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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Keyboard Kommandos

by tristero

More here.

Institutions, Power, and Tyranny

by poputonian

Chalk up another win this week for the established order as they grind forward with a full and complete grip on power. The Hillary and Bill display of righteous indignation, which coincides not with the latest atrocity accomplished by the administration, but with the attack upon their 'good' name (a Rovian ploy, by the way), did little to assuage my contempt for mainstream Democrats. The Clintons, like most other Democrats (save the likes of Feingold and Conyers) are highly sublimated animals whose efforts are geared more toward social acceptance into the club, and not sufficiently toward political opposition, in my opinion. I've expressed before my belief that all the engineered politics of Billary are designed to cover her flawed judgment of having ever supported the war in Iraq. Karl Rove neutered the entire Democratic party when he forced them to anti-up on the war - in or out - and all those who registered high on the presidential ambition meter -- John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Hillary Clinton -- said, "Oh, count me in ... I'm strong on defense too." As the then twenty-two year old dylanesque song-writer, Conor Oberst, exclaimed at the time (in his song called "Let's Not Shit Ourselves") -- "The approval rating's high, so someone's gonna die."

The rest is history, as they say.

So once again I feel helpless as that amalgamation of the most powerful persons in industry, politics, religion, and military -- I'm speaking of the Republican Party -- commits ongoing tyranny against every citizen of the United States. Yesterday it was by misleading the nation into war, authorizing illegal wiretapping, bribing legislators for favorable votes in Congress, and exerting power and control over the now-corporatized press, and today it is by authorizing human torture without any due process whatsoever. It's human tyranny, something so new and unusual (tongue firmly in cheek) that the opposition party has no idea how to deal with it. We must be very careful with the language we use so as not to offend the sensibilities of the American Idiots.

And this is why one more time I find myself hearkening back to the pre-Revolutionary period when a group of New England liberals took opposition to a previous established order, one that also got too big for its britches, and one that also began committing acts of tyranny in order to preserve its power. I'm referring, of course, to the British parliament. Note the similarity of the setting: At the time, Great Britain was the wealthiest nation on earth, and the foundation for free institutions; the people of England had a Bill of Rights, and an unwritten constitution based on the natural law; the constitution had been confirmed more than fifty times by Parliament, according to John Adams. In short, the English people were -- free.

So when Great Britain used coercive measures to bring her subjects into compliance on matters of taxation and trade, things that seem almost trivial by comparison to today, many American intellectuals became obsessed with the threat of tyranny. So much so that they actually used the word "tyranny" to describe the party in power. That word, in fact, appeared thousands of times in print throughout the Revolutionary period. It was used in private letters written by and to the delegates of the Continental Congress and appeared in such derivative forms and creative spellings as: tyrany, tyrrany, tyranni, tyranic, tyrannic, tyranical, tyrannical, tyrannically, tyrannies, tyranys, tyrannize, tyrannized, tyrannous, tyrant, and tyrant's. And how ironic that the letters were directed at an earlier tyrant George, this one the King of England. The delegates' letters (culled from this CD ) were peppered with colorful phrases:

inexorable Tyrant
the artful Wiles of an infatuated and tyrannical Ministry
the impious War of Tyranny
the severest extremities of tyranny
deep lay'd Schemes of Tyranny
instruments of tyranny
mercenary Soldiers of a Tyrant
the Ministerial Sons of Tyranny
the infernal hand of Tyranny
outrages of Tyranny
Threats of a Tyrant
barbarous Tyranny
the rapacious Hand of a Tyrant
the Pillars of Tyranny
merciless Tyrant
Torrent of Tyranny
Slaves of Tyranny
bloody Standard of Tyranny
Infringements of a Tyrant
Altar of Tyranny
absolute despotic Tyrant
Encroachments of Tyranny
System of Tyranny

Particularly colorful, and my personal favorite was one by Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut, who asked: "When will Tyrant Worms cease to disturb human Happiness?"

Clearly, in the interest of preserving their hold on power, Parliament had stepped on someone's liberties.

In spite of the inflammatory language, the early leaders in America were not mere propagandists. They actively sought knowledge of human behavior and understood the threat posed by institutional tyranny. One source of knowledge (please note here that I'm paraphrasing and borrowing heavily from the source by Delbert Cress referenced below) was a book written by James Harrington in 1656 called Commonwealth of Oceana. Harrington tracked the themes of tyranny and corruption, and set forth theories about political degeneration, the decline of freedom, and the need for a constitutional balance. In pre-Revolutionary America, Oceana could be found in the Harvard College Library, the New York Society Library, and the Charleston Library in South Carolina. The contents of Oceana and theories of how political institutions always devolve into tyranny had become part of a pre-Revolutionary mindset.

Another source of knowledge for the revolutionaries was John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon who had written behind the pseudonym of Cato. In the early 1720s, in London, Trenchard and Gordon published a set of works called Cato's Letters. The letters conjured up images of tyranny, and explored the threat to society posed by institutional corruption. From Cato's Letters emerged a view that power itself corrupts men, leading eventually to political intrigue, unfair influence, and patronage. By 1776, Cato's Letters were known to exist in 40% of the colonial libraries and they, along with Harrington's Oceana, were known to have been studied by Thomas Jefferson, John Dickinson, John Adams, Henry Knox, and Benjamin Rush. These same men also studied the works of Sidney, Molesworth, Fletcher, Hutcheson, and Blackstone. So too did Benjamin Franklin, James Otis, Josiah Quincy, Jr., John Hancock, Samuel Adams, George Mason, James Wilson, and scores of lesser known citizens. The American intellectuals also studied the Greek and Roman republics, the ancient Goths and Germans, the success of the Swiss, and the writings of Machiavelli. James Burgh brought many of the earlier theories forward and added to them when he published Political Disquisitions in 1775. John Adams, George Washington, Samuel Chase, John Dickinson, Silas Deane, John Hancock, Thomas Mifflin, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson all were known to have received copies of Burgh's work when it was first published in America in 1776.

Those early American politicians were profound in their enlightened thoughts on institutional behavior and the workings of government and society. Many of the contemporary views on the inevitability of political corruption were formed as a result. Josiah Quincy was exceptionally marked in his prose, suggesting that the powerful institution was "a monster" birthed by "human follies and vices" where "depravity and cowardice" can thrive. He called the professional soldier an unwitting "slave" hired by men of "ambition and power" who could then manipulate the soldier for self-serving ends. Quincy believed the military's awesome power made "wicked ministers more audacious" and saw them advancing "schemes inconsistent with ... liberty" and "destructive of the trade." According to Quincy, the military/political institution was the place where "a will and a power to tyrannize are united." He called the impacts inevitable and fatal in both the political and the moral world.

The learned nature and the observations made by men such as Samuel Adams, Josiah Quincy, Simeon Howard, and others, reflected their wisdom and the studied reality which they came to know about human nature. The inclination to increase personal power is simply a part of the natural human makeup. Inclination toward power leads to the unfair advancement of self-interest, personal gratification, and exploitation. And powerful people, facing any perceived threat to their power, large or small, are inclined to use coercion to protect their standing. Tyranny, therefore, was a natural ingredient that could eventually be found in any institution. As the institution devolves, it always seeks to increase its power.

People also morph into unrecognizable characters as their institutions become corrupt. Samuel Adams, writing after the shots were fired at Lexington, but before Independence had been declared wrote in elegant prose to his friend James Warren about the threat posed by ambitious men and the institutional military:

A standing army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people. Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a body distinct from the rest of the citizens. They have their arms always in their hands. Their rules and their discipline is severe. They soon become attached to their officers and disposed to yield implicit obedience to their commands. Such a power should be watched with a jealous eye.


Men who have been long subject to military laws, and inured to military customs and habits, may lose the spirit and feeling of citizens. And even citizens, having been used to admiring the heroism which the Commanders of their own Army have displayed, and to look upon them as their saviors, may be prevailed upon to surrender to them those rights for the protection of which against invaders they had employed and paid them. We have seen too much of this disposition among some of our countrymen.

The anonymous essayist Caractacus earlier expressed the same sentiment when his essay "On Standing Armies" appeared in a colonial Philadelphia newspaper:

History is dyed in blood when it speaks of the ravages which standing armies have committed upon the liberties of mankind: officers and soldiers of the best principles and character have been converted into instruments of tyranny by the arts of wicked politicians.

America was once a vibrant and vocal enterprise where prominent people spoke with courage and conviction. We are now a muted and sublimated culture where the opposition is cowardly, and too afraid they will be ostracized if they speak out. A once participatory and opposition-minded mainstream press is now preponderantly part and parcel of the largest institution, that amalgamation of powerful forces referred to earlier. The most influential reporters (Russert, Brokaw and their ilk) are millionaire staffers, corporate automatons, and vanity authors who have become inured to the ways and customs of their employers. The elite way of living that goes along with their wealth and social status make them less likely to question the actions of government tyrants. Yet they are the very people with the responsibility to do so, and they are the people who are in a position to do so.

I want to ask how did we get here, but I think the answer is obvious. We are still in the dark ages politically and if we are lucky enough survive the current phase of the human journey, it will be a long, long time, I think, until society advances beyond this sorry state.

Sources: As noted above, the references to tyranny are from Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Paul H. Smith, editor. The background on sources of study for the early American leadership comes from Citizens in Arms, Lawrence Delbert Cress, Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

Shrimp Puffs

by digby

Just in case anyone's wondering...

100 Most Invited: Find Out Who's Hot and Who's Not

My personal favorite:

3 GEORGE and SUSAN ALLEN SENATOR & WIFE The former Virginia governor and son of a legendary Redskins coach wears cowboy boots and is all over the news of late - could it be his attempt to win the 2008 Presidential Superbowl of Politics, or is that just a bunch of "macaca?" She's lovely, bright and known to loosen him up.

How droll.

Keeping It Real

by digby

What with all the soul searching lately and discussion of where we draw the line as we attempt to traverse the minefield of current electoral politics, I think this is a good time to link up to this very interesting meta-blog piece by political scientist and blogger Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber in this month's Boston Review.

Farrell does a thorough analysis of the netroots and then homes in on our common self-description as non-ideological partisans out to change a corrupt and inept party structure:

Their experiences have deepened the netroots’ conviction that there’s something rotten in the Democratic Party. Quasi-corrupt relationships hamper the ability of Democrats to win elections; candidates for office are expected to hire certain well-connected consultants if they want to receive party funding. Party leaders try to eke out narrow wins, focusing their attention only on the most competitive races instead of campaigning aggressively across the country. Elected officials prefer stroking the egos of major donors to grass-roots organizing. Senators mug to pundits’ and newspaper editors’ penchant for bipartisanship by denouncing fellow Democrats as extremists, giving cover to Republicans, and dragging the political center ever further toward the right. These problems cripple the party’s ability to compete successfully, guaranteeing continued Republican hegemony. In response, netroots bloggers want to reform the party’s organizational structures and punish elected officials who weaken the party in pursuit of their personal agendas.

Absolutely. As I watched the torture debate unfold this week, I was acutely aware of exactly those deficiencies in the party and saw the whole ugly mess as a result of terrible partisan tactics and non-existent strategy. But something else niggled at the back of my mind. There was something tremendously meaningful happening about which Democrats of good faith were deeply concerned and it had nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with citizenship.

I was reminded one of one the previous times such an outrageous, hurried, ill conceived machination was presented as a fait accomplis by the Bush administration and it brought millions of people into the streets -- the Iraq war. I recall pragmatic voices saying at the time that protesting was a bad move, that it hurt our image, that we should concentrate on gaining institutional power. And I wrote at the time that I understood why people said that, but you have to give people something more than dry tactics and strategy in politics:

People need to feel part of something in order to get involved in politics. And as someone who has volunteered in many a campaign I can tell you that for the last decade it has had all the uplifting inspiration of the Bataan death march. It is work with no satisfaction in the soul or spirit and without that politics becomes nothing more than a duty.

The Republicans have a base of committed true believers and we desperately need some of that too. Telling these newly galvanized Democrats that the only way they can legitimately express themselves is through the ballot box --- particularly in this day of manufactured, pre-fab campaigning --- is a very self-defeating idea.

I thought about that this week. Most people don't commit themselves to politics simply because they want to win or even because they want to stop someone else from winning (although when dealing with these modern Republicans that is a huge factor.) Most of us are interested and involved because we believe in certain things and we care about our country and our government. We band together with others who share our ideology and our values.

Farrell writes:

Netroots activists often compare themselves to the Goldwater supporters who took over the Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s. But a close reading of Rick Perlstein’s book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (which enjoys near-canonical status among netroots bloggers), suggests that the differences between Goldwaterites and the netroots are as important as the similarities. Goldwater’s followers succeeded not only because of their organizational skills but because of their commitment to a set of long-term ideological goals. Over two decades, they relentlessly sought to undermine the ideological foundations of the existing American political consensus, rebuilding it over time so that it came to favor conservative and Republican political positions rather than liberal or Democratic ones. The result is a skewed political system in which Republicans enjoy a persistent political advantage. The issue space that American politics plays out on has been reconstructed so that its center of gravity quietly but insistently pulls politicians to the right. So it isn’t any accident that bipartisanship in the modern era mostly consists of hewing to the Republican agenda.

As Perlstein argued in these pages two years ago, it isn’t impossible to remould this conventional wisdom, although it is difficult and risky. And the netroots can surely play an important role. Their comparative advantage is exactly in framing political issues and controversies so that they resonate widely. Prominent netroots bloggers recognize in principle the importance of the battle over ideas. Kos and Armstrong devote a substantial portion of Crashing the Gate, to discussing the need for a Democratic apparatus of think tanks and foundations that parallels the conservative intellectual machine. Kos writes regularly about how the Democrats need “big ideas� if they are to win. However, because the netroots conceive of themselves as a non-ideological movement, they aren’t delivering on their potential to help provide and refine these big ideas themselves and thus reshape the ideological underpinnings of the political consensus. If the netroots truly want to tilt the playing ground of American politics back again so that it favors the Democrats, they will need to embrace a more vigorous and coherent ideological program.

I want to win, don't get me wrong. And I'm a pragmatist by nature so I have little patience with purity pledges or tilting at windmills. But I am explicitly liberal in orientation and I want to see this country tilt back to a more liberal politics. If I was afraid to make a point of that before this week I no longer am. I learned that even upholding the constitution is now a matter of liberal political ideology instead of simple mainstream patriotism.

Farrell makes many interesting observations about our nascent movement and comes to some conclusions that I think we all need to at least begin to think about. We care about changing the party and we're practical people who aren't operating on a rigid agenda. But is that really enough? Farrell makes a compelling case that it isn't.

Update: For more bloggy goodness, if you haven't seen this video interview with our man Atrios, you're missing out. My only complaint is that he rudely failed to introduce the famous Eschacats. What was he thinking?

That Was The Week That Was

by digby

It's been a tough week for all of us. But it's been a tough week for the Republicans too. From John Hulse in the comments:

We have Mark Foley a republican congressman from Florida's 16th Congressional District, a 52 year old man, sexually harassing a 16 year old (boy) congressional page, resigning from congress immediately. The congressman was even asking the young boy for photos of himself. Sexually explicit computer messages. Something like "Would you please slip your tighty-whities off for me." and "Are you turned on?" Creepy times 10.

We have snippets of Bob Woodward's new book, where Laura Bush is walking around the White House hallways calling for Don Rumsfeld's resignation.

Then a CIA report that says that the invasion and occupation has made the United States LESS SAFE and recruited 1 million new crazed terrorists who are willing to kill themselves and all of us.

Reports are now saying that American troops are coming under attack 100 times EVERY SINGLE DAY. That�s an attack about every 13 minutes. Give or take a roadside bomb.

Crooked republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff now is being reported to have had hundreds of meetings inside the White House. Offering gifts to the richest men in the White House. Free concert tickets, free dinners to nice restaurants, free trips, free travel. FREE FREE FREE.

Quite ironic how the poor of Katrina were left to starve and die, but Bush's friends get concert tickets and a free meal. The average American can't afford to take a vacation and these corrupt pieces of human garbage get free trips to Scotland to play golf. All they had to do was agree to screw over the Indians. It seems from the evidence that it was an easy call for them to make.

The question one wonders is how much more harm to America could George Bush and the republicans do to America if they were with the other side?

And finally Bill Clinton's slam dunking of poor Chris Wallace. Mr. Wallace ended up peeing all over himself and lying about all the tough questions he asked the Bushies.

All this and we left out, TORTURE. George W. Bush will be known forever to history as the torture president. Both al Qaeda and the United States, I'm afraid.

Oh yeah�.I almost forgot. MA-KA-KA!

Let's just say this is going to be a helluva campaign. Fasten your seatbelts.

Update: This Republican Boytoy scandal must really have the leadership freaked out:

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Washington Post last night that he had learned this spring of some "contact" between Foley and a 16-year-old page. Boehner said he told House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and that Hastert assured him "we're taking care of it."


Boehner later contacted The Post and said he could not remember whether he talked to Hastert.

Know Your Place

by digby

Just in case they failed to get the memo:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is defending President Bush's anti-terrorism tactics in multiple court battles, said Friday that federal judges should not substitute their personal views for the president's judgments in wartime.

He said the Constitution makes the president commander in chief and the Supreme Court has long recognized the president's pre-eminent role in foreign affairs. "The Constitution, by contrast, provides the courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during wartime," the attorney general told a conference on the judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center.

Right. The Empty Codpiece and his federalist society drones are the ones the constitution anticipated should be interpreting the constitution when the US engaged in an unending, undeclared "war" on a tactic.

If these Republicans manage to hold on to the presidency, which they very well may since we've anointed St McCain of Guantanamo, I guess we'd better get used to the idea that we are living in an All American form of military dictatorship. There really is no other way to interpret Gonzales' statement.

Funny how we managed to get through the cold war and WWII without stripping the courts of authority, but then the Commies and the Nazis were nothing (nothing, I tell you!) to the existential threat posed by Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. It'll be a miracle if the country survives.

"They All Look The Same To Me"

by digby

I read today that one of the biggest corporations in the world has taken sides in the election and has chosen to explicitly identify themselves with a right wing shill. General Motors has actually hired Sean Hannity for a "patriotic" campaign to sell their cars. (This is a man who asks his guests "Is it that you hate this president or that you hate America?" )

Hannity is an unusual choice, to say the least. Apparently GM no longer cares if Democrats buy their cars. Good to know.

As I was casting about today for various Hannity quotes, I came across this beauty from his book "Deliver Us From Evil." The events of this week made it particularly striking, I thought:

Uncomfortable with the idea of God-given natural rights, [liberals] seek to substitute their own concepts of liberty and justice --- whatever they may be at the moment. The prefer the idea of a "living and breathing" constitution, one that can change with the times. Yet what they fail to see is exactly what Madison warned against: that a government with unchecked power --- whose authority is not grounded in a more fundamental source of morality --- leaves its people unprotected from evil.

This blind spot has left liberals far less suspicious of totalitarian regimes than they should be. Monarchism, national socialism, fascism, communism -- all these forms of authoritarianism are illegitimate and inherently unjust. They enable a relative handful of people to hold the state's levers of power, and use them to impose their will on an entire population. And inevitably they lead to abuse, oppression, even mass murder.

...We believe that American is a superior society not because Americans are superior human beings, but because our culture was founded on a recognition of our God-given natural rights --- the "unalienable rights'" referred to in the Declaration of Independence. From that awareness flows a basic, shared respect for humanity, individual liberty, limited government and the rule of law.

Well, there's unalienable and then there's unalienable.

They (the detainees) do not deserve the full panoply of rights reserved for Americans. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) 9/28/06

Let's let Trent Lott explain it as only he can:

"It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli's and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."

Do they all look like macacas Trent? because animals don't qualify for those unalienable rights that are reserved for Americans. Well, some the Americans. The good ones. You know which ones.

Who Cares What The Supreme Court Says?

by tristero

Oh, yes, it's disturbing. But let's not not over-react. In reality, it's just election-season politicking, the torture bill, I'm talking about, the limitations on habeas corpus. They really don't mean it to stick 'cause they know full well it's unconstitutional and the Supreme Court will overrule it. And that will be that.

Supreme Court decisions that are "so clearly at variance with the national will" should be overridden by the other branches of government, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says.

"What I reject, out of hand, is the idea that by five to four, judges can rewrite the Constitution, but it takes two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate and three-fourths of the states to equal five judges," Gingrich said during a Georgetown University Law Center conference on the judiciary.

It takes approval by two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the 50 states to adopt an amendment to the Constitution, the government's bedrock document.

Gingrich, a Republican who represented a district in Georgia, noted that overwhelming majorities in Congress had reaffirmed the Pledge of Allegiance, and most of the public believes in its right to recite it.

As such, he said, "It would be a violation of the social compact of this country for the Supreme Court to decide otherwise and would lead, I hope, the two other branches to correct the court."

In 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that the pledge was unconstitutional when recited in public schools because of the reference to God. The Supreme Court in 2004 reversed that decision on a technicality, but the case has been revived.

Gingrich said "the other two branches have an absolute obligation to render independent judgment" in cases that are "at variance with the national will."

He spoke at Thursday's panel discussion on relations between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.
And I can just hear the rationalizations. Look, it's well known Newt isn't in the Bush inner circle, even other Republicans think Newt is crazy.

Keep going...

Besides the country wouldn't stand for it. If George W. Bush chooses to ignore Supreme Court decisions he doesn't like, why, there would be...well, no there wouldn't be riots in the streets, but a lot of very irate people would write letters to the editor!


And don't you just love Daschle's charmingly naive riposte? What if Gore ignored the Supremes? The Republicans wouldn't have liked that one bit! ROTFLMAO!

My dear Daschle, you really don't get it. This isn't a game where the rules are "I play fair so you play fair." This is about the reality of asymmetrical power and that's no game. For a Republican in 2006 to worry that a Democrat would ever be in a position, let alone dare, to override a Supreme Court decision is like worrying that Noam Chomsky might have his own talk show on Fox News.

Now, for those of you clinging on to the delusion that what is happening isn't what actually is happening, let me spell it out. Gingrich is floating out there the very real possibility that Bush will not abide by any Supreme Court judgment he doesn't like. Suddenly the idea that the Supremes aren't the final arbiter on constitutionality is something that "merits discussion" and if you don't think this notion is going to dominate the discourse if the Supremes strike down the torture bill, well, I hate to be so blunt about it, but you are completely, totally wrong.

Rogue presidency. Fascism.

I'm not joking, I'm not being shrill, and I'm not being alarmist.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Saints Preserve Us

by digby

Susie informs me that today was Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the protector of light against the forces of darkness. Apparently St. Mike is honored by all the people of the book, which is news to her --- and me too.

Susie nominates him for our patron saint and I'll second that nomination. We need all the help we can get.

It's Getting Hot In Here

by digby

Many thanks to tristero for voicing the frustration and outrage so many of us are feeling about events of this week. I remember writing a piece sometime back about the danger presented by the constant drumbeat of cruel and violent rhetoric that bubbles up from the right wing into the national conversation and becomes more and more acceptable. (David Neiwert, as you know, has written about this extensively.) Civilized taboos are being broken everywhere, especially the most important taboos, the big ones, the ones that put untrammelled power in the hands of unaccountable authority. I wrote in that post called "Flame On High"

Seeing Ann Coulter feted on the cover of Time magazine as a mainstream political figure instead of the deranged, murderous extremist she actually is was quite a shock. And then a friend sent me the links to the Free Republic thread discussing the death of Marla Ruzicka, which made me so nauseous that I had to shut down for a while.

It has become clear to me that we are frogs being slowly boiled to death. And the media are enjoying the hot tub party so much that they are helping to turn up the heat.

Ann Coulter is not, as Howie Kurtz asserts today, the equivalent of Michael Moore. Michael Moore is is not advocating the murder of conservatives. He just isn't. For instance, he doesn't say that Eric Rudolph should be killed so that other conservatives will learn that they can be killed too. He doesn't say that he wishes that Tim McVeigh had blown up the Washington Times Bldg. He doesn't say that conservatives routinely commit the capital offense of treason. He certainly doesn't put up pictures of the fucking snoopy dance because one of his political opponents was killed. He doesn't, in other words, issue calls for violence and repression against his political enemies. That is what Ann Coulter does, in the most coarse, vulgar, reprehensible way possible.

Moore says conservatives are liars and they are corrupt and they are wrong. But he is not saying that they should die. There is a distinction. And it's a distinction that Time magazine and Howard Kurtz apparently cannot see.

I have long felt that it was important not to minimize the impact of this sick shit. For years my friends and others in the online communities would say that it was a waste of time to worry about Rush because there are real issues to worry about. Likewise Coulter. Everytime I write something about her there is always someone chastizing me for wasting their time. Yet, here she is, being given the impramatur of a mainstream publication of record in a whitwash of epic proportions. Slowly, slowly the water is heating up.

The idea was that the rise in heated, violent rhetoric in our culture was leading to serious concerns about the eliminationist impulse on the right. Just this week we see a disgusting anthrax "joke" played on Keith Olbermann because he has had the temerity to speak out against the president --- and a right wing newspaper laughs about it.

But why should that surprise us? We also saw more than half of our elected representatives explictly endorse torture and the repeal of habeas corpus (although they lied right to our faces and said they didn't.)

That shouldn't have surprised us either. CJR has an interesting article this month on how the press covered torture called A Failure of Imagination. It's not pretty:

There is a final factor that has shaped torture coverage, one that is hard to capture. In most big scandals, such as Watergate, the core question is whether the allegations of illegal behavior are true. Here, the ultimate issue isn’t whether the allegations are true, but whether they’re significant, whether they should really be considered a scandal.

Though the administration has decided not to defend publicly the need for “coercive” interrogations, others have. Their argument is that the policy of abusive interrogations is not only acceptable but necessary to protect the United States. At the same time, polls on torture are notoriously sensitive to phrasing. It’s the mixed results themselves, though, that may be telling. Americans appear to be ambivalent about the occasional need for torture. And with ambivalence, perhaps, comes a preference for not wanting to know.

Within this context, any article, no matter how straightforward or truthful, that treats abuse as a potential scandal — even by simply putting allegations on the front page — is itself making a political statement that “we think this is important,” and, implicitly, wrong. To make such a statement takes chutzpah. Between the invasion of Afghanistan in fall 2001 and the revelations about Abu Ghraib in spring 2004, chutzpah was in particularly short supply.

And it still does, apparently. While there has been ample coverage of Bush's torture and indefinite detention regime it has never assumed the level of "scandal." Even Abu Ghraib, where there were pictures of abuses, never really touched the administration. And what happened to the culture?

You'll recall what the most popular radio host in the world had to say about it:

LIMBAUGH: ...this is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?

And you'll recall what leading Republicans said about the criticism he received for that:

Rush's angry, frustrated critics discount how hard it is to make an outrageous charge against him stick. But, we listeners have spent years with him, we know him, and trust him. Rush is one of those rare acquaintances who can be defended against an assault challenging his character without ever knowing the "facts." We trust his good judgment, his unerring decency, and his fierce loyalty to the country he loves and to the courageous young Americans who defend her.

In the days after 9/11 the panic and hysteria were so thick in the air that people were saying a lot of crazy things. I remember writing a blistering post some time back about Jonathan Alter, who is a good guy, but who lost his mind for a bit after 9/11 and entertained this torture concept in his column. We all remember Alan Dershowitz going on the record early with an argument to make torture legal. I was quite stunned at the time, but I assumed that once the smoke cleared the nation would realize, with some chagrin, that many of the things they felt and believed while the rubble was still fresh was no longer acceptable.

The opposite happened. Our culture, debased by years of ugly rightwing eliminationist rhetoric has gotten worse. It is so much worse that it has abandoned the taboo against torture. There is no other way to read the results of this week.

Some of our leadership did speak out against the abuse of prisoners. Hillary Clinton, in particular, addressed the humane treatment of the captured enemy in explicit terms of fundamental American values. Others did as well. But overall, I think it's pretty clear that speaking out against torture is still something that requires chutzpah --- which means that approving of torture is now the norm. We need to recognize that and form our strategy based on that recognition. We are no longer the country I grew up in.

I feel I should point out that the old frog in boiling water thing is incorrect. When a frog feels the water heating up he jumps out. His survival instinct is strong. Humans, on the other hand, are much more complex creatures. It's not that we don't have a surivial instinct --- it's that we have the ability to rationalize and make ourselves believe that boiling water can't kill us --- it only kills frogs. But primitive lizard brain instincts are important in warning us when something is terribly wrong --- and we fail to heed them at our peril.

This country is very swiftly retreating to an uncivilized state. It's not because of gay people getting married or women aborting blastocysts. It's because a vicious, violent ugly faction took over the political discourse and normalized the idea of a powerful enemy within and without America that must be stopped by any means possible.

And the government is giving these people tours of the prison at Guantanamo and they come back and report that it is beautiful resort and the residents are fat and lazy. (Literally. It couldn't be more soviet.)

Of course, the very same person who said that wrote this in 2003:

"In a year's time, Iraq will be, at a bare minimum, the least badly governed state in the Arab world and, at best, pleasant, civilised and thriving. In short: not a bad three weeks' work."

That would be amusing except for the fact that he is no more deluded than the people who run the most powerful country in the world. This water is starting to bubble.

What Exactly Did Bush Do About The Cole In His First 8 Months?

by tristero

Olbermann examines the recent claims that Bush in his first 8 months was as aggressive in going after bin Laden as Clinton. Guess what? It's all lies and Olbermann has compiled the facts and footage to prove it, including stuff I suspect is quite new to most of us (such as that the Taliban offered Bush, yes Bush, to hand over bin Laden to the Saudis and he ignored the offer). And guess what? It's on MSNBC and nobody will see it.

Wotta racket. It's even better than suppressing the truth. Make it available so no one can claim censorship. But keep it away from the mainstream mass media so it has absolutely no impact at all. And if by any chance anyone gets suspicious, ignore the substance but dismiss the reporter as "too far left" to be taken seriously.

Wotta racket.

ht, Daou Report
This Ain't Yer Grandpa's Democracy

by tristero

Well. Now what?

The first thing to do is apparently quite controversial, why, I have no idea. But it is imperative that we fully recognize how seriously godawful the situation is.

I'll say it again: Americans are living in a fascist state. Don't like the word "fascism?" Neither do I. So what? It's ludicrous to call the gutting of habeas corpus, etc, etc, by near unanimous consent merely "authoritarian."* We are living in a fascist state. [See update.]

Some commenters in the post below said I am being too discouraging. Hardly. This country's government has been transformed and is no longer recognizable as a working democracy. That's simply a fact and we better accept it.

Because when you're dealing with fascism, "We can beat this, people if we just fight harder!" is naive win-one-for-the-Gipper fantasy-land. It's gonna get a lot worse than it is now before it gets better. We're gonna be lucky if more of us don't end up "persons of interest" to the Bush administration. Remember, if you're not with Bush, you're objectively pro-terrorist and I can't tell you how many times when commenting on rightwing blogs I've been accused of "aiding and abetting" the terrorists.

Does that mean not to resist Bush as some people suggested yesterday? I have no idea where that comes from. It never occurred to me.

I fail to see the connection between being realistic - that the situation is absolutely godawful - and giving up. Perhaps it's my experience as a composer, where confronting literally intractable obstacles - aesthetic, personal, and professional - are often an hourly occurrence. Of course, it's difficult to stick with it. Of course, it's discouraging, probably impossible with the odds of failure 10 to 1 or worse. Understanding that - truly understanding that - is the first step towards fighting with competence. You still very well could fail, but at least you're reality based.

And that makes you a lot more agile and street-smart than most of the folks you have to fight. And that increases the odds in your favor. And your chances of capitalizing on luck. Maybe not enough, but there's something downright satisfying about giving the bastards the worst possible time you can give them.

But in order to resist Bush, it's not enough to understand that we are in the early stages of a major catastrophe. We must also recognize exactly how it is bad, awful, dangerous, and the full extent of it before we can craft an appropriate resistance. What is clear is that the strategies used by the Democratic party to resist Bushism are useless.** We need much better ones.

Finally, we must realize that we will be fighting what this unspeakable bastard has done to the country and the world for a very long time.

*Only Republican votes count. And even then, a signing statement can easily finesse where they deign to restrict the god-inspired power of Oedipus Tex to do whatever he wants.

**Of course, you have to vote and of course you must vote for Democrats. Why? Because.

You think that's no answer? In the amount of time it would take for you to type out all the reasons you and I shouldn't bother, including gleefully pointing out that in the footnote above, I "admitted" it doesn't make a difference (which I didn't, btw), you could have saved yourself all that tedious effort and just voted. So grow up and just do it.

That's the least you can do. But if you're serious, you have to find ways to resist Bush in addition to voting that are less futile.

BTW, don't waste valuable electrons telling us how voting legitimizes a corrupt system, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it all before and it doesn't sound any more plausible the more it gets repeated. And yes, I know full well that the machines are rigged and it is not a paranoid fantasy to think that. It doesn't matter. Get off your lazy ass in November and vote for Democrats.

Don't wanna vote for Democrats who voted for torture? Agreed. Don't vote for them. Vote for other Democrats.

[Updated slightly after original post.]

[UPDATE: Some in comments and elsewhere have disputed my use of the F word here. Among the arguments: fascist states don't have elections. Well, in fact they do. But they're rigged. Computerized voting machines anyone. Another is that free speech is curtailed in a fascist state. Well, in fact it is. What matters freedom of speech in an era of megachurches if you don't have access to a significant microphone?

I deliberately chose one the most "extreme" words available because it sets off alarm bells. I am aware that this eruption of American fascism is quite different than classic examples. I am also aware that the extent of fascistic repression is small compared to other countries. American fascism doesn't resemble European models, or Asian, or Middle Eastern totalitarian states. But that doesn't make it any less fascistic.

If the cult of a leader inspired by God and Manifest Destiny, deeply beholden to corporate interests, which condones torture, heaps contempt on habeas corpus, plays the race card whenever it can, passes laws based upon the whim of the leader, and severely restricts the free discourse of ideas on the truly mass media isn't fascism, then please tell me what is.

More active use of the repressive powers Bush has seized? More censorship? That's simply a quantitative argument. The "quality" of fascism is undeniably here.]

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rogue Presidency

by tristero

Yes, the NY Times gets it. But it's not telling the whole truth.

The truth is that the United States government is presently holding, torturing, and even murdering countless numbers of people who have no chance in hell of obtaining a lawyer, let alone anything resembling a trial. The government is doing this under the direct orders of George W. Bush. There is no law, no bill, and no legislature who can stop him. If Congress were to pass a law unequivocably banning torture and send it to him, he'd use it for toilet paper. If the Supreme Court were to rule against Bush in the harshest and bluntest language, he'd yawn.

The truth is that there is a rogue presidency and there has been, since January, 2001 (earlier, if you count the stolen election). Certainly, everyone in Washington knows it, but no one dares to admit it. The bill legalizing torture merely enables Congress to pretend they still have some influence over an executive that from day one was governing, not as if they had a mandate, but as if Bush were a dictator. If, for some miracle, the bill didn't pass, every congress-critter knows Bush would keep on torturing.

Better to vote to pass and preserve the appearance of a working American government, the thinking goes. For the very thought that the US government is seriously broken - that the Executive is beyond the control of anyone and everyone in the world - is such a truly awesome and terrifying thought that it can never be publicly acknowledged. If ever it is, if the American crisis gets outed and Congress and the Supremes openly assert that the Executive has run completely amok and is beyond control, the world consequences are staggering. It is the stuff of doomsday novels.

And this brings up the dilemma of a post Nov. 7 world. Apparently, one if not both houses of Congress may be controlled by Democrats. Now what? You think Bush is gonna get impeached? Put on trial for war crimes? Forget it. You think they're gonna repeal the pro-torture law they're about to pass? You can almost certainly forget that, too. Remember: it is crucial to maintain the illusion that Congress still has some say, as it was in November of 2002 about the Bush/Iraq war.

If, for some reason, Congress does decide to move against Bush in some substantive way, there will be hell to pay. Those of us who well remember Watergate remember that while it was genuinely thrilling to have Nixon caught, disgraced, and removed, it was also a time of extreme tension. Would Nixon tough the impeachment trial out, causing the country incalculable harm? It looked for quite a long time that he would. About Bush, there is no doubt.

Since the day after the 2000 election, Bush and his goons have been playing chicken with the very structure of the United States Government, double-daring anyone to try and stop them. If Congress does try - and I'm not talking little things like wrecking Social Security, that'll happen and a dictator can afford to let things like that wait a while, I'm talking atomic bang bang and thumbscrews - he will force the private Constitutional crisis into the open. And there is no guarantee that Bush will lose.

And that is the truth. The Congress has been given an awful choice: Vote to approve torture and the suspension of habeas or show the world that yes, you really do have no genuine power to check Bush.

Of course, all of Congress should vote against the bill anyway. But they won't. And to themselves, they will justify the vote as saying they made a hard choice but made the best one they could for their country.

Me, well...I've gone on record numerous times about how much I dread radicalism and serious national crises (which are two reasons Bush scares the hell out of me). The prospect of an open Constitutional confrontation, Bush vs. the Congress plus the Supremes...Jesus Christ. Perhaps I should understand the Congress had no real choice?

Absolutely not. The time truly is long overdue where there simply is no choice but to say "enough." It should have been enough over the stolen election, or the neglect that led to 9/11, or Schiavo, or the filibuster.* But voting to permit the US government to sidestep Geneva? To suspend habeas? What the fuck is Congress thinking, for crissakes??? Has fascism moved so slowly that only a few bloggers can perceive the inevitable progression? I don't think so.

There's no question about it. Any person in Congress who votes for this - listening, Hillary? [UPDATE: Apparently, she was.] - will never get my vote again. Ever, not even for dogcatcher, let alone president. If there is going to be a public Constitutional crisis over Bush's rogue presidency - and there will be sooner or later, guaranteed - bring it on now.

[Update: * To those hardy souls amongst you who feel that I, an appeasing liberal, advocated "going along" with Bush during those earlier moves towards fascism, please read what I wrote. I have been consistent in actively opposing all his stunts of Constitutional chicken and of calling his bluff. Before I started blogging, I was quite active as well. Regarding the Iraq war resolution, I wrote a post long after the resolution passed examining Clinton's motivations for agreeing to it (I am a New Yorker, by the way). Whatever remaining willingness I have to give her a pass will evaporate for good if she votes for torture. She would be sending a strong signal that she simply isn't serious about responsible governance in a time of internal crisis. ]

[UPDATE 2: John Kerry and other Democrats speak out today against USA Mengele Act:
[Kerry] Let me be clear about something—something that it seems few people are willing to say. This bill permits torture. It gives the President the discretion to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions. No matter how much well-intended United States Senators would like to believe otherwise, it gives an Administration that lobbied for torture just what it wanted.

The only guarantee we have that these provisions really will prohibit torture is the word of the President. But we have seen in Iraq the consequences of simply accepting the word of this Administration. No, we cannot just accept the word of this Administration that they will not engage in torture given that everything they’ve already done and said on this most basic question has already put our troops at greater risk and undermined the very moral authority needed to win the war on terror.]
[UPDATE 3: From a letter that was sent to me and others by ARIS:
My wife and I have been lifelong Democrats and have contributed and worked on national and Ohio campaigns for the Democratic Party since 1988. This year we were actually looking forward to winning Ohio for the Democratic Party.

No longer. We're livid. We will not work, support or even vote for either Brown or Strickland. Judging from the reaction of many fellow Democrats, we're not alone.]
Looks like I'm not the only person for whom this bill represents a line that cannot be crossed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mad Hatter

by digby

I wrote a post a couple of days ago quoting Admiral Henry Harris, the commander of Guantanamo asying there are no innocent men imprisoned there and that those who committed suicide were committing an "act of asymmetric warfare waged against us." It struck me as absurd that hanging yourself in your cage could be considered an act of war and I thought this guy was likely taking the notion of "suiciders" to some ridiculous conclusion.

But I came upon another quote from him saying something even more absurd:

Rear Admiral Harris is adamant that the people in his care are well looked after and are enemies of the United States.

He told me they use any weapon they can - including their own urine and faeces - to continue to wage war on the United States.

Where do they find these nutballs to send down there to Guantanamo? First Geoffrey Miller and now this kook. Apparently he believes that any act of resistence by these people who are imprisoned in cages is an act of war.

It seems to me that far too many Americans have worked themselves into some sort of hysteria, including this loon running Gitmo. When heavily guarded people in cages throwing feces is considered assymetrical warfare, we have gone down the rabbit hole. (Either that or a couple of toddlers I know are in training to be the next Osama bin Laden.) Does this man think he's actually fighting terrorists down there?

The men being held in Guantanamo might have been terrorists, but when they are under the total control of the most powerful military in the world they are most definitely not combatants, they are prisoners. It's not an act of war to dislike your jailers or resist your imprisonment. That's absurd.

These people need to get a grip before they give themselves heart attacks from irrational fear. Those prisoners are just human beings not aliens from outer space.

Trusting Huck

by digby

I was just listening to old Huckleberry go on about turth and justice and the American way of torture. He says that all the analysts who say this bill is an abomination and an affront to everything we stand for are just wrong. We should believe him because he is a military lawyer and an expert on these issues. If you listen to the beltway wags you also know that he is a man of honor who courageously went against his president and insisted that we needed to ensure this legislation lived up to our ideals.

While listening to his soliloquy it occurred to me that this might be a good time to take a trip down memory lane and revisit one of Huckleberry's finest moments:

How can the paper of record write a lengthy puff piece about the brave, maverick integrity of Senator Huckleberry Graham and make no metion of the fact that he and his pal Jon Kyl inserted a fraudulent 12,000 word colloquey into the congressional record to fool the US Supreme Court and were caught red-handed. The Supreme Court merely noted this in the footnotes of the Hamdan decision, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an unusual order rejecting their amicus brief alone, although they accepted five others. As John Dean wrote: "No one familiar with this remarkable behavior by Graham and Kyl can doubt why the court did not want to hear from these senators."

This was not a small thing. Huckleberry and Kyl wrote an entire script of a debate that never happened in order to create a false legislative history that they then cited in an amicus brief for the government in the Hamdan case. They defrauded the court and they did it with the express purpose of bolstering the government's argument that the Senate had intended that the Supreme Court be stripped of jurisdiction in the Hamdan case.

This is remarkable not only because it features two Senators outright lying to the Supreme Court. It is also remarkable because the decision in that case is the one the NY Times says Huckleberry is now bravely defending against the wishes of his own party. I would have thought the reporter might have asked old Huck about where he actually stands on this issue.

This is the thing about Graham and why he is one of the most untrustworthy members of the Republican party. He is the guy who is out there portraying himself as the voice of reason, the man who thoughtfully entertains the whole range of opinion and settles on the reasonable middle ground. The truth is that he pretends to do all that while he ruthlessly advances the Republican agenda --- even to the point where he would outright defraud the US Supreme Court while claiming to be a strict adherent to the rule of law.

This is the man whose intepretation of the torture and detention bill we are supposed to trust. He's one of the men that congress trusted to do the kabuki "negotiation" with the president. Because he's a man of integrity.

Update: This post by Vagabond Scholar gets deep into the weeds on Huckleberry's rank dishonesty in this case, but it's fascinating to read if you're so inclined. He is an outright lying piece of garbage. He not only scripted a fake colloquy for the congressional record to fool the court into believing that the legislative intent was different than it actually was --- he also wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post taking the other side. He should have been disbarred --- and nobody should have ever trusted him anywhere near this issue again.

After his history it's just a little bit difficult to believe he suddenly cares about the Geneva Conventions don't you think?

Answering Ignatius's Question

by tristero

David Ignatius asks, in a genuinely stupid column, "How do we prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state? "

Step One: Bush and his entire cabinet leave office.

Step Two: Wait for Step One.

Until then, it is inevitable that Iraq will stay firmly on the path towards becoming a failed state (or it already is depending on the measures of failure used). If anyone thinks Bush will listen to a good idea, let alone follow it, let alone execute it in an effective manner, then that anyone has been comatose for five years. I know: this is a terrible thing to write, that increased tragedy, suffering and death are inevitable for Iraqis. But nothing good has a possibility of happening until Bush is out, meaning until January, 2009.

Oh, and David, you write:
Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point.
As Yglesias says, who you talking about, pal? Just to repeat what I said even before the launch of the New Product in Fall, 2002, a pre-emptive, unprovoked invasion of Iraq was doomed to failure. Not that I was happy to realize that. I was, and am, sick to death over it.

Why was it doomed to fail? Because it an unspeakably stupid idea that five seconds of sober thought would have revealed had no chance ever of working. And, no, it's not that Bush et al were incompetent that it failed. That's backward. The Bush administration demonstrated its total incompetence because it took a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq seriously and thought it could succeed.

by digby

It really takes a lot of gall for the NY Post to obnoxiously ridicule Keith Olberman for calling the police when some asshole sent some white powder to his house with a note that said it was in response to his commentary against the president. The NY Post was one of the places that the original anthrax killer hit in 2001 --- and their own employees got sick.

What in the hell is wrong with these people? Jesus.

It Could Happen To You

by digby

As we ponder how this torture legislation might develop in the future, it's probably a good idea to check out how the intelligence community of the United States sees the threat of terrorism developing in the future. From the NIE:

Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age.

Let's hope that our leaders in Washington don't decide that the war on terror has expanded to such groups any time soon. (Although all the hoopla about Hugo Chavez's remarks may just be a precursor to such designations.) But keep in mind, that the generic term "terrorism" is the word used in the new bill that:

blesses detainee abuse and looks the other way on forms of detainee torture; it immunizes terrible acts; it abridges the writ of habeas corpus-- in the last, most egregious draft, it strips the writ for alleged enemy combatants whether proved to be so or not, whether citizens or not, and whether found in the U.S. or overseas.

For those in America who think that this only applies to dark skinned foreigners who don't really deserve the rights that God gave Americans, this should give them pause:

Most of the attention in the press has focused on subsection (i) of the definition, which would designate as an UEC any "person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces)." And that subsection is, indeed, broad, and fairly indeterminate, depending on how "materially supported hostilities" is interpreted (something that the Administration apparently could do without much or any judicial review).

But the really breathtaking subsection is subsection (ii), which would provide that UEC is defined to include any person "who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense."

Read literally, this means that if the Pentagon says you're an unlawful enemy combatant -- using whatever criteria they wish -- then as far as Congress, and U.S. law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to "hostilities" at all.

This definition is not limited to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It's not limited to aliens -- it covers U.S. citizens as well. It's not limited to persons captured or detained overseas. And it is not even limited to the armed conflict against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, authorized by Congress on September 18, 2001. Indeed, on the face of it, it's not even limited to a time of war or armed conflict; it could apply in peacetime.

Therefore if, as everyone is assuming, this definition does establish who may be detained by the military outside the civilian justice system, it would quite literally give the Secretary of Defense the statutory authority to detain just about anyone he wants, indefinitely. And if that's the case, then the habeas-stripping provision would really be the least of it, because even with all the due process and habeas protections in the world, it would be almost impossible to challenge the grounds on which someone is detained if the Executive itself can establish what the permissible grounds for detention are.

I noticed that Carl Levin just praised the efforts of McCain, Graham and Warner again and said the new bill has two good things about it: it prohibits torture and secret evidence, which is just wrong. But he said that the compromise contains other things which are troubling and he will offer the slightly less shitty bill that came out of the Armed Services Committee later today as an alternative. It will probably fail, but perhaps all this McCain love today and the characterization of his bill as prohibiting torture and secret evidence is a way to bring over some wavering Republican senators, I don't know. Sometimes the unexpected happens.

I'll try to watch the debate for the rest of the day as I can. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to see where I am. If you hear any good speeches, let me know. I'd like to give credit to those who stand up to be counted on this major issue of our time.

I think the bottom line is that most people don't give a damn about a bunch of swarthy foreigners. They think the people in Guantanamo are animals and even if they aren't exactly guilty of the things the US says they are guilty of, they are guilty of not being American. I don't think they lose much sleep over it and they don't see it as applying to them. But they are wrong. In light of the possibilities outlined above for using this legislation to "disappear" anyone from terrorists to leftists to those who are deemed to be anti-American, this may be a day to remember the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

H/T to Professor Foland in the comments for the NIE language.

Faithbased Torture

by digby

By now probably everyone knows that the torture bill that's working its way through the Senate is even worse than the one they crafted last Friday. It's so bad that they are now saying it has "drafting errors" when something particularly egregious is pointed out. One wonders how many other "drafting errors" will wind up in this sloppy, hurried mess. They are rushing it through without anybody knowing what they hell it really says:

Democrats, while being careful to say that they had made no decision to block the detainee bill, expressed rising concerns about changes to the proposal that they said went beyond what Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, had described Monday as merely “technical changes.”

The changes had been made over the weekend, as negotiators from the House and White House adjusted a compromise that had been reached between the White House and Senate Republicans on Thursday.

In one change, the original language said that a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. Mr. Graham and his colleagues in resisting the White House, Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, had insisted that the provision was necessary to prevent so-called secret trials. The bill submitted late Monday dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to,” reviving complaints about secret trials, this time from Democrats.

In another, the original compromise said that evidence seized “outside the United States” could be admitted in court even if it had been obtained without a search warrant, a provision Republicans and Democrats agreed was necessary to deal with the unusual circumstances of seizing evidence on the battlefield.

The bill introduced Monday dropped the words “outside the United States,” which Democrats said meant that prosecutors could ignore American legal standards on search warrants within the country. The bill also broadened the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant, from anyone “engaged in hostilities against the United States” to include anyone who “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.”

Republicans and the White House explained the change to the provision about viewing evidence as, in Mr. Graham’s words, “literally just a drafting error,” and said the word “examine” would be restored.

Right. And George Allen just happened to make up a word that means n*****r in several different languages. Life is full of such unhappy coincidences.

Republicans and the White House defended the change on unlawful combatants. It is narrower than the definition originally proposed by the White House, which said that anyone who materially supported hostilities could be prosecuted because it added the phrase “intentionally and purposefully.” Senate and White House staff members said this would resolve the problem of what one Senate aide described as “the grandmother in Switzerland” who writes a check for charity that ends up going to a terrorist organization.

“Most of us feel if someone is engaged in actively assisting Al Qaeda or terrorists that they should fall under this legislation,” Mr. McCain said.


Republicans also said they were trying to reach a compromise on the habeas corpus provision of the bill, which would deny a suspect the right to challenge his detention in court.

"Actively assisting Al-Qaeda or terrorists." One assumes that would be stuff such as giving "material support." Like the guy who was arrested for selling Hezbollah TV as part of a satellite TV package. You know the type. (The good part is that rightwing welfare queens are on the case "helping" the government track down these dangerous terrorists. Lucky for us the far right is so level headed, isn't it?)

And then there's this. And this.

I don't know why the Senators are even pretending to know what's in this bill. One of the most important pieces of legislation in recent American history is being put together in the dead of night and hurried through the congress for political reasons. It's a constitutional clusterfuck.

The vote is going to happen and it's going to pass. But I can't help but wonder if the momentum wouldn't have gone the other way if some of the Democrats who constantly exhort the rank and file to be more friendly to religion and values and morals had stood up and said no. Imagine if Barack Obama had staked out a leading position against this legislation making the explicit argument that it is immoral and unamerican to torture. That would have gone farther to demonstrate our respect for religious values than his frequent process talk and scolding could ever do.

Or imagine if Holy Joe Lieberman showed even one tenth the righteous indignation toward this torture legislation that he showed toward president Clinton's personal affairs. Imagine if the great centrist hawk, the man of morals and religious sincerity whom the Republicans have anointed as a principled example of a Democrat who understands the stakes in the war on terror, went to the floor of the senate and said:

In choosing this path, I fear that the president has undercut the efforts of millions of Americans who are naturally trying to instill in our children the value of honesty and decency toward others --- and the absolute taboo against torture. As most any mother and father knows, kids have a singular ability to detect double standards. So, we can safely assume that it will be that much more difficult to convince our sons and daughters of the importance of treating even enemies with humanity and dignity. Many parents I have spoken with in Connecticut confirm this unfortunate consequence.

The president's legislation allowing torture and repealing habeas corpus may also undercut the trust that the American people have in his word. Under the Constitution, as presidential scholar Newsted has noted, the president's ultimate source of authority, particularly his moral authority, is the power to persuade, to mobilize public opinion, to build consensus behind a common agenda. As Teddy Roosevelt once explained, "My power vanishes into thin air the instant that my fellow citizens, who are straight and honest, cease to believe that I represent them and fight for what is straight and honest. That is all the strength that I have," Roosevelt said. Sadly, with his deception about the contents of this legislation, from the meaning of torture to its intentions, President Bush may have weakened the great power and strength that he possesses, of which President Roosevelt spoke.

But I believe that the harm the president's actions have caused extend beyond the political arena. I am afraid that the actions the president is attempting to codify with this legislation may be reinforcing one of the worst messages being delivered by our popular culture, which is that values are fungible. And I am concerned that his misconduct may help to blur some of the most important bright lines of right and wrong in our society.

As the debate on this matter proceeds, we would be advised, I would respectfully suggest, to heed the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln's second annual address to Congress in 1862.

With the nation at war with itself, President Lincoln warned, and I quote, "If there ever could be a time for mere catch arguments, that time is surely not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."

I believe that we are at such a time again today.

There's so much at stake, we, too, must resist the impulse toward catch arguments and reflex reactions. Let us proceed in accordance with our nation's traditional moral compass -- yes -- but in a manner that is fair and at a pace that is deliberate and responsible.

Let us as a nation honestly confront the damage that the president's decisions in the war on terror and Iraq over the last five years have caused, but not at the expense of our common interest as Americans. And let us be guided by the conscience of the Constitution, which calls on us to place the common good above any partisan or personal interest, as we now in our time work together to resolve this serious challenge to our democracy.

He's already got it drafted.

But we aren't going to see the moral scolds standing up on this, I'm afraid. At least I'll be very shocked if they do. They believe, as do so many Republicans and members of the press that morals are attached to somebody elses crotch. They apparently don't see that institutional torture isn't just something that a few bad apples learn from popular culture.

Joe pondered that very question in this Wall Street Journal op-ed after Abu Ghraib. Even before the investigations were started he was already convinced that the guards were a unique group of deviants and didn't seem inclined to believe that such things could have become policy. But now the Republicans are going to ram through a bill that makes all that ugly deviant stuff perfectly legal if the president wants it to be. Here were the closing words to his Rumsfeld apologia called "Let Us have Faith:"

But, as we are showing in our response to Abu Ghraib, we are a nation of laws, and therefore must punish only those who are proven guilty. The Iraqi prison scandal has been a nightmare at an already difficult moment in the war in Iraq...With determination and confidence, we should recall President Lincoln's words at another difficult moment in American history in pursuit of another just cause: "Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us do our duty as we understand it."

Makes a tear come to the eye, doesn't it, the way men like McCain and Lieberman keep evoking Lincoln and the Bible as they work to institutionalize torture and continue a bloody, useless war that kills thousands and thousands of people? It's all very inspirational.

Keep your eyes on Holy Joe as the debate unfolds. If he bothers to show up at all, I will be shocked if his vaunted religious values lead him to vote against the bill. And that says everything you need to know about his sincerity. When it comes to lying about consensual sex he's all over it, leading the charge. Torture and endless imprisonment with no trial, not so much.

I'm with Atrios. If these religion scolds vote for this bill I will never stand for being lectured by them again about how liberals need to be more respectful of the faith and values crowd. The time is now for them show what they are made of. Let's see it.

Update: Here's the Washington Post's take on the legislation.

AFTER BARELY three weeks of debate, the Senate today will take up a momentous piece of legislation that would set new legal rules for the detention, interrogation and trial of accused terrorists. We have argued that the only remedy to the mess made by the Bush administration in holding hundreds of detainees without charge at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere since 2001 was congressional action. Yet rather than carefully weigh the issues, Congress has allowed itself to be stampeded into a vote on hastily written but far-reaching legal provisions, in a preelection climate in which dissenters risk being labeled as soft on terrorism.

As we have said before, there is no need for Congress to act immediately. No terrorist suspects are being held in the CIA detention "program" that President Bush has so vigorously defended. Justice for the al-Qaeda suspects he has delivered to Guantanamo has already been delayed for years by the administration's actions and can wait a few more months. What's important is that any legal system approved by Congress pass the tests set by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) months ago: that the United States can be proud of it, that the world will see it as fair and humane, and that the Supreme Court can uphold it.


White House pressure may have persuaded many in Congress that the easiest course is to quickly approve the detention bill in its present form and leave town. If so, their actions almost surely will come back to haunt them. Until this country adopts a legal system for the war on terrorism that meets Mr. Warner's standard, the war itself will be unwinnable.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Moving On

by digby

I keep hearing from the right wing talking heads today that it's time to put all the arguments about how we got into Iraq behind us, that even though it's now official that it created more terrorists and made the nation less safe, we need to look to future and figure out where to go from here, not live in the past.

That's very compelling. But there's just one little thing we need to do before we move on. We need to figure out which people we should trust to lead us as we move forward to fix the mistakes of the past.

The Republicans were in office when 9/11 happened and Islamic terrorism emerged as the nation's greatest external threat. The entire country and the world rallied around them. They then lied the country into an unnecessary war in Iraq on the basis of an illegal, immoral military doctine. They threw away billions of dollars and created a massive training camp for jihadists to learn how to fight Americans and recruit converts from all over the world while degrading the constitution at home and demonstrating for the world that our ideals are disposable. That's the record on this issue.

Sure, we have to figure out where to go from here. Everything is a huge, huge mess. But it would seem obvious that this is an administration gravely in need of some oversight. Another two years of undivided government will just lead the Republican congress to give our president more of the bad advice and cover he's been getting. This country needs a new congress if we're going to figure out how to get out of this mess. The American people need to decide if they are going to continue to put all their trust in the guys who fucked up and continue to fuck up --- or see if the other guys might have some ideas. It's that simple.

Update: I probably should point out that "solving the problem" will require some very specitic actions for the new guys. Since the Republicans have been so secretive, they new congress will have to force the administration to submit to the constitutional oversight the constitution requires. That means investigations and hearings. In order to fix the mess, they really have no choice.

It's all about problem solving 101:

1. Define the problem

2. Look at potential causes for the problem

3. Identify alternatives for approaches to resolve the problem

4. Select an approach to resolve the problem

5. Plan the implementation of the best alternative (this is your action plan)

6. Monitor implementation of the plan

7. Verify if the problem has been resolved or not

Just as it is in any business or organization, if in the course of this problem solving it becomes evident that certain people have committed criminal acts or gross acts of malfeasance, then they will have to be dealt with. There's no moving forward unless the proper lessons are learned and the entire organization is shown that there are repurcussions for bad acts.

It's not about playing the blame game, oh no. It's just a matter of making sure that our government runs efficiently and that everyone understands the rules and regulations. Accountability. Nothing political about it.

Like Shooting Fish In Barrel

by tristero

The Bush administration is lying so often and so poorly these days they're not even bothering to make it even slightly tricky to catch 'em. One recent whopper couldn't withstand more than a few hours before it fell:
A memo received by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly after becoming National Security Advisor in 2001 directly contradicts statements she made to reporters yesterday, RAW STORY has learned.

"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice told a reporter for the New York Post on Monday. "Big pieces were missing," Rice added, "like an approach to Pakistan that might work, because without Pakistan you weren't going to get Afghanistan."

Rice made the comments in response to claims made Sunday by former President Bill Clinton, who argued that his administration had done more than the current one to address the al Qaeda problem before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She stopped short of calling the former president a liar.

However, RAW STORY has found that just five days after President George W. Bush was sworn into office, a memo from counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke to Rice included the 2000 document, "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects." This document devotes over 2 of its 13 pages of material to specifically addressing strategies for securing Pakistan's cooperation in airstrikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan obstacle

The strategy document includes "three levers" that the United States had started applying to Pakistan as far back as 1990. Sanctions, political and economic methods of persuasion are all offered as having been somewhat successful.

Other portions of the passages relating to Pakistan – marked as "operational details" – have been redacted from the declassified memo at the CIA's request.

The document also explores broader strategic approaches, such as a "need to keep in mind that Pakistan has been most willing to cooperate with us on terrorism when its role is invisible or at least plausibly deniable to the powerful Islamist right wing."

But Clarke also made it clear that the Clinton Administration recognized the problem that Pakistan posed in mounting a more sweeping campaign against bin Laden: "Overt action against bin Laden, who is a hero especially in the Pushtun-ethnic border areas near Afghanistan," Clarke speculated in late 2000, "would be so unpopular as to threaten Musharraf's government." The plan notes that, after the attack on the USS Cole, Pakistan had forbidden the United States from again violating its airspace to attack bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The memo sent by Clarke to Rice, to which the Clinton-era document was attached, also urges action on Pakistan relating to al Qaeda. "First [to be addressed,]" wrote Clarke in a list of pending issues relating to al Qaeda, is "what the administration says to the Taliban and Pakistan about ending al Qida sanctuary in Afghanistan. We are separately proposing early, strong messages on both."

A disputed history

The documents have been a source of controversy before. Rice contended in a March 22, 2004 Washington Post piece that "no al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration."

Two days later, Clarke insisted to the 9/11 Commission that the plan had in fact been turned over. "There's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options, but all of the things we recommended back in January," he told the commission, "were done after September 11th."

The memo was declassified on April 7, 2004, one day before Rice herself testified before the 9/11 Commission.
Truly pathetic, Dr. Rice.

Y'know, sooner or later the press will have to consider whether it is in the country's interest to disseminate any info asserted by the administration that hasn't been indepedently verified for factual accuracy.

April National Intelligence Estimate

by tristero

I've read the parts of the National Intelligence Estimate cherry-picked by Bush for release. They say exactly what the news reports said they say and they demonstrate that Bush is is full of it:
Excerpts from the report, released late this afternoon, show that intelligence agencies found that “the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.”

“The Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause célèbre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement,” the excerpts said. “Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”

Torture And National Security Are Entirely Different Subjects

by tristero

Yesterday, in making the case that the only strong argument against torture is that nearly every value system, religious or otherwise, condemns it, I criticized Matthew Yglesias for trying to argue against torture by pointing to its inutility. Despite some very intelligent objections to my postion in comments, I still hold to this view: Torture does not become acceptable if it can be shown to be useful in some real world circumstances. Torture simply is immoral. Period.

I'm happy to say that Matt, too, has come to the same conclusion. In his post on American Prospect Online, Rogue State, Matt relies on the moral argument in making his case against torture (the utility arguments he make - that torture lowers our already low world standing - depends upon the centrality of the moral argument).

However, in reading over Matt's post I realized that there is another, very different issue - national security concerns - that has become deliberately mixed up with torture by the rightwing in their bizarre effort to turn America into a torture capital. While banning torture under all circumstances is an extremely simple-to-grasp moral imperative, a serious discussion about what improves or undermines national security and law enforcement is not. Mixing the two, as the right does, creates an opportunity for them to advance an obscene moral relativism, to base the morality of torture solely on its potential utility for national security.

But these are entirely separate issues that occupy entirely different epistemological domains! Torture is a moral issue and we understand how and why torture is unacceptable by studying the moral codes most human beings live by. On the other hand, discussions of national security focus on tactical and pragmatic concerns, not primarily moral ones. We understand how to improve national security and why certain techniques succeed and fail by examining the empirical evidence, not by passing moral judgment.

Within that latter discussion - how to make us safer - Matt rightly argues you'd have to be a fool to countenance torture, let alone advocate it. Why? Because not only national security but ordinary law enforcement has been shown to dangerously deteriorate if torture is used, an assertion Matt backs up with a relevant link.

I realize that many of you will read the above and think I'm just being political. As if I'm merely trying to say that I realize I foolishly attacked an ally in the fight against Bushism but without directly apologizing. Furthermore, I suspect that some of you will think that my distinction of when the inutility of torture is appropriate is just an academic distinction. Not so.

If I felt I owed Matt an apology earlier, I would apologize, but I see no reason to apologize for a criticism that I believe was quite fair, sincerely made to sharpen both his and my ability to oppose the rightwing, and delivered without resort to ad hominem (which I've used in discussing Matt in the past and which use does deserve an apology from me. Sorry!). More to the point, I think the distinction I'm drawing is far from an academic one but a fundamental one. I believe Matt also understands it simply must be drawn in order to have a coherent discourse on either issue. It is a distinction - the moral and the pragmatic - that the incompetent, cognitively challenged pro-torture gang has deliberately blurred and the only way to fight back is to start by clearing up the confusion. In other words, and briefly:

Torture is wrong AND it makes security worse. That's a helluva lot different than saying torture is wrong BECAUSE it makes security worse.

The latter is the playing field the rightwing wants us to accept as the only valid one. But it's a false one as it confuses a moral and pragmatic issue to generate the appearance of moral relativism vis a vis torture where there simply is none at all.

Hope that's clear...