Month: November 2009

It’s (show) trial time

Updated below.

A nation circling the drain can’t ask for anything better than a good show trial to take its mind off its myriad troubles.

I’m sure the trial will be an exemplary demonstration of cool, rational jurisprudence, and never mind the five other Guantanomo detainees who will be tried by military tribunals.

If you’re accused of being a Terrorist, there’s not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win. Even worse, Holder repeatedly assured Senators that the administration would continue to imprison 9/11 defendants even in the very unlikely case that they were acquitted, citing what they previously suggested was their Orwellian authority of so-called “post-acquittal detention powers.” Is there any better definition of a “show trial” than one in which the defendant has no chance of ever being released even if acquitted, because the Government will simply thereafter assert the power to hold him indefinitely without charges?

Alexander Cockburn in Counterpunch:

Of course there are those who gravely lament the impending spectacle, the fakery of judicial “impartiality”, the pompous sermons about the rule of law, the hysteria, the howls for vengeance. Bring them on, say I. Let’s face it, we could do with some drama and American political life is at its most vivid amid show trials. Their glare discloses the larger political system in all its pretensions and   its disfigurements. The show trial is as American as cherry pie , as  the former Black Panther H. Rap Brown – currently serving life without the possibility of parole in the Supermax in Florence, Colorado – famously said about violence.

The meatiest part of the Cockburn piece comes courtesy of The real price of trying KSM, an excellent Slate article by David Feige, a former public defender, about the mountains of bad legal precedent that will come from all this:

At each stage of the appellate process, a higher court will countenance the cowardly decisions made by the trial judge, ennobling them with the unfortunate force of precedent. The judicial refusal to consider KSM’s years of quasi-legal military detention as a violation of his right to a speedy trial will erode that already crippled constitutional concept. The denial of the venue motion will raise the bar even higher for defendants looking to escape from damning pretrial publicity. Ever deferential to the trial court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will affirm dozens of decisions that redact and restrict the disclosure of secret documents, prompting the government to be ever more expansive in invoking claims of national security and emboldening other judges to withhold critical evidence from future defendants. Finally, the twisted logic required to disentangle KSM’s initial torture from his subsequent “clean team” statements will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they’ve been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.

In the end, KSM will be convicted and America will declare the case a great victory for process, openness, and ordinary criminal procedure. Bringing KSM to trial in New York will still be far better than any of the available alternatives. But the toll his torture and imprisonment has already taken, and the price the bad law his defense will create will exact, will become part of the folly of our post-9/11 madness.

Update: The last word will be to an old guy. Paul Craig Roberts, in the aptly titled “A Trial to Convict Us All,” reminds us that Thomas Paine  wrote in Dissertations on First Principles of Government (1790):

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Every principle of impartiality tossed aside that protects Those Who Deserve No Protection (like, uh, say, Terrorist MasterMinds ™, is another law WE lose to protect our own sorry selves. It’s a pretty simple concept. Been around for a while.

Camera Obscura: More lush, orchestral melancholia …

… and it adds up to the sweetest thing.

Not to mention the fact that this video is absolutely wonderful. Attending  a costume do at a country house as Simon & Garfunkel, and meeting friends there dressed as the cover art from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors?!  Someone please invite me to these parties!


If only…

Tom Englehardt has an excellent post on the speech Obama should give, but never will.

Tonight, in response to the realities of Afghanistan as I’ve just described them to you, I’ve put aside all the subjects that ordinarily obsess Washington, especially whether an American president can reverse the direction of a war and still have an electoral future. That’s for the American people, and them alone, to decide….

Given that, let me say as bluntly as I can that I have decided to send no more troops to Afghanistan. Beyond that, I believe it is in the national interest of the American people that this war, like the Iraq War, be drawn down. Over time, our troops and resources will be brought home in an orderly fashion, while we ensure that we provide adequate security for the men and women of our Armed Forces. Ours will be an administration that will stand or fall, as of today, on this essential position: that we ended, rather than extended, two wars.

It’s quite a thought. And of course the consequences of NOT making this speech are cataclysmic for the rest of us. But for the ruling party, short-term calculations trump everything. Better to keep spending a trillion a year on defense keeping the war juggernaut going, than to risk losing a couple seats in the mid-terms.

Annie – Pure pop for now people

Norwegian DJ/singer Annie Berge Strand has finally officially released Don’t Stop, her second album, after five years of record company drama and dithering. It’s great.

Anniemal was a ridiculously great collection of pure pop confections, including the unforgettably hooky Chewing Gum. Annie’s personal tragedy, losing her boyfriend/collaborator to a freak illness at the age of 23, gave her first album an undertone of melancholy that carries over to Don’t Stop, and elevates her musical/lyrical wit and cleverness to something above and beyond pop music.

But it is terrific pop music, about as good as it gets…. Annie calls it “pop music with strange edges.” There are reviews out there by people who know the electro/dance/pop genre far better than I, including this one from Pitchfork.  I’ve read her genre described as unpopular pop music, but I hope that will change. Actually, I’m pretty sure it will.

Blowin’ in the wind

The deformed feet of four-year-old Zahra Muhammad Photograph: Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images

This post by Siun at Firedoglake links to a number of articles about toxic fallout from U.S. attacks in Iraq, and by our Israeli chums in Gaza. As the Guardian reports in this heartbreaking image gallery (also, here), the incidence of birth defects and early life cancers has skyrocketed in Fallujah, Basra, Baghdad and Al – Najaf, all areas that fell under heavy bombardment by the U.S.

It’s one thing to hope, however vainly, that the U.S. government sees the light and pulls its military back from its murderous assaults against Iraq and Afghanistan, quite another to think we will ever do anything about the long-term environmental consequences.

The Guardian report is careful to note that it’s too early to draw definite conclusions about what caused this 15-fold rise in many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers. Depleted uranium? White phosphorus? Well, maybe. And it will ever be so. The procedure is clear. Deny and obfuscate until it’s too late to do anything about it.

The dust that Pancho bit

Just stumbled across this footage of  Townes Van Zandt And Guy Clark, when they were just kids. Described as “1970’s film clips which were part of a motion picture homage to West Texas troubadours titled ‘Heartworn Highways.'”

Loved the old guy’s tears during ‘Waitin’ around to die.’

Also available on the Internets from the same film, Van Zandt performing his scary great Pancho and Lefty and a sloppy session with Rodney Crowell and a skinny Steve Earle from Christmas Eve, 1975.

A Congress of Nancys

the original milfOh, how I miss Weeds. The disappointing season finale of Mad Men* put me in mind of a show that did it right: with a jaw-dropping surprise that leaves the viewer, at least this viewer, gasping in anticipation of what will happen next season.

Nancy Botwin is ever on my mind, I guess, but more so in the wake of the Health Reform Bill from Hell that passed through the House this weekend. I know: Nancy Pelosi and Steyne Hoyer do not totter around on stiletto heels in body-conscious apparel, sucking down prodigious  quantities of designer coffees. (In fact, allow me to pause while I try to erase such ghastly images from my memory.) But Nancy and our esteemed representatives in Congress have one very major thing in common. They have a job that is a front for a business.

In Nancy’s case, the job has been most recently managing a maternity boutique in a sleepy mall. Her business, however, was all about the drug- and human-trafficking tunnel to Mexico beneath the shop. She spends her day pretending to do her innocent little job, when in reality she is involved in a much more lucrative, and sinister, business.

Same with congressmen and senators. Their job is to APPEAR to represent the people and to protect them from the predations of the wealthy and powerful, but their BUSINESS is to enable the wealthy and powerful to extract every last ounce of flesh and blood from the people. If they do their job well, they are praised effusively by their victims.


* I am aware that I’m in the minority on this.

On that “historic” health reform bill (from hell)

Chris Floyd, who declares that HR3962 will kill real health reform for a generation:

Of course, the House bill, bad as it is, will be mangled beyond all recognition in that elitist abattoir known as the Senate, where no doubt even the few milder-than-milquetoast ameliorations that survived the corporate bludgeoning in the House will be cast aside. But for now, this is how, in the words of Barack Obama, our Democratic solons “answered the call of history”: with a bill that places an onerous financial burden and threat of punishment on those least able to bear it, while stripping millions of the most vulnerable women in society from access to completely legal medical procedures easily available to the middle-class and the rich, and delivering to the corrupt, cruel and price-gouging insurance companies “50 million new consumers, many of them subsidized by the taxpayers,” in the gushing words of Nancy Pelosi, who shepherded the bill through the House — and who was responsible for stripping abortion coverage from poor women by greenlighting the single allowed amendment to the bill.

David Swanson on the “well, at least it’s something” school of thought:

And why is a bill better than no bill? Why is a bill that funds absolutely useless parasites like health insurance companies at the expense of our grandchildren’s unearned pay better than nothing? Why — when blocking a bill would almost guarantee a better debate in round 2 — is it more important to pass the bill and close off the opportunity for valuable reform?

And Arthur Silber, in a piece with the to-the-point title The Fuck You Act:

Given the nature of the corporatist system that now throttles every aspect of life in the U.S., that is how the system works. That’s how it’s set up, and that’s its purpose. The fact that insurance companies will reap huge rewards on the backs of “ordinary” taxpaying Americans is not a regrettable byproduct of an allegedly good but imperfect effort at reform, or a flaw that will be fixed at some unspecified future date. And as already powerful and wealthy interests become more powerful and wealthy, the State will also increase its already massive power over all our lives still more. None of that is incidental: it’s the point.

Earlier this summer Matt Taibbi called it pretty much exactly, and explained why thusly:

Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters. The situation we have here is an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill. It expects something to be done. The task of the lawmakers on the Hill, at least as they see things, is to create the appearance of having done something. And that’s what they’re doing….

This whole business, it was a litmus test for whether or not we even have a functioning government. Here we had a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans, and this government could not bring itself to offend ten thousand insurance men in order to pass a bill that addresses an urgent emergency. What’s left? Third-party politics?

Uh, yeah.

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