Sunday, May 31, 2009
Today, Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who was one of the few doctors in the nation to perform late-term abortions, was assassinated at his church, the Reformed Lutheran Church The church building itself he helped to finance and build. He had long been a lightening rod for anti-abortion activists. They regularly protested outside his clinic and his church. His clinic was bombed in 1986; he was shot in both arms in 1993 and last month his clinic was sabotaged again by the right-wing Army of God. He was subject to many citizen initiatives to prosecute him. In March, he was acquitted on all charges that he performed late-term abortions that violated state law. Anti-abortionists tried to hold up the appointment of Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services because of her attendance at a fund-raiser where Tiller was present (I don't know whether he organized it.) Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups were very fast off the dime to denounce the shooter but bloggers on the Free Republic wholeheartedly approved the "vigilante justice". The assassin is very likely a anti-abortion activist, whose capture will focus attention once again on domestic terrorism.
Also, out of Kansas, is Fred Phelps of the ersatz Westboro Baptist Church, which is not affiliated with any Baptist churches and is predominantly made up of family members. The Westboro Baptist Church has been notorious for picketing funerals of casualties from tragic accidents like the February Buffalo plane crash, saying the deaths are a sign of a just God. They demonstrated at President Obama's inauguration carrying signs calling him "the anti-Christ". (I guess that didn't clear this with Rev. Hamman.) Phelps and his family have been sued for flag desecration and protests against the funerals of slain soldiers where they held signs "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for IEDs", while members yelled epithets at grieving families.
They have a particular thing about gays. They showed up at Matthew Shepard's funeral with signs saying "No Fags in heaven" and "God hates Fags". The Church claims to have staged over 22,000 such protests around the country since 1991. They were banned as a hate group by the United Kingdom because they were traveling to England to protest the staging of a play about the killing of Matthew Shepard.
Now they have moved on toward protests against Jews and synagogues, saying Jews and particularly rabbis enable gays. They picketed the Israeli consulate in Boston in March 2009, protesting Israel's tolerance of gays. While the group has made anti-semitic remarks over the years, it's new focus on anti-semitic actions is enough to have alarmed the Anti-Defamation League. In April they began a campaign against Israeli consulates and organizations and have vowed these will be new targets for the future.
"Bless you, wherever you are"--John Lennon
Clarke slams both Rice and Cheney for the trauma argument, saying that the decisions they made in the following months and years--on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping--were simply not appropriate. Panic and impulse replaced careful analysis. Cheney's reass the threats statement underscored how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qeada attack. Remember the FBI had already interviewed the Millenium Bomber, who revealed the details of the plot months before it happened.
Concerned about the 2004 presidential elections if there was another attack, Bush officials authorized the most extreme measures available without any assessment whether they would do any good. Clarke argues the first response proposed, even as the Pentagon was still burning, was Don Rumsfeld arguing for an attack against Baghdad. Bush officials somehow could not believe that al Qaeda could have mounted such an attack themselves so they fell to the Iraqi explanation. Even though he was told there was no such connection, Cheney himself later ordered the waterboarding of Iraqi prisoners of war so they could provide evidence of an Iraqi role in the terrorist attacks.
Clarke argues that the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. Courts,even though they had a 100% conviction rate against Al Qaeda terrorists, would not work. So the American system of justice was abandoned for the establishment around the world of secret prisons and Guatanamo Bay, where prisoners were and are still held without being charged or tried.
Similarly, as we all have heard over the past month from military officials and interrogators, the administration conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques of interrogation worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, the Bush Administration jumped right to the extreme measures.
Finally, on wiretapping, they moved to the extreme, listening in on communications here at home without legal process. The FISA court system had been a fairly reliable procedure in the past and could have been corrected. The Bush adinistration dumped a Reagan appointed judge ,who had only denied 15 warrants out of 18,000 requests.
As Clarke concludes,Condi Rice and Dick Cheney were surprised by 9/11 because they had not listened. And this shock led to the adoption of extreme counterterrorism techniques ,which proved to be unnecessary and unproductive. According to Clarke, 9/11 may have changed many things but it did not change the Constitution, which even the Vice President had pledged to protect and preserve.
There goes the neighborhood. President Obama has a habit of ruining favorite places to eat around Washington. Yesterday he stopped into Five Guys in Southeast to buy hamburgers for the White House staff. After he visited Ben's Chili Bowl recently, the place has been mobbed. As Yogi said,"No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded." At this rate all my favorite spots will be out of bounds. Thanks, Barack.
If you want to hear a serious discussion on the constitutionality of gay marriage, find the YouTube of Hardball with Ted Olson and David Boies discussing their defense of gay marriage. It's obvious that Chris Matthews doesn't like the idea and would like to avoid using the word "marriage" when it comes to gays. It's shocking television because someone was allowed to utter rational,sophisticated arguments for--anything.
Bad News for those of us who would like to be sponsors of the Uighurs held at Gitmo.
The Department of Justice informed the Supreme Court that the 17 Uighur men forcibly brought to Gitmo seven years ago "are free to leave" but have no right to come to the United States. The Uighurs are one of history's tragedies which we should be ashamed of contributing to. Muslims from western China, these particular men wandered to Afghanistan, where they lived in a ramshackle village and did received training --once--with old rifles by people 'associated with" the East Turkestan Independence Movement, a group that later allied themselves with Al Qaeda--but after these men had already been seized by American forces. It has been assumed that the United States seized these people in exchange for a vote at the UN on Iraq. Considered terrorists in China--along with the Dalai Lama for that matter, the Bush Administration allowed Chinese officials to interrogate them at Gitmo. There are no charges being brought against them. In fact, the US couldn't find any evidence they had ever participated in any acts of terrorism. Five have already been freed and sent to Albania in 2006. New Gingrich wanted them returned to China, where they would be executed. There is an Uighur American community in Arlington, Virginia who have said they are willing to house and monitor the former prisoners. But both Republicans and Democrats have whipped up local fears about this so forget about it. However, my counter prosposal is that Khalid Sheik Mohammed be released to live in David Addington's house here in Alexandria, which God struck with lightening last year.
The Anti-Defamation League has sent out a warning that White Supremacist groups plan to recruit at the July 4 Tea Parties. The statement is well-worth reading. "Whites Forward" created the Tea Party Americans Coalition (TPAC) as a "working group for serious White racialist Activists in the US who want to effectively coordinate our efforts and intervene for effect in Tea Party-type events." They hope that TPAC will be the "genesis of our new White mass movement and the fertile womb of our pro-White political party." The coalition includes the Council of Conservative Citizens, the Nationalist Coalition, David Duke's EURO and European Americans United. Erich Gliebe, who heads the West Virginia-based National Alliance, claims that he experienced an increase in applications and requests for information as a result of the April 15th tea parties.
Frank Rich decimated the whole Beltway circus concerning the Cheney speech at AEI. In his NYT piece "Who is to Blame for the Next Attack", he dismantles Cheney's arguments piece-by-piece. Most interesting is his paragraph on the planned hydrogen cyanide attack for the New York City subways. The plot was called off 45 days before zero hour. The reason was that Al-Zawahri nixed it because it was not enough of an encore to 9/11, which requires the creation "of an upward arc of rising and terrible expectation" that is "multiplied by time passing." In short, the follow-up has to be something on the order of a nuclear event.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
" We had a centrist technocrat run as a centrist technocrat and win as a centrist technocrat, so we are we surprised he's governing as a centrist technocrat?"
While progressives have been generally supportive of Barack Obama as President, there appears to be alot of frustration on the Left about a whole range of issues from Obama's reversal of releasing further photos of detainee abuse, his continuation of defenses using state secrets act, his non-intervention over the single-payer health care option and the Employee Choice Act,to name a few. Even his selection of Sonia Sotomayor, while exciting in terms of a Latina judge, was essentially one of a moderate judge, with some doubts on whether she is liberal at all. Meanwhile,the Wall Street and bank bailouts generate populist resistance from all sides. Even still, Barack Obama still commands a 65% approval rating, putting him within distance of the champions in the pre-internet and YouTube age of Reagan, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Despite the rhetoric coming from conservatives and Fox show business personalities that Barack Obama is a socialist or even more improbably a fascist,the first several months of his Administration show he is a radical moderate. He is the 21st century version of what Arthur Schlesinger called the "vital center", which was the dominant ideological stance of both parties during the 1950s and 1960s. Even at the personal level, he is a bit of a cornball and geek. In his addresses throughout the campaign and when introducing nominations for various posts, he constantly refers to people as living the "American Dream", overcoming the odds through hard work, education, and with a supportive family reaching their goals. His own programs look to be revitalizing those institutions which he believes made America Great. Whether it's bailing out the car industry or banks,his actions are aimed at restoring those elements of our political economy, which have been seen as making the development of a great middle class possible. Perhaps, these actions are wrong or the time is such that some of these institions literally can not be saved without enomous peripheral damage. But his solutions are appear anything but leftist.
On another front, he deliberately embraces the idea that America must maintain a global military presence and even has called for increases in defense spending, despite the propaganda to the contrary. And he continues to fight a war in Iraq and has chosen to pursue the war in Afghanistan, which had long been put on the backburner. Whether these can be maintained for the future is another question but his actions put him in a long line of moderate, pragmatic political leaders.
While the economic challenges facing us are almost equivalent and certainly as complex as those facing FDR, maybe progressives should remember that FDR was under assault from the Left for a good part of his presidency. In the end progressive change came through pragmatic rather than ideological acts. The New Deal, enshrined in our history and myths, was a hodgepodge of programs that were created on a adhoc basis. As Obama warns, some of our plans will work and others will not. This was how the New Deal proceeded.
What I suppose we miss is that Harry Truman style rhetoric of the 1948 campaign, when he accused the Republicans of being fascists or FDR's radio addresses condemning the bankers in biblical terms. Obama doesn't throw out the red meat like recent politicians. And I sort of miss that. But he also understands that the polarization of our political rhetoric contributed to getting us into this mess. Progressives should continue to put pressure on the Obama White House because Washington is a place of great, meaningless distractions. But at the end of the day, while it may not look beautiful, some basic changes for the better will be accomplished.
First, Republicans are looking at the 2010 first because they are very short now on strategic thinkers. The person to watch here for cues as to strategy is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who acts as a mentor to the current House Republicans and was instrumental in persuading them to vote in block against the President' stimulus package. Recently, Newt has been upfront in invoking the need for Americans to live in constant fear about the next terrorist attack. He also has racheted up his rhetoric that Sotomayor will be seeking race-based solutions from the bench. Since Newt has virtually no influence over Senate Republicans,there is an odd method to his madness because he is outlining ideas and themes for Republicans running for the House. At one point, Newt actually suggested the Republicans could win back the House in 2010, something he knows would be an earthquake in Washington. This explains his drumbeat campaign against Nancy Pelosi to resign from the speakers post because of her claims that the CIA lied to her in briefings about the torture program. For Newt it was a twofer--pretending to defend national security, while attacking a woman, who is unpopular among conservatives, primarily because she is from San Francisco, the modern day Sodom.
The Republicans have four months to get their act together before launching into the campaign for 2010. What are the likely things to happen? I expect that the Obama Administration will move for an immigration reform bill and will get some form of health care reform out of Congress. These two things will put the Republicans behind the eight-ball. Rumors from the RNC are that they expect the Supreme Court to take a chunk out of the Voting Rights Act, which will enable them to plan strategies of voter suppression in the upcoming election.
Republicans are banking on a few things for 2010. By -election turnout is always much lower than presidential years. Turnouts by African-Americans, Hispanics and the younger voter will be dramatically down, leaving the core voter from 45-70 years old and white. Republicans will go back to the "Silent Majority" playbook begun with Nixon's southern strategy and try to exploit "white male rage" through a number of issues,citing Sotomayor,Obama and intellectual elitism. I've heard of a strategy to use the year to expand white voter turnout, where Republicans believe they can secure dominance. Some of the themes to be used were those exploited at Sarah Palin rallies. Using Karl Rovian cynicism,the campaigns will invoke the need of "real Americans" to mobilize to retake the country from ever-expanding government and experiments in social engineering. The Democrats will be portrayed as making the country weak, making us vulnerable to another terrorist attack, and embarking on bold new experiments in socialism when all we are facing is a recession. Republicans will try to plug into the growing Tenth Amendment movement as a break on federal intrusion into the private lives of Americans. If you add voter suppression efforts,Republicans believe they can increase their numbers in the House, perhaps not as optimistically as Newt projects.
I was naive in thinking that the failure to vote for the stimulus package and the president's budget would hinder the Republican efforts to recoup because you can't claim any credit in the recovery if you opposed it. They are banking that these efforts will not produce the type of dramatic results for everyday voters that the original hype seemed to imply. Also, the bank and Wall Street bailouts are not popular with anyone, even though they are necessary. The other argument Republicans are going to use is that the United States faced a recession and not the catastrophe which almost all economists agree would be a full-blown Depression. Ironically, the recovery should be such that the electorate will not believe things were as bad as portrayed. The Republicans are banking on this perception to support their meme about the Democratic Congress making a powerplay to take over the economy.
On the Senate level, I expect the primary targets for the Republicans will be Senators Dodd, Reid and Specter. The theme will be the need for there to be sufficient number of Republicans to be able to mount a filibuster. For me this is ironic because it harkens back to the days of the civil rights movement and the argument Southern Democrats used to get elected. To elevate the filibuster to a fundamental principle in your platform shows how degraded the Republican argument has become. Frankly, at this early stage,at best I could see a Republican gain of two seats in the Senate but very possibly a loss of 3.
At the gubernatorial level, Republicans are hellbent on recapturing Virginia because Obama's victory here represented a major, symbolic loss, a possible specter of further losses in the South. They are also confident about beating Corzine in New Jersey. This will not be because Republicans got their voice back, as Mitt Romney claims, but will be because of the natural political cycle. Republicans gains in Statehouses will be a false dawn, still camouflaging deep and almost unrecoverable vulnerabilities.
If one wants to get a sense of the base of the conservative movement, you only have to link to www.freerepublic.com . This website reflects more accurately the sentiment of the grassroots people than Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. The tea bag parties, although funded by big Republican donors, were also organized by grass-roots people , who have very distinct worldviews than the Washington conservative and Republican establishment. One of the questions someone like Nate Silver at www.fivethirtyeight.com should ask is how many of the recently documented "Independents" on the latest polls are actually extreme right or libertarians. With the Bush era finished, many of the grass-roots conservatives are uninhibited in registering their disgust with Washington Republicans, not only by designating them Rinos but also by believing they are Democrats Lite, which seems absurd from the last several months.
This Base views American popular culture as degrading at best and satanic at worse. All newspapers are liberal, all television with the exception of Fox News is liberal,while Fox is snobbish and elitist. They are religious and almost all are end-timers. There are predominantly pre-Vatican II Catholics and evangelicals. They view Mormons as a cult with which they can make tactical alliances on such issues as gay marriage and anti-abortion. The war against Islamic terrorists is a religious war where all means should be used,including torture. If there were no terrorist threat, they would be neo-isolationists, wanting the United States to abandon all treaty commitments and foreign alliances, including getting out of the United Nations. There are pro-Israel because of the role that country will play in the end times and recognize the Holocaust as one of mankind's greatest disasters. They are pro-military and for expanded military budgets. They are for full absolute gun rights without exception. Social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are not wedge issues for them but essential to the way they understand themselves and the world. They view these issues as key indicators for the moral health of the country. They are pro-private property and pro-small business but, since the days of Reagan, have not been for Wall Street, the banks or Big Business. They are highly susceptible to populism on economic issues. They are not pro-environment or global warming, even though a good portion of them hunt and fish. They believe the whole discussion on alternative fuels in bunk. They believe the United States can sustain its level of development if the government simply allowed for more drilling and development of natural gas wells. They are anti-immigrant and are for the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico. They are creationists and hold evolution in contempt as well as much science. They view colleges as the place where youth are indoctrinated--the more prestigious schools, the worse the effect. The issue of taxes for them is not the same as for wealthy Republicans, it is a matter of freedom. And they value authenticity in their candidates--however that is measured. From all indicators, their favorite candidate for the presidential nomination in 2012 is Sarah Palin and they believe she is being deliberately cut out of all the recent efforts of the party to revive itself.
The Base really,really hates Barack Obama. They believe he is foreign born,a Muslim who turned to Black Liberation Theology, a leftist tutored by Bill Ayres with the techniques of Saul Alinsky. is aligned with the New Black Panthers and ACORN to subvert the United States. They view him as kowtowing to foreign dictators, putting unfair pressure on our only ally, Israel, and weakening the United States by dismantling Cheney's torture program. They believe he has an overarching plan to destroy the country and make the United States into a socialist country on the model of Western Europe.
The Republican Base can secure some House victories as Newt Gingrich knows and is manipulating. But the Base believes Newt is a phoney, who has used his Washington connections to get rich, and his three wives leave the Base cold. But in the long run,the Base has very limited appeal to the rest of the country and is self-restricting. The Base truly believes that if the Republican Party purifies itself of its moderate tendencies then it will secure real and sustaining victories. All the objective evidence is to the contrary. The key problem for Republicans is that the Base represents a worldview , rather than a set of political positions. It's a very thin line here until the Base withdraws from political life all together. It does not have political aspirations, while it does have cultural and religious purposes. The Base is really geared to the local, to accomplishing minor goals in preventing evolution being taught at the elementary school or advocating pro-life issues at a state level. It is not geared to national politics because at it's heart it believes Washington is too corrupt, government is too big and run by bureaucrats, the press too vicious and liberal that the true American values get lost. These are the people Republicans have manipulated for years and there is some evidence that they are wising up to this fact.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Presidential manque Newt Gingrich rifled off an e-mail today to supporters that all of Western civilization was at stake in the confirmation battle against Sotomayor because this will usher in a world of race-based laws. If the civil war meant anything and universal suffrage, then this must be stopped at all costs and he urges his supporters to fast fax letters to key Senators. His best line criticized her involvement with La Raza for jeopardizing national security because the organization supported drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. I have no idea whether they do or not.
However, I did see that Sotomayor would favor Muslims in her rulings, the evidence of which is scant. I also read a discourse on Puerto Rican cuisine and how it would negatively affect her temperment. Also that she was against the Second Amendment and is part of Obama's plot to take away everyone's guns.
Newsmax developed ten reasons why Sotomayor must be stopped and asked readers to call real conservatives in the Senate.
Meanwhile GOP Hispanic strategists are stunned and appalled by the attacks on Sotomayer. Frank Guerra, who worked on Perry's gubernatorial campaign in Texas and Jeb Bush's in Florida, said," I think this is going to have a long-term effect." Lionel Sosa, one of the most influential Hispanic media advisers in the GOP, said he was surprised at Gingrich, who is one of the key people who knows the Latino vote to the Republican Party.
G.Gordan Liddy on his talk show said he hoped that Sotomayor was not menstruating during one of the key court conferences or else we wouldn't know what we'll get. Rush Limbaugh likened her to David Duke playing on Tancredo's claims that La Raza was like the KKK. Tancredo continued his media rounds without backing off,although the La Raza spokesperson gutted him like a fish.
Karl Rove claimed that Alito told him that Sotomayor was impossible to work with,although it turns out later that both served on different circuits. Rove further complained that Sotomayor will correct the spelling and punctuation of her colleagues' opinions--a clear insult to her fellow male judges.
And Pat Buchanan, representing the thoroughly paleoconservative position that the Supreme Court really is meant for white males only, lamented again Obama's failure to consider a male.
Susan Molinari thought the Republicans should calm down and examine her record methodically before going off half-cocked. Too late.
Most of the conservative groups are simply raising money off this issue. In fact, the entire gun lobby generates millions for Wayne La Pierre's NRA and other second amendment groups, despite the absence of any threat to the second amendment rights, even with a Democratic President and Congress. One such group whipped up outrage today because one state was thinking of limiting the purchase of silencers for weapons.
Curiously absent in all this is Sarah Palin, who did manage to leak where the Colbert Show will be performing in the Middle East. I actually take her silence to be a sign of crude ambition so that other Presidential wannabes like Newt, Mitt, and Huckabee are on record, making fools of themselves.
With gubernatorial elections coming up in Texas and Florida, conservatives have chosen a perfect time to go anti-Hispanic. What political genius had Tom Tancredo, Mr. Anti-immigrant, appear to denounce Sotomayor's involvement with La Raza as a "KKK without hoods?" Unfortunately for them, La Raza backed Fredo Gonzalez for Attorney General and earlier had written a moving tribute to Ronald Reagan on his death. And, of course, leading RINO John McCain, Spanish-American war veteran, appears, addressing the La Raza conference in the summer of 2008. La Raza immediately released point-by-point rebuttals of all the criticism they have received.
Republican attacks on Sotomayor are already creating backlash in the party itself. Texas Senator Cornyn criticized Rush Limbaugh and New Gingrich's charges that Sotomayor was "racist". Even Charles Krauthammer, who appears to be suffering from distemper these days, today walked back his dog to say, after making a statement about her judiciary theory, she must be confirmed.
In the YouTube world, the Fox attacks and those of Gingrich,Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh dissolve rather quickly. On Empathy, first President Bush, standing in front of his Kennebunkport home, endorses Clarence Thomas for his "empathy and good humor". On your background affecting your judicial judgment, Sam Alito tells the Senate he takes his background into account because of the discrimination his family faced as immigrants. On the Appeals Court making law and policy, we have the godfather of judicial conservatism, Tony Scalia lectures on the subject and points this out clearly in his court opinions.
William Gheen, the President of an organization known as Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, claiming 25,000 members,called Sotomayor a "Hispanic Supremacist" , who would define the law according to race. Gheen and others subscribe to the views that La Raza backs La Reconquista or the recapture of southwest United States for Mexico. If you want a reference how this idea came about, consult David Niewert's The Eliminationists, who provide the background on the ideology of the militia movement and these ideas.
You will notice creeping across the television screen a few random Reaganites, who are sounding the call for the New Right to back off. Ed Rollins in his avuncular way explained on CNN when you have very little political capital don't blow it on a battle you can not win. He called Sotomayor a great choice who's liberal because she's chosen by Barack Obama , who has the right to make the choice. He told the Republicans to back off. Peggy Noonan, whose state of mind should worry anyone, called on Republicans to play grown up and said Sotomayor was a brilliant choice. "Politically she's like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die."
Nate Silver at http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ has an interesting analysis on "Operation Gringo" or can Republicans win without the Hispanic vote. Worth a read. Basically, the answer is yes if they don't lose any more constituents and embrace some form of protectionist policies toward NAFTA, the latter will never happen. What is clear is that the electoral map for Republicans becomes further restricted.
I expect it will anyway because Barack Obama is holding on June 6th a White House meeting with Congressional leaders on Immigration Reform. My bet is that something very similar to the Kennedy-McCain bill supported by George W. Bush will be embraced and passed. And I also believe that the Republican base will be mobilized again to try and stop in to their permanent damage.
Recent convert to the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, Newt Gingrich has e-mailed his fans that this summer is the war on health care reform. I'm sure we will be treated to the Obama as socialist meme that has proved so successful and convincing. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was asked yesterday about Republican plans on health care reform. He said he had consulted with his House colleagues and surveyed the Senate and he said,"The Republicans have no plans." Instead we are being treated to a barrage of attack ads by the lobbyists for the medical industry, warning about a public option.
Michael Steele sent out an e-mail asking us to "Ride the Wave to Victory" or previously to be like Ronald Reagan and get on the horse and gallop. It's interesting to note that there are two body-surfing Presidents--President Reagan and President Obama--which is a good omen for the Obama Presidency. While telling Republicans to chill out over Sotomayor,almost two days after attacking her, Steele and the RNC are auctioning off a lunch for future Fuehrer Newt Gingrich. Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney is scheduled to appear soon with a major speech on national security.
Dick Cheney continues his Death Tour--this time criticizing President Obama's economic program without admitting culpability in the collapse of the world's economic system. Applauding the "tea parties"--which aimed its ire at the TARP program his administration created, Cheney didn't remind listeners that he told Senate Republicans when Paulson demanded $750 billion without strings that this "is your Herbert Hoover moment." Larry Kudlow, trying to make hay on Cheney's criticism of Obama, interviewed a number of CEOs and bank executives, who have been working with the Obama Administration, who had nothing but praise for the president's team and their approach.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin, speaking at the Foreign Policy Association yesterday, said in few words that Dick Cheney was a liar on the issue of just "a few sadistic prison guards being responsible at Abu Ghraib, that "enhanced interrogation was not torture", and that the two memos Cheney claims vindicates his position do not reveal any evidence to that fact. Previously, Senator Feingold has testified he had read both memos and that they do not prove that torture prevented attacks on the United States.
I am amazed that after these months that Republicans and the conservative movement can sustain a high-decibel 24/7 attack on this administration. There is no let up and there has not been any evidence that Republicans are reflecting on any significant issues facing the country. While talk radio and Fox News provide the available media to mount this effort, there is also no evidence that any of the conservative think tanks are formulating any policy alternatives to the Democrats. The Republicans and the conservatives are simply brain-dead.
To understand where Republicans are at or more precisely where the so-called base is coming from, I recommend Allan J. Lichtman White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, Grove Press, 2008. This study was nominated as a finalist in the National Book Critics Circle Award. For getting an approximation of where we are today, the most useful period to study in the book is "Crying in the Wilderness 1929-1936", where the right adopted strategies with the collapse of our economic system and the reforms put into place by FDR. A few months back you could hear some of the conservative riffs on Obama being lifted from the anti-FDR playbook. The emergence of blatant racism has its parallels in the Right's embrace in the 1920s and `1930s of the Ku Klux Klan, which was a national organization and not simply in the old states of the confederacy. And the right's radio announcer was Father Charles Coughlin, who once had the same size audience as Rush Limbaugh. What's instructive is how some of the right morphed into pro-fascist groups just prior to WWII. And you are seeing some of that beginning to happen today.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Americans accept that there is a so-called Jewish seat on the Supreme Court, named after late Justice Brandeis. American Jews number just 5.3 million of our population. According to the 2007 census figures, there are now 4.5 million American Indians. Jews faced the Holocaust and the constant problem of anti-semiticism. American Indians chronically face the possibility of being legally terminated by the Government. Tribes such as the Western Shoshone have sought a legal identity for years, while in 2007 the Black Caucus, supported by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn actually submitted legislation to "terminate" the Cherokee tribe, something the United States once tried to do with the Trail of Tears and the forced removal of the Cherokees from their homeland in the Carolinas. The story of other attempts to liquidate the American Indian are well-known and documented. No other minority, with the possible except of slaves in the South, has faced such a dark fate and still suffers from a government impervious to their needs.
Native Americans became full citizens of the United States under the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Today, there are 562 federally recognized tribal governments, while many more are recognized only at the state level. The federal government holds 55.7 million acres in trust for the Indian tribes. Native Americans constitute sgnificant minorities in Alaska (13%), New Mexico (10%), South Dakota (9%), Oklahoma (6.8%), Montana (6.3%), North Dakota (5.2%) and Arizona (5%). In actual numbers, California, Arizona and Oklahoma contain the most native Americans.
Since the 1970s, there has been a native American rennaissance that has produced a flowering of talent in almost every field, including the legal profession. One remembers fondly the days when our own Senate had Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a world class artist, among its members. The Obama campaign has drawn a number of the next generation native Americans in its orbit and included among them are several good candidates for the Supreme Court nomination.
The possible candidates for Scotus include:
Larry Echohawk--Current Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. First native American elected to statewide office in Idaho, former attorney to the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, Attorney General for Idaho, Law professor at Brigham Young University, A Pawnee and a Morman. The last would win over the Morman corridor Republicans.
Arlinda Locklear--the first native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. A Lumbee from North Carolina she has practiced Indian law cases for 35 years and now is at Patton Boggs.
Tom Tso--If you want someone who looks the part of both the classic Indian profile and a Supreme Court Justice. Justice Tso has served as the Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation's Supreme Court. he would be the one to intimidate Justice Scalia.
Keith Harper--Cherokee. Selected as one of the 50 most influential minority lawyers in America. He was an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. He has clerked at the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He has served on the Supreme Court of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from 2001-2007. He serves as an Appellate Justice on the highest cout for the Mashantucket Pequot. Today, he is one of the lead attorneys in the Cobell (or Indian Trust) case. He served on the Obama-Biden Energy and Environment Campaign. He would make an excellent choice because he's wired into Washington.
And the Indian Country's choice and nominee of several Indian publications and websites around the country, Larry's brother John.
John EchoHawk--A Pawnee, he serves as the Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund since 1977, but with the organization since 1970. He has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal since 1988. He was on President Obama's Transition Team. John was the first graduate of the University of New Mexico's special program to train Indian lawyers, and was a founding member of the American Indian Law Students Association, while in law school. He is admitted to practice law in Colorado. He is called by native American themselves the Thurgood Marshall of Indians.
Louis Gray, the former publisher of The Native American Times and an Osage, eloquently endorsed EchoHawk in an editorial:
"EchoHawk is the Cool Hand Luke of big time Indian lawyers. Unshakeable and deliberate in all his decisions,EchoHawk never rattles under the most intense pressure. He is a man who has not served as justice but that is not a prerequisite. In fact some would say he has not record to destroy or pin him down on. But, he is a first class constitutional lawyer. You can't debate the Native American in the highest court in the land without understanding the constitution. He has no peer."
Gray continues to write in his piece on what I believe is the core issue about having an Indian on the Supreme Court:
"It is not unthinkable or unreasonable for an Indian to be on the highest court. By some counts, depending on the term, Indian cases can dominate the docket. And they have always,always been decided by men and women who didn't have one drop of Indian blood in them. And lately, that has meant a negative outcome for Indian people. We have to count on the wisdom and kindness of people unlike us to do the right thing.
If you think it's not important then why has the court been dominated by white men? And only when the political muscles were flexed did the court see an African American and women seats to the court of courts. It's not unusual for an ian to be seated,it's time and it's right" Amen, brother.
It also might put an interesting spin on the original intent of the Constitution. Where these men and a woman would come out on abortion or gay rights, no one knows. That's why as the second choice for Obama,an Indian makes sense.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
She goes on to write that not only has a Native American never served on the Supreme Court but she says there is not a single Native on the federal bench in the entire country and there has never been a Native American Supreme Court clerk. There are 866 federal judgeships, 179 Courts of Appeals and 678 District Courts and not one Native American federal judge.
The newspaper Indian Country out of New Mexico actually claims that there are three American Indian judges or the equivalent of 2/10ths of one percent. This article goes on to claim that although some 2,953 individuals have served as federal judges for the United States since 1789, it was not until 1994 that the first American Indian, Billy Michael Burrage, was appointed to the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Eastern and Western districts of Oklahoma in 1994. He later resigned to into private practice.The only one I could find was Frank Howell Seay, a senior district judge in Oklahoma.
Whether Heather Dawn Thompson missed a miniscule number, she is right to say that the Native bar,while small, excels in quality. Native attorneys must be excellent not only in their own field but also in tribal, state and federal law. She proposes for the Supreme Court John EchoHawk, whom she considers the Thurgood Marsahll of Indian Country, Larry EchoHawk and Kevin Grover.
The issue of more Indians on the federal court has been pressed by the leaders of California's politically powerful Indian tribes. Richard Milanovich, the chairman of the Aqua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians, had contributed $50,000 to Obama's inaugural committee and has been forceful in speaking out for more federal Indian judges, who would understand issues such as tribal sovereignty. Most court observers simply miss the slew of Indian-related cases that are decided on during a court year. The fact there isn't even an Indian Supreme Court clerk is a national disgrace.
We applaud all those who keep raising this issue.
David Kurtz, writing in the National Review, calls Sotomayor "unnatural in English". Fellow NRer Ramesh Ponnuru likens Sotomayor to Harriet Miers and calls her an "intellectual lightweight". Compared to--pick a name--Clarence Thomas. Glenn Beck in his usual effusive manner said,"Hey,Hispanic Chick Lady! You're empathetic...You're in! He went on to bring up Sotomayor's diabetes, wondering if "the Messiah" (Obama) will cure her.
Bush strategist Mark McKinnon, writing in The Daily Beast, warns the Republicans must pick their fights carefully and two are fights the party doesn't need: Sonia Sotomayor and Colin Powell. He calls Sotomayor a "political trifecta. Woman. hispanic. Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from George H.W. Bush." As for Colin Powell--the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state under a Republican president, attacking him as "not Republican enough" doesn't send a good message for independent and swing voters. He suggests weeks or months of hysterics about alleged "judicial activism" will make Republicans "look bitter, mean, tone deaf and out of touch".
But,Mark, you haven't checked in for awhile. Alex Castellanos, another Republican strategist,claims otherwise. "Now President Obama is playing hardball identity politics. The old Democratic Party is making a big comeback--that's the party of huge reckless irresponsible spending and identity politics." So he claims with alot of races in Colorado, Arkansas, Ohio and North Carolina, that Republicans are going to make these the two top issues. Hear the whistling by the graveyard.
In yesterday's New York Times conservative law professor Gerard Magliocca wrote about his experience working with Sotomayor and watching her on the bench. She is known to have a "hot bench" meaning a courtroom where the judges asks alot of questions. He is highly complimentary about his management style compared with the nameless hit piece in The New Republic. He goes on to detail her work in trademark law but mentions that she strapped on a bullet-proof vest and took part in police raids on gang warehouses filled with counterfeit merchandise. he says that many judges are knowledgeable about labor law, but few have faced a labor decision as intense as her ruling in favor of the players that ended the 1995 Major League Baseball strike.
Focus on the Family and other social conservatives are taking a wait-and-see attitude to Sotomayor because they like me discovered the not pro-choice decisions and her rulings against the First Amendment. Other groups are already airing commercials highlighting her comment about Latina women making better decisions than white men.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa seems flummoxed by everything when asked about the confirmation process. After realizing he once voted against her but not remembering why, he said that she was qualified and a good candidate. He however cited antagonism to Bork and Thomas as caveats to the whole process, saying these things can occur, despite the person's legal qualifications. However, when pushed, he said she would be confirmed and that he thought an August or Labor Day time frame was doable.
And then we end today with Rush Limbaugh's lament that he is an oppressed minority but he doesn't think or act like one. He wasn't really speaking about Sotomayor but for conservatives, who are the oppressed minority. This is one of the first acknowledgements from the right that the country really isn't center-right as everyone at Fox News has maintained for the last several years and why Obama can't push for certain elements of his program. Limbaugh called Washington ,the Old South for the Republican Party, which kowtows to the ruling class just to get along. This follows a time where Limbaugh has been criticized by Republicans for driving the party further to the right. This statement today came only a few days after Limbaugh voluntarily "retired" as the head of the GOP.
The Washington Post this morning covered the national celebrations among the Hispanic community on the nomination. Forming 15% of the population,Hispanics are the largest minority and one that went 2-1 for Barack Obama in the last election. To be a competitive party, Republicans need to secure 35-40% of this vote, something which they will not do if they mount an attack on the first Hispanic woman nominated to the Supreme Court.
(*For history's sake, technically the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court was Benjamin Cardozo.)
But never fear, reader, the party of torture and the lack of empathy is trudging down the lonely path by attacking Sotomayor as an affirmative action candidate (notwithstanding her excellent academic credentials and many,many years on the bench.) To make the case, they reeled out anti-immigration king Tom Tanredo who accused her of being racist. Karl Rove,a college dropout himself, suggested on Fox News that she was not "intellectually strong"--like,say, Harriet Meirs, and that she was not respected by her colleagues. Richard Viguerie issued a call for an anti-Sotomayor campaign: "This is an enormous opportunity for conservatives to define President Obama as a radical liberal in a way Republicans have so far failed to do." Viguerie said it was a good time to re-identify the conservative movement and replenish the coffers with donations.
n May 1, Bill Kristol spoke at the Washington Federalist Society and suggested she would be hard to oppose , pointing out she was first appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush. he told the audience he didn't believe she could galvanize meaningful opposition and he didn't encourage a full-scale campaign against her. Knowing Kristol's almost absolute fallibility onall things political and domestic,the attack ads began even before Sotomayor was nominated.
Conservatives have already stepped in it by denouncing Obama's use of the word "empathy". After all, their hero, Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court in the word of President George H.W. Bush for his"empathy and good humor." Senator Sessions promptly shot himself in the foot when he went on cable news yesterday and said clearly that courts make policy, a line used against Judge Sotomayor for her comments to a conference on judicial interns. To make matters worse,the American Bar Association has rated Sotomayor as a solid moderate on the bench. The reporting side of the Wall Street Journal reviewed her over 4,000 decisions and found she defended corporate interests most of the time.
The Washington Post said an all-out assault on Sotomayor by the Republicans could alienate Hispanic and women voters, deepening the GOP's problems after two crushing electoral cycles. But sidestepping a court battle would deflate the party's base and hurt efforts to rally conservatives going forward. John Weaver, the former campaign adviser to John McCain, confirmed,"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we need to tread very carefully." Need and will are two different things.
Both Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine received calls about the appointment beforehand from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Both senators need to be on board as a preventive measure in case the Republicans go complete kamikaze and decide to filibuster.
Followers of Rev. James Dobson have opposed Sotomayor as do the Christian Defense Coalition and the Faith and Action groups who are militantly anti-abortion. Concerned Women of American also weighed in about her "immodest bias"--this is the reverse racism tag--when she said "A Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a while make who hasn't lived that life."
Better yet for those of us who notice that conservatives are still fixated on the 1960s and Saul Alinsky type figures and Bill Ayres, conservatives have found that Sotomayor's senior thesis at Princeton was on Puerto Rican identity. In the thesis, she wrote about the long history of Puerto Rico's status to the United States, covering the Commowealth debate led by Munoz Marin and the various independence efforts. Naturally, in this thesis written in the 1970s, the FALN, the Puerto Rican terrorists are mentioned. And Sotomayor suggests she favors (at that time) independence for Puerto Rico as a way to preserve its culture, noting the disappearance of indigneous culture when both Hawaii and Alaska became states. Ergo, like Barack Obama, she is linked to terrorists.
So far the best line in all this was Rush Limbaugh's line about Barack Obama being a reverse racist. One blogger asked "If you're part white and part black, how can you be a reverse racist?" Never mind, as the great Robert Anton Wilson frequently said,"There is no room for rationality in politics." But you have to feel a little sorry for Pat Buchanan, who now looks lost and weepy about everything.
You can bet the screaming will continue because the screaming hasn't stopped since Obama was elected.
You would think conservatives would rejoice at the California Supreme Court's upholding Prop 8 banning gay marriages. You could also imagine the outrage if Obama had nominated the sole dissenter Carlos Mareno to the Supreme Court. But The California court decision was a small detour on the road to gay marriage. The Court begrudgingly allowed California voters the right to decide the issue at the ballot box. But they also did not backdown from its vigorous support of gay rights and even the use of marriage to describe the legalizing the 18,000 who did get married. Not the most courageous decision but the California court planted the seeds for reversal right in the middle of the decision.
Enter former Bush administration solicitor general Theodore Olson--also the lawyer for the McCain campaign-- who has filed suit with co-counsel David Boies of the Bush v. Gore cases to overturn Prop 8 and re-establish the right of gay couples to marry. The suit filed on behalf of two same-sex couples asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to issue an injunction that would stop enforcement of Proposition 8 and allow same sex couples to marry while the case is being decided.
Interviewed by former American Spectator reporter Byron York about conservatives objecting to his asking the court to overturn the will of the people, Olson responded:" It is our position in this case that Proposition 8, as upheld by the California Supreme Court, denies federal constitutional rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution. The constitution protects individuals' basic rights that cannot be taken away by a vote. If the people of California had voted to ban interracial marriage, it would have been the responsibility of the courts to say that they cannot do that under the constitution. We believe that denying individuals in this category the right to lasting, loving relationships through marriage is a denial to them, on an impermissible basis, of the rights that the rest of us enjoy and I also personally believe that it is wrong for us to continue to deny rights to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation."
Asked why he took the case, Olson said," I personally think it is time that we as a nation get past distinguishing people on the basis of sexual orientation, and that a grave injustice is being done to people by making these distinctions. I thought their cause was just."
Olson was also the lawyer in the McCain campaign who was most vocal in denouncing the "birthers", who claim that Obama was foreign-born, saying it was "utter nonsense". He also came to the defense of Harold Koh, nominated to be State Department counsel, who was denounced by Fox News as allegedly supporting Sharia Law.
The game is on. The creaking sound you hear is the Republicans closing the casket lid on themselves.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
"This is a powerful message, a powerful message of hope and opportunity through this appointment, just like there's a powerful message sent when an African-American is elected president or an African-American or a Hispanic is appointed as attorney general of the United States."
Fredo gets it this time. But he'll have to be drummed out of the party. He hasn't read Karl Rove's latest talking points. Good for you Alfredo!
First, the empathy issue--which Orrin Hatch said was a codeword for an activist judge. If you lack empathy, you are likely to fall under the psychiatric classification of psychotic. The idea that empathy in a judge is a vice shows you how Orwellian our political debate has become. Hopefully, at some point, the fight will break into the open on this and the whole "activist" myth. Does the conservative theology of the Supreme Court still hold sway among the population at large? The cost has been enormous. Currently, the United States holds more of its citizens in prison that the whole combined as prisoners. A frightening reality for the Shining City on the Hill.
If you want our institutions to look more like America, then is appointing people of color identity politics or to avoid this must you appoint people who disown their background? I can't tell. 50% of the legal profession now are women. From the list created for Obama's choices, there are many extraordinarily talented women capable of being Supreme Court justices. Will the next woman be considered identity politics?
Or is the real identity politics here being that Sotomayor came from poverty? Only two other modern Supreme Court justices came from poverty--Clarence Thomas and William Douglas.
The conservative noise machine is likely to rabble rouse on this decision for the simple reason it needs to raise money. But the last weeks have been instructive in demonstrating that nothing President Obama does will not encounter the strongest resistance from the entrenched interests and the defeated conservative establishment. What is almost universal is that Obama's conservative critics, for the most part, are seriously overweight, ugly and very wealthy. The visuals have been unpleasant with Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and Rush Limbaugh dominating the screen. Do you really want to belong to these guys?
My old executive assistant Jon Karl at ABC claims that the Republicans will try and raise all these objections to delay her confirmation past the August recess. I think that is really political risky. My advice to Democrats is to only answer the barrage of charges if they are obviously slander. Otherwise, watch the Republican self-destruct in opposing the first Hispanic choice for the Supreme Court.
For the next Supreme Court pick, I hope President Obama picks a native American, our oldest minority who has little representation in any branches of our government. To his credit, President Obama has fulfilled almost every campaign pledge to native Americans through the early stimulus packages. Outstanding is the settlement of the Indian Trust case, which Obama promised would be settled at a fair rate. A court pick would elevate the situation of native Americans to the place it deserves.
The California Supreme Court's decision to uphold Proposition 8 comes as expected but nonetheless is disappointing. The Court's decision allows for the legal status of the 18,000 couples who got married when same-sex marriage was legal. And there is the rub. This creates two different classes of gay couples, which will have to be adjudicated in a future court case. The Supreme Court also re-emphasized its position against the discrimination of gays. Sat tuned for either another referendum or a court case.
Judge Sotomayor comes to the nomination with more judicial experience than any justice in over 70 years, which might explain why some of her decisions have been reversed--she's written so many. Growing up in a housing project in South Bronx, she read Nancy Drew mysteries and watched Perry Mason on television where she learned that the judge was the most important person on the show. Her father was a tool-and-die maker from Puerto Rico, who died when she was eight. Her mother raised her while serving as a nurse at a methadone clinic. As for her academic qualifications, she graduated from Princeton summa cum laude and then went on to Yale Law School, where she became the editor of the Law Journal. A Harvard professor said she had "a big heart and a brilliant mind."
Incredibly she was the first Puerto Rican judge in American history. Nominated to the federal bench by George Bush, she has already gone through the Senate process once. She's out of West Side Story and Obama's pick puts the Republicans in a hole. An hispanic woman from the working class. The Republicans are losing the woman vote, disparately failing among Hispanics and have all but lost the so-called Reagan Democrats. Any real opposition to her will thoroughly damage the Republicans among these groups. And without them, they are dead meat.
What's interesting about the media discussion is how far the media has gone in buying into the Republican version of what the Supreme Court is or is not. Will Obama change this attitude by the time of the next Supreme Court choice? Remember this choice still leaves the voting structure on the Court the same as when Souder sat.
It is the next choice where the fireworks will really come.
By all accounts President Obama was smitten by Sotomayor when they met last Tursday, someone sharing a life story similar to his own. It is a good first choice by the President.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
But support for President Obama came from unusual circles--Douglas Brooks writing in the New York Times and Jack Goldsmith writing in the New Republic. Brooks pointed out the obvious that Dick Cheney was arguing for a policy that had long been abandoned by the Bush Administration. That Cheney had lost the bureaucratic debate as early as 2004 on torture and on Gitmo by 2006. He was in fact fighting an old bureaucratic battle that he had lost and by big margins. CIA directors starting in March 2003 and a report by the CIA Inspector General in 2004 basically ended the days of waterboarding because of the lack of concrete results. Throughout the second Bush term, administration officials were trying to close Guantanamo,pleading with foreign governments to take some prisoners and even begging senators to allow the transfer of prisoners onto American soil.
Jack Goldsmith, currently a professor at Harvard Law School and an assistant Attorney General in the Bush Administration and no fan of torture, in his New Republic piece writes at great length about each issue where the Obama Administration mirrors but improves on the past Bush policies. Goldsmith's portrayal of the Bush policies are those without the Cheney domination of 2001-2003.
Most of the Republican talking heads act oblivious to the fact that Cheney's speech at AEI was a radical approach to the issue of terrorism just as his interpretation of the Constitution is a radical and highly unorthodox view held only be a select group of his synchophants and a radical fringe of the Federalist society. Over the last few weeks as the Rove-Cheney strategy took shape it was impossible to avoid noticing that the Republicans had virtually no one supporting the Cheney Doctrine, who were actively serving in the military or who had actually conducted interrogation of the detainees.
The Obama Administration actually had a star-studded roster of people urging the closing of Gitmo: Tom Ridge, Colin Powell, John McCain, Bob Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus among others. Virtually all professional interrogators appeared on television denouncing the Cheney belief that torture produced reliable,actionable intelligence. But this did not deter Republican politicians and spokespeople like Newt Gingrich from speaking out about how Obama was weakening the defense posture of the United States by abandoning torture.
On Fox News,Greta Van Sustern tried to get McCain to take a potshot at Obama but she failed. McCain reiterated that waterboarding is torture, is against the Geneva Conventions and has been sanctioned throughout our history. He also concurred with all the military supporters for closing Gitmo that the prison was the biggest recruiting weapon for Al Qaeda. He spoke about an Al Qaeda member he met in Afghanistan who pointed out that Gitmo was one of the reasons Al Qaeda could recruit thousands new militants from neighboring countries.
By week's end , the waterboarding is not torture school was dealt a mortal blow when a conservative talk show host out of Chicago was waterboarded and only lasted 6 seconds, proclaiming it was drowning--which it is.
But we have experienced an unprecedented campaign by a former Vice President against a sitting and popular President of the United States. Karl Rove claimed it was because the Obama Administration had attacked the Bush years first. Liz Cheney, the Vice President's daughter, claimed that it was Dick Cheney's fear of persecution of him and other Bush officials that led him to speak out.
I suppose it makes tactical sense for the Republicans to make this a side issue since they have been uniformally obstructionist on anything having to do with the reform of our economic system. For Obama,this constant hammering may deflect his Administration's efforts to secure passage of a health reform bill this year--a defeat that would prove to be devastating for the country, the Democrats and ultimately Obama himself.
But with no election coming up until 2010, it's hard to see the payoff for Republicans unless they wish for another attack on the United States and believe the country would turn to them in its time of need. I believe this is so. Republicans are trying to regain their lost advantage in national security. How else to explain the strange TV-hopping of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich fomenting the argument between Nancy Pelosi and the CIA?
There are problems in Obama's approach from a civil libertarian point of view to be sure but the public sided with him by almost 2 to 1 against Dick Cheney. I'll deal with a number of problems in the Obama approach to terror next week but one has to be more sympathetic than progressives have been to the mountain of problems and the entrenched interests of the nomenklatura on this issue--as well as economic problems.
Friday, May 15, 2009
With Youtube and the Net, we're treated daily to politicians either reversing positions, downright lying or having tin-ears to the issues of the day. Easy to pin blame if one looks at the world through political lenses but what if there is something more profound going on. James Bamford, an expert on our NSA, writes in The Shadow Factory that the NSA has stored more information in their computers than contained in all the libraries of the world. Alvin Toffler called this period The Third Wave, the information civilization. It is now a cliche to talk about the profound rate of change in the world but no one considers the implications for our economy and political system.
Computer scientist Dr. Jacques Vallee claimed in the early 1990s that information is nearly doubling every 18 months. At Valee's calculations it's possible that by 2012 information will double a million times a second. According to mathematicians, this would mean that everything must become steadily more unpredictable or more or less "chaos". This chaos may be expressed as a breakdown in the society or economy and in violence such as increased wars. Chaos also may be expressed instead as a rapid acceleration toward a more stable and coherent world. This acceleration in information can lead to social and political transformations we can't even begin to foresee.
Robert Anton Wilson foresaw both economic global collapse and recovery as well as breakthroughs in nanotechnology that would make most advanced scientific gadgets cheap. I suppose how we look at this depends on,as William James used to say, our different temperaments.
A few months back I read a piece that the economic recovery will be quicker than in a traditional depression because of the speed of communication, which the author believed was one of the root causes for the sudden collapse of the world financial system and would be one of the causes for its rapid recovery. I hope so.
But it's apparent from the shaningans of our elected leaders that my generation and those older have not assimilated the networld into their behavior. The first 21st century campaign was that of Barack Obama ,mainly because the driving talent in his operation were people who have grown up digital. Now he and his Administration confront trying to manage a system that a younger generation consider antediluvian.
Critics of a younger generation claim they lack concentration, are too easily distracted, am multi-task too much. Don Tapscott is the author of Grown Up Digital, which is his follow-up study of 11,000 young people betweeen the age of 11 and 30. This is the most comprehensive generational study ever conducted and the first on the world's first generation who have grown up completely digital. He disputes the critics of this generation,claiming that their brain chemistry has literally changed from previous generation and that their brains can assimilate these multiple electronic inputs in new creative ways. He believes they are a generation more adept and scientifically knowledgeable than the older generation. They literally know more and are more accomplished with the technology we need for the future.
But then, what happens to the rest of us? Do we have to settle in lifestyles based on ability to assimilate information? Does it mean that whole sectors of our society ,once geared to manufacturing jobs, are beyond redemption and must remain unemployed or underemployed? Have we become a more sophisticated version of an under-developed society? And if the United States-Europe-Asia is the axis of this accelerated information civilization, how then do we cope and deal with areas such as the Middle East where political structures have been created to deliberately slow change and the penetration of information from abroad? Must our foreign policy seek the lowest common denominator?
In a strange way, we are seeing the results of this information acceleration in our own culture wars that are pitting old authoritarian structures and values against more progressive or liberal beliefs. These are all reactions to the future shock.
However, the Obama Administration's strategy of a "modified limited hangout" is simply DOA. And thanks goes to Dick Cheney for pushing the envelope on this issue during public appearances that probably number more than he gave when he was in an undisclosed location. Kudos also go to Karl "Turdblossom" Rove, who thought it was a dandy idea to try and put the monkey on the Democrats' backs by writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal asking the Nixonian question,"What did Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it?" To which Nancy Pelosi responded that the CIA lied to Congress and she was backed up on this by former Senator Bob Graham, who is notorious for his large ego that he keeps minute minute-by-minute diaries of his whole life, something Boy Genius Rove happen to forget in his rush to judgment.
The torture debate has gone where official Washington fears to tread. We can check off the boxes that it was amoral, illegal, unconstitutional, against all our treaty obligations. But torture enthusiasts still hung on to its effectiveness. This week hasn't been a good one for them. On the torture side is Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Liz Cheney,Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer, Mary Matalin and now Lindsey Graham, who touted the 500-year old history of torture as if he just read Danniel Mannix's History of Torture.
On the anti-torture side were interrogators from the FBI, Air Force, U.S. Marines and the CIA. Also former Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, weighed in to drop the bomb that the torture policy was not aimed at discovering imminent plots of Al Qaeda against the United States but rather for intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. Kaboom!
The other little details dropped by Col. Wilkerson include the fact that the CIA and others were so scared about prosecutions because of the Abu Ghraib scandal that they stopped the torture policy by 2004, not 2005 as I believed. He asserts that the second Bush Administration was torture free. Previously, he claimed that there were over 100 homicides created by this policy. The same day Wilkerson claimed the second-term had been free of torture, the International Red Cross requested from the CIA notification about 100 people they had listed in the agency's custody but who were missing.
So if torture is such an effective policy, why suspend it? And also why are the Republicans stepping up the pressure on President Obama, who has been desparately trying to limit the areas of investigation, when the question about the policy became moot in 2004? Also, why would you pick a fight with an adversary who can release new information at his own time and pace?
Let's take the Stoogeland Smell test. If you are the intelligence community and you have been embarrassed by the largest intelligence failure since the Trojan horse (WMDs in Iraq), would you not have leaked the amazing successes you had in breaking up the Al Qaeda plots against the United States because of your "enhanced interrogation" program? Former CIA special agent Robert Baer claims this would have been out in a minute. The old saw," You know of our failures but never our successes", has never been true for a Washington bureaucracy in the mass media age.
By walking back the dog, one finds oneself in Cheneyland as he asserts that intelligence confirmed the links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and that 9/11 had some relationship with Iraq. Waterboarding of Abu Zabaidah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the torture in Egypt of Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi had everything to do with producing intelligence to rationalize the invasion of Iraq and to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and nothing to do with actual Al Qaeda plots. Lawrence Wilkerson's recent statements reflect Secretary of State Colin Powell's mortification of using the erroneous information received from al-Libi in his address to the United Nations justifying the invasion of Iraq. This is payback time.
Another man with mud on his face is the respected former Governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean. Tom always was squeamish about using information from detainees who he knew had been tortured in the final 9/11 Commission Report. What he didn 't know until it was inadvertantly revealed in congressional hearings yesterday that the detainees were tortured specifically for testimony to the 9/11 Commission.
Ironically, the torture program modelled after the SERE training did what SERE training was meant to do--create false confessions. By trying to put the monkey on the back of Democrats, the Republicans have created a situation where there will be no alternative for the political world but either appoint a Special Prosecutor and/or a Truth Commission of distinguished personalities. Also, the accusations by the Democrats that the CIA lied in their briefings to Congress compel the declassfication and release of all the documents on these Hill meetings.
Will the American people support people like Dick Cheney when it comes out that the torture program was not meant to protect the country but to create false intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq? Yesterday, also produced the evidence that the Vice President's office itself directly ordered CIA agent Dilfer, the weapons inspector, to waterboard an Iraqi intelligence officer because the Vice President thought Dilfer's interrogation had been too "soft".
And speaking of Karl Rove, since he participated in NSC meetings and possessed top secret clearances, should we not investigate his role in this sordid affair? Historically, Rove had a longer relationship with Dick Cheney than George W.,contrary to the public perception.
So far, we have all the armed forces being on the record that the torture policy was against the rules of war, against our treaty obligations and the constitution. We also have experienced, seasoned interrogators, who actually broke up plots against the United States, state torture was ineffective and too cumbersome to produce worthwhile intelligence. The ticking-time bomb scenario, much beloved by Republicans and Fox news, has been rendered absurd over the past two weeks. And so we are left with no one with operational or military experience supporting the effectiveness or even the worth of torture.
This all leads us far from the moral and legal prohibitions against torture , past the "it works" assertions, past the stage where it was used to protect Americans, into the realm of pure politics. America tortured for a political agenda. Ironically, that has been my experience with torturers and the tortured in the developing world for three decades. Torture is never used to procure intelligence; it's to make a political point. The point can be the sadistic punishment or revenge against someone who dared to resist an oppressive regime or force false confessions to support the ideological agenda and ambitions of the State.
Stoogeland will try to play out of this mess without coming clean. But the odd thing is that it may be prevented from sweeping this under the rug as the political players keep mud-wrestling in ways that only provoke more information, not less. Dick Cheney's impulsive burst on to the scene after years in the bunker only puts him in the frame--it was his program and he owns it. Whether our political system has any courage, will or wit to deal with this is, in my opinion, dubious.
Next time, the U.S .might want to try drugs if it were serious about intelligence.