Monday, February 23, 2009

Free At Last and Other Updates

The case of Binyam Mohamed:

Binyam Mohamed, the lead plaintiff in the case Mohamed v. Jeppesen, was released from Guantanamo today, and is probably on his way to Great Britain right now -- even though he no longer has family there and his residency status has expired.

Through his lawyers, he made this statement:

"Before this ordeal torture was an abstract word to me ... It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next and tortured in medieval ways all orchestrated by the United States government."

Read the story here.

The case of the bike lane at Market Street and the on-ramp to the Central Freeway:

On January 22, 2009, Judge Busch, of the San Francisco Superior Court, ruled that he could not approve the Municipal Transportation Agency commissioners unanimous vote to remove the bike lane. He said he could not approve the removal because of a previous injunction barring all bicycle plan improvements -- or changes -- due to the absence of environmental impact reviews (EIR) to ensure that the bike lanes and other bicycle improvements or changes complied with the California Environmental Quality Act.

That injunction is expected to be lifted in the coming months. We'll see whether or not the MTA goes back to court to get the bike lane removed.

In the meantime, this bicyclist and local photojournalist offers words of caution:

Cyclists Beware ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oil Price Fluctuations and the Economic Downturn

The refinery in Richmond, California; taken from the Amtrak train on August 8, 2008

There is a group of people in San Francisco who are preparing the city's official Peak Oil Preparedness Report. The report is now in its draft form and available for public comment. In the introduction, there is one paragraph that references a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The San Francisco report extrapolates from that report as follows:

The leading edge of peak oil will be its economic impact. When the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia did a comprehensive study of the effect of oil price changes on the economy, it found a profoundly negative relationship. According to its report, the 2008 doubling of oil prices will reduce 2009 US economic output by 11% from what it otherwise would have been. It doesn’t even matter that the price spike was temporary; the damage to the economy will be long-lasting.

The reasons for the current economic collapse are complex, but the commentaries that I have read so far emphasize the absence of adequate regulation of the financial and housing sectors. It's hard to imagine, however, that the rise in the price of a barrel of oil last year has not played into the current economic havoc as well.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sacrificed for I Don't Know What

The following excerpt is from Common Dreams:

'My Silence Cannot Be Bought'

On Thursday night, Beverly Eckert, whose husband died on 9/11, died herself in the Buffalo plane crash. From our archives we wanted to share a piece Beverly wrote over 5 years ago:

By suing, I've forfeited the "$1.8 million average award" for a death claim I could have collected under the fund. Nor do I have any illusions about winning money in my suit. What I do know is I owe it to my husband, whose death I believe could have been avoided, to see that all of those responsible are held accountable. If we don't get answers to what went wrong, there will be a next time. And instead of 3,000 dead, it will be 10,000. What will Congress do then?

So I say to Congress, big business and everyone who conspired to divert attention from government and private-sector failures: My husband's life was priceless, and I will not let his death be meaningless. My silence cannot be bought.

Thank you Common Dreams.

The photograph above is of the location where I saw the search-and-rescue dog when I emerged from the woods, sometime in mid-August 2001, a few weeks before the owner of the woods died in a plane on September 11, 2001. I didn't know him well, and I cannot represent the family or anyone who did. All I can represent are the values upon which this nation was founded that have been sacrificed for I don't know what. We need to investigate that "I don't know what."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hope for Change Is Dashed in San Francisco?

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner; February 9, 2009; San Francisco, California

On February 9, 2009, three judges with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard a arguments in a motion to appeal the decision of a lower court. The case is Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. Mohamed is one of five suspected terrorists who were subjected to extraordinary rendition either by the US government or on behalf of the US government -- they were abducted and transported to prisons in Egypt and elsewhere where they were interrogated aggressively. (Oh, aggressive interrogation, for the purposes of this blog, is a euphemism for things that are against domestic and international law, including torture.)

Attorney Ben Wizner, above, represented the five plaintiffs in their civil case against Jeppesen, the Boeing subsidiary that they accuse of arranging the rendition flights.

The hearing took place in this courtroom, in front of three judges: Judge William Canby, Jr., Judge Mary Murphy Schroeder, and Judge Michael Daly Hawkins. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) lawyer, representing Jeppesen (go figure -- couldn't that company hire its own lawyer?), was Douglas Letter.

The case was a test of the Obama administration: would it break from the practice of the Bush administration, which argued that the case (in a lower US District court in February 2008) could not be litigated because of "state secrets"? Or would it perpetuate the status quo?

The case was watched carefully -- I knew about it because I heard a report on NPR the evening before, and decided I was going to set my alarm early and get up and go.

To the great disappointment of civil libertarians, the DoJ did not change tack. Letter, the DoJ lawyer, argued that the case should not be litigated because of "state secrets."

It was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and other news outlets, including one story by me that ran in Fog City Journal. My story got a response from a well-respected legal analyst in San Francisco who suggested that Obama was buying time and creating space for a new policy on terror suspects to evolve. I hope the legal analyst is right, by the way.

You can read these stories and more here:

Fog City Journal
The San Francisco Chronicle
The New York Times

Unfortunately, on the night of February 12, 2009, the Obama administration went back into court in San Francisco to argue for the protection of "state secrets" again. I missed that case.

Here is commentary from AlterNet,, and Mother Jones on what Obama could be up to and how there might eventually be some kind of accounting for members of the Bush administration who may have violated the law. And following is a story in from the February 10, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle about efforts by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to launch a truth commission into possible misdeeds by the previous administration: Sen. Leahy proposes truth panel on Bush policies.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Throwing Shoes Is Not Enough

A small "d" democrat throws a shoe at a likeness of George W. Bush, getting everything out of his system, on January 20, 2009, at UN Plaza in San Francisco just after the inauguration.

On June 22, 2004, a few weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal had broken, then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, then General Counsel to the Secretary of Defense Jim Haynes, and then Deputy General Counsel Dan Dell’Orto, held a press conference. Unbeknownst to the general public, the apparent purpose of the press conference was to deflect any blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere from themselves and to turn underlings below them into fall men and women for what might well be violations of the law, violations as serious as war crimes.

There have been, however, many independent investigations into their arguments and no small number of books and articles that have been produced. Philippe Sands, a British lawyer, interviewed individuals who played roles on the ground in Guantanamo and in the Pentagon itself and published his findings in Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, in May 2008. He draws a direct line between aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and lawyers at the highest levels of the Bush administration, even going so far as to compare the Bush lawyers to Nazi lawyers who interpreted German and international law in ways that would hopefully protect themselves and higher ups from future charges.

New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer has written The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, also published in mid-2008. Her book investigates the Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition scandals, as well as aggressive interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. “Seven years after Al Qaeda’s attacks
on America, as the Bush administration slips into history,” she concludes on page 327, “it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America’s security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country’s soul.”

Glenn Greenwald, a former Constitutional law and civil rights litigator, has written continually for and elsewhere about the possible commission of war crimes by members of the Bush administration.

In response to these exposes, the editorial staff of the New York Times and others have gotten on board calling for some kind of accounting and restoration of respect for the rule of law.

Now, finally, Congressman John Conyers, D-Detroit, and his colleague Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), are both indicating an interest in investigations into the past administration and its possible abuse of powers and commission of war crimes.

This is good, but if there are investigations, I hope they are not just about specific abuses by specific individuals within the Bush administration. If there are any investigations, I hope they become sort of “Truth and Reconciliation” investigations in which the American people can engage in a close examination of their lifestyles and attitudes and the role these lifestyles and attitudes had in letting themselves be led so far astray from what should be the core values of our democracy – transparent government, fairness, and the common good.

I think we've lost site of these values -- especially the common good -- and really, that's what this blog is all about.

(But don't confuse me with those free-market "common gooders" at the Wall Street Journal who take good words and use them obfuscate their bad intentions: the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very small number of people.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

CARB and Cargoism

"CARB" is the California Air Resources Board. According to the January 28 East Bay Express, the CARB has backed off plans to impose strict regulations on the conversion of hybrid cars into mostly electric vehicles because of concerns about smog production when converted vehicles are plugged in to recharge batteries. A small company that converts hybrids to electric vehicles in Berkeley rallied to oppose the regulations, which it felt would put it out of business because of prohibitive costs.

Alternative vehicles such as hybrids and electric cars will probably play a role in future years. But how significant will that role be? In his book Overshoot, William Catton explained some psychological paradigms that dominate western thought. Here are two:

Age of Exhuberance: the centuries of growth and progress that followed the enlargement of habitat available to Europeans as a result of voyages of discovery: a period of expansion when a species takes exhuberant advantage of the abundant opportunities in an eminently suitable but previously inaccessible habitat.

Cargoism: faith that technolgical progress will stave off major institutional change even in a post-exhuberant world.

Many westerners are aware that people may have reached the ecological limits of their expansion, but still, they hang on to the luxurious fantasy that technological solutions will allow them maintain the current western standard of living. But how could that be when so many of the raw materials that people need to maintain their standard of living depend on extracting those resources from the planet, often at great environmental cost, and frequently from parts of the world that are hostile to American desires?

Lithium, for example, which is used in hybrid and electric vehicles, can be found in abundance in Bolivia. But under its new leader Evo Morales, Bolivia is holding on tight to lithium and its other natural resources -- and is feeling no sense of favoritism toward the United States.