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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The torture memoir

by digby

Please take the time to read this long and harrowing first person account of a prisoner's torture and captivity at Guantanamo over the course of the last decade. He is innocent. And he is still there.

Here is a short excerpt. (The question marks are government redactions):
The Marine guy asked questions and answered himself. When the man failed to impress me with all the talk and humiliation and the threat to arrest my family (since the [ ? ? ? ?] “was an obedient servant of the U.S.”), he started to hurt me more. He brought ice-cold water and soaked me all over my body. My clothes stuck on me. It was so awful, I kept shaking like a Parkinson’s patient. Technically I wasn’t able to talk anymore. The guy was stupid, he was literally executing me but in a slow way. [ ? ? ? ?] gestured to him to stop pouring water on me. I refused to eat anything; I couldn’t open my mouth anyway.

The guy was very hot, when [ ? ? ? ? ?] stopped him because he was afraid of the paperwork which would [result] in case of my death. He found another technique; namely, he brought a CD-player with booster and started to play some rap music. I didn’t really mind the music because it made me forget my pain; actually, the music was a blessing in disguise, I was trying to make sense of the words. All I understood was that the music was about love, can you believe it? Love! All I had experienced lately was hatred or the consequences thereof. “Listen to that, motherfucker!” said the guest, while closing the door violently behind him. “You’re gonna get the same shit day after day, and guess what? It’s getting worse. What you’re seeing is only the beginning,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I kept praying and ignoring what they were doing.

“Oh, ALLAH, help me. … Oh, Allah, have mercy on me,” [ ? ? ? ? ?] kept mimicking my prayers, “ALLAH … ALLAH … There is no Allah. He let you down!” I smiled at how ignorant [ ? ? ? ? ?] was by talking about the Lord like that.

Between 10 and 11 p.m. [ ? ? ? ? ?] handed me over to [ ? ? ? ? ?] and gave an order to the guards to move me to his specially prepared room. It was so cold and full of pictures showing the glories of the U.S.: weapons arsenal, planes, pictures of G. Bush. “Don’t pray, you insult my country if you pray during my national hymn. We are the greatest country in the free world, and we have the smartest president of the world,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. For the whole night I had to listen to the U.S. hymn. I hate hymns anyway. All I can remember was the beginning, “Oh say can you see …” over and over.

Between 4 and 5 a.m. [ ? ? ? ? ?] released me just to be taken a couple of hours later by [ ? ? ? ? ?] to start the same routine over and over. The hardest step is the first, the hardest days were the first days; with every day going by I grew stronger. Meanwhile, I was the main subject of talk in the camp, although many other detainees were suffering a similar fate; I was “Criminal No. 1,” and I was appropriately treated. Sometimes, when I was in the rec yard, detainees shouted, “Be patient. Remember Allah tries the people he loves the most.” Comments like that were my only solace beside my faith in the Lord.

[Then] [ ? ? ? ? ?] crawled from behind the scene and appeared in the picture: [ ? ? ? ? ?] had told me a couple of times before [ ? ? ? ? ?] visit about a very high level government person who was going to visit me and talk to me about my family. I personally didn’t take the information negatively; I thought he was going to bring me some messages from my family, but I was wrong. It was about hurting my family. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was escalating the situation relentlessly with me.

[ ? ? ? ? ?] came around 11 a.m., escorted by [ ? ? ? ? ?] and the new [ ? ? ? ? ?]. He was brief and direct.

“My name is [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I work for [ ? ? ? ? ?]. My government is desperate to get information out of you. Do you understand?”


“Can you read English?”


[ ? ? ? ? ?] handed me a letter he obviously forged. The letter was from DoD and it said, basically, “Ould Slahi was involved in the Millennium attack and recruited three of the September 11 hijackers. Since Slahi has refused to cooperate, the U.S. government is going to arrest his mother and put her in a special facility.”

I read the letter. “Is that not harsh and unfair?” I said.

“I am not here to maintain justice. I am here to stop people from crashing planes into buildings in my country.”

“Then go and stop them. I have done nothing to your country,” I said.

“You have two options, either being a defendant or a witness.”

“I want neither.”

“You have no choice, and your life is going to change decidedly,” he said.

“Just do it, the sooner, the better!” I said.

That's not the worst incident, it's just a typical one. Oh, and be sure to read the next chapter: "When Slahi wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, his captors took him on a torture cruise. They would make him disappear."

And here I've been told by both Presidents Bush and Obama that "the United States does not torture."

As I read that horrifying piece, I couldn't help but be reminded of this piece from a few years back:

Torture Nation
by digby

In keeping with tristero's advice to keep talking about the immorality of torture, I thought I would reprise some of my earlier posts on the subject. There are, sadly, many of them.

The following post was written back in June of 2004, when we had recently been informed of the DOJ's definition of torture and news had begun to filter out about the extent of the program. But as appalled and horrified as I was at the time, I'll admit that I never dreamed that Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, George Tenent, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft and others personally and unanimouslysigned off a regime that filtered all the way down to troops on the ground in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib. I certainly couldn't have imagined they sat around the white house choreographing the torture techniques for the "high value" prisoners.

Monday, June 14, 2004


"Torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

In case anyone's wondering about the specific torture methods that are considered legal in the various gulags we now have around the world, there has been some work done on this by Human Rights Watch, even before Abu Ghraib. They found that at the "detention centers" in Afghanistan, torture as it was defined under the Geneva Convention was used routinely, often against innocent civilians.

According to the two men, bright lights were set up outside their cells, shining in, and U.S. military personnel took shifts, keeping the detainees awake by banging on the metal walls of their cells with batons. The detainees said they were terrified and disoriented by sleep deprivation, which they saidlasted for several weeks. During interrogations, they said, they were made to stand upright for lengthy periods of time with a bright spotlight shining directly into their eyes. They were told that they would not be questioned until they remained motionless for one hour, and that they were not entitled even to turn their heads. If they did move, the interrogators said the "clock was reset." U.S. personnel, through interpreters, yelled at the detainees from behind the light, asking questions.

Two more detainees held at Bagram in late 2002 told a New York Times reporter of being painfully shackled in standing positions, naked, for weeks at a time, forcibly deprived of sleep and occasionally beaten.

A reporter with the Associated Press interviewed two detainees who were held in Bagram in late 2002 and early 2003: Saif-ur Rahman and Abdul Qayyum.86 Qayyum was arrested in August 2002; Rahman in December 2002. Both were held for more than two months. Interviewed separately, they described similar experiences in detention: sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods of time, and humiliating taunts from women soldiers. Rahman said that on his first night of detention he was kept in afreezing cell for part of his detention, stripped naked, and doused with cold water. He believes he was at a military base in Jalalabad at this point. Later, at Bagram, he said U.S. troops made him lie on the ground at one point, naked, and pinned him down with a chair. He also said he was shackled continuously, even when sleeping, and forbidden from talking with other detainees. Qayyum and Rahman were linked with a local commander in Kunar province, Rohullah Wakil, a local and national leader who was elected to the 2002 loya jirga in Kabul, and who was arrested in August 2002 and remains in custody.

According to detainees who have been released, U.S. personnel punish detainees at Bagram when they break rules for instance, talking to another prisoner or yelling at guards. Detainees are taken, in shackles, and made to hold their arms over their heads; their shackles are then draped over the top of a door, so that they can not lower their arms. They are ordered to stand with their hands up, in this manner, for two-hour intervals. According to one detainee interviewed who was punished in this manner, the punishment caused pain in the arms.

In March 2003, Roger King, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram, denied that mistreatment had occurred, but admitted the following:

"We do force people to stand for an extended period of time. . . . Disruption of sleep has been reported as an effective way of reducing people’s inhibition about talking or their resistance to questioning. . . . They are not allowed to speak to each other. If they do, they can plan together or rely on the comfort of one another. If they’re caught speaking out of turn, they can be forced to do things, like stand for a period of time -- as payment for speaking out."

King also said that a "common technique" for disrupting sleep was to keep the lights on constantly or to wake detainees every fifteen minutes to disorient them.

Several U.S. officials, speaking anonymously to the media, have admitted that U.S. military and CIA interrogators use sleep deprivation as a technique, and that detainees are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, and held in awkward, painful positions.

Here is some direct testimony of men who have been interrogated under rules that allow torture short of the pain accompanying "organ failure or death"

"stress positions"

Many men were handcuffed or tied to a stool as a means of slow torture. The [detainee] sat in one position, day and night. Each time he would fall over, the guards would sit him upright. He was not allowed to sleep or rest. Exhaustion and pain take their toll. When the [detainee] agreed to cooperate with his captors and acquiesced to their demands, he would be removed. Here, I have pictured a guard named "Mouse," who liked to throw buckets of cold water on a man on cold winter nights.

You're always sitting either on the floor or on a stool or concrete block or something low. The interrogator is always behind a table that's covered with cloth of some kind, white or blue or something. And he sits above you and he's always looking down at you asking you questions and they want to know what the targets are for tomorrow, next week, next month. You don't know. You really don't know. But he doesn't -- he's going to have to have an answer of some kind. Now the back of the room comes the -- the torture. And he's a -- he's a big guy that knows what he's doing. And he starts locking your elbows up with ropes and tying your wrists together and bending you.

"dietary manipulation"

Our normal diet consisted of either rice or bread and a bowl of soup. The soup was usually made from a boiled seasonal vegetable such as cabbage, kohlrabi, pumpkin, turnips, or greens, which we very appropriately called, "sewer greens, swamp grass and weeds.

"sleep deprivation"

Some men were tied to their beds, sometimes for weeks at a time. Here, I have drawn a picture showing the handcuffs being worn in front, but the usual position was with the wrists handcuffed behind the back. A man would live this way day and night, without sleep or rest.

The guards come around the middle of the night just rattling the lock on your door. That's a terrifying thing because they may be taking you out for a torture session. You don't know.

"... obviously this is an emotional thing to me, was listening to the screams of other ... prisoners while they were being tortured. And being locked in a cell myself sometimes uh, in handcuffs or tied up and not able to do anything about it. And that's the way I've got to spend the night."


The ten months that I spent in the blacked out cell I went into panic. The only thing I could do was exercise. As long as I could move, I felt like I was going to -- well, it was so bad I would put a rag in my mouth and hold another one over it so I could scream. That seemed to help. It's not that I was scared, more scared than another other time or anything. It was happening to my nerves and my mind. And uh, I had to move or die. I'd wake up at two o'clock in the morning or midnight or three or whatever and I would jump up immediately and start running in place. Side straddle hops. Maybe four hours of sit ups. But I had to exercise. And of course I prayed a lot
Oh, sorry. My mistake. Those illustrations and some of the comments are by former POW Mike Mcgrath about his time in the Hanoi Hilton. Other comments are from the transcript of Return With Honor, a documentary about the POW's during the Vietnam War. How silly of me to compare the US torture scheme with North Vietnam's.

It's very interesting that all these guys survived, in their estimation, mostly because of their own code of honor requiring them to say as little as possible, fight back as they could and cling to the idea that they were not helping this heartless enemy any more than they had to.

As I read the vivid descriptions of these interrogation techniques of sleep deprivation, sensory manipulation, isolation, stress positions and dietary manipulation I had to wonder whether they would be any more likely to work on committed Islamic jihadists than they were on committed American patriots.

The American POWs admitted that they broke under torture and told the interrogators what they knew. And they told a lot of them what they didn't know. And over time, they told them things they couldn't possibly know. The torture continued. Many of them, just like the reports from Gitmo, attempted suicide. They remained imprisoned never knowing when or if they would ever be set free.

"unlimited detention"
We began to talk about the war. How long are we going to be there and everything and I -- I was thinking well I'm only going to be there about six months or so. And then uh, Charlie says oh, we're probably going to be here about two years. Two years? And when I -- I finally came to that realization, my God, that's going to be a long time. And when I - it just kind of hit me all at once. And I just took my blanket and kind of balled it up and I just buried my head uh, in this -- in this blanket and just literally screamed with -- with this anguish that it's going to be that long. Two years. And then when I was finished, I felt oh, okay. I -- I -- I can do that. I can do two years. Of course, as it turned out, it was two years, and it was two years after that, and two years after that. Uh, until it was about seven years in my case. You know? But who was to know at that time.
I would imagine that our torture regime is much more hygienic than the North Vietnamese. Surely it is more bureaucratic with lots of reports and directives and findings and "exit interrogations." We are, after all, a first-world torturer. But at the end of the day it's not much different.

"bad apples"
And he announced to me, a major policy statement. Some officers and some guards had become so angry at what the Americans were doing to their country that they had far exceeded the limits which the government had wished they would uh, observe in treatment of prisoners. That they had um, brutally tortured us. That was the first time they ever acknowledged that it was torture not punishment.
Same excuses, too.
"When word of torture and mistreatment began to slip out to the American press in the summer of 1969, our public-relations-minded captors began to treat us better. I'm certain we would have been a lot worse off if there had not been the Geneva Conventions around." John McCain

Oh look, the dirty hippies were right again

by David Atkins

As Digby noted below, we seem to be at something of a media turning point on austerity. A bunch of people are waking up to the reality that progressives were right all along, that asset growth doesn't make up for lack growth, and that we might just want to try stimulating the economy instead of strangling it. Even the New York Times editor's blog is stumbling towards reality:

Consumer spending is usually a sign consumer confidence. But that’s not the case in today’s fraught economy.

Data out this week shows that consumer spending increased by 0.2 percent in March. That was slower than the 0.7 percent advance in February, but still more than economists had expected. Unfortunately, much of the higher spending in March was on utilities to heat homes in what turned out to be an unusually cold month. Spending actually fell on goods – which are better measures of underlying demand.

So rather than a sign of strength, spending figures for March show that money is tight, causing households to cut back on other spending in the face of higher spending on necessities. Against that backdrop, it should come as no surprise that consumer confidence fell in April to a nine-month low, as measured by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer-sentiment index.

For an economy in which consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of all activity, that is not good news.

It is also cause to think twice about claims that consumer spending will be buoyed by the wealth effect from rising home values and rising stock prices. House prices have risen as the number of foreclosures and other distressed sales has declined. Prices are not likely to keep rising at the current pace, however, without more jobs and higher pay so that potential homeowners can afford to buy.
What's also left unsaid is that higher home values may buoy established homeowners, but there are millions of people out there already priced out of homes whose values have risen far in excess of wages.

It's all about consumer demand and wage growth. That's what the economy needs. It also needs infrastructure improvement and climate change mitigation, both of which would make for great jobs programs. The solutions are out there. They always have been. It's just that those offering the solutions have been marginalized by the Very Wrong, Very Serious People.

The GOP's ideological cul-de-sac is restricted

by digby

I needed a good laugh today, and I got one:

[A]s conservative criticism of the reform effort grows louder, many Republican operatives, donors, and consultants are bracing for an outcome that would be even worse, politically, than the demise of the bill: a fierce, national, right-wing backlash that drowns out the GOP's friendlier voices, dominates Telemundo and Univision, and dashes any hopes the party had of making inroads to the Hispanic electorate by 2016.

"We are really balanced here on a little precipice, and if this, pardon the pun, goes south, we could be in very serious trouble," said Republican media strategist Paul Wilson, citing the increasingly intense attacks on the immigration bill coming from the right. "If [the legislation] stalls or is killed off by conservatives, we could take the Hispanic community and turn them into the African-American community, where we get 4% on a good day... We could be a lost party for generations."

Establishment Republicans don't have to reach too far back in recent history to find precedent for this political nightmare scenario: It would look a lot like the last time Congress pursued comprehensive immigration legislation.

Ya think? I suppose it's possible that the Republican base has changed dramatically on this issue since 2007, but I don't think we've seen much evidence of it:

Now it must be noted that many of these same people say that immigrants who are in the country deserve some sort of "reform" but if you drill down to actual attitudes, you can see that they aren't really very happy about them being here at all. And if you look at that last question you'll see that one extremely significant faction of the GOP base is particularly hostile. It's not surprising that GOP strategists are nervous, particularly when you have this as well:

And this:

The rift extends beyond messaging issues and inflammatory rhetoric. The RNC clearly views Latino voters as being of paramount strategic importance, and the committee report specifically endorses comprehensive immigration reform as a way to attract Latino votes and prevent further erosion of the party's appeal beyond its "core constituencies." That's a position Limbaugh specifically rejects. "The Republicans have bought the idea that they're never gonna win anything if they don't relax the perceived position they have on immigration," Limbaugh said in late January. He's taken it upon himself to block immigration reform on his own, if necessary. And even though Limbaugh had kind words for Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) foray into immigration politics, he still stopped short of backing reform.

The irony here is that conservative talk radio played a hugely significant role in popularizing the brand of Republican politics the party leadership now views as toxic and untenable. It wouldn't come as surprise, then, that resistance to Republican rebranding efforts would filter down from Limbaugh to the rest of the conservative movement that grew up listening to his show. One need only look at the recently concluded Conservative Political Action Conference to get a sense of how the activist base will receive the RNC's proposed changes. The conservative media figures who attended the conference see a movement that's humming along nicely and effectively mobilizing the faithful. The RNC sees something very different: a party that is busily "driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac."
I'm afraid they're stuck because a very large number of people in their cul-de-sac really don't like anyone but themselves.

Revisiting Château d'If: what about the people we'll never let free no matter what?

by digby

Benjamin Wittes is confused by President Obama's comments this morning about Guantanamo and so should we all be. He quotes the president this morning on the plight of the people who are stuck at Guantanamo and then points out this inconvenient fact:

Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.

True, he would hold such people in a domestic facility, rather than at Guantanamo Bay. But so what? does the President not understand when he frets about “the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity” that if Congress let him do exactly as he wished, he would still be doing exactly that—except that the number might not reach 100 and the location would not be at Guantanamo? Does he not understand his own policy proposals—to maintain a residual group of detainees indefinitely—when he worries that “When we transfer detention authority in Afghanistan, the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests and it needs to stop”? Does he not understand when he intones that we are wiser now than we were after 9/11 and no longer need a site like Guantanamo to hold non-criminal terrorist detainees that he is proposing to build a new one?

I hear lots of chatter defending the administration's decision not to send people back to Yemen because Yemen is filled with terrorists yadda, yadda, yadda. I get that this is a conundrum, although I do believe that there is no rational basis for not, at least, bringing the Yemenis to the United States. (Yes, in that case it's the congress being assholes, as usual.)

But the above is what I can't get past: the idea that we will hold people indefinitely because we can't convict them of a crime but we have determined they are dangerous. This turns the entire foundation of the constitution upside down.

I would love to hear the reason why "we" (meaning the government --- in secret) cannot decide that other people who we just "know" are dangerous should be locked up forever with no due process. That rationale could be used every single day in every city and twown of this country if they wanted to.

This is the stated policy of the Obama administration on the merits, not some "practical" decision based upon alleged conditions in foreign countries which they would change if only they could. They have stated outright that there are people they have in custody they cannot charge, try or convict but who they nonetheless will lock up forever.

As long as that policy is defended, it's kind of hard to listen to lugubrious hand-wringing about how holding people in perpetuity "needs to stop."

"Hardly a wild-eyed liberal"

by digby

... because if he were we could dismiss him as a typical stupid hippie to whom nobody should ever pay attention (particularly when sharp analysts like Newt Gingrich and George Will exist.) But now that people who the mainstream media can respect, like Tim Kaine, are saying it, now it's respectable:
The two parties are miles apart on how to cut the deficit and national debt: Republicans want to slash spending even more. Democrats want to raise revenue.

And then there are the other Democrats — the ones who reject the entire premise of the current high-stakes fiscal fight. There’s no short-term deficit problem, they say, and there isn’t even an urgent debt crisis that requires immediate attention. This group could make it even harder for President Barack Obama to strike a grand bargain because they increasingly see no immediate need for either new spending cuts or significantly more revenue, both of which they say could further slow the economy.

These Democrats and their intellectual allies once occupied the political fringes, pushed aside by more moderate members who supported both immediate spending cuts and long-term entitlement reforms along with higher taxes.

But aided by a pile of recent data suggesting the deficit is already shrinking significantly and current spending cuts are slowing the economy, more Democrats such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen are coming around to the point of view that fiscal austerity, in all its forms, is more the problem than the solution.

This group got a huge boost this month with the very public demolition of a sacred text of the austerity movement, the 2010 paper by a pair of Harvard professors arguing that once debt exceeds 90 percent of a country’s gross domestic product, it crushes economic growth.

Turns out that’s not what the research really showed. The original findings were skewed by a spreadsheet error, among other mistakes, and it’s helping shift the manner in which even middle-of-the-road Democrats talk about debt and deficits.

“Trying to just land on the debt too quickly would really harm the economy; I’m convinced of that,” Kaine, hardly a wild-eyed liberal, said in an interview. “Jobs and growth should be No. 1. Economic growth is the best anti-deficit strategy.”

No kidding.

Look, I'm happy that some of the Democrats are finally beginning to see the obvious. It's been a long haul. Unfortunately, we've already slashed the hell out of government for the past four years because nobody wanted to be seen as a hippie. But better late than never. What this does is give the Democrats in congress the ability to beat back the Grand Bargain and, if we're lucky, maybe be just a little bit bolder on the sequester. Or bold enough to at least, cut some deals with Republicans instead of just agreeing to reinstate the funding for items that Republicans value. (You know --- we'll reinstate the FAA if you agree to reinstate cancer treatments or something like that ...)

Anyway, this return to the "reality based community" is long overdue. And very welcome.

Update: Oh hey, it seems to be "hippies were right" day at Politico (Not that anyone will admit it, mind you.)

Democrats have used a clear and potent attack against Republicans in recent elections: Don’t vote for them because they’ll cut your Social Security and Medicare.

But using that playbook next year, as Democrats had planned, just got a lot more complicated.

President Barack Obama blurred the lines this month when he embraced entitlement cuts of his own as part of his budget plan. And Democrats now fear their leader’s tack to the center could blunt one of their sharpest weapons in the battle for the House of Representatives next year.

The concern is that Republicans will have a ready retort — your own president proposed entitlement cuts — and force Democrats on the defensive. The issue is critical to senior voters, who turn out in disproportionately large numbers in midterm elections.

“I think it does make it more difficult for Democrats in the next election,” said Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, who occupies a swing district in Minnesota. “I would think that Republicans will say this cycle that if you want your Medicare and Social Security cut, that’s what Obama wants to do. … And I imagine that’s what Republicans will campaign on.”

The president’s shift came after an election year in which Democrats made the GOP’s embrace of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to overhaul Medicare a centerpiece of their campaigns. The offensive, Democrats say, helped them net eight House seats — a respectable figure but short of the 25 they needed to seize the lower chamber.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Bill Burton, a strategist for the Democratic public affairs firm Global Strategy Group and a former deputy White House press secretary for Obama, said in an email “there is no doubt that Karl Rove and his allies will spend millions of dollars lying about what the President’s budget means in terms of the economic health of our country. What we don’t know is just how much Democratic donors are going to stand up to those lies.”

While Obama would love for his party to win the House — he has said he would do everything in his power to help Democrats take the speaker’s gavel from John Boehner — his budget highlighted tensions with congressional Democrats. The president has said he wants to reach a grand bargain with Republicans to tame the nation’s $16 trillion debt. And getting there, Obama signaled with his budget, requires taking a whack at entitlements.

“The White House is more concerned about his legacy,” said Paul Maslin, a longtime Democratic pollster. “It’s the classic dilemma of the second-term incumbent.”
In the days since Obama released his budget, many of the Democrats who have been quickest to distance themselves from his blueprint are those from senior-heavy districts. California Rep. Raul Ruiz, a freshman Democrat who represents a Palm Springs-area district where seniors compose about half of all registered voters, said “putting the burden of the national deficit on the backs of our seniors is wrong.”

Democrats are even concerned that Republicans could reverse the dynamic and portray Democrats as the bad guys on entitlements.

In an interview with CNN after Obama unveiled his budget earlier this month, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon called the plan “a shocking attack on seniors.”

“I’ll tell you when you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country,” he said.

Walden’s remarks drew criticism from some in the GOP, which has come out in favor of chained CPI as a way of reducing the deficit. But the NRCC chairman’s point was made: Republicans had been given a free opportunity to hit back on entitlements, long a Democratic trump card.

Brock McCleary, a GOP pollster and former NRCC deputy political director, said Republicans couldn’t expect to gain an advantage on who’s most likely to defend programs but could try to fight the issue to a draw.

“The president has very clearly shown the way for how Republicans can keep voters in the lurch about which party is going to protect entitlements,” he said.

Indeed. But Democrats in congress have not taken any votes on this and if they're lucky they won't have to. I'm fairly sure that won't stop the wingnut millionaires for tarring them with this absurd proposal anyway, but at least they won't have to defend it.

If House members want to be very sure to end up on the right side of this one in 2014, they should all sign the Grayson-Takano letter. (And so should you ...)

Don't f*ck with a mad Bostonian

by digby

While I do strongly disagree with the notion that Alex Jones should not be allowed to spout his bilge --- it is a free country, after all --- I will fight to the death for this man's right to insult him:

(WARNING: many colorful curse words in this clip)

Humane torture?

by digby

Guantanamo update:

“Medical reinforcements” of nearly 40 Navy nurses, corpsmen and specialists have arrived at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to help carry out the force-feedings of inmates there who are on a hunger strike.

As of Tuesday morning, 100 of the 166 prisoners at Guantánamo were officially deemed by the military to be participating, with 21 “approved” to be fed the nutritional supplement Ensure through tubes inserted through their noses. In a statement released earlier, a military spokesman said the deployment of additional medical personnel had been planned several weeks ago as more detainees joined the strike.

“We will not allow a detainee to starve themselves to death, and we will continue to treat each person humanely,” said Lt. Col. Samuel House, the prison spokesman.

Except it is a contradiction in terms to say that it is humane to force feed someone who is refusing to eat voluntarily.

And medical ethicists agree:
The military’s response to the hunger strike has revived complaints by medical ethics groups that contend that doctors — and nurses under their direction — should not force-feed prisoners who are mentally competent to decide not to eat.

Last week, the president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Jeremy A. Lazarus, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying that any doctor who participated in forcing a prisoner to eat against his will was violating “core ethical values of the medical profession.”

“Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” Dr. Lazarus wrote.

He also noted that the A.M.A. endorses the World Medical Association’s Tokyo Declaration, a 1975 statement forbidding doctors to use their medical knowledge to facilitate torture. It says that if a prisoner makes “an unimpaired and rational judgment” to refuse nourishment, “he or she shall not be fed artificially.”
Thankfully, the government didn't make the fatuous argument they used to make during the Bush administration --- that like the terrorists they are, prisoners are waging asymmetrical warfare by committing suicide while in custody. So, at least they aren't insulting our intelligence as they torture the prisoners. Don't say it isn't progress.

President Obama says it's only going to get worse. But to his credit, unlike congress, he appears to regret it.
"The notion that we're going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man's land in perpetuity -- even at a time when we've wound down the war in Iraq, we're winding down the war in Afghanistan, we're having success defeating al Qaeda, we've kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we've transferred detention authority in Afghanistan -- the idea that we would still maintain, forever, a group of individuals who have not been tried, that's contrary to who we are, it's contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop," Obama said.

"Now, it's a hard case to make, because for a lot of Americans, the notion is out of sight, out of mind, and it's easy to demagogue the issue," Obama said.
The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, as we know, and the Commander in Chief responsibilities are obviously mostly just for show, but he could possibly ask very nicely if the Pentagon wouldn't mind awfully not treating the prisoners to raids with rubber bullets in the dead of night or strapping them to chairs and putting rubber tubes down their throats  --- since most of them are innocent and haven't even been charged with a crime and all. Obviously, the military has no obligation to comply, but if that doesn't work perhaps we could get Prince William to make a plea. He might have a little more clout.

Previous post about force feeding torture, here.

Privileged fliers

by David Atkins

Jon Stewart, doing what he does best:
The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Cut Punters - Sequester La-di-da

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Cut Punters - The Sequestration Myth

Conservatives will say that this is just governmnent officials taking care of their own. It isn't. It's Congress taking care of the wealthy, and no one else. As usual.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Villager projection watch

by digby

Uhm ... ok

Chuck Todd weighed in on President Obama's remarks from the 2013 White House Correspondents' Dinner during Sunday's "Meet The Press," and seemed to take part of the president's speech to heart.

"He wasn't very complimentary of the press," Todd said of Obama's comments at the end of his speech. "There's always this part at the end ... and it's usually the part where the presidents say, 'You know I think that the press has a job to do and I understand what they have to do.' He didn't say that," Todd said.

He continued, "I thought his potshots -- joke-wise and then serious stuff -- about the Internet and the rise ... of social media. He hates it, okay? He hates this part of the media, and he really thinks that this sort of buzzification — this isn’t just about BuzzFeed or Politico ... but he thinks that this sort of coverage of political media has hurt political discourse. He hates it. And I just think he was trying to make that clear last night."

Ok, Chuck. If thatt makes you feel better.

Proud to be a Goth

by digby

The cast of "Lean Forward -- the musical", also known as the daytime MSNBC line-up, cannot stop humblebragging about the White house Correspondence Dinner.  It was, evidently, the highlight of their lives and I'm actually a little bit worried about the depression that's soon to follow now that their Big Night is over for a whole year.

Luckily for those of us who missed it, CNN ran it on a loop yesterday so I finally ended up watching it in pieces.  I confess I didn't notice the Village celebrities much. But I'm sure they were very very glamorous.  The president was quite funny though.  I think he has a post-presidency career ahead of him as a comedian if he wants it.  The material was good and he delivered it well. (I especially enjoyed the Michelle Bachman book burning joke.)

I also enjoyed Conan's high school cafeteria joke:
“Fox is the jocks. MSNBC is the nerds. The bloggers are the goths. . . NPR is the table for kids with peanut allergies. Al Jazeera is the weird foreign exchange student nobody talks to. . . And print media, I didn’t forget you. You’re the poor kid who died sophomore year in a car crash. . . but cheer up, we dedicated the yearbook to you!”
Funny in that queasy sort of "too close to home" kind of way. But it's right-on in one sense --- you never leave high school. Ever.

All the videos are here, including the Kevin Spacey "House of Cards" bit that was more revealing than the people featured in it probably realize.

The Market Gods don't take post-dated checks

by digby

Krugman responded to Ezra's assertion the other day that Rienhardt-Rogoff had obscured the important fact that basically everyone agrees that we should have short term stimulus and medium/long term deficit reduction instead of short term deficit reduction and medium/long term deficit reduction by making the practical, political argument:
Look, we are not going to have a deal that trades short-term stimulus for medium-term deficit reduction. Na ga ha pen. And for a good reason, too: our political parties have fundamentally different visions of what kind of country we should have, and neither is feeling politically weak enough to agree to lock in any of the other side’s vision.This means that any decisions about short-term spending have to be taken along with an asterisk: “*to be offset by longer-run adjustments to be determined later.”

That’s the real world in which macroeconomic analysis plays a role. The question is whether you support austerity now or not — saying that you would oppose austerity if politicians simultaneously did something they aren’t going to do is, de facto, support for austerity. The reality is that as an economist, you’re either trying to calm deficit hysteria or you’re helping to ratchet it up.
He's right, of course. But it seems to me that there's another reason to be skeptical of prospectively slashing the hell out of future spending on something like Social Security: we don't really have a clue what this economy's going to look like in 2020 or 2030. If the Keynesian approach means that we should stimulate during bad times and cut back during good times, then it makes no sense to me to assume that in 2030 everything's going to be great and the economy can easily take the cuts we are planning for it today. How can we know?

That doesn't change the political calculation Krugman makes. It reinforces it. Sure, the politicians don't want to lock in medium or long term budget priorities because they disagree about what kind of country we want to have. That's a legitimate political difference than can only be solved by political means. But it's a good thing because if they did, there is a good chance that they'll have made the wrong decision from a macro-economic standpoint, right?

I recall that during the early 1990s, the whole country was consumed with deficit fever. It even spawned a little political movement around a guy named Ross Perot who got 20% of the vote in 1992, more than any other third party candidate in history. All the projections showed we were sinking under a mountain of debt and he made it into a righteous cause.

Here's a little trip down memory lane for you:
THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: Deficit Politics; White House Prods Congress on Deficit
Published: July 24, 1992

In a midyear recalculation apparently motivated by election-year as much as economic considerations, the White House asserted today that President Bush's economic program could eliminate the Federal deficit by 1998 if Congress were to pass it.

The revision comes only six months after President Bush sent Congress a budget projecting the deficit's being reduced to $200 billion a year in five years' time. In Mr. Bush's tenure, the deficit has doubled, to about $350 billion a year, from $155 billion in 1988; in the month that he took office, the Administration forecast that the deficit would be just $32 billion this fiscal year.

The new projection is based on Congress's approving a cap on Medicare and other entitlement programs and passing Mr. Bush's economic proposals. The White House said the cap on entitlements would bring 1998 spending down by $169 billion, while the economic package, including a long-sought cut in the capital gains tax, could spur growth enough to reduce the deficit by another $104 billion in 1998.

The budget document said the cap would limit spending increases on mandatory programs to the inflation rate and population growth plus 2 percent in the first year. In the second year it would be inflation, population growth plus 1 percent, and in subsequent years it would limit spending increases to inflation and population growth. .. 
The Administration predicted that the unemployment rate would fall from its current 7.8 percent to 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter. The forecast is more optimistic than that of many economists, but Michael J. Boskin, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said the projection was made before June's sharp jump in unemployment. Mr. Boskin said that if he were making the calculation today, he would estimate a jobless figure of 7.1 percent at year's end.

"We've been in a slow recovery for some time," said Mr. Boskin. "We do expect that to pick up some. And the probability that it will pick up some and the pace that it will pick up some would be enhanced substantially by passage of the President's short-term stimulus program."

The White House also revised its 1992 deficit projection, to $333.5 billion, down $66.2 billion from the January estimate of $399.7 billion.
Does any of that sound remotely familiar?

Anyway, here's what happened to that deficit that was going to choke off every possibility of a decent life for our children:

And keep in mind that the article I cited above was after the tough 1990 budget deal that pretty much everyone agrees sunk Bush Sr with the right wing. And Clinton's 1993 tax hike and various budget cuts over the decade surely helped cut the deficit that Perot so successfully demagogued. But really, wasn't it the tremendous economic growth of the period that turned that around so smartly?

Now it's true that nobody can predict such a boom and it's foolish to count on one to dig you out of a hole. As it turned out, the 90s were a great time to cut deficits because the economy went into a major boom. Huzzah. But by the same token, you never know when you might be in the middle of a downturn when your very clever formula to slash spending forward hits at exactly the wrong moment.  Planning for the future is important. But planning to cut in the future doesn't make much sense.

I'm going to guess that the whole idea of making cuts to future spending sounds like it still rests on the specious notion that the Market Gods require human sacrifice --- it's just that now we think maybe they'll take a post-dated check.

Not that reality has ever stopped the deficit scolds from clutching their pearls and breathlessly proclaiming the end of the world:
August 28, 1996

CHICAGO - Sen. Bob Kerrey smells an odor coming from the Republican and Democratic stands on entitlements.

"It's one of the cruelest things we do, when we say, Republicans or Democrats, `Oh, we can wait and reform Social Security later,' " the Nebraska Democrat said.

Mr. Kerrey says that without reform, entitlements will claim 100 percent of the Treasury in 2012.

"This is not caused by liberals, not caused by conservatives, but by a simple demographic fact," Mr. Kerrey warned at a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council.

"We [will have] converted the federal government into an ATM machine."
Take a look at that deficit chart from the 90s again and check out where we were in 1996.

*As for long term health care costs, which everyone agrees are going up Obamacare was ostensibly instituted to start to address that problem. Maybe we could let that have a chance to work before we fret ourselves into full blown hysterics about the potential deficit in 2035?  We don't need to lock in the human sacrifice right now --- as the sequester is proving, we're perfectly capable of throwing people out in the street if we really want to.  Maybe we could wait a decade or so to see if it's really going to be necessary?


“We have certainly made it more difficult to stand firm going forward”

by digby

That's a funny line. Greg Sargent has the latest on the sequester drama and it's gallows humor at best:

In an interview this morning, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen — a top party strategist — was surprisingly frank in conceding that Dems had given away crucial leverage by agreeing to the FAA fix. But he said Dems could still make up some of that lost ground — and called on them not to agree to any more targeted sequester fixes.

“We have certainly made it more difficult to stand firm going forward,” Van Hollen told me. “But we’re going to have to reclaim some lost ground here. We cannot have a situation where people just cherry-pick the sequester.”

Van Hollen bluntly suggested that Dems — in agreeing to just a targeted FAA fix — had sent a message about Congress that it’s only responsive to powerful interests.

“If you do that, you’re attacking the symptoms rather than the underlying cause,” Van Hollen said. “When you do that, what happens is the most politically strong groups with the most lobbyists get relief, at the expense of everybody else. Meals on Wheels, or kids on Head Start, or grants on biomedical research — all of those get left behind.”

This is working out just great isn't it? Greg points to the next showdown over the debt ceiling, which the Teajadist Republicans are chomping at the bit to hold hostage to more human sacrifice, as a warning that the GOP leadership may not be interested in dealing on the sequester so they can show their sadistic troops that the poor and the vulnerable are already bleeding and suffering so there's no need to risk hurting anyone important by fiddling with the credit rating. If I had to guess right now, I'd say we'll end up doing both, but that's mainly because the Democrats are so incredibly inept they appear to have not thought of any strategy at all until it was too late.

Greg thinks it's worthwhile for the Democrats to at least pretend to stop giving away the store even though it won't make a difference because it will show the American people that some in the government are responsive to something other than the wealthy and well-connected. At this point it's hard to see how that happens. They'll agree to lift the sequester on all the items the Republicans have an interest in lifting them because they have an interest in lifting them too --- and always did. Democrats want to fund the government, even the stuff that Republicans like. The only items they ever really disagreed on were those items that affected the poor and the vulnerable, which Republicans don't care about. So that's what's going to get cut.

And if we're really lucky, we'll get a debt ceiling showdown that results in even more cuts. See, Republicans are always in favor of austerity --- it isn't just a fashion with them. As long as they can keep it rolling, they will. And as long as Democrats are strategic morons, they'll be able to.

Update: Jonathan Bernstein reports that the Republicans have a new ask for the debt ceiling now that it's apparent that they can't find enough Republicans to commit Seppuku by signing on to Social Security and medicare cuts, even if the President can deliver a whole herd of suicidal Democrats to get it done. So they have to come up with something to excuse their required obstructionism.Bernstein points out that they don't even have a tax reform plan ready to go and won't have one this year, and concludes that they are not in the business of extortion for extortion's sake.

I actually think this is a good sign. The cuts are biting and they know they can't ask for any more. The can't do the grand bargain because that hits right in the middle of their only growing demographic. So they have to make up something to ask for. And the Democrats should make up something to give them. "Tax reform" is filled with possibilities for meaningless "compromises." Let's hope they;re thinking ahead this time.


Liberal Hollywood strikes again

by digby

Robin Marty has the lowdown on the latest left wing atrocity polluting the minds of your teenagers:

“I Hate the Government” follows three young adults who say they don’t trust the government and have joined groups to “reform” it: a teenage Tea Party activist, a young woman trying to break into the militia movement, and an anti-choice extremist.

(The relevant portion of the episode begins at about 17:30.)

The show follows Andrew Beacham, who believes the current government needs to be tossed aside because it has abandoned the Bible. In watching the show, however, it becomes clear that the 28-year-old activist really is there simply to give camera time to former Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry. Beacham, as Terry’s acolyte, is shown protesting with him, creating graphic abortion campaign ads, and even moving into a group home where the goal is to find a way to end all abortion.

But it’s not just abortion that they are targeting. Terry makes it clear that to be truly “pro-life,” you have to outlaw anything that will allow someone to have sex without risking pregnancy, childbirth, or parenthood—even if that means putting women in jail for avoiding pregnancy.

The whole thing is unbelievable creepy and not just the anti-abortion/birth control stuff, although that's probably the most extreme.(And it's also the most irresponsible to broadcast to teen-agers. The last thing they need is more disinformation about birth control.)

I'm reminded, once again, that Network was prescient. Back in the 70s it made some sense that the ambitious, amoral programmer would create a reality show featuring left wing radicals but as was always far more likely, right wing revolutionaries are far more likely to make the kind of lucrative deals Chayevsky imagined.

Villagers on steroids

by digby

I wrote a throw away post the other day about this nauseating Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen piece on an upcoming book about the Village. But I wasn't paying close enough attention to see what the whole thing is about. This article by Jim Newell in TNR spells is all out and it is fascinating. The one thing I got right in my brief analysis is that Politico thinks it's all about them. Turns out it is:

Now we know that the damage-control strategy Politico has been putting together over the last couple of years begins today, three months before the book's release. Here are some of the rumored inclusions Allen's heard about, such as the ones about himself and the media outlet that defines him:

The targets are the worst-kept secrets in this town, an overused expression of D.C. insiders: Robert Barnett; Tammy Haddad; the people transacting or showboating at Tim Russert’s funeral; the warring factions in Obama’s campaign and White House; former Obama aides who try to cash in; and Kurt Bardella, the House aide who was fired when POLITICO reported that he had been forwarding reporters’ emails to Leibovich. Oh, and POLITICO broadly and Mike Allen specifically.

Do you, reader, know who Tammy Haddad is? The answer is most likely no. She's a "former TV producer" or something, whatever. Google says she is now a media consultant. Good for her. But she's not a household name for most people. But to Allen, VandeHei and a few dozen other D.C. social-sceners whose main goal each calendar year is to get invited to her White House Correspondents' Dinner weekend "garden party," she is apparently so well known that nowhere in this article, a good quarter of which is about her, do they bother explaining who Tammy Haddad is. In their minds, "Tammy Haddad," along with, perhaps, Jesus Christ or George Washington or Lindsey Lohan, is in that elite class of universal name recognition that allow a reporter to skip the basic journalistic step of explaining who the person you're writing about is.

The closest thing we get to an explanation of Haddad's importance is this modest afterthought: "For what it’s worth, Haddad is a friend who has thrown parties for us. Come to think of it, she has thrown parties for virtually every other person and cause we know." Likewise, Allen and VandeHei mention that "Washington's super-lawyer" Robert Barnett will be another big target of the book, then add, "Barnett once represented us for a brief period. Come to think of it, he represents almost everybody we know." In this way, throughout the piece, the authors try to inoculate themselves and their company from Leibovich's thesis. We don't deserve to be singled out, because everyone we know has these same relationships. So in attempting to soften whatever embarrassments Politico may suffer upon release, they end up explicitly confirming Leibovich's points about the incestuous, too-cozy relationships among Washington's elite.
It's very hard to read the original VandeAllen piece without rushing for a barf bag. But this piece in TNR makes it all worthwhile. This is the Village run amock for all the world to see.

QOTD: the most dangerous Republican in America

by digby

"... you could just not be a buncha squishes"

Do not underestimate this man. He isn't like some of the more colorful libertarian cranks or right wing doofuses. He is just as radical as they are. But he is very, very smart. I watch him and the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Liberals have a Koch

by digby

Meet your new liberal overlord:

Billionaires get frustrated by Washington ineptitude just like everybody else. The difference is that they can afford to do something about it. Tom Steyer, who founded the San Francisco-based hedge fund Farallon Capital Management and retired last year with an estimated $1.4 billion fortune, is one such fed-up billionaire. Steyer’s particular grievance is the lack of government action to combat global warming. “If you look at the 2012 campaign, climate change was like incest—something you couldn’t talk about in polite company,” he says. “With the current Congress, the chance of any significant energy or climate legislation that would move the ball forward is somewhere around nil—possibly lower.”

So Steyer, 55, a major Democratic contributor, quit Farallon to devote his time and much of his money to changing this reality. In doing so, he’s joined an emerging class of billionaires—including this magazine’s owner, Michael Bloomberg and Facebook (FB) co-founder Mark Zuckerberg—who have forsaken the traditional approach of working through the political parties and instead jumped directly into the fray, putting their reputations and fortunes behind a cause.

Some environmental activists are thrilled. “In a country that’s dominated by billionaires gaming the political system for their narrow self-interest, it’s pretty neat to see a player who’s in it for the common good,” says author and environmentalist Bill McKibben. “He’s not a greedhead.” Many Democrats, McKibben among them, view Steyer as a liberal analogue of the conservative Koch brothers, the billionaire owners of Koch Industries, whose lavish support of free-market causes and political ruthlessness loom large in the liberal imagination.

Let me just say, upfront, that if a billionaire is going to throw his money at a particular cause, I think climate change is the
one to throw it at. It has no constituency in politics and average people are more concerned about putting food on the table today. So, good for him for putting his millions to work in a cause that badly needs some advocacy. We all know that the consequences of doing nothing are catastrophic and somebody besides Al Gore needs to step up.

But on the whole, I just can't help but mourn for our poor rickety system of democracy to see yet another billionaire jump into the arena and decide for the people what issues are important. I can now easily imagine a time at which we simply choose our billionaires rather than our politicians or parties and pledge our loyalty to "Team Bloomberg" or Team Koch" just like the serfs we are rapidly turning into.

But don't worry, you have the same right to free speech as they do --- and if you can afford to spend billions, you too can buy the television advertisements to compete with what they're selling. So, it's all good.

I would just note one thing: this is the only billionaire among our new liege lords who is an unabashed liberal.The rest of the relatives sane ones like the Zuckerberg crowd, Bill Gates and Bloomberg are all just a little bit more murky in their philosophical and ideological fundamentals. They are, at best, market oriented centrists or libertarians even if their chosen "cause" might be considered on the left side of the dial. So, our new "proxy" democracy is highly unlikely to be any more democratic -- that is, representative of the people's priorities --- than the one we already have.

And that's largely because the problem this presents is an old one: institutions. The right wing billionaires play the full political spectrum: they fund causes they believe it, they fund the Republican Party and they fund conservative and libertarian institutions to push their ideology, which they fully and completely embrace. The centrist and liberal millionaires and billionaires not so much. They narrowly choose their issue, whether it's education or something else and refuse to fund ongoing ideologically based institutions. At this point, that's tantamount to working for the other side.

As I said, if there's one discrete issue that I exempt from this complaint it's climate change which is such a huge challenge with such catastrophic implications that I wouldn't complain if every liberal with money decided to focus on fighting it. But now that we are seeing the emergence of a new aristocracy dedicated to fighting our battles for us, it would be useful if some of the ones who've taken up the liberal standard would build a few ideological political and media institutions to match the right wing's advantage.

I'm surely grateful for my new liberal liege lord and just hope that he won't lose interest once he finds that it's hard to make a difference as so many previous noble liberals have done. I even bow my head to my centrist ally Lord Bloomberg on the gun issue --- he's making a difference. But overall this country is looking less and less like a democracy every day.

Update: I'd forgotten that David Atkins wrote about this liberal billionaire recently as well.

by David Atkins

It's somewhat fascinating to see just how strongly Matt Yglesias' suggestion that Bangladeshis choose more dangerous jobs has bothered so many. After all, Yglesias is just one economist, writing at a not-so-terribly-important online magazine. Everyone is entitled to say a boneheaded thing now and again. So why was I compelled to expound on it? Why did Gaius Publius at Americablog have such an intense reaction, and RJ Eskow at the Huffington Post feel the need to write at length as well?

Why, indeed, since Yglesias' take on the issue is the one currently accepted by modern law and economics? After all, we don't currently have an international regulatory system set up to prevent international corporations from needlessly endangering workers in developing countries.

I think that Tom Sullivan got closest to emotional core of the distress at Scrutiny Hooligans:

What we witness in Yglesias is also present on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, in the comments of bank executives and business moguls, and among an entire class of free-market fanboys and Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt apostles. It is the unacknowledged, dehumanizing effect of long-term immersion in a business culture that treats every human interaction as an economic transaction first and foremost. Other concerns — moral concerns, human concerns — if they come in for consideration at all, are tertiary.
People everywhere are starting to realize the bill of goods we've been sold for decades now isn't true. Markets left to their own devices do not in fact lead to the greatest good for the greatest number. Free trade doesn't automatically make for free people. Communism was obviously horribly flawed, but the market ascendancy that replaced it has some very obvious shortcomings that have only grown worse as the world has flattened. People know the system isn't working, but it's not clear what the alternative path might be. Some foolishly advocate for pure libertarianism. Others pine for the old days long gone of strong nation-states and rampant protectionism. More forward thinkers see weakened nation-states humbled by strong corporations acting globally, and realize that a supra-national regulatory force must be brought to bear to keep them in check.

It was this idea, not yet fully formed in its details, to create international regulation governing worker safety that caused Yglesias to retreat to the comfort of the current economic model and defend differential safety rules for Bangladesh. That was clearly a cold and inhumane position to take, but it was necessitated by reliance on the economic ideology of the day.

Demanding that corporations not be allowed to manufacture in Bangladesh is obviously unacceptable, and would serve to utterly impoverish that struggling nation. Demanding that large tariffs be placed on goods manufactured there would be economically destructive to all parties. But to fail to control abusive corporate practices that lead to mass deaths, be it in Texas or Bangladesh, is utterly inhumane.

The system is broken. It's inhuman. Its defenders are forced to defend inhuman practices. People know an alternative must be found. And when some people finally start down the right track--namely, international regulation of multinational corporations--and defenders of the economic status quo reject the proper answer out of hand in defense of the inhumane--it's going to strike a nerve.

And I anticipate it will happen more and more often in the future.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blowing off steam

by digby

I'm just grateful that we no longer live in a patriarchal society in which women are treated as second class citizens:

According to the complaint, in 2010 the victim was sexually assaulted by a star player on the school’s basketball team. The assault took place on campus in a sound proof band room at Forest Hills Central High School. The victim notified a teacher who in turn reported the assault to the principal. But rather than open an investigation into the allegations, the principal discouraged the student and her parents from filing charges, telling them that doing so could ruin the assailant’s prospects at being recruited to play basketball for a Division 1 school.

The victim and her parents ignored the principal’s request not to file charges because they were concerned that this student might attack other girls. Instead, the student and her parents filed a police report, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department began a criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the school did nothing.

As alleged in the complaint, two weeks later another female student was sexually assaulted by the same attacker. Despite a legal obligation under Title IX to investigate the assault and protect the student, the high school officials never interviewed the girl or her parents again, failed to conduct an investigation, and for two and a half weeks left the attacker in one of her classes.

It gets worse. As word of the sexual assault spread among the student body, the female victim became the target of an intensive cyber-bullying and harassment campaign—both at school and online—that depicted her as a liar and a “whore” who was trying to bring down an innocent athlete. These cyber-attacks were only reinforced by the fact that the school continued to take no action to reprimand the male student. Not only did fellow students harass the victim, the attacker and his friends verbally and physically harassed the girl as well. They followed her around as she moved in and out of classrooms, through hallways, and around the school campus. The attacker sometimes pushed her into other students as she walked down the hallway, causing her to slam into lockers. Despite repeated efforts by the victim’s parents and other students to alert the principal and the school’s Title IX Coordinator about the viciousness of the harassment by the attacker and other students, school administrators took no action.

Thankfully law enforcement did. Five weeks after the sexual assault, the Kent County Prosecutor’s office authorized two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct against the attacker for his assaults on NWLC’s client and the second female victim at the school. The attacker later pled guilty to a single count of misdemeanor assault and battery. He was sentenced to attend Kent County’s Adolescent Sexual Offender Treatment Program for a second time. The only sanction the school imposed upon the student assailant was to temporarily bench him on the basketball court.

But hey, a basketball scholarship for a very popular jock was at stake here. She should have known that her bodily integrity was nothing in comparison and should have been happy to volunteer to serve as his sexual plaything for such an important cause. She really has no one to blame but herself.

Reminder: it's 2013, people.


Pathetic is as pathetic does

by digby

Other than the fact that Palin is a multi-millionaire celebrity whose only "job" seems to be finding ways to con sad true believers out of their hard earned cash and keep from paying her fair share of taxes, she's not exactly wrong is she?

Some Villagers, however, are quite offended by her salty language though:

Fetch me mah smallin' salts, I'm like to faint right dead away.


An important detail

by digby

From the fog of war:

In all the chaos, MBTA officer Richard H. Donohue Jr. had been shot near his groin, possibly by a fellow officer, and collapsed in a pool of blood at the corner of Dexter Avenue and Laurel Street. One civilian witness, who asked not to be identified, said there were police officers positioned behind Donohue and they appeared to be firing in his direction. The Middlesex district attorney’s office is investigating.

These are trained police, most of whom are wearing uniforms to stand out as "good guys." And they accidentally shoot each other when the bullets start flying. The last thing anyone needs is a bunch of gun-toting yahoos who've seen way too many Rambo movies butting in.

Must see: Greenwald, Moyers and Chris Hayes too

by digby

From Bill Moyers:

The violent Boston rampage triggered a local and federal response that, according to journalist Glenn Greenwald, adds a new dimension to troubling questions about government secrecy, overreach, and what we sacrifice in the name of national security. Greenwald joins Bill to peel back layers that reveal what the Boston bombings and drone attacks have in common, and how secrecy leads to abuse of government power.

“Should we change or radically alter or dismantle our standard protocols of justice in the name of terrorism? That’s been the debate we’ve been having since the September 11th attack,” Greenwald tells Bill. “We can do what we’ve been doing, which is become a more closed society, authorize the government to read our emails, listen in our telephone calls, put people in prison without charges, enact laws that make it easier for the government to do those sorts of things. Or we can try and understand why it is that people want to come here and do that.”

Glenn believes that the drone attacks are instrumental in the radicalization of Muslims. And here's a perfect illustration of how that happens from Chris Hayes last week: an interview with Farea al-Muslimi:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I have to say that I feel some hope for us at the moment. There was a time not too long ago when nobody could have put these views on television. But here they are. And if you care about these things, you should watch. It's important.


QOTC: Robert F. Kennedy

by digby

Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that GNP — if we judge the United States of America by that — that GNP counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and it counts nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
I'm not sure a whole lot of people in this country agree with that, but it's a nice thought. I'm pretty sure we love our disposable junk more than anything else, including each other.

Here's another nice thought from RFK, from his famous "Day of Affirmation" speech to South African students in 1966:
This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. It is a revolutionary world we live in, and thus, as I have said in Latin America and Asia, in Europe and in the United States, it is young people who must take the lead. Thus you, and your young compatriots everywhere, have had thrust upon you a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.

"There is," said an Italian philosopher, "nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." Yet this is the measure of the task of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.

First is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills -- against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. "Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in the isolated villages and the city slums of dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage such as these that the belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

The second danger is that of expediency; of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities. Of course if we must act effectively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But if there was one thing that President Kennedy stood for that touched the most profound feeling of young people across the world, it was the belief that idealism, high aspiration, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs -- that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities -- no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hard-headed to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgement, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and of passion and of belief; forces ultimately more powerful than all the calculations of our economists or of our generals. Of course to adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

A third danger is timidity. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change. Aristotle tells us "At the Olympic Games it is not the finest or the strongest men who are crowned, but those who enter the lists. ... So too in the life of the honorable and the good it is they who act rightly who win the prize." I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.

For the fortunate amongst us, the fourth danger is comfort; the temptation to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of an education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse which says "May he live in interesting times." Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged -- will ultimately judge himself -- on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live."

"It is the only way we can live"

I've always been a fan of RFK's rhetoric, not just because it is a soaring appeal to our All-American wonderfulness and oneness, a place to which all US leaders with rhetorical gifts go. I like it because he so often directly extolled the liberal virtues of reason, justice and fairness and always explicitly coupled morality with pragmatism. And he wasn't afraid to challenge the moneyed interests to join up or shut up. His idealism was explicitly directed outward.

I realize that none of these ideals are in fashion in our politics right now --- indeed,despite all the recent hoopla about Obama's inspirational campaign rhetoric, I'm given to understand from the political scientists that speeches might as well be given in pig-latin for all the effect they have on anything.

But it seems to me that it would be nice if people could hear the words once in a while anyway. You never know, someday some kid might hear this sort of thing and come to believe that liberal values and principles are worth fighting for. This kid did anyway.

h/t to RT