Photo credit: Reuters

Monday, December 31, 2012

A Good Year For Obama, Not For The Rest Of Us

Dear Mr. President,
Here we go over the cliff. Will it be like the end of the Mayan calendar, a non-event? Probably. But the real catastrophes, the war against the planet, your drone wars and the war in Afghanistan didn’t make it into any list of top stories for the year, at least none I could find. You’ve successfully made war a non-issue. Nobody cares. Except for those on the receiving end, the Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis and whoever else you unleash Hellfire missiles and teams of assassins on. A recent article reported the grim fallout from the drone war in Waziristan: the Taliban has now taken to executing suspected collaborators. Turns out the CIA pays $350 to anyone who reports an insurgent/Taliban/Al Qaeda person. Any checks on that information? Maybe someone had a grudge or just needed the money to feed their family. How do you verify any of this? The CIA at it again, fingering people, guilty or not, no different than the NKVD secret police back in the day. Meanwhile, here at home, you offer Republicans a sweetheart deal upping the threshold for increased taxes from $250,000 to $450,000 so even fewer of the rich have to pay that tiny 4.6% increase. And your business friendly regulatory agencies, I see in today’s paper, just gave 14 banks, guilty of illegal and ruthless foreclosures, a free pass if they pony up $10 billion between them. Ostensibly earmarked for underwater homeowners and those whose homes were illegally foreclosed, nobody knows how victims get  identified since the deal is, no further investigation or analysis of the mortgage scandal if the Banksters pay up. But no matter, the billions go back into the treasury and who cares about the kicked-out-of-their-homes homeless anyway, right? You got re-elected so you don’t have to play the game any longer. Not a bad deal for you, for the government, for the banks—just a cost of doing business, $10 billion a tiny fraction of the profit they made in their criminal venture. So Happy New Year, Mr. President, except it isn’t for those we brutalize and kill abroad (and at home—think Bradley Manning) and for those whose homes got foreclosed (4 million and counting since 2008 and no end in sight), but for you a good year when nobody pays attention to your wars of aggression and other crimes against humanity and so long as the media doesn’t report it, you’re home free. Nothing to be proud of, but still, it looks good on your resume: Commander-in-Chief and chief enabler of the criminal class.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

There Goes the 4th Amendment, Crushed by FISA

Dear Mr. President,
There goes the 4th Amendment. Again. The Senate just passed a 5 year extension of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) which was set to expire next week. They voted down amendments to require oversight and justification for wiretapping and the collection of electronic information which Senator Feinstein—that rightwing warhawk who labels herself a Democrat only because she couldn’t get elected as a Republican—said the amendments were not necessary. According to this morning’s New York Times, you strongly support the FISA extension and are expected to sign it within the next few days—maybe like the midnight signing of last year’s 2012 NDAA on New Year’s Eve when everyone was out partying and not paying attention. As a constitutional law professor, you’ve probably got the 4th Amendment memorized, you know, the one that says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Instead, FISA is all about secrecy and intercepting communications—phone calls, emails, internet activity—without anyone knowing. Ostensibly directed at foreigners—“suspected terrorists”—it’s clear that Americans are also being monitored but the intelligence agencies refuse to tell Congress how many or who or under what circumstances. “Beyond the capacity of his office,” the NSA’s Inspector General told Congress. But if they have the capability of capturing and mining all this information, surely they can count. “An open and democratic society such as ours should not be governed by secret laws”: Sen. Jeff Merkley said, and yet, secret laws are the hallmark of your administration. Sen. Ron Wyden compared writs under FISA to the “general warrants that so upset the colonists” more than 200 years ago and Sen. Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said the law does not have adequate checks and balances. All to no avail. It passed the Senate 73-23, eliminating yet another constitutional guarantee. And all because the Senate was called back into a non-urgent urgent session to deal with the Fiscal Cliff but is unable to, so they passed this unconstitutional law instead. It seems the only time America is really safe is when Congress is not in session and can’t do more mischief.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Beijing to Guangzhou in 8 hours, NY to Miami, 30

Dear Mr. President,
Two letters from the White House, both dated Dec. 20, arrived Monday. One was a condolence note—“I am deeply sorry for your loss and pain”—and the other thanked me for my “service and sacrifice.” I’ve read each one several times and for the life of me still have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve had no loss of a loved one for many years, my service occurred decades ago and was without sacrifice—never in harm’s way, never trained to kill, never close to an enemy—and none of my letters mention loss, service or sacrifice. You might want to check on your workerbees in the basement who scan your letters and emails. Maybe it was too much Christmas cheer and they got letters and names mixed up or maybe there was a glitch in the computer program that generates responses. At any rate, not a big deal, just some feedback from out here on the hustings. What I really want to talk about though, is an article in this morning’s New York Times about a new high speed rail line between Beijing and Guangzhou that went into service yesterday: 1,200 miles in 8 hours. That’s impressive, especially considering Amtrak’s Silver Meteor between NYC and Miami, about the same distance, takes 30 hours. Since 2008 the Chinese have built 5,809 miles of high speed rail lines, 4 lines north-south, 4 east-west, each line employing about 100,000 workers. The project has had all kinds of benefits: low unemployment, reduced pollution by freeing up old rail lines to run more freight trains which takes trucks off the roads and reduces diesel imports. All this for $640 billion, hundreds of billions less than we spent bailing out the Banksters of Wall Street and for which we got nothing in return but misery and hard times. In the same 4 years China built all that, we spent millions studying and planning a 400 mile line between LA and San Francisco but not a shovelful of dirt turned yet. How is it a bunch of backward commies you say are a threat can accomplish so much so quick and we can’t even pass a budget? How come they can invest in their future but we’re told we’re broke and have to cut everything but the military? And right there’s the problem, Mr. President; we spend on war but not peace, to destroy but not to build. We obsess over enemies but don’t recognize the real enemy—the ignorance, cupidity and hubris that blinds us to our own injustice and brutality and leads to defeat. So long as you promote war and violence, we will continue our descent into Dante’s inferno.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Christmas Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,
Ironic that Kill List Tuesday fell on Christmas this year. Did you take a by-week in celebration of the Prince of Peace’s birthday or did you video­­­­link in with your team, gathered in the Situation Room with their lists of nominees, and choose who will die this week by a drone strike or a team of Special Forces assassins? There’s no rest for the wicked, my mother used to say, so I’m betting it was business as usual; after all, they’re Muslims, no Christmas on their calendar, no Silent Nights, no Holy Nights for them, right? Christmas Eve, one of your drones in Yemen assassinated a midlevel al Qaeda ‘operative’ and an unidentified Jordanian. “Christmas greetings on behalf of America from President Obama!” No Christmas this year for them. And no Christmas either, for the confirmed 176 children killed by drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Did you shed a tear for any of them, Mr. President? Or do their lives not count because anyone not “us” is a terrorist-militant-insurgent, an imminent threat to the U.S. no matter how young? The murder and mayhem in Newtown and Aurora and Virginia Tech is in our DNA now, an extension of the murder and mayhem we commit in places like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya… We can pass gun laws and require mental health tests until hell freezes over but until we stop the murder and violence abroad, the murder and violence at home will continue. Your public displays and vows ring hollow, Mr. President, for the seeds of violence are in the Oval Office in the form of Kill Lists and secret justifications for the murder or imprisonment of anyone under the guise of national security. How can you support gun laws at the same time you support death by drone? How can you shed a tear for those 20 beautiful little kids gunned down in Newtown and not shed a tear for the hundreds slaughtered in the mountains of Waziristan? How can you expect violence at home to end when it is the same violence you promote abroad? This is the day to ask, Would Jesus keep a Kill List or order drone strikes or send out teams of assassins in the dead of night to batter down doors and shoot unarmed men—and sometimes women and children? Avenging angels and an eye for an eye hasn’t worked; let’s try turning the other cheek, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, forgiving those who trespass against us and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Merry Christmas, Mr. President, peace on earth good will toward man.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Democrats, Republicans, Machiavellians & the End of the World

Well, the world didn’t end yesterday. No black holes, no errant meteors, no cataclysmic events. The end of the Mayan calendar wasn’t the end of the world after all, that was an urban legend, a hoax put forth by those who either misinterpreted or were up to no good. Like the fiscal cliff we’re supposed to go over on December 31 unless there’s a new budget and since Boehner can’t get his party’s crazies to accept your “compromise” plan, looks like we’re going over. I say, better to go over the cliff than a budget that’s more giveaway than compromise—raise taxes only on the super-rich by a piddly 4.6% but cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; keep dividends taxed at 20% and a $3.5 million exclusion for estates but slash education, Head Start and Food Stamps… It would have been a disaster for America. Paul Krugman, in his column yesterday, said the Republican crazies saved you from giving away the store by rejecting your offer. The Republicans refuse to raise taxes—but apparently only on the rich since their plans actually raise taxes on the poor and middle class. They’re hellbent to eliminate entitlements but love subsidies for business, tax exemptions and bailouts, all government largess. It’s only when government helps John and Jane Public that they have a problem. They love war, the only area where government is welcome, since war is good for business and the military protects our business interests abroad so outfits like Texaco and Chevron can plunder and pillage and leave behind a toxic mess with impunity. Republicans have no concept of the common good for either the country or the planet; they fight tooth and nail to make sure regulations are riddled with loopholes and unions are weakened so they can exploit workers, defraud customers, and keep profits high and taxes low. The Democrats? Different only in tone. And then there’s you, Mr. President. You claim to be a Democrat and mouth Democrat platitudes but in deed you’re more Republican than the Republicans. I think you have no loyalty to any party or any State, that you are driven only by a lust for power, that any means justifies your end. I keep coming to the only possible conclusion: you are neither Democrat nor Republican, but Machiavellian: any means, any lie, any promise, to gain power and to keep it. And so you did. Twice. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So shame on America and God Bless America, she’ll need all the goddamned blessing she can get.