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Protestors Interrupt, Obama Sidesteps Issues on Manning

Obama Fundraiser Protest Photo Credit Logan Price Manning San Francisco

U.S. President Obama got a taste of Bay Area politics this last week when protestors broke up his breakfast fundraiser in San Francisco to confront him about the imprisonment and torture of whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning.  Obama's response proved he can roll with the punches, but it also showed that Obama is unwilling to say anything meaningful about Manning's mistreatment.  But then again, no one expects him to.

Obama was unfazed when the 'experimental action group' Fresh Juice Party interrupted a $5,000 a plate fundraiser at San Francisco's Regis Hotel with a song they composed about the charges against and torture of imprisoned whistleblower Pfc Bradley Manning.  The protestors made it through a few verses before being whisked away by Secret Service, saying "we love you" as they left.  It might as well have been part of his speech.  Obama was friggin' Carson up there on the dais: he stayed cool during the song, made some demeaning cracks about the singing, then continued his monologue.

Let me summarize: the President was accused of torturing a U.S. citizen and he responded by making jokes.  Two days later the song is being covered by the media; no one cares what it said.

I invite you to read an exerpt of the lyrics, but imagine you're reading it as President Obama.  Try to think of witty remarks about the protestor's singing voices and about how creative they are.  Under no circumstances should you think about the actual content.  The words mean nothing to you.  You are a PR machine.  Now read:

    Yes it's true that Terry Jones is legally free

    To burn a people's holy book in shameful effigy

    But at another location in this country

    Alone in a 6x12 cell sits Bradley

    23 hours a day is night

    The 5th and 8th Amendments say this kind of thing ain't right

    We paid our dues, where's our change?

If they wouldn't have sung would it have been more effective?  The power of protest music to challenge the state is evident by the bans issued by suppresive governments the world over.  Algeria, Haiti, Cuba, Iran, etc. all have to imprison musicians and ban broadcast to stop subversive music.  Even Verdi was outlawed.  Obama works the room and makes fucking jokes- story dies.

Activist Logan Price tried another route and debated the President directly about Pfc Manning's torture.  The president is noticably less cool, but he's not actually shaken enough where he starts to actually talk constructively about Manning.

From the debate (thanks to Andy Greenberg at Forbes for the transcript):

People can have philosophical views about…

[Questioner: unintelligible]

No, no, but look, I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source. That’s not how…the world works. If you’re in the military, and…I have to abide by certain classified information. If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law…We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate…

He broke the law.

[Questioner: 'You can make it harder to break the law.']

Well, what he did was he dumped…

[Questioner: something about President Nixon's prosecution of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg]

It wasn’t the same thing. What Ellsberg released wasn’t classified in the same way. So. Anyway. Alright.

Obama makes some quick reductionist arguments about how the information Pfc. Manning allegedly leaked, but talking about the rule of law is flotsam.  No one is suggesting that the President make an arbitrary decision to release a random criminal.  The point is that Manning is not a criminal because we have laws to protect certain types of information leaks because they serve the greater good more than secrecy, and more than the laws that prevent the leaking of the information.  Pfc. Manning is a whistleblower.

If Obama released classified information and it benefited the country, he would also be a whistleblower.  That used to be one of the great things about America: you could speak freely and the same laws applied to everyone.

It's too bad lawyer and constitutional scholar Obama doesn't recognize that, nor does he know that Manning is innocent until a court convicts him.  I mean what's the point of electing lawyers to office if they don't know you can't say "he broke the law" unless someone has been convicted?

Of course, I commend Obama for not disappearing Price when the Secret Service offer to remove him.  It reminds me that even when I'm critical of Obama, I need to acknowledge the improvement over Bush II.  But it doesn't make much difference.  It just gives the veneer that he's engaging with Price, when really he's avoiding the most important issues.

Obama has not investigated torture by last administration or ended the two wars Bush II started.  Instead he started his own war in Libya and is expanding the use of torture techniques once reserved for 'enemy combatants' who weren't charged with anything and denied trial to be used against American citizens.  He doesn't have to answer for these actions mostly because no one is taking him to task.  It's only in San Francisco that he even gets confronted with these questions and people don't even have the expectation that he will answer them.  He just jokes around and everyone quietly forgets.

Lastly, let us all remember that MC Hammer was in attendance the whole time.

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