Tuesday, February 5, 2008

An Unfortunate First

Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, anti-Taliban fighter, dies of cancer at Guantánamo, his case never settled by law, his story either unheard or unbelieved by his captors. Hekmati was the first man to die of natural causes at at Guantánamo.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Impossible, Now Possible?

Obama wins Iowa.

A black man becomes president...?

Assuming Der Bush doesn't cancel elections.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

American People Betrayed

Police brutality in New Orleans. Please be sure to watch to the end.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Journalist Betrayed, Soldiers Betrayed

But first a lighter fare: Schlock-talker Michael Savage lays into Islam, in a seriously scary way, and doesn't get the Imus routine as a result. Why? Because he laid into Islam, and America right now is afraid of Islam, even if most Muslim-Americans are law-abiding moderates (as are most [insert major group]-Americans).

I hope other minorities are helping Muslim-Americans fight back. Michael Savage was already a grade-A jerk, but his bizarrely fever-pitched screed against Muslim-Americans set a new standard for quasi-mainstream Islamophobia.

Just ask yourself, seriously: Would any on-air personality be allowed to say the same things (that we should deport all of them, that they should shove their religion up their behinds) of Jews, Christians, Buddhists, or atheists? He wasn't talking about jihadis - he was talking about all Muslims, a pretty big group.

Anyway, Culture Project's upcoming play Betrayed by New Yorker writer George Packer looks at how the U.S. military and the Bush people essentially betrayed many of the Iraqi interpreters and other aides they hired.

The play's fantastic (we've had a few readings) and Packer's nonfiction accounts of his time in Iraq - ranging from The Assassin's Gate to the article that inspired the play - is definitely worth reading.

But it saddens me to read, in today's New York Times, just how venerable our history of abandoning our allies really is. Short version: To fight communism in Laos and Vietnam, the CIA hired thousands of Hmong warriors (from Laos), then abandoned them when the communists won. The U.S. troops came home, in various states of disrepair. The Hmong were already home, and their socialist government couldn't have been more pissed at them.

Cut to thirty years later. The former fighters are aging; their families now guilty by relation. They move around every few weeks, hiding, and endure irregular skirmishes with the Laotian army. The government of Laos denies that ex-CIA Hmong exist in the jungles, blaming such rumors on "bandits." The Times's pictures prove otherwise.

Also not fun: Iraqi Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was held by U.S. forces for twenty months without being charged with a crime, then released into the care of an Iraqi magistrate. The magistrate will determine whether or not Hussein is an insurgent. He has still not been charged.

Hussein's lawyers "were not given a copy of the materials that were presented and which they need to prepare a defense." The AP has fought vigorously for Hussein, with little luck. The military says Hussein helped insurgents. But Hussein hasn't been charged with that crime or with any other.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jackson Browne Sings

Powerful, swelling and echoing stuff. I guess "haunting" might be the back-of-the-book-jacket word for the first song.

The second, "Roll Out the Drums of War," is punchier, almost like Tool-meets-Neil Young. "Let's not talk about it anymore," might be the most sickeningly right-feeling line. "Who are the profits for?" Or is it "Who are the prophets for?" Either way, good question. "Who makes a fortune?" Word, I can tell you a few names that might fit... This guy's writing is great. Dylan but updated. Never too much, but always incantatory and gripping. The crowd loves it.

Going into over-time, but nobody's cutting the music. He flew in from L.A. just to play tonight. Rock-rock, Jackson.

"I ain't no communist, but I ain't no capitalist. And I ain't no socialist... I only know one party, and it is freedom. I am a patriot," he sings. People clap along. Ends too soon. And it all ends. The question might not have been answered, but it at least has been thoroughly asked.

Holly Hunter and Frank Bidart

...reads a poem, shortish, involving a beer. I'll find it (I hope) and post in a sec.

Frank Bidart reads "To the Republic," a poem about the Civil War read on AQoI's first night.

Kathleen Chalfant and Darryl Larson

...takes the stage, dressed in black, to read "Pity the Nation." Found a book by that title in addition to the poem.

Larson reads a Peter Matheson piece about the impact Bush and Cheney have had on our environment: They've cut programs to find alternatives to oil; they've invaded countries for oil; they've not enforced environmental regulations. These crimes, like those committed to steal the elections in 2000 and 2004, are not included in our articles of impeachment, nor those of Wexler nor Kucinich. But That doesn't make them less grave, just less easy to prosecute.

Larson points out that all the money in the world won't save the Bushes and Cheneys of two hundred years from now from the scorching sun and the undrinkable water. Booyakah, future-Bushes. Sadly. Booyakah.

The Last Impeachment Panel

A panel on stage, Allan Buchman chatting up its members.

Amy Goodman moderates. She opens by noting that the media is the most powerful tool for awareness, a sort of kitchen table that stretches across the country and globe. And is not covering impeachment.

On the panel, Marjorie Cohn, John Nichols, and Naomi Wolf.

To Nichols, Goodman asks why the Dems want to wait for another pres. election to get rid of Bush. Nichols points out that elections are easy. Impeachment is important on its own. We can't just wait for an election; we have to send a message to all future presidents about what how is not okay to govern.

To Cohn, Goodman asks about the reasons for going to Iraq and potentially Iran. The real reason, Cohn says, Bush went to Iraq became clear just recently when we made agreements with Iraq to have troops there indefinitely - to stay in Iraq and move on to Iran. Notwithstanding the new evidence that Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons, Bush says he has not taken military action against Iran off the table.

Cohn notes that Congress does not have legal authority to start a "war of aggression," one that breaks a treaty, a war whose causes are falsified or blown out of proportion.

Cohn breaks down how impeachment works: The House votes to impeach the president; the Senate acts a court, presiding over the impeachment itself.

Nichols explains that Congress can impeach Cheney and Bush at once (I wrote "Nixon" instead of Cheney first, took a second to see it - Freud at work). But Nichols says to start with Cheney, then move up, exposing the dual criminality of the Dick and the Bush.

Naomi Wolf describes the step by which would-be dictators do their thing: They create vague internal and external threats; they create secret prisons; they create military not answerable to the people; they spy on their own citizens; they harass citizen's groups; they arbitrarily detain and release individuals (TSA for travelers, environmentalists, progressives); they target individuals (Bill Maher, Dixie Chicks, CEOs getting fire); they--oh--here it is--

I think this is so important I'm going to paste in the Wikipedia version, to reiterate:

The Ten Steps to Dictatorship

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens' groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Declare all dissent to be treason.
10. Suspend the rule of law.

Wolf points out that there was still a parliament in Italy when Mussolini took over. He talked to parliament, then he stopped talking. Then at some point later, there was no point even pretending. Bush could declare an emergency tomorrow and boot out Congress. The state is legalizing torture. We could lose democracy, de jure, at any moment. We already have, de facto (the stolen election, torture, crazy war).

Goodman reads from Wolf's The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, which begins with an anecdote of a government worker blogging (!) against torture and being fired for her morals.

Cohn says Mukase won't stop waterboarding because to do so would be to admit that Bush had broken the law. Waterboarding is so obviously torture, there'd be little point admitting it had anything to do with Bush or that torture shouldn't be legal. The only option Mukase et cronies have is to stay the course.

Cohn describes how lawyers are fighting back, protesting, making some headway against the Justice Department by not backing down on Gitmo cases.

Nichols suggests the Democratic candidates should have to debate Naomi Wolf on each point - not Wolf Blitzer and Tim Russert and those who ignore the issue of impeachment.

Wolf points out that Bush terrifies so many - libertarians, anarchists, Green Party people. "On paper," Wolf says, "it's over, it's already over. The coup is over." A bill just passed criminalizing anything against Bush as terrorism. You don't need the Long Knives, says Wolf, just these scary laws. This impeachment theater could be criminal. Her book could be criminal.

Nichols is asking Congresspeople to read his book and Wolf's, to just read the articles of impeachment.

Cohn talks about the new bill again - I'm going to look this one up in a sec - and how it criminalizes thought that "advocates force," not only violence, but, say, a protest.

Wolf compares Bush & co. to the Nazis and Stalin, but conservatively, at evidence, at facts. "No one who's read my book," she says, criticizes her comparisons. She tells Cohn, who brought up the Unamerican Activities Committee in the Fifties, that Bush's plan is much more akin to Stalin's than to McCarthy's.

Goodman asks, in closing, what we can do now.

Nichols reiterates that Wexler and others have called for impeachment hearings; write and call and go visit your Congresspeople to ask them to impeach Bush and Cheney. And write and call your local media. We have to get the media involved on a much bigger level. Forget the election for one second. Impeachment is dramatically more important. The presidency had become a pack of lies.

Cohn calls for ending the war, in addition to constantly calling on our leaders to impeach Bush and Dick.

Wolf calls for impeaching and prosecuting B&C. "The only way to save this country." Word up.

Goodman talks about the FCC ending regulations that restrain a few big companies from owning all the major media. Upside, DemocracyNow! has grown quite a bit. And the internet. Don't forget the internet. Please post and repost our videos and articles; comment; send us new leads. Contact your Congresspeople. Show them the videos.

Oh, we're not done. Buchman comes on to remind us that we're going to pursue this issue all year. I think Jackon Browne is going to sing...

David Lindorff

...from earlier today, sings with his daughter about Iraq. "It's one, two, three - what are we fighting for? ... Five, six, seven - open up the pearly gates..." A charming ditty, I suppose.

[I'm told the song is a version of a Country Joe McDonald song with the refrain, "Don't give a damn, / next stop is Vietnam."

And then a short intermission. The technical director appears on the live-feed, moving mic stands around. The house is almost too packed to move through.

Ned Eisenberg and J.T.

Ned Eisenberg reads "Bounden Duty," one of my favorite poems by the maestro of weird, James Tate.

Basically, the president asks the narrator, a farmer, to act normal. It's hard to act normal. The narrator's thought process devolves into paranoia. Abrupt, mysterious ending.

Aasif Mandvi

"I wrote this poem," Daily Show alum Mandvi says, "because I'm afraid of Americans."

The poem begins with the image of a handsome white man on TV telling a young Aasif Mandvi all that he knows about the world. They're best buddies.

Then the white man yells, "Jiiiiihaaad!" "His mouth is open now like a whale..."

"What is this word?" The poem is a fable. The man and Mandvi are friends until the white man yells "jihad."

The poem is frenetic, hypnotizing. The white man eats everything. Mandvi and his mother crouch and hide from him as his mouth engulfs everything. What did his grandfather do to make the white man mad? "It's not your dada, it's not your grandpa," she tells him. He's happy, for a moment. Suffice to stay, it doesn't stay happy.

Duncan Sheik and Nero

Dunk reads the words of Nero (the first known leader to use a speechwriter) as a woman in a white dress sings and his band plays beautifully behind him.

The speech is chilling. Nero orates about his plan for Rome, his consternations - how can so great an empire have let its poor grow so many? A great song, a creepy Orwellian rant, taking its time.

The next song is a Dunk solo, a light number, years later, as Nero takes "endless long vacations" with his cronies, slits the blood of those who oppose him. "Crowned with Love," I think the piece is. It has a speedy, snowballing, fast-talking power. A "Let Them Eat Cake" nonchalance.

Then Rome burns. "What a night it was, back in 64... (It really was just 64)," says the narrator. Nero quickly lays the blame on others. "Such a photo-op," Nero with the victims, looking like a leader who cares. But he says the people are better off homeless - if only you'd seen their homes before.

A song, beginning with the female lead, "The towers fallen, without an answer, ashes on the wind..." Dunk backs her up. A somber song.

The stage darkens.

John Nichols, Thomas Jefferson, and a Poem

...gives a rousing call-to-arms regarding impeachment - a perfect way to enter back into the subject. Possibly the best speech of the series (yet).

Bower, as T.Jeff., takes the stage and reads some dry but appropriately deep material, from the (former) T.Jeff.

Then a long poem written from the perspective of a literal fly on the wall during a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting.