Monday, May 25, 2009


By Jack Random

When little George Bush “won” re-election by a sliver over a weak (read: senatorial) Democratic candidate, he claimed a mandate and vowed that he would spend the political capital he had earned. That was the pinnacle of audacity and arrogance yet given the nature of the opposition it was more than sufficient.

Little George escalated the war in Iraq. He pushed a crooked prescription drug scheme through Congress and called it health care reform. Caught with both hands in the cookie jar spying on millions of American citizens in flagrant violation federal statutes, he bullied Congress into letting him off by legislative fiat.

The former president never suffered any overt signs of timidity or lack of confidence though the record will show both he and the nation suffered by his actions.

Four years later Barack Obama was handed a real mandate on a bold promise of systemic and transformational change. Tragically (thus far) he has failed to seize the moment, yielding ground on every issue and every policy, losing the high ground where morality resides on principles that should never be compromised.

The torture debate should have ended with Dick Cheney in a glass booth as a defendant in a war crimes tribunal, not with his televised rebuttal of the president, accusing Obama of sacrificing the security of the nation. Cheney is preaching to a very small choir – the loyal 25% who explain evolution as the product of a scientific conspiracy, who still believe Al Qaeda was in Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction were secretly smuggled out of Iraq on the eve of Shock and Awe. Cheney does not deserve a microsecond of the nation’s time outside a criminal courtroom.

By contrast, Obama has the overwhelming support of the people yet he is wasting it by appeasing the fringe followers of Dick “The Shadow” Cheney.

The question of torture was settled decades ago when we signed on to the Geneva Accords and applied its conventions to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. There were no exceptions to the prohibition of torture. There were no provisions for an executive override of habeas corpus. There were no excuses that pushed back the hand of justice.

Torture is a crime against the human soul, waterboarding is torture, and those like Dick Cheney who openly defend the authorization of torture have freely confessed their crimes. Under these circumstances, in a nation founded on law, not to prosecute is a dereliction of duty and complicity after the fact. As a legal scholar Barack Obama knows this yet he allows himself to be cowed by the likes of Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and the talking airheads of Fox News.

In his speech at the National Archives addressing the false dilemma of the Guantanamo Bay detention center Obama declared: “This is the toughest issue we will face.”

I would have thought it infinitely tougher to commit more troops to the burgeoning disaster of the Afghan war. I would have thought it far more difficult to sacrifice single-payer health care to the insatiable greed of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. I would have thought it more trying to throw gays in the military under the bus. I would have thought defending Bush policies on state secrets, military tribunals and habeas corpus were all more difficult decisions.

But no, in the calculations of Obama and his political team, closing Gitmo as promised is somehow gut wrenching. The statement is astounding in that it reveals the president’s state of mind. If closing Gitmo was a moral or legal decision it would be open and shut. As a strategic decision it’s a slam-dunk. The only complicating factors are political, suggesting that a decision measuring the moral fiber of the nation is being taken solely on political grounds.

What are the implications for this presidency? What does it mean when the president will not risk any amount of political capital to uphold a straightforward moral principle? It means that Leonard Peltier (a political prisoner framed by the FBI) will die in a federal penitentiary. It means there can be no assurances that our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan will end any time soon – indeed, even under Obama’s watch.

It means that we will have to read the fine print on all Obama initiatives, including health care reform, trade policy reform, gun control, environmental protection, civil liberties, on and on.

It means that Obama is essentially no different than any other politician and that is simply not good enough for the times we are confronting. It means that Obama either sold out or he is not the man we thought he was.

It was reported that our president lost his temper in a White House meeting of the minds with human rights leaders. Someone apparently had the audacity to suggest that Obama was continuing the policies of the Bush administration. I was glad to hear that he still felt passionate about something but I would feel far better if he vented some of his frustration on those who very nearly destroyed the nation and who now seek to train him to their will.

I would feel better as well if he directed some of his political capital at those members of Congress – particularly members of his own party in the Senate – who have proven more adept at obstructing progress than in supporting the president’s agenda.



In Death, Placidity (for Susan Sontag)

by Chris Mansel

in a room with Susan Sontag as she progresses
in the steps of death, she talks
I can't copy it all down onto my hands
so I shave my head and continue
her words are like reptiles being born
to a world of Breughel's, ancient one moment
then black the next

her mouth has lost her shape
so I must depend upon the regurgitation
around the room are hundreds of photographs
momento mori

I fall asleep and find when I awake she is gone
crumbled in the clothes she was wearing is a journal
it contains notes about her lives
if you touch the words on the page there are sounds
her voice fills the room and the photographs lean in
to embrace
it's a beautiful moment then I discover I am forbidden to leave

Susan in the photographs begins to wither, to age uncontrollably
far older than when she was alive
her voice is gone and the photographs
still move in

I control my breathing and prepare myself
for what happens next
I open the journal and read aloud
the more I read the more I become older
soon I am a part of the journal and the photographs are caressing me

I open my eyes and there is Susan
wrapped in a shawl and standing on the beach
as the gray waters come in and out

- Chris Mansel