Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, May 29, 2009

If it's Friday (or any day), Newticles must be...

... running for Supreme Leader of the Racist States of America....

Of course, Newticles has lots of competition in his race to the bottom of the political cesspool, sans snorkel:

There's G. Gordon Liddy, the right wing's favorite bagman, moaning, "unclean, unclean."

Then there's the Villagers' top contender for Right-Wing Whiner of the Year, who's suddenly shifted his already imperfect concentration from whining about the left's picking on torturers to whining about pushy Puerto Rican women ruining his favorite WASPy male-dominated Ivy League school.

Nor can we fail to acknowledge KKKarl "We Have THE Math" RRRove, who seems, now that he's out of the White House, unable to tell the difference between "3" and "2."

And, how could we forget Rush Limpballs, who now thinks that nominating Sonia Sotomayor is tantamount to putting David Duke on the bench? Maybe ol' Rush doesn't realize that's a plus with his listeners? Nah... that's the PalmBeachball's idea of "empathy"....

Never the shrinking violet, manly man John Yoo, the very same lawyer who found all his reasons for the legality of torture with nothing more than a proctoscope, a miner's lamp, a map of his colon and his own two hands, decides that "[t]he White House chose a judge distinguished from the other members of that list only by her race."

Way to go, John. You're a shoo-in for the big judge job when the right-wing racist war- and torture-mongering wingnuts are back in power... they're always on the lookout for diseased whores to authoritarian power.

Last, but hardly least, there's Tom Tancredo ("Tancredo?" That's an immigrant name, isn't it? Sure ain't pure Anglo-Saxon blueblood like "Bush"), who never met a Spanish surname he didn't hate, weighing in on Obama's SC nominee and her subversive history. Tancredo continues to show--in much the same way as does Newticles--why he'll nevah, evah be President of these United States. Nyah, nyah, nyah, Tommy.

What's really, really funny in all of this great expulsion of hot air from the gasbags on the far right is that Sotomayor was initially nominated for the Federal bench by... wait for it... George H.W. Bush, who found her conservative enough for him.

But, hey, GHWB was just a liberal pussy compared to his pampered, egocentric, megalomaniacal son, right? And 9/11 changed everything, right?

Yeah, right....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Real judges eat Big Macs and super-sized...

... fries....

Via TPM:

He confirmed, saying, "a source I spoke to said people were discussing that her [speech] had brought attention...she intimates that what she eats somehow helps her decide cases better."

Yes, indeed, those wild and wacky right-wingers are implying that Sonia Sotomayor's decisions might well be affected by eating pigs' feet and chickpeas. I mean, everybody knows, it's all those peppers that those hot-blooded Latin types eat that makes them unpredictable and volatile.

Well, I would hope that anyone on the Supreme Court wouldn't be distracted by gnawing hunger while hearing cases. But, that might be the full extent to which I would worry about what goes into a Supreme Court justice's gullet... unless we're talking about Scalia--in his case, we ought to be keeping a close count of the babies in his neighborhood.

Just wrong, on so many levels....

Hardin, Montana, has a jail that it wants to be the place to house Guantanamo detainees.

Hey, that's just Chamber of Commerce boosterism.

But, this small town of only 4,300 borrowed $27 million to build a prison on spec? It's been sitting empty for two years. Did Hardin also borrow all of Wasilla's cast-off city council members for its own government? What genius thought up that one?

Some expert at rocket surgery thought, "crime's a growth industry and we can get in on the ground floor, yeah, that's it, that's the ticket." It's more likely that some local huckster figured out a way to make a killing on an empty piece of land and just planted a few seeds in the local rocket surgery expert--that's just the way small towns work.

But, c'mon, didn't the city fathers and mothers of Hardin look around Montana and think to themselves, "hmm, maybe there really aren't enough black people in Montana to railroad into our new prison on petty drug charges? Maybe, instead, we need to put some money into our educational system if the best job our residents can manage is working as a prison guard?"


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Umm, on that empathy thingie...

... the shorter Orrin Hatch: We've been tryin' for decades to pass laws to benefit our wealthy old white male friends and the wealthy corporations that make them wealthier and, by gum, we're not gonna tolerate anyone who even thinks of bringing quaint notions about justice to matters of the law.

Orrin Hatch and his ilk are the same people who believe that an aberrant soul such as Antonin Scalia (who defended his decision in Herrera v. Collins by saying it was okay to execute an innocent man if proper procedure were followed) is a model of modern jurisprudence.

The odd thing, of course, is that not very many conservatives are willing to broach the subject that the supposed "strict constructionists" were the ones that threw the 2000 election to George W. Bush by judicial sleight-of-hand, nor are they going to admit that such was done with such rank partisanship for radical conservative principles that the decision made their own epithet, "activist judges," seem puny by comparison.

Anything that threatens what these wrinkled and wizened old white males consider the natural order of things is going to be fought by them--in every dirty way possible. They will ignore every legitimate charge of hypocrisy, large and small, in order to protect a judicial system that's fast becoming as corrupt as they are. After all, they are the ones who enabled its current composition.

What's kind of funny is that, despite fairly solid evidence that they've gamed the system, they're still blathering on about high principles, as if anyone but the mentally halt and lame were still thinking they possessed honor.

Defining down torture....

There's been a lot of emphasis lately on waterboarding as torture--as it surely is--but in doing so, it seems there's a concerted effort on the part of both politicians and media alike to dumb down what we are supposed to define as torture, and thereby, to arbitrarily restrict the notion of the U.S. employment of torture to a very small set of the "worst of the worst," Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydeh and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (recently said to have committed suicide in a Libyan prison).

By inference, we're subtly led to the conclusion that, while reprehensible, torture was used sparingly and judiciously, on a very limited number of people. The remaining thousands who were regularly beaten, subjected to extremes of heat and cold, denied sleep for days at a time, chained in painful postures for long periods, blasted with disorienting sound and/or were sensorially deprived, were forced to endure the terror of being buried alive, were religiously and sexually humiliated, all those many were, by this conceit, not tortured. They were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques." We are led to believe that only the "worst of the worst," those who resisted these techniques and did not offer false confessions, were then made to endure actual torture through repeated episodes of near-drowning.

It's quite clear that this focus on water torture is necessary, but, at the same time, is far too microscopic. It's meant to exclude from one's field of view all the other techniques employed that, taken individually and collectively, are torture of a more general kind and are part of a generic whole, in both kind and quantity. The most dangerous threat to U.S. self-esteem is that we weren't the good guys in this, that the use of torture might be perceived by U.S. citizens as widespread in both the military and the intelligence services, that it was normalized and that it was not accidental nor the result of a few "bad apples," but, rather, was a structured policy created and ordered by the upper reaches of the Pentagon and the civilian leaders of the country.

Two matters suggest the need for a larger view of torture. First, nearly a hundred people have died in U.S. custody, and nearly a third of those have been ruled by military medical examiners as possible homicides. Torture of the broadest definition will be implicated in those deaths, if ever there are serious inquiries.

Second, one must revisit the case of Jose Padilla. Most of the focus on his detention centered on the arbitrary legal authority assumed by George W. Bush, as commander-in-chief of the military to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens under military control without access to counsel, and on the Bush administration's determination to evade a court ruling on that assumed power by transferring Padilla to civilian courts before the Supreme Court could rule on his case, and in the process dropping the central charge against him of planning to build a radioactive 'dirty' bomb, the charge on which he was originally detained.

There was only brief mention at the time of his transfer of some odd features of his detention, including the blackout goggles he was forced to wear any time he was removed from his cell, and there was virtually no follow-up in the press. His lawyers, however, gave some indication that he had been subjected to mental torture, and that the goggles were only a part of a larger program to break him mentally. They lamented that Padilla was no longer able to assist his own defense, and they offered as evidence his seemingly contradictory beliefs that his legal counsel were part of a plot against him, and that in their attempts to prepare his defense, Padilla expressed, in various ways, that defending him would make George W. Bush look bad and would undermine Bush's "war on terror." Those beliefs effectively denied him a competent defense, and, moreover, strongly suggest that torture had been employed during his three years of detention for the specific purpose of forcing him to emotionally and psychologically identify with his captors, a goal in common with Chinese communist interrogation methods during the Korean War, and is a condition making false confessions more likely.

There's a strong element of denial in all this torture business, from the average citizen to both current and past presidents. That tendency toward denial is at once understandable, but, if institutionalized in society, is also, ultimately, corrupting.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

That business of preventive detentions...

... and military commissions, Obama-style.

What is still being unsaid in all this is one simple underlying truth: many of the defendants--and the witnesses against them--have been tortured in one way or another, and that's why they can't be transferred to the criminal court system. Were they to be tried in open court, it is inevitable that evidence of torture would be introduced, either during the discovery phase or during the trial itself. This would make their convictions highly unlikely, for lack of admissible evidence, thus presenting the court with the politically unpleasant job of releasing people whose reputations have been tainted by the news media and the government as the "worst of the worst," regardless of their actual criminal guilt.

But, more politically explosive than that, if the civil criminal courts receive credible evidence of law-breaking during trial or discovery, they are bound by law to make referrals to the appropriate US or state's attorney for investigation and prosecution, if required, and this is the great legal bug-bear that Obama is hoping to avoid by tinkering with indefinite permanent preventive detention and military commissions kangaroo courts.

In the midst of this debate, much opprobrium has been heaped upon the "far left" in the U.S. for demanding that Constitutional mandate and the rule of law be observed. These demands, say the right wing (and the potential defendants in its midst), are nothing more than an irrational desire for political vengeance.

Barbara Jordan made reply to this charge thirty years before the fact, in saying, “What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Re: the Cheney speech....

Simply because Cheney repeated so much stuff that's already been discredited, debunked, disproved and/or shown to be grossly illegal, one can't help but think that one of two things are behind Cheney's media blitz. Either he's trying to win a war crimes trial in the court of public opinion as a means of deterring his eventual arrest and prosecution, or he's trying to make the case that he's as crazy as a shithouse rat, and that he's incompetent to stand trial.

There's the outside chance that he really does think that what he's saying is an argument for the merits of his actions and decisions and orders while VP, but, then, that would just be a corollary to the second possibility above. The fact that so much of what he said can be tied back to his "unitary executive" premise that none of it was illegal because the President (and by extension, he) ordered it seems to directly contradict any questionable sanity theory. Moreover, having a few totalitarian legal hacks and yes-men on your side doesn't make the unitary executive theory any more of a legally sound defense. That's been tried before... here and abroad.

What Cheney clearly does not want, judging by the content of this latest diatribe of his, is to actually test his arguments and evidence as a defendant. His earlier calls to selectively declassify a couple of documents is likely proof enough of that, and it's definitely a road marker to remember--if enough horror stories leak out, and public opinion turns on him and Shrub to a degree that forces Obama to begin proceedings against them, he'll very likely try a graymail defense, something that would have absolutely no traction in an international court.

So, Dick, best advice I can give you is this: this is a great time of year to visit the Costa del Sol.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

As one of the deeply unserious people...

... in this country, it's probably not fair to the deeply serious elite and the Villagers of Washington, DC, to even ask this question, but, I will, anyway: if the powerful in society were capable of manipulating the entire government regulatory and financial systems to benefit the modern-day counterparts of pirates and privateers and nearly brought down the entire economy in the process, then what's to prevent the same thieves and reprobates from gaming a carbon emissions cap and trade system, since hedge funds and derivatives traders are already licking their chops in anticipation of all the cash that's going to pass through their hands, from which they can subtract a chunk?

And, as a follow-up question, if the cap-and-trade system implodes as the financial system did, or has the effect (as mortgage trading did) of hollowing out the trading banks, will the taxpayers be expected to make the system whole again?

I won't even ask how the government expects to fund cutting-edge energy research by giving away initially large allotments to the major emitters. Nor would I even dare ask why there's even one person still saying that this "market-based approach" will work better than a tax, after the "free market" has cost the taxpayers trillions in tax revenues, lost real estate value and 401(k) net worth due to unprecedented levels of greed and bad judgment among the people controlling the "free market."

Nor would I even think of suggesting that the carbon credits should be distributed among the people at the bottom of the consumer pile--the end users--who will inevitably have to pay the passed-through additional costs of carbon trading, so that their individual contributions to reducing carbon footprint are rewarded, instead of just being penalized less.

But, then, that's just me. Others aren't nearly so polite....

Before the general hysteria...

... created by 9/11, there was still a long-term project of the right wing in this country to diminish the rights of the common individual and increase the power of the state where the criminal justice system and state control were concerned.

Historically, this is not remarkable--the natural constituency of conservatives is the top wealthiest few percent of society along with those who imagine themselves in that category and those who aspire to be. Therefore, it's always been in the interest of conservatives to keep the commoners a little scared of state power. (Admittedly, over the last few decades, conservatives have tried to increase that base by conflating their aims with national security, thus blurring the lines--and the distinctions--between internal and external security, which has gained them votes from nationalists, nativists and eliminationists of varying stripe, regardless of economic strata.)

After 9/11, though, the assault on the Bill of Rights picked up considerable speed, and we're now faced with the results of both Congress and the courts abdicating their responsibilities in the face of some very arbitrary decisions on the part of Bush's executive power grab. There are two current legacies of this panicked retreat from individual rights in the news this past week, and they are intimately related. The first is District Court Judge John Bates' ruling that some people currently detained in Guantanamo's prisons may be held by the military indefinitely.

The giant elephant in the room here is that Bates has implicitly recognized that these people cannot be transferred to the civilian law enforcement and court system because both they and the witnesses against them have likely been tortured, on Bush and Cheney's orders, and the civilian courts could not convict them and would have to release them.

The second related incident is that the Democrats have stripped funding for closing Guantanamo's prisons from a pending appropriation bill, thus effectively leaving that prison open, because Democrats have prematurely run away from the issue of where to put detainees after transfer from military control.

Despite the legal niceties found deep in the weeds of these two actions, one point needs to be made: every single problem we now have concerning the status of detainees, secret black prisons around the world--and torture--stem from one lawless decision by the Bush/Cheney administration which went unchallenged by Congress and the courts long enough to create practical problems in the overturning of that decision. Simply, when Bush announced that he had created a legally undefined category, the unlawful combatant, as a means of denying both Congress and the courts any right to interfere with the disposition of people placed in that category wholly by executive fiat, it enabled virtually every other state crime committed by Bush, Cheney and their minions. This category was created to evade U.S. law and the U.S. legal system.

I'm not sure that the average person yet understands the import of that action. Quite literally, Bush created what George Orwell called an "unperson," and the proof that enough time has passed for that action to be commonly accepted is that the detainees at Guantanamo are regularly referred to in both the news media and the government by the legally undefined name Bush gave them: unlawful combatants. Prior to Bush's executive fiat, there were only two general legal categories into which those captured could be placed--prisoner of war, or criminal suspect.

Since the Geneva Conventions cover both regular and irregular forces in time of war, those captured in Afghanistan, and who were performing any function in defense of the Taliban government or of home defense against invading U.S. forces, should properly have been classified as prisoners of war, and treated according to the Geneva Conventions, including regular visits and inspections by the International Red Cross. Those captured elsewhere and were suspected of involvement in the attacks of 9/11 or active ongoing stateless terrorism should have been turned over to either the international courts or to our own criminal justice system.

That's what the law (and common sense) prescribed.

The horrifying part of all this is that Bush's executive decision to ignore and rewrite law unilaterally is now in the process of being institutionalized by the courts, despite the lawlessness of the original action on Bush's part. Congress has included U.S. citizens in the category of people who can be detained indefinitely via the Military Commissions Act, and the courts have ruled on Bush's actions as if they had legal legitimacy when established by Bush, which they most certainly did not.

In a way, this is exactly the same process by which corporations claimed protection under the 14th Amendment. Although no court had actually made a formal decision on that issue, the inference in the head notes of an unrelated Supreme Court decision that the court had ruled affirmatively on that question allowed it to be institutionalized in legal decisions and analysis ever after.

All this despite the fact that the language of the Fifth Amendment is abundantly clear on indefinite detention without due process. It cannot be done. Equally, the mere declaration of an open-ended, never-ending war on a tactic by a President is not sufficient to invoke the right to subject people to indefinite detention by the military at the direction of the President because of the President's wartime responsibilities.

In the same vein, Article VI says that ratified treaties (which includes the Geneva Conventions) become the supreme law of the land. Those treaties specify that prisoners of war must be repatriated at the cessation of hostilities, unless they are accused of war crimes, in which case they can only be tried by lawfully constituted tribunals. Bush created his tribunals out of whole cloth, with rules that were indifferent to law. Now, even those tribunals--with the passage of time--have taken on a patina of legitimacy, despite their illegitimate origins.

Long after the attacks of 9/11 have receded in the country's collective memory, the legal horrors enabled by them will remain and can be used against us, unless we keep in mind what Tom Paine said: "A long habit of not thinking something wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right."

As with the most sophisticated weapon in the military-industrial complex's imagination, the weapons created by Bush and Cheney can be turned inward, used against the citizens of this country, to control them and to keep them fearful enough not to challenge the authority of the government when required. We simply can't afford to forget that the Constitution defined what the government could do. The Bill of Rights defined what it could not.

If one has doubts that the conservatives favor the power of the state over that of the individual, or that the illegal behavior of the Bushies can't possibly be institutionalized in law in contravention of the Bill of Rights, consider this assessment by Jeffrey Toobin of Chief Justice John Roberts in The New Yorker:

After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

That said, it's well to remember who and what constitutes the public face of the contemporary Republican Party....

The naysayers in this country...

... repeatedly state that producing even 10% of the nation's energy requirements with alternative energy is unrealistic. Scotland, as reported by the UK Guardian in this article, has already exceeded its 2011 goal of producing 31% of the nation's power with alternatives (principally wind power).

While there's been a big jump in wind power in the Southwest (particularly in west Texas), there's so much unexplored scientific territory due to a failure of the national government to invest in R&D, equal to the actual need, that the field is still wide open. Take, for instance, the near-complete absence of research into wave and tidal power by a country with an enormous amount of coastline--west coast, east coast, Great Lakes and Gulf coast. Moreover, the coasts are the places with the greatest population density and energy requirements.

As Europe proceeds with its evolution away from a carbon-based energy system, the U.S. goes on in a business-as-usual fashion, largely because it is hobbled by an election funding/lobbying system which invites both corruption and stasis, and because of a military funding system which ignores the actual threats to national security in favor of imagined threats far in the future, and is perpetuated by the same corrupt system.

Europe has maintained economic viability, despite the imagined scourge of democratic socialism, by encouraging innovation and exporting high-quality manufactured goods, as well as emphasizing a quality over quantity domestic consumption model which has had the additional benefit of discouraging the waste and planned obsolescence of the current dominant model in the United States. If Europe continues to make progress on alternative energy implementation, U.S. businesses may find themselves, ten or twenty years from now, at a competitive disadvantage due to energy fuel costs (either alone or in concert with the roughly 100% higher health-care costs prevalent in the U.S. as compared to European nations).

There are always breakthroughs yet to happen, but the United States won't make them if it won't commit the financial and intellectual resources to the task. (A little-considered aspect of military spending, for example, is that the United States spends about 60% of its research dollars on military projects which, inevitably, are obscured by secrecy for long periods of time, and an old adage in R&D is that talent follows the money. If the best minds in the country are devoted to building a better ray gun, for example, they aren't thinking about new energy production.)

If we get left behind on energy research and technology (which can only exacerbate all the current economic problems associated with financialization of the economy because we continue to pretend that the big banks are creating wealth), it will be the fault of no one but us. It's no accident that we consume 25% of the world's energy and produce 25% of world's GDP. The two statistics are intimately linked. That we continue to spend 50% of world military spending in order to corral diminishing fossil energy supplies for the greater profit of our multinational energy corporations is not a sign that we're doing something right. Quite the opposite.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A casual thought....

If the human race eventually disappears from the planet, the reasons may involve technology, but won't necessarily be due to the concept of technology itself. Rather, the underlying factor will be a peculiarly human trait--the natural and well-understood reluctance and inability to admit a mistake--compounded by the amplifying effects of the broadcasting and imaging technology of television and all its variants.

Ask any couple just how agonizing a process it is for one of them to admit a mistake and have even a small chance of being thought of as sincere with an audience of one. Now think of doing the same thing live in front of millions of people, whose tax dollars and futures are in your trust, and upon whose votes you depend for your continued ego satisfaction.

Pretty near an impossible expectation, I'd say. Making matters worse, most politicians (with a few exceptions) are idiot savants--their principal (and, often, only) skill in life is convincing you they're smarter than you are and therefore deserve to decide your fate and the fate of some of your money. (And, let's not forget, Bob Bullock's old adage about some in the Texas Legislature applies here: "if you think he's crazy, you should see his constituents." Michele Bachmann, bless her pea-brained soul, probably is smarter than a good many of her constituents.)

And, of course, if you can't admit a mistake, and belong to a collective body (politicians) with the same problem--you'll collectively steer the Titanic into the iceberg over and over and over again, and then do your best imitation of Richard Pryor's "who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?" routine. And, eventually you and the rest of your reality-deniers will really fuck things up bigtime, and *poof!*, the human race is history.

Like a lot of other people, I was always a bit amazed that George Bush could never think of a single substantial thing he'd done wrong as President--even after sinking the Titanic multiple times and then torturing the survivors--but, the simple truth is that he was just a living caricature of the basic problem (although he added a lot of comic relief to it by sincerely believing he had everyone fooled).

Maybe that's the silver lining to the dark cloud: we're going to exterminate ourselves, but, we're going to laugh ourselves silly doing it....

On the subject of military commissions...

... and the continuation of a number of Bush-era policies, such as indefinite detention, military commissions, etc.

It has occurred to me in the past, and again now that a change of administration has come about, that one of the principal needs for military kangaroo courts to prosecute drivers, footsoldiers, even the innocents sold into political slavery by warlords and opportunists for U.S. rewards, is because the principle of adopting military force in what is, straightforwardly, a civilian criminal matter has been an abject failure.

It has been eleven years since Osama bin Laden has been sought by the criminal justice system in connection with the bombings of U.S. embassies in West Africa. After that amount of time, not only does the U.S. not have bin Laden in custody, it has no clue where he might be, or even if he is dead or alive.

George W. Bush, infamously, declared in 2002 that he "wasn't all that concerned about him [bin Laden]." Why? Because Bush had unleashed the military on an entire country--there were plenty of surrogates to stand in for the principal suspects and masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri--and Bush, at the time, was coordinating the public relations campaign to condemn yet another new surrogate, Saddam Hussein.

Looking at it from the standpoint of the victims and of the criminal justice system, the thorough militarization of the criminal justice process has failed to do precisely the thing that the entire judicial and law enforcement system is meant to do: bring the perpetrators to justice.

From that failure emanates the justifications for kangaroo military courts. In order to provide some catharsis for the public, prominent people in both government and the news media believe it is necessary to obtain at least some convictions, even for the rather nebulous charge of having "aided terrorism." This, of course, is intended to obscure a reality that is clearly embarrassing, just as the rules of military commissions are intended to obscure the plain fact that the government could not hope to obtain prosecutions, let alone convictions, of the greatest percentage of detainees in the civilian criminal courts due to the ill treatment and torture of many detainees and of the government's near-universal dependency upon secret evidence (also likely obtained through ill treatment and torture) which would be impossible to admit in a civilian court.

That the highest proportion of those people were beaten, psychologically assaulted, tortured and otherwise generally mistreated for the specific purpose of expanding the use of the military even further, into Iraq, seems all of a piece with the other evidence revealed to date of the general perfidy of the Bush/Cheney administration, but, one must hang onto these very important points: a) in its entirety, the government, purely for reasons of saving face and avoiding admission of failure, has decided that obtaining justice for the 9/11 attacks is not only impossible, given its militarization of the criminal justice process and its torture of suspects and witnesses alike, but that, b) justice must also be made irrelevant in order to make permanent Bush's "war on terror" and to institutionalize a new existential enemy to replace the Soviet Union.

About this business of "doctrines"....

Ever since Monroe rather presumptuously declared the Western Hemisphere to be off-limits to Europe, we've been in the thrall of broad presidential pronouncements as if they had the weight of international law and the moral force of the Bible as inerrant word of God.

To be sure, some presidents modified those doctrinal pronouncements, but, the general trend--especially post-WWII--is to see them as set in stone. Theodore Roosevelt introduced his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, in which he declared that the U.S. had the right to intervene militarily in the affairs of any Latin American country where the U.S. government determined that U.S. business interests were threatened. Coolidge modified that through the Clark memorandum, saying that the U.S. had no right to intervene except to deter European powers (it's funny that the Clark memorandum was seen as a reversal of the Roosevelt Corollary--since Roosevelt's Corollary was prompted by German threats of intervention in Venezuela at the turn of the century). Franklin Roosevelt adopted the Good Neighbor Policy, supposedly a further repudiation of the Roosevelt Corollary, espousing non-intervention, at pretty much the same time as the rise of tinpot dictators in Latin America whose corruption benefitted U.S. business (Roosevelt's Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, supposedly said of Anastasio Somoza Garcia of Nicaragua, "but, he's a bastard!," to which Roosevelt replied, "yes, but he's our bastard").

Immediately after WWII, the Truman Doctrine, however well-intentioned, became the CIA's raison d'etre, and this, combined with the evolving notion in and out of government that unfettered predatory American capitalism was synonymous with democracy (for which we can principally thank John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen, I think), led to the general neo-conservative belief that anything that was anti-communist was good, and anything that had even a whiff of communism to it--even popular democratic movements that embraced principles of social justice--was bad. It was also convenient that the more rapacious capitalists could point to a Democratic president's doctrine as their justification.

Truman's doctrine thus became the excuse for exceptionally bad behavior by the U.S. around the world. Because they were not communist, even military dictatorships were seen as not only preferable to governments which might restrict U.S. capitalism to protect their local economies, but, were actually seen as desirable to the U.S., since their innate corruption and disrespect for democracy were good for business. As well, because those dictatorships prized power above all else, they could be counted upon to accumulate large national debts which made them malleable to U.S. demands.

From Truman's edict and those perversions of the definition of democracy issued many of the worst actions of the United States--early on, the outside interference in Italy's elections, the coup in Iran, the overthrow of the Arbenz government, the support of miltary dictatorships throughout Latin America, and, hence, the tacit or outright cooperation of the United States in some of the modern world's worst human rights violations--in Chile, in Argentina, in Greece, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere.

The Eisenhower Doctrine was a response to the Suez Crisis (which Eisenhower had backhandedly provoked by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing U.S. aid for a development project Nassar badly wanted), and ended up being validated by Eisenhower sending U.S. troops to Lebanon--in order to protect that government from attacks by indigenous opponents. The Eisenhower Doctrine became, as well, the excuse for Reagan ordering U.S. forces to Lebanon, ostensibly to support the Lebanese government, but, in practical terms, aided in Israel's aggressive occupation of southern Lebanon. The true nature of that endeavor may be part of the reason why Reagan's move ended in disaster.

The Carter Doctrine, in which Carter expressed an unreserved right of the U.S. to use military force to protect the flow of oil to the United States, became the presumption upon which the first Gulf War was constructed by the first Bush administration, as was Reagan's introduction of the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war.

Which brings me around to the Bush Doctrine, and its inherent protestation that the United States has the sovereign right to abrogate ratified treaties and to aggressive war, including the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations, in contravention of all existing international norms, if it even suspects that a nation might, at some indeterminate point in the future, become a threat to "U.S. interests." U.S. interests, as we've seen so often in the past, is simply codespeak for U.S. multinational profit via resource extraction and labor exploitation, so the Bush Doctrine is particularly dangerous to world peace--as the last eight years have more than amply demonstrated.

Which is why it's so damned puzzling that the new President has not formally and firmly disavowed the Bush Doctrine as the malignant aberration of a lawless administration it most assuredly is.

Most presidential doctrines can be traced back to the collective interests of U.S. business, which historically has been notoriously indifferent to human rights and greatly in favor of war profiteering--particularly in the time of the deification of Milton Friedman, whose pronouncement from on high that the only obligation of the corporation is to make profits for its shareholders--so, it seems to me that perpetuation of the Bush Doctrine, even in diffident silence, is a particularly ominous sign that U.S. foreign policy continues to be driven by the notion, wholly manufactured by corporate self-interest, that predatory capitalism is the same as democracy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Almost forgot...

... to sneer at Kit Bond (R-MOron), for this little performance.

You would think that a guy who's a) a Republican, and b) has spent twenty-two years in Washington could remember which party was in control of the House seven years ago.

Moreover, Bond said that it was a "tragedy" that House Speaker Pelosi said that the CIA misled her and others.

No, Mr. Kit, the tragedy is that the CIA (and by CIA, I mean, mostly, the top leadership and the Directorate of Operations) is a bunch of cover-your-ass professional liars. It's pretty much in their job description.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh, yeah, speaking of creeps...

... this one has been way over his fifteen-minute limit for more than five decades.

About the only purpose this sanctimonious phony still serves is verifying that one's gag reflex is still functional.

Just registering my general astonishment...

... over the latest news about the Bushies.

Frank Rich describes the sidebar to the above as "seriously creepy," and that's probably an understatement. It's much worse than Cheney skulking around in the bushes during one of Bush's inane exercises with the press.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why the Dems are so damned petrified at the thought of raising the ire of the "tough on national defense" GOP, when most of the news about those magnificent warriors shows them to be incompetent, dysfunctional, corrupt, inept and, not to forget, morally, legally, psychologically, mentally and emotionally unfit for governance.

Any competent, thorough and reasonably unbiased investigation into Bush's eight-year reign of error would produce a Great Flood of proof that the government in the hands of the modern GOP is analogous to making a present of gasoline and matches to a five-year-old obsessive-compulsive firebug....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just musing on left-wing blogger incivility...

... the sort that Amity Shlaes finds so upsetting....

Does this woman not understand that the last eight years, in particular, not to mention the last thirty, have severely strained the ability of otherwise sensible people to refrain from screaming "BULLSHIT!!!" every time it's forced into their ears?

Does this woman not understand that the wacko right wing in this country doesn't ever "debate" anything--they simply throw out the most insane, outrageous and nonsensical thing that pops into their heads, and the moment one tries to be the sensible, logical liberal who defines terms, lays out the legitimate parameters of the debate, offers a few facts to get the ol' debate ball rolling, they've already dropped trou, shit on the floor and are flinging it with abandon, in large part because they know that's what will get the nearly somnolent political press in this country to pay attention to them.

Beyond that, it's interesting that Shlaes' lead example of incivility is that Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo says Rep. Michele Bachmann's "version of history is from another planet."

Shlaes seems to be just a little too defensive, since Kleefeld is actually being charitable here. His characterization is quite gentle, given that Bachmann's statement was riddled with factual error, was intended to excoriate her political opposition in as fact-free a fashion as possible, and was about as close to mindless shit-flinging as one is likely to see on the floor of the House of Representatives--until the Republicans start running J. Fred Muggs' less-inhibited relatives for office (likely to happen sometime in 2010).

Bachmann, first, blames tariffs for turning a recession into a depression. That's an old hoary tale the wacko bozos use to defend the current economic practice of using so-called "free trade" rules to disproportionately slant trade advantage in favor of U.S. multinationals, and which they pull out of their ass every time anyone points out that the current financial market difficulties have their roots in exactly the same two things that caused the Great Depression: unbridled greed and debt leverage unshackled from any concept of reality. Then, she doesn't even know the name of the tariff law she's talking about, calling it "Hoot-Smalley," instead of Smoot-Hawley, after the bill's two originators. Then, she blames "Hoot-Smalley" on FDR, when Smoot and Hawley were Republicans and the tariff bill was signed into law by Hoover. Finally, as Kleefeld notes, Bachmann's clear intent is to blame Democrats for the Depression (and by implication, to blame Democrats for current problems), even though unemployment, at 25%, was already well into depression-level territory when FDR took office.

So, did Shlaes say that Bachmann was idiotic, ill-informed, mendacious and entirely, brainlessly partisan in her recitation of this alternate history? No. She thinks Kleefeld was exhibiting incivility for pointing it out.

There's only so much stamping of little feets that up is down, white is black, sky is green talk that one can take, and we've had at least three decades of it (more like six), and the Orwellian "war is peace" and "ignorance is strength" and "we were founded as a Christian nation" routines have finally gotten very, very old.

In the long-distant past, the national press at least made the attempt to highlight when being fact-free was, in fact, free of facts. I think that general process started to break down when the wholly stage-managed Reagan Presidency encouraged the national press to think, 'well, it's Reagan, after all, he's a doddering old bag of doody with great makeup, and it's not fair to pick on the afflicted.'

So, when Reagan said something that wasn't on one of his 3x5 cards and indicated that he was, in fact, a doddering old bag of doody, such as "trees cause pollution," or "facts are stupid things," the press was more than willing to give him a pass on it. The operative phrase was "let Reagan be Reagan," as if he were no more influential on governmental affairs than the crazy, groping uncle one tolerated once a year at Thanksgiving dinner because it gave him a night out from the nursing home without any minders around.

As the right-wing Wurlitzer became more and more powerful, and the neo-conservatives burrowed deeper into the policy-making nooks and crannies of government, and the wacko think tanks swamped the press with press releases extolling the virtues of some of the most extreme and radical shit imaginable, the ability of the Washington press to distinguish shit from Shinola just rolled over and died. It actually started protecting Reagan from himself. Even though Reagan and GHW Bush and a healthy chunk of the CIA should have gone to prison, editors began to slowly and slyly push the meme that Reagan was a "popular President" and that it would be destructive--"bad for the country"--to call for his impeachment.

The tendrils from that time extend to the present. Bush and Cheney and their minions spied on millions of Americans indiscriminately, often for political purposes, made the single most concentrated frontal assault on the Bill of Rights in the country's history, instituted a systematic program of torture as a governmental norm in order to generate reasons for aggressive war, presided over widespread corruption in the procurement processes of government, shredded international treaties almost as an afterthought of governance, watched a major American city drown and then turned its aftermath into a series of political photo-ops, started two still-ongoing wars of aggression on the basest, meanest of lies, turned every public appearance of President or VP into a meretricious campaign event, and tried to turn the civil service of government into a campaign tool, in violation of law, then actively encouraged a market bubble that has cost millions upon millions of Americans their jobs, homes, savings and their futures--and then lied through their teeth about every fucking detail of it all. After eight years of utter disaster, Bush couldn't even admit he'd made one clear-cut mistake, and the press just shook its collective head and said, in effect, "let Bush be Bush."

Now that the damage assessments are coming in, who's been a fixture on television and in print journalism? Cheney, the old Torquemada himself, and the press is more than happy to give him a forum to make his case that torture isn't really torture, and even if it were, it was entirely necessary.

And Shlaes thinks that pointing all this out (including that Obama is bending the wrong way on prosecuting these world-class moral cretins) is a mark of incivility.

I have the feeling that a lot of lefty bloggers are feeling like the king who looks out upon his kingdom one day to see that the villagers have been poisoned by something in the well water, are behaving madly, and when he tries to help them see the situation, they scream, "the king is mad, the king is mad!" Then, finally giving up, the king drinks from the well himself and all the people rejoice: "Hooray--the king has regained his sanity!"

Last time I looked, the sky was still blue, and torture and war crimes, even by any other names, are still torture and war crimes. Lies and abject corruption are still what they are, even though saying so plainly is, to the Villagers of Washington, DC, the greatest crime of all, the greatest madness of our age.

It's no wonder that we just throw up our hands in frustration and mutter, "what a bunch of insane fuckin' morons" as frequently as we do. It's a lot closer to the truth than what we've read in print or have seen on tv all these many years....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Greenwald has a good deal to say...

... about Obama's most recent decision to withhold politically embarrassing torture photos two weeks after affirming he would release them. Greenwald's generally correct, especially as regards the general practice of secrecy in government and its reception by the general public. However, it seems to me that Obama's actions, generally, suggest something else at work that may have some import in assessing the modern Presidency.

Oddly, perhaps due to his generally heightened assessment of his own self-importance and overall arrogance, George W. Bush was the most candid President in recent memory about the ways in which war enhanced a president's stature. We all recall his own and the press' references to him as a "war president" and the interminably wrong--and wrong-headed--insistence of the press in referring to him as the "commander-in-chief of the nation," and his own proclamations that he was going to be a war president, which would increase his "political capital" and ensure him a "successful Presidency."

To be sure, that's not the way things turned out. In Bush's case--in large part due to his obstinance and obdurance--war, torture, crony capitalism, environmental decay and a neglect borne of a fierce determination to prove Reagan's maxim that government can't solve people's problems all served to mangle his reputation. While those wounds were largely self-inflicted, Bush was still defining something that presidents believe, but which very likely isn't true, post-WWII.

Bush's linkage of war to "political capital" may well be a holdover notion from the days of FDR. FDR did, indeed, achieve four terms on the strength of his prosecution of his war, but, let's recall a little history after that time. Truman's interposition of U.S. soldiers into the Korean war was highly unpopular, and was one of the factors in the Democrats' loss of the 1952 election. Deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the highly publicized self-immolation of Buddhist monks protesting the Diem regime's policies and the uncertain complicity of the U.S. in the assassination of Diem and his brother all dogged Kennedy's reputation, which, otherwise, enjoyed considerable popularity with the general public. Johnson's stolid determination to widen a war already deemed unwinnable in the secret assessments of the Pentagon was his political undoing. Nixon's further secret expansion of the war into Cambodia eventually prompted some of the largest single-day political protests in the nation's history and confirmed the suspicions of many that Nixon could not be trusted, and generated the first, halting efforts in Congress to end the war in Vietnam.

Reagan's war on Grenada was largely seen as a defensive PR effort after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, and, with his emphasis on defending the island's freedom (and U.S. medical students) from Cuban construction workers, a last gasp from the old cold warrior. Moreover, Grenada did little to shield Reagan from criticism about his initial lies as Iran-Contra unfolded. Had there been any genuine political will in Congress at the time, Reagan (and perhaps Bush's father, as well) would have been impeached.

Bush's father, whom the younger Bush has described as squandering the "political capital" gained by successive wars in Panama (denounced by the UN as an aggressive war) and in the Persian Gulf, nevertheless could not manage reelection in the face of an economic downturn after three years of continuing Reagan's failed economic policies.

Still, the myth of war and "political capital" persists. Clinton was reportedly incensed by Jimmy Carter's peace negotiations with the North Koreans, since he had been planning military action against them, and his use of NATO to bypass the UN in order to involve the U.S. in the former Yugoslavia and in Kosovo was not universally popular. Most importantly, Clinton's support as he left office had much more to do with the general state of the economy at the time than any perceived successes in war.

Which brings me to Obama and his approach to military affairs. It's quite possible that even pro-peace candidates can be caught up and captured by the lure of being seen in the lens of history as a great military leader. The temptation to act out that part--even in the face of overwhelming evidence that success is likely unattainable--may simply be too great. The political weight of the Pentagon within the White House is too often underestimated, and in an increasingly militaristic culture, takes on a stature well beyond its Constitutional limits. The desire of the military--as a matter of institutional pride--to "win" even unwinnable wars is a locomotive without brakes, and if the President is encouraged by the military to don Casey Jone's engineer's cap, he gets to preside over the train wreck.

Recently, on Democracy Now!, Howard Zinn was asked about Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and he replied, in part, by saying:

I was with a taxi driver from Afghanistan, and I always start up a conversation with taxi drivers, because they know more than most news commentators.... But he was from Afghanistan. And I said, “What do you think about Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan?” I didn’t tell him what my position was. He said, “We don’t need troops.” He said, “We need food and medicine.”

We ought to stop thinking that we must have military solutions to the problems that we face in the world. The solutions that we need are the solutions of dealing with sickness and disease and hunger. That’s fundamental. If you want to end terrorism— ...If you want to end terrorism, you have to stop being terrorists, which is what war is.

Ultimately, the myth of military prowess encourages presidents to self-exclude other, perhaps more sensible, voices. Any institution can succumb to the destructive tendencies of groupthink (as the younger Bush's White House more than amply illustrates), and the probability of that happening increases exponentially when a President tends to compartmentalize problems as either military in nature or not, if only because when he decides a problem is principally military in character, he must then depend upon the military for advice--advice which is always colored by the military's institutional pride.

That thinking tends to broaden the power of the military, which likely explains the number of decisions that Obama has made recently which run counter to both his campaign promises and expectations of his behavior once in office. His determination to keep secret torture photos, his continuation of Bush-era policies on state secrets privilege, his failure to address leaks from the Pentagon suggesting that the terms of the drawdown in Iraq may be unilaterally abrogated by the U.S. military, his willingness to adopt the Bush "bad apples have been prosecuted" meme which evades any discussion of widespread and systemic approval of torture in the upper reaches of the Pentagon's civilian and military management, the possibility of his maintaining Bush programs of indefinite detention and a restoration of Bush's military kangaroo courts all suggest that his attitudes on national security are increasingly influenced by self-serving military policy makers, rather than by firm notions of Constitutional propriety and rule of law.

[Late update] On the regular Friday segment of The News Hour's Lame Washington Pundits Pretending to Provide Left and Right Balance, Mark Shields sez:

But he just hasn't established his credentials yet as commander-in-chief. That's all. And I think that's what is a problem, I mean, not that he hasn't -- I agree with you, but the commander-in-chief credentials are important to establish. [my emphasis]

Yup. Right on cue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taibbi on the latest...

... bullshit from the Cheney family and from the GOP, generally, for the past many years....

And speaking of commentary on torture, Jesse Ventura may be a weird, wacko pink feather boa-wearing crazy man, but he was fairly succinct about what he thinks of Cheney's defense of torture:

LARRY KING: What was it [waterboarding] like?

VENTURA: It’s drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you — I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

Ventura, whether he realizes it or not, gets to the heart of the problem. Dick Cheney--and his daughter--can whine until Pluto falls into the sun, but, it was never about protection of the country. It was always about obtaining false confessions to match the lies that Dougie Feith and Donny Rummy and Emperor Palpatine Cheney cooked up.

It was never about anything but that. Take that to the bank, Ms. I-Love-Waterboarding-It's-S0-Refreshing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oh, yeah, one more thing about Yoo's...

... current round of whining (and Cheney's, too). They've been trying to push the meme that getting information on new attacks was crucial--and central to their decision to engage in torture. (Even though they're still holding onto that silly construction "enhanced interrogation techniques," which sounded better in the original German, "verschärfte Vernehmung" ).

We know for certain that hours after the attacks of 9/11, they were trying to link the attacks to Iraq, even though there was no evidence to that end, whatsoever. We know that the torture began well before the administration said it had been initiated, and much more widely than they were willing to admit, but likely after the decision to pin the attacks on Iraq.

From the evidence, it seems much more likely that torture was implemented to obtain false confessions from detainees which confirmed the fantasies being concocted in Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans. The two principal lies were that al-Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots, that Iraq had provided special training in chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda, and second, that Iraq had or was actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons (Kindasleeza Rice's "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud").

Neither of those claims were true. And yet, the administration knew that the claims had mostly come from a single source--the infamous and aptly monikered "Curveball"--and that German intelligence, in particular, had issued a burn notice on the fabricator, saying that the source was thoroughly unreliable. All the pertinent parties in the U.S. government--Tenet at CIA, the Office of Special Plans, the DoD and the White House--knew that they could not make a case for war on that evidence alone, if Congress applied any scrutiny at all.

So, torture began in earnest, not to determine if there were new imminent attacks, but to obtain false confessions which substantiated the lies that were the centerpieces of their casus belli against Iraq. The simple, obvious proof of that is that virtually everything Colin Powell brought to his Feb. 5, 2003, appeal to the UN Security Council was based upon confessions extracted through torture.

After the invasion of Iraq, techniques used at Bagram, various black sites and Guantanamo were transplanted to Abu Ghraib. Why? Because they weren't finding weapons of mass destruction, and they needed false confessions about those imaginary weapons, principally, and about Hussein's associations with al-Qaeda.

The Bush administration propensity to torture was never about keeping the country safe, but, rather, about using any method necessary to prop up the lies it told to justify an aggressive war, a war which Justice Robert Jackson said was "essentially an evil initiate a war of not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

When any of the Bushies start whining that they were only concerned about keeping the country safe, it would be well to treat that claim with a good deal of skepticism, because their war crimes weren't limited to a few cases of waterboarding....

Still Waters Run Deep...

... and only in one direction....

So, John Yoo is using his new column with the Philly Inquirer to chase off his detractors, and to make broad distinctions between conservative empathy and liberal empathy....

So, what's new? Yoo is still a partisan hack, same as always. Anyone, including Yoo himself, who thinks Yoo would have written for a Democratic President the same memos he did for Cheney, et al, creating a Constitutional dictatorship for Bush and ol' Fourth Branch, is just plain nuts.

Being in the OLC was excellent cover for Yoo. He can always wrap himself in the supposed neutrality of that office in order to defend his clearly partisan actions (although there never will be any defense for his one-sided and duplicitous memos on torture), but, no one should be fooled. He's just another conservative hack and shyster lawyer, to boot, and always has been.

I wonder if they have Blackberry service in the cells in the Hague? That way, Yoo can fulfill his contract with the Inquirer after Spain indicts him. After all, the conservative GOP is all about the rule of law. A contract is a contract, y'know.

Monday, May 11, 2009

America, your modern GOP, Part IV....

Pat Buchanan has a conniption about Wanda Sykes' comedic harpooning of the right wing's favorite great white whale, Rush Limbaugh, at the first White House Correspondents' Dinner attended by Obama as President, and Jake Tapper sees blood in the water....

Umm, Jake, let's just define terms. Pat Buchanan is an old, white male Nazi-wannabe whose sell-by date expired in 1974, shortly after his boss, Richard Nixon, abandoned the Presidency before he was frog-marched off to prison. Pat Buchanan was never interesting as a public intellectual, never honest, and never, never, ever considered a public arbiter of what's funny.



Pat Buchanan has all the savoir faire and general good humor of slime mold. He's not funny, nor would he know funny if funny marked his laundry in the Rotunda at noon on Inauguration Day. If the ghost of Tip O'Neill pantsed him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Presidents' Day.

Pat Buchanan is the Official SpokesMAN of Nixon's Long-Dead Silent Majority.

So, why exactly is Jake Tapper's taking PatMan's umbrage national?

Maybe, just maybe, Jake sympathizes with Rushbo. Or, perhaps, he smells controversy, and that, my friends, is good for ratings, hits, and viewers. Or worse, he sympathizes with Buchanan.

The simple truth is that Limbaugh is just another P.T. Barnum. And Buchanan, so much like the old vaudevillian Harry Greener of Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust, thinks that if he can squeeze out just one more bravura performance selling the most caustic of soap, someone will notice and pluck him out of his semi-retirement as pundit and prophet and put him back into the role for which he was born--a failed authoritarian President's speechwriter.

Even MSNBC ought to have noticed that Buchanan's outside chance at reclaiming his former stature has passed him by. George W. Bush is no longer President. What little that is left of Buchanan's future glory has fled to the comfortably wealthy Dallas suburbs with reality snapping at its heels.

Long after these days are gone beyond memory, Wanda Sykes will still be funnier than Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan combined, and Jake Tapper will still be scratching his head, trying to figure out why.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

He Said, She Said....

Jay Rosen has a new post up on the phenomenon at his PressThink blog.

The post and the comments are thoughtful, but, somehow, they don't hit a couple of the underlying problems on the head, to my mind.

The first is the perceived audience of the reporters and the papers engaging in "he said, she said" journalism as a matter of policy. In the example given in Rosen's post, a puff piece in The New York Times on a spat between Hank Greenberg and his former baby, AIG, there's little but the spat itself, and the reporter appears to take no sides, makes no judgments about the historical facts. It's a model of steno journalism. Greenberg denies any culpability for AIG's woes and says the bailout can't work, and AIG says, in effect, "Greenberg doesn't work here any more, and we're doing okay."

Rosen notes that there's nothing to guide the reader on the history, and that it's confusing. So, he asks Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review if this is the best the Times can do. Chittum replies: "This one’s easy: No. The Times’s story offers no analysis and forces readers—95 percent of whom know little or nothing about Greenberg’s tenure at AIG—to try to guess who’s right."

This, broadly, gets at the heart of the problem with "he said, she said" journalism. One can't ascertain any truth from the article itself, and with history ignored, one can't even guess at the truth. But, let's look at this a bit more closely. "...95% of [readers] know little or nothing about Greenberg's tenure at AIG...." If knowing Greenberg's history at AIG is an essential part of the story, and excluding it frustrates 95% of the readers, who is the intended audience for this gossipy little piece by the Times' Edmund L. Andrews?

Greenberg? AIG? A few insiders on Wall Street that have pointed Andrews to this spat because they're friends of Greenberg, or of the current CEO of AIG, Edward Liddy? A hedge fund manager who thinks he can play both sides against the middle by getting this into print? We simply don't know anything except that the story only tells us of a beef between a big multinational company in serious trouble and its former CEO. Does the story matter to the ordinary person whose 401(k) has been shredded? Does it provide any real information that would cause the good-citizen reader to call or write his Congress critter, asking for an investigation or corrective legislation? Because the story is informative in a way that's sensical to a very few, what's its real purpose?

This certainly gets to the question of audience and circulation. Reporting what the insiders say is of little use to the general public if the reporting is either slanted to what only the insiders understand or has no general public interest. Do that on every page of the newspaper, month after month, year in and year out, and people are going to think that their subscriptions just aren't worth the money.

Walter Pincus very recently wrote an interesting article on the future of newspapers, and while some of it was CYA for Pincus and The Washington Post, he made one point worth considering--media consolidation has reduced most cities to one newspaper, usually one morning edition, and that contributes to the "he said, she said" phony balance in reporting. Competing papers were often started, he wrote, because particular partisans weren't seeing their views in print. When those voices were subsumed by market forces, the editorial stance of the remaining single paper sought to achieve balance by including all points of view. (This doesn't exactly explain why The Washington Post has been such a stalwart stenographer of government while in competition with The Washington Times. Perhaps it doesn't view that paper as any competition at all.)

Which brings up the latter point. Rosen's article makes mention of time pressures to produce--that deadlines often make it necessary to forgo research necessary to divine at least a little truth--but that seems too easy an excuse, when one considers that papers drive public opinion in ways that papers love to downplay when they drop the ball, and love to play up when the time for nominations for Pulitzers come around. One of the examples that will be forever etched in my mind is the "Nurse Nayirah" testimony to the late Tom Lantos' Congressional committee, in which the "nurse" made the inflammatory claim that she had witnessed invading Iraqi soldiers dump three hundred newborns on the floor in order to steal their incubators and send them to Iraq.

Thanks to the efforts of Kuwait's PR firm, Hill & Knowlton, this "testimony" (I put that word in quotes because the young lady in question was never sworn) was widely distributed, in the news and in government circles as just one example of Hussein's inhuman perfidy. George Bush the First quickly incorporated it into his pep talks promoting war, even working up a few choked-back tears whenever he mentioned the subject (which was in every fucking speech). Because of that effort, the "testimony" was highly successful. As Rick MacArthur made abundantly clear in his recounting of the propaganda effort surrounding the first Gulf War, Second Front, not only was the entire story an intentional, fabricated lie, it was done so as to sway public opinion toward a war that the American public perceived as a beef between Arab states, and more importantly, it was meant to sway Congress to approve Bush's mendaciously contrived war. And, as MacArthur reports, it had the desired effect. The vote in the Senate in favor of American entry to that war was very close--52-47--and seven Senators said to the press or on the floor of the Senate that the "testimony" was influential in determining their vote for war.

The point here is that the "testimony" occurred in October, 1990. The Senate vote occurred on Jan. 12, 1991, almost three full months later. Not one reporter in all that time fact-checked the testimony or the credentials of "Nurse Nariyah." The "nurse" turned out to be the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to the U.S., who had been in Washington at the time of the invasion, not in Kuwait. Not one reporter followed up on this completely phony fabrication. In part because of press acceptance of this big lie, even Amnesty International got snookered and was forced to retract a report which included this whopper.

So, it wasn't a matter of not enough time to divine the truth. There was no interest on the part of the press to even check simple facts, when stumping for war would sell more papers. The long-term results of press incuriosity in 1990 have been devastating to this country, the Mideast and Central Asia. Had the press revealed the "Nurse Nayirah" story to be the complete fabrication it was, the vote for war in the Senate might have been the opposite of what it was, Bush the First might well have been forced by the Saudis to remove American soldiers from what Osama bin Laden and many other Muslims considered the holiest of lands, thus removing bin Laden's primary motive for attacks on the U.S., including those on 9/11, and making the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq much less likely. Half a million Iraqis would not have died from the after-effects of U.S. destruction of essential infrastructure such as water-treatment, sewage and electrical plants, and millions more would not be dead or displaced from their homes due to the second Gulf War. Thousands of U.S. military families would not now be shattered by war-associated deaths of loved ones, also mounded up on top of a panoply of unchallenged and undissected lies.

I.F. "Izzy" Stone, the legendary newsletter publisher, said, "all governments lie." More than anything else, that is what the newspaper publishing industry has forgotten--or actively sought to ignore--in the last thirty years or so.

There are consequences, sometimes exceedingly grave ones, for failing to maintain a healthy skepticism and distrust of government, and never more so than when the "free press," which guides so much of opinion in this country, cannot find the time nor the energy nor the will to find even the small truths which have the power to expose the big lies.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Different Sort of Body Count....

Thanks to the Vietnam war, we now have the rather inglorious term, "body count," in the lexicon of human suffering.

For those few unfamiliar with the concept, the body count was the almost daily summation by the military in that war of the number of enemy killed, which was intended by our military to provide some hard numerical indication of progress in a war that defied all traditional means of assessing progress.

Some have blamed the practice on Robert McNamara's obsession with measurable, quantifiable numbers to predict outcomes and manage that war. This might be true to a degree--McNamara's obsessions with what Donald Rumsfeld would lightheartedly call "the metrics" was well-known in government, so it would seem at least plausible that his attitudes and methods would spread virally through the Pentagon.

Of greater likelihood is that the military commanders in that war were simply floundering around for something, anything, with which to convince themselves that they were winning. After all, brute force had won in WWII, why wasn't it working in Vietnam? So, numbers were like a salve them. One didn't have to focus on the fact that they just kept coming at you, no matter how many of them you killed, if you could report--with a straight face--that you'd killed more of them yesterday than the day before. And, if you killed more of them than they killed of yours, that somehow made the growing number of your own dead somehow more tolerable. It sounded like progress, even if it really wasn't.

From WWII onward, mass civilian casualties and deaths became SOP, and it's since been commonly accepted that in many large-scale attacks on the enemy, the ratio of civilian to military deaths would approach or exceed 9:1 or 10:1. In Vietnam, civilians were often lumped in with the insurgents and regular NVA to inflate the body count (with the corollary effect of depressing counts of civilian deaths). No one was really fooled by such accounting gyrations--turning large sectors of the countryside into free-fire zones and making saturation bombing from the air a general policy inevitably meant killing many more civilians.

"Smart" weapons were supposed to change that, and were advertised as such. Their "precision" would greatly diminish civilian deaths, would make warfare "cleaner" and "more efficient." The first Gulf war introduced the American public to their use, and the military hyped them relentlessly, even when they didn't work, or they hit something that had no military value because of faulty intelligence, or their after-effects continued to kill or injure civilians long after the attack had ceased.

What happened because of that hype? The public, understandably, believed the military. They actually expected civilians to be spared the direct and indirect suffering which war inevitably brings. The "video-game" presentation of that war also removed the public an additional step from the reality that civilians are disproportionately affected by war. Seeing a fuzzy infrared image recorded on videotape of a target being obliterated from a distance invites unquestioning belief when the soldier/narrator affirms that the target (i.e., the enemy) has been destroyed.

In our current wars, however, distinguishing civilian from armed enemy is as difficult as it was in Vietnam, and the intelligence necessary to define the right target is just as ephemeral and lacking in precision as it was in Vietnam. So, civilians are getting killed in larger numbers than the military would like to admit. Quite predictably, this has given rise to a new wrinkle on the military body count--the artificially-adjusted civilian body count.

When a wedding party behaves as many do in the rural Mideast and Central Asia, and consummate the ceremony by parading outside with automatic weapons, firing into the sky, often enough to be embarrassing, the nearby U.S. military senses threat and orders a few bombs to be dropped on the threat. Result? Dead civilians. When reporters on the ground count up the bodies and body parts, take pictures, visit the morgues, interview the relatives, the numbers generally agree. Different press reports often concur about the damage done.

However, whose estimates are consistently lower? The U.S. military's. This past week's bombing attack on the Afghan villages of Gerani, Gangabad and Koujaha, in Farah province, is a case in point. The UK Independent reports 147 civilians dead in a prolonged bombing attack, an action which prompted riots in the provincial capital. The U.S. military's response? That "those numbers are extremely over-exaggerated." Even Robert Gates implies the same. U.S. military investigators are also implying that the Taliban is actually responsible for the damage through the use of grenades, even though there are clearly large bomb craters in the villages.

When is the military going to realize that prevarications about civilian deaths doesn't win hearts and minds? The people on the ground, on the receiving end, may be scared, may exaggerate somewhat for emphasis to the press, but, bomb craters and smashed houses and broken bodies simply don't appear from nowhere. When the U.S. military claims only fifty dead, it means they don't have a friggin' clue: there are still--at least--fifty civilians dead for no good reason. Lying about the numbers and then, effectively, calling the victims liars, is a sure fire way not to win hearts and minds....

But, hey, it sure helps the metrics....

Thursday, May 07, 2009

America, meet your modern GOP... Part III....

In a radio interview in North Dakota, Cheney has most recently uttered the following, according to CNN:

"You know, when you add all those things up, the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy," Cheney also said. "I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most of us aren’t. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren’t eager to have someone come along and say, 'Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.'"

So, the vice-war criminal-in-chief says that "Republicans have a pretty good idea of values...."

Since this moral cretin says, yet again, in the same interview that torture is just fine just because, one can only conclude one of two things (since, after all, Cheney is a principal spokesman for Republicans)--either Republicans have a pretty good idea of what common values are, but they just don't give a fuck about `em, or the values specific to Republicans are, indeed, as perverted as many of us have suspected all these many years.

As well, I don't think anyone is saying that Republicans have to be more like Democrats. Mostly, I think, the electorate--via the last election--was telling the Republicans to rejoin civilized society. Cheney seems to be adamant in believing that doing such would be a failure of will.

I wish I could be snarky about this, but, really, what I most want is to see this vile, reprehensible little pimp of a man in the dock at the Hague with all his henchmen.

In no small part just to hear the current GOP--that loony bin of execrable, self-deluded moral relativists--complain bitterly about the lack of justice and the failure of the rule of law because they got caught committing a bushel basket of war crimes.

¡Viva España!

America, meet your modern GOP... Part II....

I was going to ignore this--because from the very start, it was just flaming stupid.

But, this bozo has generated the greatest fast-food faux scandal since John Kerry refused to have that odious shit called Cheez Whiz on his Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

I was going to ignore it, but, I see that this anal retentive legal eagle has now extended his original inanity to ten updates.

To recap, Obama went out for a burger with Biden, and, quelle horreur!, asked for a spicy mustard or a Dijon on his, and this painfully rectal legal genius finds that MSNBC's not loudly recording Obama's request for posterity is the greatest conspiracy since the Grassy Knoll.

Now, one wonders if this guy is a major stockholder in French's Foods, or if he's just got a thing for yellow mustard. More likely, though, is that he's a strong proponent of the GOP's Americanism principle: if we say it's anti-American, you can take it to the bank.

You see, it's very important for the right-wing loonies to see all people that are not right-wing loonies as anti-American, so, just like Tailgunner Joe McCarthy, they're always on the lookout for evidence of anti-American behavior, such as violating culinary tradition.

Like Mexican food? You're in favor of illegal immigration.

Like Chinese food? You're a closet Maoist.

Like French cuisine? You're a cheese-eating surrender monkey.

Like Thai food? You're a... hold on, what the fuck is that? Hey, that's like Vietnamese food, ain't it? Commie!

But, above all, not eating "traditional" food is indicative of multicultural awareness, and, mortal sin of sins, suggests a strong tendency toward that commie evil, "diversity." If you hadn't slept through Cultural Anthropology 101 at Archie Bunker University (not an accredited institution), you would know that... just like William A. Jacobson does.

Word to the wise administrator at Cornell U.: Give this man tenure. At least, that way, we know where he is at all times.

America, meet your modern GOP....

TPM dug up the transcripts of Jeff Sessions' hearing for a district court judgeship back in 1986, and the excerpts, so far, have been real howlers, including one that defies explication. One of Sessions' staffers in his US Attorney's office testified that "during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he 'used to think they [the Klan] were OK' until he found out some of them were 'pot smokers.'"

In the midst of a murder investigation?

One wonders if, had the KKK gone on a murderous rampage under the influence of Jim Beam, would Sessions have thought there were mitigating circumstances? Doesn't Sessions understand that the pot-smoking contingent of the KKK would be the one least likely to be out bludgeoning and shooting the uppity ones for fun?

Oh, wait a minute... suddenly, I see the logic....