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miércoles, abril 30, 2008

Strike On 5/1/08: Fifth Anniversay of "Mission Accomplished"

On May 1, 2003, exactly 5 years ago, President Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq:
Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card (ph), officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
More than 4,000 US troops have now died in Iraq, more than 97% after the President's speech. The number of injured US troops and injured and killed Iraqi men, women, and children follows the same relationship: the vast majority of the casualties occurred after the "major combat operations in Iraq [ ] ended."

Think Progress reports:
Today (4/30/08), reporter Helen Thomas asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino how the president would “commemorate” the date tomorrow. Perino said the White House had “certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner”:
PERINO: President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific, and said, Mission Accomplished For These Sailors Who Are On This Ship On Their Mission. And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.
Does the White House seriously think we're so stupid as to believe that Bush wasn't really talking about the end of hostilities in Iraq? that he was talking about something else? Think Progress points out:
Just a month after his speech on the U.S.S. Lincoln, he also spoke to troops in Qatar: “America sent you on a mission to remove a grave threat and to liberate an oppressed people, and that mission has been accomplished.”

Chalk that up as just one reason why on May 1, 2008, I'm not working and why I'm participating in a one-day General Strike.

Need other reasons? How about torture, Gitmo, illegal extraditions, secret renditions, $3.67/gallon gasoline, sub prime mortgages, lack of universal health care, the recession, and on and on and on.

I'm striking. Please join me.

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sábado, abril 26, 2008

Sean Bell, RIP

A Memorial To Sean Bell

I'm shaking my head at the verdict Judge Cooperman (without a jury) rendered yesterday in the Sean Bell murder case. I'm saddened and troubled. I think I understand the roots of his acquittal verdict, and I think there has been an enormous miscarriage of justice in this case. Unfortunately, this kind of injustice probably should have been expected because of the way the law acknowledges and fosters police exceptionalism. The defense lawyers for the detectives knew it and sought to benefit from it, and the prosecutors knew it as well but didn't block it.

Please join me in Kew Gardens.

The miscarriage in this case is only partially about race and the relationship between young, African American men and the New York City Police. That relationship is volatile, dangerous, oppressive, frightening, and frequently out of control. But race wasn't the only thing awry in this case. The other part, the part that is not receiving attention at the moment, is that the police, despite all of our pious insistence to the contrary, are different from the rest of us in the eyes of the law. They are exceptions to the rule of law. They are special and receive special treatment. How else can so many shots be fired with such devastating affect, killing one person and wounding others, at unarmed people with no judicial consequence? How else can the detectives have been found to have committed no criminal wrong whatsoever?

There's nothing new in seeing that the police are different from the rest of us, giving them a leg up in court just for their being cops despite repeated judicial instructions to jurors not to. And, believe it or not, there is a large segment of the population that wants it to be that way, that wants the police to be above the law, that wants the police to be unfettered by any law, that romanticizes the rogue cop. And the rules are repeatedly interpreted to support this invidious discrimination in which police are special and those they encounter on the streets aren't just other citizens who by the way are presumed to be innocent. No. They're perps. Defendants. Criminals. Skulls. Mutts.

Want to see that clearly? Let's return, briefly to the 1970 decision of Judge Irving Younger in People v. McMurty, one of the few judicial decisions that unintentionally illustrates police exceptionalism. Some excerpts from the famous decision:
For several years now, lawyers concerned with the administration of criminal justice have been troubled by the problem of ‘dropsy’ testimony. This case shows why.

The facts are simple. On July 23, 1970, Patrolman Charles Frisina arrested defendant James McMurty on a charge of possession of marijuana. McMurty moved to suppress the marijuana for use as evidence, and, in due course, a hearing was held. Frisina took the stand. In condensed but substantially verbatim form, he testified as follows:

‘At 8:30 p.m. on July 23, 1970, I was on duty driving a patrol car. While stopped for a light at West 3rd Street and Broadway, I observed two men in a doorway of the building at 677 Broadway. One of these men-James McMurty, as I later learned-saw the patrol car and stepped out of the doorway. From his right hand he let drop a small plastic container. I got out of the patrol car and retrieved it. In my opinion, based upon a fair amount of experience, its contents were marijuana. I approached McMurty, who had begun to walk away, and asked him if the container was his. He said no. I said that I had seen him drop it and placed him under arrest.’

McMurty testified that nothing of the sort happened. He'd never drop marijuana. The cops reached into his pocket, illegally seizing it. Judge Younger then wrote:
Were this the first time a policeman had testified that a defendant dropped a packet of drugs to the ground, the matter would be unremarkable. The extraordinary thing is that each year in our criminal courts policemen give such testimony in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases-and that, in a nutshell, is the problem of ‘dropsy’ testimony. It disturbs me now, and it disturbed me when I was at the Bar. Younger, ‘The Perjury Routine,’ The Nation, May 8, 1967, p. 596:

‘* * * Policemen see themselves as fighting a two-front war-against criminals in the street and against ‘liberal’ rules of law in court. All's fair in this war, including the use of perjury to subvert ‘liberal’ rules of law that might free those who ‘ought’ to be jailed * * * It is a peculiarity of our legal system that the police have unique opportunities (and unique temptations) to give false testimony. When the Supreme Court lays down a rule to govern the conduct of the police, the rule does not enforce itself. Some further proceeding * * * is almost always necessary to determine what actually happened. In Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, for example, the Supreme Court laid down the rule that evidence obtained by the police through an unreasonable search and seizure may not be used in a state criminal prosecution. But before applying the rule to any particular case, a hearing must be held to establish the facts. Then the judge decides whether those facts constitute an unreasonable search and seizure. * * * The difficulty arises when one stands back from the particular case and looks at a series of cases. It then becomes apparent that policemen are committing perjury at least in some of them, and perhaps in nearly all of them. Narcotics prosecutions in New York City can be so viewed. Before Mapp, the policeman typically testified that he stopped the defendant for little or no reason, searched him, and found narcotics on his person. This had the ring of truth. It was an illegal search (not based upon ‘probable cause’), but the evidence was admissible because Mapp had not yet been decided. Since it made no difference, the policeman testified truthfully. After the decision in Mapp, it made a great deal of difference. For the first few months, New York policemen continued to tell the truth about the circumstances of their searches, with the result that evidence was suppressed. Then the police made the great discovery that if the defendant drops the narcotics on the ground, after which the policeman arrests him, the search is reasonable and the evidence is admissible. Spend a few hours in the New York City Criminal Court nowadays, and you will hear case after case in which a policeman testifies that the defendant dropped the narcotics on the ground, whereupon the policeman arrested him. Usually the very language of the testimony is identical from the case to another. This is now known among defense lawyers and prosecutors as ‘dropsy’ testimony. The judge has no reason to disbelieve it in any particular case, and of course the judge must decide each case on its own evidence, without regard to the testimony in other cases. Surely, though, not in Every case was the defendant unlucky enough to drop his narcotics at the feet of a policeman. It follows that at least in some of these cases the police are lying.'

Judge Younger then noted statistical proof of the huge increase in dropsy cases since the decision in Mapp. And he then said that he thought, in light of this, that dropsy cases should be scrutinized with special caution. And that if the cop's testimony seemed "inherently unreal" it should be rejected. And the "slightest independent contradiction" of the cop's testimony would warrant rejection of police testimony and the suppression of the evidence. And that he would determine if the burden of proof had been met by the prosecution for use of the evidence. This all makes sense.

And then, in a gigantic example of how police testimony is different and receives special acceptance and makes the police different from you and me and citizens in general, in a decision that enshrines police exceptionalism, Judge Younger wrote:
Had the issue been open, I would hold that the People must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the seizure was lawful. But the issue is closed. The Court of Appeals declares the burden of proof to be the defendant's. People v. Baldwin, 25 N.Y.2d 66, 70 (1969). Where the testimony on one side balances the testimony on the other, as here, it is the People who prevail. Defendant's motion to suppress is therefore denied.

I come to this decision reluctantly. Our refusal to face up to the ‘dropsy’ problem soils the rectitude of the administration of justice. One is tempted to deal with it now by suppressing ‘dropsy’ evidence out of hand; yet I cannot. Reason and settled rules of law lead the other way, and judges serve the integrity of the means, not the attractiveness of the end.

Somehow, policemen must be made to understand that their duty is no different.
And so, McMurty was convicted. And policemen received a written, judicial acknowledgment that they were different from me and you and anyone else who testifies in court. They could lie and win anyway. Why? Because the judge, who by the way was an excellent judge and a committed liberal, would not, could not find that officer Frisna's testimony was simply not credible. He had previousy written in the Nation that nearly all of the cops testifying to dropsy evidence were committing perjury, but he wouldn't find this particular cop, Officer Frisna, incredible. Ask yourself why this was so. Ask yourself what it would take to say, "No. I believe the accused, I don't believe the officer." How often has that happened? Answer: virtually never.

The McMurty decision is a clear, 38 year-old example of police exceptionalism. Since then, police exceptionalism has continued unabated. It has killed Amadou Diallo and it has killed Sean Bell. And it will kill again. Judges will continue uncritically to accept police testimony, and the miscarriages of justice will continue to mount unabated. Judge Younger wrote that "judges serve the integrity of the means, not the attractiveness of the end." How many more miscarriages will it take before the "integrity of the means" actually leads to justice? How many more dead people does it take?

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lunes, abril 21, 2008

The Aleph

Just when I was losing touch with a glorious Springtime, the sounds of the red wing blackbirds, the chorus of bullfrogs, the sun, just when the world was inexorably collapsing into a single point of focus on Borges' Zahir, I lucked into the antidote, Borges' short story from the same collection, The Aleph. The Aleph is the antidote to the Zahir.

Beatriz Viterbo, who dies and whom Borges mourns, has a cousin, Carlos Argentino Daneri, whom Borges gets to know over time. Argentino is an awful, pretentious, pedantic, boring, self aggrandizing poet. His own criticism of his poetry is overwhelmingly self indulgent; his poetry, in a word, terrible. Eventually, Argentino explains to Borges that Argentino's neighbor is trying to take over his home to expand a cafe, but that this cannot be permitted to happen because it will prevent Daneri from finishing an exhausting, pedantic, pretentious poem he's working on. The poem plans on describing every place in the world in excruciating detail. At this time he's working on the part called "Australia."

And how is Argentino getting the information for this? From an Aleph, something in the basement of the house that allows one to see the entire universe from every point of view all at once. The Aleph, it seems, shows everything and everywhere. It's infinite. It is everything.

Told this, Borges is convinced that Daneri is crazy after all, but he decides to have a look. And, of course, he observes the Aleph, and it's true, he sees the entire universe all at once. But because he wants to get even with Daneri, even though he's stunned by what he sees, Borges denies seeing anything. He says that there was nothing there to see. This, of course, leads to the demolition of the house and the loss of the Aleph.

A postscript has Daneri winning an important poetry award anyway. And Borges's research reveals that the Aleph in Daneri's former basement wasn't the only one. In the Amr mosque in Cairo there is a stone pillar that contains the entire universe. This Aleph cannot be seen, it can only be heard.

The antidote to one-pointed concentration is everything everywhere all at once.

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domingo, abril 20, 2008

The Zahir

Jorge Luis Borges (photo by Diane Arbus)

I seem to have been infected by “The Zahir” (“El Zahir”), a 1949 short story by Jorge Luis Borges. I’ve read it three times in the past week, and I keep coming back to it and thinking about it. In fact, I’m having trouble forgetting it. I’m not sure how to leave it behind, how to get it out of my mind.

Borges’s story is about a Zahir, in this case a coin, that has the power to obsess so thoroughly that over time one forgets everything except it. Borges’s story mentions other Zahirs, a tiger, an astrolabe, the bottom of a well, and a vein of marble in a column of a mosque. Everything on earth has the power to be a Zahir, but according to the myth, only one thing at a time is permitted to do so.

Borges receives the coin as change in a bar where he buys a brandy. He decides to get rid of it, spending it for another brandy in a bar he’s never been to before on a street he will not remember. The coin is gone. But it’s not. He cannot forget it. And the more he tries to forget it, the stronger it becomes.

Is this an unusual phenomenon? Apparently not. Maybe writing this brief entry will help me.

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Buenos Aires Smothered In Smoke

Reuters reports:
A thick cloud of smoke covered Buenos Aires for a fifth day on Saturday, the fallout from field burning by ranchers that has forced the closure of highways, flight delays and traffic congestion.

The smoke started to appear over the Argentine capital more than a week ago, but visibility deteriorated considerably in the city on Friday and Saturday, with an acrid smell pervading homes and causing watery eyes and sore throats among residents.

Visibility downtown was barely 500 yards (meters), and residents' tempers began to fray.

/snip Authorities said ranchers caused the haze by igniting fires across 173,000 acres of pasture. The fires clear vegetation and renew soil nutrients and fresh pasture growth for cattle.
Meanwhile, AP reports that President Christina Fernandez says:
"People must be held responsible for this," Fernandez said after riding in a helicopter Saturday over cattle ranches and farms north of Buenos Aires, where hundreds of firefighters worked with the army to extinguish the fast-moving flames.
And then AP makes the obvious connection to recent farm strikes in Argentina:
Farmers, who dumped soy and grains on highways to protest export taxes levied on their crops in mid-March, insisted that the recent fires were unrelated to their 21-day strike, which was suspended April 2.

No one is known to have died in the flames, but at least seven motorists were killed in pileups on rural routes made hazy with smoke. The fires are raging just 45 miles north of the city and radiate out into the country's Entre Rios and Santa Fe provinces.

Foul-smelling smoke has shrouded the capital's iconic Obelisk and obscured skyscrapers in a crisis unprecedented in Buenos Aires. Residents flocked to doctors with respiratory and eye irritation.
Meanwhile, Buenos Aires, a magical city, appears to be quite unlivable.

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miércoles, abril 16, 2008

Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz (1914-1998)

Mexico this week marks the 10th anniversary of Octavio Paz's death. In the 1960's he was appointed Ambassador to India, but resigned to protest the Tlatelolco Massacre. Paz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990. In his memory, a poem.


Si tú eres la yegua de ámbar
yo soy el camino de sangre
Si tú eres la primer nevada
yo soy el que enciende el brasero del alba
Si tú eres la torre de la noche
yo soy el clavo ardiendo en tu frente
Si tú eres la marea matutina
yo soy el grito del primer pájaro
Si tú eres la cesta de naranjas
yo soy el cuchillo de sol
Si tú eres el altar de piedra
yo soy la mano sacrílega
Si tú eres la tierra acostada
yo soy la caña verde
Si tú eres el salto del viento
yo soy el fuego enterrado
Si tú eres la boca del agua
yo soy la boca del musgo
Si tú eres el bosque de las nubes
yo soy el hacha que las parte
Si tú eres la ciudad profanada
yo soy la lluvia de consagración
Si tú eres la montaña amarilla
yo soy los brazos rojos del liquen
Si tú eres el sol que se levanta
yo soy el camino de sangre


If you are the amber mare
I am the road of blood
If you are the first snow
I am he who lights the hearth of dawn
If you are the tower of night
I am the spike burning in your mind
If you are the morning tide
I am the first bird's cry
If you are the basket of oranges
I am the knife of the sun
If you are the stone altar
I am the sacrilegious hand
If you are the sleeping land
I am the green cane
If you are the wind's leap
I am the buried fire
If you are the water's mouth
I am the mouth of moss
If you are the forest of the clouds
I am the axe that parts it
If you are the profaned city
I am the rain of consecration
If you are the yellow mountain
I am the red arms of lichen
If you are the rising sun
I am the road of blood

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martes, abril 15, 2008

Henry James And Florentino Ariza

Henry James (by John Singer Sargeant)(1913)

Today's Writers' Almanac marks Henry James's birthday:
It's the birthday of the novelist Henry James, (books by this author) born in New York City (1843). His first memory was an image of a monument to Napoleon as his family traveled by carriage through Paris, and though he was an American, he always loved Europe and spent most of his life living there.

At some point in his childhood, he was injured, possibly in a fire. He never said much about it to his friends, except that the injury was "horrid," but some scholars have suggested that perhaps he was scarred in some way that would explain why he never had a single love affair with anyone. As far as we know, he died without ever having even received a romantic kiss.

But he wrote almost 10 million words of fiction and nonfiction, including Daisy Miller (1878), Washington Square (1880), and The Portrait of a Lady (1881).
The proposed connection between James's assumed disfigurement and his utter lack of physical love was one I wasn't aware of before. Maybe I wasn't paying attention. Anyway, this information made little sense to me. Was a monastic vow required to be prolific? Was James's ability so cleverly to reveal the relationships between his characters facilitated by his insistence on being only a spectator? If Duke Ellington said, "Music is my mistress," maybe James's sole and demanding mistress was his writing. What shame or dread or idea could hold this so fiercely in place?

This line of thinking led me to Florentino Ariza, one of the main characters in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Florentino Ariza, you might remember, pines for more than 50 years for Fermina Daza, who rejected him after a long and frustrating courtship to marry her husband. It's not until the husband dies after falling off a ladder that Ariza reappears in Daza's life. Originally, as a youth, Ariza insists that he will remain a virgin until he manages to be united with Daza. But, because he's human and because of the pain, this oath is doomed to failure: he has 622 affairs ostensibly to mitigate the pain of his separation but insists that he is saving his true love for Daza. Significantly, Ariza does not write 10 million words. He and Daza end up together on a ship, under the yellow and black flag of cholera, isolated from the world.

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lunes, abril 14, 2008

Nevado del Huila in Colombia to Erupt?

Nevado del Huila

Reuters dice:
El Instituto de Geología de Colombia informó que aumentó el lunes a Nivel Dos la alerta del volcán Nevado del Huila, al suroeste del país, por un sorpresivo aumento de su actividad sísmica.

El Nivel Dos o Naranja significa una probabilidad de erupción en días o semanas.

El volcán hizo una erupción de cenizas y gases hace un casi un año lo que provocó una avalancha que averió puentes y carreteras en el suroeste del país sin causar víctimas fatales. En esa oportunidad, se evacuaron más de 3.000 personas en la zona afectada.

And so, folks, here's another volcano that might erupt. The area's been evacuated.

Why don't the English language, traditional media report this? Because it's in Colombia?

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domingo, abril 13, 2008

Olympics Stifles Athletes' Free Speech

The IOC (the "International Olympic Committee"), the group that runs the Olympics, has figured out how to prevent participating athletes from demonstrating for Tibetan freedom and displeasing their Chinese hosts. The age old tactic: a "chilling effect" on free speech.

It's relatively simple: the IOC tells athletes that they have a right to free speech, but they don't have the right to make "propaganda." IOC won't define line between the two. But if an athlete so much as steps even with one toe into the latter, s/he's out. of. here. Goodbye. Put simply, the IOC doesn't need explicitly to forbid certain kinds of free speech. It can accomplish the same, desired result by harshly and intentionally chilling it.

A definition of "chilling effect":
A chilling effect is a term in United States law that describes a situation where speech or conduct is suppressed or limited by fear of penalization at the hands of an individual or group.
And that, folks, is precisely what's going on with athletes' free speech at the Beijing Olympics.

The Times reports:
Athletes who display Tibetan flags at Olympic venues — including in their own rooms — could be expelled from this summer’s Games in Beijing under anti-propaganda rules.

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said that competitors were free to express their political views but faced sanctions if they indulged in propaganda.
Got that? Expression of political views: good. Indulging in propaganda: bad.

But, you're asking, is there a difference between the two? How does one know if one is expressing free speech or propagandizing? What's the difference?
The question of what will constitute propaganda when the Games are on in August and what will be considered opinion under IOC rules is one vexing many in the Olympic movement. The Olympic Charter bans any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in any Olympic venue or area. /snip

The IOC did not specify whether a Chinese athlete or a foreign competitor of Tibetan origin flying the Tibetan flag would be regarded as patriotic or propagandist. A spokeswoman said that there had been no discussion internally or with the Chinese authorities about use of the Tibetan national flag. Asked whether athletes would be allowed to hang the flag in their rooms, she said: “The village is an Olympic venue so it falls under the same rules and regulations of any venue which would mean that anything in there would be judged on whether it was a provocative propaganda initiative.”

The fact that the IOC has still not qualified the exact interpretation of “propaganda” means that some athletes remain confused about what they can say during the 16-day event without being sent home or stripped of a medal.

Unfurling Free Tibet banners or wearing Save Darfur T-shirts at Olympic venues are acts likely to be regarded as a breach of the charter, which was introduced after the American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.

So, as of right now, there's no official definition of what constitutes "propaganda" and how propaganda might be distinguished from "free speech."

The consequences of uttering or otherwise expressing "propaganda," however, are quite dire. This means that as things stand now, there is an enormous "chilling effect" repressing legitimate, free speech.

No athlete who has trained for his/her entire life is going to jeopardize participation in the Olympics by testing the definition of "propaganda" by hanging a Tibetan flag in a dorm room, by waving the flag on a victory lap, by speaking out about Tibet to the press, by showing a picture of the Dalai Lama, by wearing Tibetan malas, by wearing a Tibet hat or headband or t-shirt. Why? Because that might be considered to be propaganda by the IOC and an automatic ticket home.

So far, the IOC has been very much China's lap dog. As the Times reported:
A spokeswoman said that there had been no discussion internally or with the Chinese authorities about use of the Tibetan national flag.

You might wonder what this question of definition in the IOC rules has to do with China. In fact, it has everything to do with it. The IOC does not dare to step on China's sensitivities about the topic. In these circumstances, the message to athletes is incredibly simple. STFU about Tibet. Or go home. Free speech be damned.

The IOC doesn't need to enact a gag rule for its athletes. That would be assailed as a "prior restraint" on free speech. No, when the stakes are this high, a harsh "chilling effect" accomplishes precisely the same goal. So much for the so-called "Olympic ideal."

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jueves, abril 10, 2008

Secret Afghani Trials For Detainees

The New York Times this morning is reporting that Afghanistan is holding secret trials for dozens of Afghan men who were formerly detained by the US in Gitmo and Baghram:

Dozens of Afghan men who were previously held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are now being tried [in Afghanistan] in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings based mainly on allegations forwarded by the American military.

The prisoners are being convicted and sentenced to as much as 20 years’ confinement in trials that typically run between half an hour and an hour, said human rights investigators who have observed them. One early trial was reported to have lasted barely 10 minutes, an investigator said. /snip

Witnesses do not appear in court and cannot be cross-examined. There are no sworn statements of their testimony.

Instead, the trials appear to be based almost entirely on terse summaries of allegations that are forwarded to the Afghan authorities by the United States military. Afghan security agents add what evidence they can, but the cases generally center on events that sometimes occurred years ago in war zones that the authorities may now be unable to reach.

“These are no-witness paper trials that deny the defendants a fundamental fair-trial right to challenge the evidence and mount a defense,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a lawyer for the advocacy group Human Rights First who has studied the proceedings. “So any convictions you get are fundamentally flawed.”
According to the Times, since 2002 the Bush administration has been trying to get various countries to prosecute Gitmo prisoners as part of their "repatriation." Britain and other countries have refused because they say that US evidence won't hold up in their courts. But not Afghanistan:
the Afghan authorities have now tried 82 of the former prisoners since last October and referred more than 120 other cases for prosecution.

Of the prisoners who have been through the makeshift Afghan court, 65 have been convicted and 17 acquitted, according to a report on the prosecutions by Human Rights First that is to be made public on Thursday.
What does the US government say about these remarkable, civilized, reliable, fair trials? Please refrain from scoffing:
United States officials defended their role in providing information [and the defendants] for the Afghan trials as a legitimate way to try to contain the threats that some of the more dangerous detainees would pose if they were released outright.

“These are not prosecutions that are being done at the request or behest of the United States government,” said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detention policy. “These are prosecutions that are being done by Afghans for crimes committed on their territory by their nationals.”

Ms. Hodgkinson said the United States had pressed the Afghan authorities “to conduct the trials in a fair manner,” and had insisted that lawyers be provided for the prisoners after the first 10 of them were convicted without legal representation. But she did not directly reject the criticisms raised in the Human Rights First report, adding, “These trials are much more consistent with the traditional Afghan justice process than they are with ours.”
Let us briefly review the trial options for Afghani prisoners in Gitmo: indefinite detention without trial and without habeas review by the US courts (depending on pending US Supreme Court decisions) and possibly with interrogations torture, OR possibly torture and then a show trial by a US military commission without confrontation of witnesses, possibly resulting in a death sentence, OR possibly torture followed by a second, illegal extradition to Afghanistan and a "trial" without a record or review that results in decades of confinement in an Afghani prison. Spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam.

Pardon me for being overly fastidious about the trial rights of the accused, but that's an extremely disgraceful, embarrassing list of options.

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miércoles, abril 09, 2008

Free Tibet!

The spontaneous demonstrations by monks in March seem to have triggered demonstrations across the world in support of religious freedom and autonomy for Tibet.

We've been treated to huge street demonstrations in London, Paris, and San Francisco. To extinguishing the torch in Paris. To Chinese security pushing around Sebastian Coe, who was a fantastic runner in his prime. To mountain climbers hanging flags on the Golden Gate Bridge. To demonstrations in Lhasa. To news items about the struggles of Tibet. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

But if Tibet is to be saved, and I truly hope that it will be despite fifty years of Chinese domination and oppression, if it is to be preserved in a form we can recognize, it seems only right that it should be saved by what are essentially Tibetan, nonviolent means.

My simple proposal has two items:

1. Please donate some $$ to International Campaign For Tibet. This is the Internet so large donations aren't required. If you give $5 or $10, and millions join you, it will help in a dramatic way. You don't need to strain to help. Anyone can help. There is no minimum amount.

2. Please sit quietly (eyes open or closed). Then, non-denominationally and/or theistically and/or untheistically, however you are most comfortable, inhale the suffering and oppression of all of the Tibetans, and then exhale out in place of their suffering and oppression, strong love and healing to all involved in the conflict, including the Chinese government. Repeat this over and over again until you are finished. This is called tonglen and is a wonderful and powerful practice for making peace. When you are finished with "tonglen", you may conclude by saying the following:

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe,
And may any merit from this practice go to the ocean of merit created by the Buddhas for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

This is a road to saving Tibet. May Tibet be free.

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martes, abril 08, 2008

FARC Says No To Betancourt, France To Go Home

According to Bloomberg, FARC has now said that it will not allow France's medical mission to treat its most famous hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, whom it has held hostage for more than six years:
Colombia's biggest rebel group refused to allow a French-led medical mission to help former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a dual citizen held captive more than six years.

``The French medical mission isn't appropriate and much less so when it's not the result of an agreement,'' the leadership of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said in the statement posted today on the Web site of Venezuela's Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa.

The FARC said the French made no contact with them to negotiate sending doctors to help Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen who is suffering from hepatitis B, and reiterated its demand that the government pull troops from two towns in western Colombia to swap about 40 high-profile captives, including Betancourt, for 500 jailed guerrillas. The French mission will leave Colombia, Efe cited the French foreign ministry as saying.

``If President Uribe had withdrawn troops from Pradera and Florida for 45 days at the beginning of the year, Ingrid Betancourt, military officials and jailed guerrillas would have been freed,'' the FARC statement said.
The FARC statement is here (Bloomberg's link is wrong). And, obviously, freeing Betancourt and other hostages is something FARC also rejects.

Pardon me. This is barbarian. FARC has not given an adequate, humanitarian answer to concerns about Betancourt and its other hostages. Its denial of access shows that it persists in using civilian hostages in its attempts to further its political goals. That is disgraceful. It is simply a human rights violation.

Betancourt, and the hundreds of other, less well known hostages should be released. They should not be permitted to continue to be pawns in FARC's four decade long struggle with corrupt Colombian governments. Yes, the Colombian governments are awful. Yes, they are the US puppets in the region. But, FARC's refusal to permit the medical mission to reach Betancourt is inexcusable.

And what, you might wonder, is anyone in the US or Europe or anywhere else going to do about this? Answer: nothing. To the contrary, the US is going to reward Colombia. The US is going to give Colombia a free trade agreement even though it kills unionists, even though its paramilitaries participate in the cocaine industry, even though it has ceded huge amounts of land to FARC, even though it receives billions of dollars in "insurgency" aid, even though its "drug war" has impoverished peasants, even though it is powerless to control its own territory. And the EU? Nothing. And France? Its mission is finished:
``Keeping the medical mission in place is no longer justifiable,'' the French said in a statement released by the ministry, according to Efe.
This is simply disgraceful.

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My Story Lives. Really.

Readers of this blog would enjoy visiting My Story Lives, a blog that has some wonderful writing (even if I say so myself and link you to the piece I wrote for it). Seriously. If you haven't read My Story Lives, you ought to drop in there. You'll like it. And if you have writing you think should be put up there, please send it to Claudia, who is My Story Lives' Bloguera.

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domingo, abril 06, 2008

News Of A Kidnapping

Ingrid Betancourt In Captivity (11/30/07)

Ingrid Betancourt, while campaigning for the presidency of Colombia, was kidnapped by FARC on February 23, 2002. More than six years later, she remains a hostage somewhere in Colombia. She suffers from hepatitis B and leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by insect bites. She is also rumored to be losing the will to live. She is the public face of kidnapping in Colombia. She is the most famous of hundreds of hostages. Unlike most of the hostages, she has ties outside the country.

Colombia has more kidnapping than any other country in the world. The Colombian Government itself estimates that someone is kidnapped every three hours. It estimates that every year 11 politicians are kidnapped. It does not estimate how many hostages there are at this moment, nor does it estimate how many disappearances or deaths there have been. Colombia, since 9/11, emphasizes that FARC is a “terrorist” organization. It does not discuss the human toll that Colombia’s US funded military, the billions in US aid for “counterinsurgency,” the “war on drugs,” and its many paramilitaries levy.

Colombia has a long, documented history of mass kidnapping and long term hostage holding. This apparently began in earnest with the rise of Pablo Escobar and Colombia’s emergence as the hemisphere’s dominant narco trafficker, and it was documented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1997 News of a Kidnapping. As a New York Times review explained about those kidnappings:
The object of these kidnappings was plainly to pressure the Government of Colombia, keep it from dispatching Escobar and his fellow drug billionaires to the chains that awaited them in the north. In fact, the drug bosses, as fond of their families as anyone, had been on the receiving end of a few sequestrations themselves, carried out by rebel groups like the M-19. They had dealt with them by forming an organization called Death to Kidnappers and, by a series of ghastly murders and horrendous tortures, discouraged the practice on the part of their enemies. Nor did the dignity of the Colombian state prevent the police from employing extremely arbitrary, brutal and even fatal methods in their treatment of individuals associated with the cocaine industry. Indeed, the suspension of these methods was among Escobar's demands.
Put another way, the kidnappings Marquez wrote about a decade ago had a plainly discernible, short term, political purpose. Is the same true of Ingrid Betancourt? After more than 6 years, apparently it's not.

Last week, France sent a plane to Colombia so that a French medical team could treat Betancourt. Treatment for her conditions was said not to be otherwise available. The French team, however, is now stuck:
France said Saturday its medical mission to help French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt /snip will stay put in Bogota until the guerrillas give a response.

"We had to do something. Now we're waiting for news from FARC," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France 2 television channel /snip

The humanitarian mission, said Kouchner, "will stay put where it is," adding that the French government was "determined" to wait it out.
Put another way, FARC hasn’t indicated whether it will or will not allow Betancourt to be seen or treated or released. Evidently, nobody’s heard from FARC about this, or if they have, they’re just not talking about it.

The situation is complicated. According to AFP:
Oscar Lopez, Governor of Guaviare department, 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Bogota, where Betancourt and other hostages are believed to be held somewhere in a rebel jungle camp, said the guerrillas "have given no sign" of an impending release.

[FARC] reiterated Thursday in a statement that any hostage release would come "if there is an exchange of prisoners." FARC seeks to swap its most prominent hostages, including Betancourt, for 500 jailed comrades.

Bogota has agreed to suspend military operations against the FARC to allow the deployment of the humanitarian mission, and last week it even suggested it would release some jailed rebels if Betancourt and other hostages were freed.
But according to AP:
A French-led mission to free hostage Ingrid Betancourt in Colombia may fail because officials cannot find any rebels to talk to about her release. The insurgents are in hiding, their main contact with the outside world is dead and Interpol has an arrest notice out for a top guerrilla leader.
Further, according to AP, Hugo Chavez, who negotiated releases of hostages earlier this year, now says that he has no way to contact FARC:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who received rebel-held hostages earlier this year because of his previous efforts at mediation, says he now has no way of reaching the rebel group.

Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, a Chavez collaborator who this year twice escorted a total of six hostages freed by the FARC into freedom, says she wants to help the French-led mission but lacks contacts.

"All I can say is, as soon as we have a chance to resume contact with someone ... we can work on this subject," she said Friday.
And so the French plane sits on the tarmac. Ingrid Betacourt remains in the selva. Hugo Chavez, according to AP says the problem is the pursuit of a FARC member, Ivan Marquez:
Chavez, the leftist president who negotiated earlier hostage releases by FARC, expressed a desire to help, but he said the United States and Colombia should first stop trying to catch Ivan Marquez, who is a member of the FARC's ruling secretariat.

"We have information which indicates that agents from governments of Colombia and the United States are hunting Ivan Marquez," Chavez said in Caracas late Thursday. He suggested the United States is using "very advanced technology ... they have satellites and so on."
And the U.S. says it doesn't know what Chavez is talking about:
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he did not know who Marquez is. Asked about Chavez's suggestion that U.S. actions could lead to progress toward the hostages' release, Casey said: "I'm not sure what he's referring to."
Put simply, Ingrid Betancourt and hundreds of other hostages languish because there is no effective diplomacy. Sadly, it's just not clear what can be done so that Betancourt and the other hostages will finally be released.

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sábado, abril 05, 2008

Please Don't Worry About Me. I'm Fine. Really.

Oh boy. The New York Times has done it again. This time it's a story about how paid bloggers are, well, killing themselves:
They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece — not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop. You may know it by a different name: home.

A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.

Of course, the bloggers can work elsewhere, and they profess a love of the nonstop action and perhaps the chance to create a global media outlet without a major up-front investment. At the same time, some are starting to wonder if something has gone very wrong. In the last few months, two among their ranks have died suddenly.

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

The rest of the story outlines the pajamas wearing sweat shop: writers who cannot sleep, eat, or live a life because they don't want to miss a story and have to write. Constantly.

This, my dear readers, is not my life. It's not my problem. It's not something that's happening to me. First, I don't get paid for writing the Dream Antilles. And most folks act like they're allergic to clicking the "donate" button om the right hand side of this page. Second, I'm not trying to beat anybody to anything. I post what I think when I can think about it. I'm not in a race with anyone or anything. If I don't post, well, I just don't post. Third, I have a real life, a job, a family, children, pets. Fourth, there's enough competition at dailyKos and even docuDharma for readership. I don't need to bring it here, and I won't.

So, my dear readers, please don't worry about me. I'm fine. Really. But would it kill you to donate to the Dream Antilles? That would ease my "stress." Just asking.

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Proposal for a National Strike on MayDay, 2008

From RUKind at docuDharma
The original posting is on DocuDharma, 4 Apr 2008.

This is a simple proposal to not go to work for one day. If we do it individually and on random days, it matters not at all. If we do it together on one day by the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, it will matter. The more who join, the more it will matter. United we stand, divided we fail to get their sufficient attention.

The theme of the strike is best expressed by the immortal words of Paddy Chayefsky. As the character Howard Beale in his screenplay Network proclaimed loudly:

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

The purpose of the strike is whatever goal each individual has in mind. Whatever it is that is making you mad as hell, be it the War in Iraq, the price of fuel, inflation, wage stagnation, the collapse of the housing market, the bailout of subprime lenders, credit reporting agencies, health insurance companies, Big Business, Big Oil, Big Government, unaffordable prescription prices, lack of access to decent health care, pollution, Global Warming, mountain-top strip mining, human rights, torture, the prison nation, the assault on the Constitution, government agencies that don't do their job, or the corruption of our government at all levels - pick one or more, none at all, or make up your own and do not go to work or class on Thursday May 1, 2008.

Call in sick, take a vacation day, just don't show up. Cut class. Most of all cut class. One day is all that's being asked. Give one day to yourself. Use just one day out of your life to make whatever statement it is that you want the government and the corporate bosses to hear. Wear a T-shirt, carry a sign, gather in a public place, sleep in, go to the beach, take a hike, read a book, play with your children. Make your protest be your own issue, whatever frustrates you the most. Everyone in this country is mad at some aspect of what is being done to their lives by the impersonal manipulation and abuse of their well-being by forces beyond their control. Forces of deaf and blind institutions that have lost any sense of common humanity. Take one day back from them. Just one day. Together. All of us.

Massive, non-violent, peaceful protests get the attention of the MSM, the Government and the Corporate community. Make your voice heard by making your presence at work or school absent. One day. All of us, joined together. Just one simple little eight hour shift of one day of classes. One day to proclaim, for yourself:

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

(Please cross-post, link and forward this proposal as much as you can. This protest needs no organizers, no leaders, no one specific cause. If you can't bring yourself to take just one day to make your voice heard then maybe you'll find someone who will.)
Well, ok. Let's make this viral. Let's spread it around. And that means you, the three readers of the Dream Antilles. Seriously, May Day should be restored to its historical context. I'm for that, I hope you are too.

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viernes, abril 04, 2008

For Dr. King

I'm thinking about times almost forty years ago when I sang, "We Shall Overcome." I'm remembering how I felt when I sang it, holding hands, swaying, anticipation in the air. I loved the idea of walking hand in hand, black and white together, and at the same time there was always a tension, a tightness in my jaw and in the pit of my stomach, the presence of fear. The song's purpose was to get ready to do what had to be done. I'm committed to nonviolence, I recall thinking, but there are those who are not. They shot James Meredith, and lynched Emmitt Till, and burned Greyhound buses, and unlike me, they don't want me to be safe. Uncertainty about what will happen tightens my jaw, while my heart commits me to the cause.

Remembering these fears rekindles my old thoughts. I remember the policemen in the church parking lot writing down the license plate numbers as if it were the Apalachin Crime Convention. My mind flashes from people sitting in a restaurant who stop eating to stare and sneer, to the incomprehensible Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, to the repeated, threatening phone calls, to kids on a school bus yelling hate names through the windows, to the Klan and the police, and wondering how they were different. I think about the person who ran over my dog.

I'm remembering singing "our song" in Port Gibson during the boycott trial and fearfully contemplating the long, dark ride home to Jackson on the Natchez Trace, an unlit, two-lane road that avoids all towns.

I'm remembering the Woolworth's lunch counter and the bus station in Jackson, notorious before my arrival, at which friends were seriously injured. I'm remembering the two unequal, racially labeled water fountains at the Courthouse in Laurel, and the three bathroom doors upstairs at the Mayflower Restaurant. I'm remembering a black man pumping the gasoline, that his boss won't let him touch the $5 I try to hand him.

I'm remembering a Mississippi judge hissing that he doesn't have to put up with Communists-- he's talking about me-- in his Court. I'm remembering the Neshoba County Fair and what it must have been like on the night Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were all killed, how everyone there must have known about it.

Awash in this flood of distant memories, my remembrance of my own feelings is more opaque. I was learning to be a good lawyer, and I was an optimist, believing that eventually, we would confront and overcome racism and poverty and oppression and violence. But I was also numb while my unworkable marriage was sliding slowly, unconsciously and miserably to ultimate dissolution by another southern Court.

Then, in 1973, I started to represent inmates of the sprawling Mississippi State Hospital because Barry Powell, an excellent lawyer and mentor, "discovered" it and convinced himself and me that the issues should be litigated. Most of the people warehoused there, it turned out, were safe to release, but the staff was too small to have any idea who was safe and who might be risky. For obvious cases, like the four older women who played remarkably skilled bridge using sign language to bid and hadn't seen a doctor in 7 years, release was accomplished simply, by my inquiry if they could go home and my veiled threat of a judicial proceeding if they couldn't.

The harder cases were like Mr. O'Reilly (not his real name), who also wanted to be released. Doctors thought Mr. O'Reilly might be mentally ill because he still believed that ten years before somebody, a relative most likely, stole a million dollars worth of gold coins from his trailer in rural Oktibehha County and he was mad about it. According to the doctor, Mr. O'Reilly didn't have any insight into his delusional system and his obvious anger made him dangerous.

Mr. O'Reilly was tall and sunburnt from years of taking major tranquilizers and being outside, and he walked with his back arched, elbows back, hands on the small of his back, another side effect of the drugs. I explained the situation to Mr. O'Reilly. I told him that the doctor didn't believe the million dollar story, and that frankly, I didn't either. In fact, I doubted there were ever $50 worth of gold coins in his entire county, and that when he acted angry about the situation, he was scaring the doctor. He laughed, "So is that what all the fuss's about? How come nobody told me this before?" I shrugged. He said, "Well, I guess I'll be going home then," and he shambled off, doing the phenothiazine walk.

At the time the Hospital Staff decided who would be released by individually interviewing all the inmates who requested release. When asked, Mr. O'Reilly said he came in complaining about the theft of a million dollars worth of gold coins, that he didn't blame anybody for not believing him, and that he doubted the story made sense. Was he mad about it? No, he said, just sad that he didn't understand the problem earlier. Could he go home?

After Mr. O'Reilly was released, the Mississippi Mental Health Commissioner, Reginald White, told me that he thought I was doing "litigation therapy" and that he was surprised that people who were so obviously disoriented when they arrived were now going home. Did I think it was because of the intensive attention I was giving them? Or was it just time, the drugs, spontaneous change, and "millieu therapy"? At the time I didn't have any idea. I just wanted inmates who wanted to go home to be released.

And this past January, almost forty years later, with my wife of almost 30 years and two of my three children, I attended an Interfaith Service commemorating Dr. King's Holiday in Hudson, New York. After wonderful gospel music by the Shiloh Baptist Church choir, a sermon, singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, prayer and scripture, the time came at last to sing "our song." It had been a long time. My eyes grew wet. I could feel an aching in my throat and in my heart my continuous, decades long love of justice, fairness, and equality. And there was no fear. Instead, there was only my unbounded joy that now, at last, my kids would learn and experience the magic of "our song." It was their turn to inherit the possibility of accomplishing the unthinkable, and it was their opportunity to forge a deep, personal heart connection with the community and movement for human dignity and justice.

"We Shall Overcome" has never been sweeter to me. I can feel how very far I have traveled. Although there remains an enormous journey to complete, the holiday celebration brought me the gift of seeing for the first time that my kids will soon be able, by themselves, to carry the movement on. Forty years ago I never could have guessed how special, how complete and wonderful that would feel.

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jueves, abril 03, 2008

In Memoriam

Dr. Martin Luther King
(January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968)

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

May he rest in peace.


martes, abril 01, 2008

Alabama Legislature Devalues Pi

NMSR reports:
NASA engineers and mathematicians in this high-tech city [Huntsville] are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state legislature narrowly passed a law Friday [March 28, 2008] redefining pi, a mathematical constant used in the aerospace industry. The bill to change the value of pi to exactly three was introduced without fanfare by Leonard Lee Lawson (R, Crossville), and rapidly gained support after a letter-writing campaign by members of the Solomon Society, a traditional values group. Governor Bob Riley, who emphasized the Biblical reasons for the change in value, says he will sign it into law on Thursday.

The law took the state's engineering community by surprise. "It would have been nice if they had consulted with someone who actually uses pi," said Marshall Bergman, a manager at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. According to Bergman, pi is a Greek letter that signifies the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is often used by engineers to calculate missile trajectories.

Prof. Kim Johanson, a mathematician from University of Alabama, said that pi is a universal constant, and cannot arbitrarily be changed by lawmakers. Johanson explained that pi is an irrational number, which means that it has an infinite number of digits after the decimal point and can never be known exactly. Nevertheless, she said, pi is precisely defined by mathematics to be "3.14159, plus as many more digits as you have time to calculate".

"I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, and it is time for them to admit it," said Lawson. "The Bible very clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the altar font of Solomon's Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass."
Lawson, the article says, called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing an exact answer could harm students' self-esteem. "We need to return to some absolutes in our society," he said, "the Bible does not say that the font was thirty-something cubits. Plain reading says thirty cubits. Period."

Governor Riley is expected to have a signing ceremony for the bill on Thursday in Montgomery at which former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is expected to give an invocation. Moore's office today stated that the change in the value of pi to the Biblical value was a good, first, legislative step toward the Rapture, toward making the crooked straight and rough places plane.

Haven't these people done enough already? Is nothing sacrosanct? Who will stand up for the missing .14159+?

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