Friday, September 29, 2006

Is Torture American?

There are a times in America's history that in trying to protect--the country, the status quo--that Congress has passed bills upon the urging of the President of the time that have besmirched, at minimum what our democratic republic stands for, have led to a constitutional crisis. (see - 17k for a compilation of some of these constitutional debates in Congress). There are quite a few, for instance, The Alien and Sedition Act of 1792 and now, the bill that just passed the Senate which would allow the President to establish permissible intertogation techniques, ie., torture.

We have already seen how this administration defines torture with that infamous memo from Gonzales' office when he was Chief Counsel to the President in Jan. 25, 2002 . The memo stated that the pain of interrogation must cause such "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions in order to constitute torture."

Torture is not only against American values (see the 8th Amendment to our Consitution) but that prohibition against governments using cruel and inhuman punishment and interrogation techniques has been echoed in international treaties from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Geneva Conventions.

Torture is ineffective in getting to the truth. The victim will say anything to get the pain to stop--truth or not. Torture is effective in getting revenge (but are we exacting this revenge on the right people--and even then does exactingg revenge without benefit of trial right?). Torture is effective in getting some people's rocks off--hence S&M practices.

I am very sad that the Senate has passed this President's folly (if only it was a folly). We are heading down a slippery slope where democratic values and human rights have no hold. This bill makes the President no better than any dictator who uses torture.
This President's actions, and those of Congress supporting said actions, are against everything thet America stands for, they are, thus, acting in ways unamerican.

Monday, September 18, 2006

This is not an apology

The Pope supposedly trying to engender dialogue between Christians and Muslims chose to do so using a very provocative method: he chose a 14th century text (not a period known for enlighten thought) which said that " Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" (Paleogogus, as used by the Pope on Tuesday in the opening of his address).
Muslims were outraged. So the Pope then issues this:
"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages in my address which were considerd offensive. " (Pope Benedict XVI , Castel Gandolfo, 9/17/06).

This is a non-apology. He is not sorry for what he said, he is sorry for the reaction.
If one starts with an address with a series of egregious statements, do you think it is going to open dialogue?

One is also reminded that the Christians, too, spread their word with the sword: the crusades, inquisitions, pogroms...and a couple of wars.

Unfortunately, the Pope did not enter the dialogue with much forethought or continue it with much afterthought.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tomorrow is Constitution Day

Tomorrow is Constitution Day. The Constitution is only as strong as the people. When you let the elected officials--and we are a Republic-- govern without our oversight you risk losing your democracy, or at least its soul. We have all ready seen how our rights have become abridged with the US Patriot Act.
The public has acquiesced a lot of its power in the name of national security since 9/11. So much so that the Administration, including the President feels it can squelch dissent by calling into question the patriotism of the dissenters, by saying those who disagree with the administration's policies are "Putting the Nation at Risk." This time the people who are "putting our nation at risk are not protestors, are not the voters in Connecticut who choose Lamot over Lieberman but Republican Senators John Warner (VA), John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC). These gentlemen along with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have disagreed with are Bush's proposed rules regarding the interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists. They feel that these proposed rules are counter to the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court also ruled (5-3) last spring that the US needs to adhere to the Geneva Convention (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld to read the case: .

Dissent is American. It is patriotic. It is necessary. Where is Thoreau when you need him? The other night my class did a close reading of Thoreau's 1849 speech cum essay commonly referred to as "Civil Disobedience." To read the entire essay:[]
Thoreau made this points explicit (the numbers are the paragraphs from the essay) :
"11] All Voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.
[16] Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

[19] As for adopting the ways of the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way: its very Constitution is the evil.

[22] Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

[46] The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to?for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well?is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened state until the state comes to recognize the individual as higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to lie aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen. "
(italics mine)

While Thoreau feels that the means of amending unjust laws is too time consuming, his point is that individuals need to act against injustice.

Our founders would agree; they acted against injustice--read the Declaration of Independence.

Tomorrow is Constitution Day. It is only as strong as its people.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Throwing down the Gauntlet

President Bush called the war on terrorism a "A struggle for civilization."
Has he (or his speechwriters) no sense or sensibility?
He just threw down the gauntlet.

I will write more later...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Later

I, too, mourn the people who perished on 9/11. I miss the Towers which loomed over Manhattan. I miss the (mistaken) innocence of Americans--that we were protected from terrorism somehow--forgetting our home grown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, or the FALN's attack on Federal Plaza in the early 1980s one New Year's Eve or even the first attack on the WTC in 1993 . I miss America's democratic integrity the most. To wit:

But five years later Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader and mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, is not only free, the CIA closed its unit--Alec Station--whose goal was to capture bin Laden in July 2006 (see:

In fact, a White House report released just prior (September 4) to the President's current speaking tour entitled “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism’’ (first written in 2003 and updated March,2006 ) confirmed that Al Qaeda is no longer the greatest terrorist threat, it is the growth of decentralized networks of extremists--of which Iran is a potential source of unconventional weapons for terrorist groups.

Instead we are fighting a war in Iraq, whose now deposed leader though evil himself also saw al Qaeda as a threat. And, based on the recent White House report look like we might be going into Iran, next. (Can democracy be imposed on a people?)

So five years later we are giving Osama bin Laden a pass.
We have also had our administration redefine 'torture' while the Justice Department has modified the memo that then- Counsel to the President, and now Attorney General had given to the President which said that, in short, it wasn't torture if the victim did not die. The new memo is at
We have had the administration deny the illegal detention of terror suspects in secret, foreign, prisons only to have the President announce on September 6 " the transfer of the last 14 suspected terrorists held by the CIA at secret foreign prisons to the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." At least he (the president) is heeding the Supreme Court's ruling that prisoners can not be kept at Guantanamo without hearings--since he also said that he is proposing new rules he is sending to Congress for them to be tried before U.S. military tribunal panels.
Yes, we have to stop terrorism--but we should not have to lose our integrity to do so. Our actions just begettinging more terrorists.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day. Its originally meaning lost; it is the last long weekend in Summer--it is the end of summer.
Labor Day marked the success of the labor movement's organizing and improving the workplace and people's lives. It originated as the NY machinist union's holiday in 1882. This idea was quickly adopted by other unions across the country. Congress made Labor Day an official holiday in 1894.
Today Labor Day means a day off for most--except those in retail who are serving the needs of the back to school market, and others who are working to maintain our lives--police, fire, hospital workers, transportation workers, etc.
We should reflect on the recent spat of economic indicator reports that were released.
The median family income is up (only because more family members are working, real median income for working families is actually down 5.4% since 2000).
Productivity is up --over 33 % since 1995 (unfortunately though the workers have not realized this-- real wages have declined since 2000).
While the number of people collecting TANF (welfare reformed under the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996) is down (due in part to the law's 5 year lifetime (over the age of 21) limit on being on the welfare rolls), the number of people living in poverty has (as of 2005 Census statistics) has increased since 2000 when it was 11.3% to 12.6% or 37 million people.
The federal minimum wage has not increased since 1997, and at $5.15 does not lift some one out of poverty (18 states do have higher minimum wages--ranging from Wisconsin's %5.7- to a high of $7.63 in Washington--some local municipalities have even higher minimum wages such as Oxnard, California ($12.88).

Meanwhile the rich are getting richer, thanks to tax cuts and corporate compensation and stocks being linked to productivity and profits.

Maybe we need to reclaim the meaning and spirit of Labor Day. . .and join the living wage movement, for instance.

A different sort of Protection

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has found that prisoners engage in unprotected sex* and that they are becoming HIV positive. The CDC has urged all states to put into place a condom programs. (Sure wish the CDC would realize (again) that everyone who is engaging in unprotected sex runs the risk of contracting HIV and that the CDC would recommend condom use on their web site, but that is another column).
California recently passed a bill that would allow for condoms to be distributed in prisons. (Its awaiting the Governor's signature). The bill almost did not pass because some legislators objecting on moral grounds to condoms. In this case the condoms would not be used for birth control, but disease control. The moral grounds being the sanctity of life? Is not protecting people --no matter who they are--from a deadly disease not protecting the sanctity of life?

* Yes, even with stringent prison rules and regulations, sex happens.

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