Saturday, January 31, 2009

Israeli Government Concealed Knowledge of Illegal Settlements in the West Bank

It is being reported that the Israeli government is complicit in illegal construction of settlements on land that belongs to Palestinians, a violation of international law.

The human rights group Yesh Din has obtained classified documents from the Israeli Defense Ministry which indicate that the Israeli Government has known that as many as three out of every four settlements in the West Bank, have been built without proper permits and have occurred on private property. The data in the report demonstrates:

• Over 30 settlements – including longstanding settlements such as Ariel, Kochav
Yaakov, Beit El, Elon Moreh and Ofra – that were to some extent built on private Palestinian land.
• Construction activity within settlements being conducted without necessary building permits or in direct violation of the building plans.
• The extent and locations of unauthorized building in outposts across the West Bank.

The organization Peace Now, also recently released a study which documents the rapid expansion of settlements in 2008. The study indicates that 1,518 new structures were built in Jewish West Bank settlements, an increase of 60% from 2007. Further interpretation of the study indicates:

Of the news structures, which include homes and caravans, 927, or 61 percent, were built west of the security fence and 591, or 39 percent, were built east of the security fence. One-quarter of the structures east of the fence were built in outposts. The 261 structures built in the outposts represent a more than doubling of the 98 built in 2007, and include five new structures in the Migron outpost, which the Israeli government announced it would relocate to a nearby settlement.

There was also a very good report on this topic on 60 Minutes recently. You can view the report below:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

American Exceptionalism and the Backlash to Obama's Interview with Al Arabiya

When I heard that President Obama gave an interview to Al Arabiya television the other day, I knew that there was going to be some intense backlash. Before long, bloggers and pundits were outraged that Obama was "apologizing" to the Muslim world for the conduct of America during the so-called "War on Terror". Take Ben Shapiro, columnist for and, whose latest piece is entitled "The Day America Lost the War on Terror".

As one might imagine, Shapiro starts by claiming that America "lost the War on Terror" on the day that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, November 4, 2008. Shapiro then goes on to use broad, sweeping, and overly dramatic language to make the point that Obama is making America less safe and that Obama's global agenda will end up killing the idea of Ameircan exceptionalism.

Let's start off with Obama's interview to Al Arabiya to which you can find the video here and the transcript here. The clips of the interview that have been circulating and that many have focused on are as follows:

Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries...the largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the
fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist
organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.And so you will I think see our administration be very clear indistinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda -- that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it -- and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down. But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

Obama stresses a few different points in these clips:

- Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of every faith all share in common hopes and dreams.
- The Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who want to live good lives and leave a better world for the next generation.
- Though we (America) have not been perfect and have made mistakes, we are not the enemy of the Muslim people.
- Obama believes that the relationship between the Muslim world and America can be restored.
- Language matters and we cannot "paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.

If you read some of the postings and writings of those who are critical of Obama's approach in this interview, you would get an entirely different feel of what Obama said. I will focus on some points from Ben Shapiro's most recent piece, but the themes he puts forth are similar in many of the critiques that I have been reading.

The following clips are from Shapiro's piece:

In the interview, he demonstrated with the utmost clarity that his understanding is inversely proportional to his arrogance. He started by humbling America before the world. “(A)ll too often the United States starts by dictating,” Obama said, shame for his country dripping from his lips. “So let’s listen.” There was no call for the Muslim world, which has sponsored genocide after genocide, terrorist group upon terrorist group, to listen.

Obama apologized for President Bush’s “Islamic fascism” terminology, equating
Muslim terrorism with nonexistent terrorism by Jews and Christians...There was
no call for the Muslim world to actively fight terrorism—honesty is not the
Obama administration’s policy.

Most sickeningly, Obama openly jettisoned his constitutional role as the caretaker for America’s national interest. Instead, Obama posed himself as an honest broker between America and the Muslim world...He stated that his job is to speak for the Muslim world, defending them from Americans’ negative perceptions...

Shapiro begins by stating his displeasure with Obama "humbling America before the world" due to Obama's comments that we need to communicate and that we are willing to listen and not just dictate. "With shame for his country dripping from his lips," Shapiro quips and then complains that Obama didn't ask the "Muslim world" to listen. Perhaps Mr. Shapiro does not realize that when two countries engage in diplomacy, both sides get a chance to talk and both sides get a chance to listen. This is also characteristic of how a productive conversation takes place. Just because Obama has pledged to listen to other countries does not automatically mean that he won't also make America's voice heard. In fact, Obama specifically says this later in the interview: "We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening, as well as speaking to the Muslim world." (emphasis mine).

Shapiro then goes on to chide Obama for "apologizing" for former President Bush's use of the term Islamic fascism, for "equating Muslim terrorism with nonexistent terrorism by Jews and Christians", and for not being honest because he didn't call for the Muslim world to actively fight terrorism. Firstly, Obama never "apologized" for Bush's use of that term, he only explained why he believes it important not to paint any faith with a broad brush. Secondly, the blind eye that Shapiro turns toward terrorism committed by other religions throughout history is alarming. Thirdly, Obama has continually stated in speeches leading up to the election that one of his goals is to work with other nations, Pakistan included, to develop strategies to combat terrorism and their ability to gain access to weapons and funding. And Obama is the one not being honest?

Above it all, what Shapiro finds most sickening, is that Obama sees it as his job to "speak for the Muslim world, defending them from Americans' negative perceptions", and actually, I also find it troubling. I find it troubling that it is even necessary for the President to have to explain to us that the Muslim world is full of exceptional people, not simply terrorists. I find it troubling that this even needs to be addressed and quite indicative of the discourse of the last eight years, that a population need to be dissuaded from believing that an entire group of people do not all harbor ill will toward Americans.

However this is not why Shapiro is troubled. He is troubled that Obama is a "global imperialist" that seeks to not advance the interests of America but of the world. "Not all Muslims are “extraordinary people'," Shapiro writes, "and the interests of suffering Muslims do not always align with American interests."

What Shapiro views as a "global imperialist" is actually a figure who appears to understand that the decisions the United States makes, have a global impact. It is specifically the viewpoint that is advanced by Shapiro, that of advancing American interests at all costs, that has the result of discounting how the rest of the world is affected by such decisions. It is this viewpoint that supports ridding Iraq of a dictator who is a perceived threat to the United States without taking into account the potential blowback of millions of children growing up in a ravaged country with a hatred of those who destroyed their homeland. It is this mindset that fails to see that what may be in the world's interest, is also in America's interests as well. "Global Interest Imperialism dooms American exceptionalism," Shapiro concludes. Perhaps America's greater exceptionalism will come when we realize that our progress as a country, lies in advancing the human interests of the global community.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's Order to Close Guantanamo and Reasserting Basic Judicial Principles

The reinvigorated patriotic glow of the inaugural festivities has quickly grown dim as the daunting task of reshaping America is already causing some backlash in the media and in the blogosphere. Most notably is President Obama's decision to halt prosecutions at Guantanamo Bay for 120 days and the eventual closure of the facility within one year. This action has sparked outrage that has spilled over into some conservative blog entries with opponents to Obama's order making the claim that this action has made America less safe.

There are some common themes and arguments that those who have written about this topic tend to put forth. These include, and may not be limited to:

- Those who are being detained in Guantanamo Bay are the worst of the worst and pure evil, so you cannot charge them as if they were citizens of the United States.
- Closing the base at Guantanamo Bay and trying the detainees on American soil will invite terrorist attacks on the United States.
- The trials that have been operating under the military commission system are the proper place for "enemy combatants" to be tried.

I should start off by saying that some of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been held for over seven years without a single charge being brought against them. At the same time the Bush Administration, and many who offer their support for this facility, continue to put forth the argument that those detained are the worst of the worst and guilty of wanting to destroy America. How do we know this? Because the former Administration has told us so! So in the framing of this discussion and to keep with one of the cornerstones of our system of justice, we must first acknowledge that those accused of crimes, even those as heinous as terrorism, are innocent until proven guilty.

This leads me into the first point that I have listed above. Those who continue to advance the argument that those captured are an exception to "normal" criminals and therefore should not be tried as such. I am not advancing the argument that all of those who are being held at Guantanamo Bay are innocent, in fact there are probably some very dangerous people who are currently being detained. In the same breath, these detainees are human beings. Human beings who have made choices, aligned themselves with various ideologies, and hold strong beliefs (right or wrong) about the way the world should operate. If the choices they have made and the actions that they have taken are illegal, then they should be charged with a crime and have the opportunity for a fair trial just like any other person accused of wrong-doing.

In addition to upholding the basic tenets of justice that the United States was founded upon, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June, 2008 in which the writ of habeus corpus was restored and it was ruled that detainees had a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. So contrary to some arguments, yes, detainees do have the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.

Another popular argument of late is that trying the detainees from Guantanamo, on U.S. soil, will make the United States less safe and invite terrorist attacks on the country. This argument has been put forth by members of Congress, columnists, and bloggers alike. Some columnists, like David Stokes, have even suggested that detainees have been treated so well at Guantanamo Bay, that they would be more likely to be abused in the U.S. prison system. From his most recent piece:

People who have spent time at GITMO tell me that prisoners have been treated better there than they are at prisons in America. In fact, it is commonplace for American personnel to be the recipients of abuse meted out by the Guantánamo detainees.

Surely claiming that American captors are the "recipients of abuse" at the hands of the captive is an interesting argument, but it is Glenn Greenwald who does a very good job pointing out in a recent piece that the United States has tried, convicted, and imprisoned terrorists for years without incident. Greenwald sums it up nicely:

If it were really the goal of Terrorists to attack American prisons where their members are incarcerated and if they were actually capable of doing that, they already have a long list of "targets" and have had such a list for two decades. If U.S. civilian courts were inadequate forums for obtaining convictions of Terrorism suspects, then the above-listed individuals would not be imprisoned -- most of them for life -- while the Guantanamo military commission system still has nothing to show for it other than a series of humiliating setbacks for the Government.

Still after these "humiliating setbacks" with the military commission system, as Greenwald calls them, there are many who continue to argue that this is the system in which the detainees should be tried. As I continue to hear this argument, I am reminded of Lt. Col. Darrell Vandeveld, a former prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay that resigned in mid-September due to his objections to the military commission system. In a piece from October at, Vandeveld says that he was "truly deceived" by the commission system. From the piece:

His deep ethical qualms hinged foremost on the fact that potentially critical evidence had been withheld from the defense by the government.

In addition to the resignation of prosecutors from Guantanamo Bay over the military commission system, the very idea that evidence obtained using coerced interrogation is able to be used against those charged underlines what a mockery of justice these commissions are. Suppression of evidence from the defense of those accused of serious crimes combined with the ability to admit evidence obtained through coercive interrogation are two very positive reasons why these trials have been halted and why this system has been placed under review by the Obama Administration.

Standing up for the rule of law and a system of justice that this country has prided itself in since its founding is not "coming to the defense of terrorists" or "wanting to put Americans at greater risk", as some have claimed of those who praise Obama's decision. We are talking about adhering to the basic principles of justice that have set this country apart from dictators in the past. Indefinite detention without charge and the implementation of torture by the leaders of a government is the mark of dictatorships and not a society that prides itself on justice through the rule of law. A return to these fundamental beliefs and practices is necessary for the United States to reassert itself as a country that not only treats its captives with respect, but has a strong judicial process which offers the accused their basic rights.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Conservative Outrage Over Rev. Lowery's Benediction

It seems as though there is some rage brewing in the hearts and souls of some conservative commentators about the benediction that the Rev. Joseph Lowery gave at President Obama's inauguration ceremony yesterday. Here is the benediction:

The part of the benediction that some conservative commentators are fumed about, is the last portion. Glenn Beck, comfortable at his new home on FoxNews, breaks down just why he is so angry:

Beck is amazed that there was an objection to the Rev. Rick Warren saying a prayer at the Inauguration for simply agreeing "with much of Obama's platform on gay marriage". Beck even sarcastically throws in, "what bigotry there". In fact, the objections to Warren were not because he "agrees with much of Obama's platform on gay marriage", but rather because he has equated homosexuality to pedophilia and incest. This strays from the point, but needs to be corrected nonetheless.

Beck continues on that instead of Warren creating controversy, it was Lowery that stirred the pot when he asked god to:

help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

Beck decries this statement as "America being called racist" and goes on to say that he wants to believe in the message of change, but that this appears to be the same old divisive language that we are used to. Talk about missing the point. Beck even tries to imply that Lowery's old age has something to do with his remarks. Beck assures Obama that he and his family have been "down on their knees" praying for his success and that he is perfectly fine with "brown sticking around". Thanks for clearing that up Glen.

Joining Beck in expressing outrage at this benediction is Michael Savage:

Savage calls Lowery an "old black racist" and proclaims "how dare he say 'when white will embrace what is right' when he was elected because of white people." I guess it didn't cross Savage's mind that just because white people voted for Obama, it isn't proof that racism doesn't exist. Certainly it indicates progress in the last 40 years, but it does not indicate the eradication of racism. Savage goes on to express his outrage claiming that he was offended as a white person and wonders what Lowery meant by "when black will not be asked to give back". "What in the heck does this old man mean," Savage exclaims, " mean they won't have to pay taxes?"

Too bad that Lowery said "when black will not be asked to get in back" and not "when black will not be asked to give back" according to the transcript of his speech. Amazing to see what some will try to do to a message that is meant for inclusion and it is equally amazing to see Michael Savage trying to pass as a moral authority on race relations. Are members of the right-wing trying to re-emerge by placing themselves upon moral high-ground? Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Land Was Made for You and Me...

One of the better moments from this weekend's inaugural festivities:

Pete Seeger singing "This Land is Your Land":

Ever defiant and ever protesting, the 89 year-old Seeger managed to insert three rarely sung versus into his performance:

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there whistling,
This land made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Interview with John Mooter, Chair of EarthSave Cincinnati

Finally it is here. President George W. Bush’s last day as President of the United States and the beginning of the newly elected Obama Administration. After eight long years of secrecy, law-breaking, and lies, a figure who has promised to put this country back on the right course is being sworn into office. The country is indeed at a crossroads as the promise of “change” finds itself at a standoff with crises too numerous to address all at once. People have latched onto the idea of hope that Obama has promised throughout his campaign and you can feel the tension and yearning for something new in city after city.

From house parties in San Francisco, to people taking Tuesday off work in Des Moines, to people talking about what party they will attend right here in Cincinnati, it is evident that people are placing their trust in this new Administration. As I sat in Tucker’s Restaurant and listened to people discussing what their plans were for the Inauguration, I wanted to see how a local progressive organization felt about what an Obama Administration may mean for causes that have virtually been ignored over the last eight years.

EarthSave Cincinnati is an organization that is affiliated with EarthSave International. They describe themselves as an organization which is primarily concerned with plant-based nutrition, compassionate treatment of animals and the overall general health of the population. This past Sunday they held their monthly vegan potluck at the Clifton United Methodist Church and had a discussion entitled “Messages for Obama”. Attendees broke up into small groups to discuss what they feel an Obama Administration should address during his time in office. After the meeting, I spoke via telephone with EarthSave Cincinnati’s Chair, John Mooter about the meeting and what EarthSave Cincinnati hopes an Obama Presidency will accomplish. Rush transcript is below and if you subscribe to this blog in a reader, you should be able to listen to the interview as a podcast or you can listen below:

CC: Could you just start by giving a background on EarthSave Cincinnati again and some of the issues the organization worked on in 2008?

JM: Yes. EarthSave Cincinnati is part of EarthSave international which was founded by John Robbins. John Robbins wrote a couple of books the first book he wrote was “Diet for a New America” and the second was “The Food Revolution” and both books deal with a movement toward a plant based diet for the health of the planet and human health and also for, let’s see, the animals themselves through compassion. Robbins was actually an air to Baskin' Robbins the dairy people, and he gave it all up and he kind of went a different direction. So That is kind of how the group got started and then little local chapters formed and we are one of the local chapters, we have been around for over 10 years. This last year we’ve had speakers on lots of different things, we are interested in people learning how to make their own gardens, city
gardening, we are interested in mercy for animals which is a group which tries to improve the condition of animals on factory farms or get people to stop eating animals, one or the other.
Also environmental issues to improve the environment through diet, so it is mainly a group about diet and it is mainly educational. It’s not a forced thing. We have potlucks that are vegan but of course a lot of people come who aren’t necessarily vegan but maybe lean in that direction or are somewhat sympathetic, so it is a broad base of people. I’m not sure how many members we have but we average anywhere from 40 up to 80, 90 people. Last year we had Will Tuttle come who wrote “The World Peace Diet” which is an exhaustive study on the plant-based diet and what factory farming has done to the earth and is not really being discussed by a lot of
these other environmental groups, like Al Gore, you don’t hear them talk about it at all, it’s just in the background. Our interest with Obama, you know part of it, he answered a question by someone from Vegan Outreach which we saw on YouTube, where he showed that he understood the impact of factory farming on the environment which kind of made us excited to think,
you know at least he is aware of it. So that was kind of good and that kind of got the ball
rolling. When we had our core group meeting we decided that since it was so close to this inauguration that maybe we would just have a group discussion. Usually we have a speaker come in something like that, you know we might have someone talking on raw food or whole
foods or cooking, different things like that, but this time what I did was I had about six or
seven people fascilitate each table and then each table kind of discussed everything. It wasn’t all food realated, people talked about more efficient cars and a lot of things that everyone else is talking about. What was interesting is one part where people disagreed is someone said “lower
gas prices” and other people said “make the gas prices higher” so people don’t drive as much…so you know better transit and a lot of other things that other groups might discuss.

CC: Sure, sure…so, all these people getting together, “Messages for Obama” I guess was the theme of your meeting...

JM: Yeah, yeah, right.

CC: and so, with everybody’s input, what were some of the core messages that you hope to address in letter form, or other forms, to the newly elected President?

JM: Well, we would like to see more of a movement toward local, plant-based type agriculture
as opposed to this agriculture that we have now, we would like to see improved lunches where instead of 35%-50% saturated fats, that they follow the guidelines that they, the government themselves, have established. Which they are not, you know, I taught for 35 years and I
couldn’t believe what they feed kids in school…

CC: Sure, sure

JM: and yet they have this pyramid and talk about all these plant foods, but what plants are they getting…like ketchup…I’m being a little sarcastic, but better lunches or alternatives
and just move toward better foods in schools is one of the things that EarthSave have been
involved in that for many, many years they even have a healthy lunch program. Of course they would like it to be all plant based but they also work trying to get more whole foods and whole
grains and fresh fruits and vegetables in schools.

CC: Do you feel that corporate influence, cause I know that a lot of times different
contracts as far as putting vending machines in schools…

JM: Yeah…right

CC: are often involved in the decision making process. So how do you work to combat such a huge element…

JM: Well, it’s a big problem and when I was in school McDonald’s and them would come right in there. Of course we oppose that, I don’t know what can be done, it’s something that we would
like to see go away.

CC: Sure, sure.

JM: Obama, I can’t remember exactly what he said when he answered the question from this lady from Vegan outreach, but he did talk a little bit about agribusiness and its emphasis on meat and dairy and that that should change. In other words we are subsidizing all these things…

CC: Sure, sure

JM: and telling people that’s what’s good for them and all the medical sciences disagreeing and pretty much agreeing with our stand I would say. There are varying opinions but whole foods
and plant based seem to be the way that things are going with Colin Campbell in this China
study, put out a book on that and John McDoughlal and Dean Ornish, there are so many books on reversing heart disease, Dr. Ethelstein, the list just goes on and on. These are all medical doctors now that are changing more to the low-fat plant-based diet. So those are all things that we would like to see happen in schools with education and adults as well. There’s a group, the Cancer Project, which is actually a cancer charity which works from the standpoint of diet rather than drugs and that type of thing…chemotherapy and all that. So, that’s sort of been our
emphasis at EarthSave more of preventative medicine.

CC: Sure. Do you feel concerned at all, there is so much talk about this country being at a crossroads with the economy being in the trouble it is in and the two
wars and the environmental issues that people are talking about…what would
you like to see Obama make his top priorities as he kind of moves into
office, because there really is so much to tackle initially.

JM: Well yeah, (laughter) personally I would like to see him get the war out of the way.
That would be my first priority which I think will probably (unintelligible). After that I don’t know, there is only so much one man can do. I’ve heard commentators say that the average American would give him two years to get something straightened out, I think that is being somewhat patient, I think it is going to take a lot longer.

CC: You know, some progressive groups have been critical of some of the decisions that Obama has made so far from his…

JM: Yes.

CC: …vote on the FISA legislation to some of his nominees for Cabinet positions. Are you hopeful that the issues that EarthSave cares about most are going to be
constructively addressed by the new administration?

JM: I just don’t know, and I do understand we’ve had some people angry about some of the things you’ve just said. There are others that see him as having to incorporate a lot of
different people with a lot of different perspectives and views and therefore in order to get something done he can’t just cut these other people out. So I kind of understand both and our hope is that some of what we would like done, will get done. Of course we want to be actively involved…we think it is up to him, we think it is up to us.

CC: and at least have a more open dialogue about it now with the new administration…

JM: Yeah, our group is more specific more diet related so we are just dealing with one area, there are so many others.

CC: Sure, sure. I guess more on a local scale with local school districts, any plans in 2009 to address, you know you mention nutrition in schools and things of
that nature…

JM: Yes.

CC: Are there any school districts that you have seen that are at least open to dialogue of incorporating more whole foods with nutrition?

JM: Yes, I’ve heard…I haven’t been real closely involved in that, but I’ve heard that some of the private schools, I don’t know if it was Seven Hills or Ursula or a couple of those, that have moved in that direction. I don’t know about locally, I’ve heard stories of some schools that have adopted whole foods and they talked about the graffiti going away and the grades going up, which doesn’t
surprise me. I really don’t have a whole lot of information on that myself, now Mary Ann Lederer might know more about that than I would…

CC: Ok.

JM: Who you can also, I mean she will gladly talk to you, she loves to talk.

CC: Ok great.

JM: I don’t know if you have called her yet, but…

CC: I have not, but I…

JM: Well she is home, you know she is in a wheelchair. She was injured a long long time ago, but she is very bright and very interesting to talk to if you have the time.

CC: Okay great. I will have to reach out to her as well and see what she has to say as well.

JM: Absolutely.

CC: Alright, well I guess just to sum up, at this time next year, what do you hope
will have been addressed in 2009 and where do you hope that EarthSave Cincinnati kind of stands this time next year?

JM: Well, I’m hoping that some of these food issues will have been addressed, that some of
these (unintelligible) like Tyson Foods, which is a leading polluter and I think the Clintons are actually involved in that as well, that some of the special interests in the meat and dairy industry will be addressed and of course the war, that’s the main thing. I would say those two things.

CC: That was John Mooter, Chairman of EarthSave Cincinnati. EarthSave Cincinnati is a group that was formed to promote eating plant-based foods, sharing concerns for the environment, compassionate treatment of animals, and improved greater health.

John Mooter mentioned that EarthSave Cincinnati will be writing a letter to President Obama based on the input from this past weekend’s meeting and will share it with the Beacon within the next month. For more information you can visit:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Stunted Discourse on Torture Continues

I have devoted quite a few entries recently to the discussion of torture policies and my viewpoint that officials that approved these policies should be investigated and held accountable for their actions. I actually find it fascinating to witness some of the conversations that take place in the media in regard to torture policies and those who continue to insist that this is merely a question of political difference and debate as opposed to a discussion over accountability to the rule of law.

I am in complete agreement that outgoing administrations should not have to worry about policies being criminalized, but when those policies break the law and are potential war crimes, then certainly those who implement said policies should be investigated and held to account. When we are discussing violations of the law, we move beyond mere differences in political ideology and discussions about accountability to the law should not be viewed through merely a political lens. After all, we are a nation of laws and are of the belief that no one is above the law. It was quite refreshing to see the nominee for the position of Attorney General state today that "no one is above the law" and that "waterboarding is torture".

Despite Holder's assertion that "no one is above the law" President-elect Obama has not made any indication that Bush Administration officials will be investigated and face charges for implementing policies. In fact, Obama stated the tired line that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards" this past weekend with George Stephanopolous. In order for Obama's Administration to hold the line that "no one is above the law" and to remain consistent with their assertion that "waterboarding is torture", there is no other option than to hold those who made the decision to implement torture, accountable for their illegal and immoral actions.

As President Bush and other Administration officials continue to admit that they approved of torture and Holder and Obama state that waterboarding is indeed torture that the United States has prosecuted others for in the past, the scenario is set for the next step of accountability. All the while there is still a debate about whether these policies are appropriate, with people like Joe Scarborough and Dick Cheney, continuing to defend these policies as necessary to the safety of U.S. citizens. The clip below is a prime example of just how backward the discourse has slid when these issues are discussed:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reporter is Taken by President Bush's 'Charm' and Gushes About Memories he will 'Cherish'

Just in case you needed more evidence that the White House Press Corps often sympathizes with Washington insiders instead raising critical questions, I give you John Gizzi's take on President Bush's final press conference. Gizzi is the Political Editor of and has covered many a Presidential press conference over the last eight years. Gizzi writes:

In his final meeting with the press, President Bush was perfectly charming. To some of those with whom he has had a frosty relationship, Mr. Bush said, “I always respected you,” adding that those who covered him “do the best they possibly can,” and -- in a slight backhand -- noted that at times, the reporters “mis-underestimated me.”

Oh, the good times that the Press Corps has had over the years! From the President's non-answers, embarrassing missteps, and goofy catch-phrases...hasn't this all been a blast? Gizzi continues:

Whether he was joshing with April Ryan of Urban Radio (“April, you were sound asleep back there”) or telling Suzanne Malveaux of CNN he had learned to pronounce her name right after eight years (“Su-zonnnn”), the President obviously enjoyed his “last hurrah” with those who had covered him and often sparred with him.

Bush enjoyed this last press conference so much, that he decided to snub veteran journalist Helen Thomas (as some bloggers have pointed out). So much for respecting those who he has sparred with. Gizzi concludes:

For all the last-minute notices of press conferences, the jostling for a seat, and that it was very often to difficult to get news-making information from President Bush, I found it a pleasure to be part of “the arena” that is the Brady Briefing Room. His sense of humor, occasional weaving and bobbing on the podium, and the give-and-take with reporters are memories I will cherish. I’m not sure what the new President and his press secretary will be like, but if there is in any way a continuing of the dog-and-pony show that the Bush White House had under four different spokesmen, I’m looking forward to it.

Not only is Gizzi gushing with memories he will cherish about these press conferences, but he is hoping that Obama's conferences will be a similar "dog-and-pony show". I, for one, am a fan of critical reporting no matter the President and quite frankly couldn't care less whether reporters like Gizzi have been charmed by the antics of the President. Tough questions and independence is something that society must demand from journalists, especially now when there are so many important issues that are coming to a head. The very fact that reporters like Gizzi are gushing about the President's charm and about "memories" they will "cherish" is a pretty good example of what is wrong with some of the coverage that is coming out of Washington.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cheney Defends Torture, Claims Country is Guided by "The Hand of Providence"

Last week, a group of conservative journalists sat down with Vice-President Cheney for a two hour discussion on the last eight years in the White House and about his service in various Presidential Administrations. Among these journalists, was Erick Erickson of the website and his latest piece discusses some of the topics about which the outgoing Vice President spoke.

Naturally, the so-called "War on Terror" was a topic that came up during this time and Erickson mentions that Cheney feels that the Administration did not get credit for a lot of things that didn't happen; or to translate, Cheney is again making the claim that since the United States has not been attacked since 9/11, it is evidence that the Bush Administration's policies have worked. It is obvious that Cheney feels that torture is among the "policies" that have provided results in keeping America safe because Erickson then quotes Cheney as saying:

We’ve ended up in a situation where critics label everything the administration does as “torture.” “That word,” he sighed, “is used with reckless abandon."

The fact that Cheney is still arguing semantics in regard to using the term "torture" as opposed to the more Orwellian "enhanced interrogation techniques" is more indication that Administration officials feel that these policies were actually beneficial and feel that they did nothing wrong. Regardless of the term used, it is more important is to focus on what has been implemented as acceptable ways of treating detainees, how those policies have broken laws, and how it affects the United States and its ability to keep the country safe in the future.

We know, from the Senate Armed Services Committee report released a few weeks ago, that what Cheney and Bush Administration officials felt would be acceptable, has led to the abuse and deaths of detainees that were in U.S. custody. A report issued last year by Physicians for Human Rights found abuses such as detainees being stabbed in the cheek with a screwdriver and another detainee had injuries consistent with being sodomized. Combine this with the comprehensive records that the ACLU has kept of detainee deaths that are consistent with homicide and one continues to wonder if using the term "torture" really is being used with such "reckless abandon". If this is deemed an appropriate way to treat detainees, the majority of which have never been charged with a crime, then perhaps America needs to step down from pedestal of morality upon which these same leaders claim we are perched.

Erickson's piece continues:

Many of the administration’s opponents have never let go of the belief that terrorists could be prosecuted. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the best example: the dividing line between the Bush administrations admirers and its most vehement critics falls along not just party lines, but separates those whose views are legalistic and academic and those who view war pragmatically.
What is striking about this statement is not just Erickson's amazement that there are those who "have never let go of the belief that terrorists could be prosecuted" as if prosecuting criminals is some hair-brained idea, but his distinction between those who view the war in legalistic terms versus pragmatic terms. To think that war should be viewed through one lens or another is to fall trap to same black and white mindset that this Administration has grown so fond of during the last eight years. Breaking the law the way this Administration has done and disrespecting the very idea of the law in the name of pragmatism is still breaking the law. Upholding the law is not some ideology with which those who have supposed "pragmatic vision" can simply disagree with.

What drives Cheney and other members of the Bush Administration to believe that they are above the law? Perhaps the answer lies in Cheney's response to a question by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer during the two-hour long interview. Krauthammer asked Cheney if he felt that the "hand of providence" played a part in American history. Erickson documents:

The Vice President replied that he thought the United States had a very special place and was unique in history. “Clearly genius was involved in establishing the Republic. . . . We’ve either been extraordinarily fortunate from time to time or one can see the hand of providence.”

With the belief that your god is on their side and is guiding the path of the country that they lead, then it becomes easier to justify breaking laws in the name of advancing the cause of a country that has a "special place" and is guided by the "hand of providence". Such a perversion of adherence to the rule of law, justified by a belief in divine guidance is a reinforcement of why there needs to be an independent investigation of crimes committed over the last eight years.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Collection of Discourse on the Current Israel/Palestinian Conflict

President-elect Barack Obama has finally weighed in on the conflict that continues to wage between Israel and Palestinians today, stating that he "deplores" the civilian deaths on both sides of the conflict. He also stated that he will have "plenty to say" after January 20th on the issue. These statements come as Israel continues their assault on Gaza and amid new claims that UN schools have been hit in the attack. Yesterday it was reported that Israel has been using white phosphorous to screen their attack. This element, which can cause severe burns, is illegal if it is used as anything other than smokescreen.

There are many viewpoints that are being expressed about this current situation and instead of writing up a lengthy piece of my own at this point, I will use this entry to point your attention to a few of the pieces which can better help us understand this conflict and put it in a context that can be more helpful than we are usually subjected to.

First and foremost, I would like to point your attention to a Palestinian journalist, on the ground in Gaza, who has been bravely reporting during these times of violent clashes. His name is Sameh Habeeb and the link to his blog that he is updating is here. He is giving daily updates and first hand accounts of the events that he is seeing on the ground and yesterday, he posted that he may stop blogging if he either has to flee or if he dies due to the attacks. He has since resumed and his time is limited due to the Israeli power cuts to the region. A sample of today's entry:

1-Bombings in Jabalia Refugee Camps, 5 killed and several wounded. Many houses were damaged in the camp while hundreds of people leave their houses into some schools and safer places.2-Israeli F16s bombarded two adjacent houses for Al Shorafa family in Toffah area. The houses were hit without previous notification. Many people killed and several wounded.3-A massare against house of Al Daya family southern east of Gaza City. The father was killed, the mother, his son Fayez, his daughter in law Rawans, infant

I have attempted to contact Habeeb for an interview, but have so far been unsuccessful in reaching him. I will continue to try and post the interview here should he manage to reply. He has given an interview to Democracy Now!, which you can find here.

For some other views and productive discussion about this issue I recommend reading this article from the Nation entitled "To Live and Die in Gaza". The author is Laila Al-Arian and here is a clip of the piece:

With Israel's draconian blockade of Gaza, imposed as punishment for the election of Hamas and backed by the US and Europe, my grandfather's life was transformed yet again. Medication to treat his diabetes was in short supply and
because of a shortage of gas and electricity, his family was forced to use primitive kerosene burners for cooking. Bakeries now had to resort to baking bread with animal feed and sewage treatment plants were crippled as fuel ran out, forcing the water authority to dump millions of liters of waste into the Mediterranean Sea. Electricity was scarce, with homes receiving an average of only six hours a day. Unemployment shot up to 49 percent.

I will also point you to the views of Tariq Ali in his recent piece, "From the Ashes of Gaza". A clip:

The assault on Gaza, planned over six months and executed with perfect timing, was designed largely, as Neve Gordon has rightly observed, to help the incumbent parties triumph in the forthcoming Israeli elections. The dead Palestinians are little
more than election fodder in a cynical contest between the right and the far right in Israel. Washington and its EU allies, perfectly aware that Gaza was about to be assaulted, as in the case of Lebanon in 2006, sit back and watch.

and in perhaps one of the most interesting discussions that I have seen as of late, journalist Glenn Greenwald was interviewed on the right-wing talk radio program hosted by Hugh Hewitt. You can find a full transcript here and the discussion quite substantive considering the forum. Here is a sample of one of the exchanges:

HH: Let’s come back to that, but pause for a moment on Hamas. Do you think Hamas is a threat to the United States?

GG: No, I don’t think Hamas is remotely a threat to the United States. I think Saddam Hussein was more of a threat to the United States, and I don’t think he was a threat to the United States.

HH: Do you think Hamas is an extension of Iran?

GG: No, I don’t think Hamas is an extension of Iran.

HH: And do you believe Hamas is a terrorist organization?

GG: I mean, every person has their own definition of terrorism. The definition I use would include probably a lot more things than you would include, but I would include things like sending people to blow themselves up in pizza parlors and buses inside Israel to be acts of terrorism, sure.

HH: And does Israel have a right to exist unqualifiedly?

GG: Absolutely.

HH: And so given that Hamas is a terrorist organization that denies Israel’s right to exist, how do you think Israel ought to deal with the Qassam rockets, the 7,200 rockets, I believe, that have landed in Israel in the last many years?

GG: Well, I think that in order to answer that question, you have to look at the broader context, which is the fact that while I think Israel has a right to exist, I think the Palestinians have the right to autonomy over a land that virtually everybody outside of a few extremist religious sects in the United States and Israel recognize does not belong to Israel, recognizes it and should be Palestinian land. And so it’s not just a one-sided question, which is what should the Israelis do about rocket fire, the question also is what should the Palestinians do about the fact that they’re essentially occupied for a foreign army for four decades, and have walls built around them, and blockades imposed on them. And I think all these issues need to be resolved in order to have a real resolution. I think dropping bombs in a densely populated civilian area like the Gaza Strip isn’t going to solve any of it. It’s just going to exacerbate it.

The interview is very interesting and well worth your time. This is all for the time being, but I am sure that there will be much more to speak about as this situation continues to unfold.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How Does Accountability to Law Turn into Giving Terrorists "New Rights"?

Rachel Alexander, co-editor of the "Intellectual Conservative" website, has written a new piece entitled "Terrorists' Rights Versus Crime Prevention". Considering I have written about the issue of torture and the treatment of detainees quite a bit recently, the topic of Alexander's piece intrigued me, but as I continued to read further, the vague language and broad characterizations that Alexander uses in her source-free piece only worked to confuse many issues that have become hot topics over the last few years.

Alexander begins her piece:

Civil libertarians, including prominent conservatives like Rep. Ron Paul and former Rep. Bob Barr, have made loud objections to the U.S. government’s efforts to counteract terrorism in the wake of 9-11. In particular, they have protested the detainment and interrogation methods used on suspected terrorists at Gitmo, wiretapping, and other methods of surveillance. They don’t represent the majority of Americans, many who privately say anyone involved with terrorism should be executed. They don’t dare say this publically since the law has evolved over time to provide those accused of crimes certain privileges, labeling them “rights.”

She claims that the majority of Americans privately say that anyone involved with terrorism should be executed, but provides no source for this claim. By her own reasoning, a source wouldn't even exist for this claim because as she states, this is a feeling that Americans privately hold. This leads to the question of why Americans are hiding their "true" feelings. Why won't Americans say this publically? Alexander says that this is because the law has evolved over time to provide "those accused of crimes" privileges that have been labeled "rights" (quotes are hers). If that reasoning didn't make one bit of sense, then take a number.

Alexander continues that some of these "rights" (again, the quotes are hers) make sense in order to make sure that the United States doesn't imprison the wrong people, but that there is a "line where these specified additional 'rights' for suspected terrorists begin to infringe upon the rights of innocent Americans. " At this point you may be wondering what additional "rights" Alexander keeps citing and how they specifically infringe upon the rights of Americans. It is a puzzling question because Alexander does not lay out a clear example of these new rights to which she refers, but she does give some hints at what she views as a problem.

She blames "liberal activist judges" since the 1960's for creating new "rights" for criminals that make it very difficult to interrogate terrorists and get information out of them or "detain them for very long." She complains that we have to "coddle them", "read them their right to remain silent" and "supply them with a U.S. taxpayer-funded attorney to represent them". She goes on:

Without the ability to obtain any information from them, it becomes difficult to justify detaining them without violating their (new) “rights.” So even though we all know the Guantanamo detainees have been aiding and abetting terrorists whose sole goal in life is to kill U.S. citizens, we pretend that the U.S. Constitution includes all these additional “rights” for terrorists and their aiders and abettors, ultimately enabling them to continue their attacks upon U.S. citizens.

Again, without any specifics as to what she means by "new rights", Alexander makes the very false and very misleading argument that the prisoners at Guantanamo have been aiding and abetting terrorists and that since "liberal activist judges" afford ambiguous new "rights" to terrorists, they are able to continue their attacks upon U.S. citizens. This flies in the face of the fact that a majority of the detainees at Guantanamo have never been charged with a crime nor have then been subjected to any sort of open or speedy trial at which any evidence can be presented. Assuming that those held at Guantanamo were all aiding and abetting terrorists is simply false and claiming that releasing detainees enables them "to continue their attacks upon U.S. citizens" is blatantly false. In fact, this study that was done by a Professor at Seton Hall found that a very few number of released detainees fought against Americans.

In addition to Alexander's opinion that "liberal activist judges" are giving terrorists new "rights" at Guantanamo, she also points out that civil liberties activists are also trying to take away the governments ability to wiretap and spy on terrorists within the United States:

Another criticism of left wing civil liberties activists is that the surveillance is authorized to search communications within the U.S., not just overseas. Again, this doesn’t take into account reality, which is that many terrorists are now operating within the U.S. as sleeper cells, and others have friendly enablers in the U.S. helping them coordinate their attacks. All of the 9-11 hijackers were in the U.S.

I wonder if Ms. Alexander has heard of the term "probable cause" which is something that allows law enforcement to obtain a warrant if they would like to monitor potential illegal activity within the United States. I also wonder if Ms. Alexander remembers the protections that were once issued by the FISA legislation of 1978 which made it a crime to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Amazingly enough, Alexander proposes a "better approach" rather than try and "proactively restrict" the power of the government. Alexander proposes:

...give the laws on terrorism as drafted by Congress a chance, and then if an abuse does occur, where the government spies on someone with no connections
to terrorism, revisit the law and determine what changes should be made to
prevent those abuses.

The ignorance of this statement is astounding. The FISA legislation of 1978 was enacted by Congress and was violated by the Bush Administration after September 11th when the New York Times uncovered that the Government had been secretly spying on U.S. citizens. In order to remedy this situation, the Bush Administration pushed for (and received) a revision of the FISA legislation that would not only expand their eavesdropping powers, but effectively grant retroactive immunity to telecom giants that participated in the program. In other words, we gave the laws drafted by Congress a chance, abuses that Alexander specifically describes occurred, the law was revisited, and changes were made that allowed the Administration and telecom companies to avoid accountability to the original law. This scenario already happened, yet Alexander pretends like civil liberties advocates are unfairly and proactively restricting governmental ability to "keep us safe". Not only that but she states:

As long as the U.S. is the freest democracy in the world, there is little chance that our government is going to turn against its citizens and spy on them. As long as we have free elections and are electing free market, pro-democracy leaders, these kinds of abuses are unlikely and would be an exception should they occur.

In Rachel Alexander's world, there is little chance that the government would spy on its own citizens, but in the real world, it has already happened. Alexander even calls spying on Americans "abuses", but what she thinks is an exception, was enacted into law. Instead of condemning these abuses becoming law, she justifies them on the grounds that these laws are needed so that they can be applied to "new technology"; this is something which Glenn Greenwald did an excellent job of examining and shooting down in posts like this one.

It is embarrassing that so many mistakes, misleading, and outright false statements are circulated daily in order to attempt to justify such obvious law breaking by the Bush Administration. Whether we are discussing the FISA legislation or basic adherence to rules of internationally recognized law that surround the treatment of prisoners, the theme is the same. This theme of the last eight years, is that elected officials are perceived to be above the law. They are able to act with impunity without fear of prosecution, even when it is painfully obvious that serious crimes have been committed. These lawbreakers must be quite proud when they see pieces like the one by Ms. Alexander which imply that those who do not endorse policies which result in the torture of prisoners and spying on Americans, are somehow affording "special rights" to dangerous terrorists. This type of discourse is perverted and indicative of how backward this country has slid. It seems strange that we are debating whether prisoners should be tortured or whether the government can listen in to our phone conversations, but in Ms. Alexander's post 9/11 world, adhering to the basic rules of law are translated into infringing on the government's ability to keep us safe. How Orwellian.

This article can also be found at: