You don't need me to tell you that life isn't fair. But some things just... well...
"Unfair" doesn't do justice to... a magintude 7.0 earthquake hitting Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere... seems a bitter pill, indeed. You might try contributing to the Red Cross, or UNICEF, or Doctors Without Borders, or the reputable charity of your choice. Let's do what we can.
And, in further proof that life isn't fair, 104 year old strongman Joe Rollino was struck and killed by a car here in Brooklyn. One of the most popular Coney Island strong men, he was credited with lifting over 3,200 lbs, despite never weighing more than 150 lbs; the 5'5" dynamo walked several miles a day, avoided meat, alcohol and tobacco... and, a model of health and what the human body and spirit are capable of... gets run down in the street by a minivan.
As expected, any possible "good" part of the health insurance "reform" bill, in this case, mandates that large employers (Walmart, we mean you) provide health insurance coverage for their employees and that high income earners pay higher taxes to partly pay for the expansion of health coverage... will likely be jettisoned in "negotiations" between the House and Senate.
A new study tells us running shoes cause joint-ache. Outstanding: in the country with the most obese population in the history of the world, go ahead and discourage people from exercising. Thanks.
And an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in an explosion outside his home. Colleagues say he was critical of the Iranian government, which is a death-penalty offense in Iran these days; naturally, the Iranian government blames the Americans and Zionists. Either way... the man is dead.
I know I promised to be all... upbeat in the new year. At least it looks like the feckless Harry Reid will soon be unseated. So we have something. His recently uncovered racially-charged statements don't strike me as that serious... the fact that he has been an abysmal leader of the Democrats in the Senate, however, is quite serious. Harry, the problem is, we more than hardly knew ya'.
Losing Harry's seat is all part of the strategy that led to this breaking news tweet: Democrats hoping to take power back from Republican minority in 2010. So you see? I ended on an upbeat note.
I tend to agree with Tristero (at Hullaballoo) and his take that the debasement of our public discourse is far scarier than the President's apparent unwillingness to crap in his pants on national television, as suggested in this Maureen Dowd column that can only be explained as "inexplicable"... the ending lines summing it up best:
Our professorial president is no feckless W., biking through Katrina. He is no doubt on top of the crisis in terms of studying it top to bottom. But his inner certainty creates an outer disconnect.
He’s so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president — to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments.
He’s more like the aloof father who’s turned the Situation Room into a Seminar Room.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, actually trying to understand the problem and fix it, acording to Maureen Dowd, is a bad thing.
WTF? This is the vaunted New York Times, giving this valuable op-ed real estate to this twit (who called the President "Obambi" because he didn't show enough testosterone for Maureen on the campaign trail.)
The President's performance has left much to be desired, but frankly, stylistic issues are not the problem. The problem is substance: the Obama approach to counter-terrorism is the same as George W. Bush's. Period. Right down to pointlessly escalating a war, apparently starting a war yet somewhere else, keeping the same Secretary of Defense, and arguing for exactly the same dictatorial powers in courts that the Bush Administration argued for... and I'll talk about Guantanamo a bit later. It's as simple as that: if you have a problem with Obama, it is that he is giving us "the third George W. Bush term." Sorry, boys and girls, but John McCain would have been different... maybe (hell, probably) no better... but without doubt... different.
Stupid style points because poow widdle Mauween doesn't have a sense of secuwity are... irrelevant. But as Tristero notes above, this is what now passes for public discourse.
We're coming up on an ignominious anniversary tomorrow (besides being exactly 100 months since 9/11, btw)... that being the eighth anniversary since America's Own Gulag (TM) opened at the American naval air station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although the President promised to close the place by some date less than two weeks from now, his friends, like Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-MilitaryIndustrialComplex) tells us that completely innocent men cleared by our courts and/or our executive should not be returned to countries where al Qaeda might be at all because... well, it sounds good, right? O.K.... they're completely innocent, so then, we should have no trouble at all releasing them into the United States... or... is that some kind of a problem too?
And so... here we go again. I'd like all of these things approached soberly... and I'd like all of these problems to be approached differently from the...troubling... way that they were handled under the Bush Administration, instead of in the identical way they were handled by the Bush Administration. And that...rather than some fantasy about daddies... is what I want.
This absurdly cold Saturday (it started around 20 F here in NYC, but with 25-35 mph winds swirling...felt colder), we treat you to two items that, if you think that having a Bill of Rights is "a good thing," might just may make your blood run colder still.
The first (h/t Candace) concerns a sudden "controversy" over what heretofore hadn't been particularly "controversial," that being, the seemingly routine release of two Guantanamo detainees who have been determined to have done nothing wrong (and hence, have been wrongly held for eight years), said release now being "controversial" for no reason other than Congressman Pete Hoekstra (Fasc. - Mich.) says so in light of the underpants bomber. Once again, the Obama Administration's inexplicable insistence that it can gain support from people who oppose it for no other reason than it is not of their party (or, of course, that its titular head is not of their complexion) can somehow be won over by selling out (and outright back-stabbing) his own supporters and, of course, going 180 degrees against what he campaigned on... pays dividends. And so here we are. Any "threat" posed by men at Guantanamo is magnified not by releasing them (even to Yemen... "we have always been at war with
Eastasia Eurasia Yemen") but by keeping them there as an ongoing symbol of American contempt for the rest of the world and hypocrisy as to our own stated "principles"... a hypocrisy only magnified when we specifically hold men that either the executive, the courts, or both have determined shouldn't be in custody. After a year of this nonsense, where, despite advancing Dick Cheney's policies more creatively than Cheney himself ever did, only to have Dick himself continually blast the Administration for the reasons set forth above, you'd think they'd learn... but, I see no evidence of that... Anyway, those of us who follow this issue closely are duly appalled and concerned... we'll just have to wait for the current hysteria over the underpants bomber to pass... it might be a while.
And speaking of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underpants bomber (a name apparently too hard to type into the appropriate database necessary to keep him off of airplanes... and which should remind us that any technical fix will never get around the fact that the undereducated, overworked, minimum wage technicians we employ to "keep us safe" simply can't possibly do the job under the current insane way things are set up, no matter how many expensive full-body scanners we buy)... naturally, a group of Republican legislators has written a letter to the President demanding that Abdulmutallab be denied a civilian trial so that he can be tortured in military custody. We told you so, Mr. President: your bullshit policy of having it both ways with federal trials where you thought you had a slam dunk case and military commissions where you were more doubtful really does make us all ask the question: why aren't military commission tribunals good enough for everyone... including, say, drug dealers or money launderers, two groups who might somehow be linked to terrorism, somewhere?
The thing is, of course, the Republicans have a point. While Obama can point out that the Bush Administration chose to bring shoe-bomber Richard Reid and "20th highjacker" Zaccarias Moussaoui to civilian justice, the fact is, another supposed "20th highjacker," Mohammad al-Qatani, was held at Guantanamo (still is, IIRC) and tortured mercilessly. Any particular reason for the disparate treatment? None has ever been publicly offered, as far as I am aware. Once you open the door to arbitrary second-string "justice" and "enhanced interrogation"... how do you justify not going through that door? (Hint: that's why you don't open that door.)
And so, here we are. Just as post-9-11 and pre-Iraq War (and before the'04 election with the OBL videotape... and before the '06 election with the announced Saddam execution), we have the politics of mob rule based on hyperbolic fear of terrorism (maniacs are always going to try to kill us; we have to keep our heads, or the terrorists will win... not vice versa). As always... it ain't pretty. This has been... "Rule of Gnaw."
We are rapidly coming up to January 22, 2010, the day that President Barack Obama will have unquestionably broken a promise that, at the time he made it anyway, was 100% within his power to keep, that being to "close Guantanamo within one year."
The thing with the Guantanamo promise, aside from candidate Obama's stand on the issue having been a selling point for many rubes and suckers (such as myself) to support his candidacy, is that it was an actual concrete promise on which we can clearly measure accountability, rather than the nebulous (and ultimately meaningless) "hope and change" and the all-important "Oprah(TM) says he's The One(TM)" that were the twin hallmarks of his campaign. Nope: my old college classmate really screwed the (non-talking) pooch on GTMO all by himself, having managed to release a pathetic three dozen or so of the over 230 men he inherited last January (down from the over 700 who passed through the place at one time or another). Had the place been "substantially" vacated, say, down to the few dozen actual possible "bad guys," with trials of those remaining in some stage of progress... we'd have given a "substantially complete" assessment, and a hearty back-slap. Instead, we have seen foot-dragging and ineptitude, not to mention outright malfeasance (such as permitting Congress to tie his hands re: bringing even cleared prisoners to the United States, or the dictatorial "preventive detention" proposals... and we won't even talk about the abuse of state secrets privileges) that would have embarrassed the Bush Administration. And hence, we have an Obama Administration that tells us the majority of men it is holding are "cleared for release"... but it will hold them in potential life sentences in maximum security anyway!
Fortunately, our friend the indefatigable Andy Worthington is ever vigilant, and gives us his definitive prisoner list updated for 2010. And he means definitive: Andy gives updated accounts of quite literally all of the 779 (known) unfortunate bastards who have passed through GTMO, including the 198 (known) to still be stuck there (notwithstanding that most of them have been "cleared for release")... and the half dozen or so who died there (including at least one who was himself "cleared for release" at the time of his death.)
Andy is a top-notch journalist and historian, but in the "interesting" media environment we find ourselves in (where the staged musings of "reality t.v. stars" is "news" and what used to be considered "news" is now done by... well, it's not done by what used to be considered "news organizations")... Andy is a one-man show. Please consider supporting his critical work by clicking on the PayPal link in the linked post. The thing is, this is really the state of "journalism" as we presently find it in the year 2010. Guantanamo and American detention in the so-called "war on terror" really is the story of our time. And yet, with a few honorable exceptions (pretty much exclusively in either print media or non-corporate radio, btw), such as Charlie Savage, Carol Rosenberg and Amy Goodman, the journalism in this area is being done almost entirely by "the new media"... a free-standing journalist like Andy, an advocate seeking to keep the public informed of key developments like Candace Gorman, or perhaps by some talking dog with a computer who has managed to interview more of the players in this area than just about anyone on Earth. But this is what now comes to mind when thinking about Guantanamo related journalism.
Which, let's face it, is a huge part of the problem. Even many "informed" people simply write off GTMO as a partisan issue, and assume that since the beloved Obama is in charge, everything is better now...even though nothing could be further from the truth. But then, it's not as if there's any reporting on this in the sources that most people rely upon for their "news," now is there?
Well... just wanted you all to know that some of us, at least, are keeping score, and if there ever is to be accountability... the powers that be had better know that accounts are being kept.
It may be a new decade, but that's no reason not to go to a good old throw-back here at TTD, and what better way to start a new decade than with a nostalgic revisit to "Saturdays with Pravda" to this piece telling us that... wait for it... over 60% of Russians are nostalgic for the Soviet Union. For many Russians, guaranteed housing and employment and cheap food (even if variety wasn't tremendous) seem better than the rough and tumble of capitalism where (this is just crazy talk)... many people don't live quite as well... but a few people are fabulously rich, so doesn't that make everything better? No wonder we never understood the Russians! Sheesh!
I suspect that many Americans, though they won't say it to a pollster, may also be somewhat nostalgic for the Soviet Union for a different reason-- to have the certitude of having an "evil empire" to contend with, one against whom big, expensive heavy weapons systems appeared to make sense rather than the messiness of nebulous "terrorists" (currently of the "Islamist" variety). Americans are somewhat uncertain that some other enemy would necessarily emerge to justify the expenditure of the massive amounts of money we currently devote to re-fighting the Battle of the Bulge (and the USSR) that might go to, say, medical research (also from Pravda, how about this optimistic report linking cancer research to possibly saving the Tasmanian Devil from extenction... but I digress), or development of cold fusion or combating global warming, or sustainable agriculture or maintaining a crumbling infrastructure or lots of other frivolous expenditures that would only result in... the collapse of our vaunted American way of life.
And then, perhaps, I'm tipping my own hand here. Since, after the fall of the USSR, we didn't renounce anything-- the infrastructure remained intact, conveniently waiting to be remobilized at the right prompting, and 9-11 proved an excellent excuse. There are those who wonder if aggressive, expansionist military acts are somehow in America's DNA... and they make a sufficiently excellent point that I must stop to question my own support of American military action anywhere (since I don't currently support American military action anywhere except Afghanistan at the moment, and so I must question my support of that.) Perhaps we have to separate the emotional pull to lash back at someone that was so instrumental in unleashing the Afghanistan War in the first place, and realize that viewed in the context of broader intrinsically "morally detached" American involvement everywhere for every reason, the whole thing might... look different. For an analogy which may or may not apply, I am reminded of ferile housecats that Mrs. TD and I encountered on our last trip to the Hawaiian islands over a dozen years ago. They seemed friendly, cute and cuddly to us... we even fed the ones nearby...but in their good-natured cuddly-ness, blithely and unthinkingly they devastated local species, which evolved without feline predators, including a number of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth that quickly found themselves reduced to the point of endangerment or extinction by Fluffy and Mittens. Remind anyone of some superpower somewhere?
Wheeewww... I mean to be more upbeat here in the new decade, so I should back-off a bit, and just say perhaps we can better diagnose the problem if we can start to ask ourselves the "hidden in plain sight" questions like "does this make sense... or it it once did, does it still?"... or something like that. This has been... "Nostalgia Act."
On this first day of the new year, and the new decade (and, as always, "the first day of the rest of your life" and all), I'll just link to the Grey Lady's annual salute to the revelers in Times Square.
Others might note that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers and others ignored Dick Cheney's consistent message of doom and gloom about "security threats" and went on with the celebration,
but I'm just going to go with the "life-affirming" thing... people just want to come out and celebrate the passage of time, and express their hopes and wishes for a bright future.
For a change, maybe turning over a new leaf in 2010, I'll just leave it there. There's plenty of time to face what we must face (often just to get through the day) the rest of the year (and the rest of our lives)... but today, let's just revel in the moment-- a new day, a new year, a new decade, full of hope and possibilities. The myriad problems are all before us, to be sure... just scroll down this page if you don't believe me. But I have no doubt that we have it in our hearts and souls to overcome all, and to assure ourselves and our children and their children the bright, happy and fulfilling futures they deserve, and I for one, am going to go about my day with that in mind.
Happy new year, everybody!