Archive for the 'House Red: Politics & Current Affairs' Category

Les affaires Clinton

There is not a doubt in my military mind, as an old college pal and Vietnam veteran used to put it, that Republican so-called investigations into Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s email, and longtime Clinton assistant Huma Abedin have but one aim: to torpedo Clinton’s candidacy for president. That said, more than a few aspects of les affaires Clinton are baffling.

Use of a private email account and server in her role as Secretary of State calls Clinton’s judgment into question, if nothing else. Why hand your enemies a cudgel with which to pound you? Many of us have multiple email accounts, one or more for our work and one or more personal accounts. While on occasion personal communication may slop over onto a professional account and vice versa, no great effort or ingenuity is required to keep them separate for the most part. This is routine in the 21st century. It should have been a no-brainer.

The security issue should be weighed in light of hacks at OMB, IRS, and any number of other government and private sector computer systems. Presumption of privacy and security of information is a quaint relic of another era. The Chinese, the NSA, and Russian mobsters could have access to pretty much anything. This is not to suggest that they do have everything or that security efforts should be abandoned on grounds of futility, only that we should not delude ourselves.

Huma Abedin is said to be Hillary Clinton’s closest aide. Their relationship dates to 1996, when Abedin began working in the White House as an intern assigned to Clinton’s staff while a student at George Washington University. She has since served Clinton in a variety of roles as aide and adviser in a relationship that is personal as well as professional. Clinton has said that if she had a second daughter, it would be Huma. Another Clinton aide described Abedin as “a little like Radar on M*A*S*H”:

I’m not sure Hillary could walk out the door without Huma…. If the air-conditioning is too cold, Huma is there with the shawl. She’s always thinking three steps ahead of Hillary. (communications aide Mandy Grunwald, quoted by Easton in Fortune)

Abedin is pulled into the Clinton email imbroglio by potential conflicts of interest related to multiple part-time jobs she held while at State as a “special government employee,” a legitimate classification that allowed her to hold outside positions with Teneo Holdings as adviser/consultant to private clients and the Clinton Foundation while advising Clinton as a State Department employee and serving as Clinton’s personal assistant.

Teneo is “a global advisory firm that partners exclusively with the CEOs and senior leaders of many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations… Teneo’s clients include the CEOs of many Fortune 100 companies across a diverse range of industry sectors.” Among Teneo’s founders is Doug Band, who began working in the Clinton White House in 1995, first in the White House Counsel’s office, later in the Oval Office as the president’s aide, special assistant to the president, and deputy assistant to the president. He was Bill Clinton’s chief adviser from 2002 to 2012.

It is not surprising that Band would contact Abedin for help getting a client, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a supporter of the Clinton Foundation, appointed to a position on the President’s Global Development Council. I believe the technical term for this kind of thing is networking. As best I can tell there is no indication that Abedin did anything improper. If she did, it was ineffectual, as Rodin never got the appointment.

Is it improper to wonder why Abedin felt she needed to work four jobs to make ends meet? Was she being paid minimum wage by the State Department? What precisely did she do for Teneo and the Clinton Foundation? How many hours a week did she devote to those jobs? Did she do work at one while “on the clock” for another? Was her salary at Teneo and Clinton Foundation for tangible work or for who she is and who she knows, which is to say, for access to the Obama administration at its highest levels?

We do not know if Abedin’s potential conflicts of interest were properly vetted. This kind of thing feeds public cynicism about government that plays into the hands of the antigovernment zealots and demagogues. Clinton has failed to dispel the appearance that she and her staff at State were entirely too casual about these matters. There is more smoke than fire to date, and to my mind not all that much smoke, but there is enough to raise eyebrows even among those less inclined to question Clinton’s bona fides than Senator Grassley and the howling mob behind him. Clinton does not handle this sort of thing deftly. It behooves her to offer an account of how conflicts of interest would be handled differently in a Clinton administration.

On the other hand, high government officials and lowly civil servants alike do not live in a bubble. People turn to former colleagues, people they know and respect, for advice and guidance and even to put in a good word for someone. Interactions of this sort are not in and of themselves wrongful. They do tend to be suspect, particularly when they occur at the intersection of government, wealth, and power. It is not too much to ask that individuals who accept roles at the highest level of government hold themselves to standards commensurate with their positions. A rigorous conflict of interest process does more than deter unethical behavior. It protects the reputations of good people from lies, slander, and innuendo.

My sense of Abedin is that she is an honorable woman of remarkable talent and accomplishment. People such as her are not served well when affairs of state are conducted in a way that provides an opening for a less honorable opposition to level charges of misconduct. Make no mistake, that opposition will go after Clinton and her associates whether they have legitimate grounds or not.

Time and facts as yet unrevealed could prove me wrong about Huma Abedin. For now I give weight to my instinct, based on what I know, which is fragmentary and incomplete. I also take into consideration the statements of John McCain in 2012, when he took to the floor of the Senate to defend Abedin against scurrilous accusations leveled by Michelle Bachman, Louie Gohmert, et al. that her family has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and that she is part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the Obama administration.

McCain described the allegations as “nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.”

Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully. I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.


Rachael Bade, Hillary approved special status for aide Huma Abedin, Politico, 24 September 2015

Bade, Emails show Huma Abedin’s ties to private consulting firm, Politico, 23 September 2015

Nina Easton, How Huma Abedin became Hillary Clinton’s confidante and ‘translator’, Fortune, 10 June 2015

Josh Gerstein and Rachael Bade, Clinton camp: Clinton did not sign form on Abedin job change, Politico, 27 September 2015

Rosalin S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, How Huma Abedin operated at the center of the Clinton universe, Washington Post, 27 August 2015

Justin Wm. Moyer, Why Anthony Weiner lost another job, Washington Post, 17 September 2015

Ed O’Keefe, John McCain defends Human Abedin against accusations she’s part of conspiracy, Washington Post, 18 July 2012

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue … I am not saying lawmakers should ratify or reject the deal. It is up to them to decide.” (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, quoted in Khamenei says Iran parliament ‘should not be sidelined’ on nuclear deal, The Guardian, 3 September 2015)

Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, told reporters in New York on Thursday that Iranian lawmakers would likely debate the accord more heatedly than in the US Congress, where Republicans have sought to kill the deal.

Larijani, an ex-chief nuclear negotiator, said he personally considered the accord good but some stiff opposition remained in the Majlis (parliament), including over a so-called “snapback” clause under which UN sanctions can be reinstated in the event of alleged violations of the terms of the settlement.

“For us, this is not possible,” Larijani said. “We cannot go back to the situation that we were in before the implementation of the agreement.” (Khamenei says Iran parliament ‘should not be sidelined’ on nuclear deal)

The notion that the US could reject this deal and negotiate a stronger one is fanciful. Imagine the offer: “We (alone among our negotiating partners) have decided that the agreed-upon deal is unsatisfactory. Please return to the table where we will insist on tougher provisions.” That leaves only two possibilities—an Iran free of any limits or war. (Jessica T. Mathews, “What Foreign Policy for the US? The New York Review of Books, 24 September 2015)

US media accounts of US and Israeli opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran typically neglect to mention that debate about the agreement is as contentious in Iran as it is here. This would seem to be at odds with the insistence by US opponents of the deal that the terms are all in Iran’s favor. Unless…Iranian hardliners are feigning opposition to dupe the gullible Obama and Kerry into thinking that they have driven a hard bargain. After all, we know the Iranians are lying because Iranians are all liars. We know this because Lindsey Graham tells they are liars. The estimable senator from South Carolina knows they are liars because he once worked in a bar and he knows liars when he sees them. This is the level of the debate?

The US opposition’s tough talk about new sanctions and walking away from the treaty if a Republican is elected president in 2016, not to mention a lunatic enthusiasm in some quarters of the Republican party for consideration of a military option, only strengthens the hand of those in Iran who want to scuttle the deal. One might almost think that they are in cahoots. Perhaps the strategy of Graham, McCain, et al., is to provoke Iranian moderates to reject the deal.

Unfortunately President Obama, John Kerry, Ashton Carter, Hillary Clinton, and other US supporters of the agreement feel compelled to issue repeated proclamations that the military option remains on the table and threaten additional sanctions for Iranian misbehavior to demonstrate that they are not soft on Iran or the global war on terrorism. This is the kind of thinking that sucked the US into Vietnam when liberals in the Kennedy administration felt that above all else they must show that they were not soft on communism. It does not help.

Reporting the Death of a Boy

It is commonplace for television and radio journalists to preface an upcoming feature with a warning that the segment contains graphic images, disturbing content, and so on. On Friday National Public Radio (NPR) ran a piece about the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned with his mother and brother when an overloaded refugee boat capsized as they tried to make their way from Turkey to Greece. Only the father, Abdullah Kurdi, survived.

An NPR correspondent interviewed Kurdi’s brother-in-law, Rocco Logozzo, who spoke from British Columbia. Logozzo and his wife previously sponsored her other brother, Mohammed Kurdi, and his family to come to Canada, hoping to help Abdullah Kurdi’s family immigrate afterward under provisions of a Canadian refugee program. Abdullah Kurdi’s application was denied because the family did not have the UN designation as a refugee. Logozzo spoke of the frustrating experience with an application process he described as” just very onerous and designed to fail.”

Toward the end of the interview the journalist asked Logozzo to talk about the two drowned boys. It is at this point that I question the judgment of those responsible for the piece, editors and producers as well as the journalist, who continued to question him until he became visibly emotional, his voice breaking. The questions  were natural enough. Provoking displays of emotion is standard journalistic practice these days. One presumes that this is at least in part because there is an audience for it. In some sense it sells.

The NPR journalist did nothing out of the ordinary. I am not suggesting that the exchange was aired with an eye to ratings. Was it necessary to fulfill NPR’s mission to inform the public? Was it the right thing to do? News organizations generally, not just NPR, would do well to reflect upon the appropriateness of posing questions that cause hurt and distress to a family that has suffered a terrible loss and airing the response. A paraphrase of Logozzo’s comments about the boys, noting that he was visibly moved, would have served the interest of an informed public while showing consideration for a grieving family.

Only a person whose soul is a clod could fail to be touched by the photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. We can hope that the weight of public opinion will compel governments in Europe and the US to do more so that some good may come of it. I am not arguing that there is no place in reporting for disturbing content or explicit depictions of personal anguish, but that it should not be the default option. If the public seems to demand this kind of reporting, perhaps a responsible news organization has some obligation to maintain a higher standard and thereby, we might hope, cultivate a more discerning public.

Maybe we would do well to ask ourselves if we are we so lacking in empathy and imagination that we are unable to grasp the horror of these heartrending events without graphic images and disturbing content. Maybe Abudllah Kurdi’s eloquence should be enough: “I hope this people will be helped, that these massacres are stopped. We are human beings, just like Westerners. Why are we trying to get to Europe when our country’s more beautiful? That’s just how it is.”


For Family Of Drowned Syrian Boy, ‘There Was No Other Hope,’ Uncle Says, NPR, 4 September 2015

Scott Neuman, Father Of Drowned Syrian 3-Year-Old: ‘We Are Human Beings, Just Like Westerners’,NPR, 4 September 2015



Donald Trump and the F Word

charisma : personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader)

charismatic 1 : of, relating to, or constituting charisma 2 : having, exhibiting, or based on charisma

Let me see, said the blind man.

Among the candidates for the Republican nomination for the presidency is a charismatic leader with a substantial, albeit still a minority, following who taps into fears that the country has lost its way, betrayed by vaguely defined elites of wealth and privilege and the usual suspects among politicians, Washington bureaucrats, the media, and intellectuals. He presents himself as a strong leader, a winner, very rich, very smart, possessed of great management skills he will bring to bear to restore the homeland to a lost greatness. One presumes that he can make the trains run on time. Demonization of an alien and illegitimate “other” whose presence subverts and undermines the nation is central to his platform and appeal. Opponents are characterized as weak, dumb, losers.

Does this scenario ring any bells?

Et tu, Chuck?

Will Senate Dems put the dagger in BHO’s back on the Iran deal? Manu Raju and Burgess Everett reported yesterday in Politico that Charles Schumer is leaning in that direction, and he is not the only member of his party set to cave to the Israel lobby. (Growing signs Schumer will oppose Iran deal).

Raju and Everett write, “The bigger question many have now is this: How hard will he push against it?” No, the bigger question is this: Will feckless Democrats be complicit in an Israeli veto on American foreign policy?

Schumer’s pal John McCain is chortling, ““Boy, I’m glad I’m not Chuck Schumer, I’ll tell ya. He’s got the toughest vote of his career coming.” Ah, McCain.

thoughts and ruminations

Ah, recovery…I am pleasantly surprised by how quickly and easily I got my running mileage back up to an acceptable level after the five-week layoff while my wardrobe included a cast on the fractured wrist. The cast came off on Friday, 27 March. I ran the next morning.

Saturday I capped off a 30-mile week with a run just shy of 13 miles, building on two preceding 25-mile weeks. My pace remains glacial, even by my standards. That is okay. Getting the base back is the priority as I ready myself to begin marathon training in three weeks.

* * * * *

Maybe the running would not mean so much if I had a life. I say this somewhat tongue in cheek, but only somewhat. Those who come to this space regularly will note that I have not done so of late. It is not that I no longer go to my desk. Far from it. The files are littered with fitful starts, abandoned essays, images and fragments that might have coalesced into poem but did not, all dross and detritus, as I find myself adrift in the desolate gray of Beckett territory, nothing to say, no words with which to say it.

* * * * *

Conscience forbids turning blind eye and deaf ear to injustice and wrongs we humans inflict upon one another almost routinely. Conscience compels obligations of citizenship and engagement in the public arena, if nothing else that we take a stance, always with the terrible awareness that any act is apt to amount to little more than gesture, symbolic, futile, empty. Perhaps ’tis well to bear in mind Wordsworth’s lines in “Tintern Abbey” about “that best portion of a good man’s life / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love.”

For too long I have eased my conscience with regular donations to organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, and Union of Concerned Scientists, supplemented by occasional participation in letter-writing campaigns. A week ago I thought of going downtown for the May Day march. I shied away because I knew that among those marching in good faith for a righteous cause would be a critical mass of self-styled anarchists in balaclavas and bandana masks, playacting at revolution, out to precipitate the confrontation with police that indeed occurred. Maybe this is all the more reason for those who think as I do to take part and be counted. Something to bear in mind going forward.

* * * * *

These days paranoia run amok scarcely counts as news. Even so, Texas managed to distinguish itself with the furor over a routine military exercise that a fair number of citizens believe is cover for a military takeover of the state where guns will be confiscated and dissidents will be imprisoned in abandoned Walmart stores. Governor Greg Abbott showed himself to be a fitting successor to Rick Perry, who as Molly Ivins observed, has really good hair, when he issued an order for the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation, from which he backed off a tad after even some Republicans chastised him for pandering to the crazies. The Secretary of Defense hardly distinguished himself with his denial of a charge that does not merit comment.

It takes no great expertise in the field of history to note that the federal government has already taken over Texas on several occasions, first seizing it from Mexico, and again after ill-fated secession from the union. As Texas has not yet tried secession again, a federal takeover would seem to be redundant.

* * * * *

The to-do over use of the term “thug” by Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, among others, to describe those in Baltimore who burned, looted, pillaged, and rampaged was something of an annoying sideshow to events of greater import. I am tempted to say that I can accept just about any derisory term to express condemnation of acts that went beyond the pale of acceptable conduct regardless of provocation or underlying issues. Thug, jerk, knucklehead, Republican, take your pick.

A moment’s reflection gives rise to second thoughts. Emotionally charged words are ill-advised fodder for superficial distractions. The usual suspects among the crowd of law-and-order fetishists gleefully took up the epithet to tar protesters generally. That was and is despicable. I suspect that among the rioters, along with hotheads out for confrontation, eager to stick it to the police, or the man, or whoever it is they thought they were sticking it to, could be found a fair number of ordinary people caught up in the dynamic of the mob, doing things they would not be doing under less extraordinary circumstances. We can understand this without condoning it.

The president got it right. Congressman Elijah Cummings got it right. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony got it right. Destroying the community is not acceptable; it does nothing to bring about redress for legitimate grievance or remedy systemic social, economic, and political injustice and failure. Wanton, mindless destruction brings only harm and suffering to innocent people.

There is no manual with step-by-step instructions to wipe away disparities in wealth, education, and opportunity, to provide decent-paying, entry-level jobs for men and women without education, training, or in some cases discipline, to provide role models for children from families that are broken, in many cases children whose parents are not be bad people, just all too human.

There are heartwarming stories of children with exceptional parents, altogether heroic mothers and fathers who rise above the most difficult of  circumstances to give their daughters and sons a shot at a better life. Not everyone is exceptional. Children who grow up without the guidance from parents, teachers, and community that some of us were fortunate to know will not have that experience to draw on when they themselves become parents. A terrible cycle will be perpetuated.

“If we have learned nothing else from the twentieth century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences. Imperfect improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best that we can hope for, and probably all we should seek.” —Tony Judt


The Texas takeover is like Obamacare death panels, or Sharia law coming to a court near you, or fluoride in the water supply. It doesn’t matter if the particular charge is proven to be completely false. Just getting the larger idea (don’t trust Obama’s feds, they want to un-cling you from your guns and religion) into the mainstream media is a victory. It validates the paranoia. (Leslie Savan, Who’s Really Laughing About the Invasion of Texas? The Nation, 8 May 2015)


After Charlie Hebdo: Marching for Tolerance and Coexistence

The week’s events in Paris cannot go unremarked, not even when one has little to offer beyond what has been related elsewhere. There is a sense of obligation to take some kind of stand, knowing that it may be largely symbolic and ineffectual. We feel outrage, frustration, numbed shock that these horrific things could happen, though horrific things happen all the time. The same week saw, by way of a small sampling, the Boko Haram rampage in northern Nigeria, a suicide bombing of a Lebanese café, the bombing of a building that houses offices of the NAACP in Colorado Springs, a Saudi blogger flogged for “insulting Islam,” and a wave of anti-Muslim “reprisal” attacks in France (This map shows every attack on French Muslims since Charlie Hebdo, Vox, 10 January 2015), along with sadly routine carnage in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

More than a few commentators were as much at pains to distance themselves from the content of Charlie Hebdo’s satire as they were to denounce the attacks. With this I have some sympathy. The handful of Hebdo cartoons I viewed are not to my taste. They tend to be ham-fisted, sophomoric, and not particularly clever. To give the cartoonists their due, the objects of their satire are figures and thinking that tend to be dogmatic, intolerant, and not particularly thoughtful. Charlie Hebdo attacks objectionable speech with other speech, satire and ridicule, not with censorship, and not with violence.

It is not often that I agree with David Brooks. On this I am with him.

When I think back home, I think of how we think about tolerance. And the point I try to make that everyone was saying, I am — Je suis Charlie, or I am with Charlie Hebdo. But if Charlie Hebdo, the magazine, newspaper tried to open up on any college campus in this country, they would be shut down in 30 seconds. They would run afoul of every political correctness, every hate speech code, because they are offensive in some ways.

And so my point for this country is that if we are going to tolerate offensive talk, or if we’re going to expect, frankly Islamist radicals to tolerate offensive talk, then we have to tolerate offensive talk. And we have to invite people to speak at our campuses who are offensive some of the time. And we have to widen our latitude in that area. (PBS Newshour, 9 January 2015)

It is easy to be for free speech that expresses ideas with which we are in agreement or when we have no strong feeling one way or another. Not so much when we find speech offensive or hurtful. Most of us acknowledge that there are always limits. Values are not always compatible. Those of us who see values as principles, habits, ways of thought, and norms that have evolved within the culture may struggle to find common ground with those for whom fundamental values are immutable laws, whether handed down by an omnipotent deity or derived in some other fashion.

The usual suspects in Europe and the U.S. may be counted on to shamelessly exploit the attacks for their own ends, which in Europe go beyond being anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant to include opposition to the European Union. There are genuine issues and problems in relation to immigration, multiculturalism, conflicting values, tolerance, and assimilation. Pat Lang, speaking in reference to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for Islam to reform itself, points out that Shia and Sunni Islam have quite different traditions in this regard.

Of course you [al-Sisi] are Shia and the notion of gradual adaptation to a changing world through accumulated fatwas from the senior scholars of the hawza is embedded in your version of the faith.

From the point of view of al-Sisi the largest problem is with the much larger Sunni Islamic presence because of the rigidity of the process of non-adaptation to a changing world that has been deeply characteristic of Sunni Islam for a millennium and more. The presence within the Sunni “community” of factions that hold extreme salafist opinions and who are willing to put them into action by force of arms has become a problem for the whole world. (Col. W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, ‘In need of a religious revolution’ Toronto Sun, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 10 January 2015)

These issues will not be addressed by xenophobic fearmongering about plots to impose Sharia law in Western countries or the calumny that moderate Muslims fail to renounce terror.

“These men are criminals, barbarians, satans. For me, they are not Muslims,” the imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy [Hassen Chalghoumi], said, addressing the media. “Their hatred, their barbarism, has nothing to do with Islam. We are all French, we are all humans. We must live in respect, tolerance and solidarity.” (Jon Henley, Muslims fear backlash after Charlie Hebdo deaths as Islamic sites attacked, The Guardian, 8 January 2015)

“The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time” (Juan Cole, Yes, they’re Condemning the Paris Attacks: The Muslims’ War on Terror, Informed Comment, 9 January 2015):

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke to an audience of clerics at the Department of Religious Endowments a few days ago. He made waves by denouncing terrorism among Muslims, and said it wasn’t right for the rest of the world to be afraid of 1.5 billion Muslims. He pointedly insisted that the al-Azhar clerics do something about this stain on the honor of Islam, implying that they were not effectively combating extremist ideas. He called for a new sort of “religious discourse” and a “new revolution” to combat extremism.

Islam does not have a monopoly on intolerance and violence. Few if any religions have not seen the blood of innocents shed in their name. Israel’s hands are not clean. America’s hands are not clean. I am in agreement with Col. Lang:

Many people here at SST [Sic Semper Tyrannis] are still horrified at the level of destruction wrought upon Iraq, Pakistan, etc. by the United States. As I have written before “you ain’t seen nuttin yet.” The US was distracted by the false dogma of COIN in these wars, a doctrine easily accepted as a panacea by the ignorant. This doctrine sought an accom[m]odation with local populations through “good works” but carried out in the context of a largely unadaptive world view on the part of the populations involved.

Most Americans, while willing to give such efforts a “try,” really prefer overwhelming brute force and the complete destr[u]ction of enemies. The air campaigns of ann[i]hilation that we waged against Germany and Japan were not a fluke. We never really applied that level of force in the recent wars. The possibilities available are virtually unlimited.

We can be heartened Saturday’s rally in Dresden.

“We won’t permit that hate will divide us”, Dresden’s mayor Helma Orosz said in front of the 18th-century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). (Around 35,000 Germans rally in Dresden against racism and xenophobia, Reuters, 10 January 2015)

We can be heartened too by those in France who responded to the attack on Charlie Hebdo not with xenophobia and hatred but with a renewed call for liberty, equality, and fraternity. “Samia Ghali, mayor of one of Marseille’s districts, told the BBC that people there were marching for tolerance and co-existence. Marseille is the city with the largest Muslim population in France.” (France attacks: Million-strong unity rally in Paris, BBC, 11 January 2015.

This is where we stand.

9 moving tributes to Charlie Hebdo from Arabic-language cartoonists, Vox, 11 January 2015.


My brother was Muslim and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. They are terrorists, that’s it. As for my brother’s death, it was a waste. — Malek Merabet, brother of slain French police office Ahmed Merabet. Malek Merabet’s brief eulogy for his brother concluded with these words:

Devastated by this barbaric act, we associate ourselves with the pain of the families of the victims.

I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes, and anti-Semites:

One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Madness has neither color nor religion. I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring back our dead, and it won’t appease our families. (Ahmed Merabet’s eulogy is the most important thing you’ll read on Charlie Hebdo, Vox, 11 January 2015)


Investigate and Bring to Justice Those Responsible for Torture of Terrorism Suspects

I urge you to join The Editorial Board of the The New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Watch in calling on President Obama to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects, including former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos.

Contact the White House

Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses, The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 21 December 2014

What can we be for if we do not stand against these barbaric acts?

What can we be for if we do not stand against these barbaric acts?

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the U.S. tortured people after 9/11. In this respect the findings of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence come as no surprise. The degree of brutality revealed by the report, however, goes beyond what might have been imagined even by some of us who feel ourselves without illusion about U.S. actions of the past thirteen years.

Attempts to neuter the debate by employment of the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” and its bureaucratic acronym “EITs” are nothing short of vile. Colonel W. Patrick Lang, retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, writes in Sic Semper Tyrannis about being subjected to waterboarding and other techniques in the 1960s during a training exercise whose purpose was to teach special operations forces how to resist and endure torture. I quote at length while recommending the entire post. It is compelling reading.

…at the end of the course, we were all seized and put in a “practise” PW camp where we were held naked for days without shelter during the monsoon, subjected to many of the “techniques” described in the senate report and then at the end, waterboarded. I am here to tell you that anyone who thinks waterboarding is not torture has not been waterboarded. I thought then and think now that the psychologists and air force people who ran the camp were dangerous sadists. (As I thought, SERE was the start point, 10 December 2014. )

Proponents of the CIA program want to turn the discussion from moral and ethical considerations to pragmatic issues of effectiveness. They are particularly fond of the “ticking time bomb” scenario to defend, and indeed endorse, interrogation by any means deemed necessary, without limitation. Many who can speak more authoritatively on the subject than I, including Colonel Lang, do not buy the effectiveness argument. As for the “ticking time bomb,” CIA personnel tortured detainees over extended periods of time without garnering any useful information or, apparently, wondering if perhaps that time bomb must be ticking pretty damn slowly.

One CIA interrogator at COBALT reported that “‘literally, a detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him’, and that his team found one detainee who ‘as far as we could determine’, had been chained to a wall in a standing position for 17 days’.” (Rushe, McCaskill, et al., The Guardian, 11 December 2014)

The “ticking time bomb” justification was for the most part a hollow rationale for acts that even the program’s defenders agree are abhorrent—with the qualification “for the most part” perhaps giving more benefit of the doubt than is warranted.

In closing I turn again to Colonel Lang, and again take the liberty to quote at length:

The CIA and its Corps of Tormentors disgraced and soiled the United States as did the US Army at Abu Ghraib. Insufficient punishment was meted out to the senior army culprits at Abu Ghraib, but now there is a chance to make an example of the monstrous fools who motivated, directed and executed this renewal of the Inquisition. It should be mentioned that Cheney and Rumsfeld played a direct role in encouraging US Army intelligence to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The Obama Justice Department should reverse its stated position and re-open investigations that may lead to the indictment of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rodriguez, and all those who participated in this criminal violation of US and international law. For the president and Holder to fail to do this would make them be in violation of their oaths of office. (The US must purge itself,11 December 2014.


Colonel W. Patrick Lang, As I thought, SERE was the start point, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 10 December 2014.

Colonel W. Patrick Lang, The US must purge itself, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 11 December 2014.

Dominic Rushe, Ewen MacAskill, Ian Cobain , Alan Yuhas and Oliver Laughland, Rectal rehydration and waterboarding: the CIA torture report’s grisliest findings, The Guardian, 11 December 2014.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, published in The Guardian, 9 December 2014. [memo from the editorial desk: I have only skimmed the introductory pages thus far.]

Kaveh Waddell, The Long, Brutal Interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, The National Journal, 9 December 2014.


Ferguson: where do we go from here?

The decision of the St. Louis county grand jury and the reaction to it were predictable and disheartening. The prosecutor presumed that the police officer did nothing wrong. The mob presumed guilt and demanded vengeance.

Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall make the case concisely and well that Darren Wilson’s story is not believable. Klein and Marshall are both careful to acknowledge that it is possible that events unfolded exactly as Wilson says they did. As Klein puts it, Wilson’s account

…is unbelievable.

I mean that in the literal sense of the term: ‘difficult or impossible to believe.’ But I want to be clear here. I’m not saying Wilson is lying. I’m not saying his testimony is false. I am saying that the events, as he describes them, are simply bizarre. His story is difficult to believe.

“Prosecution” is a misnomer in this case. The prosecutor was not seeking an indictment. His role, as  he saw it, was not to examine a police officer’s account that put credulity to the test but to discredit the testimony of witnesses who painted a different picture of events.

PBS put together a nice chart comparing key details of Wilson’s account with witness statements. Witnesses are all over the place on every detail. The only conclusions to be drawn are that none of us know what happened the day Michael Brown was killed and that the grand jury proceeding was woefully inadequate.

Racial inequity, prejudice, and mistrust, disparity in income and education, gun culture, and the Israelification of American police departments make for a dismal mix that all but guarantees bad outcomes. Willingness to accept violence as a response to injustice is also part of the problem. It is not enough to say that we condemn violence but understand when people when people who are justifiably aggrieved vandalize and loot their own neighborhoods, toss molotov cocktails, and burn police cars. People who think as I do cannot waffle on this point. Those who vandalize, loot, and burn do not stand with us. They do not stand with Michael Brown and other victims. They stand only for a perpetuation of the cycle of violence. The same goes for those who do not question police violence. They do not stand with honorable officers who put themselves at risk trying to do the right thing.

What is to be done? I could not bring myself to join the demonstrations in Portland, though I do not for an instant doubt that there were many honorable individuals doing what they felt that they could to stand and be counted. There is a place for public protest and demonstration. We need it to be more than a passing ad hoc response to the injustice of the day or an occasion for self-styled anarchists to don their balaclavas and Guy Fawkes masks and run amok.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Perhaps Martin Luther King was right, but if so, that arc bends slowly, in painfully small increments. How do we move beyond slogans such as “no justice no peace,” from one side, and “I am Darren Wilson,” from the other, toward a civil and civic society that more in the best of times remains a formidable work in progress and in the worst of times seems little more than wishful thinking?


Ben Casselman, It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did, FiveThirtyEight, 24 November 2014

Ezra Klein, Officer Darren Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally., Vox, 25 November 2014

Josh Marshall, Making Sense of Darren Wilson’s Story, Talking Points Memo, 26 November 2014

Laura Santhanam and Vanessa Dennis, What do the newly released witness statements tell us about the Michael Brown shooting?, PBS Newshour, 25 November 2014

Allison Silver, Ferguson questions swirl: If it’s about finding facts, why no trial?, Reuters, 25 November 2014

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