not ended, and the deepest recession since the Great Depression. If it's true that we learn from our mistakes, Bush's eight years represent a bonanza of lessons.

What commends the Bush presidency to further study was its sheer managerial ineptitude. This is irony aplenty for a man not known for irony. Bush's one area of expertise, after all, supposedly was in management. Not only had he been a businessman, but he had graduated from Harvard Business School. Bush was the Decider. He was a delegator. He was precise and punctual -- early to the office, early out of the office and a clean desk at all times. Wow!

Conventional wisdom holds that the bungling of the Iraq war was a consequence of ideology run amok. Maybe. But it was also an example of awful management. Whether you supported the war or opposed it, you have to concede that it should have ended years ago and, along with the invasion of Grenada, be a fit dissertation subject for a desperate PhD candidate and not, as it remains, a festering debacle.

At the insistence of Donald Rumsfeld, the war was fought with too few troops, and then, when the country was occupied, too few troops were there to maintain law and order. Matters were made infinitely worse when L. Paul Bremer, Rumsfeld's designated viceroy, disbanded the Iraqi army, freeing a good many armed and unemployed young men to shoot the place up. Bremer also purged Baath Party members from the government, leaving precisely no one in senior positions who knew anything. This, the evidence suggests, was modeled on the Bush White House itself.

Had Bush, Rumsfeld and Bremer performed better, the war might have ended a lot sooner. It finally took the surge to get things under control -- and that may yet turn out to be too optimistic a statement. Still, the surge would not have been necessary had the war been handled competently from the beginning.

The war in Afghanistan waged against the Taliban, which had provided Osama bin Laden with sanctuary, was similarly mishandled. Once again, too few troops were sent to do too big a job. Good managers know how to make choices. Bush not only chose wrongly when he gave Iraq precedence over Afghanistan, but he chose not to choose at all when he thought both wars could be fought on the cheap -- no draft, no tax hike, no sacrifice from the general public.

The Bush Institute of Management Failure should also look into how the administration was so late in noticing that the country was slipping into a profound recession. This should be coupled with a look-see at how Bush's various appointees failed to regulate the banking, insurance, housing and mortgage industries. (Have I mentioned Hurricane Katrina and "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job?" No? Just as well.)

Bush and his aides ought to devote time to what went wrong at the Justice Department. It was politicized and mismanaged to the point where even the Senate noticed. U.S. attorneys apparently had to pass political muster, the Constitution was interpreted along monarchical lines, and somehow the trial of Ted Stevens was so botched that his conviction was thrown out. Alberto Gonzales, a Bush crony, was supervised from the White House by Harriet Miers, an old Bush friend whose qualification for the job was that she was an old Bush friend.

If Bush and his aides do get around to politics, it is my fondest wish that they ask the always voluble Karl Rove -- that latter-day Mark Hanna who was going to create a Republican era to last 30 or 40 years -- what happened. Rove has reduced the Republican Party to himself, Rush Limbaugh and a scattering of red ties in Congress that only he can name. He has so very much to teach us.

Bush's presidency -- rich in lessons -- should keep everyone occupied deep into the night. If it's not too late -- and especially for those already critical of Barack Obama -- let me suggest dessert.

How's humble pie?

cohenr@washpost.com

The original is here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mark Morford: Give it up

Boy, am I ever glad that the wife and I both gave up smoking back on 11/11/00. We have saved a huge amount of money over that time. And, as Mark confirms in the column below, it really wasn't all that hard.

The way I see it, if we could give up smoking during one of the most frustrating and stressful times in our nations history (during the Bush v. Gore crap, and we all see how poorly things turned out), then anyone can quit. Anytime.



Give It Up, Smoker
Death, cancer, rotted teeth, emphysema won't do it, but 62 cents will?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, April 8, 2009



There is a wail, a cry, a powerful lament rising across the land. Can you hear it? Can you make it out?


It might be a little difficult to recognize. It's that raspy, croaking noise, sort of like an emphysemic chainsaw making out with a bucket of powdered glue. Hear it now?

Yes, it's the gravelly howl of the nation's livid smokers, AKA "the last persecuted group in America" (well, except for the obese. And Catholics, Mormons, dwarves, Hummer owners, gun lovers, vegans, atheists, lawyers, Wall Street execs, lesbians, Mexicans, working moms, single moms, obese single Mexican lesbian moms and a few dozen others, but never mind that now) whose God-given civil rights are now being trampled by our increasingly oppressive, fascist government.

The worst part about this shocking assault? No one seems to even notice, or care. Oh the humanity.

Maybe you haven't heard? How smoking just became quite a bit more expensive? It's true. Not only did the federal government nearly triple the tax on a pack of regular smokes (and more than 10x for those hideous mini-cigar things), but then Big Tobacco itself, in anticipation of the loss in profits from the new tax, went ahead and preemptively jacked up prices as well.

Upshot: a single pack of cigarettes now costs just slightly more than, say, a vente caramel mocha from Starbucks, or a triple cheeseburger and a small fries from Mickey D's, or about half of "Fast & Furious." Imagine.

For many hardcore smokers, the new tax is nothing short of a total fascist apocalypse nightmare, with many convinced the U.S. government is clearly trying to snuff out one of our last constitutional freedoms to kill ourselves as grossly and obviously as we damn well please. Those bastards.

It all spins into an amusing news story about how, immediately after the new tax went into effect, the various stop-smoking 'quitlines' across America -- did you know such things existed? I sure didn't -- lit up like so many flaming Christmas trees, as thousands of fed-up smokers decided, "Well, that's it. Enough's enough. Time to quit smoking."

You read that right. Lung cancer, heart disease, rotted gums, emphysema, reeking clothes, sallow skin, impotence, shriveled lung capacity and the general skull-crushing obviousness of it all, combined with all manner of heart-wrenching ad campaigns for the past 20 years apparently couldn't do what a measly 62-cent tax increase could. WTF indeed.

It is, you could say, a simple regurgitation of the age-old American truism: there is no more powerful stimulant/deterrent in our society than the pocketbook. Not sex, not God, not a plea from your weeping child, not death itself, nothing comes close to changing human behavior faster and more effectively than forcing us to pay a lot for something for which we used to pay very little. (Notable exceptions: Coffee, jeans, water. OK, follow-up truism: We are nothing if not wildly inconsistent).

As for the "persecuted group" angle, that's almost too childish to entertain, and not merely because every group in America, at one point or another, likes to think their personal gaggle of beliefs and behaviors is the "real" persecuted one. No, the truly amusing thing is how some smokers seem to believe there is something akin to unrestricted freedom in American life. Isn't that cute?

Really, do we not recognize how everything in modern existence, from the clothes you wear to the language you speak to the food you eat to the computer you use to the color you paint you walls is, at some level, regulated and controlled by the government?

And therefore, to attain some silly libertarian vision of "true" freedom means you must haul your Marlboro-loving butt far off the grid and eat wild berries and never bathe or read or speak English again, as you die at 27 from swallowing exactly the wrong weird mushroom growing outside your homemade yurt?

Yes, I know, that's a wild exaggeration. But so is bitching about no longer being allowed to stink up a restaurant.

Also lost amid the outcry: how the same legislation that cranked up the tobacco tax also gives long-overdue powers back to the FDA to regulate Big Tobacco -- powers, by the way, that Bush twice vetoed, in the name of corporate cronyism and general immoral idiocy.

Is that the real smokers' lament? "Damn you, Obama administration, working to regulate the chemicals in my poisons and trying to make me marginally safer! Can't I just get lung cancer and emphysema and be a massive burden on my friends, family and the health care industry in peace, without government meddling?" Wait, that can't be right.

Oh, and one more thing. All those billions in new tax revenue? They go to fund the expansion of the SCHIP, also known as basic health care for millions of uninsured children.

And there you have it, your choice in a nutshell: Keep on smoking, and improve a kids' life. Or quit smoking, and improve your own. Sounds like a pretty fair deal either way.

But on to the larger, more pertinent question: Will it work? Will millions, or even thousands, of smokers actually quit as a result of the tax increase? Or does such legislation do nothing to address the deeper issues and problems at play, such as what it means to have true health, to respect and honor and take even basic care of your own body, and to begin to earn a basic understanding of root causes, the true sources of our addictions and habits? I already know my answer.

By the way, I wrote a column a few years back about the insidious myth of quitting smoking, about how Big Tobacco is in reprehensible, borderline Satanic collusion with Big Pharma and the health insurance biz in general to convince victim-happy Americans that quitting smoking is just insanely difficult and incredibly stressful and you're probably not strong enough to handle it and will probably fail a hundred times and maybe you shouldn't even try.

Here is the great, blasphemous secret: Quitting smoking is relatively easy. It is relatively painless. For most, quitting does not require inhuman amounts of willpower, drugs, patches, gum, therapy, straightjackets, begging, or a swell hospital video of surgeons ripping out one of your black and desiccated lungs.

The fact that we have been so aggressively convinced otherwise, that we've been taught for ages that we are pathetic and powerless in the face of these noxious products, that we are all weak, bewildered victims of our own impossibly complicated, insurmountable addictions, well, I hereby nominate that insidious BS as the real violation, the true attack on your intellectual and spiritual freedom. Really, where is the outrage?

Thoughts about this column? E-mail Mark.

Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate.com. To get on the e-mail list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing. To get on Mark's personal (i.e.; non-Chronicle) mailing list (appearances, books, readings, blogs, yoga and more), please click here and remove two more.

Mark's column also has an RSS feed and an archive page. He's also on Facebook and Twitter.



The original is here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Feeling optimistic?

Well, Chris Hedges will see to that! Click here at your own risk!

Pond Scum!!

My company is not affiliated with the guy in this article, but we're considering it, if we can get past the fact that he looks like a shyster.

"Second-generation" biofuels (biofuels not utilizing foodstocks) could be a large part of the answer to our energy needs. It's going to be tough to get past the farm lobby, which has a lot invested in ethanol from "first-generation" foodstocks, but it's something we're going to have to do.

Going green
Algae viewed seen promising input for alternative fuels

By BRETT CLANTON

Barry Cohen, director of the National Algae Association, says it’s time to get moving on turning algae into fuel. “My mantra is: What are we waiting for?”  He is taking the concept of going green to a whole new level.

As director of the National Algae Association, he is a leading advocate of curbing U.S. dependence on oil by harnessing the power of tiny, green waterborne plants known to most as pond scum.

Though it may sound far-fetched, the idea has gained momentum in recent years.

After decades of research, algae now is viewed as one of the most promising inputs for alternative fuels like biodiesel, as well as a potential way to capture carbon emissions from polluting factories.

“No one has really looked at algae as a business opportunity until recently,” said Cohen, who runs the association from a home office in The Woodlands.

Now, he finds that his group’s quarterly conferences include not just researchers and what he calls “algaepreneurs” but representatives from oil companies, airlines, the U.S. military and investment firms. The group’s next meeting will take place April 30-May 1 in Houston.

But the recession and low oil prices could be a setback to companies hoping to get into the algae business in coming years. Production costs also remain high, analysts said.

Yet Cohen argues that the case for investing in algae remains solid, given the inevitability that crude oil costs will rise again, the need for the U.S. to wean itself from foreign oil and the Obama administration’s desire to create new “green” jobs.
“My mantra is: What are we waiting for?” Cohen said.

Research on algae as a possible energy source is not new. The U.S. government studied it for nearly 20 years beginning in the late 1970s before cutting funding for the program.

But there has been renewed interest in recent years as oil prices climbed, algae production technology improved and concern widened about the sustainability of producing biofuels from corn, soybean and other food crops.

Indeed, proponents believe oil extracted from algae may be the ideal feedstock for many alternative fuels. Unlike crops that are seasonally harvested and require large swaths of arable land to grow, algae can double their numbers in a single day and prosper in a variety of climates.

Algae yield projections are estimated to range from 2,000-5,000 gallons per acre versus 61 gallons per acre for soybeans, the leading feedstock for biodiesel in the U.S. today, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Because it feeds on carbon dioxide, algae also could help clear the air of polluting emissions. That’s why some have proposed building algae factories next to coal-fired power plants and other industrial polluters.

Production still costly

“We have land being thrown at us, not for sale, not for lease, but for free,” Cohen said. “Land is a non-issue for this industry.”

Currently, however, algae oil production costs $20 a gallon, more than double the cost of other leading biofuel crops, said Divya Reddy, an energy analyst for the Eurasia Group in Washington. That’s why she estimates it could be up to 10 years before algae-based fuels are widely available.

Cohen, who also runs Biofuel Capital Partners, a biofuel financier, disagrees. He said he is already receiving business plans suggesting production costs as low as $1.50 a gallon.

In 2007, Chevron Corp. formed an alliance to explore algae fuels with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sapphire Energy, a San Diego-based firm backed partly by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and others are also moving forward with algae-based fuel projects that could lower costs.

Taking flight

In January, Houston-based Continental Airlines became the first air carrier to fly a U.S. commercial jet on a mix of conventional jet fuel and biofuels, some of which were derived from algae. Similar test flights have taken place in other countries.
In the U.S., there are some 20 small algae producers, and the number is growing, Cohen said.

Russell Industries, a Nevada holding company run from Houston, may join the group soon. This year, the firm plans to open an algae plant at a still-undecided Houston location, CEO Rick Berman said.

It will produce algae oil to be sold to biodiesel refineries and also market its biomass waste to cosmetic, pharmaceutical and bioplastics industries, he said.

Berman likes the idea of having the first such facility in Houston, but is also confident it will make money. “We’re not doing this because we have nothing better to do,” he said.
The original story is here.

A new P.U.M.A.

This past year, some Hillary Clinton supporters allegedly went by the acronym PUMA, for "Party Unity My Ass," after Obama began besting Hillary. It was just a tiny fraction of Hillary supporters, but of course the media made hay with it, trying to suggest that the Dems were in-fighting.

Forget that one. Now we have a new definition of P.U.M.A. It stands for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, and it's a freaky two-seater electric vehicle created by GM and Segway. I have to give them credit for keeping this one under wraps. This type of innovative thinking could help pull GM back from the brink of bankruptcy.

GM, Segway partner on two-wheel city vehicle
by Martin LaMonica

A Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility concept vehicle.(Credit: GM)

General Motors and Segway plan to take a two-wheel concept vehicle for a spin around New York City on Tuesday.

The prototype vehicle, called Project PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility), is designed to ease congestion and pollution problems in cities. It is based on the Segway Personal Transporter but holds two people, instead of one, and lets them sit, instead of stand.

A PUMA runs on lithium ion batteries, can reach 35 miles per hour, and can travel up to 35 miles between charges.

It includes some high-tech touches, including GM's wireless OnStar communications technology that lets a passenger locate other drivers in a city.

The two-wheeler is meant to address the mounting problems of urban car transportation, according to the two companies that plan to unveil the vehicle at an auto show in New York.
GM is touting other features as well.

"Imagine small, nimble electric vehicles that know where other moving objects are and avoid running into them. Now, connect those vehicles in an Internet-like web and you can greatly enhance the ability of people to move through cities, find places to park and connect to their social and business networks," said Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development, and strategic planning, in a statement.

(Credit: GM)
GM is looking to drum up excitement for its vehicles as it undergoes a massive restructuring in an effort to become financially viable and more competitive with other automakers.

The Segway Personal Transporter, a two-wheel vehicle that allows people to stand and move around at slow speeds, was released with great fanfare several years ago, but it remains a niche form of transportation.
The original story is here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Glad I don't live there

And here's another reason to be glad you live in a Western society....uh, provided that you do.

Egypt wife swap couple jailed

CAIRO - A CAIRO court has sentenced a man to seven years and his wife to three years for setting up a swingers' club, their lawyer told AFP on Sunday, in a case that has angered conservative Egyptian society.

Tolba Abdel Hafez, a 48-year-old civil servant, and his wife Salwa Higazi, a 37-year-old schoolteacher, were sentenced by the Agouza Criminal Court on Saturday, Ayman al-Saadi said.
Extra-marital sex is illegal in the mainly Muslim country where Islamic law is a principal source of legislation.

'They are innocent of this crime,' Mr Saadi said. 'The sentence is very harsh. Even people accused of apostasy have not received such harsh sentences.' He said the pair would appeal.

The court said the couple had confessed to having sexual relations with three other couples, but Mr Saadi said they confessed only to 'having a little fun on the Internet, not to having had sexual relations outside their marriage.' The case of the Cairo couple, who have children, is the first of its kind in Egypt and sent shockwaves through the strictly conservative country.

According to the court, the couple, arrested in October on prostitution charges, used the pseudonyms Magdy and Samira on a website and in emails to organise wife-swapping parties and orgies.

In sentencing the pair, the judge described the case as 'one of the worst crimes committed,' according to a transcript of the hearing.

'From a religious standpoint, it is one of the worst crimes possible,' Mr Saadi agreed. 'Who would offer his wife, the mother of his children, to another man unless he was insane? Even animals don't allow it.'

Rights groups have criticised the 1961 law that can be used to prosecute suspects because it defines certain sexual acts as prostitution even if no money changes hands.

No date has yet been set for the appeal. -- AFP

So....who are the insane people here? And, uh, what about childless couples? You watch. There is going to be an explosion of swinging in Egypt in the next several months. The original is here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Another 663K jobs lost

Geez. The cuts just keep on coming. Another 663,000 jobs were cut in March. Ouch.

My employer is finally joining the fray too. Yesterday they announced that close to 10% of current jobs would be cut, AND another 10% are projected for 2010 unless the economy improves. A couple of weeks ago my immediate boss told me that I didn't need to worry about it. What a relief. As for my wonderful wife, she also is secure in her position, so....whew....it looks like we will survive this downturn.

I wish I could say that about everyone. We have analyzed our income and spending and we are actually living within our means. We do not carry a load of debt, except for the mortage on the house, but we are not "under water" on it. In fact, we might just re-finance and shave about 150 basis points off of our current rate. It looks like we could cut about $300/month from our note, which would be quite awesome. I suppose we are in a better position than many because 1) we never had any children, and 2) we've always been a little frugal.

All I can say is good luck to everyone out there. At least now we have a President who seems to actually care about people and doing the right thing. He's too centrist for my taste, but that's better (probably) than being hard-left or (certainly) hard-right. I do wonder, however, what it would be like to have a REAL liberal in office. I'm not sure we ever have. The asses on the right have demonized the term "liberal" so effectively that people are still afraid to identify themselves as such.

Jobless rate bolts to 8.5 percent, 663K jobs lost
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON – The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 8.5 percent in March, the highest since late 1983, as a wide range of employers eliminated a net total of 663,000 jobs.

The Labor Department's report is fresh evidence of the toll the recession has inflicted on America's workers and companies. Most economists expect the job cuts will continue for much of this year. The latest tally of job losses, released Friday, was slightly higher than the 654,000 that economists expected. The rise in the unemployment rate matched expectations.

Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost a net total of 5.1 million jobs, with almost two-thirds of the losses occurring in the last five months.

The number of unemployed people climbed to 13.2 million in March. In addition, the number of people forced to work part time for "economic reasons" rose by 423,000 to 9 million. That's people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work.

If part-time and discouraged workers are factored in, the unemployment rate would have been 15.6 percent in March, the highest on records dating to 1994.

Looking forward, economists expect monthly job losses continuing for most — if not all of — this year. However, they are hoping that payroll reductions in the current quarter won't be as deep as the roughly 685,000 average monthly job losses in the January-March period.

In the best-case scenario, employment losses in the present quarter would be about half that pace, some economists said. That scenario partly assumes the economy won't be shrinking nearly as much in the present quarter.

The deterioration in the jobs market comes despite a few hopeful signs recently that the recession — now the longest since World War II — could be easing. As the economic downturn eats into their sales and profits, companies are laying off workers and resorting to other cost-saving measures. Those include holding down hours, and freezing or cutting pay, to survive the storm.

The average work week in March dropped to 33.2 hours, a new record low, according to the federal data. Job losses were widespread last month. Construction companies cut 126,000 jobs. Factories axed 161,000. Retailers got rid of nearly 50,000. Professional and business services eliminated 133,000. Leisure and hospitality reduced employment by 40,000. Even the government cut jobs — 5,000 of them.

Education and health care were the few industries showing any job gains. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession could end later this year, setting the stage for a recovery next year, if the government is successful in bolstering the banking system. Banks have been clobbered by the worst housing, credit and financial crises to hit the country since the 1930s.

Even if the recession ends this year, the economy will remain frail, analysts said. Companies will have little appetite to ramp up hiring until they feel the economy is truly out of the woods and any recovery has staying power.

Given that, many economists predict the unemployment rate will hit 10 percent at the end of this year. The Fed says unemployment will remain elevated into 2011. Economists say the job market may not get back to normal — meaning a 5 percent unemployment rate — until 2013.

"There's going to quite a long haul before you see the jobless rate head down," said Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services.

To brace the economy, the Fed has slashed a key bank lending rate to an all-time low and has embarked on a series of radical programs to inject billions of dollars into the financial system.
And the Obama administration had launched a multi-pronged strategy to turn the economy around. Its $787 billion stimulus package includes money that will flow to states for public works projects, help them defray budget cuts, extend unemployment benefits and boost food stamp benefits.

The administration also is counting on programs to prop up financial companies and reduce home foreclosures to help turn the economy around.

On the economic front, some glimmers of hope have emerged recently. Orders placed with U.S. factories actually rose in February, ending a six straight months of declines, the government reported Thursday. Earlier in the week, there was better-than-expected reports on construction spending and pending home sales. And last week a report showed that consumer spending — an engine of the economy — rose in February for the second month in a row — after a half-year of declines.

Still, skittish employers announced more job layoffs this week. 3M Co., the maker of Scotch tape, Post-It Notes and other products, said it's cutting another 1,200 jobs, or 1.5 percent of its work force, because of the global economic slump. Fewer than half the jobs will be in the U.S., but include hundreds in its home state of Minnesota. The 1,200 figure includes cuts made earlier in the first quarter.

Elsewhere, healthcare products distributor Cardinal Health Inc. said it would eliminate 1,300 positions, or about 3 percent of its work force, and semiconductor equipment maker KLA-Tencor Corp. said it will cut about 600 jobs, or 10 percent of its employees.

The original story is here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No Bush Truth Commission

Looks like the Bush Gang will get away with torture, murder, and the trashing of the U.S. Constitution. Did we really expect any different? I didn't. The rich and powerful get to walk. Again.

Leahy Bails on 'Truth Commission' Plan
by Charlotte Dennett

Editor’s Note: The U.S. government seems paralyzed at the prospect of holding ex-President George W. Bush and other senior officials accountable for war crimes, even as Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzon initiates an inquiry under international law regarding torture sanctioned by Bush’s lawyers.

In this guest essay, investigative journalist and former candidate for Vermont attorney general, Charlotte Dennett, describes a meeting with Sen. Patrick Leahy in which he acknowledges the failure of his plan for a “truth commission”:

Those of you following the George W. Bush prosecution trail will be interested to know that Patrick Leahy's "truth commission" is a no-go. I was in a meeting with Leahy and four other Vermonters on Monday when he broke the news to us.

We had asked for the meeting to learn why he supported a truth commission over the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Halfway through the allotted 30 minute meeting (with him taking up much of the time explaining why he was not generally opposed to prosecution, since he had been a DA for eight years and had the highest conviction rate in Vermont), he told us that his truth commission had failed to get the broad support it needed in Congress, and since he couldn't get one Republican to come behind the plan, "it's not going to happen."

It was a sobering exchange. The meeting had begun with our expressing serious concerns about ongoing dangers to our democracy, with the trend going to executive power while damaging our Constitution.

"We are a nation of laws," said Dan DeWalt, who had helped organize 36 Vermont towns to vote for impeachment of Bush on town meeting day. "If we have a system of justice, why not let it take its course? It seems to many Americans that the rich and powerful don't have the same system of justice, and they're getting away with torture, murder, fraud, and Ponzi schemes."

By the end of the meeting, we were beginning to wonder whether anything at all was going to done - by Congress, by Attorney General Eric Holder, by President Barack Obama - to hold the Bush team accountable for its crimes.

Leahy's own aversion to appointing a special prosecutor appeared to be more practical than philosophical. "We don't want another Abu Ghraib," he said. "You know, ‘Boy, did we get those privates and corporals.' So many up on high will never get touched. It's like the war on drugs - ‘let's get those black kids on cocaine.'"

So it's not that Leahy had a problem with prosecutions per se. "I just worry that the prosecutions will be done only on middle-level people," he said.

Well then, what would happen to the higher-ups? Leahy had said, on previous occasions, that the purpose of his truth commission was to grant immunity to those willing to testify - presumably middle-level people - and we could infer from that that they, in turn, would spill the beans on their superiors.

If any of the witnesses lied under oath or were less than thorough in their answers, Leahy had told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow a month ago, they could be prosecuted for perjury. But that still left the fate of high government officials uncertain.

Leahy had hinted to Maddow that if officials refused to honor subpoenas, they, too could be prosecuted. But in the real world, as Monday's news suggests, the people most responsible for the crimes will continue to get off free. We should at least be content, Leahy said, with his success in forcing former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's resignation in 2007.

After Leahy left the meeting, his aide, Chuck Ross, assured our group that there was no one more devoted to protecting the Constitution than Leahy.

"He has been persistent in the face of obfuscation," Ross said. "He got rid of Gonzales. I would challenge you to find someone who has done more to defend the Constitution." Then Ross let out a memorable one-liner: "He's all you've got."

What? Leahy's all we've got to protect the Constitution? And we have to accept Gonzales's resignation as the only punishment for years of gutting the rule of law? It took about five minutes for all this to sink in.

Then fellow Vermonter John Nirenberg spoke, I think, for all of us: "If he's the only guy, this is not a healthy situation."

It is, perhaps, no coincidence, that the same time Leahy downplayed the truth commission, congressional aides were quoted by reporter Jason Leopold of Consortiumnews.com that "the focus has shifted to the economy and that pressure for a special prosecutor to bring criminal charges over the Bush administration's past actions could become a distraction to that focus."

Leahy's aide Ross had said the same thing. Everyone was focusing on the economy.
So now, it seems, the wrecked economy - complements of the Bush administration -- is becoming the excuse for congressional inaction after eight years of unremitting malfeasance by the Bush administration.

This is serious, folks. Appointing a special prosecutor had been the top issue on President Obama's Web site when he took office. Either he's not listening any more, or his supporters are "looking forward, not backward," just as he prefers - and just as his right flank (the CIA, the neocons, and everyone else who has something to hide) desperately want.

It remains to be seen if Obama's huge base can get through to him on this issue, now that he occupies the White House. If they cannot, then the failure to hold even a truth commission, let alone prosecutions, signals a return to the same old way of doing things. Deterrence be damned.

Charlotte Dennett is a lawyer and investigative journalist. She recently ran for Attorney General in Vermont on a pledge to prosecute George W. Bush under state criminal statutes for murder (i.e .for sending troops to their deaths in Iraq under false pretenses). She also promised, if elected, to appoint legendary Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi as her special prosecutor. She lost the election but has continued to keep abreast of developments within the accountability movement.

Original is here.

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