August 30, 2006

Illegal TV

There's something contradictory about outlawing a TV channel in America. Last week a guy was arrested for hooking up a satellite to receive Hezbollah's Al-Manar. Of course, we have laws against providing support to terrorist organizations, but outlawing the reception of a TV signal feels a lot like a limit on freedom of speech.

The whole thing gets a bit Byzantine with the details. Hezbollah is categorized as a terrorist organization, but that started in 1997, before stateless rogues added political party to their business plans (like IRA, PLO, EZLN, and most recently Muqtada Al-Sadr). Hezbollah politically controls 21% of the municipalities of Lebanon. They understand Tip O'Neill's aphorism that "all politics is local."

(Political states have been using terrorism to execute foreign policy for years; it's reasonable to expect that terrorist groups would eventually take up politics to effact their domestic agendas.)

On top of all this, the federal law forbidding support for terrorists has an explicit exemption for news and media. So it turns out, the guy wasn't charged with breaking that law, but rather for conspiracy to break that law. Conspiracy to do something that isn't illegal, however, seems like a pretty weak charge to me.

He's a regular guy trying to make a living in Brooklyn. I expect they'll soon realize this is a lame case with nothing to prosecute, but they will be too embarrassed to drop it. It'll be the sequel to the Jose Padilla case.

August 28, 2006

Working Poor

I don't really mind Bill Clinton congratulating himself for the welfare reform of 1996 as long we recognize that Clinton's law only ended the Federal government's involvement with poverty. It didn't end poverty, as we can see from this PBS documentary, (Tuesday Night!).

ps - Here's a nice Q and A from Newsday about the current state of American workers' wages.

pps - Did you know that 1 in EIGHT Americans lives below the poverty line? (1 in FOUR African-Americans!) There's a new census report.

August 26, 2006

Not Solvable

I met a guy who told me about a member of his family he described as a "little crazy." He told me of all the shenanigans that seemed typical of a person suffering from bipolar disorder (or whatever – I'm no expert).

Exasperated, he said through a heavy sigh that if the crazy guy would only do this or that, then the problem would be solved and the grief would end. But it seemed more likely to me that this problem is one for which a solution may not exist. Theirs may not be a problem per se, but a problematic and chronic condition. With this interpretation, the situation might be approached with a different frame of mind. The question is how to cope, rather than how to solve. And for some people, at some times, grief may never completely go away.

August 25, 2006

Racism and What Makes It OK

If you are irrefutably exposed as a racist, some people feel an apology will make it all better. So I don't blame George Allen, Mel Gibson, Andrew Young, or any other public bigot for trying that. The truth is however, that these guys are racists. Their words were spoken sincerely and reflect their true nature.

I am all for forgiveness, but apologies like the ones of these ignoramuses are so disingenuous. It all just seems like a public relations process that makes racism an accepted practice in public life.

ps - Jeffrey Feldman discusses George Allen's true nature and public verbiage vis-à-vis a wink on Daily Kos

August 22, 2006

Fear Thy Neighbor

By living in, and becoming acclimated to a State of Fear, fear has become the imperative. To be without fear is to misunderstand the world, if you were to take the current president's view.

In the past, to fear thy neighbor manifested itself in familiar ways: racism, homophobia, disdain for the poor. But what is new now is the overt allowance for the actions from that fear - often resulting in shameful scenes at airports (embarrassing in that they are usually simply panic with severely unjust results).

So to the question posed by the BBC journalist Sean Coughlan, (as part of their discussion of the English tourist flight from Spain on which some passengers demanded that their own suspicion of their fellow travelers must be addressed by the airline) "Is this an understandable response or paranoia and prejudice?"

The answer is YES, because both side of this false dichotomy are true, and the freak-out may be forgivable, but it is also unacceptable. Turning on your neighbors in this sort of vigilante style cannot become common.

PS - One can re-brand racism as profiling (without the 'racial' prefix), but there will always be less reprehensible ways to provide sercurity.

August 19, 2006

The Fable of the Few Bad Apples

These are the sorts of headlines that make us feel good about the system, like the guilty are being punished, and justice is running her course:

Ex-Contractor Guilty of Assaulting Detainee (Washington Post)

and …

Ex-C.I.A. Employee Guilty in Assault of Afghan (NYT)

But the story of David Passaro is not so great news, but rather more myth.

Even though he killed a man, Passaro was only convicted of assault. This easy treatment is consistent with other prisoner abuse cases where only 1 in 8 convictions has resulted in jail time of more than a year. Passaro's case was the only civilian case prosecuted by the Justice Department even though 20 were recommended for prosecution by the Pentagon.

So there are many more cases that will never see a courtroom. Like all the other defendants in trials like this, Passaro claims that his superiors knew what was happening and encouraged it. He says this sort of harsh abuse was going on all the time, everyone was doing it, and I believe him.

August 17, 2006

Still Waiting

A week after their arrests, we still have no charges for the allegedly flammable liquid-wielding Brits.

In fact, the story is barely even news anymore. Today, the major papers buried it beyond page 10 (but it's tough to compete with a break in the JonBenet case).

Security guards watched these guys for months, but when they finally arrest them for a plot akin to 9/11, they don't even have enough to make a charge?!

What they have done is get a court to extend the time allowed to hold a person without charge, and if they were as smart as Americans, they would start to figure out how to get a court to allow as evidence the affidavit of a torture victim.

So in the end, there may be no convictions, and maybe no plot (and definitely no more hair gel in your carry-on) but did George Bush get a bounce in the polls? Newsweek says … maybe, but US News … maybe not.

August 15, 2006

Crime of Looking

Many reports of the cell phone terror hysteria explained that possessing pictures of a pretty bridge, and purchasing prepaid cell phones were reasons enough to require arrest. These descriptions of suspicious behavior leave something out, but we can all fill in the omission: the arrested men looked liked Arabs.

So the crime here is the crime of looking. Looking at the Mackinac bridge while also looking Arabic.

It is polite (and crappy) journalism to leave out questions of racism. We all pretend to live in a so-called color-blind society, as if racism is a dichotomy without middle ground, as if no good people are capable of seeing or reacting to a person's race.

Let us accept that this is folly. And accept that racism in the main, exists as a matter of degrees, neither purely evil nor holy. And that bridges between peoples shall be beautiful enough to make images of them worth possessing.

PS - Even though the FBI and Michigan State police have cleared the men of connections to terrorism, county authorities in Michigan have their pride to consider.

August 13, 2006

Don't Be Afraid

Are you ready for the storm of terrorism hysteria? The big alleged British bust has yet to charge anybody with a crime, and now, in the midwest US, selling cell phones on the street is the occupation of terrorists.

It simply feels very thin to me.

August 11, 2006

One Side of the Story

Regarding the new alleged terrorist attack allegedly foiled by the British and/or American security forces: An important thing to keep in mind is that these same security forces, MI5 and Homeland Security, have consistently arrested innocent people, gone public with false charges, exaggerated threats and their own capabilities, bungled investigations, lied to the public, and even killed and imprisoned harmless citizens.

More often than not, these are the things that have been happening. Let us remember the so-called terror plots from Forest Gate, Portland, Miami, Buffalo, and Detroit. Let us remember Jean Charles de Menezes, and Rigoberto Alpizar, and Jose Padilla.

We cannot trust these so-called security forces to tell us the truth.

PS: As we read the names of the alleged terrorists this morning, we should ask why these names are released before there have been any formal charges made. And to understand how justice works in the war on terror, consider the role of public humiliation and the plea bargain as techniques to avoid embarrassing the state.

PPS - Why is 'conspiracy' is a weak charge and not even considered a crime of International Law?

August 10, 2006

Justice Is as Justice Does

Clearly the Bush Administration condones torture, and when they say they do not, they are lying. As Alberto Gonzales continues to convince congress to make Americans exempt from international law, (easy explainer here), it's clear that this is what they want to do. They think it is OK to do what the entire rest of the world has rejected, and has done so for 500 years.

Because it should be obvious to everyone, the moral argument against cruel and degrading treatment usually goes unstated. But in section 28 of his first encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of something:

"The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves. … Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. "

August 8, 2006

To See and Be Seen

It should not be a crime to be poor, and it should not be a crime to feed the poor. So it's curious that Las Vegas and Orlando have passed laws against feeding the poor in public parks.

The side in favor of these ordinances claim that 'mobile soup kitchens', render the park "impossible for others to use."

It sounds to me like some folks more fortunate than others may get the heebie-jeebies when folks of lesser means start to appear in plain sight.

It's understandable that people don't want to see things that displease them, but some things we are better for seeing. Poverty is one of these things, and so too are the fallen men and women of Bush's folly (and LATimes had the story, too).

PS - The Memory has some of the unseeable Americans.

August 6, 2006

Brutal History Evermore

Extraordinary levels of brutality are what we see in the declassified files of B Company. The LATimes has printed (and Truthout has posted) horrifying and sad accounts of violence against Vietnamese civilians by American GI's. This archive of war files is a crystal ball that reflects our current quagmire in Iraq. We see the torture, orders to murder civilians, and the rape of young girls.

Like the current war, very few were held accountable. This is part of a system that is out of control, one that makes it impossible for mere men be truly responsible for what happens in a state of hellish war. It is a system of legal absolution, and it is best described by former investigators who said:

"We could have court-martialed them but didn't."
"I don't remember why it didn't go anywhere."
"Everyone wanted Vietnam to go away."

By virtue of being part of the system of war, crimes against humanity are only punishable if the criminals are of the losing side in conflict (as in Nuremberg.) Today, as exactly 62 years ago, victors can do what they please, and for whatever reason.

August 5, 2006

Systems: Blaming and Gaming

The military gang rape of a 14 year old girl in Mahmudiya, Iraq, had systemic causes. The NYTimes elaborated on this today. The defense strategy for the trials will be based on blaming the system.

It's a desperate, but fascinating approach because, to the degree it's effective at all, we'll have a system that continually and automatically absolves itself. In other words, we'll have created a system that can now be blamed for our sins.

This seems a bit more elegant than say, clunkily working with Congress to turn the heretofore illegal into the new legal. (like this, and this.)

But, for the simplest circumnavigation of law, nothing beats the presidential signing statement.

PS - more on beating the legal system.

August 3, 2006

Oscar-Winning Racist

Movie stars have screwed up and been arrested before, but Mel Gibson's bust is different. This is no run-of-the-mill celebrity gossip. We can forgive and forget the alcoholic, sexual, and angry improprieties of our icons as indications that they are just like the rest of us (drunk, horny, and pissed). But Gibson is not like us, and we don't want him to be. He hates Jews.

This used to be a debatable question, but now the matter is settled. He's neither the first, nor only anti-Semite, and he's certainly one of many who learned to hate from his dad. (… like these kids here.)

To Gibson, racism is the privilege of the Oscar-winning rich. After asking the arresting officer if he was a Jew, Gibson claimed he "owns Malibu", and vowed to "spend all his money to get even.”

In a ploy to prove some of his best friends are Jewish, Gibson planned to produce a Holocaust miniseries. But that was just a hollow sham: he didn’t want his own name publicly associated with the project, and then took two years to deliver a first draft of the script. ABC got off that train.

Since his first apology was a ham-fisted dud, what sort of cynical acts will Gibson use to buy our forgiveness this time? Disney plans to make serious gelt on Mel's next flick (slated for a Hanukkah release) so expect to see the heads of the Mouse House lining up to tell us what a mensch he is.