Thursday, July 23, 2009

SF Summer

From my bike ride this past weekend. Golden Gate Bridge was the front line in the battle between fog and sun.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CA Passes a Budget

You know that we have low expectations for our government when we get excited that we passed a budget. It sort of reminds me of that Chris Rock stand-up act bit about how some people (no, I'm not going to write that word) take credit for stuff that they are just supposed to do. Such as "I take care of my kids" or "I've never been to jail." What do you want, a cookie?

A large part of the hold up was because the Republicans categorically refused to discuss any kind of tax increase. Now, I'm not saying that taxes should be increased, necessarily, but the fact is that there are only two ways to bridge the gigantic chasm of a budget gap that we have (other than pillaging a rainy day fund, which we don't have anyway): decrease spending or increase taxes. If you refuse to even talk about tax increases, you are tackling the problem with one hand tied behind your back.

Spending should be cut, and drastically. However, most of the union's states are experiencing budget short falls. And 37 of them have increased taxes in some way, and not all of them involved the third rail of income taxes. Kansas, for example took away the tax credit for those who make films in the state, and others have raised taxes on booze and smokes. Maine extended its sales tax to car repairs, dog grooming and dry cleaning. South Dakota increased charges on laundromats.

I believe that raising taxes could screw up incentives, and could have have the opposite of intended consequences if used in the wrong circumstances (reducing demand for consumption goods). But I also think that refusing to talk about raising taxes because of an ideological aversion is not helping anyone.

But with the governator able to asked poignant questions like this, is it any wonder he has forced anyone pragmatic into a corner?

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm not into convertibles

so I think this might be my midlife crisis activity of choice:

I saw this as part of the bicycle film festival, which is on its way to Oakland and then Portland. If it comes through your neck of the woods, I highly recommend seeing this film, Where Are You Go. At the very least, it will make you want to go for a ride around your town.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Gitmo Detainee's Habeas Petition Granted

Last week, a U.S. District Court Judge ordered the release of one Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al-Janko. The Court concluded that the government had not established that Janko was "part of" either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.



I'm a bit amazed at the contiuned hard-assedness with which the government is pursuing these cases under the new administration. This guy's story is pretty amazing.

It was undisputed that, after upon his arrival in Afgahnistan, the al-Qaeda leadership suspected Janko of being a U.S. spy. After being tortured by al-Qaeda for three months, he falsely confessed that he was indeed a U.S. spy (see torture does get confessions!). The judge noted that he was not at liberty to discuss what torture methods were used due to issues of government confidentiality, but that they could be fairly characterized as "barbaric."

He was then transferred to the Sarpusa Taliban prison in Kandahar where, as the judge summaraizes, the conditions "were so terrible-if not horrific-that many prisoners died while incarcerated. Prisoners were fed next to nothing, and the prison was overcrowded, unsanitary, and lacked sufficient medical care." He was incarcerated there for 18 months, until the Taliban abandoned the prison during their retreat from the advancinig Northern Alliance forces in late 2001. He was then transferred to the custody of U.S. forces, and sent to Gitmo.

So now the disputed part. The government claimed that he had travelled to Afghanistan (Janko is a Syrian, though I'm not sure where he was before Afghanistan) "to participate in jihad" and that he admitted having stayed at a guesthouse used by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighers for five days, where he cleaned some guns, and then went to the al Farouq training camp where he was in training for 18 days before he was taken, tortured, and imprisoned for almost two years, as discussed above.

Janko admitted that he had stayed at the guesthouse and had attended the training camp. In fact, most of the government's case and evidence was based on his testiomony during his interrogations. But, Janko claimed that we was trying to get to Europe or the U.S. as a refugee, and was forced to stay in the guesthouse and training camp against his will. He said he never wanted or intended to join either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

The Court found the goverment's position "defies common sense." The Court, sub silencio, seems to assume, arguendo, that Janko did travel to Afgahnistan with the intention to join either al-Qaeda or the Taliban throughout the opinion. With an exclamation point, however, the court disagrees that, considering the short amount of time he was actually involved with either of the two groups when followed by almost 2 years of torture and incarceration, the government succeeded in showing by a preponderance of the evidce that Janko was "part of" of either group:

Here, the Government contends that petitioner Janko was "part of' al Qaeda and/or the Taliban prior to his being imprisoned and tortured, as evidenced by his travel to Afghanistan, stay at a certain Taliban guesthouse for approximately five days, and his attendance at the notorious al Parouq training camp for two-plus weeks. (Unclassified Oral Arg. Tr. 31.) The Government also contends, in essence, that the extreme treatment Janko was subjected to over a substantial period of time thereafter was not sufficient to vitiate that relationship. As such, the Government contends he was still "part of' those organizations when he was ultimately taken into custody by the U.s. forces some two years later. I disagree!
Terminating in another exclamation point, the court also found that even expressly assuming that he did travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda's or the Taliban's military ranks, "[s]urely extreme treatment of that nature evinces a total evisceration of whatever relationship might have existed!"

The Court thus granted the petition, and ordered the government "to take all necessary and proper diplomatic step" to facilitate Janko's release. This, however, might be tricky, as I've discussed before, since now the government still needs to find a country willing to take him.

Italy has already accepted a whopping three, and four Chinese members of the Uighur ethnic group were released in Bermuda. Which, I have to say, must be an interesting culture shock for them.