Photo credit: Reuters

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Guantanamo Blackout

Dear Mr. President,
On December 3, General John Kelley, head of U.S. Southern Command, ordered Guantanamo prison staff to stop providing the number of prisoners on hunger strike and the number being force-fed. According to the Miami Herald which tracked these numbers each day, “‘JTF-Guantánamo allows detainees to peacefully protest but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,’ the spokesman said. ‘The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.’ He refused to elaborate on how the daily report interfered with troop security and detainee welfare...” ( So much for Guantanamo’s motto: “safe, humane, legal, transparent detention.” The only valid part now is “detention.” After the mass hunger strike earlier this year, the number of hunger strikers being force-fed dropped to 11 but it’s starting to rise again—15 as of Nov. 15—and the military (and your Administration) doesn’t want more bad publicity and the way to accomplish that is to shut down that one sliver of transparency into Guantanamo. But the article also reveals that there are 2,100 troops and contractors assigned to Guantanamo and among these 2,100 people is a public-relations team of 20, led by a Navy Commander. These are astonishing numbers: a ratio of 13 to 1 prison personnel to inmates and a 20 man PR team assigned to a prison with zero transparency. What’s even more astonishing is that we’re spending $2.7 million per prisoner per year to keep them incarcerated, most of them never charged with a crime and more than half of them cleared for release more than 3 years ago. Somehow we found $454 million this year to lock up 164 people in Guantanamo but we’re cutting pensions in Detroit and Stockton and Harrison County, Georgia and a dozen other communities because we’re broke. We can spend $68,000 on a Hellfire missile to kill an unarmed 67-year-old grandmother and village midwife picking okra in her garden in the mountains of Waziristan (actually, 2 missiles were fired at her, so it was $136,000) but we can’t find a dime for the long-term unemployed and we had to cut $9 a month from Leon Simmons’ food stamps. What does this say about our priorities, Mr. President? What does it say about our leaders and our representatives? What does it say about you?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Buy America!

Dear Mr. President,
Today’s NYT (“For Toledo, Cash To Grow; For Chinese, Closer Ties” p. A12) tells how this rust belt town of 280,000, once the glass capital of the world, had to buy glass panels for the new wing of their museum from the Chinese because the glass industry has been off-shored and what’s left of it no longer had the capacity to fill the order. A pretty sad commentary on the state of America, what’s happened to our industrial capacity and why we’ve got so many people unemployed. We can’t even make the glass for own windows! But here’s the grabber: because of that glass order, the Chinese discovered Toledo, its key location—a major port on the Great Lakes, a regional rail and highway hub—and its depressed real estate market, and decided to invest in the city, bought hotels, restaurants, riverfront property and abandoned factories that could be refurbished and made functional again. Things are looking up for Toledo, thanks to the Chinese. The article also talks about other Chinese investments in the U.S.—$12.2 billion in the first 9 months of 2013: “Chinese investors have been buying commercial and residential real estate in Detroit, inexpensively because of the city’s financial troubles, and have agreed to finance a $1.5 billion waterfront development in Oakland, Calif. This year, on a trade trip to China, Gov. Jerry Brown of California discussed Chinese investment in the state’s troubled $91 billion bullet train project. Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee have also increased their push for Chinese investment.” What’s absent is any mention of U.S. investment, underwriting or loans to resuscitate our ailing cities. When you think about it, it’s pretty clear why. Unlike the Chinese, we spend our money on war, not infrastructure, not loans to develop waterfront property or refurbish hotels, factories and restaurants, or bail out pensioners or bankrupt cities. That’s the price of war, selling America to foreigners—in this case the Chinese, who know a good deal when they see it. Meanwhile, we give billions in military aid to dictators and military regimes, spend tens of billions on useless spying and give subsidies to corporate farmers while ending unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed—like the folks who used to work in the glass factories of Toledo—and cutting food stamps and child health programs…a litany of outrage. What’s wrong with this picture, Mr. President? To those of us out here on the hustings, the answer’s pretty obvious.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Dear Mr. President,
Counterterrorism, Qaeda-affiliate, militants, insurgents, National Security. Like the Abracadabra of magicians, these phrases seem possessed of magical power when used by the magicians and tricksters of Washington to justify any atrocity, any war, any act of aggression, any crime against humanity and any violation of the Constitution or international law. Last week we sent an emergency shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles to a non-existent Iraqi Air Force which had exhausted their supply, justifying it as necessary to help Iraq fight a growing Qaeda-affiliate insurgency in Iraq (today’s NYT, “U.S. Sends Arms To Aid Iraq Fight With Extremists” p. A1). While the Iraqis don’t have Predator or Reaper drones or any combat aircraft—yet—they strap the Hellfires beneath the wings of small Cessna turboprops and fire them “at militant camps with the CIA secretly providing targeting assistance.” (Shades of the CIA secretly providing targeting information for Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks against the Iranians back in the 1970s!) The Iraqis paid for the Hellfire missiles (a little over $5 million, nice pocket change for Lockheed Martin) but we gave them 3 sensor-laden Aerostat balloons and 3 surveillance helicopters to help fight the Qaeda-affiliate insurgency which is gaining more and more territory in western Iraq and across the border in Syria. (So much for your pledge to bring the Iraq war to a “responsible end.”) But this is only the beginning. Next year we deliver 10 ScanEagle drones, 48 Raven drones, the first of the F-16s they bought and, if Congress approves it, lease at least 6 Apache helicopter gunships to them. Meanwhile, our counterterrorism folks say they’ve “effectively mapped the locations and origins of the Qaeda network in Iraq and are sharing the information with the Iraqis.” Hold on here, a minute, Mr. President, I thought Iraq was lined up with Iran and Iran was our mortal enemy, one of the Axis of Evil countries. Or maybe that was last month and the map’s changed once again. It’s hard to keep up with all the to-ing and fro-ing going on behind closed doors, all the Abracadabras and secret agreements and handshake deals. The only thing that never changes is that We the People always lose and the merchants of death always win no matter which side we’re on because war is good for business and the business of America is war. Peace on earth, good will to men, Mr. President. And a belated Mele Kalikimaka.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dirty Secrets? Say It Isn't So, Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,
More bad news for you on page 1 of today’s NYT: “N.S.A. Spied on Allies, Aid Groups and Businesses” and “Yemeni Deaths Test Claims of New Drone Policy.” The first article, based on the latest Snowden leaks, reveals more widespread spying than previously known, more than a thousand targets in this document, including such threats as Doctors Without Borders, the French oil company Total, Israeli PM Olmert, and a host of other government leaders, humanitarian organizations and businesses. The second article goes back to your May 23 speech promising more transparency and tighter control of drone strikes—another empty promise—and contrasts it to the Dec. 12 atrocity in Yemen: droning a convoy of vehicles in what the U.S. claims was a convoy of Al Qaeda militants including Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, accused of being a leader in the bomb plot that shut down 19 embassies in August. The convoy turned out to be a wedding party en route from the groom’s village to the bride’s but as usual, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Pentagon maintains they were all Al Qaeda militants and not civilians. The link between the two stories is in last week’s New Yorker article, “State of Deception,” which quotes a dissertation by a former CIA analyst, Bridget Rose Nolan, describing the process from NSA surveillance to National Counterterrorism Center analysis to your Kill List to the drone operators launching Hellfire missiles at targets 7,000 miles away. According to Ms. Nolan’s dissertation, a CIA colleague described the process as “You track ‘em, we whack ‘em.” But what if that intelligence is wrong? What if the analysts and drone operators, with no knowledge of Yemeni culture or tradition, can’t distinguish a wedding party from a group of militants? What if they don’t know that an Al Qaeda convoy would never include 11 vehicles? And then back to the first story and examples of the useless information the NSA collects in ‘Alexander’s haystack’ that provides no value, averts no plots and stops no attacks. Even your loyal NYT has given up on you in today’s scathing editorial, saying you continue to defend the secrecy surrounding all this, continue to believe that the problem is nothing more than a matter of PR and “any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate.” I can’t help but wonder if the NSA’s holding some dirt on you, Mr. President. Why else would you defend a rogue agency that undermines democracy?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Subverting Democracy

Dear Mr. President,
So your handpicked intelligence-community-insider panel reviewing the NSA is recommending you rein ‘em in. They don’t go near far enough—don’t just rein ‘em in, shut ‘em down—but even these guys report that the bulk collection of phone data has “not been necessary in stopping terrorist attacks” and that it “was not essential to preventing attacks.” (today’s NYT, “Obama Is Urged To Sharply Curb N.S.A. Data Mining” p. A1) Tuesday, Judge Leon called it “Orwellian” and said it “almost certainly violates the Fourth Amendment.” Then Wednesday, the rich tech execs who donate millions to Democrats complained in their meeting with you that it’s hurting business, and today your own panel recommends 46  major changes. The December 16 New Yorker article, “State of Deception,” by Ryan Lizza, reveals just how out of control the NSA is. It has consistently misled and lied to Congress, the FISA Court and the public and systematically ignored its own rules and the law so often that even the rubber-stamp FISA Court threatened to shut them down on several occasions. The article also chronicles how you’ve embraced and institutionalized all the Bush surveillance policies even though as a Senator and candidate for President you railed against them and tried to change them. More proof that you are a Machiavellian technocrat who will do anything to gain and maintain power. The article shows how you’ve kept the programs so secret that not even Congress, let alone We the People, know what’s going on. Even the NSA budget is classified so we don’t really know just how much they spend each year to spy on us, programs that provide no value. That’s NO VALUE, Mr. President. They’ve uncovered no plots and averted no attacks while burning through tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars doing it. Waste, fraud, and abuse! Even the current director of the National Counterterrorism Center admits they don’t really need to collect every phone call made by every American and most foreigners around the world, but that doesn’t stop Clapper and Alexander. Get it All! is their motto. According to the article, you had two clear opportunities to rein in the NSA in your first year as president but instead betrayed your stated principles and sided with the NSA, secrecy and illegal spying. Not good for democracy. As Edward Snowden said last July, “Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Obama's Belt Buckle

Dear Mr. President,
Your December 12 letter arrived today thanking me for “the letter you sent this spring and for sharing your thoughts. I read your message with interest.” No clue which of the 55 letters I sent this spring you’re referring to or what issue but you repeated the standard “my highest priority is the safety of the American people,” so it might have something to do with your covert wars or drone strikes or assassination program or your war on whistleblowers or indefinite detentions or who knows what. The next sentence is also puzzling: “Tough times and big decisions will necessarily bring our ideas about how to move forward into starker contrast.” No clue in the letter what big decisions you’ve got in mind but a big decision would be to shut down the NSA and the CIA and cut the Pentagon budget in half next year and half again in 2015 and use the money to restore the social contract and the social safety net. Another big decision would be to double tax rates on corporations and the rich and use that money to rebuild our infrastructure. How about single-payer healthcare? Or ending covert wars? How about amnesty for Manning and Snowden and Kiriakou and all the other whistle blowers? All big decisions and all about as likely as a snowball in hell. I’d like to think you actually read one of my letters this spring and considered the issues I raised but you’re a busy guy with important things to do, like attending the weekly Kill List meeting to decide who gets whacked this week, and keeping all your secrets secret and the tech companies tamped down and the countries we spy on mollified, and keeping the good times rolling for your rich patrons. Your letter came in a 9 x 12 manila envelope, First Class, $1.32 postage and “DO NOT BEND” stamped on the front. At first I thought maybe it was some kind of diploma thanking me for pointing out the counter error on the “Contact the White House” web page (my December 14 letter) or maybe even an award for the most letters of complaint sent to you over the past year, but when I opened that big envelope there was just this dinky 5 sentence note on a sheet of your 6½ x 9 stationery with your robosignature and a piece of cardboard like the back of an 8½ x 11 yellow tablet to make sure it didn’t get bent. When I thought about it however, it fits your MO; great packaging but little content. That envelope today was kind of analogous to a Texas belt buckle: the bigger the buckle, the smaller the man. If you get my gist.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Score One For The Good Guys

Dear Mr. President,
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled yesterday that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data “almost certainly” violates the 4th Amendment. He handed down an injunction to stop collecting data on the plaintiffs, destroy data already collected…and then stayed his own injunction for “national security” concerns until the government can appeal, a process that can take up to six months. Once again, “national security” trumps all. But today’s NYT (“Judge Questions Legality of N.S.A. Phone Records” p. A1), reports that Judge Leon rejected the legal basis for the NSA’s collection program which rests on distorting, twisting and misapplying a 1979 Supreme Court ruling—Smith v. Maryland—which involved the warrantless collection of phone records on a criminal defendant who, the court ruled, could not expect protection under the 4th Amendment; not even remotely like collecting every record of every phone call on every person every day. The judge also said the government had failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive.” Since the NSA’s discredited claim of “54 plots averted,” there’s been no mention of plots stopped or attacks averted and you can bet they’d be trumpeting them from here to kingdom come if there were. So why are we spending $10.8 billion a year on an enterprise which subverts and ignores the law, causes irreparable harm to our reputation at home and abroad, engenders mistrust and suspicion worldwide and cannot point to a single case where they helped foil an attack? And why are people like Clapper and Alexander not in jail for lying and misleading Congress, the FISA Court and the public? Why are they still treated with respect and their word taken as gospel while Manning languishes in Fort Leavenworth and Snowden has to take refuge in Russia? Why are whistleblowers persecuted while perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity go free and are treated as dignitaries? But the real underlying issue is secrecy, not just the NSA’s but the entire Obama government. And secrecy invariably leads to abuse and injustice. As the Times editorial put it today, “For seven years, these constitutional issues have been adjudicated under ‘a cloak of secrecy,’ as Judge Leon put it. Now, that cloak has finally been lifted in a true court of law.” Score one for the good guys.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Obama's Distorted Reality

Dear Mr. President,
I’ve been writing letters to you for 3 years now, sending each one electronically through the White House website and a hardcopy via USPS (doing my bit to help the USPS survive), 462 to date. Because the White House website restricts comments to 2500 characters (including spaces), I’ve gotten pretty good at saying what I want to say right at that number of characters. At first it was difficult to be so restricted but it does make one focus on an issue and not natter on and waste your time. (I know you never actually read any of these letters yourself but I keep the illusion going even though they haven’t made a dime’s worth of difference because it’s a way to vent my frustration and rage at your betrayals.) Anyhow, a month ago the White House website got revised and suddenly 2500 characters was 51 too many and my letters could no longer go through without the electronic version being abridged. I thought maybe some of the people who messed up the website screwed up the character counter on the “Contact the White House” page so I sent a message—only a few hundred characters—pointing out the problem but a month later 2500 characters (including spaces) is still 51 too many. I didn’t expect an acknowledgement—I haven’t received a response from the White House to any of my most recent 65 letters over the past 4 months—and if you won’t acknowledge your drone wars or extrajudicial assassinations or the murder of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere, why would I expect you to bother acknowledging something this trivial? Just a little technical glitch that can easily be fixed, not a war crime like ordering the assassination of a 16-year-old U.S. citizen who posed no threat to the U.S. Or is it just a simple technical glitch? Maybe it’s a precursor of what’s coming, a way of choking off another avenue of dissent, forcing us to restrict our letters to 2449 characters and pretending it’s still 2500. That’s not a lot, maybe not even noticeable to most folks, but what’s next, 2400 characters? 2000? Why not just take down the page and do away with the pretense? In a way it’s symbolic of how you’ve lost touch with We the People, how you don’t hear our voices, or if you do, don’t give a damn, how we don’t exist in your reality of political wheeling and dealing and power games, deciding who lives and who dies, who gets the breaks and who gets screwed. In your world, 2449 is 2500 and that’s distorted reality, Mr. President.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kiev, Washington, Yemen: Getting Rid of the Bad Guys

Dear Mr. President,
Yesterday afternoon, CIA assassins fired Hellfire missiles on a convoy of cars going to (or returning from) a wedding in a remote region of Yemen, killing at least 11 people—or 13 or 15 depending on the report. ABC News, the AP, Reuters, Al Jazeera and The Guardian all reported that those killed were civilians, a case of mistaken identity, that the CIA mistook the wedding party for a convoy of “suspected Al Qaeda militants.” Today’s NYT, however, reports that “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda…but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” (“Drone Strike in Yemen Hits Wedding Convoy, Killing 11” p. A8.) So either the CIA no longer bothers to distinguish between militants who are an imminent threat to the U.S. of A. and civilian wedding parties, or perhaps  they’ve instituted a new program of assassinating prospective breeders of future suspected militants, a sort of pre-emptive first strike in your War of Terror. Although the Times article sounded like it was written by the CIA, it did mention that back in May you “promised to make the drone campaign more transparent.” The statement is left hanging; there has been no increase in transparency since then. They also noted that right after your speech, drone strikes in Yemen dipped for awhile but they’re now back in full force, 2 this week, at least 2 last month, and in a 2-week period this summer, 9 strikes took place with no indication any of those killed were high value targets or leaders of AQAP. A tactic of cowards is to hide behind secrecy and silence. No acknowledgement, no transparency, no justice, the hallmarks of the Obama years. Right above today’s article on the drone strike in Yemen, there’s an article on the antigovernment protests in Ukraine which quotes a mechanical engineering student in eastern Ukraine as saying, “If they manage to get Yanukovichn out, there will be a new Yanukovichn after him.” Not everyone is enthusiastic or hopeful. There’s a lot of cynicism and disgust. The same applies here in the U.S. In 2008 we were disgusted with Bush and his neocons and got rid of them but ended up with a new Bush and new neocons under a new label, Obama and his neoliberals. For 5 years you’ve continued and expanded the obscenely stupid, counterproductive and self-annihilating policies of the Bush years. Nothing has changed and Washington’s the same as Kiev. We’ve just exchanged the old Bush for a new Bush.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

We the People: Kiev, Arab Spring, Occupy

Dear Mr. President,
Here’s what your Vice told President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine the other day: “violence has no place in a democratic society and is incompatible with our strategic relationship.” (NYT, “Ukraine’s Forces Move Against Protesters, Dimming Hopes for Talks” p. A6) Where was Biden on October 25, 2011 when Oakland police and Alameda County sheriffs sent Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen to the hospital with a fractured skull during their violent crackdown on the Occupy Oakland encampment? Or on Nov. 9 when the same law enforcement thugs beat Occupy protesters (including 70-year-old Professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and his wife) with truncheons to break up an Occupy protest on the UC Berkeley campus? Or Nov. 18 when UC Davis campus cops pepper-sprayed a group of peaceful protesters sitting on the ground? Or the countless acts of violence and brutality by the NYPD against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators? Biden’s lecture to Yanukovich was blatantly hypocritical. We turn a blind eye to violence and injustice here at home and by our friends and allies abroad but Ukraine or Syria or Libya or Iraq suddenly calls for sanctimonious lectures about freedom and democracy and aspirations. Ukraine under Yanukovich is drifting back into Russia’s orbit and away from the West so it’s obvious why we’re pro-democracy there, but what about Bahrain and Qatar and the West Bank where people have been fighting repression and injustice for years? Where are you and Joe on those? I’m pro-Kiev demonstrators too, Mr. President, but not for the same reasons you are. I’m for any uprising anywhere by We the People to throw off the yoke of oppression and injustice and that’s what the people of Kiev are doing. They want the same things people everywhere want, from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square to Pearl Square to Gaza: freedom, dignity and respect. They want government to listen to them, to address their needs and desires, not just the power brokers and elites. And like all uprisings, it’s always the State who resorts to violence whether it’s the NYPD or Assad’s army or Ukraine’s interior ministry forces, so there’s tremendous nobility in those Kiev protesters chanting Peaceful Protest! Peaceful Protest! as Ukraine’s security forces closed in on Independence Square, No different than our own Occupy protesters. It’s democracy in action. Kiev. Cairo. New York. Real power resides not in the State but in We the People, a lesson both sides keep learning.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Court Jester and the Fool

Dear Mr. President,
This whole fiasco with the Bilateral Security Agreement reminds me of a high pressure used car salesman (the U.S.) trying to sell a clunker to a prospective buyer (Hamid Karzai). Only in this case the prospective buyer is just as canny and devious as the used car salesman. Every enticement offered brings a new demand, every pressure is met with another roadblock, and by the end of the day, the salesman is looking to the buyer’s wife, kids, cousins, dog, anyone, to sign the deal. After Kerry’s entreaties, after the Loya Jirga’s rubber stamp of approval, after Dobbins and Rice and all the other nameless negotiators’ pleas and threats, and with billions of Yankee taxpayer dollars sitting on the table, Karzai’s got new demands—free all prisoners at Guantanamo, stop raiding Afghan homes, kicking down doors in the dead of night, terrorizing villages with drones and Hellfire, help start peace talks with the Taliban. What’s with this guy, anyway? What gall! Next thing you know, he’ll demand your Nobel Peace Prize! After 12 years of propping him up, keeping him and his cronies in power all this time, delivering millions in unmarked Ben Franklins to his office every month, treating his government like it was legitimate instead of a sham, now he wants us to stop counterterrorism raids and make our heroes subject to Afghan law? Outrageous! He’s playing David with a slingshot up against Goliath, “the greatest military the world has ever known,” flipping us off, dancing around and laughing at us. It’s humiliating, Mr. President, don’t let him get away with it. Put him on your Kill List. Surely, he’s a bigger threat to the U.S. of A. than that grandmother you droned last year in the mountains of Waziristan while she was picking okra in her garden. I mean, he’s sucking billions of dollars out of our economy and into his own pocket, money needed here at home for food stamps, unemployment benefits, education and aid for ailing municipalities going broke and cutting services and pensions. Karzai’s playing you for a fool, Mr. President. It was a fool’s war to begin with, started by fools and driven by ignorance, hubris and fantasy, a war continued and expanded by you, now your war, to no purpose other than furthering misbegotten dreams of empire and world domination. The way to win in Afghanistan is to walk away, to stop the mayhem, stop the killing, stop supporting the most corrupt government on the face of the earth. In other words, stop playing the fool.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Obamajustice at Guantanamo

Dear Mr. President,
Belkacem Bensayah and Djamel Ameziane got a taste of Obamajustice this week. The Defense Department announced Thursday that it had transferred both men from Guantanamo Bay prison to Algeria. What the news release didn’t say was that both men were transferred involuntarily, that they preferred the hell of Guantanamo to the hell of Algeria where they are certain to be persecuted or killed. Both men have been in Guantanamo since early 2002, Mr. Bensayah sent there from Bosnia where his wife and daughters still live, and Mr. Ameziane rounded up by Pakistani authorities and turned over to the U.S. military, much like 14-year-old Hamidullah Khan, who I wrote about a few days ago, another victim of America’s arbitrary justice. Djamel Ameziane is a minority Berber and fled Algeria because of persecution. That’s how he ended up in the tribal area of Pakistan in late 2001, another man in the wrong place at the wrong time, no doubt sold for the bounty paid by the U.S. on “militants,” no questions asked, and sent to Guantanamo. According to yesterday’s NYT (“Two Detainees at Guantanamo Are Involuntarily Repatriated to Algeria” p. A20), both Canada and Luxembourg were possible repatriation countries but a State Department spokesman said transfer to another country was “not a viable option.” The Center for Constitutional Rights called Ameziane’s transfer to Algeria “as unnecessary as it is bitterly cruel.” An editorial in today’s NYT (“A Bad Decision at Guantánamo” p. A20) said that even though the Bush administration cleared Ameziane for release in 2008, when your folks took over in 2009, they blocked his release to any country other than Algeria: “During a 2009 hearing, Federal District Judge Ellen Segal Havelle, told government lawyers she was ‘appalled’ at the situation. ‘I don’t know why in the world the only thing that the government can see here is Algeria,’” You campaigned in 2008 on a promise to close Guantanamo and ordered it closed in 2009 but did nothing when the hawks in Congress objected. So it remained open. In May, during the mass hunger strike, you said Guantánamo “has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” and you recommitted to close it. And so you will. In the cold, calculating manner of technocrats, with neither mercy, compassion nor conscience, and with arbitrary justice where any means is justified, where people are nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet, We need our own Nelson Mandela.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela & Barack Obama, a Study in Contrasts

Dear Mr. President,
Nelson Mandela died today. You called him “a symbol of justice, equality and dignity.” He had his faults like anyone, but he was a good man, deserving of his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and of his reputation. He inspired by word and deed, believed what he said and acted on his vision of a fair and just world. You give good speeches too, but there’s no action or follow-up to go with them and frankly, I doubt you really believe anything you say. Yesterday you decried inequality in America but you’ve done nothing to change it. You proposed health care reform but that turned into a subsidy for the insurance and health care industries. Your version of tax reform was a paltry 4.6% tax increase on the super-rich. You vowed to close Guantanamo but 5 years later it remains open. You talk of ending war but the wars rage on with no end in sight. You promised to return to the rule of law but your laws remain secret and arbitrary and justice is whatever you say it is. Hamidullah Khan is an example. In 2008, when he was 14, his father sent him to South Waziristan to retrieve possessions from their ancient family home. His journey was to take a few days but somehow he wound up in American custody and has been held at the U.S. prison in Bagram for the past 5 years—no charges, no trial, no legal representation. Last month he was one of 6 Pakistanis secretly “repatriated”— taken from Bagram in the middle of the night, hooded, cuffed and flown to Pakistan, but not home or into the custody of Pakistan’s judicial system; rather, into the frontier tribal region where he will be judged by a bureaucrat under ancient laws. This is your War of Terror, Mr. President, unjust, immoral and waged in secret by bureaucrats and assassins with no accountability and no justification, like a Kafkaesque nightmare, unfathomable and arbitrary. A far cry from the vision of Nelson Mandela. And a far cry from any American values I grew up with. This is what Nazis did, what totalitarian regimes do. This is what 12 years of America’s War of Terror has brought us—war without end and without purpose, destroying us equally with our perceived enemies. It was a war begun in ignorance, lost before it began, and it has stained the very soul of our nation. America’s reign as the beacon of hope for democracy, freedom, justice, dignity and opportunity has come to an end. You have killed the dream and snuffed the flame of liberty. That is your legacy Mr. President, a far cry from Nelson Mandela’s.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shiny Teeth Politicians

Dear Mr. President,
A friend sent me this yesterday from The Anderson Valley Advertiser, a small irreverent left coast weekly, one of the few remaining  voices of dissent: “Obama, looked at from the AVA’s outback rook about as far from the power levers as it's possible to get, remains a mystery. We can't decide if he's simply weak, or the victim of ongoing betrayals by the people around, or a victim of the prevailing incompetence, or he's just another hollow man along the lines of Bill Clinton, Gavin Newsom, or any number of the shiny-teeth ciphers presently occupying public office…who wants to be President simply so he can ride around in limos and Air Force One and call up drone murders of Arab grandmothers. With Obama, its one catastrophe after another, and he smiles on through all of it like a guy walking into a Christmas party.” (Nov. 20) I have to admit I still have an occasional doubt myself, wondering who you are. Call it residual denial at falling for your con, but those moments don’t last long and they’re getting less frequent. After five years the evidence is overwhelming that you fall in the category of hollow men who lust for the trappings of power and privilege, who can murder a grandmother picking okra in her garden in the mountains of Waziristan and not even acknowledge that somebody fucked up when her son and grandchildren tell their tale of injustice to representatives of Congress. No acknowledgment either, for the murder of an imam in a small village in Yemen arguing with three men who wanted him to stop preaching against violence. No apologies, no regrets to the imam’s brother who came to Washington asking why his brother was murdered. Or to the family of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki, an American boy whose only crime seemed to be that he was the son of an anti-American cleric. That’s the ultimate power trip isn’t it? To murder with impunity. It must be a rush to have the power of life and death. Like a god. I think the AVA editorial missed that dimension of evil in you, Mr. President. You’re not just a shiny-toothed empty suit who likes to ride around in limos and Air Force One; there’s an element of cold-blooded evil, the kind it takes to remain silent in the face of gross injustice, to show no regret and offer no apology for the murders of a 67-year-old grandmother in Pakistan or a 16-year-old boy searching for his father in Yemen or an imam refusing to stop preaching against violence. That’s a special kind of evil, Presidential evil.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Obamacare: Web Site Disaster or Health Care Disaster?

Dear Mr. President,
Even presidents get blindsided. You got blindsided on the website rollout and the press and pundits are all over that story, but We the People get blindsided all the time and they seldom talk about that. Take the election of 2008. Based on the platforms and promises of the candidates, we elected the one who promised to end war, close Guantanamo, repeal the Bush tax cuts, push through universal healthcare and financial regulation, restore the rule of law, protect whistleblowers, address global warming… and we got blindsided on every one of those promises. You must be pretty pissed at the tech team who let you down but imagine, Mr. President, how those of us who fell for all your rosy campaign promises feel after five years of constant betrayal. As for the disastrous rollout of the web site, that’s not the real story. The real story happened more than three years ago when you did the old bait-n-switch routine where you suddenly dropped real healthcare reform—universal healthcare—for a massive subsidy of the insurance and health care industry. The lead editorial in today’s NYT (“The State of American Health Care” p. A26), talks about the latest study of American health care, this one by the Commonwealth Fund, which looked at 20,000 adults in 10 “advanced” or industrialized countries (U.S., Canada, UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand) and measured cost, access and ease of dealing with the system and found what all previous studies have found—the U.S. is in last place by almost every measure. It found that 37% of Americans in the past year either did not see a doctor, didn’t fill a prescription or went without recommended care because of cost (4% in Britain, 6% in Sweden). 25% of Americans couldn’t pay their medical bills last year (13% in France and less than 7% in 5 other countries). We wait longer to see a doctor than in any of the other countries except Canada and in only one area—getting in to see a specialist—did we fare better than most of the others. Previous studies have also shown we’re near or at the bottom in every statistic: quality of care, outcomes, satisfaction, infant mortality…you name it. And there’s a simple explanation—all the other countries have some form of universal health care, what you took off the table back in 2010. So your website doesn’t work. Big deal! Our health care system doesn’t work and Obamacare won’t fix it and that is a big deal.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ph.Ds Now Come With Food Stamps

Dear Representative Pelosi,
I received your letter of the 12th in response to my views on the $5 billion cut to food stamps that went into effect on November 1. A typical political fluff letter that goes on for a page and a half and says nothing. It’s filled with platitudes and false promises; in each paragraph a carefully placed phrase that sounds good but is meaningless: “must protect,” “we must ensure,” “we must sustain,” “it must be protected,” “we must recognize,” and, finally, “I am committed to reigniting the American dream and building ladders of opportunity… ” I searched your web site for a statement on food stamps but found nothing; only in your Oct. 23 press conference was it mentioned and that in an attempt to deflect a reporters’ question about the Obamcare website disaster. What I’d like to know is what the hell you folks inside The Bubble do for us out here beyond the beltway. I don’t see impassioned speeches about the immorality of kicking millions of women, children, aged and disabled off the food stamp program. I don’t see any attempt to restore the $5 billion cut that went into effect on November 1 or any proposal to increase the food stamp budget. Yesterday’s NYT, carried a letter to the editor about tenured vs. non-tenured adjunct professors in America’s colleges and universities and how that creates a caste system: tenured professors with security, good salaries and good benefits while non-tenured adjuncts have poor salaries, no benefits and no security. The writer, Keith Hoeller, points to a long-term study showing adjuncts are better teachers than most tenured professors. Of course, the tenured community denounced this study as “flawed.” But the interesting part of his letter was a link to a May 14, 2012 article in The Chronicle For Higher Education: “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps” ( which profiles an adjunct teaching at a small. community college in Arizona. She has a Ph.D. in Medieval History, this was the only job she could find, she has no benefits, no guarantee she’ll be re-hired next semester and her pay does not cover rent, gas, food and utilities. She needs Medicaid and food stamps just to survive. So while you secure, comfortable, coddled legislators sit in your comfortable seats of power and ignore inequality, injustice, and the maldistribution of wealth, while you use talking points to disparage the opposition and focus only on the next election cycle, the real problems of America fester. A pox on both your houses.
cc: Senator Feinstein
    Senator Barbara Boxer
    President Barack Obama

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alexander Cockburn and Free Trade

Dear Mr. President,
Alexander Cockburn died last year. I miss his wild, articulate and dead-on observations, but a collection of his essays and columns has just been published: “A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture.” He was a sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued observer of both politics and culture and had the ability to see America with the eye of a transplanted foreigner and write with the wit, acerbic tongue and love of language that characterizes the Irish. There’s a review of the book in today’s NYT (p. C1) and, by sheer coincidence, also an article on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.): “House Stalls Trade Pact” p. B1. T.P.P. is another one of those free trade deals that’s being negotiated in almost total secrecy behind closed doors. You’ve been pushing hard to “fast track” it, meaning no amendments and no Senate filibuster. There’s been a lot of opposition to T.P.P. at the grass roots level, not only here but in other countries as well (there’s a photo in the Times article of protesters in Malaysia), but little mention of that in the corporate media and ignored by your administration nabobs. Congressional opposition too, has been simmering and all of a sudden, 151 House Democratic and 22 Republicans have signed letters opposing it. Others have signaled individual opposition. Your chief negotiator, Michael Froman, claims the administration has been working “hand-in-glove” with Congress but many House members counter that they’ve been kept in the dark “by not allowing congressional aides to observe the negotiations and declining to make certain full texts available.” It’s business as usual in The Bubble. There’s concern about jobs being lost, about lack of oversight and regulation, about food safety, health and privacy issues, intellectual property issues, etc. So who benefits? The usual suspects. Alexander Cockburn nailed it back in 1996 in an article on NAFTA: “Free trade is a class issue. The better-off like it. Their stocks go up as the outsourcing company heading south lays off its work force. The worse-off see the jobs disappear.” It’s as true of T.P.P. today as it was of NAFTA then. Here’s another quote from another column that seems appropriate to T.P.P., this one written in 2001: “Since the 1996 Telecommunications ‘Reform’ Act, conceived in darkness and signed in stealth, the situation has got even worse.” If T.P.P. goes through, for most of us, you can bet that things will get much worse, indeed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day, Armistice Day, What's the Difference?

Dear Mr. President,
Veterans Day, a federal holiday although most businesses are open and the stock market’s humming. War takes no holiday, either—drones continue circling, Special Forces conduct night raids and daily patrols engage “enemy combatants.” When I was a kid, this day was called Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice agreement that ended the Great War, “the war to end all wars,” WW I. It was a day “dedicated to the cause of world peace” according to the official proclamation. But in 1954, Congress changed “Armistice” to “Veterans” to honor veterans of all wars, not just veterans of WW I. It seemed reasonable enough; we had gone through an even greater, more devastating war than the Great War and a lesser but no less brutal and pointless war in Korea, and there were millions of veterans to honor for their service. P.L. 83-380 didn’t change the wording of the 1938 law, just that single word, Armistice, but with that change the focus shifted from peace to war, for to honor the warrior is to honor the war. Since then, the national consciousness has shifted further and hardened into present-day acceptance of violence and destruction as standard policy. Tomorrow is Kill List Tuesday, the day you choose whose names rise to the top of the list this week for assassination. This process is declared legal although the justification for it is secret, a matter of “national security.” Summary executions, indefinite detention, covert wars, borderless commando raids and killing by remotely controlled drones are the new normal, accepted foreign policy. Under both Bushes and you, Mr. President, the original concept of Armistice Day—to outlaw war and strive for world peace—has been turned on its head. You have normalized war without end, targeted assassinations, indefinite detention and CIA drone strikes, and all-inclusive surveillance of everyone everywhere is the new reality. We train our young warriors to kill with brutal efficiency and send them off to war with false promises of honor and glory to do the dirty work of politicians and war profiteers, then thank them for their service one day a year. But there is neither glory nor honor in war. Our warriors have slaughtered close to a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 6,700 of our own came back in coffins, 106,000 were wounded, 247,000 diagnosed by the VA with PTSD, and more than 745,000 have filed disability claims. This is a day not of celebration but of national mourning.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Food Stamps and Welfare for the Rich

Dear Mr. President,
How is it that “the richest nation on earth” has 47 million people on food stamps—and 45% of them are children? (today’s NYT, “ Cuts in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor” p. A1). How is it that “the richest nation on earth” had to cut $9 this month from Leon Simmons’ $42 worth of food stamps but continues to pay Paul Allen—worth $16 billion—his federal farm subsidy of about $124/month for the barley he grows on his farm (the average he received between 1996 and 2006) plus an unreported amount for “crop insurance”? Mr. Simmons says there’ll be no meat on his table this month with that $9 cut but I bet Mr. Allen won’t be changing his diet. In 2011 the richest 5% of the population—which includes Paul Allen, Charles Schwab, S. Truett Cathy and George Kaiser, all billionaire “farmers”—sucked up an additional 5% of the nation’s total wealth and by last year the richest 1% owned 40% of all our country’s wealth, a steady increase over the past 30 years. But Ingrid Mock who is disabled and relies on food stamps to feed her 12-year-old daughter, has seen her food stamps steadily decrease from $309 six years ago to $250 this month. There are about 800,000 homeless in the U.S. on any given night and more than 46 million of us live in poverty. The 40 Walmart heirs have more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans. Walmart pays their employees so little and gives them so few benefits that most are on food stamps and Medicaid. (Walmart actually encourages people to sign up for Medicaid.) This is clearly a government subsidy for the rich Walmart heirs but I don’t hear anyone ranting about that. Is welfare for the rich an American value, Mr. President? Could you say a few words on this? And also why you didn’t protest the cuts in food stamps for the poor? You made Bush’s temporary tax cuts for the rich permanent and your big deal tax increase last year on the richest Americans was a whopping 4% while Mr. Simmons’ food stamps got cut by roughly 19%. Democrat or Republican, the name of the game is soak the poor to give to the rich. This is not democracy, Mr. President, this is plutocracy with fat cats getting fatter and the Leon Simmonses and Ingrid Mocks going hungry. Why is it the richest country on earth can’t afford to feed its poor, but can find billions to hand out to military dictatorships, tens of billions to spy on its own citizens and hundreds of billions to pay for illegal and immoral wars? We got our priorities all screwed up here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Taking From the Poor to Give to the Rich

Dear Mr. President,
An article in today’s NYT (“Billionaires Received U.S. Farm Subsidies, Report Finds” p. A19) is a perfect example of what’s wrong with America today, how the system is rigged, rewards the rich and punishes the poor. Republicans and Democrats play a shell game, trade places periodically but both serve the rich while at best ignoring and at worst plundering the poor. “The federal government paid $11.3 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2012 to 50 billionaires or businesses in which they have some form of ownership, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group.” Among the recipients are Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft (net worth $16 billion); Charles Schwab ($5 billion); S. Truett Cathy, owner of Chick-fil-A ($4 billion); and the oil and banking tycoon, George Kaiser ($10 billion). In aggregate, the 50 billionaires are worth about $316 billion so it’s not like they really needed the government subsidies (welfare for the rich!) but the 47 million people who depend on food stamps sure do and that program got cut by $5 billion on November 1, and more cuts coming. Senate legislation is proposing $4.5 billion in future cuts; the House, $40 billion. And the billionaire farmers not only got direct subsidies but “crop insurance” in addition, another government handout. Crop insurance, unlike direct subsidies, has no upper limit on payouts and, by law, individuals receiving it cannot be identified as can the recipients of direct subsidies, a feature clearly dreamed up by politicians in the (very deep) pockets of gentlemen farmers. So while Senators and Representatives are busy cutting from the food stamp program, they’re raising farm subsidies and proposing that direct subsidy money be shifted to the “crop insurance” program so it’s limitless and unreportable. And that’s not all. They’re also proposing drug tests, work requirements and income means-testing for food stamp recipients. (Wouldn’t it be fair to impose the same requirements on farm subsidies for billionaires?) I realize you’re not in control of this legislation but I don’t hear you objecting either. I know you’re busy—covering for the NSA, figuring out how to grab Snowden and silence him forever, and defending the Obamacare fiasco—but you could show a little concern for this injustice. You wonder why people are pissed off at government? Right here’s the answer, Mr. President. The farm bill that takes from the poor to give to the rich.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Snowden, Feinstein, Rogers, Obama: Separating Patriots from Traitors

Dear Mr. President,
Apparently it was news enough to post online but not “fit to print” in today’s NYT. I’m referring to the plea for clemency by Edward Snowden last week in a letter handed to German legislator Hans-Christian Ströbele who flew to Moscow to meet with him and explore the possibility of his testifying to the Bundestag. In the online article, your adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, said “there had been no consideration of clemency and that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States to face charges.” Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said “He needs to come back and own up.” Senator Feinstein: “He’s done this enormous disservice to our country…and I think the answer is no clemency.” ([HdtHdt]) Everybody on the same page singing the same tune. Feinstein and Rogers (and you) keep saying he should come back and “face justice” but any fool knows the kind of “justice” he’d get—a kangaroo court, a show trial and life in prison. For telling the truth! For telling the public what they need to know to curb the abuse of power that threatens democracy. Feinstein and Rogers have labeled Snowden, “traitor,” but my dictionary defines traitor as “1. a person who betrays another, a cause, or any trust; 2. a person who commits treason by betraying his or her country.” In the article, Feinstein says he broke the trust placed in him, that he should have picked up the phone and called one of the Intelligence Committees if he had something to reveal. Right. We know where that would have led. Directly to jail. She and Rogers work hard to keep secrets and enable the real criminals to break laws and violate the Constitution with impunity. So who’s the real traitor here, Mr. President, Snowden or the Clappers and Alexanders who lie to Congress and the public? Snowden or the Feisteins and Rogers who turn a blind eye to criminal behavior and abuse of power? Are those who believe that for democracy to exist, truth and transparency are essential, traitors? Then call me a traitor too, for I believe Snowden is a patriot and the defenders of NSA abuses are the traitors, I was taught that traitors gave government secrets to those who would do us harm. Snowden has not. But the NSA is doing our country grave harm and Feinstein, Rogers, Clapper, Alexander and you are complicit. You have all betrayed the national trust, betrayed democracy. You are all traitors.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Inconvenient Truth: The Rehmans

Dear Mr. President,
Rafiq Rehman and his two children, Nabila, 9, and Zubair, 13, told their story to Congress yesterday, how a CIA drone strike on October 24, 2012 in North Waziristan killed Rafiq’s 67-year-old mother, Momina Bibi—she was also the village midwife—out in her garden showing her grandchildren how to tell when okra is ready to pick. There were no militants in the area and Momina Bibi was clearly surrounded by small children. Nevertheless, two Hellfire missiles were launched directly at her, She was killed and Nabila, Zubair and several of their young cousins were wounded by shrapnel. The official story, however, said only militants were killed. For the past year they have sought answers: Why was their mother and grandmother killed? What did she do? Was it a mistake? But there are no explanations, no apologies, no offers to pay medical bills or repair the damage done, only silence from Washington and Islamabad. They came here to tell their story directly to Americans, to ask them to consider the way drones terrorize and disrupt lives, families, whole villages. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) invited the Rehmans to a briefing he organized. Four people showed up—Reps. Schnakowsky (D-IL), Holt (D-NJ), Conyers (D-MI), and Nolan (D-MN). Five people altogether! No invitation to The White House, either. I guess you figured you didn’t need another Malala Yousafzai moment, right?—her going off script to plead for an end to the drones. You don’t want another lecture about the harm they do, the disruption, the violence, the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters ripped apart so there’s nothing left to identify or bury. Inconvenient truths you don’t need and right now you’re up to your eyeballs in inconvenient truths about drones—the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN reports all claiming the civilian casualty rate in drone strikes is near 30% and calling them war crimes. Drones are the weapon of cowards, killing others at long distance without accountability or risk. Those who carry out the orders to kill and those who promote and justify this type of murder—the enablers and technocratic assassins—are war criminals, enemies of humanity. You should have been at that briefing, Mr. President, you and all the other 530 members of Congress. It was one of the most important briefings on Capitol Hill this year. You and all the others should have listened closely to the Rehmans’ story and considered it. There is no statute of limitations for war crimes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The NSA and Obamacare

Dear Mr. President,
I’m just free-associating here, but I think you’d been way ahead of the game if you’d put the NSA folks in charge of the Obamacare website. No question that General “Star Wars” Alexander would a’ got that sucker up and running on time, connected all those databases and got those cookies under control. And I bet that since the NSA already knows everything about everybody, they could ‘a just gone ahead and signed everybody up automatically, picked a plan that suited their family size and income, sent out notices saying, “Here’s your new plan. If you have questions, call 1-800… Instead, you give it to CMS, an understaffed and overwhelmed agency, to oversee, then hand out half a billion bucks to 55 contractors who apparently didn’t talk to one another or bother to test, and ka-boom! everything turns to shit and the Republicans have got something new to gloat over and say, “See, I told you the government can’t do anything right.” It might also have kept the folks at NSA too busy to be eavesdropping on Merkel, Rousseff, Hollande, the UN, the EU, the G20, Mexico, Petrobas…. Whoa! Petrobas? What’s up with that, Mr. President? Brazil’s national oil company is a terrorist organization? Or could it be that Chevron and Exxon wanted a little info on their competitors? Is spying on foreign businesses an NSA sideline? Why isn’t the mainstream media following up on that? Remember Deep Throat and Watergate? “Follow the money,” he kept saying. And there was another popular saying during that time: What did the President know and when did he know it? In the case of tapping Merkel’s cell phone, that’s a relevant question again. Seems pretty clear the way everybody’s hedging and dancing around it that you knew all along. But if you didn’t, an old CIA term applies: “plausible deniability.” People don’t really buy that though unless they’re hardcore believers. So you’ve got heads of state calling you, ambassadors called on the carpet—you’re taking fire from all sides. Time to cut and run, put distance between you and the NSA—that’s called “letting them twist in the wind” —so you promise reforms that are no more than eye wash and deliver platitudes that mean nothing while your chorus of parrots—Feinstein, Boehner, Reid, Pelosi—sing along in the background in two party harmony. And nothing changes. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the wars grind on, the planet grows warmer, more polluted and angry, and extinction begins to look like a real possibility.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Gen. Alexander Declares War on the First Amendment

Dear Mr. President,
Yesterday I watched a 30 minute interview with Gen. Keith Alexander, Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, NSA Director, and Chief of Central Security Service. He was interviewed by Jessica Tozer for the “Armed With Science” blog on the DoD website. ( The purpose of the interview, Tozer says is to get the facts and find out if the NSA “is really capable of the… power madness that they’re accused of wielding? Or are internet rumors and misinformation painting our best cyber security defenders as bad guys?” I have to admit, since it was a DoD website, I was pretty sure I knew what her conclusions would be and they weren’t going to be the same as mine. But I suffered through 20 minutes of Alexander’s blather about missions and national security and protecting the American people and all the other saccharine bullshit and spin he’s been putting on it since 2005. Of course, he never mentioned any of the illegal stuff: the tapping of Merkel’s and Hollande’s and Rousseff’s phones or the bugging and hacking of the EU, the UN, the G-20, the embassies around the world. But in the 21st minute of the interview, he said something that shocked me and convinced me even more that this is a very dangerous man. In discussing the Snowden leaks, he asserted that newspapers and the media dispensing this information “is wrong… and we have to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more [for] the courts and the policy makers, but from my perspective, that’s wrong.” He’s already done away with the 4th Amendment—the right to privacy is history—and now he’s declaring war on the 1st Amendment as well. Put a different uniform on this guy and he could be Goebbels or Goering or any of history’s monsters. This is a man who fashioned his command center an exact replica of the Starship Enterprise control room. This is a man who has done more damage to America’s credibility and trust than anyone in history. This is a man who has lied to Congress, who has misled both legislators and the American public, has shown incredibly bad judgment, has made our country less safe, has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars needed for public services and the good of the nation, has defied and violated the Constitution, and will continue to do so. Sack him! Immediately! You want to restore trust in America? Bring Edward Snowden home and put him in charge of the NSA. Better yet, do away with it completely.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Get It All" Blowback

Dear Mr. President,
Last week it was Hollande calling to complain, yesterday Merkel, before that, Mexico’s Calderón, last month, Brazil’s Rousseff and before her, the EU, the UN… the list keeps growing, According to today’s Guardian, you can expect a lot more angry phone calls (“NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts”). The article says you assured Merkel that you were not monitoring her calls now and wouldn’t in the future, the same assurances you gave Hollande, Rousseff and all the others. The surveillance program is being reviewed, you said, rebalanced. But the Guardian article shows that what the NSA calls “customers”—the State Department, Pentagon, etc.—were encouraged to hand over their rolodex files of high level foreign leaders’ phone numbers so they could be monitored. Many officials did without compunction, and soon as the NSA got new numbers they were “tasked,” a euphemism and obfuscation meaning those phones were tapped. In the document revealing all this (thank you, Mr. Snowden!), the NSA also admits that the numbers produced little reportable intelligence. But what it really shows is that 1) everybody is a suspected terrorist and, 2) the NSA surveillance programs are not about uncovering terrorist plots but about expanding the database and the universe of surveillance. The means to a goal has become the goal itself. To date the NSA has not shown a single instance of a plot foiled by their programs. They may have contributed information after the plot was discovered but they have never been more than a secondary source. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been siphoned from our own needs to build a surveillance boondoggle with zero value—no, with negative value, for it destroys trust and credibility among friends and allies around the world. And yet, you continue to defend and protect them as “an essential part of national security.” That’s bullshit and you know it, Mr. President. The NSA is a monster out of control, a danger to democracy, freedom and the security of everyone. I’m glad you’re getting angry phone calls. It seems the only way to stop this irresponsible and dangerous Nazi/Stasi surveillance state is through outside pressure since our own citizenry is too complacent, too comatose, too disengaged to rise up in protest. Quit denouncing and pursuing Edward Snowden. He is not the cause of the problem. The villains are Clapper, Alexander and all those who march to their mad fantasy of Get It All!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

U.S. Foreign Policy: The Angels of Death

Dear Mr. President,
Last week $1.6 billion in aid was released to Pakistan. Yesterday the NYT reported that Pakistan is China’s biggest customer for their growing arms trade, spending $612 billion in 2012. (China’s Arms Industry Makes Global Inroads, p. A1) Excuse me? We give them $1.6 billion and half goes to China for weapons? My tax dollars subsidize Chinese arms merchants? I protest! I don’t want my tax dollars spent on any weapons—U.S. or Chinese. It was timed for tomorrow’s visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Shari, a critic of drone strikes although that too may be political. Last week a UN report stated that at least 400 civilians were killed in drone attacks in Pakistan since 2008 and today 2 more reports were released, one by Amnesty International focusing on Pakistan, the other on Yemen by Human Rights Watch. Both document the toll on civilians, the disruption on regions where drones patrol and kill, and the myth of “surgical,” “precise” and “contained.” The Yemen report documents 6 attacks that killed 82 people, at least 57 of them unarmed civilians; 2 attacks killed innocent people indiscriminately. The report on Pakistan names several victims who were unarmed and “posed no threat to life.” One, Mamana Bibi, was 68. She was outside picking okra when she was targeted and killed. Her 8-year-old granddaughter, wounded in the attack, reported seeing 2 missiles in the initial strike. Minutes later when Bibi’s 18-year-old grandson ran from the house to help his grandmother, more missiles were launched—what the CIA calls double-tapping, what the UN calls a war crime. Today’s NYT (Civilian Deaths Cited in Report on Drone Strikes, p. A1) examines the effects of drone strikes on one town in Pakistan, Miram Shah. “The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper…“Only they know when and where they will strike.” The town has endured at least 13 drone attacks since 2008—10 of them in its densely populated center—and 25 more in surrounding areas. “It has become a fearful and paranoid town…buzzing drones hover day and night, scanning the alleys and markets with roving high-resolution cameras.” Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressant sales are high, women affected the most. What does it take for you to see the injustice and inhumanity of your targeted assassinations and covert wars? Or are you beyond that? Beyond conscience, morality and the ability to distinguish good from evil. Some Nobel Peace prize winner you are.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Barack Obama: The Smartest Guy in the Room?

Dear Mr. President,
Your week’s not starting out so hot what with the online computer system snafus plaguing Obamacare. By some estimates, up to 5 million lines of code might have to be rewritten. (NYT, Oct. 21, “Specialists See Weeks of Work On Health Site” p.A1). Fifty-five different contractors worked on the system—55!. That alone guaranteed failure, but the myth of outsourcing trumps history, experience and common sense. The article goes on to say that the lead contractor, CGI Group, is a Canadian company (buy American!) and that the system went live before it was completely tested. In the computer biz, that’s called “going guts” and the saying is, “those who go guts become road kill.” What the Republican nut cases failed to do—undermine and roll, back Obamacare—is being done by incompetence and technical bungling. Among this week’s woes, your French poodle Hollande, called today to complain about the latest revelations in Le Monde of NSA spying on French citizens, businesses and government officials. ( The usual response from The White House: “we’re reviewing… weighing the balance between security and privacy…” What we heard in June, July, August… with each new revelation. What does it take to get you to see NSA is out of control and dangerous? And then there’s Afghanistan, your Vietnam. Monsif Khan, a U.S.-trained Afghan Special Forces commander, loaded a Humvee with guns, ammo and high-tech gear and defected to the Taliban. ( None of the news from Afghanistan is good. Even the NYT editors call it a lost cause. Today’s editorial, “An Exit Strategy From Afghanistan,” points out that over the past 12 years, Karzai has done little to benefit anyone other than himself and his cronies, that the government is dysfunctional and corrupt, that the Taliban will likely take control of most of the country as soon as we leave and that without our $4-6 billion a year to fund the Afghan Army and police, they will cease to exist. You were supposed to be the smartest guy in the room—you said that yourself in the early days—but your brilliance escapes me. Cunning yes, slick, duplicitous, but I see only one bad decision after another, betrayal after betrayal. You have learned nothing. I could go on but as my mother used to say, there’s no sense in beating a dead horse.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Snowden Speaks, Obama Should Listen

Dear Mr. President,
“The secret continuance of these [NSA surveillance] programs represents a far greater danger than their disclosures.” Edward Snowden quoted in today’s NYT (“Snowden Says He Took No Secret Files to Russia” p. A1). And right there’s the nub of the whole scandal. He’s got it right and all your intelligence nabobs who express “grave concern” got it all wrong. Democracy cannot exist in an all-encompassing surveillance state with secret laws and secret courts, for that leads to corruption, abuse and tyranny. You’ve done a full court press to grab Snowden and put him away where he cannot be heard, but this 30-year old “hacker” as you called him, managed to elude all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Edward Snowden is not only smart but he has more ethics, more morality and more American values than all those king’s horses and all those king’s men combined. He said in the interview with James Risen (the journalist who broke the initial story on warrantless wiretapping and who your boy Holder is threatening to throw in jail if he doesn’t reveal his sources) that he carried none of the secret files with him from Hong Kong and that the NSA knew it: “NSA has not offered a single example of damage from the leaks.” He also points out another obvious fact—that whistleblowers can’t possibly work through the internal system because “You have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it.” Well, duh! He explains how he was told to drop it when he reported a security gap in the CIA’s personnel system and then punished for persisting and how he witnessed others being punished for “rocking the boat” as well. “If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all,” he said, “secret powers become tremendously dangerous.” Why is truth and transparency so dangerous? Because the perceived power and fiefdom of petty and not-so-petty bureaucrats in our ever expanding intelligence community is lost. But is that worth the loss of freedom and democracy? Not to me and not to many of us outside the bubble, it isn’t. Are you so wedded to the business-as-usual warmongers that you cannot see (or care about) the obvious? Can you not see the traitors in our midst? Not Edward Snowden but the Clappers and Alexanders and Feinsteins and Rogers who willfully lie or look away and ignore the real danger. Bring Snowden home and award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There is no one more deserving.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Malala Yousafzai and Abu Anas al-Liby Go Off-Script

Dear Mr. President,
Maybe the capture of Abu Anas al-Liby wasn’t such a great coup after all. And maybe your audience with Malala Yousafzai wasn’t such a hot idea, either. Your intelligence people claimed al-Liby was a wealth of information on Al Qaeda past and present but in a NYC courtroom yesterday, his court-appointed lawyer said al-Liby “was mentioned only briefly in a 150 page indictment relating to conduct in 1993 and 1994… [and] there were no allegations in the charges that he had any connection to Al Qaeda after 1994.… Prosecutors declined to comment.” (today’s NYT, “A Terrorist Suspect Caught in Libya Pleads Not Guilty” p. A22) It’s so much easier to stick “suspected” insurgents in Guantanamo where they have no voice or access to justice; better yet, drone them and make them disappear. And speaking of drones, that great photo op with Malala on Friday turned out to be a 16-year-old schoolgirl giving you, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, an earful about your drone program. ( “I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” Yousafzai said in a statement published by the Associated Press. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.” Whoops! That wasn’t in the script. Not only does she defy the Taliban, she criticizes your signature piece of foreign policy! It made me think of other courageous heroes; not the action heroes like Capt. Will Swenson (I’m glad you mentioned the kiss in yesterday’s ceremony), but people like Ellsberg, Snowden, Assange, Manning and all the whistleblowers who would dare reveal the truth, who would dare challenge the authority they know will hound them, persecute them, throw them in prison, destroy their lives; the people who risk everything for democracy and justice, for us. In a way, so were the Guantanamo prisoners who went on a hunger strike in a desperate effort to inform the world of injustice being done them. Maybe al-Liby too, is in that lot; he stopped eating and drinking on board the USS San Antonio. It was only then that he was taken to a medical facility on land where he fell under court jurisdiction. Once again, not in the script.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What It Takes To Start A War

Dear Mr. President,
By custom there is no statute of limitations on war crimes or crimes against humanity. This was codified in the Rome Statute (2002) and the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (1968). We never ratified the former or signed the latter, but we’ve used them to accuse others. Yesterday’s NYT (“To Ousted Boss, Arms Watchdog Was Seen as an Obstacle in Iraq” p. A4) reveals behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Bush administration in 2002 to oust José Bustani, then head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the agency just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One day in early 2002 John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, told Bustani he had 24 hours to resign or “face the consequences.” Washington wanted Bustani out because his inspectors—and everyone else—knew that Iraq had no WMDs; that they had been destroyed after the Gulf War. But WMDs was the justification for invading Iraq and if the public learned there were none, the invasion of Iraq would be revealed for what it was, a naked act of aggression for control of Middle East oil fields. Bustani refused to resign so Washington accused him of incompetence and tried—but failed—to get a vote of no confidence from the agency’s executive committee. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had praised Bustani in 2001, told him, “I have people in the administration who don’t want Bustani to stay, and my role is to inform you of this.” The article specifically mentions Bolton and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “wanting the head of Bustani.” In the end, they got rid of him by pressuring Japan, Great Britain and other countries to threaten to cut off funding for the agency if Bustani stayed. The cabal accounted for half the agency’s budget and it would have collapsed if that happened, so Bustani left, the myth of Iraq’s WMDs continued, and the invasion of Iraq resulted in an estimated 650,000 Iraqi deaths. The country was left in ruins and is still wracked by violence, worse off than under Saddam Hussein. The actions of Bolton, Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney and others who consciously lied to the American people and the world, who promoted a senseless and unjust war that still rages a decade later is a war crime and a crime against humanity, Mr. President. And by your refusal to “look backward,” to hold anyone accountable for the atrocities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, you are complicit.