Sleep in Peace

June 24th, 2009 by Gid

Like millions of others around the globe, I have been completely absorbed in the political events in Iran for the past 12 days. Before commenting on any of these events, I want to add my .02 to those who’ve already thanked Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post for maintaining an almost continuous live blog of events as they unfold. I also want to add my voice to those who call for the simplest of freedoms.

In many of my posts, I have criticized the US government for neglecting, withholding, or simply ignoring civil rights, such as privacy and equal treatment for minorities. While I have not changed my stance on these, the current state of affairs has made me more aware of the rights I currently do enjoy, such as walking down the street. Despite the arrest, detention or simple oppression of journalists, modern technology has allowed almost immediate dissemination of the news that the state-controlled propaganda dare not tell. We have read tweets, blogs, and emails, seen photos and videos captured by those brave enough to wield cameras or cell phones, that provide in chilling detail the lengths to which the current regime will go to maintain control.

Repost from Pitney's blog

The current government of Iran has made one thing perfectly clear: it has neither good will nor even respect for its people, remorselessly inflicting serious bodily injury or death at the hands of government officials, either the police – who, according to most reports, seem to try to pay some small attention to the law and mandates of society – or a militia whose tactics more closely resemble those of terrorists. The people asked for a voice in their government, and their government answered with insults, calling them weeds. The people had the temerity to object, and their government answered with violence. Iran’s regime may seem to be discriminatory in regard to women and minorities, but no discrimination was apparent in the beatings, shootings, or other deterrents we’ve witnessed over the last week.

On a side note, there have been objections to the choice of some journalists to show certain graphic scenes in their entirety. I respectfully disagree with such criticism, and flatly reject any notion which suggests these reports be in any way censored. This is not intended to pander to the bloodlust of those with a morbid curiosity, but rather to serve as a reminder of the capabilities to which some will resort if they deem it necessary. Those who feel they have mastered this lesson, or wish to spare their children such introductions may exercise their right to turn their heads, but clearly, the human race has not yet learned that indiscriminate harm is wrong, and needs an occasional refresher. Again, I will point as an example to the Dachau Memorial’s simple message: Never Again. And before I listen to anyone object that there is no comparison, that millions died in the Holocaust, I challenge that person to present a reasonable proposal indicating just how many people may die before moral outrage is justified.

Religion, of course, must claim its part in this. It is, after all, the country is called an Islamic Republic, with cabinets of clerics and an Ayatollah at its head. Alas, their clerics are only as godly as ours, and thus are inherently susceptible to the same misjudgments. While I’m no religious scholar, in the past week, some phrases from the Qur’an have been in the media. To wit, that “killing a person unjustly is the same as killing all of humanity, and saving a person is the same as saving all humanity.” Some have tried to claim that they’re defending the upstanding citizens from marauding demonstrators – the Qur’an commands defense if an enemy army attacks. That might have worked had any demonstrator attacked someone other than a Basiji who hadn’t attacked first. Even then, violence is sanctioned by the Qur’an only until the enemies stop their aggression. It prohibits attacks against innocent bystanders or non-combatants. If this weren’t enough hypocrisy, protesters at Baharestan Square today were descended upon by a force of about 500 Basiji and police who had hidden themselves in a Mosque (so much for sanctity). The guard opened fire on the protestors, killing several.

Not unsurprisingly, I have heard a number of people sharply criticizing Iran’s government. This I can accept, and even support. I cannot, however, support those who make broad, sweeping statements about Iran implying US superiority, morally and ethically. But mounting such a high horse makes getting thrown that much more dangerous. Consider the fact that both the elections of 2000 and 2004 were disputed; our own government is not averse to glaring demonstrations of self-interest. We have gone to war under false pretenses, and are harboring war criminals we have as yet failed to prosecute. We have people who have burned churches, even murdered in them while claiming to be good Christians. We still have a long way to go with equal rights for all citizens. Polls show that 72% of Americans are in favor of a public option for health care, and yet we are faced with a House full of our own representatives who are fully prepared to side with the AMA and other lobbyists and blatantly dismiss our wishes. We do, however, at least have the ability to speak our minds to our representatives without fear of reprisal.

It’s the middle of the night in Tehran, and somewhere, there are those standing on their roofs calling “Allaho Akbar” while Basiji violate homes and citizens. I hope it’s not too long until Iranians are afforded the liberty of free speech and assembly, and a night when they can sleep in peace.

An Open Letter to Fox News

June 19th, 2009 by Gid

(CC: CNN, ABC, CBS, MSNBC)

Dear Sirs:

I fully expect this letter to land on deaf ears, as it were.  There’s nothing I can say that has not already been said to little or no avail, yet I feel it is my duty to add one more feeble voice to those of others who’ve already spoken.  My request is this:  Please help put an end to hatred.  Report what you will, but do so without vilifying any scapegoats, without inspiring undue fear in the masses, without encouraging uprisings among those not yet ready to think for themselves and act responsibly of their own accord.

Take a moment to read the column of Frank Rich, which appeared in the New York Times on June 14, 2009. Fox may hold a dim view of this newspaper; this does not, however, detract from the validity of the arguments and facts presented here.  The bottom line is that journalism carries with it a great responsibility.  While I respect the fact that Fox is a business with the prime focus of earning money, as an entity whose prime focus is journalism, Fox News has a responsibility to the public: to inform.  While I certainly agree that your viewers should be informed about others’ views, I feel it should be done in a way that inspires thought and careful consideration rather than knee-jerk, emotional reactions likely to cause at least worry, at worst violent insurgence.

I ask that you remind your writers, anchors, commentators and reporters of a few crucial items:

1. We are in a period of economic difficulty; in this climate, people are more susceptible to worry and fear, and therefore more likely to react negatively and demonstratively to various stimuli.  I am not the only one who has noticed the sharp uprising of violent crime and acts of terrorism since last year’s financial crisis.  These frightened people are among your audience.

2. We are at a critical time in our nation’s history.  It has been a mere 50 years since the civil rights movement, and there at still many in this country who have not yet accepted the equality of black people, let alone a black president.  And despite the fact that this country was founded because the settlers wished (among others) religious freedom, there are many in this country who recognize only their own religion as valid or tolerable.  These intolerant people are among your audience.

3. There are those who are predisposed to violence even in the best of times, who will look for any excuse to lash out at those whom they perceive as an enemy.  There are religious extremists both within our borders and without who require little more than a trivial ideal to justify crimes up to and including murder.  These extremists are among your audience

The members of the secret service have difficulty enough without added pressure from those who would argue that our president is neither a full citizen nor of the “right” faith.  Nor am I prepared to experience a civil war.  Nor is Obama the only target to from which to choose.

In light of this fact as well as those above, I ask you to recognize that enough people have been injured.  I ask you to recognize that enough people have died.  I ask you to hold true to a judicious form of journalism which focuses on educating the public and allowing them to draw them own conclusions, and a form of journalism that encourages tolerance rather than narrow-mindedness.

Respectfully Submitted,

Gid

Fade to Black…

June 16th, 2009 by Gid

Once upon a time, there was a wicked tyrant named Shrub and a venomous, vile troll, who was so terrible that his name must never be mentioned. But they were beguiling and cunning and gained control of the land; Shrub became leader, and the vile troll vice-ruler, for eight long, dark, sad years. They began war unjustly, and brought poverty and financial ruin to the country while they became very rich. They kept the people in fear so that they might take away their rights in the name of National Security. Some people were taken to far-away dungeons, where they were imprisoned for no reason at all. Some were subjected to durance vile, where those enslaved to the maleficent powers visited foul punishments upon them; and this was hidden from the citizens so that they might never know how truly evil the rulers were.

One day came a bright knight to the land, and saw that the wicked rulers must be deposed. He spoke to the people of good things, of a government that treated everyone fairly and fought economic ruin. He condemned unjust war, unjust imprisonment, and foul punishments. He spoke of governmental transparency and answerability. He spoke of goodness for all, even those who looked or lived differently than most, for he was himself a minority. He spoke of change and the end of fear, and the good work to turn the world that is into the world that should be. And when we doubted, he told us, “Yes, we can!” And everywhere were posted banners bearing the likeness of the knight with the shibboleth of “Change” or “Hope” affixed thereto. Why, to this day, I have a banner proclaiming hope in the window of my carriage.

And so it was that the people came to believe that change was possible and there could be hope for good things to come. And the people raised their voices and spoke, and said that those who believed as the evil ones believed must rule no more, and the knight became ruler of the land. And the people watched hopefully… But this is, of course a fairy tale, and fairy tales, as we all know, bear just enough resemblance to reality to make them plausible with enough fantasy to make them highly unlikely if not altogether impossible.

When I voted for change, I was hoping for a number of things, such as an end to the vile games of Shrub & Co. making people disappear for years at a time without due process and torturing them. In response to a fear-mongering campaign by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” and other distasteful acts, President Obama made a speech of his own on May 21 at the National Archives, where he said that “our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions… we too often set [our] principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford.” He further added that “the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable” In other words, it is clear that the actions of the previous administration were not in accordance with the law. They acted unlawfully. They committed crimes, and lied about them.

When one of Obama’s first post-election speeches reiterated the fact that he intended to “look forward,” i.e., not push for indictment of the previous administration on charges of war crimes – as indeed other nations have begun to do – I thought perhaps that he was wisely waiting for the Department of Justice to do its job in the matter. This may yet turn out to be the case. We’ve also heard very little in regard to inquests into such matters by the Congress, though again, this may well be underway. We have found out through previously classified reports recently released by the CIA, that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” defended by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named as justifiable because of the intelligence they yielded, failed to yield any useful information at all. In short, they were classified (ergo hidden) by the previous administration to cover up failure as well as crime. But I digress…

Obama criticized unconstitutional detainment: “For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system… succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists… Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system.” Obama said that this indefinite detention was “beyond the rule of law. This is true, as due process is mandated by the constitution.

Then he said “Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and… [detainees] must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded… We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.” And how will he keep them from attacking us again? By keeping them imprisoned, of course, although no actual crime has been committed. By having laws written by which such detainment becomes legal – just as Shrub & Co. had their attorneys write briefs which legalized torture. These detainees were short-changed.

In 2004 during his US Senate race, Barack Obama went on record calling for the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In March 2007, in a debate with Alan Keyes, Obama criticized Keyes for his views on GLBT relationships, stating that civil rights such as employment, housing, hospital visitation, transfer of property, are rights for everybody, not just for some people. In a subsequent pre-presidential interview, he called DOMA an “unnecessary imposition on what have been the traditional rules governing marriage and how states interact on the issues of marriage.” In August of 2008, he told us that his job as President was going to “make sure that the legal rights, that have consequences… for loving, same-sex couples all across the country… are recognized and enforced by my Whitehouse and by my Justice Department.”

Just two months earlier, Michelle Obama told the DNC’s Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council that, “Barack believes that we must fight for the world as it should be, a world where together we work to reverse discriminatory laws like DOMA and Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell… where our federal laws don’t discriminate against same-sex relationships, including equal treatment for any relationship recognized under state law… a world that recognizes that equality in relationships, family and adoption rights is not some abstract principle, it’s about whether millions of LGBT Americans can finally live lives marked by dignity and freedom.” This is the change I voted for.

Just a few days ago, the Obama administration handed down a brief from the Department of Injustice, upholding DOMA and citing its merits. The lawyers likened same-sex unions to incest and pedophilia; is this the dignity we’re working toward? DOMA’s Part 3 – barring same-sex couples from any federal benefits – was cited as a “cautious policy of federal neutrality towards a new form of marriage… [that] does not discriminate against gays for federal benefits,” even though Part 3 explicitly states that the federal government will not recognize a same-sex marriage, even should a state choose to do so. Is this the equality that was foretold? Where’s my change?

In an interview in November 2007, Obama said, “I will work [for]… a full repeal of ‘Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell’… That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office. America is ready to get rid of the ‘Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell’ policy. All that is required is leadership.” Just a month before, he’d said that, “Anybody who is willing to serve our country and die on a battlefield for us and are patriots, that’s the criteria for whether or not they should be able to serve in our military.” Just before he took office, he proclaimed, “I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on, and something that I intend to be consistent on during my presidency.” This is the change I voted for. While I’ve never had inclination or aptitude for military service, those who choose such a career should be able to pursue it. The government, in theory, should be an equal opportunity employer.

And yet, Captain James Pietrangelo of the US Army was fired after 13 years of service; Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, an F-15 fighter pilot, a decorated 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force was tossed out; Lieutenant Dan Choi of the Army National Guard, Arabic linguist, was given the boot. Three colossal wastes of time, training and talent because the Powers That Be did not condone their choice of bed partners while off duty. Since Obama took office, he has not repealed DADT, he has not pushed Congress to repeal it, he has not ceased investigation of new cases, nor has he ended dismissals under the policy. In a review of Pietrangelo’s case, his administration upheld the policy as “rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion.” Under condition of anonymity, a Democratic aide to the Senate Armed Services Committee told Lara Jakes of the AP that a review of DADT was “not a high priority” and that the issue would be looked at some unspecified time before the end of Obama’s term. These servicemen and many others like them have clearly been short-changed.

hope2This morning as we were getting into the car, my partner looked at the copy of Shepard Fairey’s poster hanging in the window and said, “The HOPE poster is fading. There’s something poetic in that.” Indeed. And they all lived hopefully ever after.

The Hypocritical Oath

June 8th, 2009 by Gid

After the Civil War, President Lincoln developed an oath for all federal civilian employees (April 1861).  Congress reconvened and enacted legislation requiring employees to take the expanded oath in support of the Union, the precursor of the modern oath.  The current oath was enacted in 1884, and while no official record of change exists, it seems to have been reshaped over time.  To truly represent current trends, it could accurately be reflected as the Hypocritical Oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States at my convenience against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same when profitable; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion other than personal gain; and that I will appear to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

While some may disagree, there is truth in the saying that power corrupts.  And there is a reason why politicians have a reputation for being less than truthful:  They lie.

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe recently decried President Obama as un-American for his statements regarding the Iraq war and condemning torture.  “I just don’t know whose side he’s on.”  He further added that “There has never been a documented case of torture at Guantanamo.”  I find it difficult to accept that anyone in DC could be completely ignorant not only of the voices of countless constituents, but also of the reports filed by both the FBI and the Red Cross.  Therefore, two possibilities exist: either Mr. Inhofe is being less than truthful, or his tenuous grasp of reality should render him unfit for office. 

Just when I decide that I’ve made a terrible error in deciding to pay attention to the world of politics, something amazing happens that makes me stick with it.  While I’ve no delusions that our current President is perfect, there are a number of things I like about him.  One of them is that from time to time, he’s open, honest and direct – not all the time (see the oath above), but certainly on occasion.  During his speech in Cairo last week, he brought his brand of in-your-face politics into play by brazenly pointing at all the elephants desperately trying to hide themselves behind the arrases and draperies.

  1. He condemned Israeli settlements
  2. He condemned Arab violence
  3. He termed the Iraq war as a “war of choice”
  4. He admitted to US culpability in the Iran coup of 1953
  5. He dismissed conspiracy theories about 9/11/01
  6. He condemned those who denied the WWII Holocaust
  7. He condemned feigned Arab democracies
  8. He admits US violation of the Geneva Conventions

I have no reason to favor the chances that all of these elephants will be caught and caged, nor that the copious droppings left over the years will be cleaned up, but admitting their existence is a good first step.  After all, some progress occurred once it was admitted that the earth just might be round.

There were cheers when the President made public his intentions of visiting the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and to celebrate the following day the anniversary of D-Day with his great-uncle, one of the first soldiers in WWII to lead the liberation force into Buchenwald.  The President’s uncle declined to accompany him on the visit to Buchenwald, so shaken was he by the initial experience of what he found there 64 years ago.  I can understand this.

In 1984 I visited the site of the Dachau camp, and while I could not see what the liberation force witnessed, there was evidence enough to testify to the instrument of suffering it was: Brick walls riddled with bullet marks; a crematorium set up for mass processing; a moraine-like mound that was formed by large deposits of ash; pictures of piles of shoes – not horrifying by themselves until one considers that each pair belonged to someone prematurely dead; pictures of survivors, and pictures of various methods of execution.  The memorial to tens of thousands of shattered and destroyed lives is famous for its simple message, “Never Again.”  dachau-denkmal  And yet…

Obama said that “…to deny [the holocaust] is to create the potential of repeating that kind of horror.”  I don’t suppose we should feel particularly proud of the fact that we retained this lesson for only 57 years before doing something similar at Guantanamo Bay.  Some might be inclined to argue that there can be no comparison between the two, but I’ve yet to find a guide that describes Geneva Convention violations on a scale of one to ten depending on the level of cruelty that causes injury or death.  There may have been no firing squads or crematorium, but there was torture, and men were killed.  Considering Obama’s words on the subject of the holocaust, he may find his moral standing severely compromised should the members of the previous administration fail to be charged and indicted for war crimes.