01/14/2011 archive

Human Rights First: Obama Failing Human Rights

Human Rights First, a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization, has issued it report card for President Obama on issues of human rights and the rule of law. The report overall is not encouraging for a President who as a candidate purported to restore the rule of law. His overall grade is “D”.

The President did garner two “A-“‘s with caveats. While he has denounced torture, detainee abuse and secret detention sites, there are still major concerns about “various interrogation techniques that are permitted by Appendix M of the Army Field Manual that are inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions requirement of humane treatment” and “the Joint Special Operations Command detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan operates outside the authority of the Joint Task Force established to oversee detention.” “B” and  “C-” are given for transferring GTMO detainees cleared for release and trying terror suspects in Federal courts, respectively. He gets a “C” for establishing accountability and oversight of U.S. private security and other contractors but didn’t go far enough holding “private security contractors in zones of armed conflict and elsewhere accountable for violations of international and domestic law, including incidents involving allegations of torture.” The rest of the report is damning.

The President gets a failing grade for not closing Guantanamo although he promised to do that two years ago. Even though the President has publically argued for closure of Guantanamo, he has failed to do so.

The continued use of military commissions to prosecute detainees gets an “F”. The commissions constitute a war crime under international law for a number of reasons:

. . . (the commissions) prosecute as war crimes conduct that was not a violation of the laws of war at the time the conduct occurred. They fail to ensure exclusion of evidence gained through torture or other abuse. They do not ensure that an accused or defense counsel will be able to see all relevant inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. Permissive hearsay rules fail to ensure that an accused or defense counsel will be able to confront witnesses. New rules governing procedure were introduced in the spring. While the rules are an improvement over the past iterations, they do not cure the fundamental flaws of the commissions. The only way to ensure that detainee trials comport with applicable law is to end military commissions and transfer prosecutions to federal criminal court.

An “F” is given for not holding accountable those who authorized and perpetrated torture against prisoners in U.S. custody:

In November 2010, the Justice Department announced that there would be no prosecutions for destruction of CIA tapes that allegedly recorded acts of torture committed by employees or agents of the United States. Special Prosecutor John Durham has yet to release his report on the investigation into whether crimes were committed by U.S. officials during any interrogations that included “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, a well-known form of torture. The failure to hold accountable those responsible for acts of torture and to provide redress to victims (see “State Secrets” below) is a violation of international law and diminishes the credibility of the United States as standard-bearer for human rights worldwide.

The abuse of states secrets privilege also gains an “F”:

The Obama Administration has repeatedly asserted the “state secrets privilege” to obtain dismissal of legal claims by victims of U.S.-sponsored torture. Although federal courts have procedures they can use to protect the disclosure of classified information, the Administration has instead successfully convinced courts to dismiss these cases in their entirety on state secrets grounds. This has made it impossible for victims of U.S.-sponsored torture to obtain any form of accountability and redress.

“D”‘s are given for:

Not ending indefinite detention:

It was reported on December 22, 2010 that the Obama Administration plans to issue an Executive Order that would provide for legal representation and a review process for the 48 Guantanamo detainees who have been designated to be held indefinitely without trial.

Not articulating a rule of law for targeted killings:

The Obama administration over the past year dramatically stepped up its secret program of targeted killings, particularly along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but has failed to adequately articulate the legal basis for the program and how its choices of targets meet the requirements of international law.

The continued use of extraordinary rendition and lack of diplomatics assurances:

The Obama Administration continues to assert the right to transfer detainees to other countries without the protections of legal process based on diplomatic assurances from the receiving country that the detainee will not be abused, even where that country is known to abuse and torture detainees.

The report gives the President an “Incomplete” on establishing due process in Afghanistan and the remainder of the report enumerates eight things the President can do in the future to improve his “grades”. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: For Ireland, Softheaded Advice From Hard-Money Enthusiasts

As Ireland attempts to overcome its economic difficulties, European hard-money types are proposing Latvia as a model for Ireland to emulate. Their argument goes like this: Sure, Iceland, which devalued the krona after the crisis struck in 2008, has begun to recover – but so have Latvia and Estonia, even though they kept their currencies firmly pegged to the euro.

To quote from Charles Duxbury’s commentary, which was published online by The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 10 (bluntly titled “Irish should look to Baltics, not Iceland”): “Both Estonia and Latvia revised up their third-quarter G.D.P. figures Thursday, leading analysts to pronounce that, as for Iceland, a corner had been turned … So the good news for Ireland is that adding zeros to your bank notes is not the only way to beat a crisis.”

But, Mr. Duxbury explains, “the bad news is that both options mean you have less money left once you’ve bought the basics. It doesn’t matter if your hand is down the back of the sofa feeling for kroons, lats, kronur or euros, it still chafes.”

Laura Flanders: Widening Concern for Public Workers

It’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, the holiday that celebrates the Nobel Peace Prize-winner’s birth and life. The Reverend King wasn’t assassinated, as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords almost was, at a Congress on Your Corner. Or on a civil rights march.

He was assassinated in Memphis, where he was showing up to support the right of public employees to organize and strike.

What have civil rights got to do with public workers’ rights? To use President Obama’s language in Tucson, we need to “widen our circle of concern”-as King did-when it comes to civil rights.

Ben Barber: Why Haiti can’t get it together

Today, despite more than $5 billion pledged in foreign aid, Haiti seems unable to rebuild after the quake, just as previously it proved unable to stop deforestation, halt crime, nurture export industries, educate its children and establish security. UN peacekeepers have run the island for a decade.

What is the reason for this legacy of failure?

Unfortunately, Haiti’s own society, culture and social divisions, augmented by the outside influence of the powerful United States, have barred the door to change.

On This Day in History January 14

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 14 is the 14th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 351 days remaining until the end of the year (352 in leap years).

It is celebrated as New Year’s Day (at least in the 20th & 21st centuries) by countries still following the Julian calendar.

On this day in 1761, the Third Battle of Panipat is fought in India between the Afghans under Ahmad Shah Durrani and the Marhatas. The Afghan victory changes the course of Indian History.

The Third Battle of Panipat took place at Panipat (Haryana State, India), about 60 miles (95.5 km) north of Delhi. The battle pitted the French-supplied artillery and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and mounted artillery(zamburak and jizail) of the Afghans led by Ahmad Shah Durrani, an ethnic Pashtun, also known as Ahmad Shah Abdali. The battle is considered one of the largest battles fought in the 18th century.

The decline of the Mughal Empire had led to territorial gains for the Maratha Confederacy. Ahmad Shah Abdali, amongst others, was unwilling to allow the Marathas’ gains to go unchecked. In 1759, he raised an army from the Pashtun tribes and made several gains against the smaller garrisons. The Marathas, under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau, responded by gathering an army of between 70,000-100,0003] people with which they ransacked the Mughal capital of Delhi. There followed a series of skirmishes along the banks of the river [Yamuna at Karnal and Kunjpura which eventually turned into a two-month-long siege led by Abdali against the Marathas.

The specific site of the battle itself is disputed by historians but most consider it to have occurred somewhere near modern day Kaalaa Aamb and Sanauli Road. The battle lasted for several days and involved over 125,000 men. Protracted skirmishes occurred, with losses and gains on both sides. The forces led by Ahmad Shah Durrani came out victorious after destroying several Maratha flanks. The extent of the losses on both sides is heavily disputed by historians, but it is believed that between 60,000-70,000 were killed in fighting, while numbers of the injured and prisoners taken vary considerably. The result of the battle was the halting of the Maratha advances in the North.

The Legacy

The Third Battle of Panipat saw an enormous number of casualties and deaths in a single day of battle. It was the last major battle between indigenous South Asian military powers, until the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

To save their kingdom, the Mughals once again changed sides and welcomed the Afghans to Delhi. The Mughals remained in nominal control over small areas of India, but were never a force again. The empire officially ended in 1857 when its last emperor, Bahadur Shah II, was accused of being involved in the Sepoy Mutiny and exiled.

The Marathas’ expansion was stopped in the battle, and soon broke into infighting within their empire. They never regained any unity. They recovered their position under the next Peshwa Madhavrao I and by 1772 were back in control of the north, finally occupying Delhi. However, after the death of Madhavrao, due to infighting and increasing pressure from the British, their claims to empire only officially ended in 1818 after three wars with the British.

Meanwhile the Sikhs, the original reason Ahmad invaded, were left largely untouched by the battle. They soon retook Lahore. When Ahmad Shah returned in March 1764 he was forced to break off his siege after only two weeks due to rebellion in Afghanistan. He returned again in 1767, but was unable to win any decisive battle. With his own troops arguing over a lack of pay, he eventually abandoned the district to the Sikhs, who remained in control until 1849. . . . .

The battle proved the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling‘s poem “With Scindia to Delhi”.

The strength of Afghan military prowess was to both inspire hope in many orthodox Muslims, Mughal royalists and fear in the British. However the real truth of so many battle hardened Afghans killed in the struggle with the Marathas never allowed them to dream of controlling the Mughal Empire realistically again. On the other side, Marathas, possibly one of the only two real Indian military powers left capable of challenging the British were fatally weakened by the defeat and could not mount a serious challenge in the Anglo-Maratha wars 50 years later.

Six In The Morning

Not To Worry The NRA Will Make Sure That No New Restrictions Will Ever Be Put In Place No Matter How Reasonable    

A Clamor for Gun Limits, but Few Expect Real Changes

The National Rifle Association has gone uncommonly dark since the weekend shootings here. A posting on its Web site expresses sympathies for the victims of the violence, and N.R.A. officials said they would have nothing to say until the funerals and memorial services were over.

In Washington, bills were being drafted to step up background checks, create no-gun zones around members of Congress and ban the big-volume magazines that allowed the Tucson gunman to shoot so many bullets so fast. Gun control advocates say they believe the shock of the attack has altered the political atmosphere, in no small part because one of the victims is a member of Congress.

The Foreclosure Mess: Bigger and Worse

On January 7, the Too-Big-To-Fail Banks got some really dreadful news in the form of a ruling from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Supreme Court.

The state supreme court has ruled against the banks and upheld a lower court order that nullified foreclosures by US Bancorp and Wells Fargo, on the grounds that neither bank had the legal right under Massachusetts law to foreclose. Today’s ruling has far-reaching consequences for the banks and the housing market in general, as it throws into serious question the legal soundness of millions of mortgages in the US if, as expected, courts in other states come to similar conclusions as the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

This is not new and, as ek hornbeck explained in his diary, not easily appealed. This has set the banks scrambling for solutions because they may now be liable for trillions of dollars and, very possibly, insolvency.

One proposal is from a Wall St./Bank think tank, The Third Way, which has some very close ties to the White House. President Obama’s new Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, as on its board of directors. Can you see where this is going? Right, another bank bailout at the expense of the tax payer and, as proposed by The Third Way, undermining fundamental property law that our entire economic system is based on:

This proposal guts state control of their own real estate law when the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that “dirt law” is not a Federal matter. It strips homeowners of their right to their day in court to preserve their contractual rights, namely, that only the proven mortgagee, and not a gangster, or in this case, bankster, can take possession of their home.

This sort of protection is fundamental to the operation of capitalism, so it’s astonishing to see neoliberals so willing to throw it under the bus to preserve the balance sheets of the TBTF banks. Readers may recall how we came to have this sort of legal protection in the first place. England learned the hard way in the 17th century what happens with low documentation requirements: abuse of court procedures, perjury and corruption become the norm. Parliament enacted the 1677 Statute of Frauds to establish higher standards for contracts, such as witnessing by a third party, to stop the widespread theft of property that was underway.

The memo completely ignores the harm to investors from the bank mistakes and lacks any provisions for damage to investors to be remedied. Moreover, denying borrower rights removes their leverage to obtain deep principal mortgage modifications, which for viable borrowers produces lower losses than costly foreclosures and sales of distressed property. Thus this shredding of contractual protections in mortgages not only hurts borrowers but also harms investors.

So to save the banks from their own, colossal abuses of contracts that they devised, the Third Way document advocates Congressional intervention into well established, well functioning state law. This is a case where these matters can and should be left to the courts and ultimately state AGs to coordinate the template of a more broadbased solution.

Mike Lux at Open Left points out two simple solutions:

To once again bail out the bankers, this time by changing real estate law in a way that hasn’t been done since the 1670s, would be a far bigger deal than even the trillions in bailout dollars the TARP and Fed gave these banks in 2008/9. But the bankers and their allies like Third Way will try to present this as a simple fix to some minor paperwork problems. Look, if these paperwork problems were so minor, we wouldn’t need the fix they are proposing: the banks would get nicked a little in a few cases where they screwed up a little bit of paperwork, and everyone would go on their way. But they have made a Texas-sized mess of the entire mortgage title system in their haste to make money, and it is time to pay the piper.

What’s the solution? We should start with a foreclosure freeze while the government sorts through the mess and the state attorney generals finish their negotiations with the big banks. Clearly, a massive amount of mortgage write-downs to underwater homeowners to reflect current housing prices makes a ton of sense, and would dramatically cut the need for foreclosures, taking some of the pressure off the system. Once those two steps are taken, hopefully the AGs can cut a good deal for the American people to make things work better going forward.

The problem with sensible pro-middle class solutions like this is the incredible political power of these big banks. Here’s the deal, though: politicians hate the idea of having to bail these guys out again. If progressives can make clear that any legal changes the bankers are trying to push through on mortgage and title law are just one more big bailout of the big banks, we can win this fight. Let’s hope we do, because the stakes are pretty damn high.

Some of that “incredible political power” now has the very close daily attention of President Obama. As Han Solo would say, I’ve got a bad feeing about this.

Prime Time

Some premiers.  On an existential note, what is it like to drop out of your timeline entirely and find that your exisitence had no impact whatever on history?

I think I’d dump Bill too.

A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

Keyboard. How quaint.


I’m going to sleep this off. Please let me know if there’s some other way we can screw up tonight.

No, no, no, I never said that… Yes, that’s right, they can’t be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can… This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted… That doesn’t work either, because what happens then is, the person you’re involved with can’t understand why you need to be friends with the person you’re just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say “No, no, no it’s not true, nothing is missing from the relationship,” the person you’re involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you’re just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let’s face it. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can’t be friends.

Dave hosts Kelsey Grammer (ugh), Amar’e Stoudemire, and Gregg Allman.  Jon has Ron Howard, Stephen Kevin Spacey.  Conan hosts Ricky Gervais, Kaitlin Olson, and Cheap Trick.

You know what I am? I’m your worst fuckin’ nightmare, man. I’m a nigger with a badge which means I got permission to kick your fuckin’ ass whenever I feel like it!

Zap2it TV Listings, Yahoo TV Listings

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Tunisia leader says won’t stand again, orders halt to firing

by Mohamed Hasni, AFP

6 mins ago

TUNIS (AFP) – A contrite Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali said Thursday he would not seek another term in office and ordered police to stop firing on protesters as he sought to quell mounting unrest.

“I have understood you,” Ben Ali, who has ruled the North African country with an iron fist for the last 23 years, said during a state of the nation address.

The 74-year-old leader also admitted that he had mishandled a spreading wave of unrest and promised democratic reforms.