Saturday, April 25, 2009

Banana Republicans or will Cheney ride old sparky?

This week we were treated to Karl Rove warning us that the Obama Administration is acting like a third world dictatorship where military chiefs wear dark sunglasses. Karl says that Obama will systematically prosecute the Bush Administration officials for mere "policy differences". This meme was immediately echoed by Senator McCain and later by Senator Kit Bond. With the Republicans out of power, do you ever wonder where the talking points come from now? It seems old Turdblossom is still working the media and Republicans on the Hill with his old magic. Rove was caught out on Friday "tweetering talking points in defense of torture" to pundits and congressional offices.

John McCain's daughter Megan McCain said it best this week about the re-emergence of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney: "You had your eight years--go away!" How bad is it for the Republican Party? It has only a 23% approval rate and congressional Republicans have an approval rate of 15%, which is actually lower than Cheney's near the end. But what does Michael Steele do,just after his crushing defeat in the Tedisco election? He sends out a fund-raising letter about President Obama's "arrogance" and once again revisited the winning themes about Rev. Wright and Bill Ayres,the Weatherman who bombed the Pentagon when an angelic faced Barack Obama was riding waves on the back of his grandfather.

The Republican spinners were in full force this week even bringing back old war horses like Bill Bennett and introducing Cheney's daughter, who defended "enhanced interrogations" as saving thousands of lives. Liz Cheney has every right to defend her father but she should have left the whole issue of interrogation alone. Republicans circling around the wagon on the issue of torture is bound to lose as more revelations are about to unfold.

Andrew Sullivan wrote about the eloquent words used by the President who signed the Convention against Torture--Ronald Reagan. The Convention was ratified by the Republican Congress in 1994. During that time another conservative, one Newt Gingrich gave an eloquent argument against torture and forced confessions, when challenging the Chinese. How soon we forget. Embracing torture is not the way one asserts American exceptionalism unless it's Karl Rove's definition "We can do what we want."

It is unsettling in the least to have a major American political party deny what is so clearly obvious--that America did engage in torture. It is surreal to listen to arguments that we didn't torture but if we did then it was effective. What has gone unnoticed by Republicans is that President Obama has bent over backwards to avoid the prosecution of Bush officials--so much so that he is drawing serious heat from the left, human rights activists and the legal profession, which believes he must prosecute whoever violated the law. Republicans have missed an opportunity in not manning up on this issue and working with the present Administration to find a just way out of a messy situation.

Instead, President Obama is going to release the photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib. Technically, only required to release 40 photographs, at the request of General Petraeus, the Defense Department will be releasing 2,000 photos, which will show the sexual humiliation of prisoners and other abuses.

By the end of this week, memos by the Defense team that conducted the SERE program were released that showed they believed these techniques used constituted torture and they would not yield valuable information. In addition, it became quite clear that the lawyers for the armed forces had notified key lawyers involved in writing the torture memos of their doubts about the legality and constitutionality of the whole "enhanced interrogation" program. Moreover, it has become clear that these differences of opinions were purposely suppressed and in some cases the memos destroyed. According to United Nations Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak, the lawyers are complicit in torture and therefore must be prosecuted.

John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham wrote an open letter--a certain way to make friends--to President Obama requesting he not prosecute the DOJ lawyers who wrote the torture memos. The Department of Justice under Eric Holder was already furious with the White House, especially Gibbs and Emmanuel, for making political statements who the Administration will not prosecute. This type of pressure from the Hill is going to provoke a more vigorous prosecution because the DOJ on this issue will not back down.

It's delightful seeing Obama playing the conservatives--forcing them to back the unthinkable and the unconscionable. Since he knows the productions coming off the line, the White House dictates the pace and tone of alot of these revelations. Dick Cheney's clumsy bid to have two memos declassified that, he claims, shows he is right was supported across the Republican spectrum and Fox News. But that also allows for the declassification of materials that demonstrate in greater detail why he is in error. I believe the smoking gun of this investigation will be the Office of Professional Responsibility report, which will document the degree to which the Torture Lawyers complied with requests from Dick Cheney to ratify the torture program while knowing of its illegality.

The more interesting issues yet to be handled concern the hundreds of homicides through the little Gulag we constructed as well as the accounting of the "disappeared" from the CIA "black sites". In the Arab world, these people are known as the "ghost prisoners". This events taken together should fuel enough public outrage as to force a more vigorous investigation and prosecutions.

Cheney and Rove have their own agenda forcing them out in the open on this subject. Cheney is probably trying to hide the degree to which tortured confessions created the mythical link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and the degree to which the Administration neglected to follow up on any information that could lead to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden. Karl Rove is part of the Bush legacy tour and he must spin these revelations to preserve whatever dignity the past Administration has. The alleged clash within the Obama Administration over the release of the torture memos was somewhat orchestrated by the former Administration and its stay behinds. One can visualize old Poppie calling up former CIA directors to get them to intercede.

But, why do the Republicans fall for it? Rove, Cheney, the Bush family are the past. There is little to gain politically to defend them and the public would be spared the pain of hearing defenses of torture. The proper line should be to take a more vigorous line for investigations and prosecution. The Obama Administration actually has to walk a tightrope because of national security concerns. Republicans can outflank the Administration by demanding a bipartisan commission to study torture and requesting the prosecution of all and any one involved in the situation.

Unfortunately, it will not happen since the Republicans have painted themselves in a corner which they simply can not get out of. We will get a continued line of barking dog talking heads, desparately trying to spin this issue, moving from line to line until they think they have found something that can stick. By doing this on something as serious as torture, they run the risk of forcing more information to emerge. And more of their kind to be charged.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Palpatine's Perfect Crime

The new voice of the Republican party, Karl Rove, writing in the Wall Street Journal, accused President Obama of practicing moral equivalence in his foreign trips and not exulting American exceptionalism. The sheer chutzpah of the man, who is one of the key persons responsible for ending American exceptionalism probably once and for all ;first, through provoking the constitutional crisis of the 2000 elections; secondly, by his administration's institutionalizing torture in our defense doctrine; and thirdly, by his administration's adoption of the unitary theory of the executive as a constitutional model putting the US on the legal par with the Third Reich or more charitably the Mexican republic.

The day has been spent by pundits and politicians like Senator McCain decrying the possibility of a "witch hunt" in the prosecution of Bush officials involved in the torture policy. While fissures are appearing in the Fox News wall with opponents of torture appearing now and again,there is emerging serious discussions of not prosecuting the culprits. As the architect of the policy, Richard Cheney, used to say,"We will push and push until someone pushes back." While people are pushing back, Cheney may have the last laugh with the dizzying problem created in prosecuting anyone.

Consider the problem. Republicans are quite right when they say that the Democratic leadership in Congress was briefed extensively on these interrogation techniques and gave them at least a tacit approval. In effect, all party leaders are at least accessory to war crimes, if we get down to the blunt issue. The Bush-Cheney Administration wisely cast its net of accomplices long and wide, roping in participants through very shabby lawyering to legitimize their actions. Virtually, all major Bush cabinet officials, involved in foreign policy, were actors approving the torture techniques. The leadership of all the branches of the military services, while dissenting and raising doubts about both the legality and constitutionality of the torture police went along because their are commanded by civilians.

The total number of those involved directly in designing and legitimizing the torture program is in the dozens. Even if we narrowed our complaints to the close ring of lawyers and the medical practitioners, who went far beyond the ethical boundaries of their profession,we encounter the issue of them following orders, precisely the point where President Obama drew the line. To prosecute above this level ends up into what would perceived as a political trial with Democrats going after Republicans for what would be spun as "criminalizing policy differences".

It should be clear to any layperson the only person who understands all the parts of this process is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who with his chief of staff David Addington, developed the most horrendous aspects of this program and who used it to fabricate evidence to justify the war against Iraq. The Senate intelligence committee's first findings suggest that the intensity of waterboarding Abu Zubaida, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others had nothing to do with locating Bin Laden or preventing another 9/11 attack on the U.S. Instead, the frequency of waterboarding was attributed to a quest for intelligence or simply a confession that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had a connection. In other words, the interrogation program was part and parcel of ginning up material for the case for the war.

The problem here should be obvious. The Democrats have always claimed that the Iraq War took America's attention away from the fight against Al Qaeda and that our invasion of Iraq brought that group there where they had not been. Since the evidence was created through a war crime, its prosecution looks like Democrats ganging up to prove a political point. The other aspect of this was that the Democrats had a constitutional remedy called impeachment which Speaker Nancy Pelosi deliberately neglected to use, despite Dennis Kucinich's noble attempts to bring it to house members' attention.

Now the politically wise thing is to take President Obama's advice and move on. Unfortunately, there are more serious legal issues at stake here than in the days of Richard Nixon, where his helicopter flight into the sunset basically ended the story.
The United States deliberately violated the 3rd Geneva Convention, the Convention against Torture, the Convention against Political Rights and Civil Liberties, the Constitution of the United States, federal statutes against torture and war crimes, and other instruments of international and humanitarian law. A crude analogy is that the United States to actually do justice would have to hold a Nuremberg Trial of its own, even though we won the war.

In addition, there are international dimensions to this issue ,which can not be glossed over so quickly. The impending release of the uncensored photos of Abu Ghraib will bring the international community, quite properly back into the picture.The Iraq War was begun under a United Nations mandate with troops from several different countries and the treatment of detainees would fall under the legal jurisdiction of the United Nations, a Republican nightmare. That is why the European governments on a larger scale than just Spain are going to conduct an investigation into American treatment of detainees. Former Brigidier General Janis Karpinski's proposal of an international tribunal is not a far fetched one. This idea would be very hard for the United States to actively oppose even though Karl Rove asserts America's exceptionalism.

The call for prosecution is going to increase, not decrease as new materials find the light of day. Already the issue of murders at the CIA's black sites has emerged and is certain to draw more attention. Any further declassification of memos--even those that Cheney claims exonerates them--will intensify the discussion. There are scats more legal opinions that have not emerged in the public's eye.

The investigation and prosecution of the torture regimen has to be thorough, systematic and as depoliticized as possible despite the fact that all 'the witches" to be hunted are known and are ,regrettably, of one party. Then the decision has to be made by the Attorney General how to proceed. Unlike in the Bush Administration, Eric Holder was selected to restore some independence to the post of Attorney General so as to rectify the past situation. In one sense, Eric Holder has to select a notable person to establish the criminal charges and against whom. That person has to have a prestige that is above that of your average special prosecutor.

The second aspect of these investigations has to be public education, the deliberate elucidation of why these issues are both unconstitutional and unlawful as well as outside of the American tradition. It would also be useful as to why cleansing ourselves of these crimes might restore our American exceptionalism. In the City on the Hill, there is no room for torture or hidden jails, something Mr. Rove forgot.

The most therapeutic point of this whole exercise is to have it completed in a reasonable time frame, where the political and educational points are clearly made. Only human rights advocates and international lawyers paid attention to the long and arduous trial of Milosovic, which ended in his death,no verdict and no resolution.

My suggestion remains to focus the trial on the lawyers and doctors with the public record and investigation detailing the complicity of the Bush officials in this doctrine.

The New GOP --Part II

My previous blog was rudely interrupted and published.

Nate Silver at has an interesting article "Are the Republicans going Galt?" He cites the libertarian roots of the Fox-sponsored tea parties and that 80% of Republicans view government as a bigger threat than either Big Business or Big Labor, a traditional Gallup poll. Democrats only see Big Government as a bigger threat at 32% and Big Business as 52%. Independents view Big government as a bigger threat by 59% and Big Business by 30%. Big Labor has almost disappeared as a threat, even to Republicans.

Nate argues that Republicans are not shouting about illegal immigration as much because of the trampling they took with the Hispanic vote, are uncertain about gay marriage and have even started discussing legalizing marijuana. While I respect Nate's work, I am highly dubious of the ultimate effect of libertarianism on the Republican Party.

The leading contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination are all born-again Christians or self-proclaimed religious crusaders--Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and New Gingrich. Newt as a born-again Catholic has been acting as a new Torquemada. He almost looks like Brando in the role in the film Christopher Columbus. Newt is leading the crusade for torture and banning President Obama from receiving an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame because his politics are not in concert with Catholic doctrine, which the new convert as thoroughly memorized.

Currently, conservative religious activists are spearheading the drive to stop Governor Kathleen Sibelius from becoming the next Secretary for Health and Human Services. The list of advocates are an aging who's who of the religious right--Brent Bozell, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and the ever-present Grover Norquist. Similarly, Senator Imhofe is heading the filibuster against Judge Hamilton on the basis he ruled that the Indiana House of Representatives could not lead off their sessions with prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, a ruling that only followed Supreme Court rulings but conservatives no longer care about law.

Our neighbor Craig Shirley, who conducted some of the PR for the tea parties, says that "the GOP appears to be bankrupt of ideas." Some GOP operatives are trying to tag along with the tea parties. Newt has proposed July 4th parties to celebrate America's freedom--something we do every year but which Americans are loathed to politicize. The Ohio Militia has countered Newt's idea with a 1 million militia march on Washington, complete with guns. The tea party sponsors are pushing to link up with Glenn Beck's 9/12 project for a second-round of tea parties at that time. In short, Shirley is right--the Republicans are short of ideas.

Particularly noxious are the right-wing gambles to run primary challenges to established Senators Arlen Specter and John McCain because they are RINOs (Republican in Name Onlys.) If such challenges are victorious, both seats would turn Democratic. Also, conservatives are trying to run primary candidates against such favored candidates as Christie in New Jersey, thereby jeopardizing any gains at the statehouse levels. The party faces alot of bloodletting before it can stablize, which will be long after the economy does.

Conservatives are all out of sorts over the Obama administration's identification of extreme right ideas as magnets for recruiting by militant organizations. Within the conservatives circles they talk about a war by the Administration on conservatives. However, a reality check would show that certain acts will cement democratic majorities for years to come without any direct assault on conservatives. If the Obama Administration passes any type of meaningful health reform and immigration reform, those two acts alone coupled with the new census would make a conservative resurgence very unprobable. Some on conservative websites have said these issues constitute the Republican Alamo, another recent theme of conservatives. Perhaps, next stop Masada.

Without getting into specifics for now, Republicans face insurmontable odds to prevent the Democrats from passing the 60 number in the Senate. By just a glance, I can see from a 3-5 seat gain for the Democrats in 2010. I also don't think Dodd or Reid are as vulnerable as Republicans make out. I also think Burr will be defeated in North Carolina, Bunning will go down in Kentucky and Missouri will go Democrat. Republicans could pick up Delaware if they ran Mike Castle, former Governor and representative. Republicans will also lose New Hampshire.

As to the House side, we will leave it with Newt to predict a Republican take-over. His advice to Eic Cantor on this score is so improbable and beyond historical reasoning. Barack Obama is not Jimmy Carter as Newt claims and is not Bill Clinton as Newt dreams.

The GOP versus the Smiling Hawaiian

With President Obama's approval ratings clocking 63,64,and 65% respectively, the American people for the first time in five years say the country is headed in the right direction. Now to counter this, the new faces of the Republican party, the most visible personalities to appear on the media, are Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. Dick Armey made surprise appearances during the tea parties but maybe his comments that the defense budget would have to be dramatically reduced for the country to balance the budget may have disqualified him for further media appearances. An outlier, who has gotten media attention, is Ron Paul, who has weighed in on secession--he favors it--and investigating the Bush Administration.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Bad Night in Tortureland

Chris Matthews ,sympathetic to the ticking timebomb argument, pressed CIA veteran Robert Baer on whether waterboarding didn't work in such emergency cases. Three times asked, three times he refused to take the bait, saying that the tortured person would tell you anything you wanted to hear. Baer, a 21-year former covert agent, advocated a blue-ribbon Presidential Commission to investigate the issue. Senator Ensign of Nevada pressed about the Senate Armed Forces Committee report simply charged it was a Democrat report (as opposed to Democratic as is the Republican coinage for the last few years) and that it was not endorsed by any Republicans. He claimed the mention of techniques imported from North K0rea and the Chinese Communists were simply devices used by the Democrats who had a political agenda.

Bill O'Reilly had guests from the Cato Institute and Strafor on to discuss torture and asked the usual question, "Wasn't it worth it, if it saved American lives?" Neither men would take the bait either questioning the whole premise of the question. When O'Reilly mentioned the assertions of former Vice President Cheney, the Cato guest, a former Green Beret, just commented,"I would have to see how he cherry-picked the information."

Not to be upstaged by Senator Levin, the Senate Intelligence Committee forwarded to Attorney General Eric Holder information that at least ten Bush officials reviewed and approved the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002.

From the military side, General Barry McCaffrey, a four-star general who commanded the 24th Infantry Division during the Gulf War, called for an investigation of the Bush White House. His views were echoed recently by General Taquba, who has detailed the abuse of detainees by the United States, and called for an investigation. It seems General Baccus had been removed early on as superintendent for Gitmo because of his resistance to the new manner of interrogation.

Making a television blitz from Al Jezeera to MSNBC was former Brig. General Janis Karpinski, who had been removed from her command ,which included Abu Ghraib. She told MSNBC that it was now clear that the interrogation techniques that were imposed on Abu Ghraib came from General Miller and the Tiger Team of 24 persons who flew from Gitmo to Abu Ghrain to tighten up control over detainees. Karpinski said that the so-called "bad apples", the 7 soldiers court-martialled for the Abu Ghraib photos had been given orders by contractors to abuse detainees as they did. In the Senate Report, Col. Woods ,who took charge of interrogators in Abu Ghraib, claimed that she saw power point slides prepared on techniques approved by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gen. Karpinski said that "9-11 gave America an excuse to do all these things." She argued that since the Iraq War had an international coalition that an international tribunal be constituted to investigate these accusations, a position sure to win the hearts and minds of the Republicans.

Senators McCain, Lieberman and Graham sent an open letter to President Obama urging him not to prosecute the authors of the torture memos, arguing that this would criminalize differences of opinions, a recent position taken by Yoo, one of the prime authors. Former Florida Senator Bob Graham urged for an investigation and prosecution of Bush Administration officials.

Torture enthusiasts pointed out that the water-boarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed yielded information that prevented the bombing of the Library Tower in Los Angeles. This was trumpeted by Fox News and sundry conservative commenators--except there is a problem. He was apprehended after the Bush Administration claimed they had thwarted the second wave of bombings from Asia that included the Library Tower. Tomorrow may yield more aborted plots. But overall, a long day for fans of Dick Cheney.

Walk On By

Freedom House board member Peggy Noonan, speaking on television, said that sometimes a great nation such as ours should just walk on by the revelations contained in the CIA torture memos. Here in Washington, there was more tsk-tsking about President Obama's release of the memos than the facts contained in them.
The conservatives fiercely defended the torture tactics to the point Karl Rove looked like he was going to cry to say "now these techniques won't be effective any more". The usual suspects argued that the release of the memos would weaken the CIA, despite the rousing welcome President Obama recived at Langley after the memo's release. Marc Thiessen defended the techniques in the Washington Post and Cheney's biographer Stephen Hayes did the same in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard. Chuck Todd started to spin that President Obama was under pressure from leftists to prosecute those involved in the torture program.
We were treated to the ever-shrinking Dick Cheney giving an impassioned defense of the program to Sean Hannity. He claimed we knew very little about Al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attacks and feared they were making contact with Dr. A.Q. Khan to acquire a nuclear capability.
The problem with his whole discussion was that the CIA during Clinton and Bush had a very active Al Qaeda office led by Michael Scheuer and was incredibly active in tracking Bin Laden. In fact, one of the first involved in the torture program was Cofer Black, who followed Bin Laden's activities in the Sudan. One wonders what Cheney meant by the Administration had little information on Al Qaeda.
One also wonders how small Dick Cheney's world has become by appearing on Sean Hannity as if this were a major interview forum. Cheney claimed to formally request that the CIA memos listing the benefits of torture be declassified. He actually did this through the National Archive and not the CIA. It would actually beneficial for them to be released.

As if to confuse matters, Admiral Blair, President Obama's intelligence chief, sent a memo to his staff where he said that the torture program produced some high quality intelligence such as a plot to bomb an office building in Los Angeles, a target that keeps surfacing in Al Qaeda's dream list.
Rush Limbaugh weighed in by saying the Left persuaded the Obama Administration that mild pressure on the detainees constituted torture.
The problem with the torture apologists is that it is not just the Left who want the allegations investigated and the personnel involved prosecuted, it is the Law. Conservatives have recently been a little lax when it comes to legal matters recently--from their bonehead suits against Obama's eligibility to the recent suit complaining about the Homeland Security report on the rise of extreme-right extremism. The United States ratified the Convention against Torture under Peggy Noonan's hero and boss, President Ronald Reagan, and passed the War Crimes Act in the late 1990s.
In addition, as one of the prime authors of the Geneva Conventions, the United States has a responsible to uphold them. One can argue about torture until the cows come home but the United States has had a policy since the revolutionary period of George Washington not to torture, "even under necessity" in the words of Abraham Lincoln. For its history, this policy has been a justifiable point of pride for the United States military.
In Washington, the river isn't the Potomac,it's Denial as pundits try to debate whether we practiced torture or "enhanced interrogation techniques". According to the Geneva Convention as ratified in the mid-1980s, the accepted arbiter of defining torture is the International Red Cross, which in its report on Guatanamo stated quite clearly detainees were subjected to torture. The chief of prosecutions at Gitmo herself dropped charges because she maintained the defendents had been tortured. She had been appointed the lawyer for the Pentagon under President Ronald Reagan and is a conservative Republican. Military defense attorney after defense attorney reported their clients had been tortured. So let's stop the pretend:detainees were tortured and it was a matter of policy.
Never one to avoid publicity for his work, Senator Levin released the Senate Armed Forces Committees lengthy and probably definitive report on the whole sorry history of the interrigation program as it went from Bagram Air Force Base to Gitmo and then to Abu Ghraib. In part, the extensive report puts added pressure on the Department of Justice to investigate the major players who were the architects of the policy. What the report raises is that these techniques were used prior to actually procuring legal justification from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the Department of Justice. The report also outlines the major services' reservations about this program's constitutionality and legality as well as raising the specter of prosecutions for all those involved. Instead of "a few rotten apples" as Donald Rumsfeld claimed when the abuses of Abu Ghraib became apparent, we discover that the whole project was a highly developed re-engineering of the SERE program to condition American soldiers to resist torture under capture.
The whole SERE program itself was developed from techniques used by the Communist Chinese and the North Koreans during the Korean conflict. As SERE trainers pointed out in the report, even they disagreed that this was a fruitful way to conduct interrogations. The FBI soon headed to the hills after attending the first such sessions, saying they were torture.
The worst is still to come. Federal courts have already ordered the release of the uncensored Abu Ghairb photos and videotapes as well as the nearly 3,000 pages of the CIA interrogations. The Abu Ghraib disclosures will provoke probably the greatest public backlash. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham claims the materials reveal rapes and murders. Speaking to the ACLU in 2004, investigative reporter Sy Hersh said that there were videos of boys being sodomized and women pleading to be killed after they had been raped. We also get to look forward to the DOJ report from the Office of Professional Responsibility, which will document the e-mail exchanges from the White House,including the Vice President's office to the lawyers responsible for drafting the torture memos.
Most media attention has been paid to water-boarding and walling as the techniques approved and the almost clinical, dispassionate discussions of them in the legal memos. But, for me the most horrifying memos contained the description and dismissal of sleep deprivation as a harmless technique for the treatment of detainees. As Alexandr Solzhenitzyn described in the Gulag "Sleeplessness was the worst form of torture because it left no marks." European sleep researchers, whose works were used to justify the torture regimen, have publicly rebelled at the Bradbury's memo that allowed for 180 consecutive hours of sleeplessness, saying their research was done on healthy humans without any additional pressure or deprivations and should never be used in an interrogtaion program.
The Senate Armed Forces Committee report documents the participation of both doctors and psychologists in both the design and implementation of the interrogation programs. For years, the human rights community has sought sanctions against those of the medical professions who participate in torture programs, the most dramatic recent case was Pinochet's Chile. The Physicians for Human Rights is again raising this issue with the revelations of its professions involvement in the Pentagon program. Several years ago, the American Bar Association passed denunciations of lawyers who argued for torture and other human abuses being conducted by the United States.
One early victim of the release of the Torture memos is the Ticking Time bomb scenario, whcih justifies the use of torture if there is an impending disaster unfolding. The man, who may be Khalid Sheik Mohammed, was waterboarded 183 times until he cooperated. As Cenk at the Young Turks quipped," after 90 times, don't you think he would know he wouldn't drown." By that time, the ticking timebomb would have exploded.
Most mysterious to me so far is that Abu Zubaida, once purported to be an Al Qaeda leader but later downgraded to being its tourist agent, was tortured after he talked. It was when he started talking about his contacts with the Saudi Royal family, even giving his interrogators their cellphone numbers for reference, that he was waterboarded.
And is Khalid Sheik Mohammed really the real man? Awhile back, Pakistani news agencies reported a joint American-ISI operation where Khalid Sheik Mohammed was allegedly killed, his body held at the local mortuary, and his family buried him. The story even gave quotes from his family about his character. Is this some spy novel twist or some intelligence gambit?
For years, Hannah Arendt was ridiculed for using the phrase "banality of evil" to refer to Adolf Eichman. But here, reading the memos one is struck by the rather ordinary cataloguing of possible abuses to be tolerated, with quaint directions for their proper administration, and rather fatuous musings on the degree of pain they will inflict. She was right all along, evil can be very banal and ordinary indeed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Radical Republicans

The two words have not been connected since the Civil War, when northern Republicans criticized Abraham Lincoln for his cautious approach to emancipation. But they had a point and an issue. It's unclear today what the point is when Newt Gingrich denounces Barack Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez and smiling. Newt is wrong about Republican Presidents not smiling with Soviet leaders. Nixon and Brezhnev were bosom buddies and Nixon and Mao got along well together. Ronald Reagan was frequently smiling with Gorbachev. But that's beside the point as are most discussions coming from the Republican Party.

Republican governors--Barbour, Stanford and Perry--recently held a press availability to argue that the Republicans will be roaring back in 2010 because Barack Obama has overreached with his agenda. Stanford argued that a backlash will elect Republican governors like they did Christie Todd Whitman in New Jersey in the 1990s. Advisers to Republican House leaders have urged them into an obstructionist mode because they argue the Republicans can re-take the house like Newt did in 1994. Republican chances on re-gaining some statehouses are decent with poor performances of Patterson in New York and the usual frolics of Democratic governors in New Jersey. But it's best that Republicans not drink their own Kool-Aid.

Republicans now stand at about 25% of the electorate, a whooping 15% below self-proclaimed Democrats and about 10% below Independents. An analogy is basically the core of the Republican Party are those who thought George W. Bush did a good job as President. Or another analogy is that the percentage of Republicans nearly equals the percentage of American workers who belong to a very weakened union movement. To be competitive in any national elections, the Republican Party must win nearly 70% of the Independent vote, something that is clearly not evident by approval ratings for Obama by independent voters.

Recently, Republican strategists have argued that they need to accelerate the get-out-the vote campaigns among rural white voters, where they have a decided edge. The problem with this is demographic. The rural vote has been in rapid decline for decades and is unlikely to come back any time soon.

To give you some idea of the problems facing a Republican party, especially one that embraces small government and the dismantling of social welfare programs, there are some key statistics. During Michael Dukakis's run for the Presidency in 1988, Asians, Hispanics, and Blacks made up 15% of the total electorate. In 2008, when Obama ran, these minorities constituted 28% of the vote. A more salient statistic is that in 1988, professionals made up 5% of the electorate, today it's 25%. This class has traditionally been the backbone of the Republican vote in exurbs and suburbs. Today, they are voting 60%+ for Democrats because they feel Republicans are too extreme. In states, which used to go Republican like Nevada and California, Obama polled between 35-48 points higher than Dukakis, which indicates trends toward Democratic majorities in these states.

Republicans made a tremendous strategic error of historical proportions by voting against Obama's stimulus package. In all likelihood, there will be an end to this near depression. At that point, no Republicans can claim any credit for aiding in its end. Even with the brief morale boost of the chaotic tea bag parties, closer look at these protests revealed a heavy influence of fringe parties such as Libertarians, the Constitution Party and the American Independence Party. This provoked Rush Limbaugh to warn Republicans about the possibility of the emergence of a third,conservative party. While the tea bag party population were unanimous in being against Barack Obama, they were nearly as caustic about Republicans in Congress.

At its present low level of esteem, the logical Republican nominee for 2012 is Sarah Palin. She puts a nice face to very radical rightwing policies. Both she and her husband are friendly to secessionists. Todd was a member of the Alaska Secessionist Party. Sarah just nominated an Attorney General who was pro-KKK and homophobic. Her family seems plagued by incidents of petty crime. Her son was told to enlist in the military or face jail because of vandalizing a couple dozen school busses. She has an unwed daughter. She is an end-timer in terms of religion, believing we are living in the last days. She is a very enthusiastic hunter and gun-owner. She is pro-life. She hits all the hot buttons for the remains of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, for Republicans, the numbers say she can't win.

I leave the final word to a West Coast liberal, who showed up at a local tea-bagging party with his sign," I shaved my balls.. for this!

Terminal Beach--J.G. Ballard Dies

As a teenager, I was a member of the Doubleday Science Fiction book club, which sent you a scifi novel every month for a $1. When I received a double volume of J.G. Ballard's "Drowning World" and "The Wind from Nowhere" I was hooked. So much so I bought every book of his the moment they were published. He told interviewers he was not a science fiction author but instead his books were "picturing the psychology of the future."

Iain Sinclair declared him a major literary figure and not simply a cult author as his obituaries maintain. " He was one of the first to take up the whole idea of ecological catastrophe. He was fascinated by celebrity early on, the cult of the star and suicides of cars, motorways, edgelands of cities. All of these things he was one of the first to create almost a philosophy of."

A younger generation got hooked on J.G. Ballard through David Cronenberg's version of his book Crash, which suggested how sexual desires were stimulated by car crashes. For older fans, his more experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition covered these themes and more with a greater rigor. His books like Terminal Beach conveyed a tight, sleek style of describing post-apocalyptic landscapes, which influenced other writers.

He is probably best known for his much acclaimed novel Empire of the Sun, based on his childhood spent in a Japanese prison camp in China. For years, he never wrote about the subject because " I was afraid people would not understand how kids could have fun in the war." The novel became a somewhat romanticized film by Steven Spielberg.

J.G. Ballard lived most of his life since the 1960s in a small British suburb, where he raised his children after his wife's death. Despite urgings by friends, he never moved and went on to write over 15 novels and countless short stories. In his last years he wrote such novels as Super-Cannes, Millennium People, and Kingdom Come. In his last novel, he explained to his readers that he had terminal cancer and went into detail about his satisfaction with the care he was receiving.

A book editor for the Daily Mail commented on J.G. Ballard's status as very avant garde. " And there was a king of violence lurking beneath the texture of these novels. And they's come to seem less and less futuristic and you know it's as if we're embodying , we living in now a kind of Ballardian world."

In recent years, special editions of J.G. Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition and his interviews have become collectors' items.

J.G. Ballard died at the age of 78 after being ill with cancer for several years. The world of deserted airfields, empty malls and crazed roadways will miss him. Goodby, Jim.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea-Bagging--Salad Tossing Next?

Fox News proudly sponsored a nation-wide series of events that had the unfortunate name of tea-bagging, which drew slightly over 260,000 people on a workday. Groups of white Americans took to the streets to protest a bewildering array of things from the TARP program begun under Bush, to corporate bailouts started under Bush and to the AIG bailout started under Bush, to socialism, the stimulus package and the alleged or projected laws against guns to be enacted in some distant future by President Obama. It was clear from the signage that the events were almost exclusively aimed at President Obama, who passed the largest middle-class tax cut in history. Depending on the region, the racist tone of the rallies varied but was underneath in all of them.
Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, who have been the mentors to the current Republican House Leadership, put their organization at the tea parties disposal with the view, in Newt's words, of running a trial balloon for the future. Impressed by President Obama's use of facebook, youtube and the internet, Republicans have been fantasizing about how to create such a counter-movement. In select areas, where the corporate money financed tea parties, I believe some of the events were in fact trial runs for future electoral contests.
For the most part, these events had a heavy dose of third party participants such as the libertarians, who claimed to have invented the idea, the Constitution Party and the American Independence Party. Some of the more vocal organizers claimed they were trying to create an organization like or a Code Pink of the right. At the D.C. rally, one participant flew in from Oregon to"be in the belly of the beast" and meet celebrities like...drumroll--Alan Keyes.
But he shouldn't be mocked. There is a strange logic to the tea-bagging, which critics on the left ignore. You either know Alan Keyes for his insane pursuit of the Obama birth certificate issue or from Borat. The pictures of the events yesterday with women with hats covered with teabags and men dressed like colonial soldiers and signs portraying Obama as Hitler were in fact out of Borat. And I believe there is a reason for this.
If you have had a difficult time understanding why Glenn Beck is acting like he is, it's best to change the frame from which you view him. While the unintended consequences of his incendiary rhetroic recently has led to the killing of three policemen in Pittsburgh,he is nothing other than an instrument of the Fox Channel to cope in the Obama age when Fox no longer has access to the White House and no longer receives stories to plant.
Roger Ailes is a communications genius and Rupert Murdoch is as cold a cynic one can find. The name of the game is still money. The tea parties are a perfect example, not of astroturfing as the left is claiming about a top down movement, but rather television programming. Murdoch could care less if his minions incite armed violence. Clearly, having Sean Hannity post a poll about how do you want to overthrow the government is meant to suck the audience into the Fox orbit. The winning option was armed struggle, something I wish on no one either as the combatant or victim.
The events themselves are meant to be laughed at--they are entertainment and based on the principle of game shows or the old Jerry Springer Show that Americans love to embarrass themselves and be made fun of. The size of the tea parties suggest that precise thing--this was in fact Fox using their base audience as guinea pigs and turning the country into the Gong Show. The lack of irony in all this was intentional in the Murdoch world--the deliberate use of jargon for a gay sexual practice, the hosting of an event at the Alamo where Americans were slaughtered, and the list goes on. Conservatives need to feel victimized and embattled. What better way to create group cohesion and to ensure a loyal audience than to have them subject to ridicule? Even Michael Steele of the RNC fell for the bait--claiming "We outdid the MSNBCs of the world". In fact, all of us were to laugh at the participants so the "liberal" media could be criticized for its arrogant views of the average citizen. What better way to ensure group bonding.

The psychology of this from a marketing view is rather sound but its utility for political activism very negligible. Fox News triumphed with tea parties, filling hours of program time with little overhead and building their base audience. But in fact conservatives or Republicans wounded their own cause by appearing in the Murdoch production of Borat.

Consider how Machivellian this all is--the next event for the tea-baggers is July 4th, a date rarely, ever used for political demonstrations because people are out on a holiday and look at fireworks. But Fox is sadistic enough to get its audience to appear for the day on television exhibiting lunatic behavior.

For the Newt Ginrgich and Dick Armey's of the world, there has to be a reality check. According to recent, reliable polling, the Republican Party stands at historic low levels of 25% identification. The Democrats are 40% and Independents are at 35%. Republicans have lost the following constituencies: the youth (which Reagan once won 60% of ); Hispanics; Blacks; and professionals or the suburban vote. The Republican party has no representation in Congress from New England, a dwindling amount from the Mid-Atlantic states, and is rapidly becoming a Southern party.

A recent Gallup poll has for the first time in my lifetime recorded that basically Americans feel the tax code is fair. With Obama's tax-cuts going into effect, this might rise, depending on whether Fox spin is neutralized. So why will another platform of tax cuts be successful?

In another entry, I'll explore whether there is not another agenda to the recent Republican obstructionism. But in the meantime, Fox enjoys its ratings with the Reality Show: Americans Go Bonkers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Eliminationists

Two days ago I watched a MEMRI production of an elderly Arab speaking about his meetings with Mullah Omar, who refused to meet with Westerners, and how Al Qaeda had chemical and biological labs tucked away in Afghanistan. The point of his lecture was how easy it would be to deliver a suitcase of anthrax across the U.S. border from Mexico. Three quarters through his speech he said something of real note. He commented on the militia movement in the United States and talked about how they wanted to rid America of blacks, Jews and Muslims and he said Muslims should support this. He claimed the militias were 300,000 strong and could engage in domestic terrorism.

The corporate media now has begun to call out our right-wing on its scare tactics about Obama wanting to take away peoples' guns. In particular, the culprits are seen as commentators for Fox such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. No one has yet been able to focus on a single piece of legislation introduced or any restrictions on the purchase of firearms in the country. Yet, there has been a surge of requests for background checks for firearm licenses and a virtual run on gunstores and a lack of ammunition nation-wide.

If you were concerned about the tone and rhetoric of the McCain and Palin rallies near the end of the campaign, one wonders where the hate and vitriol against Obama came from. Even with the stimulus package and the budget, the size of the federal government in personnel would only equal that of the government under Ronald Reagan. Yet,right-wing commentators and Republicans like Newt Gingrich claim that Obama is leading us into tyranny. John Stewart had a good piece on his show where he said,"You mean tyranny is the same as losing."

But, the old Arab may have more insight into the paranoid elements of our society than we would admit. How do ideas such as a global government under the United Nations, the North American Union and other conspiracies begin to get assimilated into the mainsteam discourse of American politics? Once branded the fantasies of the fringe, strange ideas such as Newt Gingrich's assertion that the Obama Administration is anti-religious are said without hesitatition. Here's a President about to celebrate the first seder in the history of the White House. But, he is anti-religious. Or he is setting up FEMA concentration camps as one Republican congresswomen said. Or as I read the other day he is going to declare martial law because of the upcoming economic collapse.

When George W. Bush increased the power of the executive beyond anything any President had ever done, there was virtually not complaint from Republicans or conservatives. The only formerly conservative voice protesting this was Bruce Fein, the former Deputy Attorney General under Ronald Reagan. But he quaintly referred to it as royal despotism, a reference to what the founding fathers fought against. The dismantling of the imperial presidency that divvied out parts of government to the neocons, the theocons and the corporations must be infuriating to the Bush dead-enders.

But the hate of President Obama is beyond the pale. Beside that good old standard racism, what else can account for some of the most bizarre accusations against him? It might help to remember the photos of Sarah Palin reading John Birch Society literature and her warm embrace of the Alaska Secessionist Movement, whose leader blew himself up with conrtraband dynamite. Or the eerie slogan invoking nationalism of John McCain's "Country First". What has happened is that the most incendiary and nonsensical ideas have become mainstreamed into the Republican Party and into what was once a reason-based conservative movement. The dramatic loss of power and the serious dislocating times we live in has produced a hyperkinetic extreme right, which, if left unchecked, could provide the type of violence the old Arab was talking about.

This did not happen overnight. It has been decades in the making. To date, the best book on this phenomenon is David Neiwert's The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. (Polipoint Press, 2009,$16.95) An author and journalist based in Seattle, David Neiwert uses the latest studies of fascism to label this phenomenon para-fascism. He is explicit in how the talk radios and the right-wing personalities act as a transmission belt of ideas from what in an older time would be seen as the lunatic right. From a close-up of the various tendencies in the Patriot movement to the fundamentalist religious right, Neiwert draws out the links with conservative websites and odd Third Parties dotting the American landscape. He urges us to get beyond the old epithets the Left used to use about "fascism" and actually study how this phenomenon forms itself before it become a full-blown mature movement. He talks about how the extreme right aspire to be taken seriously by the mainstream and how under a variety of guises has managed to infiltrate their ideas and concepts into conservatism.

There are several chapters of this book that detail the history of the Eliminationists in the United States as well as an examination of how groups such as the KKK morphed into a group that moved beyond racial hatred to a more encompassing ideology to exclude whole categories of citizens from the American society. He notes how this formula works with the other groups such as the militia movement out West.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Crack-Up Continued

A CNN poll has 79% of Americans believing Obama did well on his first overseas trip and that he improved our image abroad. The President holds a 65% approval rating this week. He managed some significant policy achievements at the G20 Summit in London and also laid out his Afghanistan policy before the NATO countries with some hesitancy shown by the European countries. A meeting with his Russian counterpart produced a willingness to negotiate a new arms reduction treaty and his Prague speech laid out a vision to eliminate nuclear weapons. He concluded the trip with an appeal to Turkey, who at least privately has expressed relief that the American Administration has changed. The one negative of the week was the launch by North Korea of a missile that could carry nuclear weapons.

But these events seemed not to have touched parts of our political system. One can argument about the President's tone, the fruitfulness of his meetings and even the rhetoric he used in his major speeches. But that's not what we heard.

Instead, Michell Bachman warned her constituents to be armed and ready for revolt. Yesterday,she warned that President Obama intended to turn the expanded AmeriCore program into re-education camps.

New Gingrich with an eye to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination echoed former Vice President Dick Cheney by saying that President Obama made us less safe as a nation. Newt promised he would have intercepted the North Korea missile. What would have happened if the U.S. missed? Then Newt warned us about electronic pulse weapons being developed. How many threats, Newt, are we supposed to be afraid of at the same time?

Rudy Guiliani, America's Mayor, blasted President Obama for not speaking about Islamic terrorism in his talks abroad. And it was the diplomatic language President Obama used toward the Muslim world that seemed to set the Republicans off. Frank Gaffney speaking on a major television station, not Fox, claimed that the way President Obama spoke to the Muslims was a coded language saying that he, Obama, would introduce Sharia law.

Sharia law got alot of bang for its buck this week. President Obama's nominee for the lawyer to the State Department, the scholarly Dean of Yale Law School Harold Koh, was attacked in the New York Post, Fox News,the National Review, for advocating Sharia Law. Consequently, Republican Senators have placed a hold on his nominee despite Ted Olsen's defense of Koh's integrity and scholarship in the days Koh served in the Reagan Administration.

But Republicans also put a hold on Dawn Johnsen's nominee as chief of the Office of legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Johnsen has actually held the post before during the Clinton Administration. Her crime was publishing articles depicting her negative opinion of the torture memos by Johnny Yoo.

Both Koh and Johnsen's nominations are held up by the Republicans to coerce the Obama Administration from releasing the second tranche of torture memos as promised. Previews of these memos indicate they are darker than the first, which were alarming enough in that they claimed the President had the power to suspend several articles of the Bill of Rights and to allow the U.S. military to conduct search and seizures in American homes without warrants.

A man convinced that President Obama would seize all Americans' guns, an idea promoted by the NRA, the rightwing websites and some talk show personalities shot and killed four policemen in Pittsburgh. The man had been a blogger on racist and neo-Nazi websites and claimed all the media and financial institutions were run by a zionist conspiracy. Glenn Beck, the Fox television personality most vocally identified with warning the public about the Obama gun seizure policy denied culpabilityfor the man's attacks on the policemen, saying he only provided information on the worst case scenerios, while the man himself was a nut. he went on to say that there would be unrest in the country because people were fed up.

Beck's companion on Fox, Sean Hannity, selectively edited President Obama's speech to Europeans where Obama mentioned America's occasional haughtiness in foreign affairs without showing Obama's criticism of "insidious anti-Americanism". The Newt popped up again to claim that Obama's foreign policy was like Carter's fantasy world.

This type of rhetoric has escalated several fold since the fall rallies of the McCain-Palin campaign. Is this a diversionary tactic so we don't recognize that the Obama budget swam through both the House and the Senate? Is this nuttiness meant for us to forget that the Republican counter-budget released on April 1 was a joke and was perceived as a joke by everyone inside the Beltway? Or are these people purposely trying to stir up hatred of the President in order to provoke an attack on him? It certainly is not the language of dialogue or constructive opposition. It feeds the dark paranoid bottom-feeders in our political culture.

On a more fun note, the "birthers" held a conference here in Washington to probe the "profound" mystery of the President's birth. To protest the state of Hawaii's less than cooperative attitude to the birthers requests for information, the crowd has called for a worldwide boycott of Hawaii as a tourist destination.

But even more fun is the whole Palin family. Todd's sister got nailed for breaking and entering in a house. Levi, Bristol's former fiancee, went on television to talk about having sex with her in Sarah's house and asserting that Sarah had to know. This provoked the now predictable attacks from Governor Sarah that Levi lied. The Queen of the North will soon get even with a book rumored to be searching fro a seven-fgure advance--certainly a reasonable sum in a time of a deep recession. Sarah again provided much needed entertainment by slamming the McCain campaign for not having anyone around with whom she could pray.

And finally as we head toward Easter, some evangelicals are challenging the whole premise of the religious right saying that they would be more persuasive if they simply acted as Christians and stayed out of politics. Amen, Brother.