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Sunday, November 30, 2008


by digby

Paul Krugman's essay in the NYRB called, aptly, "What to do" is a must read. It lays out the challenges ahead and his prescriptions for what must be done. He says we are living in a period of "depression economics," which is particularly depressing for people my age and older... I guess we deserve it, but still.

One of the potential upsides of all this, however, is something I haven't heard much discussion about. Krugman argues that the financial system can only be rescued with strong coordination with other countries:

All these actions should be coordinated with other advanced countries. The reason is the globalization of finance. Part of the payoff for US rescues of the financial system is that they help loosen up access to credit in Europe; part of the payoff to European rescue efforts is that they loosen up credit here. So everyone should be doing more or less the same thing; we're all in this together.

Financial globalization, international terrorism and climate change are very modern crises in which notions of superpowers and even nation states are insufficient to solve. Perhaps some good leadership and seriousness of purpose can create some new institutions or at least understandings of international cooperation for the good of the planet. There was a moment after 9/11 which could resulted in this that was completely destroyed by the belligerent, irrationality of the Bush administration. Perhaps something better will come this time.

It's not much to hang on to, but it's something.

Mission Creeps

by digby

Torridjoe at Loaded Orygun is following the taser controversy and sees the same problem that I do with this weapon. He recounts this interesting story in the Portland Mercury about the city's use of tasers, which discusses at some length the data that shows the seemingly inevitable "mission creep" that overtakes police departments when they start using the weapon.

Torrid Joe writes:

Now, ordinarily I might not jump so quickly to allow Australia's empirical study to characterize the situation in Portland, especially without more precise data from our bureau on usage patterns. But the new head of the police union, Scott Westerman, does a bang-up job of reflecting exactly the kind of sentiment that would lead to a broader, more aggressive style of use:

"As more and more people mistakenly believe it's socially acceptable to publicly challenge the police, it creates an environment where people think that it is okay to ignore a uniformed police officer giving them commands," Westerman continues. "The environment in Portland allows this more frequently than in other cities."

I had to read that a couple of times to make sure he was saying what I thought he was saying, but he is: Westerman is telling us that Portland tases people because they're disrespectful punks who are insufficiently restrained by the city's social culture.

I frankly don't know what he's referring to when he talks about "social acceptability," other than the idea that Portland residents may actually better understand their LEGAL rights to challenge police activity, and asserting that knowledge is more acceptable here than elsewhere. It is entirely legal to challenge police on their behavior regarding your rights, certainly until one is told they are under detention for some reason (not arrest, but detention--as in, when you ask "am I free to go," they say no.") Cops of course don't like to have their authority challenged, and Westerman is pretty clear that in his view, it's this permissiveness about boldly attempting to assert one's rights that's the problem--not, say, the fact that Portlanders tend to pose a more consistent threat to public safety, which would explain the tasings on a more rattional-legal basis.

By giving this response to the question of changing usage patterns at PPB, Westerman not only implicitly admits that the focus HAS shifted from less-than-lethal to compliance circumstances--but pins that shift on cultural issues in the COMMUNITY, rather than those of the police bureau. In other words, if people would just shut up and do exactly as they're told without being rude or asking questions, they wouldn't be asking for the short sharp shock.

This is exactly right and that attitude is refelcted by an awful lot of people, even those who appear in my comment section from time to time.

Yes, it's awful that tasers can cause death and injury in some people. Clearly, they are much more dangerous than the manufacturers or the police will admit. But that isn't really the point. The fact is that Americans have a legal right not to comply with the police and the police have no right to shoot them with electricity for having a "bad attitude."

A "little bit" of torture isn't any more legal than a whole lot of it. Pain that doesn't leave marks is still pain. And the police requiring the citizens of this country to comply or risk being tortured until they do is unamerican.

It seems that juries are starting to get the message:

Bonner, his wife, his daughter and 3-year-old grandaughter had been called to the department by Lievero, who was investigating allegations that Bonner's wife had physically abused the couple's grandchild. The allegations stemmed from a bitter custody battle involving Bonner's daughter and her former boyfriend. Bonner and his family came to the department to dispute the allegations, according to court documents.

Lievero took the family into an interview room, where things did not go well. Bonner said he was frustrated, at one point telling Lievero, "We know you are not an idiot, so why are you acting like one?" according to trial briefs.

The detective ended the interview and told Bonner to leave.

Bonner thought he might have better luck with Chief Rick Kieffer, whose office was just a few steps down the hallway from the interview room, but in the opposite direction from where he had come in, according to documents filed by Bonner's attorney, Jeffrey Needle.

Lievero told Bonner he couldn't leave that way. When Bonner said he wanted to talk to the chief, Lievero responded that he had to make an appointment with the receptionist and that he would be arrested if he didn't stop, the documents say.

"By the time Detective Lievero had finished making this statement, (Bonner) had arrived at Chief Rick Kieffer's door and had stopped walking," Needle wrote.

Kieffer was standing in the doorway, but before Bonner could speak, witnesses said Lievero grabbed Bonner's arm and forced it behind his back. Bonner complained to Kieffer that the detective was "out of control and shaking" as another officer joined Lievero, grabbed Bonner's other arm and began walking him back toward the reception area.

Bonner claims he did not resist, although the officers say otherwise. Lievero described Bonner as belligerent and the city's attorneys said in court documents that he "stormed" the chief's office...

While Bonner was being escorted out of the station, Lievero delivered at least two jolts from his Taser, set on "touch-stun mode." Bonner said the first one knocked him to his knees. The second time, he was on his stomach while being handcuffed.

"Lievero testified that he Tased (Bonner) only after he observed (the other officer's) unsuccessful efforts to place plaintiff in a position to be handcuffed," according to Needle's trial brief.

The other officer, however, said in a deposition that Bonner "was under control."


The panel, after eight days of testimony, acquitted the detective of assault, but found that Lievero violated Bonner's civil rights by using excessive force during the arrest. It awarded him $35,000 in compensatory damages and, because the panel found Lievero's actions were "malicious ... oppressive, or in reckless disregard" of Bonner's rights, awarded him another $25,000 in punitive damages.

In defense of the police, it has to be said that they are told over and over again by the taser manufacturers, the politicians and the public that it's no big deal if they inflict horrifying pain on the citizens of this country whenever they want to. We've turned "don't taze me bro" into a national joke. They have no reason to think it's any worse than wrestling a suspect to the ground or screaming at them in an interrogation room.

But it is far worse. The intent, more often than not, is to incapacitate citizens by inflicting horrible pain and force their compliance with threats of more of that pain. Sometimes it's used as punishment for being disrespectful or uncooperative, as in the case above. Those are the methods of a police state, not a democracy.


by digby

You just won't believe this. This is a highly rated talk radio station here in LA (click to enlarge)

H/t to John C who also gave Bill Handel (who comes on just before Rush in morning drive time) a piece of his mind. Here's Bill's email, if you're so inclined:


Update: I received this from Handel's producer:


Someone gave me a heads up about a post on your site.

I just wanted to write to clarify something having to do with your screen image of the promo for our topic from last week "Is Barack Obama the Antichrist?"

The Antichrist topic is one Bill has done every time we've had a new president... he did the topic about Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush. Since there are always religious nutjobs that are convinced that every new American president is, in fact, the Antichrist, we do the segment to show how utterly ridiculous that assertion is.

If you heard the segement, you'd pick up on the obvious sarcasm, and if you didn't...well, I guess you'd miss that and could only judge the topic by the photo. The photo was intended to be a humorous depiction of the topic we discussed, and since the topic is more than a week old, the photo is no longer found on the KFI website.
Just in case you don't know, Bill happens to be a supporter of Barack Obama, both on and off the air. He has been very vocal about his support of Obama and was very happy he was voted our new President.

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Michelle Kube
Executive Producer, The Bill Handel Show

Handel's quite the funny fellow, often joking about blacks and Muslims and engaging in other forms of super-fun political incorrectness.(Well, super-fun for those who don't find themselves on the receiving end of people who actually do hate them and "misunderstand" Handel's jokes as some sort of public sanction.) He's not as right wing as the man who follows him on the air (and whose network he's a part of,) Rush Limbaugh, but he's hardly what you'd call liberal. And KFI is a right wing radio station, so it's not surprising that seeing such images on the web site would be taken wrong.

This specific program was inspired by a Newsweek story, which I blogged about here, and which Handel made fun of. But there plenty of people out there who think he really is the anti-Christ and they're just fanatical enough that they might not get the joke.

Good Faith

by digby

Just in case anyone thinks the spirit of bipartisanship has overtaken the congress in light of the severe financial crisis, think again. From TPM:

Earlier this month, the Bush administration nominated Neil Barofsky, a federal prosecutor, to be the Treasury Department's special inspector general on the bailout program. That's a crucial post, given the astronomical sums at issue, the broad authority that Treasury has been given to distribute them, the concerns that have been raised about possible conflicts of interest, and the general urgency of our efforts to prevent an economic collapse.

So you'd think Congress would be doing everything it could to get Barofsky confirmed right away. You'd be wrong.

Last week, Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the banking committee, issued a little-noticed statement saying that although the nomination "was cleared by members of the Senate Banking Committee, the leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and all Democratic Senators," it was "blocked on the floor by at least one Republican member." (itals ours.)

Senate rules allow any senator to anonymously block a vote on confirmation to any federal post, for any reason.

The rationale for the move remains unclear. But a Washington Post story from a few days before Dodd's statement offers two suggestions. It notes that Barofsky supported Barack Obama, and describes an unresolved "battle between the Finance and Banking committees over which has jurisdiction over the confirmation process."

Of course, it may also be that they're doing the job they have been assigned -- delaying oversight.

Not There Yet

by digby

Howie Klein has a great post up today discussing Mitch McConnell and the Republicans' supposed move to moderation. I urge you to read the whole analysis. I know that many people think the GOP has to tack back to the center, and perhaps that will come to pass. But my read, like Howie's, is that they are not there yet by a long shot.

Conservatives actually prefer obstruction and are good at it. In fact, when you think about it, it's their natural place in the system since they claim to not believe in government. There's something quite dissonant about being in charge of something you hate. So they are quite natural at being the party of obstruction, far better than the Democrats who proved that they really don't have a talent for it at all.

One of the things that's quite clear is that there will be a Battle Royale over the Supreme Court. They already have a nominal majority, but Kennedy is just eccentric enough to not be able to completely count on. They will be looking for someone to fill any vacancy who could potentially be a Souter or Stevens for their side --- someone nominated as a moderate but who will end up being a comfortable vote for their side. At the very least they will try to force Obama to do what they forced Clinton to do, which is nominate moderates to all levels of the court to balance out the far right radicals that the Republican presidents insist they have a right to confirm. (Remember: the "consequences" of elections are that if Republicans win it's a mandate for a far right agenda and if Democrats win it's a mandate for moderate bi-partisanship. WTTW.)

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that John Kyl was throwing down the gauntlet. It looks like McConnell is too. Howie writes:

The Times calls McConnell "genteel" (which is an absurd way to refer to someone who was kicked out of the army for grabbing an enlisted man's private parts) and "cagey," and offers some hope that he may be turning over a new leaf.
Senator McConnell is pronouncing President-elect Barack Obama off to a good start with an opportunity “to tackle big issues and to do them in the middle.” We have heard it before. Yet the heartening twist from the minority leader, newly re-elected after a race he found too close for comfort, is that he is quoting from Mr. Obama to make his point, retrieving a bit of prophecy from 2004, when the Democrats despaired in the minority and Senator Obama observed: “Whoever’s in power is going to have to govern with some modesty and some desire to work with the other side of the aisle. That’s certainly the approach I would advise Democrats should we regain control.”

Sounds like what McConnell has actually been saying, though, is that as long as Obama adopts Republican policy positions, he'll go along with him. Last week he promised the radical right Federalist Society that he would do his best to undermine President Obama's judicial nominees. According to McConnell "judicial nominees who have identified themselves with political causes in line with the interests of favored groups, including some of the politically correct ones identified by Obama during the presidential campaign, might not be able to keep their oath to uphold the law." I kind of think the Times was a little naive in its assessment today.


McConnell raged, just as Kyl did, about Obama's comment that he would appoint people who have "empathy." This seems to have some currency on the right --- look for it to join "tort reform" and "secret ballot" as huge applause lines.. Evidently, the last thing we should want is a judge with empathy. For real. That's what they are saying.

I think that's quite revealing, don't you?

I Like Ike

by digby

He warned us.

Unsurprisingly, it's also become a seamless part of the propaganda arm of the government, the media:

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

Read the whole New York Times article if you have the time. We knew the military "analysts" were working with the Pentagon already. But this adds the other dimension --- the deep, moneyed ties between the ex-generals and the defense business and how they use their positions as media "experts" to benefit their contractor employers. (It also benefits their media employers --- war means ratings.)

This is one of those subjects that makes the head hurt. The article talks a lot about the conflicts of interest and the deep ties these guys maintain with the military the media and the defense contractors to the point where the lines are blurred among them, but the fundamental problem that Ike describes isn't really part of the story. That subject is so outside the mainstream to even question this stuff that you sound like a kook even bringing it up. But the fact is that one of the fundamental reasons we have deep intractable economic problems is this massive government welfare program we call the defense industry. It does create jobs. But it produces destruction and warps this country's priorities to the point where they are incoherent. And there's zero discussion anywhere about changing that.

Update: Greenwald documents the media's total irresponsibility and lack of ethics on this story, which he has been chronicling for months. These networks are really unbelievable. They just don't care --- and nobody else does either.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Night At The Movies

(Note: Dennis wrote the following before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. He left it up to my discretion whether or not to post it. I don't think it is disrespectful or in poor taste, but if any of you do, place the blame on me, not him --- d)

Love means never having to say you’re sari

By Dennis Hartley

“Computer-ji! Who is Keyser Soze?”

Leave it to Danny Boyle, who somehow managed to transmogrify the horrors of heroin addiction into an exuberant romp (Trainspotting), to reach into the black hole of Mumbai slum life and pull out the most exhilarating “feel good” love story of 2008. Slumdog Millionaire nearly defies category; think Oliver Twist meets Quiz Show in Bollywood.

Using a framing device reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, the tale unwinds in first person narrative flashback, as recalled by a young man who is being detained and grilled at a police station. Teenage “slumdog” Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a contestant on India’s version of the popular game show franchise “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” has been picked up and accused of cheating, on the eve of his final appearance on the program, which could cap off his prodigious winning streak with a cool 20 million rupees. What makes Jamal suspect to the show’s host (played with smarmy aplomb by Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor) is his apparent detachment. Despite the fact that he’s continually hitting the jackpot with the correct answer to every question, his pained expressions and mopey countenance suggests a slouching indifference. After all, he’s a dirt-poor orphan from the streets, so shouldn’t he be beside himself with joy and gratitude for this opportunity? What could possibly be motivating him to win, if not greed? Love, actually. But don’t worry, I’m not going to spill the beans (masoor?) here and spoil anyone’s fun. Suffice it to say, when you see the object of Jamal’s devotion, portrayed by the most classically beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous young woman to grace a screen in many a moon (Freida Pinto, whose “STARmeter” on the Internet Movie Database has gone up nearly 2000% since last week), you’ll be rooting for our hero (and rutting for Freida).

Of COURSE there’s a train station kiss (duh!)

Just like the best Bollywood offerings, Boyle’s most epic tale to date (co-directed by Loveleen Tandan with a script by Simon Beaufoy, adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel) is equal parts melodrama, comedy, action, romance and kismet. It’s a perfect masala for people who love pure cinema, infused by colorful costume and set design, informed by fluid, hyperkinetic camera work (from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) and accompanied by the type of rousing, pumping, eclectic music soundtrack that you’ll want to download into your MP3 player immediately after leaving the theatre. (OK, this paragraph reads back to me like hyperbole, too. But c’mon, I’ve been toiling away at this self-important endeavor in my modest little corner of the inter-tubes for 2 years…who DO I have to blow around here to get quoted on a movie poster? But, as usual, I digress.)

While this is structured like an old fashioned, slam-bang entertainment, it still contains many snippets of Boyle’s patented brand of visceral, in-your-face “smell-o-vision”; the flashbacks of the protagonist’s hard-scrabble childhood in the impoverished slums of Mumbai spins the neo-modern Indian folk tale vibe into Brothers Grimm land for a spell. Speaking of “smell-o-vision”, Boyle actually out-grosses his “worst toilet in Scotland” scene from Trainspotting. I will say no more; if you gag easily, just, um, be prepared.

Patel and Pinto have an appealing, effervescent on-screen chemistry (some viewers may recognize Patel as a regular cast member of BBC-TV’s cult series, Skins ). Madhur Mittal is excellent as Jamal’s brother Salim, with whom he has a complex and mercurial relationship. I don’t know where Boyle found them, but the child actors who portray the pre-teen versions of the three core characters and other supporting roles deliver some extraordinary performances; from a pure acting standpoint I think they are actually given the more demanding and difficult scenes to play, and they pull it off in a convincing, genuinely heart-wrenching fashion. An honorable mention goes to Ankur Vikal, who plays the most evil villain of the piece, a Fagin-type character who exploits street children in the worst way possible (no one will accuse Boyle of sugar-coating slum life).

Believe the hype-this one really delivers the num-nums. I never thought I would actually say this in a review, but I literally felt like dancing in the aisle when the lights came up (and I would have, but not for two seriously arthritic knees; so as a public service, I courteously refrained). Oh, and you’ll definitely want to stick around for the credits, particularly if you are a Bollywood fan. And if you feel like dancing, knock yourself out!

Slumdog international: Salaam Bombay , Water, City of Dreams, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Nil by Mouth, Naked , Insiang, Dodes’ka-den, Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves , Umberto D. , The Harder They Come, Rockers , The 400 Blows,La Haine , Tsotsi, Cairo Station, Bye-Bye, Colossal Youth, Pixote, Black Orpheus , City of God, City of Men, Rodrigo D: No Future, Our Lady of the Assassins, Los Olvidados, Amores Perros, Secuestro Express, Once Were Warriors, The Godfather Part II , West Side Story, Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, Fort Apache, The Bronx, Paris Is Burning, The Pawnbroker, The Brother From Another Planet, Across 110th Street, Juice, Boyz 'N the Hood, Colors.

Previous posts with related themes:
Sita Sings the Blues
Eastern Promises/This is England
Stars 'n Bars 'n Hammer 'n Sickle

by digby

A reader wrote in to respond to my post yesterday about the confederate flag and Christianity and anti-communism and schooled me a little bit on the long history of it's use in that regard.

It's really good so I thought I'd share it with you:

When I was growing up in the south in the 1960s, the confederate flag was used as a symbol of the forces fighting three perceived threats to civilization: communism, atheism, and race-mixing. These three boogie men were seen as an inseparable triad of evil; cords braided to make the rope that would be used to hang white, Christian America. In particular, I remember a billboard outside Smithfield, North Carolina on Highway 301, which spanned a gap in the then yet to be completed I-95. This sign depicted a robed and hooded clansman mounted on a horse before a burning cross. The text proclaimed, "The Klan welcomes you to Smithfield. Help fight communism and integration." I mentioned the location of the sign with respect to the highway system, as it was no doubt intentionally located to be seen by Jews from the north on the way to their Florida vacations. In addition to white supremacy and foaming at the mouth anti-communism, the reactionary forces of the south were also dyed-in-the-wool anti-semites.

The old line southern conservatives perceived any progressive movement that opposed segregation or unfettered capitalism as a fifth column dispacted from and controlled by the Kremlin. I remember my childhood opthamologist, Dr. Lloyd Bailey, had pamphlets in his office denouncing the nascent environmental movement as a communist effort, along with the trade unions, birth control advocates, and everything else this side of proponents of walking upright. If that name seems vaguely familiar, it's because Dr. Bailey truly had 15 minutes of fame as an elector appointed to the Electoral College of 1968. While Nixon had easily carried the state, Dr. Bailey exercised his privilege as an elector to disregard the popular sentiment and cast his vote instead for George Wallace, whom he thought more capable of saving the nation from the perils of the civl rights and antiwar movements. Dr. Bailey unintentionally provided the valuable service of being an object lesson in the anti-democratic nature of that institution.

To us southerners who lived through the 1960s, the ole stars and bars serving as a symbol of the self-proclaimed protectors of "democracy" and "christianity" from the red (and black) peril is an old, familiar story. Oh, and another particular aspect of that old southern bigotry was that the term "Christian" excluded Catholics, who could not be trusted because of their fealty and obedience to Rome, a foreign, and thus suspect, influence. It was quite a feat of cognitive dissonance to lump Jews and Catholics in with the godless Communists, as the right wing in Europe had only managed to lump together the first two as the common subject of their conspiracy theories. Of course, Mitt Romney's difficulties with southern conservatives is yet another product of the prescribed limits of acceptable Christian observance, which ranges from straight-laced Calvinism to wop-bop-a-loopa fundamentalism.

Plus ca change....

So, there's actually nothing new in using the rebel flag as a symbol of all that is pure and good and non-commie. It's a tradition.

Legacy Costs

by digby

In your dreams:

"I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace," Bush told his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, in a conversation recorded for the oral-history organization StoryCorps for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

I'm sure that would be nice, but instead you will be remembered as the man who invaded a country that hadn't threatened it using lies and propaganda --- and ended up "liberating" millions of people from their lives.

"I came to Washington with a set of values, and I'm leaving with the same set of values. And I darn sure wasn't going to sacrifice those values; that I was a president that had to make tough choices and was willing to make them," he said

No, it wasn't a tough choice to invade Iraq or ignore Katrina or allow the financial system to run completely amuck. It was a unique combination of stupidity and malevolence, which will be studied for centuries by historians struggling to imagine how such a person was ever given such power by a supposedly democratic people.

I believe he did go to Washington with a certain set of values -- after all he'd signed over 150 death warrants without even reading the paperwork. That's exactly the kind of person who would legalize torture and suspend the constitution. And naturally a man who would steal an election and then govern like he'd won in a partisan landslide would politicize the Justice Department. Surely anyone who would hire a thug like Karl Rove could be expected to spy on Americans and use the presidency for political purposes.

Yes, his values are intact, no doubt about it, and his legacy is intact.


by digby

Here's an interesting look at the "center-right" debate that's been happening in the blogosphere and elsewhere, by Tom Edsall at Huffington Post. He goes over the terrain that readers of this blog and others are all too aware of and concludes that the country is center-right in some ways and moving left in others. He sees that Obama is learning the lessons of Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton by not being too far left, although he knows he owes the left something for his election, so they will get a hearing.

I would actually argue that Obama doesn't owe anything to the left for his election other than our helping to prepare the ground for the Iraq argument which gave him unique credibility at a definitive moment. I don't think he won with ideology, but rather with inspiration and competence, which he didn't limit in terms of political philosophy. He always positioned himself as a pragmatist who would work with both sides of the aisle and that's what many people liked about him after all the years of ruthless Republican partisanship. But the left does largely believe in him as well, and they will, on the whole, give him quite a bit of room. (The only people who want him to fail are those who are openly hoping the economy tanks so badly that the country will be disenchanted by 2012 and elect a Republican to fix "The Obama Depression.")

The problem for the left isn't Obama, per se, it's that the political establishment, including some members who are now populating the Obama administration, see the left as the Omega wolves of the American political pack. They serve a useful purpose for the group: even though all the wolves fight amongst themselves for supremacy and have a strict pecking order, the pack is united in its mutual loathing for the Omega, which they all abuse with equal vigor. It's pack ranking at its most primitive.

For years liberals have allowed themselves to be cowed by the right (hell, they even turned the word itself into an epithet)and continue even to this day to apologize over and over again for their supposedly humiliating error of seeking equality for minorities and lifting people out of poverty, which is what apparently ruined everything.(Read Edsall's article for the full litany.) Those Beta members of the establishment who are on the leftish side are embarrassed by their associations with such losers and must go out of their way to separate themselves from them if they expect to be taken seriously --- in the wild Betas often brutalize the Omega worse than the Alphas do.

Politicians don't usually care about rehabilitating an ideology or philosophy. Why should they? They are about getting and maintaining power, hopefully at least some of them, for good (even liberal) purposes. If it is useful for them to kick the left to make the establishment happy, they will do it, unless kicking the left presents some downside for them. And at this point, there's no reason to believe there is and no serious, working mechanism for changing that.

The good Omega knows its place in the hierarchy and even respects its own debasement: it's all for the good of the pack. After all, the politicians all have to live together and work together and they need at least one thing they can all agree on. Beating up on the left has been very useful for that purpose for a long time. But I don't think that when a lot of us signed on to the newly minted progressive movement to work for the "common good" that's exactly what we had in mind. I guess we'll see what happens.

Keep in mind, please, that I'm not talking about policy here so much as the common reflex to use the left as a foil for the political establishment of both parties. If people want to play that role for the good of the country, so that Democrats can secretly enact liberal legislation without having to identify it with us Omegas, I guess that's their privilege. I'm not temperamentally suited to it personally.

For more on the "hard left's" alleged disenchantment with Obama, here's the view from the rightwing at PJs media.

Laura's Dreamy Bubble

by digby

Julia finds that somebody forgot to give Laura Bush a briefing since about 2003:

The Bush family have recorded a Story Corps interview about George W. Bush's presidential legacy, and what they're most proud of. This is what Mrs. Bush had to say

Well, it’s certainly been very rewarding to look at Afghanistan and both know that the president and the United States military liberated women there; that women and girls can be in school now; that women can walk outside their doors without a male escort.

Well, then. I would have been more charitable, but since Mrs. Bush has chosen this as her legacy, allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Bush's legacy:

Afghan police have arrested 10 Taliban militants involved in an acid attack against 15 girls and teachers walking to school in southern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said Tuesday. "Several" of the arrested militants have confessed to taking part in the attack earlier this month, said Kandahar Gov. Rahmatullah Raufi. He declined to say exactly how many confessed.

High-ranking Taliban fighters paid the militants a total of $2,000 to carry out the attack, Raufi said. The attackers came from Pakistan but were Afghan nationals, said Doud Doud, an Interior Ministry official.

The attackers squirted acid from water bottles onto three groups of students and teachers walking to school in Kandahar city on Nov. 12. Several girls suffered burns to the face and were hospitalized. One teenager couldn't open her eyes days after the attack, which sparked condemnation from around the world...

Kandahar province's schools serve 110,000 students at 232 schools, Raufi said. But only 10 of the 232 are for girls. Some 26,000 girls go to school, he said.

Arsonists have repeatedly attacked girls' schools and gunmen killed two students walking outside a girls' school in central Logar province last year. UNICEF says there were 236 school-related attacks in Afghanistan in 2007.

Read on

I've always felt kind of sorry for Laura Bush. She certainly didn't offend me the way she did some people. She just seemed like someone trapped in a role she really didn't care about. I never could see that she cares about much of anything.

Needless to say, things are not better for Afghan women. The Taliban and the rough Islamic culture of the area are barbaric.Indeed, the plight of women in Afghanistan was a cause among feminists long before anyone gave a damn about the place. Also needless to say, Laura wasn't among them.

In fact, her adoption of this issue was nothing more than a public relations ploy thought up by the precursor of the infamous White House Iraq Group:

"We’re getting the Band together," White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett told the group on their first conference call last week.

The "Band" is made up of the people who brought you the war in Afghanistan—or at least the accompanying public-relations campaign. Their greatest hit: exposing the Taliban’s treatment of women.

Now, they’re back for a reunion tour on Iraq. The Band's instrument, of course, is information.

I guess that was the only time Laura was given her own propaganda portfolio and she's hung on to it ever since.

The sad fact is that life for women in Afghanistan is still a nightmare, although I'm not sure how you change that at the point of a gun (seems like part of the problem, not the solution.) The Bush administration has been as ham handed about this issue as it's possible to be. (Remember Karen Hughes running around the mideast telling women everywhere that she's a "mom" just like them?)

And yet, women do make up more than half the population of the planet and some solutions to big problems (like poverty and education, which contribute to terrorism) might actually lie with dealing with them as something other than afterthoughts by the first lady. In fact, this might be one area when Clinton could have a serious impact --- she's long been involved in global women's rights and empowerment. It certainly can't hurt to have someone involved in foreign policy who is serious and knowledgeable about the issues associated with half the global population. Maybe it will create some fresh thinking, who knows?

Bystanders In East Asia

by dday

The attacks in Mumbai are grisly enough, and it's a relief that they appear to be coming to an end. But the question over involvement of Pakistani groups has the potential to make things much, much worse, and really cripple any hope of stability in the region.

Pakistani militant groups on Friday became the focus of the investigation into the attacks in Mumbai as India and its archrival Pakistan jousted over who was responsible. Both sides pledged to cooperate in the probe, but tensions remained high amid fears the conflict could escalate.

Pakistan initially said Friday that it had agreed to send its spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, on an unprecedented visit to India to share and obtain information from investigators there. Later Friday, however, Pakistani officials changed their minds and decided to send a less senior intelligence official in Pasha's place, according to a Pakistani source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It was unclear what prompted the reversal, but the Pakistani source said the Islamabad government was "already bending over backwards" to be cooperative and did not "want to create more opportunities for Pakistan-bashing." Pakistan's defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told reporters in Islamabad, "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."

Worse, the preliminary speculation focuses on Kashmiri militants.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said some "signatures of the attack" were consistent with the work of Pakistani militant groups known as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that have fought Indian troops in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and also are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.

At this point, it's not particularly relevant whether or not these allegations are true (and it may not be). It's that they are being made at all. Because the charges themselves are enough to raise tensions between the two nuclear superpowers. India and Pakistan have been at war over Kashmir almost since Pakistan has become a sovereign nation. National pride demands that neither side surrender. And if the voices continue to rise about Pakistani involvement, India will react, whether by massing forces at the Pakistani border or even engaging in a first strike, which under cover of the Bush Doctrine has a patina of sanction.

A lot of basically sensible people [...] who may well find themselves with positions in the Obama administration, have suggested that maybe we don’t want to throw the alleged baby of preventive war out with the bathwater of Bushism. I always think people thinking along these lines need to keep in mind that the United States isn’t the only country on the planet. I don’t think we want a world in which India claims to have a U.S.-endorsed right to launch preventive military strikes on Pakistan, or a world in which Pakistani policymaking is dominated by fear of a potentially imminent preventive Indian military attack.

Ultimately, our so-called "strategy" in that region of the world, including Afghanistan where we have a shooting war, means exceedingly little in the eyes of the Indians and the Pakistanis compared to the threat posed by each other. We have very little ability to shape these events, and any attempt to choose sides or play one country off of the other will have devastating consequences. Pakistan's anti-terrorism efforts will be consumed by anti-Indian efforts. Afghanistan could become a proxy fight between the two East Asian powers, as we saw when the Indian embassy in Kabul was bombed.

This is a terribly explosive situation and it had better inform the incoming Administration's continued presence in the region.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Dispatch From Real America

by digby

Did you know that the confederate flag is actually a symbol of Christianity and anti-communism? Neither did I:

Barack Obama’s presidential victory upset James and Linda Vandiver.

So, on election night, the couple — owners of the historic Faubus Motel in downtown Huntsville — walked outside, lowered Old Glory and raised the Confederate battle flag in its place.

It’s remained there ever since, flying high in silent protest of election to the nation’s highest office a politician the pair says is a “Marxist.”

You no doubt noticed the name of the motel, right? Yep. It was previously owned by the Governor who famously ordered the National Guard to lock out the black students who the court had ruled must be admitted to Little Rock Central High.

But this has nothing to do with race, don't misunderstand:

The Vandivers said they didn’t raise the Rebel flag to protest a black man moving into the White House, as many of their neighbors assume. Instead, they did it because they believe the country has abandoned the principles of its founders by electing Obama.

Linda Vandiver said the Democrat is a Marxist who wants to turn America into a socialist country.

Obama wants to redistribute wealth by raising taxes on the rich, create a universal healthcare system and institute a global tax aimed at eliminating worldwide poverty, she said.

“We think socialism is deeply rooted in him, and we’ll see it manifest in all areas,” Linda Vandiver said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with despising Mr. Obama’s color. We’d like to celebrate the fact that for the first time we have a black president. But we can’t.” Obama is also a friend to terrorists, James Vandiver said, referring to Obama’s association with William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground. The group bombed public buildings during the 1970 s.

“If Obama was just a regular Joe Citizen, he would not be able to get security clearance to get in the White House,” James Vandiver asserted. “This is the only way I know to send a message to the people of our country that we are in protest of someone like this being in the position of president.” But like all symbols, the Confederate flag carries different meanings to different people.

Yes it does. It's usually something to do with slavery, southern heritage or white supremacy. I've never heard it used as a protest against Marxism before. But they've got it all worked out.

In another ironic twist, the area newspaper is owned by relatives of Orville Faubus and they are on record disagreeing with the use of the confederate flag to protest Obama. The paper is chronicling the controversy:

In the three weeks since Election Day, the Record has gotten 20 to 25 letters to the editor about the flag, Mooty said. Most weeks, the 5, 275-circulation weekly is lucky to receive two letters.

Mooty published 11 of the letters. Many of the others are unprintable or unsigned, he said.

For Steve Maher of Whorton Creek near Huntsville, the Rebel flag is an “offensive symbol.” Maher wrote to the Record that townsfolk should boycott the motel, the City Council should condemn the action publicly and the town chamber of commerce should revoke the Vandivers ’ membership.

“I respect the freedom of speech, but this symbol of racism can’t be allowed to represent our community,” Maher wrote. “If we do nothing, we are silently supporting or at least accepting the symbolism of that flag.” For Loy Mauch of Bismarck in Hot Spring County, the Confederate flag is a symbol of America’s Christian roots, from which he believes the nation has strayed.

“The government has lost its moral authority over God-fearing Americans and I wish more patriots like James Vandiver would take their stand for what the Confederate
Battle Flag truly symbolizes,” Mauch wrote.


Steven Fowler, an accountant from nearby Alpena, which sits on the Boone-Carroll county line, called Vandiver to tell him that he supports what he’s doing after he read about it in the Record.

The Battle Flag of the Confederacy, with a version of St. Andrew’s cross emblazoned across it, is a symbol of Christianity first and foremost, Fowler said.

But it also represents the supremacy of the states over the federal government.

By flying it, Fowler said, the Vandivers are warning against an Obama presidency that he believes will expand the federal government by nationalizing health care, redistributing wealth and broadening the welfare system.


Owens said he thinks the majority of people in Huntsville understand why the Vandivers are flying the flag and have no problem with it — they’re just afraid to say so.

“There was a time when Americans were free to do what they wanted. But now we have to measure up to some politically correct ideal,” Owens said. “People ought to take [James Vandiver ] at his word. He has a right to make a statement against a political figure.”

Linda Vandiver wrote in a letter to the Record printed Wednesday that blacks, gays, Democrats — even liberal filmmaker Michael Moore — are all afforded a right to freedom of speech and political protest. So why not white, Southern Christians who are disenchanted with the incoming administration ?

“Our statement in raising the flag is ‘ Barack Obama is not our president, ’” Linda Vandiver said in an interview. “If the Democrats can say that about President Bush, then we can say that about Barack Obama."

(Well, there was that little matter of bush losing the popular vote and the Supreme Court stopping the vote count and appointing him the winner, but there's no need to belabor it...)

Notice what's missing from this bill of indictment? Nobody called Obama a Muslim. Maybe they just forgot, but it seems that they are really homing in on the Joe-the-plumber lines from latter McCain campaign. They clearly don't know what socialism really means, but it sounds political and I guess it still carries with it some traditional wingnut anti-communist resonance. There's certainly nothing new in accusing mainstream black political leaders of being Marxists:

Helms Stalls King's Day In Senate

By Helen Dewar

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesady, October 4, 1983; Page A01

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), charging that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. espoused "action-oriented Marxism" and other "radical political" views, yesterday temporarily blocked Senate action on a House-passed bill to create a new national holiday in memory of the slain civil rights leader.

Helms' assault on King, which prompted a scathing denunciation from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), came as the White House was putting out word that President Reagan intends to sign the measure, even though the administration once had opposed it.


Although Helms' colleagues had expected his effort to derail the bill by sending it to committee for hearings, the tone of his attack--linking King to what he called "the official policy of communism"--appeared to take them by surprise.

"I will not dignify Helms' comments with a reply. They do not reflect credit on this body," an angry Kennedy said, adding that what Helms said should be "shunned by the American people, including the citizens of his own state." Later, Kennedy accused Helms of using "Red smear" tactics.

Asked before television cameras to say whether he considered King a "Marxist-Leninist," as he had suggested earlier on the Senate floor, Helms at first demurred, then said, "But the old saying--if it has webbed feet, if it has feathers and it quacks, it's a you-know-what." Asked again later if he considered King a Marxist, Helms said, "I don't think there is any question about that."

When asked if his attack on King would cause him political trouble in North Carolina, where he faces a tough race for reelection next year, Helms said bluntly, "I'm not going to get any black votes, period."


A federal holiday should be an occasion for "shared values," but King's "very name itself remains a source of tension, a deeply troubling symbol of divided society," Helms said.

Helms said King had used "nonviolence as a provocative act to disturb the peace of the state and to trigger, in many cases, overreaction by authorities."

He asserted that there were Marxists in King's movement and that King had been warned against them by the president at the time, apparently meaning President Kennedy.

Added Helms: "I think most Americans would feel that the participation of Marxists in the planning and direction of any movement taints that movement at the outset . . . . Others may argue that Dr. King's thought may have been merely Marxist in its orientation. But the trouble with that is that Marxism-Leninism, the official philosphy of communism, is an action-oriented revolutionary doctrine. And Dr. King's action-oriented Marxism, about which he was cautioned by the leaders of this country, including the president at that time, is not compatible with the concepts of this country."

He's dead now, but the dream lives on, apparently. Socialism may be just another word for the boogeyman, but it's one that's been embedded in the DNA of rightwingers everywhere and it seems to have particular meaning to racists. Which is, of course, what's really going on here. They may not have read Marx, but they sure as hell know what raising the confederate flag on the occasion of the election of the first African American president means.

And it sure must warm the Republican Big Money Boyz's hearts to see these small town motel owners and their friends out there fighting the good fight against taxing the rich and universal health care. It's so sweet, it probably almost makes up for the 50% hit they've taken in the market.

h/t to bb

Poppy's Legacy

by digby

I'm not too sure where E.J.Dionne is coming from here, but it sounds as if he thinks it's some kind of great thing if Obama decides to become the president son George Bush Sr never had. But it pays to remember that the vaunted "realism" of George Bush Sr led to a war that's still going on today. He's the guy who got us caught up in Iraq and he did it in ways that his decidedly unrealistic son took to heart. The propaganda, for instance:

Take the Kuwaiti babies story. Its origins go back to the first world war when British propaganda accused the Germans of tossing Belgian babies into the air and catching them on their bayonets. Dusted off and updated for the Gulf war, this version had Iraqi soldiers bursting into a modern Kuwaiti hospital, finding the premature babies ward and then tossing the babies out of incubators so that the incubators could be sent back to Iraq.

The story, improbable from the start, was first reported by the Daily Telegraph in London on September 5 1990. But the story lacked the human element; it was an unverified report, there were no pictures for television and no interviews with mothers grieving over dead babies.

That was soon rectified. An organisation calling itself Citizens for a Free Kuwait (financed by the Kuwaiti government in exile) had signed a $10m contract with the giant American public relations company, Hill & Knowlton, to campaign for American military intervention to oust Iraq from Kuwait.

The Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress was meeting in October and Hill & Knowlton arranged for a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl to tell the babies' story before the congressmen. She did it brilliantly, choking with tears at the right moment, her voice breaking as she struggled to continue. The congressional committee knew her only as "Nayirah" and the television segment of her testimony showed anger and resolution on the faces of the congressmen listening to her. President Bush referred to the story six times in the next five weeks as an example of the evil of Saddam's regime.

In the Senate debate whether to approve military action to force Saddam out of Kuwait, seven senators specifically mentioned the incubator babies atrocity and the final margin in favour of war was just five votes. John R Macarthur's study of propaganda in the war says that the babies atrocity was a definitive moment in the campaign to prepare the American public for the need to go to war.

It was not until nearly two years later that the truth emerged. The story was a fabrication and a myth, and Nayirah, the teenage Kuwaiti girl, coached and rehearsed by Hill & Knowlton for her appearance before the Congressional Committee, was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. By the time Macarthur revealed this, the war was won and over and it did not matter any more.

(For more on the propaganda war, read this award winning article about John Rendon in Rolling Stone.)

That was, of course, the least of it:

ABC News Nightline opened last June 9 with words to make the heart stop. "It is becoming increasingly clear," said a grave Ted Koppel, "that George Bush, operating largely behind the scenes throughout the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence, and military help that built Saddam's Iraq into the aggressive power that the United States ultimately had to destroy."

Is this accurate? Just about every reporter following the story thinks so. Most say that the so-called Iraqgate scandal is far more significant then either Watergate or Iran-contra, both in its scope and its consequences. And all believe that, with investigations continuing, it is bound to get bigger.

Why, then, have some of our top papers provided so little coverage? Certainly, if you watched Nightline or read the London Financial Times or the Los Angeles Times, you saw this monster grow. But if you studied the news columns of The Washington Post or, especially, The New York Times, you practically missed the whole thing. Those two papers were very slow to come to the story and, when they finally did get to it, their pieces all too frequently were boring, complicated,and short of the analysis readers required to fathom just what was going on. More to the point, they often ignored revelations by competitors.

The result: readers who neither grasp nor care about the facts behind facile imagery like The Butcher of Baghdad and Operation Desert Storm. In particular, readers who do not follow the story of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, which apparently served as a paymaster for Saddam's arms buildup, and thus became a player in the largest bank-fraud case in U.S. history.

Iraqgate was another of those scandals that Clinton and the Democrats in congress left on the floor because they didn't want to play the blame game. It's ended up costing a lot of lives.

I recognize that in the beltway, there is a belief that the only "serious" foreign policy schools are Neoconservative and Realist (also conservative.) We know that Obama is not a neocon and it's a great relief. But let's hope that Obama is forging a different path than that taken by the Realists as well. After all, the king of the realists is none other than Henry Kissinger and he's left his fingerprints on every American made foreign disaster in the last 40 years.

I suppose that if it makes the villagers happy to believe that the really, really old "grown-ups" are back in charge, it doesn't matter a whole lot if it's just a PR stunt. But let's hope that people in foreign lands don't get the idea that we're taking a trip back to the 80s because that wasn't a particularly successful time for American foreign policy.

And revisionists who are trying to turn Poppy into some kind of kindly, avuncular old coot need to take a little trip down memory lane. He was a ruthless piece of work.

Resolute Mules

by digby

Speaking of injustice, here's another story that makes my head hurt. From T Chris at Talk Left:

You may remember the case of Julie Amero, the teacher who allegedly exposed her seventh grade students to p*rn*graphy on a classroom PC. Amero's defense (not ably presented at her trial) was that she accessed no p*rn and that the computer was infected with malware that caused the p*rn sites to pop up faster than she could close them. Amero was nonetheless convicted of impairing the morals of a child and risking injury to a minor.

Before she was sentenced, with the assistance of a new lawyer and a host of new evidence, Amero persuaded the judge to give her a new trial. The case has been languishing for some time. Last week, because she "wasn't in condition to endure another trial," Amero entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and agreed to give up her teaching license. She was fined $100.

Amero's decision to put an end to her ordeal is understandable but unfortunate given the evidence of her innocence.

Read on for the details.

I recall sitting at my computer at work a few years ago and hitting a link to Paris Hilton and up popped about 35 successive links to porn sites and I couldn't get them all to close no matter how hard I tried. It went on for about a minute before I started laughing and pretty much gave up. It was a common computer problem at one time and I can see how if you were flustered in front of a bunch of kids you'd flounder around a bit before you figured out how to deal with it.

Apparently the prosecutors' case rested on the fact that she was criminally liable because she failed to immediately turn the computer off. They actually tried to put her in jail for it.

As T Chris says:

... imposing criminal liability on a relatively computer-illiterate teacher because she didn't think quickly enough is reprehensible. The result is a ruined life because the school system couldn't manage its IT competently and because prosecutors couldn't bring themselves to admit they made a mistake.

That last is a big problem. Most prosecutors are honest and exercise common sense in situations like this. But once they get dug in, or convince themselves that they will lose respect and authority if they admit they made a mistake, they just keep plowing ahead.

In fact, you could say the same thing about many in government. Even the highest offices in the land.

Taser Talk

by digby

A reader from France alerted me to this interesting story about tasers:
A Paris court on Monday began hearing a libel case by the head of a company that supplies Taser stun guns to French police against a Trotskyist leader who said the weapons can be lethal.

The hearing began just a few days after Antoine Di Zazzo, head of SMP Technologies, was charged with spying on the man he is suing, Olivier Besancenot, leader of the Communist Revolutionary League (LCR).

SMP Technologies is seeking 50,000 euros (66,000 dollars) in damages from Besancenot because he said in a blog and a newspaper interview that Taser guns had "probably silenced more than 150 people in the US."

Ex-presidential candidate Besancenot says he was simply drawing attention to an Amnesty International report on Tasers that said that nearly 300 people have died around the world after being zapped with a Taser.

He is calling for a moratorium on the weapon's use while a full investigation is conducted into their safety.

Like Taser, Di Zazzo, whose company has supplied Tasers to the French army, police and gendarmerie since 2004, adamantly denies the guns can be lethal. Darts fired by the Taser pack a 50,000-volt punch that can paralyse targets from 10 yards (metres) away.

Di Zazzo was arrested last week, along with several people who included police officers, private detectives and a customs official, on suspicion of having spied on Besancenot and his partner and gaining access to their bank details.

Obviously the French libel laws are different from the US, but it does point out just what kind of hardball these taser companies play. Here in the US, they fight every allegation of wrongdoing with equal zeal. But they lost their first products liability case last summer and there will likely be more as the numbers and scope of taser misuse becomes more known.

But they do other, much more insidious, things as well. The taser company is pretty much the sole purveyor of information about the safety and use of the weapon. Representatives are relied upon as "experts" in court proceedings and police hearings. But this really takes the cake:

The Globe and Mail has reported on the cozy ties between Taser International and some coronors, the officials often responsible for investigating Taser related deaths; a cozy relationship which creates an appearance of bias on the part of one very prominent Canadian coronor.

In Taser firms picked up coroner's lecture tab the Globe reports that Taser International has paid hotel and travel expenses for prominent Canadian coronor Dr. James Cairns, Ontario's deputy chief coronor, who has given seminars "on the phenomenon of "excited delirium," a medically unrecognized term that the company often cites as a reason people die after being tasered". The article indicates that Dr. Cairns does not see any conflict of interest on his part. [The Globe & Mail also reports that Dr. Cairns admitted in testimony yesterday at an Ontario inquiry that he had helped shield disgraced pathologist Charles Smith.]

In Symposium aims to define 'excited delirium' DEATHS IN CUSTODY: TASER HELPS FUND RESEARCH the Globe and Mail reports on the second annual Sudden Death, Excited Delirium and In-Custody Death Conference underway in Las Vegas. Many of the nearly 20 talks touch on the role of Tasers. "The key issue is excited delirium, a collection of symptoms that is quickly becoming the leading explanation offered when a person dies in police custody or after a taser is used." Two researchers who presented disclosed that Taser International funds their research. As reported by the Globe & Mail, the Taser subsidized research presenters "conducted research on the negative effects of taser use on the human body; they found very few".

Obviously there is tremendous pressure, both the from industry and police, to keep the use of tasers unrestricted. And why not? There's a lot of money to be made and the police love having the ability to force compliance with their weapons, just as they used to love using a billy club for the same purpose. It makes their jobs easier, and I understand that. The problem is that in our system you aren't supposed to be punished before you have been found guilty of a crime. Certainly, we don't believe police should have the right to hurt or kill people they already have in custody, which is what often happens when they taser people who are already on the ground and handcuffed.

If police really did only use them in situations where they'd otherwise use a lethal weapon, then they would be a useful tool. But because they are considered "harmless" they are being used indiscriminately to make people compliant, which is not the same thing. They are dangerous weapons when used on people who have certain conditions the police can't know about ahead of time and they should be used very, very judiciously and they aren't.

And the main reason for this is the fact that the Taser company is spending a lot of money settling lawsuits and lobbying and greasing the palms of police officials and politicians. Their behavior suggests a company that knows very well its product is harmful and is using all the levers at its disposal to silence critics and keep the money flowing in for as long as it can.

And wait until the next generation of torture devices hits the streets.

Update: This one's just unbelievable. The good news is that they changed the rules: police can no longer taser people when they are sleeping.

Kewl Kid Kabuki

by digby

I don't know how long it will take for Halperin and Kurtz to get the kewl kidz on board the train (they are all worried about their own 401ks, after all.) But it's out there.

I'm starting to feel a little guilty about the media's treatment of President-elect Barack Obama -- and I may not be the only one.

Chalk it up to a phenomenon I'd like to call "Obama-remorse." You know how you feel buyer's remorse after you've spent a lot of dough on some big-ticket item, only to realize that you might have made a mistake? Well, it's going to happen to the president-elect as well.

Perhaps this sort of recognition prompted Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz to do an incisive piece called "A Giddy Sense of Boosterism" on Nov. 17. As Kurtz noted, the media have tripped over themselves to celebrate and cash in on Obama's victory. NBC News is preparing a DVD called "Yes, We Can: The Barack Obama Story." ABC is readying a documentary on the campaign, too.

As I see it, the media are having second thoughts about their performance over the past year.


I'm thrilled that he won the election, underscoring the American ideal that we live in a forward-thinking democracy, where any man or woman can rise to the highest office in the land. And I'm proud that even Obama's staunchest foes -- particularly the man he defeated, John McCain -- seem to be willing to accept his victory and pledge to help him turn around the economy and cure the nation's other ills.

But I also feel guilty because I know that the media's Adulation Express -- never to be confused with McCain's old Straight Talk Express -- is going to hit a few speed bumps before it inexorably grinds to a halt.

It's inevitable... that Obama will eventually have his turn under the microscope. When the media start picking apart some of his Cabinet choices or his pronouncements on the state of the economy or his declarations about Iraq, he may be surprised to find that the afterglow of his stunning victory turns sour so fast.

This is a member of the media writing this as if its something fated by the Gods --- something over which these media professionals simply have no control. It's inevitable! And it's inevitable because reporters have buyers remorse and will have to "turn sour" in order to assuage their bad feelings about themselves.

It's all about them, you see.

I agree with this fellow that this is probably going to be the dynamic. It was predicted long ago. But it certainly doesn't have to be. The media could develop some self awareness and not play out their adolescent psychodramas on American politics for a change. But I'm not hopeful when media establishment leaders like Halperin and Kurtz are bringing the hammer down so hard.

Meanwhile, it looks like the old innocent bystander excuse is coming into play heavily. This person, who is a paid media professional, is "observing" how the paid professional media is going to turn on Obama as if his publishing this story isn't helping them do exactly that by pretending that it is some sort of inexorable certainty. It's kewl kid kabuki, same as it ever was. I'm pretty sure they don't even know they're doing it.

h/t to Charles

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Torture Zombie

by digby

I have always been in favor of prosecutions for the unitary executive torture regime. Recently, however, I have reluctantly concluded that the best we could hope for is a "9/12" Commission investigation since Obama has been making it quite clear that he doesn't intend to pursue government officials through the Justice system (and congress is congenitally incapable of it.) I was impressed by Charles Homan's article in Washington Monthly that at the very least we needed to establish some official narrative of illegality and abuse of power lest this become an established option for future presidents.

But I am persuaded by Dahlia Lithwick that such a commission won't get the job done, even if done perfectly and that prosecutions really are the only way to ensure that this won't happen again:

It's sweet and fanciful to think that with a grant of immunity and a hot cup of chai, Bush-administration officials who have scoffed at congressional subpoenas and court dates will sit down and unburden themselves to a truth commission about their role in the U.S. attorney firings. I agree completely with Charles Homans, who, in this must-read piece for the Washington Monthly, argues for the release of classified information at all costs. But I just cannot bring myself to believe that the full story will ever be told to our collective satisfaction. Even if every living American were someday to purchase and read the truth commission's collectively agreed-on bipartisan narrative, weaving together John Yoo's best intentions and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's torment on the water board, sweeping national reconciliation will elude us.

As my friend Jack Goldsmith points out in an op-ed today, we already know the truth of what happened. Not all of it, to be sure, but we know a good deal about who made which critical decisions and when. Just read Michael Ratner's devastating new book, The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld. Read Philippe Sands' Torture Team. Read Jane Mayer's The Dark Side. Read this painfully detailed new report from U.C.-Berkeley, in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights, chronicling the experiences of former detainees held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. These writers are not crackpots. We may not have every memo, and we may not be able to name every name. But do truth commissions alone ever reveal the full story? If we decline to hold lawbreakers to account, we may find out a whole lot of facts and arrive at no truth at all. Is the truth that if the president orders it, it isn't illegal? Or is the truth that good people do bad things in wartime, but that's OK? Is the truth that if we torture strange men with strange names, it's not lawbreaking? What legal precedent will this big bipartisan narrative set for the next president with a hankering for dunking prisoners?

In any event, we already know what the other side of the story is. Michael Mukasey holds that those who authorized lawbreaking did so out of "a good-faith desire to protect the citizens of our Nation from a future terrorist attack." Witness after witness will tell the truth commission that they were scared; they were making quick decisions in the heat of battle, and that their hearts were pure. The real problem, they will go on to say, was that there was too much law—a crippling maze of domestic and international laws that paralyzed government lawyers and the intelligence community. Goldsmith makes that same point in his op-ed today, in arguing against criminal investigations or even a bipartisan commission: Under the threat of criminal sanctions or even noncriminal commissions, "lawyers will become excessively cautious in giving advice and will substitute predictions of political palatability for careful legal judgment." It seems that after 9/11, the solution to the problem of too much law was to simply do away with the stuff. And the solution to the lawlessness that followed 9/11? Do away with any legal consequences for the perpetrators. If there exists a more perverse method of restoring the rule of law in America than announcing that legal instruments are inadequate to address them, I can't imagine it.

She's right. I have been being overly "pragmatic" (depressed is more like it) in assuming that a 9/12 commission will be better than nothing. It would actually be worse than nothing, creating a shallow self-serving narrative of fine, hard working public servants who may have strayed over the line from time to time because they were only trying to keep us safe. It's always been out there. After all, Rep. Henry Hyde famously said about Iran-Contra:

"All of us at some time confront conflicts between rights and duties, between choices that are evil and less evil, and one hardly exhausts moral imagination by labeling every untruth and every deception an outrage."

(Of course, he also said:"Lying poisons justice. If we are to defend justice and the rule of law, lying must have consequences," but that was about the high crime of unauthorized fellatio so it wouldn't apply to such things as shadow governments, torture and suspending of the constitution.)

This movement conservative zombie was created at the time of Nixon and his pardon, extended through Iran Contra, went through the insane era of partisan investigations in the 1990s which culminated in a trumped-up, partisan impeachment, a stolen election and the lawbreaking Bush years. Nobody has ever paid a price for any of that.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that the next time a Republican is elected to the presidency he or she won't pick right up where they left off. That is the story of the last 40 years and until there is some price to pay they will keep right on doing it, escalating each time. For all the Colin Powell's who have come over from the Dark Side, there a many more who were trained in this worldview during this long conservative era. At some point they will try to keep power permanently. All it would take is just the right kind of crisis for them to justify it. After all, the precedents are all lined up --- normalized and legalized each step of the way by Democrats who didn't want to spend their political capital to stop it.