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The Obama administration just invoked the “state secrets” argument to get a case dropped that was calling for a review of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program.

This move reinforces the unconstitutional Bush administration position that the government has the right to spy on people at home or abroad without any court oversight. Actually, it goes even further… Obama has essentially just let Bush, Cheney, David Addington and Alberto Gonzales off the hook. It gets worse: companies like AT&T who were involved in collecting that information for the government have been protected from legal recourse.

So apparently we have a right to privacy but no protections (legal avenues) to ensure the right is upheld. As long as the government doesn’t “willfully disclose” a citizen’s information, We, the People, have no legal way to stop the government from spying on us.

I’m not sure Obama’s pedigree as a Constitutional law attorney was money well spent. I was already dismayed at his unwillingness to investigate–or even allow Congress to investigate–the crimes that may or may not have been committed under the Bush administration. Regardless of political affiliation or beliefs, most Americans believe in justice and the law, but it seems neither will be served today or any time soon. It seems Obama has picked up a portion of Bush’s “Break-The-Constitution” playbook and, instead of ripping it into shreds and tossing it into the garbage, he is making a few plays of his own.

This decision to dismiss was unconstitutional enough, but adding protections to previous government programs and officials is… well, mind-boggling.

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Where is Bush? Where is Obama?

Over 500 civilians have been killed in the last few days of the Israeli invasion and bombing raids in Gaza. One Israeli soldier has been reported killed during the fighting.

500 civilians to 1 soldier.

And for those that are about to jump on the “Israel is protecting its borders from rocket fire!” bandwagon, let’s take a look at the context, and roll back a few months:

Last summer, Egypt brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is Gaza. This ceasefire lasted through October. By November, the ceasefire continued (for the most part) to be upheld on both sides. Israeli casualties during this period were zero according to reports I’ve seen.

Hamas offered repeatedly to extend the truce, even after Israel failed to meet its side of the bargain, which included allowing in humanitarian aid. Israel only did so after pressure from outsiders, including the U.S., yet didn’t permit as much aid as was agreed and rejected outside NGO workers, so the supplies were poorly distributed and likely never made it to the people that needed them most.

On November 4, Israel broke the ceasefire and invaded Gaza, directing attacks at “militants in Gaza.” Several Palestinians… civilians and “suspected militants” alike were killed. Home-made rocket fire from Gaza began sailing over Israel’s borders again in response.

The Obama team seems content to carry on the Bush torch and re-write history regarding Israel and Gaza:

First, they remain silent despite the enormous bombardment, aggression and violence perpetrated by Israel, hiding behind the “There is only one president.” bullshit line that hasn’t held up for the economy, the Mumbai massacre or nearly anything else that has come up during the transition. Yet it’s conveniently used now so Obama doesn’t have to publicly condemn the actions of Israel.

Second, an Obama spokesperson reported on the news that it was Hamas who broke the ceasefire, apparently forgetting the Nov. 4 attacks by Israel into Gaza.

So why is Israel attacking now? Why have they been mentally preparing the Israeli public for a large military operation through daily news reports and other means for nearly a month now?

Elections are coming up in Israel soon and it’s chillingly customary for the incumbent to show their toughness with an often horrific and deadly military display just prior. And, since Lebanon was such a failure in 2006 to wipe out Hezbollah (even though, like this massacre, the Lebanese civilian-to-Israeli soldier casualty ratio was off the scale), it’s always good to wipe away the failures of past military ventures with new ones before the voters hit the polling booths.

For those that need a refresher on 2006:

The Lebanese top police office and the Lebanon Ministry of Health, citing hospitals, death certificates, local authorities, and eye witnesses, put the death toll at 1,123 — 37 soldiers and police officers, 894 identified victims, and 192 unidentified ones.[145] The Lebanon Higher Relief Council (HRC) put the Lebanese death toll at 1,191,[26] citing the health ministry and police, as well as other state agencies.[145] The Associated Press estimated the figure at 1,035.[145] In February 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that at least 800 Lebanese had died during fighting,[147] and other articles have estimated the figure to be at least 850.[148][149] Encarta states that “estimates… varied from about 850 to 1,200” in its entry on Israel,[150] while giving a figure of “more than 1,200” in its entry on Lebanon.[151] The Lebanon Higher Relief Council estimated the number of Lebanese injured to be 4,409,[26] 15% of whom were permanently disabled.[152]

The death toll estimates do not include Lebanese killed since the end of fighting by land mines or unexploded Israeli cluster bombs.[145] So far, these have killed 29 people and wounded 215 — 90 of them children.[153]

Source

Cynical as that might sound, you can look at Israel’s election history and it’s usually peppered with some sort of military incursion a month or two before voting day.

Fast forward to today: The BBC is reporting 500 civilians dead in Gaza and the first Israeli soldier was killed this weekend… after 7 days of fighting.

500:1 is a massacre, people. It’s time to stand up and speak out.

Sure, Israel has a right to defend its borders… and no one is denying them that right… but invading another territory and (clearly) killing indiscriminately is not a legitimate way to secure its homeland or reach its goals.

Write your Congresspeople or your elected officials or whatever representatives you have and demand action from your leaders. There needs to be a resounding voice from the world that puts an end to this bloodshed.

Would we tolerate any other country invading another territory and killing civilians in a 500:1 or even a 50:1 ratio? No, we wouldn’t no matter the supposed “cause” or “reason” for the aggression.

Obama’s first foreign policy test is on the docket and right now he’s failing. If we speak up now and he might not flunk the thing altogether.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he was directly involved in approving severe interrogation methods used by the CIA, and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open indefinitely….

“I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared,” Cheney said in an interview with ABC News.

Asked whether he still believes it was appropriate to use the waterboarding method on terrorism suspects, Cheney said: “I do.”

His comments come on the heels of disclosures by a Senate committee showing that high-level officials in the Bush administration were intimately involved in reviewing and approving interrogation methods that have since been explicitly outlawed and that have been condemned internationally as torture.

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The Senate committee report also indicates that Bush himself was involved in the authorization of torture tactics.

So Cheney (still) thinks Waterboarding is appropriate? Too bad U.S. law doesn’t agree with him.

Torture is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 2340.

Torture in all forms is banned by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the United States participated in drafting. The United States is a party to the following conventions (international treaties) which prohibit torture: the American Convention on Human Rights (signed 1977) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed 1977; ratified 1992).

…International law defines torture during an armed conflict as a war crime. It also mandates that any person involved in ordering, allowing and even insuffuciently preventing and prosecuting war crimes is criminally liable under the command responsibility doctrine.

Source

Even the 2006 U.S. Army field manual mentions waterboarding as a prohibited act and defines it as torture:

In late 2006, the military issued updated field manuals on intelligence collection (FM 2-22.3. Human Intelligence Collector Operations, September 2006) and counterinsurgency (FM 3-24. Counterinsurgency, December 2006). Both manuals reiterated that “no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in US law.”[9] Specific techniques described as prohibited in the intelligence collection manual include:

* Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner.
* Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.
* Applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain.
* Waterboarding
* Using military working dogs.
* Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
* Conducting mock executions.
* Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care

So the question is… will our newly elected politicians, especially Obama and crew, live up to their moral obligations? Will the American people keep them in check if they falter?

The party that was once the champion of small government, low spending and personal responsibility has left us with this legacy:

  • Largest unemployment lines in over 15 years;
  • Largest number of people receiving unemployment benefits in 20 years;
  • Largest and most expensive government in decades;
  • Likely to be the weakest economy in over 80 years if predictions that our economic crisis is “just getting started” happen to be true and the seemingly run-a-muck Bailout continues veering off course…;
  • Harshest repeal and tarnishing of Constitutional rights and Geneva Convention laws in 40 years.
  • Most incompetent and favoritism-based appointments to positions of power resulting in the deaths of thousands of American citizens and military personnel;
  • The largest number of firings, early departures and scandals surrounding political offices in my memory.

I’ve been trying to figure out how Republicans are going to get back to the platform of small government, family values, fiscal and personal responsibility, strong governmental ethics and reform and somehow push the ideas that “trickle down” or “top-down” tax cuts and policies work and are healthy for the economy. Are there any conservatives around that can help reconcile the post-Bush reality with the tenets of the Republican party?

Which of these things do you think can be recovered? Which of these things will no longer be part of the Republican political lineup. Or, how might they be transformed to better connect with the U.S. American people?

Even though McCain supporters continue to boo on cue of hearing Obama’s name, McCain’s concession speech revealed the kind of candidate that I admire, and one that I personally feel would have probably made the campaign a far more close race.

Obama will not be a silver bullet to slay all of the boogymen that loom in the closet. Obama will probably not be able to solve a number of the issues he hopes to tackle. He still takes advice from those who are very friendly with the likes of Wal-Mart and who consider the company to be the “victim” rather than the millions of workers who get paid sub-standard wages, work beyond their hours for zero pay, and who lack any sort of useful benefits or job security. Obama still embraces the Monroe Doctrine-esque views regarding Latin America and Cuba… views responsible for the worst terrorism and violence committed in the 1980s and early 1990s. He still seems to be willing to blindly support Israel despite the terrorism that our surrogate carries out against civilians, let alone the always-alleged “militants.”

However, I do believe Obama will set us moving in a direction that better embraces the ideals espoused in both the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Tonight’s election results alone speak to the beginning of that transformation. I hope we are at an end of hyper-divisive politics. I hope we find a way to advance political change without needing to belittle the other or tap into fear or lock people down according to artificial boundaries and arbitrary wedges and instead examine a person and their ideas, dreams and goals on their own merit.

As for economics, wealth and the pursuit of the “American Dream,” since the economy will likely be the premier challenge facing this presidency, I believe the “welfare, subsidies and tax cuts for the rich” approach that ignores or expects a “trickle down” effect to somehow keep the financial cogs turning has been proven both in theory and in practice to be a disaster and in the meantime, the people of the country have paid in blood and tears as they are evicted from their homes, have lost their jobs, have had their pensions torn out from under them after putting in the time and service to earn them, and have seen the “opportunities for wealth creation” that neo-cons parade so devoutly shrivel up or be shipped overseas due to tax breaks and further welfare handouts by the government to corporations. Trickle-down economics and deregulation DO NOT WORK. You can’t look at the surplus we started with 8 years ago, the policies that were passed in the meantime and then the huge mess we’re in now and say anything else. Now, will Obama’s policies work better? I guess we’ll see. I doubt he’ll be able to make any real changes, however, I hope that he’ll actually stop some of the blatant corruption that has run so rampant during Bush’s terms.

But let’s get back to tonight:

Barack Obama does speak of hope in a time when we need it dearly. His victory is a real opportunity for the children of United States who, until now, have always looked at the portraits of American presidents and never saw their own race represented. He does represent calmness and clarity and a willingness to listen… qualities that have been so damagingly absent during the Bush II era. We have a lot of work to do in order to recover our standing the world… but at least we won’t thumb our noses at the global community anymore and we might save a few lives by not calling out cowboy remarks like “bring it on” as our valiant soldiers fight and die in other lands. Obama represents a return to civility and respect that has been slim or entirely missing in our national discourse.

I guess we’ll see how things go… but I’m glad I’m not having to pack for Canada tonight.

One of the latest things the McCain Campaign has been pushing is that middle-ground voters shouldn’t elect Obama because it would give the dems control of the Senate, House and presidency. Moreover, it looks like the dems are close to gaining the filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate.

I disagree with McCain that middle-ground voters should elect him over Obama. Put simply, I believe Obama’s plans for our economy and his views on the Iraq war are a bit better and more thought out than McCain’s.

However, I do agree with McCain and others that the Dems having a filibuster-proof Senate is a bad thing. I want legislation to be critiqued and challenged, refined and improved. I also want bills to be inclusive and mindful of conservative values and needs.

One of the main gripes I had with the Bush administration was that there was such an air of “my way or the highway” about policies. There wasn’t any middle ground sought. Either you fashioned bills precisely the way that the Bush camp wanted or he vetoed them. This severely limited the effectiveness of Congress and the Senate and a lot of important issues went unaddressed or were dropped from the agenda because there was just no point to bringing them up.

Now, electing John McCain when there’s a Dem-controlled Senate and House is also a bad idea because he’ll likely just continue the Bush-esque tactics of vetoing anything that comes across his desk that doesn’t fit with his world view–or worse, he may veto good bills just because he doesn’t want to be seen as being “pushed around” or giving into the Dems. On one hand, I imagine he’d veto things outright less than Bush. On the other hand, McCain has demonstrated he’ll act out of anger and spite… a toxic combination for good policy-making.

Put simply, not all Democrat ideas are good just as not all Republican ideas are good. However, when there’s a way to challenge an idea and it has to stand up to scrutiny of people with different views, you tend to get better, more refined products that then better serve the people.

I do think Democrats having the White House and majorities in Congress and the Senate is fine because we really need to be able to get a LOT of stuff done in the next four years and any ideological road blocks similar to what the Bush admin has practiced will really hurt us in the short- and long-run… people are losing their homes NOW. People are jobless NOW.

Yet there still needs to be checks and balances and there still needs to be a reality check provided by the Republicans to ensure the Dems don’t just pull the same shit the Bush administration did, but where the only difference is that their poorly-crafted ideologically-driven policies cater to the other side of the aisle.

The 2008 Olympics have focused our attention on China and its amazing fanfare and beautiful accomplishments in preparation for hosting the worlds premier sporting event. With what little bits and pieces I’ve been able to watch, I am very impressed with the spectacle.

However, every time I sit down to watch a bit of the Olympic games, I can’t help but think about Tibet. In the early 1950s, China invaded Tibet and occupied it and coerced the government into a “17 Point Agreement” that China still uses today to justify its unlawful annexation of Tibet. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties makes it clear that all treaties in international law are binding for the countries that sign and ratify them unless the agreement is signed under conditions of force or intimidation. By all accounts save the victors, this “agreement” was signed under such conditions.

After the initial occupation, Tibet was given a fair amount of autonomy. But, as the years stretched on and the natives resisted China’s rule, the tenor of the relationship become increasingly oppressive. By 1959, the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, was forced to flee the country for his own safety. The much of the legitimate Tibetan government was forced to follow suit and now rules in exile from India.

Last year, the U.S. news was atwitter (rightly so) criticizing the Burmese junta that hindered the distribution of supplies, food and assistance in the aftermath of the cyclone that struck Burma/Myanmar. A bit later, international flak continued as the Burmese government cracked down and committed atrocities against anti-government demonstrators and Buddhist monks.

With the eyes focused on China and the Olympic games, though, we seem to be ignoring the very similar behavior by China against Tibet for fear we might dampen the sporty spirit and miss all the pretty logos and advertisements that are running at a premium during the games. After all, talking about how the death toll of Tibetan monks and civilian demonstrators has passed 150 or the fact that literally thousands of Tibetan demonstrators that were “detained” during protests have yet to be accounted for isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want people to be thinking about when the commercial break hits. If so, they might ignore the car commercial or the new diet pills and get off the couch to do something.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government will likely ramp up the violence to try to keep things quiet so most of us can watch the Olympics in peace. And sure, Bush made some remarks about China needing to curtail violence in Tibet. I find them hallow words, considering they’re coming from a man who has started a war considered near-unanimously throughout the world to be unjust, unlawful and disastrous. And let’s not ignore that these words come from a man who has exploited the atrocities of 9/11 to justify torture and reject human rights and civil liberties for an “any means necessary” agenda.

No, the outcry against China’s abuse of Tibet will continue to be relegated to the back pages of the New York Times and mentioned in the margins, op-eds and opinion pages of mainstream media. And, once the fanfare of the Olympic games fades from earshot, I’m sure the sparse coverage and attention that the protests by the Tibetan peoples have gotten will follow suit.

This means that it will be up to people like you and me to keep the lens of humanity focused intently on the people of Tibet. We’ll need to write our local papers and flood online forums with a steady stream of letters and posts to help ensure that the oppressors and the oppressed are not set loose from our collective conscience and memory as soon as the NBC and CNN camera crews pack up and leave Beijing.