Afghan War Funding: Oh It's 1-2-3, What Do We Spend It On?

Just days before we celebrate the 224th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence from a colonial overlord on the other side of the world, Congress approved the allocation of yet another $33 billion in funds to support America’s attempt to occupy and run, on the other side of the world, the incredibly poor nation of Afghanistan.

That’s $33 billion for a ninth year of war in a country that is being described apocalyptically by our leaders as America’s greatest existential threat, though in truth it is a landlocked nation of mostly illiterate and impoverished tribal peoples who for centuries have been occupied with battling each other, and most of whom have no idea where America is, or perhaps even if the world is round or flat. Afghanistan, in short, makes Saddam Hussein’s WMD-less Iraq look like a superpower.

The $33 billion, coincidentally, is almost exactly the amount that is needed to extend for another six months the unemployment benefits for 5 million or so unfortunate Americans who have been surviving until recently on extended unemployment benefits.

George Washington's Slaves Slept Here: History of the Philly White House in B&W, or Just White?

Revered residence or house of horrors?

Intense controversy surrounds the President’s House project now under construction on America’s historic Independence Mall in downtown Philadelphia, Pa.

The multi-million dollar project located outside the iconic Liberty Bell, only a few steps from Independence Hall where America’s Founding Fathers declared freedom, commemorates the nation’s first Executive Mansion where two U.S. presidents lived, including George Washington.

The most inflamed controversy centers around who else lived in that rented residence with Washington and his wife Martha.

The Politics of Death: Throwing Mumia Abu-Jamal Under the Bus

“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
–Frederick Douglass

On the evening of February 25, participants at the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland had assembled from all over the globe for a dramatic Voices of Victims evening. It got more dramatic than they had anticipated though, when suddenly a cell phone rang and Robert R. Bryan, lead defense attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, jumped up on the stage to announce that his client had called him from death row in Pennsylvania.

The audience sat in rapt silence as the emcee held the phone up to the microphone. Abu-Jamal, on death row for 28 years after a widely disputed conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, greeted the delegates and then, as he has done on many occasions before, described to them the horrors of life in prison for the 20,000 people around the world who are awaiting execution.

A small group of American death penalty abolitionist leaders, led by Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, stalked out of the hall. Two members of MVFHR, however, remained in the hall: Bill Babbitt, whose brother Manny, a Vietnam vet suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder, was executed in California; and Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered by a girl whom he later befriended and helped to spare from execution. Babbitt even joined Bryan onstage during Abu-Jamal’s brief address.

Mumia Abu-JamalMumia Abu-Jamal

What neither Babbitt nor Pelke, nor Abu-Jamal and his attorney, Bryan, knew at the time was that way back in December, leaders and individual board members of several of the organizations in the US abolitionist movement had signed–without their full boards’ or their memberships’ knowledge–a “confidential” memorandum, which they then sent to the French organizers of the World Congress, stating bluntly that, “As international representatives of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance.”

Holding our soldiers accountable

The US Army is holding Specialist Bradley Manning incommunicado in Kuwait on charges of leaking to WikiLeaks video of Apache helicopter pilots gunning down two Reuters cameramen and a number of Iraqis in a Baghdad neighborhood. The video is devastating in what it reveals about cold-blooded hi-technology warfare in a place like Baghdad. See it at: http://www.collateralmurder.com/

WikiLeaks has arranged for three pro-bono lawyers to assist Manning in his case. However, Manning must request they be allowed to see him. Since the Army will not inform Manning of their existence, he cannot ask for them to see him. Joseph Heller would love it, a perfect Catch 22.

Racism in the Courts: Six Tries, Multiple Errors

After spending more than ten years in jail without a formal sentence, Curtis Flowers now can point to another unenviable distinction – he’s the first person in U.S. history subjected to six murder trials for the same crime.

Two of the five previous trials of this Mississippi man charged with the 1996 murder of four people in the rural town of Winona ended in jury deadlocks. State courts voided Flowers’ three convictions, each time citing outrageous misconduct by prosecutors.

One instance of prosecutorial error in the tortured Flowers trial saga involved biased jury selection procedure so egregious that Mississippi’s Supreme Court tagged it the worst case of “racial discrimination we have ever seen…” – an extraordinary declaration considering that state’s history of over-the-top racism.

It's the war, stupid

Following the tidal wave of media buzz over General Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone, you quickly notice the story succumbing to the gravity of our media-circus culture, to the point it has become a story about celebrity and score keeping.

Would Obama fire McChrystal? How will the scandal tarnish the various individuals mentioned: US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke National Security Advisor James Jones? Who will come out on top of the heap and who will be banished into oblivion?

The real, existential questions about the war in Afghanistan that should be discussed in our highest public forums are somehow always lost in the excitement of watching careers on the high wire.

 From left, General Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, President Obama and James JonesTeam Obama: From left, General Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, President Obama and James Jones

All modern scandals, some renowned person has said, can be reduced to someone blurting out the truth. That describes this Olympian dust-up perfectly. But what might have been a fantastic opportunity to dig deeper into the truths revealed has apparently been lost.

The Dead Hand of Ronald Reagan Rises in the Gulf

As the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico continues to spew out ever more toxic oil and methane into the sea, and as floating toxic sludge, by the millions of gallons, starts destroying the wetlands across the American Southeast, the dead hand of President Ronald Reagan is at work, making sure nothing is done to prevent yet another such disaster from occurring.

The name of that dead hand is Martin Leach-Cross Feldman, a federal judge in Louisiana, a part of the notoriously right-wing Fifth Circuit.

Barky Python’s Plagiarized Dead Pelican Society

CUSTOMER: I wish to register a complaint.

CLERK: Sorry, mate, it’s time for lunch.

CUSTOMER: Never mind about that, my lad. I wish to complain about this pelican that I purchased not half an hour ago from this very Oval Office.

CLERK: What’s wrong with it?

CUSTOMER: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. It’s dead. That’s what’s wrong with it.