Jesurgislac’s Journal

April 8, 2009

Obama: for or against torture?

It would appear that President Obama has till May 11 to decide whether he does, in fact, actually oppose the US military torturing prisoners… or if he would just rather not know what the US military does to prisoners.

On May 11, Clive Stafford Smith, Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer, director of Reprieve, will appear in court to be charged with the crime of telling President Barack Obama that the Privilege Review Board had redacted the whole of a memo Smith wrote to Obama describing Binyam Mohamed’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay. (See Glenn Greenwald’s interview on Salon Radio.)

For that crime, Smith may spend up to six months in jail: that is, for the crime of telling the President of the United States that a secret committee in the Pentagon did not want him to know exactly what had been done to Binyam Mohamed.

Obama’s preference with regard to torture is clearly and explicitly to do nothing – that was unfortunately clear from November 22, when he announced he would keep George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense in the position he had held for two years. That’s an improvement on the pro-torture policies of the Bush administration, certainly – as King Log is better than King Stork.

But merely deciding to do nothing – neither to authorise torture techniques, nor take steps to prevent ongoing torture (prisoners were still being tortured at Guantanamo Bay in February this year, as Binyam Mohamed – and the doctors who examined him on his return to the UK – can testify), nor to prosecute those who committed torture with President Bush’s authorisation – is a complex balancing act, absolutely dependent on no one pushing.

Many Americans who objected to torture under Bush appear content now to not push – not to ask why Obama did not act to stop torture at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere as from January 21, not to ask why Obama is not setting in motion an investigation of torture under Bush, not to ask why the current Secretary of Defense, who may be implicated in the torture of prisoners under Bush, has been allowed to retain his position into Obama’s administration.

It’s true: Obama is so much better a President and a man than Bush that it’s actually hard to compare them: and the US and the rest of the world dodged a bullet when McCain lost so comprehensively last November. (Two bullets, in fact: President Palin.)

But because Obama is so much better than Bush, he should be pushed harder. Now it’s come down to a decision Obama has to make: is he going to take the position that people should be prosecuted and jailed for telling him about prisoners being tortured by the US – and let that happen to Clive Stafford Smith and others at Reprieve? Is he going to ask to read the unredacted memo? Is he going to begin the investigation of torture in the US military that should have begun in 2004?

May 11th. Obama has a deadline.

January 26, 2009

You’re not allowed to kill civilians

I’m deeply impressed with everything Barack Obama has done in his first hundred hours as President.

Well, almost everything.

Obama, Biden says, is planning to “take the fight” to the Afghanistan/Pakistan region:

Against a background of widespread protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan over US operations since Obama became president, the vice-president, Joe Biden, said yesterday that US forces would be engaged in many more operations as the US takes the fight to its enemies in the region. link

The government of Pakistan has appealed to Barack Obama to halt missile strikes in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan after 22 people were killed. As they point out, killing civilians is “counter-productive” to the “war on terror” – and also, Mr President: illegal.

You’re not allowed to kill civilians.

Calling on the Obama Administration to review its policy for tackling terrorism and extremism, the Pakistan government said last night that it had already conveyed its concerns over the missile strikes to the US.

The move came a day after two missile attacks in North and South Waziristan tribal regions killed at least 22 people, including children. Up to eight suspected foreign militants were also killed in the attacks, media reports said.

These were the first missiles strikes carried out by the US-led coalition forces based in Afghanistan after Obama assumed office on January 20.

“We maintain that these attacks are counter-productive and should be discontinued. Pakistan urges the US and NATO to adopt a holistic and more effective approach to countering extremism and terrorism,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office spokesman.

“Pakistan has consistently lodged strong protests with the US government against drone attacks, which constitute an infringement of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Yesterday’s attack in the Waziristan area which caused civilian causalities is a matter of great concern. These concerns have been conveyed to the US side,” the statement said. link

Did Obama order the air attack? Was it a holdover from the Bush administration’s policy? Who decided that the missiles should continue to fly at people’s homes in Pakistan, regardless of who they kill? The belief on the subcontinent (Times of India) is that this new attack was only the beginning: that the Obama administration would step up the missile attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, leaders complain that stepped-up missile strikes — there have been more than 30 since August — fan anti-American sentiment and undermine the government’s own efforts to counter Islamist militants.

But their protests have had few practical consequences, fueling speculation that Islamabad’s government has given tacit approval in return for political and financial support from Washington.

Obama has not commented on the missile strike policy. link

Time he did. Past time, in fact, to bring it to an end.

January 20, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Promises Are Pie Crust

“Promises are pie crust” – easily made, easily broken.

Obama has promised he will remove “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and LGBT people will be able to serve openly in the military; he has also promised he will have the Defense of Marriage Act repealed, which will mean that a same-sex couple who live in a state where they are legally banned from marrying, can go to a state in which they can marry, get married, return home, and their home state will be legally required to recognise their marriage as valid.

Both are huge legal steps towards legal equality for LGBT people in the US. But all we know for sure about Obama’s Presidency is that today, Rick Warren will give the invocation prayer at his inauguration.

When Barack Obama was born, his parents could not be legally wed in multiple states in the US. The last state to take the laws against his parents’ being married off the books was Alabama, in 2000. Young Barack Obama was not quite 6 years old before a Supreme Court decision anti-democratically overturned the legislation against the legal marriage of Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. The same kind of Christians who today oppose same-sex marriage, back then opposed miscegenation or interracial marriage, and in the same terms: it was against God’s will, they said, to give mixed-race couples the legal right to marry: it was against God’s will for them to have children.

Would Barack Obama invite a preacher who had, a few weeks ago, told him that his parents were morally the same as child or animal molesters – that for his mom and dad to marry legally was on the same kind of moral plane as paedophilia and bestiality? If he would not, why does he feel it’s Okay to invite Rick Warren?

Pie crust is easy to make. The best kind is short-crust pastry. For this, you need:

1. Cold hands. If your hands are not naturally cold (cold hands, warm heart) hold them under the cold-water tap for a minute or so before you start rubbing the fat into the flour.
2. Cold water. Cold as you can get it without it actually freezing over.
3. Fat. You can use butter or margarine. Butter has a lovely flavour in itself, of course, but really, for a pie with a flavoursome filling, margarine will do. If you use a fat that is hard in the fridge, it needs to be at room temperature – that is, soft to the touch – when you use it in pastry. This is, in fact, the best reason for using a soft margarine if you just want pastry right now – it won’t be the best, but it’ll be fine. Non-vegetarians tell me that lard is good.
4. Flour. In principle, you want a low-gluten flour – a “soft” flour in bakers’ parlance. This is because a high-gluten flour, or “strong” flour, will make you pastry that’s very hard and stiff. But if you are a dab hand with the rolling pin and can roll your pastry out very thin, I personally think that the stiff pastry that results from a high-gluten flour can be very nice – but you do need to plan on using it for a thin, thin crust.

For short-crust pastry, if you are making a batch with four ounces of flour, you want two ounces of fat. Half the weight of fat to flour.

With cold hands, rub the fat into the flour to make crumbs. Do so gently and quickly. Don’t over-rub. There are all sorts of techniques advised, like using a knife to cut the fat into the flour until it is evenly distributed, but the reason for all these rules is simply: You don’t want the fat to melt. You want the grains of flour to be englobed in fat that is still fat, not oil. So: cold hands, don’t rub too hard, if you’re deft with a knife use a knife as much as possible, keep your hands cold…

Mix the crumbs with cold cold cold water. Just enough to draw the crumbs together into a ball of pastry-dough. Not too much.

Wrap the pastry-dough in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to two days. (Seriously; if it’s wrapped up, it’ll be fine in the fridge for a couple of days.) If the pastry’s been in the fridge for more than 30 minutes, make sure it’s at room temperature before you start rolling it out, or it’ll crack.

If you’re making a pie, divide the pastry into two rounds. It would be otiose to point out that you will want the round for the bottom crust to be larger than the round for the top crust: about a third larger. Either you are the kind of person who thinks of these things before you start rolling out the pastry, or you are not. Flour a cold surface, flour the rolling-pin (I picked up a marble rolling-pin in a second-hand shop for peanuts, years ago: it makes great pastry because it’s cold) and roll your pastry out. Keep dusting the pastry and the rolling-pin with flour if it seems to be sticking to the pin. Line the tin you are using with the first round of pastry, fill it with beans, and blind-bake it in the oven for a few minutes to make it crisp.

Roll out your second round of pastry. Fill the pie with your filling. Apple pie is the best. Cover with the pastry. Trim off the edges. Press holes in the top with a fork (or cut with a very sharp knife). Do fancy things with the trimmings like making shapes of leaves or apples if you like, but you’ll make me feel inadequate – I usually just bake the trimmings in the oven spread with mustard and cheese for instant cheese straws, yum. I am not artistic.

Bake your pie in the oven. You will find that the pie crust is like promises: easily made, easily broken.

—Update, 2nd May 2009—

Sometimes, I really hate being right when I’m cynical.

You remember those promises being made post-election, pre-Rick Warren? The civil rights section of the White House website is now de-gayed. versionista cite

(waves at cleek)

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