Friday, September 30, 2011

Word


Cross-posted from Vast-Left Conspiracy

International Execution

Anwar Al-Awlaki
It is being reported this morning that an American drone attack in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda.

I previously wrote about the legal challenge brought by his father challenging the Obama Administration's policy of targeting an American citizen for assassination.  I was particularly incensed by the criticism of the legal team that brought the lawsuit as having crossed some line by representing a suspected terrorist. 

The judge ultimately dismissed the case without reaching the merits, finding that the father did not have standing to sue.  But it is worth taking note of the New York Times Dec. 12th editorial entitled Judicial Scrutiny Before Death, which argued that despite winning in court, "the administration should remain very worried about the moral implications of its policy," which the district court judge "sharply questioned" despite dismissing the lawsuit.  The Times noted that, as the judge wrote, one of the many unanswered questions remaining is whether "the Executive [can] order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization”

The Times stressed the importance of judicial scrutiny, and suggested creating a court that operates in secrecy, "like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretaps on foreign agents inside the United States."  Thus, at minimum, "the government could present its evidence to this court behind closed doors before putting a terror suspect on its target list."

After the death of Osama bin Laden, I wrote:
Of course the world is better off without Osama bin Laden, and it is far better that "the face of the Arab world in America’s eyes," as Jon Stewart said, will no longer be bin Laden's, but instead will be "the young people in Egypt and Tunisia and all the Middle Eastern countries around the world where freedom rises up.”  But, while President Obama declared that "justice has been done," if it turns out that bin Laden could have been taken into custody alive without immediate risk to life when more than 20 Navy SEALS entered his compound, then his killing was retribution, not justice.

"Proper justice," as Daniele Archibugi explains, "is made in the tribunals, not outside them."  Perhaps there was no choice, but it would have been "much more judicially satisfactory," if less immediately gratifying, "to have arrested bin Laden," and to give responsibility to the courts, "rather than to a commando" to judge and punish.

As human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson states, justice "requires a fair trial before an independent court."  . . .  What should not be forgotten, as Karen Greenberg reminds us, is that the effect of bin Laden's reign of terror on the United States was to pervert our notion of justice: "Under the rubric of fighting terror, the United States rolled back its hallowed notions of civil liberties, its embrace of modernity, and even its reliance on its own courts. We delved into medieval-style torture, we reneged on our courts as a viable option for trying terrorists, and we blindly took aim at a religion, rather than its disaffected hijackers."
This Administration's "relentless program of wiping out top al-Qaida leaders around the world through unilateral covert strikes" is deeply troubling, both morally and legally.  More so for Al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who was never indicted and not afforded the due process rights to which American citizens are entitled.  As Glenn Greenwald put it:  "he was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner."

Jameel Jafar,  the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal director, argued that the government’s targeted killings violated United States and international law.
“As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts.” 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Solyndra "Scandal" About Big Oil, King Coal Power And Intimidation

By Dave Johnson, cross-posted from Campaign For America's Future

Last week big oil/big coal sent a not-subtle message to the country's investment community: if you back companies or technologies that compete with us we will crush you. Our media/political machine will accuse you of every crime in the book. Your picture will be plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the country looking like you are on the FBI's "Most Wanted List." We will haul you before Congress and grill you like a tri-tip on national television. The evening news will speculate that you should be in prison.
Here is the other message that is being sent out loud and clear to the rest of us: America is for oil and coal. If you want alternatives let China do it.

Extending To Everything

Here is what the conservative propaganda machine does. It sets a narrative, pounds out a drumbeat on that narrative, and then every news event is twisted to leach the lesson of the narrative. The oil-backed right had been on an anti-green kick for some time. In The Phony Solyndra Solar Scandal I gave some examples -- just a taste -- of this narrative development.

That is what they do. They develop the narrative -- in this case, anti-green, and when there is a story in the news they twist it to teach the lesson.

Wikileaked At The State Department

The Only Employee at State Who May Be Fired Because of WikiLeaks

By Peter Van Buren, cross-posted from TomDispatch

On the same day that more than 250,000 unredacted State Department cables hemorrhaged out onto the Internet, I was interrogated for the first time in my 23-year State Department career by State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and told I was under investigation for allegedly disclosing classified information.

The evidence of my crime? A posting on my blog from the previous month that included a link to a WikiLeaks document already available elsewhere on the Web.

As we sat in a small, gray, windowless room, resplendent with a two-way mirror, multiple ceiling-mounted cameras, and iron rungs on the table to which handcuffs could be attached, the two DS agents stated that the inclusion of that link amounted to disclosing classified material. In other words, a link to a document posted by who-knows-who on a public website available at this moment to anyone in the world was the legal equivalent of me stealing a Top Secret report, hiding it under my coat, and passing it to a Chinese spy in a dark alley.

The agents demanded to know who might be helping me with my blog (“Name names!”), if I had donated any money from my upcoming book on my wacky year-long State Department assignment to a forward military base in Iraq, and if so to which charities, the details of my contract with my publisher, how much money (if any) I had been paid, and -- by the way -- whether I had otherwise “transferred” classified information.

Had I, they asked, looked at the WikiLeaks site at home on my own time on my own computer? Every blog post, every Facebook post, and every Tweet by every State Department employee, they told me, must be pre-cleared by the Department prior to “publication.” Then they called me back for a second 90-minute interview, stating that my refusal to answer questions would lead to my being fired, never mind the Fifth (or the First) Amendments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

R.I.P. Manuel Valle

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
Florida executed Manuel Valle on September 28, 2011, for the 1978 killing of Coral Gables Officer Louis Pena.  The Supreme Court temporarily halted the execution minutes before Valle was set to die but denied the request for a stay a few hours later, and the execution went forward.

Justice Breyer dissented from the Court's order denying the stay, and would have granted review to consider whether being incarcerated on death row for more than thirty years constitutes cruel and unsual punishment.  Breyer claimed to have " little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death," and said it would also seem to be unusual given that the average stay on death row is almost 15 years.

Breyer also wrote:  "The commonly accepted justifications for the death penalty are close to nonexistent in a case such as this one.  It is difficult to imagine how an execution following so long a period of incarceration could add significantly to that punishment’s deterrent value.  It seems yet more unlikely that the execution, coming after what is close to a lifetime of imprisonment, matters in respect to incapacitation."

This is the 37th execution in the United States in 2011, the first in Florida.

R.I.P. Derrick Mason

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On September 22, 2011, Alabama executed Derrick Mason for the 1994 murder of Angela Cagle, a Huntsville convenience store clerk who was shot during a robbery.

Governor Robert Benchley denied a request for clemency despite a letter from the sentencing judge who claimed that this was his first death penalty case and that his own lack of experience led him to impose the wrong sentence.  The judge also noted the lack of experience of Mason's trial lawyers, a brother and sister team who each had been practicing less than five years and had no previous trial experience. They failed to present evidence that Mason was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crime and failed to inform the jury about Mason's struggles with drug addiction, mental health problems, and that he was the victim of physical and sexual abuse.

This is the 36th execution in the United States in 2011, the fifth in Alabama.  Derrick Mason is the fourteenth African American executed this year. 

Jose Reyes Plays It By The Numbers

Most baseball fans know the story about Ted Williams, who was the last player to hit .400.  Seventy years ago, Williams was hitting .39955 (which rounds up to .400). The Red Sox were closing out the season with a double-header and Sox manager Joe Cronin asked Williams if he wanted to sit out the final two games and preserve his magical .400 average.  Williams declined the offer saying, "If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I’m going to be a .400 hitter all the way.”  In his first at-bat in the first game, Williams singled, putting his average safely over .400.  But he didn't stop there. He didn't ask to be taken out.  Williams finished game one with four hits in five at bats, and then played the second game, going 2-for-3, ending the season with his legendary .406.

Jose Reyes, going in to the last game of the season today was leading Milwaukee's Ryan Braun for the National League batting title by .336 to .335.  After getting a bunt single in his first at bat, Jose asked to be taken out of the game to preserve his lead, disappointing the Met fans, many of whom came out to see this dreadful team for no other reason than to cheer Jose on in what might be his final game as a Met.  Ryan Braun will need to go 3-for-4 in his game tonight to overtake Jose.   

I love Jose Reyes, an extraordinary talent and arguably baseball's most exciting player.  He is about to become a free agent and, as I've written before, the Mets would be making a huge mistake if they don't resign him.  But leaving the game early to win the batting crown seems contrary to his passionate and joyous approach to the game.  Dare I suggest that Jose did so because he recognized that leading the league in hitting will help him in negotiating a new contract?

Jose Reyes will likely become the first Met to ever lead the league in batting average.  Cleon Jones came in third in 1969 (behind Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente) and in 1998, Jon Olerud finished second behind Larry Walker.  This is a great achievement and Jose had a spectacular year.  But as with everything else about the Mets lately, even when something positive happens, there is a downside.

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)


Professor Wangari Maathai Remembered
cross-posted from openDemocracy

Following the death of Wangari Maathai, noted activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, openDemocracy remembers her through her own words and those of her fellow Nobel Peace Laureates.

Back in May of this year Wangari Maathai presented a message to the third international Nobel Women's Initiative gathering, focusing on ending sexual violence in conflict.



This video was originally published by the Nobel Women's Initiative.

Message from Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, and Mairead Maguire:
We are terribly saddened by the death of our beloved friend and sister Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai.  Wangari was a true visionary whose work and life served as a powerful example to women everywhere.  She showed us that the eradication of poverty, the empowerment of women, and a sustainable future for our planet are all essential building blocks of a more just and peaceful world.  She lived her belief that all of us have a role to play in creating sustainable peace.

It has been a great privilege to know and work with Wangari through our joint efforts in the Nobel Women's Initiative, launched in January 2006.  Her tireless commitment to humanity was evident in everything she did--from planting trees and listening to women in refugee camps to amplifying the voices of the disempowered to leaders and decision makers around the globe

Wangari's fearless strength in adversity, her creative approach to building a peaceful, healthy planet and her hard work to inspire and empower women will live on.  Her passion and commitment have moved countless people to take action to improve their communities. We will miss her great shining smile and her indomitable spirit but all those she has inspired will keep her vision alive through each small action we take toward a better world.
 For more information, visit the Green Belt Movement or the Nobel Women's Initiative web sites.

Why Fast Track Health Care Reform To The Supreme Court?

While most legal observers believe, especially given the split among the circuit courts, that the Supreme Court will ultimately decide health care reform's fate, the Obama's Administration appears to be in a hurry to find out. 

Last month, by a 2-to-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Affordable Health Care Act's individual mandate, i.e., the requirement that everyone obtain health insurance, is unconstitutional, although it upheld the remainder of the law's provisions.  (The Sixth Circuit has ruled that the Act is constitutional in its entirety and the Fourth Circuit dismissed Virginia's challenge for lack of standing.)

The next step would normally be to seek rehearing by the full 11-judge (en banc) panel of the 11th Circuit, which likely would have delayed any Supreme Court decision until after the 2012 presidential election.  The Justice Department, however, just announced they would forgo en banc review and take the case directly to the Supreme Court (which has discretion to take the case or not).

Why?  Sarah Kiff at the Washington Post suggests three reasons:  (1) the fear that if they delay and Obama loses the 2012 election, a Republican-led Administration would take a contrary position and challenge the act's constitutionality; (2) rehearing en banc could be denied anyway, and given the majority of Republican judges on the 11th Circuit, a decision by the full panel could make the decision worse; and (3) seeking rehearing would make the White House look as if it were stalling; pursuing a faster timeline displays confidence.

In my opinion, these explanations don't hold water.  First, I can't see the Justice Department considering a loss by Obama in 2012 as part of its legal strategy.  Besides, if the GOP wins the presidency and likely with it the Congress, they will repeal health care reform anyway.  The second reason makes more sense.  There really is no downside if the 11th Circuit denies rehearing, although if it did take up the case, an adverse en banc opinion might provide more persuasive force than one by a 3-judge panel.  I'm not sure, however, it would make a significant difference in the Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide the underlying issues regardless of the lower court's reasoning.  As for the third reason, the appearance of foot-dragging is simply not a reasonable factor for failing to pursue a legitimate avenue of appeal in the circuit.

Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSBlog believes the Administration is motivated less by politics and more by the need to more expeditiously resolve the issues surrounding this complicated statute so that federal agencies can fully implement whatever health care provisions are ultimately upheld.  

Goldstein may be right that "the government tends to act in its institutional interests first, and the interest of a particular Presidential Administration second," but I think Obama has made a political calculation.  My guess is he has determined that legal precedent is on their side, and that the Affordable Care Act will be upheld in the Supreme Court, thereby defusing a Republican talking point and providing an enormous boost to the political campaign.

The problem, of course, is that the right wing majority of the Court has proved itself perfectly willing to throw aside well-established legal principles when they interfere with their underlying political goals.  (On the other hand, as Dalia Lithwick writes, the Court may seek to avoid the controversy altogether, and is unsure there "are five justices at the high court eager to have the court itself become an election-year issue.")

It will be fascinating to see what Obama and the Democrats do if the law is tossed out.  Public option anyone?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How Many Jobs Has Deregulation Cost Us, Senator Shelby?

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, cross-posted from Huffington Post

The Republicans have opened another front in their never-ending war against regulations, those tools that help government protect us from greedy corporations. Leading the charge once again is Sen. Richard Shelby, the willing servant of Wall Street who weakened the regulations in Dodd/Frank during negotiations with Sen. Dodd ... and then refused to vote for it anyway.

After that little bit of procedural treachery, Sen. Shelby attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Protect consumers? How dare they?) with outright falsehoods about the extent of that organization's power.

Now Shelby's fighting urgently-needed regulations by proposing something called the "Financial Regulatory Responsibility Act." It would, according to the Senator, "determine the economic impacts of proposed rule-makings, including their effects on growth and net job creation."

Sen. Shelby added: "My colleagues and I are simply proposing that each financial regulator determine whether the economic cost of a new regulation exceeds its economic benefit. If it does, then the regulation should not be implemented."

Here's where you're probably expecting a hostile comment about the Senator's proposal. Forget it. I think it's a great idea ... one one condition: The bill should be revised so that every politician who proposes de-regulating an industry, and every regulator who fails to use their powers properly, must be held to the same standard. They must first "determine the economic impact of the proposed deregulation, including its effects on growth and net job creation."

California's Death Penalty System Is Broken Too

It is easy to be smug here in California, driving our hybrids, drinking our soy lattes, and condescendingly observing the executions in other states from afar.

Troy Davis is executed in Georgia despite serious doubts about his guilt.  Duane Buck comes within hours of execution in Texas despite a trial marred by racism.  Rick Perry boasts about presiding over more executions than any other governor while the GOP faithful cheer him on. 

But California's death penalty scheme suffers from the same problems that plague other states.  It is costly, arbitrary, discriminatory, and unworkable.  It serves no useful purpose while diverting needed resources from true public safety programs.

We would like to believe that our justice system reserves the death penalty for the “worst of the worst,” but with a population over 700, California has the largest death row in the country -- by far.  And more often the determining factor for death sentences is not the nature of the crime, but race, geography and/or the quality of trial counsel.  (See, e.g., Death Rattle For California, California's Dysfunctional Death Penalty, California's Unusually Cruel Death Penalty, State of Barbarism.)

Due to the tangle of state and federal legal procedures intended to speed up and circumscribe the appellate process, we too have experienced executions in the face of new evidence raising questions about guilt.  As an article in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle observed, even assuming California provides greater protections than other death-penalty states, no state "can guarantee the guilt of everyone it has condemned.  And none of California's due-process protections kept 42-year old Thomas Thompson from going to his death in 1998 for a murder he may not have committed."

And then there is the cost.  A study released in June by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon found that California's death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year.  Further, "since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."

It is time to end the death penalty in California.  Recent polling shows Californians' strong support for life without the possibility of parole as the ultimate punishment instead of the death penalty.  These findings are in line with other polling data in California and nationwide.

One of my colleagues put it this way:
A lot have people have been moved to action by the Troy Davis execution. Close to home, Californians can do something: join the campaign to repeal the death penalty in California next year. California has its own unhealthy attachment to the death penalty. In 2009, LA County sentenced more people to death than the entire state of Texas, and the California Supreme Court has upheld almost every death sentence it has reviewed since [former Chief Justice] Rose Bird was ousted in the mid-1980s -- a higher affirmance rate than in many southern states. Our Death Row has topped 700 -- by far the largest in the country. Thankfully, executions here have been stopped by federal court review of the lethal injection process. Polling shows Californians would be willing to get rid of the death penalty on fiscal grounds, and now is the time to do it! 
The SAFE California campaign will start gathering signatures in October to put before the voters at the November 2012 election an initiative to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole with work and restitution to victims through a victim compensation fund. The initiative also sets up the SAFE California fund which would set aside $30 million dollars every year, for three years, for local law enforcement.

To get involved, to donate or for more information, click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Continuing Adventures Of Middle Man


Another great comic by Tom Tomorrow.  Click the Tom Tomorrow badge on the right panel of the blog for the link to the full strip. 

Why The Execution Of A White Supremacist Murderer Matters Too

By Ty Alper, cross-posted from Huffington Post

Lawrence Russell Brewer
Wednesday night, two men were executed. Georgia executed Troy Davis, an African-American man whose guilt in the 1989 murder of a white police officer was very much in doubt. And Texas executed Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist who was unquestionably guilty of the gruesome dragging death slaying of a black man in 1998. In my mind, the two executions are tragedies of essentially equal proportion.

Future generations will look back on the institution of capital punishment as we do the institutions of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow. We condemn slavery not only because African men and women who had committed no crime were its victims, but because it is morally abhorrent for human beings to buy, sell, and own one another. So it is with the death penalty.

I teach in a law school clinic that represents indigent men and women facing capital punishment. We teach our students how to vigorously and ethically defend our clients in high stakes, complicated cases that are fraught with emotion on all sides. The lawyers who fought for Troy Davis' life embody the zealous devotion to their client that we hope to instill in our students.

I have the same respect for the lawyers in Texas who represent death row inmates in a state where the governor -- a leading Republican candidate for president -- draws cheers when recounting the hundreds of executions over which he has presided. Many of the 474 men and women Texas has executed since 1976 had committed the crimes for which they were convicted and sentenced to death. Some -- like Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for an arson that fire investigators now believe was an accident -- were almost certainly innocent.

I'm not naïve about the power and relevance of innocence in this context. The fact that we cannot correct a wrongful conviction once a person is executed is among the many reasons to question the wisdom of capital punishment. And nobody could seriously dispute that the execution of an innocent person is "worse" than the execution of a guilty person. Yet, when I take a step back, and think about what we are actually doing, the difference between the two feels marginal.

The death of James Byrd Jr. -- the black man who was tied to the back of a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas and dragged to his death -- is shocking to recall, almost 15 years later. His murder is almost unimaginably cruel; it is impossible to read the details without being overcome with anger and revulsion. Yet this is what James Byrd's sister had to say on the eve of Lawrence Brewer's execution: "If I saw him face to face, I'd tell him I forgive him for what he did. Otherwise I'd be like him."

Requests to sign petitions for Troy Davis flooded my inbox over the past several weeks. I'm glad they did, and I signed them. I would have signed one for Lawrence Brewer, too. But there were none. It worries me that many of the more than 600,000 people around the world who protested Troy Davis' execution did not even know about the impending end of Lawrence Brewer's life. And it worries me that many of those who did know about it did not lose any sleep over it.

Years from now, I believe the death penalty will be condemned because of what it reflects about us, not the individuals the state has killed in our name. We are a society that locks hundreds of thousands of people into small cages for decades, and then arbitrarily selects a tiny handful to pull out in the middle of the night and kill. That's who we are. And the horror of that is what sickens me, even more than the fact that Troy Davis might have been innocent.

Ty Alper is an assistant clinical professor of law and the associate director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. 

Why This Is Exactly The Right Time To Rebuild America's Infrastructure

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

Seems like only yesterday conservative nabobs of negativity predicted America’s ballooning budget deficit would generate soaring inflation and crippling costs of additional federal borrowing.

Remember Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States? Recall the intense worry about investors’ confidence in government bonds — America’s IOUs?

Hmmm.

Last week ten-year yields on U.S. Treasuries closed at 1.83 percent.

In other words, they were wrong.

In fact, it’s cheaper than ever for the United States to borrow.  That’s because global investors desperately want the safety of dollars. Almost everywhere else on the globe is riskier. Europe is in a debt crisis, many developing nations are gripped by fears the contagion will spread to them, Japan remains in critical condition, China’s growth is slowing.

Put this together with two other facts: Unemployment in America remains sky-high. 14 million Americans are out of work and 25 million are looking for full-time jobs. The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. Our roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, subways, gas pipelines, ports, airports, and school buildings are desperately in need of repair. Deferred maintenance is taking a huge toll.

Now connect the dots. Anyone with half a brain will see this is the ideal time to borrow money from the rest of the world to put Americans to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

Problem is, too many in Washington have less than half a brain.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org.  His most recent book is Aftershock.

America's Wars: The Logic Of Escalation

By Paul Rogers, cross-posted from openDemocracy

The United States political-military strategy for draw-down in Afghanistan is in trouble, even as Washington is tempted by increased high-tech military engagement in other theaters of war. 

The killing of Afghanistan’s former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in a suicide bomb-attack at his home in Kabul on 20 September 2011 removes a senior player who for decades was at the centre of the country’s political scene. A major incident in itself, which led the current Afghan president Hamid Karzai to return home from New York to attend the funeral, Rabbani’s death follows the concerted assault on key targets in central Kabul on 13-14 September that lasted twenty hours.

The exact responsibility for Rabbani's death is still to be established. But this and similar operations - such as attacks on Kabul hotels, and on the offices of the British Council in the city on 19 August - reflect the ability of the Taliban to hone tactics in recent months in response to the "surge" in United States troops into Afghanistan.

There is a specific and two-sided context here. First, the Taliban and other armed opposition groups have been seeking to maintain control of rural districts in parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, using both subtle and violent means. The endemic government corruption and maladministration creates a base of support for these groups, many of whom can build on their pre-existing links with the same communities; such support can be supplemented by often ruthless intimidation.

Second, the paramilitaries face substantial dangers in engaging openly with the increasing numbers of US troops that can be deployed to suppress any large-scale insurgent activity. Such more open confrontation has worked in the past (especially against some of the more remote US outposts), but the Americans’ huge manpower and firepower superiority underpins a shift to assassinations and suicide-martyr missions.

The impact of the Taliban’s refocus may be less important militarily than in psychological and political terms. The death of Rabbani, who was involved in negotiation with the Taliban, makes any talks process less likely to produce results. The broader Kabul attacks, embarrassing as they are, don't of themselves constrain greatly US and other Nato troops; but they confirm that these forces do not control the country, and make it harder for them to contemplate an early withdrawal.

This is a real problem for the Barack Obama administration, which wants to accelerate the drawdown of forces as the US presidential-election campaign of 2012 begins to dominate calculations.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jazz Greats: The First Fifty

About once a week over the past year I have profiled jazz albums from different artists to provide an admittedly personal and idiosyncratic Top 50 (in no particular order).  My choices were driven in large part by my preference for relatively straight-ahead jazz from the swing and bebop eras, and especially the music from the mid-1950s/early 1960s that evolved from bebop and became known as hard bop.  There are obviously many glaring omissions, but hopefully some pleasant surprises too.

Below are links to the complete list.  Take a look and let me know the artists and albums you think I've missed.

 #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley); #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell); #28 (John Hicks); #29 (Kenny Barron); #30 (Coleman Hawkins); #31 (Count Basie) #32 (Benny Carter w/ Ben Webster and Barney Bigard); #33 (Chet Baker); #34 (Thad  Jones); #35 (The Great Jazz Trio); #36 (Ahmad Jamal); #37 (Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond); #38 (Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis); #39 (Charles McPherson)#40 (Harold Land); #41 Booker Little); #42 (Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim); #43 (Art Farmer & Benny Golson); #44 (Wynton Kelly); #45 (Tony Bennett/Bill Evans; # 46 (Barry Harris); #47 (Elmo Hope)]; #48 (Mel Torme); #49 (Miles Davis All Stars); #50 (Oscar Peterson)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Seeding Justice, Cultivating Democracy

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, cross-posted from PAN's website

Last week, hundreds of people poured into the Women’s Building here in San Francisco to take part in the Justice Begins with Seeds conference, organized by the California Biosafety Alliance and co-sponsored by PANNA and several other partner groups. Abuzz with activities from September 13-17, the conference provided a forum for Californians to engage in movement building that challenges the corporate food system, pushes back against genetically engineered food and seeds, and nourishes the roots of food democracy.

I had the honor of speaking at the opening plenary Friday morning, and of sharing the PAN network’s vision of what it means to reclaim our food system. The auditorium pulsed with the diversity, wisdom, courage and vast experience of our movement: Latino community organizers, urban food justice activists, Mexican farmers and keepers of the ancient, vital heritage of corn seed diversity, youth leaders, lawyers, scientists, poets, writers and artists.

As a global network linking 600 groups from over 90 countries, PAN is best known for our three decades of work challenging the global proliferation of pesticides. At the same time, ever since our founding in 1982, PAN has fought for people’s rights to a safe, fair and sustainable food system. That work has taken many forms over the years: farmer caravans travelling across Asia, denouncing the corporations that manufacture chemical pesticides and GMOs and highlighting farmers’ innovative ecological alternatives; organic cotton farmers in Peru, Benin and Senegal collaborating with European partners in devising clean, fair and green marketing initiatives; and here in the U.S., campaigning to save conservation payments in the Farm Bill as the most concrete step we can take right now to support American farmers who are stewarding the earth and protecting future generations.

As I told conference participants last week, “seeding justice” at PANNA means two things to me: growing agroecology and nourishing the emerging food democracy movement in this country. The many faces of these two things can get us a long way towards food sovereignty. In so many concrete ways, I am energized by our daily work in this realm:
As Indian scientist-activist Vandana Shiva explained in her rousing keynote address:
We have to make food democracy the core of the defense of our freedom and survival. We will either have food dictatorship for a while and then a collapse of our food systems and our societies, or we will succeed in building robust food democracies, resting on resilient ecosystems and resilient communities.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Making The Invisible Visible


The German street art collective, Mentalgassi teamed with Amnesty International last year to create “Making The Invisible Visible” project, intended to raise awareness about Troy Davis' case.

Conservatives Say It Out Loud: They Hate Democracy

By Dave Johnson, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

The roots of today's toxic conservative movement lie in Ayn Rand's teaching that wealthy "producers -- now called "job creators" -- should be left alone by the government, namely the rest of us. The rest of us are "freeloaders," "moochers," "leeches" and "parasites" who feed off these producers and who shouldn't be allowed to make decisions to collect taxes from them or regulate them or interfere in most other ways. The Randians hate democracy, and say so, declaring that "collectivism" sacrifices individual rights to majority wishes. (See Concern Over Republican Embrace Of The Ayn Rand Poison.)

For decades these selfish, childish, "you can't make me" beliefs stayed largely below the radar, because conservatives understood that voicing them in public risked alienating ... well, anyone with any sense at all. But for various reasons sense has departed the country and conservatives are finally saying it out loud, for everyone to hear: they hate democracy. They want to limit the country's decision-making and the rewards of our society and economy to those they feel "deserve" to be on top, namely the "producers" and "job-creators."

Today Is Ray Charles' Birthday

Ray Charles was born on September 23, 1930.  Below is the piece I wrote last May.

The Rare Genius Of Ray Charles 

I was a cub scout for one year in third grade.  My cub scout troop didn't learn how to be in nature or how to pitch a tent or even how to tie knots.  Our big trip was not to the lake or the mountains but to Radio City Music Hall to see the Ed Sullivan Show.  Ed did have a "really big show" that day.  His special guest was Ray Charles.  After the taping, all the scouts got to shake hands with Ray.  I have no recollection of  his performance, but I do remember the feeling that I was shaking hands with greatness.



You think I'd remember that.  Anyway, I got to see Ray Charles live again about 30 years later at Lincoln Center, when I was far more aware of what a singularly remarkable talent he was.  Van Morrison said:  "His sound was stunning - it was blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing - it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing."

Ray Charles died in 2004, but last year a new Ray Charles album was released:  Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters.  Producer John Burk discovered hundreds of unreleased masters and chose ten, spanning the 1970s to 1990s.  Burk has said that the tracks were narrowed down to songs that felt connected like an album.

One big caveat is that many of the tunes were incomplete or unfinished so Burk brought in studio musicians to finalize the tracks.  While I was initially skeptical about this posthumous augmentation, upon listening to the record my doubts vanished.  As one reviewer put it, "This is no re-release, compilation or collection of rarities that might have appeared somewhere a long time ago.  "It really does sound like a new Ray Charles album.    And it provides only the latest example of Ray Charles "as the genius he was."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Final Hours

By Christine Meuris

In the earthquake cottage I shared with my husband, on the night of July 13th 1998, the phone rang.  It was about 10:00pm.  The summer fog would have rolled through the Alemany gap several hours before.  It would have been a cold damp night and though bed was the reasonable place to be on a night like that, I was up waiting.  My husband and his colleagues were awake too, trying not just to wait, trying to stave off the helplessness they were feeling. They were at the office working to bring as much media attention to the night as they could, legal options having been exhausted.

Thomas Thompson had been within hours of his execution a year before when a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had spared him.  This stay was now permanently vacated and once again he was scheduled to die within hours.

My husband had been with him at the prison.  Thompson’s mother had been there too in the private visiting room, where state procedure allows for a shackled last few hours.  Trays of cold cuts and cheeses lay on a table bringing to mind working lunches, staff meetings and birthday parties. Was anyone hungry?

At six o’clock, the visitors including the lawyers were required to leave.  A member of Thompson’s legal team would come later to be a witness, while the rest worked on.

That is how my husband came to be at the office while the collect call from San Quentin came to our house.  Upon accepting the charges I heard for the first time the voice of the man who had occupied so much of my married life, the man who my husband was fiercely trying to protect from the ultimate punishment.

In the summer of 1981, I was a skinny kid in a red and white bathing suit playing in the waves and collecting shells washed up on the sand in Laguna Beach, California.  That same summer in that very vacation town an awful situation or plot, depending on how you look at it, was brewing for Ginger Fleishli and Thomas Thompson.  By early September of that year, Ginger’s body was found wrapped in a sleeping bag in a field.

The man convicted of this crime was now asking me whether my husband was home. No he was not, he was at the office.  Did he have the number I asked?  He did, and that was all there was to say. What does one say to someone who is keeping a stiff upper lip and who for the second time in a year is staring into the face of death by injection?  I stumbled and bumbled, almost saying “good luck” before I said the only thing there was to say, “Goodbye.”

I hung up the phone feeling as though the wing of death had brushed overhead, through the fog that blanketed my husband’s office, our home and the prison.

Last night, my husband listened to the radio quietly to hear the fate of Troy Davis while I put the kids to bed.  This morning I woke to find him going through his morning chores, heavy hearted.  The U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for Troy Davis’ execution and he had been put to death.

A reporter had called my husband in Troy Davis’ final hours to ask whether my husband saw any connection between the Thompson and the Davis case. There was so much doubt raised upon appeal about the defendant’s guilt.  Each man faced a breathtaking stutter-stop journey of temporary defense victories on the way to the death chamber.  My husband pointed out these things.

But it is the second thing, common to all cases, this bumpy road of hope and despair while fate hangs in the hands of others that is the final, impossible obscenity of the death penalty and the creepy thing that made our hearts heavy this morning as we got the kids ready for school.

These cases are subjected to level upon level of review in an attempt to ensure that the death penalty is administered properly; states search for ways to kill people that do not set their hair on fire or suffocate them while the are too tightly strapped to writhe; as we do all this, the one thing we cannot do anything about, is the forcing of an otherwise healthy person to stare for years at their untimely death, as they swing between hope and despair.

It is impossible to imagine what this is like, as impossible as finding the right words to say, when a man in this position, in his last hours, calls on the phone.

Prisoner Realignment Plan: Counties Must Find Alternatives To Lockups

By Allen Hopper.  Originally published in the Sacramento Bee.

California's realignment process – which will shift responsibility for some low-level, nonviolent, nonserious offenders from state prisons to counties – has begun. But far more is at stake than the transfer of inmates. If properly implemented, realignment will reverse decades of over-reliance upon incarceration, improve public safety and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

At the core of the realignment legislation is an acknowledgment of the indisputable failure of California's criminal justice policy on a massive scale. As the legislative findings that accompany the law explain, "despite the dramatic increase in corrections spending over the past two decades, reincarceration rates … remain unchanged or have worsened … Criminal justice policies that rely on building and operating more prisons to address community safety concerns are not sustainable, and will not result in improved public safety."

Our state's overall recidivism rate has risen to an appalling 67.5 percent, among the highest in the nation. To stem over-incarceration, counties must confront the recidivism problem. We must hold individuals accountable for their behavior while addressing the underlying reasons for criminal behavior – whether drug addiction, mental health problems, lack of stable housing, education or job prospects and others.

Each county must provide the state with an Assembly Bill 109 implementation plan divvying up their share of the nearly $400 million in state realignment funding. Since the new realignment law goes into effect Oct. 1, counties across the state are scrambling to get these plans drafted and approved by boards of supervisors in the next few weeks.

A Good Fight

By Robert Reich, originally posted on his website

So the really big fight — perhaps the defining battle of 2012 — won’t be over Medicare. It won’t even be over Obama’s jobs program.

It will be over whether the rich should pay more taxes.

The President has vowed to veto any plan to tame the debt that doesn’t increase taxes on the rich. The Republicans have vowed to oppose any tax increases on the rich.

It’s a good fight to have.

In a Rose Garden ceremony [yesterday] morning, Obama proposed new taxes on the wealthy — including a special new tax for millionaires, the closing of loopholes and deductions for people making more than $250,000 a year, and an end to the portion of the Bush tax cut going to higher incomes.

Republicans accuse the President of instigating “class warfare.”  But it’s not warfare to demand the rich pay their fair share of taxes to bring down America’s long-term debt.

After all, the richest 1 percent of Americans now takes home more than 20 percent of total income. That’s the highest share going to the top 1 percent in almost 90 years.

And they now pay at the lowest tax rates in half a century — half the rate they paid on ordinary income prior to 1981.

Palate Cleanser: Blind Pilot

We Are The Tide by Blind Pilot

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

R.I.P. Troy Davis

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On September 21, 2011, Georgia executed Troy Davis for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail, who was working as a security guard when he was killed on August 19, 1989.  Seven out of the nine key witnesses who implicated Davis recanted their testimony.  No physical evidence tied Davis to the crime.

My dear friend, Denny LeBoeuf, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union issued the following statement:
The execution of an innocent man crystallizes in the most sickening way the vast systemic injustices that plague our death penalty system. No innocent person should ever be put to death, and it is unconscionable and unconstitutional to carry out an execution where, as in the case of Troy Davis, significant doubts exist.
The jury in Troy's case was deceived, witnesses were pressured, and virtually no one who looks at the case today would claim that he could be convicted, let alone sentenced to death, for the murder. Troy's case makes clear that the death penalty system in the United States is broken beyond repair. It is arbitrary, discriminatory and comes at an enormous cost to taxpayers, and it must be ended.

This is the 35th execution in the United States in 2011, the fourth in Georgia.

R.I.P. Lawrence Brewer

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On September 21, 2011, Texas executed Lawrence Brewer for the murder of James Byrd, Jr.  Brewer was a white supremacist implicated in the infamous dragging death of Byrd, an African American from East Texas.  Ross Byrd, James' son, opposed the execution.  He said:  "You can't fight murder with murder.  Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."

This is the 34th execution in the United States in 2011, the eleventh in Texas (and number 236 for Governor Perry).

Three Eleventh-Hour Reprieves

Minutes before Troy Davis was scheduled to die, the United States Supreme Court intervened to at least temporarily halt his execution in order to give it time to consider his latest appeal.  Incredible! 

I am all too familiar with the gut-churning emotional roller coaster of eleventh-hour stays.  From my own experience as a lawyer fighting executions, I know that every minute of life beyond the time one's client's death is scheduled to occur is a victory.  I also know how brutal, exhausting and torturous it is to be pulled back from the brink without any uncertainty as to what is going to happen next.  What Troy Davis has had to endure should not be experienced by anyone in a civilized country.

This marks the third time in a week that the high court has stepped in to stop an imminent execution after state authorities refused to do so -- all in cases in which they previously denied review.

Last Thursday, Duane Buck came within hours of being executed by the State of Texas when the Court issued a stay to determine whether to review the claims Buck's counsel presented (including whether a defendant’s race may ever be used as a basis for the death penalty and whether the prosecution may rely on the defendant’s race as evidence that he would commit criminal acts of violence in the future).

Yesterday, Cleve Foster (who was sentenced to death despite being tried as an accomplice), was hours away from his execution, also in Texas, when the Supreme Court granted a stay to consider claims involving the ineffective assistance of his state post-conviction counsel, who failed to competently investigate and present claims of his innocence and the poor performance of his trial lawyer.

(But don't think the Court has gone completely soft.  It did not act to stop tonight's execution of Lawrence Brewer.)

While Troy Davis has garnered an unusual amount of publicity and attention -- and for good reason given the serious doubts as to his guilt -- the issues these cases bring are all too common in death penalty cases:  innocence, arbitrariness, incompetent and under-funded lawyers, and racism.  So why all of a sudden is the Supreme Court issuing stays -- even if they may only be temporary?

What motivates each of the justices on the Supreme Court is impossible to know, and it is folly to speculate what is going on in their chambers.  But with three last minute orders in a week it sure seems like the Court is frustrated with the level of review these cases are getting in the lower courts and by the parole boards.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court may reject the claims in any and all of these cases and the executions would then go forward.  But it surely is fascinating that at least a majority of the Court seems concerned enough to take a closer look.

We Need More Elizabeth Warrens

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.” No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.  -- Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is a national treasure.  As a brilliant Harvard law professor, she argued for a new agency to protect consumers before the financial crisis hit.  She chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel tasked with investigating the bank bailout, where she took on the financial giants as well as the government.  After she essentially created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, President Obama failed to nominate her to run the agency because she was perceived as too much of a lightening rod (and was opposed by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who feared her aggressiveness in pushing for financial reform.)

Elizabeth Warren is running for the Senate in Massachusetts and is ahead of Republican Senator Scott Brown in the latest poll.  As can be seen from the video below, Warren can explain in plain but passionate terms what must be done -- and what must not be done -- to turn the country around.  It is baffling that the skittish leadership in the Democratic Party still hasn't figured out that this is how you talk to voters.

Our only hope for change is to elect Elizabeth Warren and other progressive voices to Congress.  Click here to join or contribute to Elizabeth Warren's campaign.

Every Casualty: The Human Face Of War

By Paul Rogers, cross-posted from openDemocracy
The idea of recording, identifying and acknowledging each individual victim of armed conflict - and holding to account those responsible - extends the principles underlying the laws of war.
From the Soviet Union to Libya, the story of a single American submarine - the USS Florida - throws light on the transition to the post-cold-war world. The Florida was an Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine launched in 1981, at the start of the most dangerous period of that conflict, and commissioned two years later. It was then one of the most powerful warships ever built.

At the start of its career, the Florida was equipped with twenty-four vertical missile launch-tubes, each carrying a Trident missile. Each missile was fitted with multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles (the so-called MIRVs) armed with W-87 thermonuclear warheads rated at nearly 500,000 tonnes of explosive power. The Florida, to put it bluntly, could have destroyed every city in the old Soviet Union, and with bombs to spare - such was the ludicrous overkill of those supposedly stable days.

With the end of the cold war, the Soviets and Americans began to scale down their strategic nuclear arsenals. The Ohio-class boats, however, had plenty of life left in them and the search was on to find them new roles. The Florida was one of four boats in the class that were converted into a new role - carrying conventionally-armed Tomahawk cruise-missiles. The Florida had good potential as a cruise-missile boat. Its launch-tubes were adapted to take multiple capsules for the missiles, allowing it to deploy 154 Tomahawks instead of the mere twenty-four Trident ones.

The Tomahawk missile itself has been around since the 1970s. The ground-launched nuclear-armed version was deployed in the early 1980s - amid huge political controversy and demonstrations - at European bases such as England’s Greenham Common. There were also nuclear-armed and conventionally-armed sea-launched Tomahawks carried on warships and submarines; a modern version of the latter, the UGM-109E Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM-Block4), is on the Florida.

The capacity of each missile in this range is immense. It can operate in all weathers, and  night or day; it has a reach of up to 2,480 kilometres; it can carry either a high-explosive “unitary” warhead or large numbers of cluster-munitions; and it has a guidance and targeting computer that is fully integrated inThis military story has an obvious strategic aspect, namely that these modified Ohio-class boats provide the United States with yet another form of global strike. But it also carries an equally obvious but far less noted consequence: that these missiles are used to kill people, and the identity and fate of those on the receiving end are no part of this military or any other story (see "The casualties of war: Libya and beyond", 7 July 2011) to the US navy's network-centric system, involving inputs from multiple sources including satellites and reconnaissance drones.

The cost

Why is all this “anorak” stuff worth mentioning? The reason is that the Florida was a few months ago nearing the end of a fifteen-month-long around-the-world patrol that kept it away from its home base in the United States. Then, in March 2011, the air-campaign against the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya was launched - and the Florida was by then near enough Libya’s coastline to be called into service. In the event, this boat alone is reported to have fired about 130 of its missiles at targets across northern Libya at the start of the war (see Christopher P Cavas, “U.S. Sub Force Sharpens its Sense of Self”, Defense News, 29 August 2011).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beyond Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Equal Benefits For Same Sex Couples

By Laura Conley and Lawrence J. Korb.  This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

On September 20, 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy that bars openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military, will finally end. With the path to repealing this misguided policy now firmly in place, it’s time to shift focus to making sure that gay and lesbian troops have equal access to the services needed to support themselves and their families. Constructive efforts in this area on the part of the Pentagon’s civilian and military leadership will demonstrate to gay and lesbian troops that they see the repeal as a positive step.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, bars the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Because many military benefits are reserved only for married troops, the Pentagon should take all reasonable steps to provide for the families of gay and lesbian service members. This step would be in keeping with President Barack Obama’s 2009 directive asking federal agencies to determine which benefits they can legally extend to same-sex partners. Relaunching that process as soon as possible—this time for the military—would be eminently sensible.

In the run-up to congressional action on DADT last year, the Pentagon completed an exhaustive study of how to repeal the policy. Among other topics, the working group reviewed the issue of benefits for same-sex couples and their families. It found that some benefits, such as hospital visitation rights and life insurance beneficiary status, were already eligible to be directed to a person of the service member’s choosing. Other benefits, however, most significantly military health care, could not legally be extended to the partners and spouses of gay and lesbian troops under existing federal laws even after repeal takes effect.

Passing Interest

Cross-posted from Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

Georgia's Shame


The Georgia Board of Parole and Pardons once again denied clemency to Troy Davis despite grave doubts about his guilt.  Seven out of the nine key witnesses who implicated him have recanted their testimony and another ten have claimed that another man, Sylvester Coles, was the killer.  No physical evidence ties Davis to the crime.  The execution is scheduled for tomorrow night.

Together with Duane Buck, whose execution in Texas was halted at the eleventh hour by the Supreme Court last week, and Steve Woods, whose was not, we have a remarkable distillation of what plagues the administration of the death penalty in this country:  innocence, arbitrariness, incompetent and under-funded trial lawyers and racism.

There is one more day to stop Troy Davis' execution.  The Southern Center for Human Rights is calling for a general strike or sick-out of all execution personnel — doctors, nurses, and guards should stay home tomorrow. The protests will begin at 7 p.m. at the capitol building in Atlanta.

You should continue to take action from wherever you are:
  1. Email and call the Board of Pardons and urge them to reconsider: 404-656-5651.
  2. Contact the Chatham County District Attorney and urge him to withdraw Troy’s death warrant: phone: 912-652-7308, fax: 912-652-7328.
  3. Contact CorrectHealth and call for a general strike of all execution personnel - doctors, nurses, and guards should stay home tomorrow. Urge them not to participate in this travesty of justice: Phone: 770-692-4750; Fax: 770-692-4754