Wednesday, January 28, 2009

America Does Not Torture

The America I believe in does not torture, says the sign in this photo taken by Jerry Jaspar, of a torture exhibit for Social Justice Awareness Day held at College of the Sequoias, Visalia, California, on March 14, 2008.
I embrace emerging experience. I participate in discovery. I am a butterfly. I am not a butterfly collector.
---William Stafford
Millions of people, unseeing, joyless, bluster through life in their half sleep, hitting, kicking, and killing what they have barely perceived. They have never learned to see or they have forgotten that man has eyes to see, to experience.
---Frederick Franck
Yet ruined as my house is, you live there!
---Thomas Merton
I've been disturbed the past several days by reports confirmation of Obama's attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, has become hinged on guarantees that Democrats will not seek prosecution of Republicans responsible for illegally detaining suspects around the world and torturing them. At first I thought the idea was absurd, but rumors persisted and eventually some respectable columnists began discussing it, Joe Galloway among the most prominent. Still, no news service or publication was carrying anything of the least not as a news item. I've grown suspicious of censorship of news in this country however, and so I kept searching.
From a blog at The Washington Post yesterday afternoon however, it appears there have been other matters that concerned Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who's been central in holding things up. He says now he will vote in favor of confirmation of Eric Holder, and we should have a decision today.
In the process of searching this extortion claim against Republicans, I came across a formidable journalist at The Washington Independent. Her name is Daphne Eviatar, a Brooklyn-based attorney, who is absolutely relentless in her concerns about the various prisons around the world used to house and torture the people we lightly shrug off as "detainees." If I'm detained someplace, I have a sense it is momentary while various records are cleared up. I do not think of it as being locked up for years, without explanation or access to help. Guantanamo isn't even the biggest: there are more prisoners at an air base in Afghanistan.
If you paused to read that link, you're now acquainted with Ms. Eviatar and her commitment to this issue. She writes like that with increasing frequency, sometimes 2 and 3 posts per day at The Washington Independent. What is more revealing in her research are the many individual cases she presents of people still locked up. These are stories we just don't read and I've never heard about before. On Monday she posted maybe the best of them all, as it really calls out President Obama as to just what his position on "extraordinary rendition" is going to be. Here it is~~~
Torture Case Tests Obama Secrecy Policy
Will Obama Administration Break From Bush on Extraordinary Rendition?
By Daphne Eviatar 1/26/09 6:05 AM
President Obama’s sweeping reversals of torture and state secret policies are about to face an early test.
After Obama issued an executive order and two presidential memoranda last week proclaiming a new transparency in the workings of the federal government, advocates for open government were thrilled.
“That was an order we were really looking for,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The test of those commitments will come soon in key court cases involving CIA “black sites” and torture that the Bush administration had quashed by claiming they would reveal state secrets and endanger national security. Legal experts say that the Bush Department of Justice used what’s known as the “state secrets privilege” – created originally as a narrow evidentiary privilege for sensitive national security information — as a broad shield to protect the government from exposure of its own misconduct.
One such case, dealing with the gruesome realities of the CIA’s so-called “extraordinary rendition” program, is scheduled for oral argument before a federal appeals court in early February. The position the Obama administration takes in this case may be the first major test of its new policies on transparency in government.
Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. involves five victims of CIA rendition, or “torture by proxy,” as it’s also known. Abducted abroad, the men were flown by the CIA to cooperating countries whose agents interrogated them under torture. Because federal officials are usually immune from lawsuits, the men later sued the private aviation data company, Jeppesen — a subsidiary of Boeing, one of the largest federal defense contractors — that knowingly provided the flight plans and other assistance necessary for the CIA to carry out its clandestine operations.
The ACLU filed suit on behalf of this group of victims in May 2007, but the Bush administration quickly swooped in, waving the flag of the state secrets privilege. Insisting that the very subject of the lawsuit – the CIA’s rendition program – is itself a state secret, the Justice Department convinced the federal court in California, where Jeppesen is based, to dismiss the case on the grounds that it would harm national security.
By this time though, the CIA’s torture practices had already been widely publicized. As it happens, on the same day that Justice Department lawyers were in a federal court in California insisting that the case against Jeppesen be dismissed to protect CIA secrecy, CIA Director Michael Hayden was testifying before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee under oath that the CIA had waterboarded three prisoners in its custody. Earlier, Hayden had given a speech about “the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation programs” at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previous CIA Directors Porter Goss and George Tenet — and even President Bush, in a speech in September 2006 — had also described and defended the program.
In fact, by the time this lawsuit was filed, the CIA’s rendition of suspected terrorists to foreign countries to be tortured had become an international scandal. Foreign countries such as Egypt, Switzerland, the UK and others that had cooperated with the CIA had been forced to investigate; those investigations had corroborated many of the allegations that are the subject of the case pending against Jeppesen.
Still, the U.S. government, now under President Obama, continues to insist in a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that “[t]he sensitivity of the information at issue in this litigation, and the serious harms that would result from its disclosure, compel the Government to assert the state secrets privilege.” The Obama administration has not filed any new briefs or amendments in the case.
If the court agrees, none of the victims of rendition in this case — or likely, in any other — will get his day in court.
“These victims not only haven’t been compensated, they haven’t even been heard,” said Ben Wizner, one of the lead ACLU lawyers handling the case. “Torture victims deserve acknowledgment and compensation.”
Take the case of one of Wizner’s clients, Binyam Mohamed. A 28-year-old Ethiopian citizen and legal resident of the UK, Mohamed was arrested at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan on immigration charges in April 2002. For the next three months, he was held in secret detention, interrogated and tortured by Pakistani authorities, he says; he was also questioned by US and British agents.
In July, according to the lawsuit, he was turned over to the exclusive custody of the United States, whose agents stripped, shackled, and blindfolded him, then dressed him in a tracksuit and dragged him on board a Gulfstream V jet aircraft. With assistance from Jeppesen Dataplan, Mohamed was flown to Morocco, where he was turned over to local police and interrogated under torture for the next 18 months. Mohamed says he was routinely beaten to the point of losing consciousness and, as the ACLU describes in its legal brief, “a scalpel was used to make incisions all over his body, including his penis, after which a hot stinging liquid was poured into his open wounds.”
In January 2004, Mohamed was returned to the custody of U.S. officials, flown to Afghanistan and tortured again, he said, this time at a secret CIA prison. After months of beatings and interrogation following sleep and food deprivation, according to the lawsuit, he was transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, where he remains today.
The stories of Abou Brital, Ahmed Agiza, Mohamed Bashmilah and Bisher Al-Rawi are similar, and much in their accounts is corroborated. Ahmed Agiza’s rendition and torture in Egypt, for example, has been investigated and publicly acknowledged by the government of Sweden, where he was seeking asylum when he was captured. (He’s now serving 15 years in an Egyptian prison for membership in a banned Islamic organization.) Jeppesen’s role is also public record, revealed in documents produced in separate inquiries by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, Britain’s High Court of Justice, which corroborated much of Binyam Mohamed’s story in its own investigation, in August ruled that Mohamed was entitled to obtain documents from the British government to establish that he was tortured so he can seek to exclude evidence extracted by torture as unreliable if he is ever prosecuted by U.S. authorities.
Curiously, however, part of the government’s “state secrets” claim rests on the need to protect information about the participation of U.S. allies in the CIA’s rendition program.
“It would be a remarkable irony if this Court were to affirm the dismissal of this suit in order to protect from disclosure the roles played by other nations - when those very nations are engaged in proceedings that continue to expose precisely the relationships and information that the United States here characterizes as ‘state secrets’, ” the men’s lawyers write in a brief filed with the court of appeals.
The Department of Justice declined to comment on this case. In its brief filed before President Obama took office, however, it argues, largely on the basis of a classified declaration of former CIA Director Michael Hayden submitted “in camera” – that is, for exclusive review by the judge — that release of any information pertaining to this case would harm national security. Hayden’s statement “explained more fully than was possible on the public record the scope of information subject to the privilege assertion, and the harms that would flow from its disclosure,” Justice Department lawyers wrote. Although the victims perhaps “cannot appreciate fully the reasons for the district court’s conclusion . . . or comprehend the substantial harm to national security and foreign relations that could reasonably be expected to result from litigating this case,” the court of appeals should rest assured that the government’s reasoning is sound, write the government lawyers.
Contacted last week by TWI, a Justice Department spokesman would not say whether the new Obama administration would change its position in this case. He confirmed only that oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 9.
If the Obama administration maintains the government’s position in this case, said Wizner, it would further the Bush administration’s strategy of turning the state secrets privilege into a blanket immunity for the most egregious and unlawful government action.
“Every single civil torture case that’s been filed has been dismissed at the pleadings stage on what non-lawyers would call a technicality,” said Wizner, referring to the state secrets and government immunity defenses that have succeeded in other torture cases.
In another lawsuit filed by the ACLU in 2006 on behalf of rendition victim Khaled El-Masri, for example, a federal court in Virginia accepted the government’s same argument that the subject of the entire case was privileged and dismissed the lawsuit. El-Masri was a German citizen and car salesman when he was abducted in 2003 by U.S. authorities, transported to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan and tortured, until he was released without charge in 2004, dumped on a hill in Albania. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, an ideologically conservative court long dominated by Republican judges, affirmed the lawsuit’s dismissal. (The Ninth Circuit Court in California that will hear the Jeppesen case is considered more liberal.)
“The Bush administration said over and over not just that these programs were necessary, but that they were legal,” insists Wizner. “But they’ve never allowed any court to rule on it.”
None of the victims involved in the case against Jeppesen were available to talk to TWI, but in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Khaled El-Masri wrote after his case was dismissed in 2007:
“Above all, what I want from the lawsuit is a public acknowledgment from the U.S. government that I was innocent, a mistaken victim of its rendition program, and an apology for what I was forced to endure. Without this vindication, it has been impossible for me to return to a normal life.”
Advocates hope the new administration will stop using the state secrets defense to avoid providing that kind of acknowledgment.
“Instead of this notion that the entire subject matter of the lawsuit is a state secret, there should be a parsing of the evidence,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, an independent nonprofit think tank that issued a comprehensive report last year on the need to reform the state secrets privilege. “The new administration might have a valid state secrets claim about some particular pieces of evidence, but it shouldn’t be the entire lawsuit. We all know there’s been this extraordinary rendition program. The government should consent to an independent review by a judge as to what evidence should or should not be disclosed.”
More broadly, advocates have been pressing for a law such as the bipartisan State Secrets Protection Act, introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) last year, that would codify and narrow the state secrets privilege “to restore the role of the courts as an independent check,” says Franklin. They’ve also asked the Obama transition team to change the government’s policy on its use.
“We’ve asked that the Attorney General put in place a much better system for reviewing when the Justice Department will assert the state secrets privilege,” said Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel for the National Security Archives at George Washington University. “Because once it’s asserted it’s tremendously powerful.”
In a memorandum issued to the heads of all agencies last week, President Obama wrote: “The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.”
Advocates will watch closely to see how the Obama administration will handle this and other cases that under the Bush administration were stymied by government secrecy.
“Because the Bush administration was so secretive and it played out in so much litigation,” said Fuchs, “what happens in these cases is a good test of whether the Obama administration really means what it’s saying.”
If you're feeling shocked the United States of America is involved in such goings-on---or worse, don't want to know about it---consider please that our government has boasted a "base" of the fundamentalist religious right for a number of years. Fundamentalists around the world have nothing if not a record of torture. If you think Christians are above such practices, please review your history...and one place to do that might be here~~~

Friday, January 16, 2009

From Duke 'N Satch To Obama: A Personal Triumph

I have been asked many questions in my life about poetry, religion, life, and I have given precisely the same number of answers, but I have never, I repeat, never, satisfied a single interlocuter. Why? Because all questioning is a way of avoiding the real answer, which, as Zen tells us, is really known already. Every man is enlightened, but wishes he wasn't. Every man knows he must love his enemies, and sell all he has and give to the poor, but he doesn't wish to know it---so he asks questions.

---R.H. Blyth

When a man is instantly awakened, he comes back to his original mind.

---The Vimalakirti Sutra

As naturally as the oak bears an acorn and the vine a gourd, man bears a poem, either spoken or done.

---Henry David Thoreau

During the 2008 presidential election campaign, I did not think of Barack Obama as a black man. He mentioned his racial origins himself from time to time, referring to his mother and grandmother when he did so. As president-elect he said, before all the other ferocious issues fell upon him, the most important decision was what kind of dog to get that he had promised his daughters. He'd like to find a mongrel, a mutt, like he is, he said, himself. I really liked that! I like thinking of him as the Melting Pot personified...and I said so one evening at Obama Headquarters here in Athens, Ohio. I realized race is a sensitive issue, even in there, but I was pleased no one seemed shocked or obviously uncomfortable.

With our first lady-elect, it's different. When Michelle Obama started to talk about her origins, the whole Civil Rights Movement came pouring out. I was in a huge audience here one of the times she stood on a stage and did that, my daughter on my left and a black single mom, in graduate school at OU, on my right. All around us were obvious members of every race and mix in the land, and it was thrilling. I was one of the people telling everybody who would listen that I hadn't felt this happy exhilaration in 45 years. That was when there were interracial agencies and programs for educational and neighborhood encouragement. Black and white, we got to know each other intimately sometimes, dance together, party in each other's houses, and---yes---argue. Races in Michelle's audience looked at each other joyfully that way, and I too felt really proud to be an American again---after a long time.

Well, she capitulated to the image makers a bit and I was disappointed if it meant she was being silenced. And like many progressives, I have questions and doubts about how Barack Obama is starting out. I worry about some of those cabinet appointments and so much inclusion of all sides as to risk diluting important decisions. I worry about hesitancy on Gaza and possible support to any and all Israeli policies. I don't want trillions handed over to banks, which have no history as effective social helping agencies. And then there's investigation and possible prosecution of Bush and his people. See Krugman this morning on that! I understand not wanting it to be partisan, but if President Obama is going to be another one of these politicians who only talks about "moving forward" all the time I'm going to be sick.

But this is a time of inaugural celebration and let's get back to it. I am of a very fortunate generation in this country who has started out in segregation, nationality as well as race, and moved myself and been moved into the wonders of a multicultural world. My mother raised me to "play with our own kind" and she reacted physically to memories of bathing black men off the streets of the Lower East Side during her nursing training at Bellevue Hospital. This was a farm girl from Appalachia...but I didn't excuse her and went my own way. For one thing, we were being taught differently in school. After World War II the curriculum, at least in New York State, changed. We began to get a smattering of black history. We read Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver in grade school and junior high. Folk music entered our music training, and we got black melody and rhythm...stilted but there. Jackie Robinson was our hero on the Brooklyn Dodgers...though I didn't abandon Stan Musial or the Cards.

One of my father's friends gave me a couple 78 RPM records of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. Goodman I responded to immediately, but the Ellington ("Swamp Fire" on one side and "Chloe" on the other) took me years to learn the language. A friend soon gave me a 78 album of 4 Goodman records called "Sextet Session." I was 8 or 9 years old, the album was new, although the sessions were from 1945. The group was integrated, and I soon learned that Benny had been hiring musicians for years because of how well they played, whatever race or nationality they were. I learned jazz was like that. Later I learned there were recording sessions going back to the earliest days of the music that were integrated. Besides that, there were jam sessions after hours in which every conceivable kind of character joined in, as long as he or SHE could cut the changes and create a solo of interest. I loved not only the music but the very idea of it. I became an evangelical about jazz---in the very face of early rock 'n roll---pointing out it was America's original art form and the very essence of democracy.

By the time I went to college in 1958, I already was in the just-emerging Civil Rights Movement. One of the people of whom I was aware was Nat Hentoff. From Boston, he had turned up writing intelligent and informed album notes for jazz records. He also wrote reviews in the couple of magazines that served the music...and he wrote in the Greenwich Village Voice newspaper to which I had been subscribed a couple years---to my mother's mounting horror way out 365 miles west of the Big Apple. Hentoff too was noticing civil rights increasingly, and soon he was writing about it. By the mid 60s he was writing legal columns about court cases and things, work that apparently had no connection to jazz. But those of us who knew him realized it all was connected and one flow in his life and mind, as it was and is in ours. Now Nat has written a piece for the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, that brings it all together. It's the history of jazz, it's civil rights, it's the new president. It's a classic.

How Jazz Helped Hasten the Civil-Rights Movement
By Nat Hentoff

On Jan. 19, Martin Luther King's Birthday, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Rockefeller Foundation, also focusing on the next day's presidential inauguration, will present at Kennedy Center "A Celebration of America." Headlining the cast are Sandra Day O'Connor and Wynton Marsalis. As Jazz at Lincoln Center declares, Dr. King called jazz "America's triumphant music," and the presence of Mr. Marsalis is to "illustrate that American democracy and America's music share the same tenets and embody the same potential for change, hope and renewal."

This focus on jazz as well as President-elect Barack Obama (who, I'm told, has John Coltrane on his iPod) should help make Americans, including our historians, aware of the largely untold story of the key role of jazz in helping to shape and quicken the arrival of the civil-rights movement.

For a long time, black and white jazz musicians were not allowed to perform together publicly. It was only at after-hours sessions that they jammed together, as Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke did in Chicago in the 1920s.

In the early 1940s, before I could vote, I often lied my way into Boston's Savoy Café, where I first came to know jazz musicians. It was the only place in town where blacks and whites were regularly on the stand and in the audience. This led police occasionally to go into the men's room, confiscate the soap, and hand the manager a ticket for unsanitary conditions. There was no law in Boston against mixing the races, but it was frowned on in official circles.

I had heard, however, of a New York jazz club, Café Society, where there was open, unquestioned integration. In "Café Society: The Wrong Place for the Right People," a book by the late Barney Josephson, with Terry Trilling-Josephson, to be published in April by the University of Illinois Press, Mr. Josephson, Café Society's founder, is quoted as having said: "I wanted a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front. There wasn't, so far as I knew, a place like it in New York or in the country." He hadn't ever been to imperiled Savoy Café in Boston.

But Jim Crow was so accepted in the land that when Benny Goodman, during the 1930s, brought Teddy Wilson, and then Lionel Hampton, into his trio and quartets, it was briefly big national news. And Artie Shaw later hired Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge, both of whom often met Mr. Crow when having to find accommodations separate from the white musicians when on the road.

When booked especially -- but not only -- in the South, members of black jazz bands had to be put up in homes or other places in black neighborhoods. Nor were they seated in restaurants outside of those neighborhoods. In a 1944 New Yorker profile of Duke Ellington, Richard Boyer told of a white St. Louis policeman enthusiastically greeting Duke Ellington after a performance, saying: "If you'd been a white man, Duke, you'd have been a great musician."

With his customary regal manner, Duke, smiling coolly, answered, "I guess things would have been different if I'd been a white man." Later, Duke told me how, when he was touring the deep South from 1934 to 1936, he sidelined Jim Crow.

"Without the benefit of federal judges," he said, "we commanded respect. We had two Pullman cars and a 70-foot baggage car. We parked them in each station, and lived in them. We had our own water, food, electricity and sanitary facilities. The natives would come by and say, 'What's that?' 'Well,' we'd say, 'that's the way the president travels.' We made our point. What else could we have done at that time?"

A stronger point was later made throughout the South and anywhere else blacks were, at best, seated in the balcony. In his touring all-star tournament, Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz by the 1950s was conducting a war against segregated seating. Capitalizing on the large audiences JATP attracted, Granz insisted on a guarantee from promoters that there would be no "Colored" signs in the auditoriums. "The whole reason for Jazz at the Philharmonic," he said, "was to take it to places where I could break down segregation."

Here's an example of Granz in action: After renting an auditorium in Houston in the 1950s, he hired the ticket seller and laid down the terms. Then Granz personally, before the concert, removed the signs that said WHITE TOILETS and NEGRO TOILETS. When the musicians -- Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Lester Young -- arrived, Granz watched as some white Texans objected to sitting alongside black Texans. Said the impresario: "You sit where I sit you. You don't want to sit next to a black, here's your money back."

As this music reached deeply into more white Americans, their sensitivity to segregation, affecting not only jazz musicians, increased. A dramatic illustration is the story told by Charles Black, a valuable member of Thurgood Marshall's team of lawyers during the long journey to Brown v. Board of Education. In 1931, growing up white in racist Austin, Texas, Black at age 16 heard Louis Armstrong in a hotel there. "He was the first genius I had ever seen," Black wrote long after in the Yale Law Journal. "It is impossible," he added, "to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old southern boy's seeing genius, for the first time, in a black. We literally never saw a black then in any but a servant's capacity. It was just then that I started toward the Brown case where I belonged."

Armstrong himself, in a September 1941 letter to jazz critic Leonard Feather, wrote: "I'd like to recall one of my most inspiring moments. I was playing a concert date in a Miami auditorium. I walked on stage and there I saw something I'd never seen. I saw thousands of people, colored and white, on the main floor. Not segregated in one row of whites and another row of Negroes. Just all together -- naturally. I thought I was in the wrong state. When you see things like that, you know you're going forward."

As Stanley Crouch, a keenly perceptive jazz historian and critic, wrote recently in the New York Daily News: "Once the whites who played it and the listeners who loved it began to balk at the limitations imposed by segregation, jazz became a futuristic social force in which one was finally judged purely on the basis of one's individual ability. Jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art in America."

Also providing momentum were the roots of jazz -- going back to the field hollers of slaves reaching each other across plantations; gospel songs and prayers connecting slavery here with Old Testament stories of deliverance of Jews from slavery; and the blues, the common language of jazz, echoing in Armstrong singing "What did I do to be so black and blue?"

In his recently published "The Triumph of Music" (Harvard University Press), spanning four centuries and diverse nations, Tim Blanning of Cambridge University, tells how black musicians have helped prepare and participated in the civil-rights movement. As when opera singer Marian Anderson, denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, sparked the start of the 1963 March on Washington by rousing the huge crowd with "I've Been 'Buked and I've Been Scorned."

I was there, at the back of the stage, covering this typhoon of protest for Westinghouse radio; and during Martin Luther King's world-resounding speech, Tim Blanning writes, "Mahalia Jackson called out to him: 'Tell them about your dream, Martin!'"

The tribunes of soul music also quickened the tempo of what A. Philip Randolph, the primary organizer of the March on Washington, called "the unfinished revolution" -- among them James Brown, "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud."

During the 1950s and early '60s, when my day and night jobs were all about jazz, I wrote of the civil-rights surge among jazz creators: Sonny Rollins's "Freedom Suite"; "Alabama" recorded by John Coltrane; and an album I produced for Candid Records that was soon banned in South Africa -- Max Roach's "Freedom Now Suite."
It was Max who first taught me the connection between jazz and my other passion, the Bill of Rights. "Like the Constitution, we are individual voices," he said, "listening intently to all the other voices and creating a whole from all these personal voices."

My involvement in his "Freedom Now Suite" -- whose album cover carried a wire-service photo of black students at a whites-only lunch counter in the South -- was to work with the engineer on the sound checks and the timing of the tracks. I wouldn't have dared interfere with the incandescent fusion of anger and triumph in the studio, with Max propelling the black American experience from "Driva Man" to "Freedom Day."

One of the griots was the magisterial Coleman Hawkins, who invented the jazz tenor saxophone, and whose signature sound was so huge he didn't need a microphone in a club. He filled the room that day. And Abbey Lincoln, the former subtly sensual supper-club singer, was transformed before my eyes into a blazing Sojourner Truth.

After Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to leave her seat in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., Dr. King spoke before some 15,000 black citizens in, and on the sidewalks around, Holy Street Baptist Church. Dr. King, as recalled by his close friend and adviser Clarence B. Jones in his new book, "What Would Martin Say?" (HarperCollins), energized the transportation boycott that followed the arrest: "We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness in a mighty stream."

Not long after, when some black civil-rights activists rebuked Ellington for not having been publicly enough involved in the movement, he said to me: "People who think that of me have not been listening to our music. For a long time, social protest and pride in the Negro have been our most significant themes in talking about what it is to be a Negro in this country -- with jazz being like the kind of man you wouldn't want your daughter to be associated with."

Suddenly he brightened: "When Franklin Roosevelt died, practically no American music was played on the air in tribute to him. We, our band, were given a dispensation, however. We did one radio program, during the period of mourning, dedicated to him."

On Jan. 20, joining Franklin Roosevelt in the lineage of American presidents will be Barack Obama. If I'd been asked about the music to be played, I'd have suggested to Wynton Marsalis that he and the orchestra swing into a song I often heard during an Ellington set, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be."

Not that Jim Crow has finally been interred, but jazz has been a force to hasten that day. Clark Terry, long an Ellington sideman, told me: "Duke wants life and music to be always in a state of becoming. He doesn't even like to write definitive endings of a piece. He always likes to make the end of a song sound like it's still going somewhere."

So we will be on Martin Luther King's Birthday and Inauguration Day.

Mr. Hentoff writes about jazz for the Journal.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D7
Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pray For George Bush

Photo by Annie Leibovitz of the 43rd President of the United States of America
One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

---Andre Gide

The philosopher asks himself, "What is your aim in philosophy?" and he answers, "To show the fly the way out of the bottle." And where is he when he has made his escape? He is, it appears, exactly where he started; for philosophy "leaves everything as it is."

---Ludwig Wittgenstein

With no bird singing, the mountain is yet more still.

---Zen saying

Some people don't pray of course. When called upon to do so one may screw up one's face into a frown of feigned concentration and just sit there until it's over. One may "pray" the wait's not too long.

Others have ritual words to say to fill the silence. When in doubt there's always the "Lord's Prayer" or a mantra, some chant or holy script. You can try meditation, which many distinguish from "talking to God" as listening to God. One can sit on one's chair, one's pillow, a mat...and train yourself to wait patiently through the silence. Maybe God will say something.

The silence is tough. Everyone says the brain chatters away anyway, whether it's prayer or meditation. Mostly it's Let's stop doing this and get on to something fun. If the mind can be quieted, then there's the leg problem or the ache in the knees. Maybe a mosquito whines in your ear and disrupts the Enlightenment.

So even if you can forgive George Bush or the American people, in the event you somehow believe we elected him---twice---the invitation to pray for him may not fit into your schedule. He has a "legacy project" going on now, possibly to spin a few pictures into the minds of columnists and historians who are attempting to collect ALL of the events of the past 8 years into some coherent narrative.

I thought it would be impossible. It's like coming home to an apartment that's been burglarized. Did that ever happen to you? The worst part of it is the sense of invasion and helplessness...because what cop really is going to doing anything about it? To really scare you into paralysis may be part of the strategy. Otherwise the mess everywhere could be from the furtive hurry a thief always must be in. The place is so ransacked it may take hours even to find out what's missing. Did you write down all those appliance serial numbers? Or maybe your house is just empty: they took everything.

I thought no one could sum up what's happened to my country. The review's too complex. They've put us through too much. Their carelessness has been thorough. I remember everything but I don't want to retrieve it, don't want to think about it. But slowly our major writers, right and left, are coming up with our summaries. The righties are saying it hasn't been that bad and maybe Obama will do OK. (Oh jeez, pray for Obama!) Lefties are pouring it on. Vengeance is sweet and they feel the proof of the Bush pudding is everywhere.

Yet no one is going to jail. Indictments are not on the table. Bush hasn't confessed yet...or even tried to put into words what he thinks the plunge in popularity might be about. The one thing the man is skilled at is denial. If he's going to pardon himself, doesn't he first have to admit to something? Cheney did...and he awaits that presidential pardon before leaving for Dubai. The rest of the neocon men and women are lined up for their pardons too. I hate this presidential pardon business. Why do we allow it?

OK, back to my prayers. We must forgive and all work together, and start to pick up the mess. Some stuff is broken and we'll have to get new. The inventories must be done, as surely as the new president and his family will begin unpacking some things today. The girls start in a new school tomorrow. We'll be spiritual today. Have a cup of coffee, read the Sunday paper, and then say a prayer. Or meditate. What's this? A new review is in, and it's Frank Rich.

The New York Times
January 4, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
A President Forgotten but Not Gone
We like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.
The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.
The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.
He tried to spin the ruckus as another victory for his administration’s program of democracy promotion. “That’s what people do in a free society,” he said. He had made the same claim three years ago after the Palestinian elections, championed by his “freedom agenda” (and almost $500 million of American aid), led to a landslide victory for Hamas. “There is something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush observed at the time, as he congratulated Palestinian voters for rejecting “the old guard.”
The ruins of his administration’s top policy priority can be found not only in Gaza but in the new “democratic” Iraq, where the local journalist who tossed the shoes was jailed without formal charges and may have been tortured. Almost simultaneously, opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused him of making politically motivated arrests of rival-party government officials in anticipation of this month’s much-postponed provincial elections.
Condi Rice blamed the press for the image that sullied Bush’s Iraq swan song: “That someone chose to throw a shoe at the president is what gets reported over and over.” We are back where we came in. This was the same line Donald Rumsfeld used to deny the significance of the looting in Baghdad during his famous “Stuff happens!” press conference of April 2003. “Images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over,” he said then, referring to the much-recycled video of a man stealing a vase from the Baghdad museum. “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” he asked, playing for laughs.
The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement — as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.
Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.
To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”
Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”
This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).
If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.
But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.
The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The president who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.
He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked (by Charles Gibson) if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says, “People will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says “it was a repudiation of Republicans.”
“The attacks of September the 11th came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of a Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure,” not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds,” that sped us into Iraq. Did he take too long to change course in Iraq? “What seems like an eternity today,” he says, “may seem like a moment tomorrow.” Try telling that to the families of the thousands killed and maimed during that multiyear “moment” as Bush stubbornly stayed his disastrous course.
The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul,” he told Gibson. And so when he visits military hospitals, “it’s always been a healing experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But, incredibly enough, it’s his own healing he is concerned about, not that of the grievously wounded men and women he sent to war on false pretenses. It’s “the comforter in chief” who “gets comforted,” he explained, by “the character of the American people.” The American people are surely relieved to hear it.
With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. The smugness is reinforced not just by his history as the entitled scion of one of America’s aristocratic dynasties but also by his conviction that his every action is blessed from on high. Asked last month by an interviewer what he has learned from his time in office, he replied: “I’ve learned that God is good. All the time.”
Once again he is shifting the blame. This presidency was not about Him. Bush failed because in the end it was all about him.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company