Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Right wing apologists want a double standard when it comes to their party committing murders and other felonies- would they argue that war criminals from Serbia or Rwanda should have had their crimes swept under the rug? Not hardly.

I'm writing to respond to the Ross Baker editorial "Those targeting Bush should let their hate 'die away.'" There might be cogent political reasons for not prosecuting members of a previous administration for policy decisions that may border on criminality. None of those reasons apply to an administration whose highest members have admitted committing war crimes which violated both international law and American laws prohibiting murder, kidnapping, torture, sexual battery, and false imprisonment. Every crime against humanity ordered or condoned by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and every such crime committed by members of the CIA and the Department of Defense (FBI agents reportedly refused to engage in criminal acts) should be investigated, then prosecuted.

It is not a "vitriolic chorus of the blogosphere" or "television talking heads" (Mr. Baker's words) who suggest that prosecutions must occur. It is eminent law professors and experts on international law who have explained, with specific citations to U.S. treaty obligations and U.S. laws, that American prosecutors do not have the discretion to refuse to prosecute known war criminals located on our soil

It was no defense at Nuremberg that high ranking Nazis were making political decisions or that lower ranking members were merely "following orders." Prosecuting American war criminals, as we prosecuted Nazis 63 years ago, will send a message both to the rest of the world and to future presidents that some acts will not be overlooked and some lines can not be crossed with impunity.


(this was my letter to comment on the Washington Post Article which reported that Congress had just passed and sent to President Obama's desk an amendment which reverses a Supreme Court decision in the Lilly Ledbetter case two years ago which ruled that if an employer could keep secret the fact that an employee's pay was less than other employees of a different gender or race for a 180 day period, then the employer was home free- it could continue discriminating against that employee and pay her less money for equal work forever. LEDBETTER v. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., 05-1074 127 S.Ct. 2162 (U.S. 5-29-2007)

Your article should have included a statement that the Democratic majority was returning the law to what the Supreme Court- and Congress when it enacted Title VII in 1964- had originally intended, which was that any act of discrimination, even if it was repeated, was a new cause of action. In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled in a case called Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S. 385 (1986) at pages 395-396:

"Each week's paycheck that delivers less to a black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII, regardless of the fact that this pattern was begun prior to the effective date of Title VII."

This was a very obvious and common sense rule. No employer should have been immunized from suit simply by keeping employees' pay a secret, which many companies routinely do- they sometimes have express policies prohibiting employees from discussing their pay with each other. It takes a truly devious mind to presume that Congress intended that companies would possess a "get out of jail free" card if they could successfully hide a discriminatory pay structure for the first 6 months it was put into place.

This longstanding (43 years) rule was only overturned when five "conservative" members of the Court decided that stare decisis (prior precedential rulings that should have been binding on the Court) were not as important as their ideological opposition to Title VII and their fealty to their perception of the financial interests of large corporations.

Any law professor or Title VII litigation expert (I'm both) can explain this further if you need it. But it's a fallacy to say that a "liberal" Congress or a "liberal" president is "changing" the law. It is more correct to say that the correct application of pay discrimination law was restored by a conservative Congress and conservative president (with small "c's") who respect the law-- both as to its plain meaning, and as to its long held interpretation.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Ads like this have disappeared over the years- and so have the nation's daily newspapers...

Monday morning, when my Golden Retriever, Max, trotted up the front steps with The Albany Herald gently gripped in her mouth, I was amazed at what she brought me. Only one section- 14 pages total. Two pages of sports. No letters to the editor (and none on most days anymore). Classified? Three pages. As for news- the justification for the name "newspaper?" Only about two and a half pages, if you discounted the ads and fluff like celebrity gossip and astrology scattered among the Associated Press stories. In a year, maybe two, this paper will be dust- a distant memory, as its advertisers and readers have fled en masse in recent years, and as they continue to dwindle.

I like newspapers. And if you are reading this, then the odds are great that you like them, too. I started reading them as a kid, although I probably spent more time on the funnies than anything else. Once upon a time I had to wait for the morning paper to find out who won or lost a game the day before and to keep current on local, state, and national news. That is one of the beauties of newspapers- they have something for everyone. Sports, comics, Dear Abby, bridge, editorials, even a nugget or two of news that didn't show up on television or the internet.

When I travel around the United States, I always make it a point to pick up a local paper. One can absorb the flavor of a community by reading local letters to the editor, finding out what subjects are ticking them off, and how eloquently (or not) they express their opinions.

But those days are ever more swiftly receding, just as sail was replaced by steam, the horse and buggy by the newfangled automobile, vinyl by CD, then I-Pod, and dialup by high speed. Daily newspapers are dying off, don't you know. In the last 50 years, most big and medium sized cities have gone from having competition among several newspapers, with cities having both morning and afternoon papers, some with several editions, down to two or even one. And soon there will be none in many cities.

Philadelphia had the Bulletin and the Inquirer. Only the Inquirer has survived. Atlanta had the morning Constitution and the afternoon Journal. It's one paper now. A couple of years ago the Atlanta Journal-Constitution stopped home delivery and rack sales south and east of Macon. Notable high profile papers like the Los Angeles Times, The Detroit Free Press, The Rocky Mountain News, The Chicago Tribune, and yes, even the New York Times have fallen on hard financial times, and there's some question as to which of them will fold or radically downsize (the Free Press is going to only a few paper editions a week with the rest of the days being found only online).

Although papers have tried to survive by evolving, to become hipper, to add on-line editions, they've also become radically downsized, literally, with fewer pages, smaller pages, and less ink on the pages. Major advertisers have pulled or greatly reduced their ads. Classified sections are shrinking as more people use on-line classifieds that cost little or nothing.

Reporters are a dying breed, and many local papers are doing something similar to what local stations did by replacing live dj's with satellite radio. They're laying off human beings and simply printing what comes off the AP wire- and it isn't even a "wire" anymore, it's delivered instantly via computer. Unfortunately for papers, these days any Tom, Dick or Harriet can get the same thing at home by touching a key on the computer or on the move with their Blackberry.

So what have we lost- and what will we lose when most Americans don't have a local daily paper? A sense of community, for one thing. A cogent analysis of local stories and events for another. Comprehensive coverage of local government, which is essential for representative democracy. Years ago the People's Forum was a vibrant daily compendium of numerous contentious letters, some from various regular contributors carrying on debates that lasted for weeks or months. Where will that concourse of ideas and exchange of opinions occur, read by thousands in the same community, if not in a local newspaper?

I've had bones to pick with the Herald over the years. I've complained about occasional shoddy reporting. I used to characterize their news reports of cases I tried as the three blind men describing an elephant. I became more than tired of their dismal right wing editorials, many of which contained tripe from fabricators and fabulists. But I'll miss it when it's gone, and I think most of you will, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


When it comes to the Bush Administration, claims of success bear no relation to reality

Mr. Peter Wehner, a former assistant to President Bush, contends in a White House sponsored USA Today editorial (January 16, 2009) that Mr. Bush's presidency was successful because he met his responsibility "to keep Americans safe" after the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks. I don't know on what planet Mr. Wehner has lived during the last eight years, but on mine President Bush took office on January 20, 2001, not on September 12, 2001. In January of 2001, Mr. Bush's National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice was warned by her immediate predecessor, outgoing Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, that a critical threat to America's security was Islamic terrorism. This was a reasonable conclusion based on the fact that Islamic terrorists had blown up a truck bomb in New York City on February 26, 1993, in an unsuccessful attempt to bring down a World Trade Center tower, killing six and injuring over 1,000; they had blown up an American military barracks in Khobar, Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, killing 19 American servicemen; on August 7, 1998, they had blown up two American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 223 and wounding over 4,000; and they had attacked the destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, just months earlier, on October 12, 2000, killing 17 American sailors.

Ms. Rice and President Bush did exactly nothing with that information or with the warning from Mr. Berger. They failed to convene the anti-terrorism subcommittee of the National Security Council (NSC) during the next eight months while Al Qaida was finalizing its plans for the September 11, 2001, attacks.

On August 6, 2001, President Bush received from the CIA a Presidential Daily Brief headlined "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US." Mr. Bush ignored that warning and went on a month long vacation to Crawford, Texas.

On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks, President Bush suggested to NSC anti-terrorism expert Richard Clarke that Iraq was connected to the attacks and asked him to find evidence to justify a military strike against Iraq. In spite of the fact that the subsequent investigation by Clarke produced a memo signed off by the CIA and FBI which concluded Iraq was not connected to the 9-11 attacks, President Bush spent the next year inciting a false sense of imminent danger from Iraq with gross exaggerations and outright lies (that Iraq was on the verge of deploying nuclear weapons), and in March of 2003 he ordered an invasion of the wrong country, causing the unnecessary deaths, to date, of 4,228 American servicemen, with 43,993 wounded.

That's the planet I live on, and President Bush was an utter failure at "keeping Americans safe" if you count 3,000 Americans, including innocent passengers on four airplanes, in the World Trade Center Towers, and in the Pentagon, on 9-11-01, and if you count those who were sent to fight the wrong war in the wrong country from March of 2003 to the present.

And one final thought: on December 14, 2001, President Bush vowed to get Osama bin Laden, "dead or alive." How has that worked out so far, Mr. Wehner?

Saturday, January 17, 2009


"Change" won't come to American until we first change our system for bribing policitians- the only money going to them should be public money, and the only "special interest" to which they should respond is Americans'.

President-elect Barack Obama is coming into office facing the greatest crises since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, who dealt with both the Great Depression and World War II during his tenure. By the same token, Mr. Obama has the same rare opportunity that President Roosevelt did to effect real, positive, lasting changes in the American government, economy, and foreign policy- but his window of opportunity will be a short one, only a matter of months after he is sworn in. If Mr. Obama acts quickly and decisively, he can take steps which will end the costly and counterproductive "war on drugs," insure every American against the expenses of a catastrophic illness while providing preventive care that will greatly reduce the trillion dollar outlay for medical expenses, cut our defense budget by hundreds of billions of dollars without sacrificing one iota of national security, restore the freedoms provided by the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, provide the nation with an uncluttered, more efficient, and vastly less costly tax system, and put the nation on the road to energy independence.

None of that will happen-- unless Mr. Obama does one essential thing first: take advantage of his unique opportunity provided by the rout of the Republicans in the last election coupled with his incredible fund raising ability that allowed him to forego public funds and outspend John McCain by hundreds of millions of dollars. If Mr. Obama proposes a total ban on private campaign contributions, replacing them with full public financing of all federal elections, then all other things become possible. Meaningful, comprehensive campaign finance reform will free candidates for federal office from the continuous campaign cycle of raising money for the next election before the winners of the last election have even taken their oaths of office. Changing the ground rules for television and radio advertising will mean that legislators will be able to vote on controversial proposals to decriminalize drugs or cut defense spending without having to worry about the 30 second attack ad in the next election that will distort reality and hammer them with accusations of supporting drug dealers or leaving the nation open to a new terrorist attack.

During the last election voters in Georgia were treated to a Senate campaign in which one of the candidates- Democrat Jim Martin, a soft spoken, decent and honorable man, a Vietnam veteran with a long history of selfless government service- was falsely accused by Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of being fired from his job as head of the Georgia Department of Human Resources because two foster children died. During the presidential election, John McCain ran an ad which falsely claimed that Barack Obama's "one accomplishment" as a state senator was "legislation to teach ‘comprehensive sex education' to kindergarteners." A Chambliss ad accused Mr. Martin of opposing legislation cracking down on child molesters. A mildly amusing but nonsensical McCain ad conjoined photos of Mr. Obama with two attractive white blondes, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, in a thinly veiled attempt to provoke a racist reaction plagiarized from the movie Blazing Saddles-- the black man is coming and he wants your white women! During Mr. Chambliss' 2002 bid to unseat Georgia Senator Max Cleland, he ran an infamous television ad which linked Senator Cleland to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and accused Mr. Cleland of selling out the nation's security. Last Fall Elizabeth Dole, the Republican Senator from North Carolina, ran a desperate 30 second ad in her unsuccessful bid to retain her Senate seat which falsely implied that her opponent, Kay Hagan, was an atheist, repeatedly linking her to "godless Americans."

Candidates for federal office have had to raise vast sums of money to propound these absurd attack ads- or respond to them when aired by their opponents. Senate races now cost tens of millions of dollars, and even races for the House of Representatives routinely cost millions. Mr. Obama can and should end this vicious cycle of office holders selling their souls (and sometimes their seats) by using most of their productive hours raising money or responding to the needs of their contributors. The fatal defects in our current election finance system explain why health care reform failed in the Clinton administration. They explain why every rational office holder who knows that the war on drugs is a failure and a sham will never vote to follow Switzerland's model to decriminalize and regulate drugs, even though the "drug war" has increased drug use and violent crime in America while providing billions of dollars to Afghan warlords, the Taliban, and South American drug cartels which have devastated and terrorized Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Effective campaign reform can be accomplished without doing any damage to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech while being politically palatable to both major political parties. Simply put: declare every private contribution to any candidate for federal office as a bribe and every request for funds, goods, or services from a candidate as a solicitation of a bribe. After all, a massive bribe is exactly what occurs when a trade group hosts a thousand dollar a plate fund raising event for a Senator or a Congressman. When a president can rent out the Lincoln bedroom for hundreds of thousand in campaign contributions, that's not democracy at work- it's bribe-ocracy. Public financing can and must replace every private contribution, freeing up those elected to do the public's business to actually do the public's business without fear of losing millions with a vote that might offend special interests like big oil, hospital corporations, banks, or insurance companies.

As for toxic television attack ads- the First Amendment won't let us curtail them, but we can make them virtually useless to those who have paid for them by delaying their airing until public interest groups and the opposing candidate have had a chance to preview them, and allowing the attackee to tape a response that will be twice as long, free of charge, which will run immediately following the first ad. Doing this does no damage to the First Amendment; it simply means that a vicious lie like the attack ad on Mr. Cleland could be immediately followed by an outraged response by a Vietnam Veterans group and Mr. Cleland which would reveal that Mr. Chambliss ducked military service in Vietnam, claiming a knee injury, while showing Mr. Chambliss during his morning jog along the Potomac. Devastating responses like that would quickly end the baseless attacks and allow elections to be decided on real issues like how best to insure 40 million uninsured Americans or what programs to cut to reduce trillion dollar deficits.

Monday, January 12, 2009


When a Herald guest columnist asserts the nobility of the Southern Cause during the Civil War and contends that it is important to honor those who raised arms against the United States, then he should have to address the fact that hundreds of thousands of deaths were caused because the South fought to preserve the institution of slavery. The final event leading to the Civil War was the November 6, 1860, election of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln. Southern states seceded before Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, because they feared the anti-slavery platform of the Republican Party, founded in Jackson, Michigan in 1854 by persons opposing the expansion of slavery into Kansas.

The first shots of the Civil War were fired by South Carolina's militia on January 9, 1861, to prevent the resupply of United States troops in Fort Sumter near Charleston. South Carolina had seceded from the United States on December 24, 1860, when its legislature adopted a "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." The words "rights of states" were used- but in the context of arguing the rights of slave owners in the South to their "property." The "Causes" included a complaint about the Northern States' failure to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act:

"The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed.... The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor."

The Confederacy's president, Jefferson Davis, defended slavery in a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 29, 1861, arguing that Southern slavery “elevated [African slaves] from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers.” He justified the Southern States' decision to secede from the Union as being necessary to insure the continuation of “the labor of African slaves... under the supervision of a superior race” which was “indispensable” to the “wants of civilized man.” Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said that slavery was the "cornerstone" of the Confederacy.

The 1860 census counted 462,198 slaves in Georgia, 44 percent of the total population of 1,057,286. There were almost four million slaves in the Confederacy at the onset of the Civil War. The result of the South losing the war was freedom for those millions of human beings. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, which freed slaves in any States still in open rebellion on January 1, 1863. On January 13, 1865, Congress enacted the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited slavery in the United States and any place under their jurisdiction. It became part of the United States Constitution after ratification on December 6, 1865.

The Southern States' war to preserve slavery caused the greatest slaughter of American troops (Southern and Northern combined) in history- an estimated 624,000 dead. The next highest totals were from World War II, 405,399 deaths, and World War I, 116,516.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out why Republicans lost the last two elections...

I met Matt Towery four years ago after a political debate in Savannah, and he seems like a bright and personable guy. But his grasp on reality when it comes to recent history of the Republican Party is tenuous to non-existent. In his January 3rd Op-Ed he contends that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich "gathered Republicans together not with torches and pitchforks, but rather a 'simple contract' they promised to make with the American Public if elected." Mr. Towery conveniently forgot the GOPAC memorandum Mr. Gingrich sent to aspiring Republican candidates entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control."

Here are excerpts from the memo in which he provided sample adjectives that Republicans should utilize in describing their opponents- regardless of reality or truth: "These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party... destructive... sick... pathetic... lie... betray... threaten... devour... bizarre... cheat... traitors...."

That memo defines the bright line difference between the modern day Republican Party and its origins under Lincoln. The national Republican Party has become the party of hate and divisiveness. Non-Christians, gays, immigrants, liberals-- you name the group, and Republicans' campaigns have exploited and incited hatred and fear of them. Until finally, after years of war and economic collapse, American voters realized that we could no longer afford the luxury of irrational and unproductive hatred and distrust when that path put clueless incompetents in charge of our military, our economy, and our country.