Saturday, July 30, 2005

Michael Kinsley leaving the LA Times

After moving into our new apartment, we got a good deal to subsribe to the LA Times on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, which is perfect for us, because I don't have time to read the paper except on weekends. Anyways, I have been really disappointed with the Sunday Opinion section, now retitled "Currents". I guess I'm not the only one. Check out the LA Weekly's Nikki Finke on Kinsley's short tenure at the Times.

Documentary Shorts at the Hammer

Last night I went to the last of the Hammer Museum's Sundance Summer Shorts series. It was the nonfiction night, and there were several interesting and moving short documentaries. The most indepth was "The Children of Leningradsky", which explores the lives of homeless children in Moscow. These children have been abused and/or abandoned by their parents, most of them are addicted to glue, and many have resorted to prostitution. Many of them sleep and beg in the Leningradsky station, hence the title of the film.

Parts of the film, especially scenes of the children playing in tunnels, reminded me of "Dark Days", the film about homeless adults living in New York train tunnels. But while Dark Days was surprisingly uplifting, "The Children of Leningradsky" showed that the children in the film, due to their situation, are no angels. We see them sniffing glue, fighting and attacking older drunks (during one such attack a kid asks the cameraman, "why are you filming this?"). I had a vision of the children who survive growing up to become skin heads, a major problem in Moscow when I was there in 2001. As if to deny this, the final quote is from a child who says (roughly), "God believes in people and wants to help them. Not just Russians, Chechens too. But especially children."

Another short film, "Recycle," profiled a homeless man who lives in Echo Park.

I don't know what to say. It is another reminder of society's failings. There are people working on the problem both here and there, but it needs a lot more attention and money.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

National Green Party meeting

At his blog, D.C. Green Ken Sain has a lot of coverage of the national meeting happening this week in Tulsa, OK. Most of the discussion at the meeting is about the three controversial GDI proposals. According to Ken, the GDI folks are planning to propose a committee to rewrite the proposals and bring them back for a vote later, as bylaws changes.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Is Congress caving on Darfur?

I wanted to pass this along. It is a comparison of a proposal in the House to stop the genocide in Darfur, and another, weaker bill that has been introduced more recently.
Dear friends:

I have managed to get a copy of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act or DPAA [a.k.a. the Watered Down Darfur Accountability Act [HR 3127], introduced by Henry Hyde on June 30, on the heels of N.Y. Times reports that the Bush Administration had circulated a letter to Congressional reps, asking them to kill the Darfur Accountability Act or DAA [HR 1424]...

In reading it over, it is easy to see how this could easily slide by. The bill begins with a series of findings, etc., that give the impression that its authors care the utmost about Darfur. (The July 2004 resolutions are all there, as are quotes from the 2005 U.N. report.)

When you get to the meat of it however, the bill is remarkable for what it does __not__ say, particularly when juxtaposed against the Darfur Accountability Act. The most remarkable things, which you may already know, are:

1. The DPAA deletes the provisions for use of force
set forth in the DAA.

2. The "no fly zone" is also omitted.

3. Oil sanctions and trade restrictions are omitted.

I'm having trouble at this late moment parsing the differences between two bills. And I'm not sure why the new bill was necessary. The earlier HR 1424 has 120 co-sponsors. According to THOMAS, the last action on it was on 4/7/05, when it was referred to committee. Perhaps it couldn't get out of committee, so its supporters are introducing it again in a new form and bringing it to a different committee. Or there is the more troubling possibility that the President asked them to kill it because it might interfere with soliciting Sudan's help in the war on terror.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A loyal Republican

Judge John Roberts
SCOTUS nominee Roberts: presumed innocent

Thank You, Mr. President
Last week, John Roberts wrote Bush a blank check.
By Emily Bazelon opinion that the 50-year-old judge [John Roberts] joined just last week in the case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld should be seriously troubling to anyone who values civil liberties. As a member of a three-judge panel on the D.C. federal court of appeals, Roberts signed on to a blank-check grant of power to the Bush administration to try suspected terrorists without basic due-process protections.

According to the government, Salim Ahmed Hamdan is the former driver and bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden. He was captured by an Afghan militia in November 2001, during the U.S. invasion, and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. In July 2003, the Bush administration brought charges against Hamdan, as it has done against only three others among the hundreds of suspected terrorists being held at Guantanamo. Hamdan was accused of conspiring to commit attacks on civilians, murder, and terrorism, and the Bush administration moved to try him before a special military tribunal.

This tribunal isn't like the courts-martial that are used for prisoners of war. It goes by rules that cut back the rights of defendants even more drastically than the tribunal that the United States has helped establish in Iraq to try Saddam Hussein has. Hamdan has no right to be present at his trial. Unsworn statements, rather than live testimony, can be presented as evidence against him. The presumption of innocence can be taken away from him at any time; so can his right not to testify to avoid self-incrimination. If Hamdan is convicted, he can be sentenced to death.

Read the rest at Slate.
This was a panel of three conservative judges who basically ignored the Supreme Court's ruling that said these prisoners can challenge their detention in court. Roberts didn't write the ruling, but he signed on to it. I'm not sure if it is because he doesn't like civil liberties, or if he is just a partisan hack who will always side with Republicans when he gets to the Supreme Court. After all, he has way more experience working for Republican presidents than he has as a judge.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

All the world's a battlefield...

Michael Luttig: Throw away the key
Michael Luttig: Throw away the key

And all the men and women merely combatants...
Va. Appellate Panel Hears Arguments in Padilla Case By Tom Jackman

RICHMOND, July 19 -- A top government attorney declared Tuesday that, in the war on terror, the United States is a battlefield, and therefore President Bush has the authority to detain enemy combatants indefinitely in this country.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement's comments came as a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is considering whether to overturn a lower court ruling that Jose Padilla should be charged with a crime or released. In 2002, Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert, was taken into custody by the military and has been held without trial since...

The panel assigned to hear the arguments was Judge J. Michael Luttig of Alexandria, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, and two appointees of President Bill Clinton: Judge M. Blane Michael of Charleston, W.Va., and Judge William B. Traxler Jr. of Greenville, S.C.

The judges were most concerned with how to handle Padilla in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year on Yaser Esam Hamdi. Hamdi, also a U.S. citizen, was captured by the military with Taliban forces in Afghanistan and placed in a Navy brig in Norfolk. The Supreme Court ruled that his detention was lawful but that he was entitled to a hearing to challenge the allegations against him...

But Michael said Padilla wasn't captured anywhere near a battlefield. "You captured Padilla in a Manhattan jail cell," Michael said. "What, in the laws of war, allows you to undertake a non-battlefield capture and hold them for the duration? I don't think you cite anything."

Michael, addressing Clement's claim that the United States is a battlefield, then asked, "to call the United States a battlefield, wouldn't you have needed a specific authorization from Congress? It's not up to us as a court to develop laws of war."

Luttig posed a hypothetical in which the president learned that a terrorist was about to bomb a building in Manhattan. "Does he have to call a U.S. attorney and wait for the man to be picked up by civilian law enforcement? If the president sends the military, it's illegal?" Luttig asked.

"If the military picks him up, he must be surrendered to civilian authorities," Patel said.

"We might as well not have a president of the United States," Luttig said, "if his hands are tied behind his back to protect the citizens of the United States. . . . This is a failure to appreciate the real world circumstances that can confront a president of the United States."...

No date was set for when the panel might rule. The losing side could then ask that the entire 4th Circuit rehear the case, after which the case would probably head to the Supreme Court.

Here is a hypothetical for Judge Luttig: if you where pretty sure a man was going to blow up a building in Manhattan, would the president have the right to capture him and lock him up in solitary confinement for the rest of his life without access to a lawyer? Because what is the point of having a president if he can't have people disappeared, right?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Darfur vigil in L.A. Thursday

A protest/vigil will be held Thursday at 6pm at the Federal Building in Westwood.

If you need to catch up on what has been going on in Darfur, Eric Reeves is doing a weeklong series of posts about it at The New Republic's blog.

More on this later in the week.

So much for innocent until proven guilty

The New York Times is reporting on a new investigation into a murder case in St. Louis. Larry Griffin was executed for the crime 10 years ago.

Yet the city's top prosecutor has decided to re-investigate the murder as if it just happened, out of new concerns that the wrong man may have been put to death for the crime.

Prompted by questions raised in a report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the prosecutor, Jennifer Joyce, hopes to decide once and for all whether Mr. Griffin was guilty or innocent - though she acknowledges that 25 years later it may be hard to do more than show the flaws in the earlier prosecution.

From the article, the conviction sounds like the result of a lazy (original) prosecutor and a bad defense attorney. The case was built almost entirely on the statements of a convicted criminal who witnesses now say wasn't even at the murder scene. But the prosecutor won't be able to "prove" whether Griffin was innocent only that he should not have been found guilty.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Plug-in Hybrids

The L.A. Times' car critic on the guerilla Prius modders:
Running on Empty
By Dan Neil

Equipped with an oversized battery, a home-built battery controller (and lots of home-built computer code) and a battery charger, it's a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV...

The idea is that owners charge up the car overnight, plugging into their garage outlet for cheap, off-peak electricity, and the stored energy covers their short-range daily driving—on average, less than 30 miles. Except that, unlike electric-only vehicles, which can range only as far as a charge allows, PHEVs can fall back on a gas engine. Within its electrically boosted range, this car can get 100 mpg...

"A lot of politicians talk about oil independence," says Luft, "and therefore we need to do nuclear, coal, solar, renewables. All of these are means to generate electricity. We don't use oil to generate electricity anymore.

"Once you start to use electricity as fuel, then all of these energy sources come back into the future of transportation," he says. "If you want all these you need to use electricity as fuel, whether as an all-electric or as a plug-in."

Nothing is simple: Using the power grid to charge automobiles strikes many as bad public policy, since coal, the dirtiest fuel, generates about 60% of America's electricity. And yet, in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, grid-charged cars are still cleaner than their gasoline-powered counterparts, and that's particularly true in California, where we rely largely on natural gas to make electricity.

The criticisms of plug-in hybrids are that the batteries they need aren't ready for prime time, and that they are just trading gasoline for electricity produced by coal. The criticisms are the same for hydrogen, which the federal government is poring a ton of money into--but PHEV is way more practical.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Béa Tiritilli for Congress

Béa Tiritilli -- Green Party candidate for the 48th C.D. (Orange County)

The date for this election has not yet been announced, as Rep. Cox has not yet been confirmed as SEC head. But there is no doubt that this will happen eventually. The latest clarification about the process is that the top vote-getter from each party heads to a run-off if nobody wins more than 50% outright in the first (open-primary) round.

From Béa's platform:

The War in Iraq

I am vehemently opposed to this war, which was justified via lies about WMDs. Are Iraqis better off as a result of this war? Some have benefitted; but what about the thousands of innocent civilians who were killed or maimed by U.S.-made (and used) weapons? Donald Rumsfeld has said the insurgency in Iraq could last twelve more years (or perhaps he meant to say when Iraq’s oil supplies run dry). Because we got Iraqis into this mess, it wouldn’t be fair to leave immediately without first helping the country rebuild while assuring Iraqi civilian safety to the extent possible. Because Bush and Rumsfeld are in no hurry to leave, congress and the senate need to act. I propose a six-month timeline to phase out U.S. troops, who should be replaced by U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N., in turn, should stay for only a limited time, until Iraq has trained sufficient peace officers of its own.

False imprisonment

Cyrus Kar
Cyrus Kar, the naturalized American held in Iraq, whom I mentioned in passing in a recent post, has been freed by the U.S:

In the American military's first detailed statement about the matter on Sunday, a spokesman defended Mr. Kar's detention, saying that he had represented "an imperative security threat to Iraq" and that his case was resolved "appropriately."

The statement said a panel of military officers had reviewed the case of Mr. Kar, a naturalized American who was born in Iran and served in the Navy, allowing him to testify and call witnesses in his own defense.

"This case highlights the effectiveness of our detainee-review process," the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Don Alston of the Air Force, said in the statement. "We followed well-established procedures, and Mr. Kar has now been properly released."

...Mr. Kar's lawyers were never allowed to make contact with him during his detention and heard nothing about the review panel despite dozens of attempts to reach the military and other government agencies on his behalf.

Hmmm... So after his story gets in the L.A. Times and the N.Y. Times, he is suddenly released, even though the military continues to call him an "imperative security threat". This begs the question, how many innocent people are being held by the U.S. just because they don't have anybody to complain to the media for them?

Looking ahead to '06

talk to the hand, 'cause the ears aren't listening

Peter Camejo, the Green candidate for governor of California in 2002 and the recall election, has been mostly noncommittal so far about his plans for 2006. Last week, however, he released a long statement that touched on his plans. "We are now starting to get organized for the 2006 statewide campaign." He gives an e-mail address to sign up: rachelodes(at) "If you email us we will start sending you reports as we begin to prepare the strategy and organizational framework for what I believe can be the most exciting campaign we have ever organized. This will happen by linking our efforts to the living movements and struggles that are now underway. There will be a series of meetings and reports that many of you may want to know about and receive so please email us."

It isn't clear to me who exactly the we mentioned above is.

The rest of the letter, which you can read here, delves into the kind of low level internal party stuff that gubernatorial candidates usually don't get involved in. But Camejo has already been very involved in proposals to change the national party structure. (Having Camejo as the front man for these proposals is somewhat confusing, however, since it brings in a lot of stuff from the 2004 presidential convention battle between eventual nominee David Cobb and Camejo/Nader that these proposals don't actually address.)

Anyway, another interesting aspect came into focus this weekend: Camejo is involved in a nascent independent PAC called IDEA that lists "County Councils/LA" (according to draft notes posted online) as one of its projects. Presumably this means recruiting and supporting candidates to run for County Councils--especially in Los Angeles--in the primary elections next summer*. I support that project, even if I may question its motives and might not end up supporting all of their candidates, because we need to get more people involved in the Green Party in Los Angeles county. Competition is good, which is not to say I am necessarily on the other side.

Meanwhile, the GPCA's state campaigns and candidates working group is planning two public strategy sessions for August to discuss a strategy for the 2006 election that will probably include a number of state assembly and state senate campaigns, as well as candidates for the statewide races (Governor, Secretary of State, etc. Perhaps Senate as well). Hopefully we'll know by then whether the most well known Green in California plans to run for governor again.

*Aug. 7, at the meeting of the County Council of the Green Party of Los Angeles, there will be a vote on bylaws changes that would dramatically increase the number of seats on the council, and improve geographic diversity by moving from 5 supervisorial districts to a system based on state senate districts.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On that Supreme Court vacancy

So the fabled Supreme Court vacancy is finally here, and not the one you expected.

Oh, well. Some Christian conservatives are preemptively attacking Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as unfit to be a Supreme Court justice. And the President is defending him:
He said he resented that some groups were attacking Gonzales, who was widely reported even before the vacancy was announced to be on the president's short list of candidates. Bush urged the Senate to join him in resisting pressure from outside organizations during the confirmation process.

"I hope the United States Senate conducts themselves in a way that brings dignity to the process, and that the senators don't listen to the special interest groups, particularly those on the extremes that are trying to exploit this opportunity for not only ... what they think is right, but also for their own fundraising capabilities," Bush said.

Bush did not identify the organizations he had in mind, but his admonition came in response to a question about criticism of Gonzales as a potential nominee.

I hope the Christian conservatives hear that, because it will and should make them angry. What democracy? "Don't listen to the special interest groups"--i.e. the people that got the president reelected.

But don't let the criticism from the right confuse you. Gonzales is not fit to be anywhere near the Supreme Court. Here is another reminder of why, and of course it has nothing to do with abortion. People look the other way, but as I have pointed out for the past year at least, under the current administration anybody--anybody, anywhere--can be thrown in prison for years without access to a lawyer or ever being charged. And torture is only wrong if it kills you, which sometimes it does. Meanwhile, you will be libeled in the press, like what happened with the "dirty bomber". The Supreme Court is the only thing that has put the breaks on this policy.