April 29, 2009

Pastoral Scene of the Gallant North

By: Bernard Chazelle

African-Americans in Alabama are 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. The ratio is 3.3 in Georgia, and within 2 points, the same throughout the South.

This New Jersey resident is absolutely, totally appalled by this sickening display of Southern racism.

And he would be even more absolutely, totally appalled if the corresponding ratio for his home state was not... 12.4 ! Let me rephrase this. If you're lucky enough to live in Jersey but you made the silly mistake of being born black, and not white, your chances of going to prison shoot up by a factor of 12.4. That's 3.5 times higher than Alabama.

Nothing special about the Garden State. Here's a rule of thumb I came up with, based on official data. I'll format it so that it looks like a quote from an important social study:

To get into prison, being black gives you an edge anywhere in the union. But this edge increases by a factor of 2 to 4 if you live in a state that has an Ivy League school as opposed to a state south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The edge has nothing to do with urban vs rural. NJ and NY are 3 times worse than Alabama. But so are New Hampshire and Vermont. Iowa is 4 times worse and clearly ready for its own Ivy.

The black/white incarceration ratio in New Jersey is the 3rd worst in the country. But the incarceration rate for whites is the second lowest! So it all evens out. One finds a similar balance all across the North-East.

I suspect the reason for this is that North-Eastern states are liberal and heir to an old humanitarian tradition of compassion and racial tolerance.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:33 PM | Comments (35)

So Old

This blurn recently turned five years old. During that time there have been 2940 posts as well as 28222 comments, of which only 83% have been arguments about Zionism.

Looking back, I'm pleased to report the site has kept up the same commitment to getting it right the first time we've had from the very beginning.

Looking forward, as has been previously threatened, every post for the next five years will be about either tomatoes or portobello mushrooms or both.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:10 AM | Comments (26)

April 27, 2009

It Does Not Work, But It's Fun!

By: Bernard Chazelle

The indispensable Patrick Cockburn writes:

The use of torture by the US has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many US soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11, says the leader of a crack US interrogation team in Iraq.

Descartes: "I think therefore I am."

Cheney: "I torture because I can."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:57 PM | Comments (11)

"Sir, Is this a Mushroom Cloud or Just Glue?"

By: Bernard Chazelle

Krystian Zimerman might well be the finest classical pianist alive. Seems he won't board the Obama Express just yet.

And now, Sunday, making his Disney Hall debut in a recital sponsored by the Philharmonic, Zimerman, who has become arguably the greatest pianist of his generation, made the surprise and shocking announcement from the stage that in protest to America's military policies overseas and particularly in Poland, he would no longer perform in the United States.

“Get your hands off my country,” he said, soft-spoken but seething. He accused the U.S. military of wanting “to control the whole world,” and made a reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Approximately three dozen in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities.

“Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”

(I say that scores pretty damn high on the comedy meter.)

Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. He responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.

Which does not seem to include airport security.

Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. "Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument."

Never heard of TSA? They look for terrorists at airports. The acronym stands for "Terminally Stupid Assholes."

Schubert in Zimerman's hands:

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:33 PM | Comments (10)

The Baffling Enigma Of Low Turnout In Haiti

By: John Caruso

U.S. ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson ponders the low turnout in Haiti's recent senatorial elections (less than 10%, according to initial reports):

U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson, who toured the tabulation center Monday, remarked that "Historically, off-year elections in the United States as well as in other countries tend not to be as well-attended as presidential elections. We'll have to see."

Yes, what a conundrum.  And I'm sure the boycott organized by Haiti's largest party in response to its exclusion from the election couldn't possibly have had anything to do with it, which is why Sanderson didn't even bother to mention it.  The organizers, however, foolishly believe otherwise:

A spokesperson for grassroots organizations aligned with Haiti's Fanmi Lavalas party demanded the Obama administration remove current US Ambassador Janet Sanderson. Reached by telephone in the capital of Port-au-Prince a leader of a group calling itself the Popular Initiative stated, "She is lying about last Sunday's elections by not acknowledging it was our boycott that kept voters away." He continued, "She claims it was because this was not a regular election year and that people may be tired of the political process. The only voter fatigue we have in Haiti is with undemocratic elections. Allow Fanmi Lavalas to participate and we'll show you the voters have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for an authentic democratic process. She is out of touch with reality in Haiti."

"Out of touch with reality in Haiti"?  Clearly this person has failed to understand that "reality" in situations like this is entirely determined by U.S. interests—not by piffling trifles like the facts on the ground.  We'll know if Haiti's senatorial elections were free and fair if 1) the results turn out as the Obama administration wants them to, and 2) they can be shoved down the throats of the Haitian people through the usual combination of suppression,  violence, and diplomatic subterfuge.

(Related musings on U.S. democracy suppression in Haiti here.)

— John Caruso

Posted at 06:42 PM | Comments (7)

April 25, 2009

Thank You, Intertubes

I'm sure 2005 Andrew Sullivan would be horrified to know the degree to which 2009 Andrew Sullivan agrees with Cindy Sheehan.

Andrew Sullivan, now:

I love the Internet. Can you imagine what those thugs would have gotten away with without it?"

Cindy Sheehan, 2005:

Thank God for the Internet, or we wouldn't know anything, and we would already be a fascist state.

I'm not sure we'd be a fascist state without the beautiful, beautiful tubes. But the difference they've made is gigantic. Recall this story about Obama's decision to release the torture memos:

Mr. Obama wrestled with the decision into Wednesday night...

One key factor was the online publication last week by the New York Review of Books of an International Committee of the Red Cross account of detainee interrogations. The president read the account and concluded "virtually everything that was in these memos was out in the public domain," said the senior official.

Without the internet, would Obama have cared the Red Cross report had appeared in an ultra-egghead publication with a circulation of 140,000? Would he even have known? Likely no to both. As Donald Johnson commented over at Obsidian Wings:

[T]he issue has come much further than I would have ever expected--if you'd asked me in 2001 if the US would torture people in the war on terror I would have guessed we would, but I wouldn't have expected it to have ever reached the mainstream press, except maybe in scattered articles that wouldn't receive much notice...

In any case, there's no question the internet will have a deeply chilling effect on the Cheneys of the future. During every meeting in which they organize their criminal conspiracies, someone will say: "What would this look like if it ends up online?"

P.S. Despite my recent extended disappearances, I'm still essentially alive.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:38 PM | Comments (42)

April 24, 2009

New Tomdispatch


Killing Civilians
How Safe Do You Actually Want to Be?

By Tom Engelhardt

Almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand. Every few days, they appear from a world almost beyond our imagining, and always they concern death -- so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They're so repetitive that, once you've started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away.

Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern. Often the news initially arrives buried in summary war reports based on U.S. military (or NATO) announcements of small triumphs -- so many "insurgents," or "terrorists," or "foreign militants," or "anti-Afghan forces" killed in an air strike or a raid on a house or a village. And these days, often remarkably quickly, even in the same piece, come the challenges. Some local official or provincial governor or police chief in the area hit insists that those dead "terrorists" or "militants" were actually so many women, children, old men, innocent civilians, members of a wedding party or a funeral.

In response -- no less part of this formula -- have been the denials issued by American military officials or coalition spokespeople that those killed were anything but insurgents, and the assurances of the accuracy of the intelligence information on which the strike or raid was based. In these years, American spokespeople have generally retreated from their initial claims only step by begrudging step, while doggedly waiting for any hubbub over the killings to die down. If that didn't happen, an "investigation" would be launched (the investigators being, of course, members of the same military that had done the killing) and then prolonged, clearly in hopes that the investigation would outlast coverage of the "incident" and both would be forgotten in a flood of other events.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:46 AM | Comments (3)

April 22, 2009

Another Spectacular Success For Media Memory Hole


The Abu Ghraib story was broadcast on Sixty Minutes on April 28, 2004. One of the first times Bush addressed it was on May 6, in prepared remarks with King Abdullah of Jordan in the Rose Garden:

BUSH: We also talked about what has been on the TV screens recently, not only in our own country, but overseas -- the images of cruelty and humiliation. I told His Majesty as plainly as I could that the wrongdoers will be brought to justice, and that the actions of those folks in Iraq do not represent the values of the United States of America...

I assured him Americans, like me, didn't appreciate what we saw, that it made us sick to our stomachs.

On April 16, 2009, the Obama administration released the main Justice Department torture memos. Five days later, Obama met with King Abdullah in Abdullah's first visit to the White House since he took office, and then took questions. The most obvious thing in the world to ask would have been whether Obama stood by Bush's commitment that "the wrongdoers will be brought to justice."

Of course, the White House press corps failed to do so—even after Obama's response to the questions that one reporter did ask about the memos:

Q: You were clear about not wanting to prosecute those who carried out the instructions under this legal advice. Can you be that clear about those who devised the policy? And then quickly on a second matter, how do you feel about investigations, whether special -- a special commission or something of that nature on the Hill to go back and really look at the issue?

OBAMA: For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it's appropriate for them to be prosecuted.

With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.

As a general deal, I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations.

Moreover, not a single news outlet mentioned Bush's five-year-old commitment.

So, President Bush pledges to Abdullah in front of the world that the wrongdoers will be brought to justice. Almost exactly five years later, when the wrongdoers are known to have included the highest levels of the Bush administration, Abdullah visits the White House again, and no one anywhere in the media remembers it ever happened. Success!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:43 PM | Comments (15)

April 20, 2009

A Light At The End Of The Torture Tunnel

By: John Caruso

Are you upset that Obama doesn't think he needs to prosecute torturers?  So is this guy:

President Barack Obama's decision not to prosecute CIA interrogators who used waterboarding on terrorism suspects amounts to a breach of international law, the U.N. rapporteur on torture said.

"The United States, like all other states that are part of the U.N. convention against torture, is committed to conducting criminal investigations of torture and to bringing all persons against whom there is sound evidence to court," U.N. special rapporteur Manfred Nowak told the Austrian daily Der Standard.

Yeah, well, every Joe Schmoe rapporteur on torture's got an opinion.  But we should all just relax, because some people may actually end up in jail as a result of their involvement with torture!

Torture case lawyers may face jail for letter

A former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who accused a Bay Area company of flying him to foreign torture chambers for the CIA is at the center of a bizarre new case, in which his lawyers face possible jail sentences for writing a letter that asked President Obama to disclose how brutally he was treated.

The government says the letter falsely accused a Pentagon review team of censoring details of the alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed from a document the attorneys wanted to send to Obama. The lawyers stand by their accusations but have been summoned to Washington, D.C., by a federal judge for a hearing next month on whether they should be held in contempt of court, punishable by up to six months in jail.

No word yet from Attorney General Eric "you should never put bananas in the refrigerator" Holder on whether or not the government would provide legal representation to Mohamed's lawyers, at no cost to them, in any state or federal judicial or administrative proceeding brought against them based on torture-related conduct and would take measures to respond to any proceeding initiated against them in any international or foreign tribunal, including appointing counsel to act on their behalf and asserting any available immunities and other defenses in the proceeding itself.  Nor whether, to the extent permissible under federal law, the government will also indemnify them for any monetary judgment or penalty ultimately imposed against them for such conduct and will provide representation in congressional investigations.  But I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

(More hijinks with Eric "any way you want to eat them, it's impossible to beat them" Holder here and here.)

— John Caruso

Posted at 12:59 PM | Comments (12)

April 19, 2009

They've Always Tortured. The Difference Is Now They Write Memos

By: Bernard Chazelle

“We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history,” Obama said in a statement. “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

Is this Harvard-trained lawyer telling us that the very idea of a justice system is a waste of time and energy? The blogosphere has been milking this inanity for all its sidesplitting worth. Too bad the first part of Obama's statement went unnoticed: it explains why torture will go on unchanged.

First, savor the obligatory narcissism: "We have been through a painful chapter"; not the guy who was waterboarded and buried alive in a coffin with insects. Of course not; we have suffered so much. Second, note the singular form of the word "chapter." The president is lamenting the short-lived aberration of the Bush years, when our nation veered off its righteous course and stained its proud human-rights record with a momentary lapse of moral rectitude.

Enough to make the ghost of Dan Mitrione chuckle. At his death in 1970, the US government lavished praise on the former FBI agent:

"[His] devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere."

Amen. No doubt free men everywhere would be edified by Mitrione's own words (all quotes from the New York Times):

"When you receive a subject, the first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death means a failure by the technician.

"Another important thing to know is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject die.

"Before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist…"

The surgeon-artist taught torture to Brazilian police in Belo Horizonte. He led "practical demonstrations" of torture techniques using prisoners and beggars taken off the streets. Former CIA operatives claimed that Mitrione's techniques included "the use of electrical shocks delivered to his victims' mouths and genitals." In the firmament of US torture, Mitrione is but one of a thousand points of light. The US government has always tortured. Usually it's better at blaming someone else. Here's what a more honest, if less eloquent, president might have said:

“My fellow Americans, the last 50 years have been an uninterrupted sequence of dark, painful chapters. We institutionalized torture right after World War II and we exported it everywhere we could, from Vietnam to Greece to Iran to Latin America. We remember the Phoenix program; we remember the multibillion-dollar CIA torture project in the 50s; we remember El Mozote; we remember the CIA torture manual, KUBARK, and its wise recommendation, "The electric current should be known in advance"; we remember our training of SAVAK; we remember the School of the Americas; we remember our Salvadoran trainees who raped and killed nuns. The one thing we don't remember is if there were ever a time when we didn't teach and practice torture.

"The only difference this time is that top government lawyers were dumb enough to authorize this crap in writing. I promise to return to the good old days when torture was conducted in an environment of plausible deniability. And so I'm ordering a transfer of Gitmo prisoners to Bagram, an Afghan hellhole no one can locate on a map. I am banning all torture memos. Memos are bad. I solemnly swear that CIA personnel will be granted full immunity regarding all past, present, and future crimes. Let's close this dark, painful chapter, so we can open a brand-new dark, painful chapter -- so dark none of you will see it."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:48 AM | Comments (19)

April 18, 2009

Mike Allen Would Like To Explain To You In Detail Exactly How Much He Sucks

Blogland has been rightfully aflame over this section of a story yesterday by Mike Allen in Politico:

A former top official in the administration of President George W. Bush called the publication of the memos “unbelievable.”

“It's damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama's action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are,” the official said. “We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake."

This, from Andrew Sullivan, is a representative example of the reaction:

Allen is allowing a member of the administration that broke the Geneva Conventions and commited war crimes to attack the current president and claim, without any substantiation, that the torture worked. He then allows that "top official" to proclaim things that are at the very least highly questionable. What journalistic standard is Allen following in allowing such a person to speak anonymously?

Allen felt he had to attempt to explain his behavior. And beautifully enough, he did so without comprehending he was revealing the devouring black hole of corruption at the heart of Washington "journalism":

While I was writing the piece, a very well-known former Bush administration official e-mailed some caustic criticism of Obama’s decision to release the memos. I asked the former official to be quoted by name, but this person refused, e-mailing: "Please use only on background." I wasn’t surprised...

I figured that readers could decide whether the former Bush official’s comments sounded defensive or vindictive. And POLITICO readers aren’t so delicate that we have to deceptively pretend there’s no other side to a major issue.

So, what is Mike Allen accidentally telling us here? That the Bush official initiated the contact, and without Allen agreeing to any conditions. In other words—even if Allen believes there's some value to printing unsubstantiated, blatantly self-serving assertions—he had absolutely no obligation to ask permission to quote the official, by name or otherwise. But since he's a well-trained little lad, he did anyway.

Thus, while Tim Russert may be dead, his ethos of anti-journalism lives on:

RUSSERT: [W]hen I talk to senior government officials on the phone, it's my own policy our conversations are confidential. If I want to use anything from that conversation, then I will ask permission.

AND: Recall that Mike Allen's boss Robert Albritton was quite tight with Chilean dictator Auguste Pinochet. Here's a letter to Pinochet from Albritton's father Joseph:

Dear General Pinochet:

I am pleased to report the business relationship between Riggs and the Chilean Military is prospering. I am also grateful for our thriving personal friendship, which you have demonstrated through your gracious hospitality...We in the United States and the rest of the western hemisphere owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude...

So it's understandable the Politico has a soft spot for torturers and is eager to explain the "other side" of the torture issue.

ALSO: Charles Davis writes more here about the bizarre Washington misunderstanding of going "off the record."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:17 AM | Comments (19)

April 16, 2009

What A President With Genuine Courage Looks Like

By: John Caruso

Evo Morales just finished a 5-day hunger strike in support of a package of electoral reforms:

Bolivian President Evo Morales ended a five-day hunger strike today after Congress approved a new electoral law that will boost the voting power of his core constituency.

Morales had canceled a diplomatic visit to Cuba to maintain a vigil inside the presidential palace, where for almost a week he consumed only water and coca leaves, the raw ingredient in cocaine and a folk remedy used in Bolivia to suppress hunger. He slept on a bare mattress on the palace floor, surrounded by fasting union leaders who form part of his coalition party.

"The Bolivian people will never forget this revolutionary process," Morales, 49, said today in the presidential palace, moments after concluding the strike. In remarks on state television, Morales said he hoped the fast would strengthen Bolivians’ support for "profound economic, social and cultural changes."

(This was nothing new for Morales, who once fasted for 18 days when he was a union leader to protest coca eradication.)

The superficial similarities between Morales and Obama only serve to highlight the critical differences: Bolivia's president is a former union leader who draws directly on his experience to fight for his principles, whereas our erstwhile community-organizer president trades on his past to gain votes while actively betraying the principles he formerly espoused.  To put it another way, Morales uses his power to further the goals of the popular movement that made him president, while Obama co-opts the power of the popular movement that made him president to undercut its goals.

Just for a moment, imagine what it would be like to have a president who actually possessed (positive) core, non-negotiable convictions, and for whom going on a hunger strike was well within the range of sacrifices they were willing to make to fight for those convictions.  While you're at it, imagine what it would be like to have a populace that demanded this level of conviction in exchange for their support—and refused to settle for less.  And finally, imagine how far short of those goals we could fall and still be light years beyond where we are today.

It's no surprise that we're constantly told the most we have a right to expect is tiny incremental steps toward positive change, but what's tragic is that so many people have not only accepted that but have internalized it as though it's some sort of immutable law of nature.  They never seem to notice that those same restrictions don't apply to negative changes—like (say) massive restructuring of the entire system of world trade, radical financial deregulation, or the repurposing of a "defensive" military organization as a weapon of U.S. foreign policy, to name just a few.  They end up excusing and rationalizing the most craven compromises (and even outright betrayals) with carefully-inculcated arguments about pragmatism and political feasibility and the need to lower their expectations.

As a great philosopher once said: you get what you settle for.

— John Caruso

Posted at 02:42 PM | Comments (23)

April 15, 2009

Video Game Conundrum

By: Bernard Chazelle

The aptly named "Atomic Games," a video game company based in Raleigh, NC, has announced the coming release of "Six Days in Fallujah."

The battle resulted in the deaths of 38 U.S. troops and an estimated 1,200 insurgents.

Plus 200,000 refugees, 10,000 homes destroyed, heavy use of napalm, White Phosphorus, etc. In other words, perfect material for a video game to amuse the children. Being the thoughtful sort, the designers confessed:

"For us, the challenge was how do you present the horrors of war in a game that is also entertaining."

Yes, how? Well, let's hope they figure that one out fast so we don't have to wait too long for "Gitmo Fun," "Abu on a Leash," and "Thrilla in Gaza."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:15 PM | Comments (44)

April 13, 2009

Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Mozart's "Lacrimosa": Part II.

By: Bernard Chazelle

"Angels sing Mozart among themselves and Bach when they're with God,"

said a famous theologian. For all its shortcomings, the Requiem's Lacrimosa, which allegedly moved the composer to tears on his deathbed, would have pleased Bach. It has moments of sublime, transcendent, absolute, drop-dead Bachian beauty. It brings to mind Kant's saying that "a genius is one who discloses to art its rules." The first minute packs a wallop of disclosure.

Take the first climax at 0:50-0:53, a 3-note phrase, immediately reprised a fifth higher, which incidentally forms the defining riff of countless popular tunes (eg, "Ne Me Quitte Pas," "Dark Eyes"). Mozart prepares you for these 3 notes with one of the most stunning ascending lines you'll ever hear. The 30-second lift-off is first diatonic (0:25-0:37), and then brilliantly switches to chromatic (0:37-0:50) as the dynamics kick in and the volume swells up, up, and up. In the last measure you can hear the timpani get into action on that final A, then repeated one octave lower. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that only the soprano line rises into the sky. The other voices (alto/tenor/bass) merely harmonize the ascent.

Once the rocket is in orbit, the noisy boosters are ditched and the craft floats smoothly in outer space (0:50-1:00). All the wind instruments are shut down and the orbiting is performed only by the 4 voices and the strings. I've never been in a rocket but I've been in a glider, and that's the feeling you get when the clunky propeller plane that pulls you up finally lets go and all you hear is the soft, eerie swoosh of the wind flowing along the wings. It's the same sense of liberating magic you get in that sustained A/C# (0:50-0:52) followed by Bb-A/F (0:52-53). The two As play very distinct harmonic functions: the first one provides the key's dominant sound while the second one, with the minor 3rd added in the bass, brings us back to the root chord of Dm. This tiny little phrase is then repeated over and over. Very Bach-like, the piece is a pointillistic juxtaposition of myriads of clones of miniature phrases.

The piece is in Dm but the very end modulates to D major. (That F# does not belong there.) ATR readers will remember we encountered the Picardy third earlier in the SMP "Sind Blitze." It's interesting because the practice disappeared almost completely after Mozart (with a few notable exceptions in the Romantic era).

Sadly, the end of the Lacrimosa is as trite as the beginning of Cohen's Hallelujah. The final Amen doesn't work and the lead-up to it is hardly better. We know from DNA analysis that Mozart was genetically incapable of writing such uninspired music, so the theory goes that he died and a student completed the movement. Some scholars believe Mozart had intended to end it with a fugue, something well within his composing abilities but probably too exhausting for him to do on his deathbed. Unfortunately, his pupil lacked the contrapuntal chops to pull it off and, to make it worse, Mozart's wife asked him to rush it out the door because she needed the money. So there you have it. Shakespeare has died half way through King Lear and now you have to finish the play. You have 24 hours to do the job, and nasty bloggers will have 1,000 years to make fun of you.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:17 PM | Comments (4)

Cohen's "Hallelujah" & Mozart's "Lacrimosa": Part I.

By: Bernard Chazelle

I've seen ugliness on this blog but nothing quite like the vicious display of self-loathing that accompanied Jon's loving tribute to the magnificent Rachel Corrie. If not for all the sick hours they indulge obsessing about ATR, some commenters would probably be out mugging old ladies, so for that alone society can be grateful for Jon's place.

All right, enough pixels wasted already. Back to music. The parallels are obvious and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" drew its inspiration from Mozart's "Lacrimosa." More on the latter in part II.

Cohen is a poet, who merely likes to decorate his meticulously crafted words with music. The only English-speaking pop lyricist in his league, Bob Dylan, is the opposite: a folksong writer with a gift for decorating bluesy lines with poetic phrases and rhymes. Dylan is the master of the colorful, kaleidoscopic snapshot. He is the better songwriter but Cohen is the better poet. Without the music (and I say this as one of his hugest fans), Dylan is nothing. He's heir to Woody Guthrie's throne, not Dylan Thomas's (yes, the irony). Word and meaning are two balls Dylan could never quite juggle together. Dylan is the anti-Yeats, the artist without a purpose, the lazy genius who surrounds himself with second-rate musicians, the phrasing master who blurs the line between spontaneity and mediocrity. Dylan and Cohen have one thing in common, though: changing the world was never their gig.

Dylan sings the blues. Cohen sings about love. Dylan, the greatest rock 'n' roll artist, seems utterly oblivious to the mediocrity of much of his output. Cohen knows he's not Seamus Heaney. He's only an exquisitely fine poet who (as rumor has it, under Dylan's prodding) chose to make music his medium.

"Hallelujah" is a beautifully written song about sex, love, and grace, a mix with a proud literary pedigree. There are 80 verses to choose from, so every cover is bound to sound different. The music is catchy but clumsy. Like the Lacrimosa, it is flawed, flaws that Jeff Buckley's thoroughly degospelled cult cover, for all its merits, manages to amplify. Cohen's phrasing is tortured but his words shine:

I've seen your flag on a marble arch,

but, listen, love -- love is not some kind of victory march.

No, it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah...

It's not a complaint that you hear tonight,

it's not the laughter of someone who claimed to have seen the light.

No, it's a cold and it's a very lonely Hallelujah ...

Yeah and even though it all went wrong

I'll stand right here before the lord of song

with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:22 AM | Comments (8)

April 11, 2009

How I Miss The Transparency And Openness Of The Bush White House

By: John Caruso

When Bush was president, you could go to whitehouse.gov and easily find any word he'd uttered in a public context.  The items of interests were organized into two main sections—Current News and Press Briefings—both of which were indexed for easy perusal, and updated practically to the minute.  And the same goes for Clinton's version of whitehouse.gov, which didn't quite reach the heights of the Bush administration's version but was still straightforward to navigate.  In both cases, you could wade into that vile cesspool, quickly find what you needed, and be out of there in the minimum amount of time, leaving plenty of time to hose yourself down with disinfectant.

But with Obama, those days of easy access are over.  There are now multiple seemingly-overlapping potential locations under the Briefing Room for Obama's utterances.  Is that speech you're looking for in Speeches?  Official Statements?  Press Briefings?  Press Releases?  Presidential Actions?  Your Weekly Address?  Or is it an entry in the vomit-inducingly named "Blog"?  Good question.  You may naively think that a speech would be included under "Speeches", but if you check out that section you'll be surprised to discover that the last time Obama delivered a speech was February 27th.

And you may never find it.  In my experience thus far, the stuff I'm looking for often falls under none of these categories; I can spend minutes going through each section with a fine-tooth comb and still never manage to track it down.  For instance, when I was searching last week for Obama's March 30th auto industry speech I tried each of the sections in turn (and multiple times) but couldn't locate it anywhere.  I eventually hunted it down by grabbing a key phrase from the New York Times article about it and then doing a Google search using that phrase plus a "site:whitehouse.gov" qualifier.  In looking now I see just a link to it from an article on the blog (which wasn't there when I was originally searching)—and nothing else.  So to find the text of Obama's last major speech on the auto industry at this point, you have to grovel through the entire White House "blog" page by page looking for the relevant link.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, the cherry on top of my list of petty grievances is the fact that the new whitehouse.gov won't let you use Alt-left arrow in either Firefox or IE; if you want to go back to the last page you have to use the mouse.  God, I feel so dirty.

I'd hoped this was all just a result of settling in with a new IT group, but sadly, it appears that this is the whitehouse.gov we're going to be saddled with for the next four (or eight) years.  Will our trials never cease?

GEEK RANT: There were endless valid reasons to criticize the Bush administration when it comes to secrecy, but one of the silliest I ever saw was the claim that Bush was blocking search engines from seeing over 2000 pages on whitehouse.gov, on topics like Iraq, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc, always with some nefarious intent imputed by the Democrat-voting geek in question.  This was a reference to the robots.txt file, which tells search engines which pages on the site should not be indexed—and although it's true that the Bush whitehouse.gov robots.txt file was thousands of lines long, almost every single one of the entries was intended to prevent duplicate indexing of text-only or search versions of pages which were already indexed.  So the "Bush is blocking Google" meme was a red herring.

Nonetheless, there are people claiming the Obama administration's much-shorter robots.txt file "points to a hopeful, open future."

INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION: The American Presidency Project quantifies my beef:

Continuing Inconsistency in White House "Transparency."

By our count, Obama has given at least 10 media interviews for which transcripts have not been released by the White House or included in the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (DCPD).  In addition, the American Presidency Project continues to detect inconsistencies in the record published by the National Archives (NARA) in the DCPD.

I'm sure all of this is just shoddy management.  Nonetheless, I think it's telling to compare how much attention the Obama administration pays to pandering to its hipster constituency (the President has his own blog!) vs. the effort they put into boringly crucial work like keeping their transcripts current.  The Obamaites view whitehouse.gov primarily as a marketing site for the President (much more than even Clinton and Bush did), and giving us accurate and complete information is a much lower priority.

— John Caruso

Posted at 09:33 PM | Comments (16)

Rachel Corrie: Unfinished Work

Guest post by Nell of A Lovely Promise

Rachel Corrie's parents are asking those who want to honor Rachel Corrie's memory and continue the work she was doing to support Code Pink's upcoming delegations to Gaza, focused on children there.

From an email:

Last month, when my husband Craig and I traveled to Gaza with Code Pink, it was moving for us to reconnect with the families and the children that Rachel cared so deeply about.

The 793,520 children of Gaza (56% of the population) have lived under occupation and siege all of their lives. They suffered unconscionably through the attacks and devastation inflicted upon them by the Israeli military during twenty-two days of horror in December and January. Hundreds did not survive. But those who did, still smile and laugh like all children. They are beautiful, resilient, curious and full of potential. They deserve the basics that all children in the world should have: ample food, clean water, healthcare, safe places to play and learn. They deserve the tools to deal with their nightmares, and sleep that is not punctuated by bombing. They deserve life, freedom, and hope.

We can be a part of the hope and the solution by arming ourselves with the experience, knowledge, and insight to be stronger advocates for these children and their families--to open the borders, to end the siege, to end the occupation, and to see justice prevail.

We hope you will join Code Pink in the campaign to Speak Out for the Youth of Gaza.

In peace,
Cindy Corrie

Comments are closed on this post.
—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 02:42 PM

April 10, 2009

"Lasset Uns Den Nicht Zerteilen"

By: Bernard Chazelle

A reader asked me for another example of Bach's "sound imagery." Here's a gorgeous illustration.

In this SJP chorus, having determined that Jesus on the cross was as good as dead, the soldiers divide up his clothes among themselves. They judge his coat too valuable to cut up so they decide its fate by a roll of the dice. The music conveys first the rattling of the dice in the bowl (0:13-1:30), and then the victory of the winner (1:30-1:36). The rhythmic jangling sound is produced by sixteenths arpeggios played by the organ.

There is incredible logic to all this madness. It's arranged as a canon. Not an exact canon with lines repeating unchanged like Pachelbel's Canon. Bach's contrapuntal genius occupies a different universe altogether. Voices chase and imitate one another in dazzling interval patterns. If you've never seen this before, you'll be impressed. Each bar has 3 beats (time sig is 3/4), but each beat is really a pair of eighth notes, so you really have 6 beats per measure. As in:


Count them: that's 6. There are 4 soldiers, hence 4 voices. The canon introduces a new voice every measure in this particular order: bass, tenor, alto, soprano. There are 2 lines of text, stretched over 7 measures. The order of the voices is not random. It's calculated so that the winner of the contest (at 1:30) is the soprano: that would have to be the youngest soldier. Why? No idea. But remember that everything Bach did in his passions has theological meaning. (Maybe our resident Lutheran experts at ATR will be kind enough to volunteer an explanation.) The last 4 measures celebrate the victory of the winner by singing the same words together in harmony.

PS: The conductor is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a true Bach master. Many of the kids you see in this famous Munich choir are now world-class musicians but not singers. One must appreciate that it is virtually impossible for a choir boy to grow into an opera singer after his voice breaks. It is like for a pianist to lose one hand and have to relearn a new instrument.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:59 PM | Comments (4)

Rachel Corrie's Birthday

Today, April 10th, 2009, would have been Rachel Corrie's 30th birthday. As weird old Mr. Lincoln said: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us."

Happy Birthday

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:24 AM | Comments (37)

April 09, 2009

The Larger Meaning of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By: Bernard Chazelle

Why the incessant focus on Israel? The question is usually rhetorical and designed to elicit defensiveness rather than, say, an answer. With so many worse conflicts raging around the world, the idea goes, a fixation on the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is suspicious.

The charge is not that anti-Semites obsess about Israel -- of course, they do: it's that a critical focus is symptomatic of that ancient brand of hatred. The Harvard legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, won't hesitate to bring up David Duke's endorsement of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis as proof. The logic is somewhat novel, since I don't recall anti-Apartheid activists having to justify Idi Amin Dada’s alignment on the matter. There are two distinct questions to answer: one is why Westerners fixate on the I/P conflict; the other is why they should.

Why they do is obvious. Quite simply, the topic is unavoidable. The argument might seem circular but it's not. The US media’s coverage of Israel, a tiny country the size of New Jersey, may well exceed that of China and India combined. A TPM Cafe poster was joking recently that what the site needs is more coverage of Israeli politics. The I/P conflict is the OJ Trial of international news: everywhere, all the time. Even if one tried, one would be hard pressed to ignore it. The fixation is fueled by 3 factors, none of them a symptom of bigotry. One is religion and culture. Half the planet and virtually the entire Western world worship a god that claims Jerusalem as her playground. If Darfurians and Sri Lankans wanted more of our attention, they should have had the foresight to write the bible first. As Le Monde Diplomatique's Alain Gresh reminded his readers recently, when Syria's Faisal was overthrown by French forces in 1920, General Gouraud went to Saladin's tomb and whispered snidely, "We're back. The cross beat the crescent!" A second reason for our focus is the Holocaust, which still carries enormous moral weight in the West. The third factor is geopolitical, and has much to do with the dark, oozy stuff that Jimmy Carter identified with our "vital interests."

Of course, those who bristle at the critical focus on Israel, a focus they themselves share, object only to the critical part. So let's examine that angle. Perhaps only an anti-Semite can resist the charms of Netanyahu, Barak, and the saintly Avigdor Lieberman, but many democrats (lower-case d) rightly wonder how it is that Michigan has only 2 US senators in Washington but Israel has 100 of them. Americans were evenly divided about the Gaza offensive, yet the US Congress passed a resolution of support for Israel by a vote of 390-5. (I trust AIPAC asked Kim-Jong-il what to do with the 5 renegades.) You'd never know, listening to our fearless leaders, that 74% of Americans don't want the US government to take Israel's side in the conflict. When the IDF mowed down hundreds of women and children in Gaza, US politicians of all stripes jumped over themselves to support Israeli action. That's not friendship: that's prostitution. The latest flap over Chas Freeman was so laughable one almost wonders if it was not orchestrated by Walt and Mearsheimer themselves to validate their thesis. (The hasbaraniks who whine about their own incompetence, as they're wont to do, may have a point after all.)

All true, but one must keep all of that in perspective. US support for Israel does not require AIPAC. With no comparable lobby, the vile government of Egypt receives comparable support. US imperial ambitions in the region have in Israel a natural ally. Since World War II, the US has supported nearly every non-Communist tyranny against the aspirations of the people. Are the Palestinians so different from the Chileans, the Nicaraguans, the Guatemalans, the Salvadorans, the Greeks, the Timorese, and the Vietnamese that the US should make an exception for them? AIPAC influences the modalities of US policy but not its foundation. Until the Palestinians find wisdom and give themselves a pro-American dictatorship, they'll always be the enemy. The failure of Taba in 2000 had nothing to do with the Israel lobby, and that's the closest the conflict came to a resolution in the last 40 years. AIPAC is the cherry on the cake of a notoriously paranoid bunch of Likudniks and Rapture-ready nut jobs. Would US policy be significantly different if they did not exist? No.

That we focus on the I/P conflict does not mean that we should. They are, indeed, more serious issues facing this world. Western attention is warranted because the conflict represents the last vestige of Western colonialism. After 1967, with US support, Israel turned into a full-fledged colonial project embedded in an imaginary existential narrative. A signature trait of colonization is that it is optional. Occupying the West Bank never served any purpose of survival. It's always been a choice, not a necessity. Israelis are entitled to a state. All of the residents, regardless of religion or ethnicity, are entitled to live where they are. They just may not do so as occupiers enforcing an apartheid regime. It's not exactly advanced political science.

For roughly two hundred years, most of the planet was a giant playground for the White Man. Niall Ferguson will tell you what a splendid idea that was. And, indeed, it was quite splendid for British white men like himself -- just a coincidence, of course, for that most objective of historians. World War II brought all of that fun to an end and catalyzed American imperial hegemony, which then grew under the cover of the Cold War. The last colonial bastion to fall was South Africa. Remember the good old days when these two icons of freedom, Reagan and Thatcher, were calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist while opposing sanctions against the most racist regime on earth. How one quickly forgets. Today, except for Syria, every Arab country is a "friend" of the US, and virtually every single one of them is a brutal, corrupt dictatorship. Plus ca change.

The I/P conflict represents the last battle of a declining West against the Global South. "Clash of Civilizations" is a self-flattering phrase meaning "Crash of Colonizations." Like South Africa (and the US), Israel is a European creation. It was not intended as a colony but as a refuge. But it all went wrong in the 60s and became a colony. That the "homeland" happens to be local is a distinction without a difference. Most of the French in Algeria had lived there for 5 generations -- far longer than most of the Jews in Israel. Technically, Algeria was not a colony but an integral part of France: again, a distinction without a difference. The two main colonial characteristics, racism and domination, were present. As they are today in Israel.

Westerners born after the 40s need not bear the guilt of their colonial past but they must bear its historical legacy. That's why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should also be theirs.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:53 PM | Comments (42)

April 08, 2009

You Know You're An Empire When...

...your wars keep dropping...:

"Afghanistan has already dropped off the radar screen," Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) said on February 26 [2002], at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was addressed by President Karzai.

...off the radar:

U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Iraq on Tuesday returned the spotlight to a war that has all but dropped off the news radar screen in the United States, which is preoccupied by its economic crisis.

Television news, chat shows and other media are dominated by reports of massive job losses, home foreclosures, collapsed banks and automakers on the verge of bankruptcy.

I'm guessing there's no one in either Afghanistan or Iraq for whom the U.S. war against them has "dropped off the radar screen."  But if it does ever temporarily slip their minds, they have the roar of F-16s and the night terrors of their one-legged children to remind them.

John Caruso

Posted at 12:31 PM | Comments (9)

April 07, 2009

Eleanor Obama and the Decent Society

By: Aaron Datesman

Michelle Obama planted a garden and touched the queen and grew up about ten miles away from my current location and generally seems to take fewer sedatives than her predecessor. She’s the best first lady ever!

Or, not:

A few months later Don and I went to jail, not for riding the freights but for our draft refusal. After we had been there a short time, Mrs. Roosevelt went to Swarthmore College to speak to the students. My brother, Fiske, was a student there and part of the welcoming committee that had lunch with her. When she heard his name, she asked if I was his brother and then pumped him for news of me. She also said, “When you write Dave, tell him that I admire him. Tell him I think he is right in the stand he has taken.”

This quote is also from From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter, which is now my favorite book. I have been thinking about Bernard’s recent post, and I would like to offer an affirmative suggestion for The Decent Society. I want to live in a society where the First Lady not only harbors moral objections to war and violence, but has the stones to say so.

Posted at 11:09 PM | Comments (5)

Hoping to Build On History's Greatest Rip-Off By Making It Even Greater

Dean Baker, in this USA Today op-ed about Social Security, points out something no one else has:

In effect, the cutters are proposing that the government default on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund: U.S. government bonds that were purchased with money raised through the designated Social Security tax.

It is truly incredible, and unbelievably galling, that anyone in a position of responsibility would suggest defaulting on the government bonds held by the Social Security trust fund at the precise moment that the government is honoring trillions of dollars of bonds issued by private banks.

While the government has no legal or moral obligations to pay off the banks' debts to wealthy investors (who presumably understood the risks they were taking), the Social Security bonds carry the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

It is understandable that people are angry. We have a government and an elite that never stop looking for ways to take money from ordinary workers and redistribute it upward to the richest people in the country.

In case you've missed it, the Federal Reserve has guaranteed gigantic amounts of bonds issued by banks (see "bank debt" here). Thus, as Baker says, the Social Security cutters don't just want us to default on U.S. government bonds essentially belonging to Social Security recipients. They want us to do that at the same time we're paying off Citigroup's bonds.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:48 PM | Comments (14)

April 06, 2009

Indecent Society

By: Bernard Chazelle

I've grown more and more convinced that our collective goal should be to build a decent society. People ask, What's a decent society? Like many things, it's easier to understand its opposite. Like this:

Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison.

Small and ugly. That's what an indecent society looks like.

— Bernard Chazelle


An indecent society also looks like this.

On the plus side, people at hedge funds think Larry Summers is really smart! So it all evens out in the end.

Posted at 11:04 AM | Comments (16)

April 05, 2009

PR Victory Gardens

By: Aaron Datesman

Michelle Obama planted an organic garden at the White House. Fortunately, Corporate America (in the form of the Mid America CropLife Association, MACA) quickly stepped up to prevent any harm to us from, uh, safe and tasty vegetables. You can read their letter here (I think addressing the letter to “Mrs. Barack Obama” is a nice, wholesome touch), but I think this part is interesting:

As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply. America's farmers understand crop protection technologies are supported by sound scientific research and innovation.

“Conventional agriculture” and “crop protection technologies” mean “pesticides”, by the way.

I can’t stand to comment any further on the letter, it’s too smarmy. But this article from Mother Earth News about an urban homesteader in Pasadena, CA, caught my attention at about the same time:

In all sorts of containers and, mostly, in backyard raised beds, I serially planted, taking advantage of our year-round growing season. It became an obsession not to waste the tiniest of spaces, so seeds were sown closer together. We blended tall plants with low-growing species. By fanatically planting every square inch, high and low, the harvests increased yearly, reaching an annual yield of over 6,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables on just one-tenth of an acre of land.

That is, a hippy in CA is producing more than 60,000 pounds of organic produce per year, per acre. MACA lists among the accomplishments of modern “conventional agriculture”
With modern methods, 1 acre of land in the U.S. can produce 42,000 lbs. of strawberries, 110,000 heads of lettuce, 25,400 lbs. of potatoes, 8,900 lbs. of sweet corn, or 640 lbs of cotton lint.

It may be true that modern American industrial farming is the most productive agricultural system ever devised - if you define productive as measured per hour of farmer labor. But in a world with a population nearing 7 billion, this is a ridiculous joke. Our agricultural productivity is not limited by labor.

Don’t believe that we can’t afford to adopt organic agricultural methods because they are less productive than “conventional” methods. The argument is a total sham.

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at 03:34 PM | Comments (19)

April 04, 2009


From a recent profile of Larry Summers by Noam Scheiber in the New Republic:

At first glance, Summers might appear to have less to contribute on the bank and credit-market front, the most dangerous part of the current situation. His exposure to Wall Street over the years has been limited...

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

Top White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers received about $5.2 million over the past year in compensation from hedge fund D.E. Shaw, and also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from major financial institutions...

In total, Mr. Summers made a total of about 40 speaking appearances to financial sector firms and other places, with fees totaling about $2.77 million. Fees ranged from $10,000 for a Yale University speech to $135,000 for an appearance paid for by Goldman Sachs & Co.

I wonder what would have constituted "significant" exposure to Wall Street. Maybe if he'd worked for D.E. Shaw full time? (Amazingly, Summers was paid $5.2 million for a part-time position. He was still a full-time professor at Harvard. If we're generous and assume he worked 1000 hours a year for them, he was paid $5,200 an hour.)

Then there are the speaking fees. As the Wall Street Journal mentions, they were mostly from the financial sector—including the "giant government bailout" sector, such as JP Morgan, Citigroup, and two speeches to Goldman Sachs. I've pulled out some of the interesting ones from his disclosure form and listed them below the fold.

Next, note also that Summers worked for D.E. Shaw from October, 2006 onwards, so $5.2 million is likely less than half his total haul.

Finally, the New Republic article omitted that Summers was listed as a contributor to their now defunct eblo Open University. Though as far as I can tell Summers never wrote anything for it, he was mentioned on it several times—for example, when he was hired by D.E. Shaw.

—Jonathan Schwarz

• • • 


Goldman Sachs: $202,500 (two speeches)
Citigroup: $99,000 (two speeches)
JP Morgan: $67,500
Merrill Lynch: $45,000 (donated to charity)

Investec Bank: $157,500
State Street Corporation: $112,500
Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC: $67,500
Lehman Brothers: $67,500
American Express: $67,500
Siguler Guff & Company (private equity): $67,500
TA Associates (private equity): $67,500
Charles River Ventures (Venture Capital): $67,500

Skagen Funds (Scandinavian mutual fund): $180,000 (three speeches)
Centro de Liderazgo y Gestion (the Center for Leadership and Management, in Colombia): $112,500
Association of Mexican Bankers: $90,000

Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association: $33,750
Pension Real Estate Association: $67,500
Hudson Institute: $10,000

Posted at 08:03 AM | Comments (15)

April 03, 2009

End The Ban On Cuba Travel

By: John Caruso

Bored? The Center for Constitutional Rights has something worthwhile for you to do:

Since 1962, the U.S. government is the only country to restrict travel to Cuba. After nearly 50 years, the Cold War rhetoric behind the restrictions is tired and obsolete. The world is different from what it was in the early 1960s, and even then, the ban was misguided, ineffective and unconstitutional. The Cuban government survived without a U.S. lifeline and is building relationships with many other nations. The travel ban hurts American citizens by keeping families apart and denying our right to travel freely. Learn more about the travel ban.

If passed, H.R.874 would "allow travel between the United States and Cuba" for all Americans with no exclusions. Similarly, S. 428, the Senate companion to H.R.874, calls for lifting travel restrictions so all Americans to travel freely to Cuba. "Travel for All" is an important step toward a changed Cuba policy, and we need your help to make this a reality. Contact your Representatives and Senators and ask them to co-sponsor H.R.874 and S.428!

Please give that last link a click and send some messages; it's almost literally the least we can do, and it has a reasonably good chance of succeeding.

— John Caruso

Posted at 09:16 PM | Comments (2)

It takes all kinds

Guest post by Nell of A Lovely Promise

Throughout my life, I've had the experience of bridging different 'worlds'. It started young, when we lived in Bavaria for a year. Immersed through attendance at a Catholic nursery school, I quickly became fluent in the local dialect, and acted as interpreter, linguistic and cultural, for my mother; at school I was a little ambassador for Amerika. Once back home in a community sharply divided between college town and agricultural county, I was part of a tiny minority of town-centric students in my county school. I was the only child at Sunday school or in my Brownie troop to stick up for county kids -- my neighborhood and school friends -- when townies made redneck jokes. I was also the only member of the 4-H club to do my exhibit project on ornamental hollies...

Later on, as an LBJ-liberal southerner at a northern Quaker high school divided internally between 'jocks' and 'artsy-craftsies', I was unusual in having friends in both camps. As I got involved in political work, it seemed I was always the radical among liberals or the moderate among radicals. Bridging the gulf between election-focused and movement activists has been a long-standing tension.

This lifetime of straddling has sharpened my ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, and the usefulness of having a variety of approaches overall.

That said, I find myself lately at a low ebb in my appreciation for "process liberals." Familiarity gained by yoking myself to them over the last seven years in the broad anti-Bush/Cheney coalition has inevitably bred a bit of contempt.

Human rights, specifically the issue of torture, is what brought me into political work and continues to motivate me. The record of just who stood up for what principles and when over the last fifteen years has been instructive. Those who didn't shrink from voicing their darkest suspicions early on out of concern for being thought unreasonable or "reflexive America-haters" were proved right, and quickly. Those who stepped up to take on the cases of people accused of terrorism when doing so was beyond unpopular -- considered treasonous, even -- have my undying respect.

I trimmed my own sails for several months after September 2001, trying to see things from the centrists' view well enough to make myself effective in communicating to them the wrongness of wars of choice and of endless, lawless, unreviewable detention. I've not only used pragmatic arguments but tried to help others learn when and how to make them. But for some time now, an inner Nell has been curling her lip and saying, "Fvck that noise."

Which brings me to Clive Stafford-Smith and Reprieve.

Stafford Smith's career m.o. involves publicity and showboating, but always for a point, and to good purpose. I don't doubt that his actions sometimes make other Guantanamo lawyers wince. But without someone with his chutzpah, we'd be much more in the dark than we are about the crimes committed by the U.S. and U.K. authorities and their accomplice states. In a system of lawless dictatorship and Catch-22 -- the system in which the prison at Guantanamo was established, and from which it has yet to break free -- there has to be a Yossarian or two.

Hilzoy (of the Obsidian Wings and Washington Monthly blogs), someone who exemplifies the best and the most maddening qualities of process liberals, posted this back in February:

[Binyam] Mohamed's lawyer has alleged that DoD officials censored a letter that he sent to Barack Obama about what his client had gone through. His evidence seems to be that he got a redacted copy of the letter back. ... does it sound plausible that some DoD official could have blacked out these pages in order to keep Obama from seeing them and succeeded? The President can see any classified information he wants. And if I were trying to prevent him from seeing something, handing him a letter with two pages blacked out would not be my method of choice.

In comments to that post I responded:

Good on Clive Stafford [Smith] for publicizing the Kafka-esque redaction of his own client's [history]. By posing the question of whether the information in it was kept from Obama, he implictly raises the serious issue of Obama's obligations should he become undeniably aware of what was done to Mohamed at the behest of the U.S. government.

Now the Pentagon's privilege review team has confirmed my reading of their purpose in redacting the memo (to give Obama plausible deniability of the knowledge of the U.S. crimes), by retaliating against Stafford Smith for publishing it:

Lawyers for Binyam Mohamed face the incredible prospect of a six-month jail sentence in America after writing a letter to President Obama detailing their client's allegations of torture by US agents.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve, and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour have been summoned to appear before a Washington court on May 11 after a complaint was made by the privilege review team ... [who] argue that by releasing the redacted memo Reprieve has breached the rules that govern Guantánamo lawyers and have made a complaint to the court of "unprofessional conduct".

There are significant differences among Guantanamo defense lawyers in their adherence to the letter and spirit of the rules laid down by the Department of Defense. But I imagine that even those lawyers who've been most circumspect about complying would agree that the rules and the enforcement of them by the privilege review team have been arbitrary, punitive, petty, and abusive over the last seven years. Granting the lawless jailers legitimacy at all is a grim necessity of functioning as a lawyer in such a repressive system; giving them the benefit of the doubt and attributing decent motivations to them means being played for a fool.

Thanks be for seriously un-foolish jesters like Clive Stafford Smith. He deserves support and gratitude, not sniffy diffidence.

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 05:19 PM | Comments (2)

An Old Way Backward

The Center for American Progress, the Democratic think tank headed by John Podesta and completely wired into the Obama administration, is holding a panel right now called "A New Way Forward in Afghanistan." One of the panelists is Frederick Kagan. I assume that to make up for it, next time they'll have Richard Seymour.

PREVIOUSLY: Kagan sagely describes the tendency of Afghans to "bitch" when the United States kills their families.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:24 PM | Comments (3)

April 02, 2009

Good Thing We Don't Negotiate With Terrorists

By: John Caruso

Binyamin Netanyahu is now officially Israel's prime minister.  And what was he doing three years ago?

The rightwingers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister, are commemorating the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of British rule, that killed 92 people and helped to drive the British from Palestine.

They have erected a plaque outside the restored building, and are holding a two-day seminar with speeches and a tour of the hotel by one of the Jewish resistance fighters involved in the attack.

So this open glorification of terrorism has disqualified Netanyahu from discussions with U.S. officials, right?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and Prime Minister-designate Benyamin Netanyahu pose before their meeting at the King David Hotel on March 3, 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel [sic].

I mean, right?

Mr. Obama pulled Mr. Netanyahu aside from their aides to a corner of the room in the King David Hotel.

Hmm, apparently not.  How perplexing.  And that last article also contains this wonderful nugget:

"You and I have a lot in common," Mr. Obama said, according to Mr. Netanyahu’s account. "I started on the left and moved to the center. You started on the right and moved to the center. We are both pragmatists who like to get things done."

(The next time someone cites Chicago Obama's positions as proof of Washington Obama's liberalism, don't forget to mention that even the anointed one himself rejects the notion.)

I could spend hours unpacking and properly mocking all the hypocrisy, irony, and no-changery contained in these citations, but my mockumometer is on empty. So instead I'll just offer some questions for Netanyahu, in case some intrepid Israeli reporter runs out and needs a few:

  1. If Hamas bombed the King David Hotel today, killing 92 people, would it be terrorism?
  2. If Hamas had phoned in a warning 25 minutes before the bombs went off, would that change your assessment?
  3. If after the establishment of a Palestinian state the Palestinians erected a plaque commemorating the bombing, would you find anything objectionable about that?
  4. Can you explain why the Irgun was a "resistance movement" while Hamas is a "terrorist group"?
  5. More specifically, can you explain the difference between Deir Yassin and the Netanya Passover bombing?

— John Caruso

Posted at 04:06 PM | Comments (21)