Monday, April 21, 2008

The Viability of 3rd Party Candidates

It's no secret that I root for the blue side of Washington's divide. But, in truth, I'm a third party candidate kind of guy. In 2000 (my first participation in American democracy), I voted for Ralph Nader. In 2004, assured that Kerry would carry my home state of Illinois, I voted for Green Party candidate David Cobb. My justification was simple; in addition to the inherent attraction of the underdog, I believed that neither the Democrats nor Republicans would bring about the magnitude of change America really needs. I still don't.

But, here in 2008, I cover the Colorado senate race for my website, The Seminal, and in doing so I've focused on Democratic candidate Mark Udall and Republican candidate Bob Schaffer. I've ignored the 3rd party candidates; Buddy Moore (independent) and Bob Kinsey (Green Party),

As you can gather from my voting history, the exclusion is not ideological. In fact, I fall closer to Kinsey and Moore on the political spectrum than I do Udall. Some illustrative quotes:

From Bob Kinsey's website
The major issue of this race is "Respect Life!" Not in the simplistic sense employed by those who use this motto to make abortion the litmus test for their vote. My chief value is about respecting all Life. Government should be about setting policies that insure we have life on this planet to the "7th Generation". Respecting life requires us to exercise judgment and discipline concerning the vehicles we drive, the housing patterns we build, the new jobs we create. Uncontrolled growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.

From Buddy Moore's website
The idea that there will always be a hungry, principled, independent media to watch over and protect our freedoms has been corrupted. While it appears that there is vast and varied media working hard to keep the public informed, the majority of information presented is tainted by commercial interest. Not only do the mega corporations like big oil, the insurance industry, defense industry, pharmaceutical industry and consumer electronics want to influence the media, they have taken over and own the media. Much of the news we receive over the television, in print, over the internet and on radio is fashioned by the mega corporations. They dictate much of the news reporting to their profit and future designs.

In my ideal world, Colorado would choose one of these two candidates, not Democrat Mark Udall. So, why am I not covering them?

The situation is a catch-22; if I focus on my first two choices Buddy Moore and Bob Kinsey, I'll be hurting my second choice, Mark Udall, and strengthening the candidacy of sweatshop-apologist Bob Schaffer. Additionally, I've only so many hours to devote to writing, so when I get around to a Co-Sen post it makes more sense to support the more viable candidate.

But that answer isn't very satisfying -- one of the reasons 3rd party candidates can't win is because they get little media attention, they get little media attention because they have access to fewer resources, they have fewer resources because they get little media attention, and so on and so forth.

Third-party candidates are the butt of jokes here in the United States, but Ross Perot's success in 1992 is nothing to laugh at. He received just under 20 million votes, nearly half Clinton's 44 million. And that 20 million would've been higher, perhaps considerably higher, if Perot hadn't sapped his own momentum by reconsidering his bid. Contrary to popular opinion, there is room for a 3rd, even a 4th, party in the United States. We just have to decide if we're willing to make room for it.

This year, I'm not.

9/11 Effects

by Mike Weiss

“I wasn’t even supposed to be there. I was on hiatus up in Albany at Governor Pataki’s office trying to get funding for breast cancer research. So when I got the call I said I wasn’t going to respond to this,” said Minna Barrett. “Lucky for me on the way home I went through the tunnel, and ran into the deployment center right there.”

At 9/11 Barrett worked for the Red Cross, serving as the night coordinator for the at first 750 mental health workers who were deployed in the first week, a number which would soon swell to 1,500-2,000. Her workers were there at Ground Zero around the clock, at every rescue.

“We had workers falling and tripping over dead bodies at the deployment scene. Bodies with eyes popped out, heads off, arms. We had people who experienced bodies cut in half, heads lopped off and hundreds and hundreds of people falling. One construction worker picked up a steel girder and there was a body twisted up inside the girder.”

When not on duty with the Red Cross, Barrett works as a psychology professor at the SUNY Old Westbury campus. Soon after 9/11 she helped set up the WTC Family Center, a counseling resource for WTC responders, survivors and family members as an adjunct to the South Nassau Communities Hospital. The center works out of a storefront in Baldwin, Long Island.

It was for this work that she won the Sarah Haley Memorial Award from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, presented to her in Toronto in 2005.

“There were thousands of people effected,” Barrett said of 9/11. “It took them eight and a half months to close the place. No one knows how many people worked the site. They estimate somewhere between 45,000, 50,000 to 125,000 people worked that scene.”

Nearly seven years later, Barrett is still seeing new patients coming into her center for the first time. She knows full well the different faces of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with its depression, substance abuse and anxieties. She’s also gotten angrier listening to their stories, hearing again and again how the government failed to warn workers of the health risks, how city agencies often treated their workers as criminals when their only crime was trying to defend their country.

“You don’t know the stress these guys are under,” she said. “Straight-up, blue collar guys, honest hard-workers, like out of the 1950s. All they wanted to do was their jobs and now they feel betrayed – by Giuliani, Bloomberg. They didn’t understand what was happening to them.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Whole is Even Worse Than its Parts

Lately, the courageous, hard-hitting anchors at ABC have been criticized for their questions during the Pennsylvania debate.

Even the normally bovine audience turned against Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos and booed them for cutting to yet another commercial. I'm sure they felt the same as me--"Good God, let it end!"--and they couldn't even switch over to sports.

I feel sorry for the anchors, the pair are only cogs in a much larger wheel. A wheel that started rolling in 1980 when Ted Turner founded CNN. Eventually, 24 Hour News would become a central part of American's lives, and the soundbite would evolve into the preferable method for transmitting information.

This is certainly unfortunate, having been in academia for the last seven years I prefer my information spiked with a shot of prolix. But, in the information age everything needs to fit into a search bar.

Type in "Bitter, Obama" "Hilary, sniper fire" or "McCain, 100 years," you'll get all the information you could ever need. Essentially, those eight words sum up the campaign coverage on the 24 hour news networks for the last month.

But, apparently, Gibson and Steph figured we could all use a little more and the all important issue of lapel pins and radical acquaintances reared its ugly head yet again.

To many people these non-issues seem to be just what they are-a total waste of time. But I have actually heard people say "Ah just cain't vote for no man that don't wear a flag" and "I ain't gon vote for no Muslim."

The first rule of TV with high ratings is play to the Lowest Common Denominator, and you know Gibson and Steph had this in mind when they unleashed that barrage of stupidity on Obama.

No vote, no voice, no election coverage

The first two times that Yessica Ramírez tried to cross the border between Mexico and the United States, she and her child ended up in an American holding cell with nothing more than a couple of blankets between them and the frigid floor. Border Patrol guards gave her ugly looks and ignored her requests for food and water. Her baby boy became sick.

On her third try, she walked right in, slipping across the 2,000-mile long border and into the Texas desert. Eventually, Yessica and her son made their way to New York where they joined her husband, a busboy, also undocumented. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

But for all that she found in this country—a job, an apartment in Staten Island, a new life above the poverty line—Yessica aches for what she left behind: the mild winters, her parents and siblings, a friendlier way of life. Most of all, however, she misses her voice.

Like many undocumented immigrants in the U.S., Yessica is terrified that speaking out or even attending a protest will lead to her deportation. Her life consumed by fear, she is haunted by the possibility that she and her children will be grabbed and taken back to Mexico, away from her husband and six years of hard-earned savings.

Yessica’s story is by no means uncommon. Of the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants estimated to live in the U.S., a majority is Hispanic. Hispanics now make up the largest minority group in the country, edging out blacks at around 15 percent of the total population. New York, a city of roughly eight million, is home to more than half a million undocumented immigrants and three million total immigrants.

Yet, after flaring up in 2006, immigration and immigration reform have once again fallen into the shadows of American politics, obscured from view by the personalities and personal defects of the “big three” presidential candidates: Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. When the American media does address policy differences among the candidates, the nascent economic recession and the war in Iraq receive top billing. Immigration reform is becoming a problem indefinitely deferred.

For undocumented immigrants like Yessica, already reticent to engage in political debate out of fear of recriminations, this national silence over immigration has left them in a dangerous limbo, unrepresented and afraid.

When asked if she joined the hundreds of thousands of Americans and immigrants who demanded the reform of immigration policies in 2006, Yessica shook her head.

“Just look what happened to Señora Elvira,” she said, alluding to Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant who took refuge in a Chicago church for a year to avoid separation from her U.S.-born son. Arellano, who became a national symbol for the need for reform, was deported in 2006, without her son.

In this sense, Yessica’s story is typical of Mexican immigrants to New York and elsewhere in the U.S. Vulnerable to exploitation by their employers and others, their “illegal” status means that they often have little legal recourse available.

Instead of protesting, Yessica dedicates her life to working and saving money. She stomachs the discrimination towards Hispanics that she sees from time to time—the occasional leer or insult on the bus, a suspicious look—afraid that complaining would only bring attention to her, instead of the problem. She lives “between her job and her house,” afraid that even joining a march for immigrants’ rights will result in her deportation and separation from her family.

Many undocumented immigrants focus on the small things they feel will lead to citizenship: paying taxes, saving money, and raising a family.

“I have two children, I don’t take food stamps, no welfare. I don’t want to depend on the government,” said Sergio P. Sergio grew up in a small town in the state of Puebla, Mexico, before coming to the U.S. at age 15.

“That’s how I am. I don’t want to become a citizen only for them to say, ‘oh, you took this, you took that,’” he said. He takes English and computer skills classes, hoping to leave his job in a pizzeria and become a computer repairman.

In New York, immigrants’ rights organizations are drawing increasing attention, often to the residency status of their members.

José Gutiérrez, a member of one such organization, said that he worries that things will get more dangerous in the months to come, as the organization shifts its criticism from abusive landlords to city officials who fail to regulate them. His name has also been changed to protect his identity.

Unable to vote, life offers undocumented immigrants a choice between silence and controversy. Unless one of the presidential candidates takes up the issue of immigration reform before this fall, the voices of millions of the newest Americans will remain unheard.

Coyotes of the Legal System

Many have heard about the infamous border “coyotes” -- informal guides that bring immigrants illegally across the border for a fee –- yet few know about the malicious “coyote” of the legal system –- the notario publico.

In Mexico and countries in Latin America, a notario publico is a legally recognized lawyer. In the United States, "notario publico" is just a notary public -- a person that can administer oaths and be a witness for signatures. It is simply the literal translation of "notary public" into Spanish.

For a spring break reveler in Mexico with limited Spanish, adding “el” before and “o” after English words is a shortcut to at least poor Spanish as many words are similar in both languages. For the Latino immigrant who arrives at the doorstep of “el notario publico”, these similarities can be catastrophic.

Notary publics masquerading as "notarios publicos" present themselves to Spanish-speaking immigrants as immigration lawyers. They offer their alleged connections and expertise to help guide their unknowing clients in obtaining legal residence for them and their families. Of course this information has a price that is usually in the thousands, according to the Legal Services of New Jersey. But the money is not all immigrants have to lose.

According to Christina Baal of Cabrini Immigration Services, the notario publico may also file an application for legal residency for that person--even if there is no chance of obtaining it. The state creates a file on the applicant and a court date is set up.

“Sometimes the immigrants don't know what the NTA (“notice to appear”) letter means, and they show up in front of the immigration judge and end up barred from the country,” said immigration lawyer Tom Shea.

These notario publicos operate with impunity knowing that, as immigrants, the clients have little legal recourse, even if the victims are brave enough to contact the authorities.

Sometimes the fraud isn't revealed until after the client's application has been rejected.

“Many agencies won't touch them (the applicant's cases) because it is often complicated to re-open a case with a removal order,” said Shea.

Criminal notary publics in the U.S. often have their offices in latino neighborhoods where Spanish dominates the billboards and shop windows. In Texas, it is illegal to literally translate the phrase “notary public” into Spanish because of the widespread fraud resulting from the difference in definition.

“The saddest part is that the notario is usually someone who was an immigrant themselves, and they knowingly deceive people, sometimes from the same area that they come from,” said Shea. For a Latino immigrant in an unknown country without connections, a friendly, Spanish-speaking, immigration lawyer who knows the ropes can be a godsend –- or just a coyote in a lawyer's clothing.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nuclear Energy is Not Our Methadone

I don't think it melodramatic to say the fate of the world hinges on our ability to ween ourselves from an oil addiction. Nor do I think I embellish when I say that the political, social and environmental consequences of this addiction are biblical in their magnitude. The seven angels with seven plagues have nothing on the consequences of not finding a clean alternative to oil.

President Bush and like-minded individuals have been pushing nuclear power as our methadone for years; a clean, safe, autonomous, zero-emission form of energy production, they assure. Well, if the fact of Bush's support isn't enough to dissuade you, a sober analysis of the reality of nuclear energy should be.

First, the cheerleader-ing:
Nuclear power is one of America's safest sources of energy ... all without producing a single pound of air pollution and greenhouse gases. -- June 2005

Nuclear power generates large amounts of low-cost electricity without emitting air pollution or greenhouse gases. Yet nuclear power now produces only about 20 percent of America's electricity. It has the potential to play an even greater role -- February 2006

I believe that it is essential that we have a comprehensive energy policy to be able to deal with the challenges we are going to face in the 21st century - whether that be energy independence, or economic security or good environmental policy. And at the core of that policy must be electricity generated from nuclear power -- June 2007

I strongly believe the United States must promote nuclear power here in the United States. Nuclear power, if you're interested in economic growth and environmental stewardship, there's no better way to achieve both of them than through the promotion of nuclear power. Nuclear power is limitless. It's one existing source that generates a massive amount of electricity without causing air pollution or any greenhouse gases. -- March 2008

The Not-So-Friendly Skies

On Friday I hopped on the Metro North for an hour long ride to Newburgh Airport to take advantage of a dirt cheap flight to Greensboro, NC. My airline was Skybus, a discount carrier that sold seats for as low as $20. For some reason that I never quite understood, they had chosen my hometown as it's headquarters. I must have had the honor of flying one of the last Skybus flights, because that night they declared bankruptcy. All of a sudden I was out a return flight home.

Skybus is only the latest airline to file Chapter 11. Three others went out of business this week as well. Aloha, ATA and Champion Airlines also won't be taking to the skies any longer. It seems that it is hard for discount airlines and small carriers to break even when oil prices have held steady over $100 since February.

Skybus had increased traffic at Greensboro's airport by 30 percent in January and February of 2008 compared to the same time last year. Now the airport is back to being the type of place where the TSA security agents have nothing better to do than measure all your liquids and search every bag you have. It's a shame, they used to be busy enough that every once in a while I could get away with sneaking my water bottle on board.

My beloved town of Greensboro, with a population of 225,000, has been experiencing a boom recently. By "boom" I mean that the city has successfully embarked on a project to remove all trees from the area. Outside of downtown, which has turned into a trendy area after being a ghost town for all of my childhood, the city looks like one big suburb. Greensboro has some of the worst urban sprawl in the country--meaning that developers keep expanding outwards instead of upwards. FedEx is opening a large hub there that has already brought 500 new jobs to the area in construction alone. When it opens they plan on hiring 1,500 employees. FedEx deserves some sort of award in efficiency for leveling 165 acres in what seemed like two or three months.

Who knows, maybe this economic slowdown will mean I'll still be able to find a few places around town where I can let my dog run around without a leash.

Back to Brazil

NEW YORK—It was business as usual last Thursday at the Throckmorton Fine Art gallery in midtown. The chairs were made of scrap metal, the air kisses smelled of wine, and everyone, miraculously, just loved the art.

The photos of waterfalls that lined the walls were taken in various places in photographer Valdir Cruz’s native country, Brazil. Not surprisingly, many of the patrons milling about, gesturing with their plastic wine cups, were his compatriots. Despite the beautiful pictures, and the Brazil vogue that has led to a proliferation of night clubs, salon treatments and compilation CDs in New York, Cruz’s countrymen were less than enthusiastic about their patria.

Though she is Brazilian, artist Márcia Grostein’s website is available only in English, and she is very clear that her home is New York. Peering through cat’s-eye glasses, Grostein says that in New York, general opinion towards things Brazilian began to warm about 10 years ago. “I helped change a lot of things,” she said, in Portuguese, “because when I came here ‘Brazilian’ was curse word.” In spite any struggle she has faced in New York, Grostein is ambivalent about her home country. Rolling her eyes, she stated, “I never want to live in Brazil ever again."

Aristides Sergio Klafke has been a Brazilian for every one of his 55 years, but he believes his 22 as a New Yorker have been the most important. When asked about the ties to his home country in New York, he shrugged noncommittally, saying “I don’t have many Brazilian friends.”

An artist, Klafke has never shown his work in Brazil because he says he lacks strong
connections there, preferring to focus on his work in his chosen city. He explains that his art is not quintessentially Brazilian “in the sense of showing parrots and boa constrictors, coffee and Pelé,” referring to the famous Brazilian soccer star. Running a tattooed hand though his gray hair, Klafke furrowed his brow, adding, “of course, you never lose your touch.”

Klafke’s girlfriend, Italian Matilde Damele,
was very enthusiastic about the country, like the majority of the non-Brazilians at the gallery. Of course, she has a personal stake in the people of Brazil. When Damele mentions her Brazilian paramour to her friends, she said, they get very excited. Making a perfect red “o” with her mouth, Damele mugged: “Oh! A Brazilian!”

Damele has been living in New York for 8 years, and works as an artist. Shaking her miniskirt-clad hips back and forth, she winked, saying “there is an aura—and it’s not an accident!”

Are Invisible Eyes Watching Neoliberalism's Invisible Hand?

The map in the waiting room of Upwardly Global, an organization that provides job training and resources to immigrants in the United States, has been cut into small squares and rearranged at random.

The map represents the way in which globalization and economic foces send workers, factories, and products to all parts of the world—separating and intermixing according to today's neoliberal economic rules—often presented to us by the Bush administration as “natural” law.

However, with the current recession and the recent, massive government bailout of private investment bank Bear Stearns, it may be time to reassess just how “natural” these economic forces really are.

The Federal Reserve Bank used $29 billion in taxpayer dollars to save Bear Sterns, a move that flies square in the face of a self-correcting, free market-based economic policy.

In an LA times blog, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “If you want to say we bailed out the market in general, I guess that's true.”

This would be a worrying turn of events if it weren't for the warm, soothing air in the palms, the beautiful 1950's Fords cruising by, the perfectly rolled Havana...wait! We're still in the United States you say??

The government buying out a private enterprise is textbook socialism, like Chavez's recent move to nationalize Venezuela's cement industry, or President Evo Morales purchase of Bolivia's gas production.

However, the US Senate approved the buyout of Bear Stearns with a 94-1 vote. Because of the financial ties of so many companies to Bear Stearns, allowing it to fail “might have caused global markets to collapse,” reported the Economist.

Which raises the question, what does it mean when the free market fails us? Should we forge boldly ahead, purifying our free market strategy with even less regulation, or should we finally question our dependence on the invisible hand of the market?

In an editorial for the Christian Science Monitor, professor of economics James W. Brock sees a solution in the increase of antitrust laws.

“The consolidation process has raged through most major American industries, from telecommunications and oil to pharmaceuticals and defense weapons. In the banking and finance sectors, the urge to merge has spawned the very behemoths that the Fed is now compelled to prop up.”

As the two terms of George W. Bush come to a close, it is becoming apparent that complete deregulation can be harmful, just as harmful as Soviet-era governments relying on inefficient, state-run companies. Whether it is Clinton, Obama, or McCain, the economic policies under the next president will help us determine just how “natural” neoliberal economic policy ever really was.

WTC Crusader

-Mike Weiss

New York, April 4 - “Nearly 1,100 people remain missing - not one piece of DNA, not one piece of remains, in and around Ground Zero. Some of those remains are in the Fresh Kills dump on Staten Island,” said Sally Regenhard. This is an issue she knows all too well, because some of those remains belong to her son, 28-year-old firefighter Christian Regenhard.

Sally Regenhard is the founder and chairperson of the non-profit Skyscraper Safety Campaign ( and she visited an NYU journalism class last week to describe her experiences and reactions soon after the attack on the World Trade Center.

“No elected official, nobody, said we needed an investigation. Not one person was questioning how this could happen in this city, the greatest city in the world.”

She was in shock soon after 9/11, both with the loss of her son as well with the incomprehension that nothing was happening on an official level to discover why the towers fell, why so many people were trapped inside, why so many firefighters had to die. So it was with relief that a month after 9/11, in October 2001, that she read an article in the Daily News by Joe Calderone. He was one of the first to describe the mismanagement of the rescue efforts and the need for an investigation. In opening up the topic and confirming her own feelings, the Skyscraper Safety Campaign was born.

Nights would follow camped out at Ground Zero protesting the building, and as the SSC started to form Regenhard met with victim’s families, relatives of firefighters, EMT and other workers at the site. She would meet with engineers, lawyers, attend government committees (“Listen, if you ever want to really suffer, join a code committee!”), organize demonstrations in Albany and protests in Washington and over the next six and a half years started pealing back the layers of secrecy to learn just exactly how government really works.

“9/11 was not only a massive failure level at the federal level but at the state level, the city level and especially the Port Authority level,” she said.

Regenhard criticizes the Port Authority for acting above the law in building towers that didn’t comply with local building and fire codes – codes which would have required each tower to have four stairwells instead of three. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the glaring building code violations she would find.

She publicized the lack of preparation and planning at FDNY, who on 9/11 were still using antiquated radios which had proven to have problems at the first WTC bombing in 1993.

But her harshest criticism is reserved for Mayor Giuliani, who refused assistance from sources outside city government which not only delayed the rescue of possible survivors, but even hampered recovery efforts. Regenhard pointed out that there is an established US military agency called JPAC (Joint Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command that has the expertise and facilities to recover the bodies of American servicemen anywhere in the world, but they were restricted from operating at the WTC site.

“They needed to make human remains a priority and they never did,” she said tearfully, one of several times during her presentation when she broke down and had to stop to recover herself.

“I was an innocent person, I believed in the system – a good Catholic school girl,” she said. “But at some point in your life you have to step out of your comfort zone to go after what is true, what is right.”

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Falsely imprisoned in Guantánamo: Murat Kurnaz’s story arrives in New York

- Michael E. Miller

New York, April 6 – Murat Kurnaz spent five years in a cramped cell in Guantánamo, an innocent man sold into captivity for $3,000. His story, one of circumstance and mistaken identity in the “war on terror,” bears all the marks of a tragic novel.

Sadly, however, there is nothing fictitious about it.

Kurnaz’s story was the subject of a panel discussion at the New York Public Library on Friday. Though freed in 2006, Kurnaz is still considered an “enemy combatant” by the United States—a label that his lawyers reject but that nonetheless bars him from the country.

The approximately two hundred people that attended the ticketed event heard actor and playwright Wallace Shawn read passages from Kurnaz’s newly published memoir, “Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo.” Interspersed with comments by the panel’s five other discussants—including Kurnaz’s lawyers and the Muslim chaplain from Guantánamo—these passages traced the arch of Kurnaz’s ordeal.

Shortly after September 11, 2001, Kurnaz, then only 19 years old, left his native city of Bremen, Germany, to study Islamic scripture in Pakistan. He had just been engaged and wanted to learn more about his responsibilities as a husband and a Muslim. But shortly before leaving Pakistan, Kurnaz was pulled off of a bus and thrown into a secret U.S. prison in Afghanistan. Two months later, he was sent to the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where a guard later told him that U.S. authorities had paid $3,000 for him.

He spent five years in Guantánamo, most of them without access to a lawyer. In his memoir, Kurnaz says that his guards routinely abused him, using electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and beatings in an effort to draw information from him. They pried him with questions, such as “Where is Osama?” before determining, as early as 2002, that he was an innocent man. Kurnaz was not released until August of 2006.

One of Kurnaz’s lawyers, Baher Azmy, called his imprisonment “absurd enough to make Kafka blush.”

“He was unable to see the evidence that was the basis for him being labeled an ‘enemy combatant,’” he said. “It’s impossible to shake that designation.” To this day, the U.S. government will not admit that it “released” Kurnaz because to do so would be to admit his innocence, and their mistake, Azmy said.

Azmy and Kurnaz’s German lawyer, Bernhard Docke, described the tremendous difficulty of freeing a man who had been disappeared into Guantánamo.

“All the legal means which ought to be self-evident for a state based on the rule of law were denied,” Docke said. “He was kept incommunicado for years” with no idea of the charges against him.

Philippe Sands, an essayist and professor of international law, also spoke on the panel. In “The Green Light,” an exposé in this month’s Vanity Fair, Sands shows how the Bush administration’s legal reasoning allowed for the abuse of Guantánamo inmates, including Kurnaz.

“Murat Kurnaz arrived at Guantánamo at a very crucial moment,” Sands said. His transfer from Afghanistan to Cuba coincided with Bush’s presidential order “that none of the detainees would have rights under the Geneva Convention,” he said.

The result was that the “rulebook was wiped clean” as far as detainees’ rights.

Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Right and the event’s moderator, pointed out that approximately 275 detainees remain in Guantánamo, “with the U.S. still planning death penalty charges against a number of them.” Around 600 Guantánamo detainees have already been released, in large part due to the Center’s efforts.

The panelists were quick to point out that all Guantánamo detainees, regardless of guilt or innocence, deserve a fair trial—something Kurnaz never received. It was not until 2004, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the detainees had the right to see civilian lawyers, that Kurnaz met with Azmy. It took two more years for Kurnaz to be set free, despite the holes in the evidence against him. American authorities accused him of being the friend of a suicide bomber. His friend, it turned out later, was alive and well.

“In Guantánamo, the only decisions that ever mattered were those made by the military,” Azmy said. “It’s an enormously arbitrary process.”

Docke, the lawyer hired by Kurnaz’s mother in Germany, said that Germany was also responsible in his client’s wrongful imprisonment. German interrogators visited Kurnaz in Guantánamo in September of 2002 and decided, like the Americans, that he was most likely innocent.

“The door was half open in the fall of 2002 to get him back,” Docke said. Instead, the German administration at the time canceled Kurnaz’s right to stay in Germany. Born in Bremen to Turkish parents, Kurnaz is nonetheless a Turkish citizen under German law.

A recent Seton Hall study found that the Bush administration’s depiction of Guantánamo detainees clashes with U.S. military records. According to the study, only six percent of the detainees were captured by U.S. forces; 90 percent of them were turned over to the U.S. by the Aghani Northern Alliance, often in exchange for money. Only eight percent were alleged to be members of Al Qaeda.

In an interview after the event, Docke said that the Military Commissions Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2006, barred Kurnaz from seeking compensation from the U.S. government. His case looks more promising in Germany, though Kurnaz’s Turkish citizenship complicates things.

“In my mind, Germany bears a political and moral responsibility for his time in Guantánamo,” Docke said. “We are now considering a lawsuit.”

When Kurnaz returned to Germany after his release, he discovered that his fiancé had left him and that his country had deported him while he was in Guantánamo.

“He is doing pretty well, considering the hell he went through,” Docke said. But having lost five years of his life to a case of mistaken identity, having suffered beatings and electro-shocks on a daily basis, Kurnaz’s readjustment to freedom is no easy task. His story is a reminder of the dangerous ambiguities involved in the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

Kurnaz may need counseling to overcome the years of abuse, Docke said.

“Somewhere in his body or brain, you have this dark history of Guantánamo.”

Forty years after Prague Spring, all that’s left of communism is a babushka with an ominous overbite. Or is it?

Renting its space from McDonalds on one of the busiest streets in Prague is Museum of Communism. It shares a beautiful, Baroque building with a casino.

Haphazardly thrown into the corners of its rooms are artifacts – pieces of Soviet airplanes, propaganda posters, a time card puncher with a proletarian slogan– that bear witness to decades of communism in Czechoslovakia (today's Czech Republic), now almost 20 years gone. Huddled on the floor, the busts of communist leaders command neither fear nor reverie – nor praise for a great aesthetic achievement.

Aesthetics may not have been the primary concern of the museum’s owner, American restaurateur Glenn Spicker who came to Prague in the early 90s, following the fall of communism. There was excitement in the air, Spicker remembers, and his thirst for adventure and a knack for business led him to open Bohemian Bagels in the city’s center. But a decade into it, the increasing expenses made him look for new ventures: the Museum of Communism.

“The idea was to create a museum that would be an expression of how Czech people feel – simple, objective and historical,” said Spicker who hired a Czech documentary producer Jan Kaplan, to help him with the set-up. Together, they scavenged the city’s antique shops for much of the museum’s paraphernalia. Several Czech historians and journalists wrote the text for the exhibition, which is divided into three thematic parts: “dream, reality and nightmare.”

Yet objectivity seems to be a relative concept. While the museum may be a helpful introduction to those who are not familiar with communism, for those more thorough students such as Sophie Schasiepen from Vienna, the approach appears polemic and irresponsible, peppered with commentary that has little to do with an objective look at the ideology.

“I was already shocked by the very sarcastic posters they are using as advertisements and that are printed in the guidebooks without any comment,” Schasiepen said. “The manner in which the presumably neutral texts in the exhibition where talking about Karl Marx, Lenin and communist ideas in general was outrageous. Calling Marx a ‘bohemian and intellectual adventurer, who started his life career as a romantic poet with an inclination towards apocalyptic titanism’ - I really don´t even know what to say to that.”

For a middle-aged couple from Hamburg, Germany, the museum was a reminder of a time they witnessed. “The museum was informative,” said Klaus Dernidinger, but the text, while trying to be objective, contained a “Western bias,” he added.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring, a period of several months in 1968 when the new leadership of then Czechoslovakia's communist party headed by Alexander Dubcek attempted to introduce mild economic and social reforms. The Soviet Union, fearing the rebellion of its satellite state, sent troops in August of the same year. About 100 people died in the demonstrations that followed. In the protest of the clampdown, two youth Jan Palac and a month later, Jan Zajic, set themselves on fire and burned to death on Prague’s Vaclav Square.

The museum’s portrayal of the every day life under communism 

in Czechoslovakia left Mrs. Card from St. Louis in the United States grateful for “having been blessed to live in America.” The most effective displays were a bleak lineup of a few cans on the store’s shelf and the eerie echo of the telephone ring in the model of an interrogation room where potential dissidents were often tortured.

While Spicker was hoping that many Czechs would visit, he had no illusions. “I knew that tourists would be the main people to come – Czechs are not that excited to talk about the past.”
Marian J. Kratochvil of Institute of Contemporary History in Prague disagrees.  "The Czechs do not mind discussing things that happened during those 41 years of Communist rule, most of us are proud to have contributed to the resistance; others were, at least, 'non-belligerent." But, he added "the Museum is a damned pseudo-capitalist venture and no Czech would ever visit it."

The Velvet Revolution– a series of mass demonstrations in 1989 – brought communism in Czechoslovakia to an end. According to Spicker, unlike some other former Soviet satellite states that took pride in some of communism’s legacies –its monuments and artwork, for example – Czechs were eager to sever the connection, destroying many public markings.

However, the relationship to the time is not that clearly cut. In the aftermath of Velvet Revolution, today’s communist party in Czech Republic – Czech Republic’s Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia – is the only former ruling party of the Eastern Bloc that has not dropped “communist” from its title. It has consistently won an average of 12 percent of the votes in each parliamentary election since 1989.

According to Kratochvil,  "the Communist electorate consists mainly of pensioners, born in 1920s -1930s, who witnessed the Nazi occupation and Communists were a smaller evil for them.  Now, they lost their 'social securities' guaranteed by the state in the Communist era; they mutter, they are against everything, but they cannot present any solution."

Remnants of communism are in people’s attitudes, adds Spicker. “People still behave with innate cultural oddities. Arrogance in restaurants and bad customer service, for example – that all stems from communist background,” he said.

Kratochvil agrees that traces of that time "are present in our hearts, the way people think, how shop assistants present their goods to their customers - mostly unwillingly, reluctantly, knowing their wages are under average." But the new generations have welcomed the changes, he adds.  Most of them support either the Civic Democratic Party or the Social Democrats.  "The Communist Party is predestined to die out, sooner or later, or merge with Social Democrats just as soon as their electorate would die out."

Chris Card, 17, of St. Louis, United States sees very little of that time in today’s Prague. “Prague is really capitalist – you have to pay for everything, even to go to the bathroom.  It’s so un-American to have to pay to pee.”