Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sufjan Stevens - "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."

"Music Video using educational films from the 50s and anonymous family footage. Dir: Claire Carré." In honor of the upcoming Halloween, here's a haunting song. It's from Sufjan Stevens' 2005 album Illinois, which is extremely varied and creative (and the rest isn't as dark as this song).

Eclectic Jukebox

Monday, October 26, 2009

I Cannot Tell You What Being Pro-Life Entails

Chris Matthews has his moments:

Far right politicians and activists are often extremely dishonest about their views and goals. I'll never forget a C&L thread where some Ron Paul groupie started by saying that Paul didn't want to outlaw abortion; he just wanted to return the decision to the states. That's a problematic position as it is - states shouldn't get to remove essential rights - but the same commenter was calling a pro-choice, female C&L regular a baby-killer not long after that. The "states" argument was just a (rather transparent) tactic to outlaw abortion. Michael Long is more composed, but I don't think he's much different.

Long will shill a slogan but doesn't want to explain his actual policies, and certainly not their consequences. It's idiotic or dishonest to claim that making abortion illegal would actually cease it. It would just mean that women would once again die in unsafe, back alley abortions, as they currently do in some other countries where abortion is illegal. I have never seen any anti-choice person ever acknowledge that, let alone state the moral stance necessitated by their goal: "women dying due to unsafe abortions is a necessary cost for outlawing abortion." Members of the pro-life movement simply haven't thought that much about it. Similarly, Meghan McCain has described herself as pro-life, but has also said it's for a woman to choose. She's pro-choice and apparently doesn't even know it. Nor is she alone in that. Many "pro-choice" people fail to distinguish between their personal stance ("I personally would not have an abortion") and what the're imposing on others ("No one should be allowed to have that choice."). I've seen anti-choice zealots accuse pro-choice people of celebrating abortions and hating babies - even though plenty of pro-choice people have families. The fundamental disconnects are stunning, but then, in general social conservatives are not reflective people. The push to outlaw abortion has never made much sense outside of a greater agenda of social control, especially of women. About the only thing the anti-choice crowd has to offer on the abortion issue is disdain. Theirs is a consequence-free morality that offers them a feeling of righteousness, but nothing to those they would control. As it's often been observed, their "commitment to life" ends at birth.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Maha in Trouble

Maha (Barbara O'Brien), a very sharp blogger, is stuck in a tough situation and in danger of losing her home. Any help would be appreciated.

Singing Protest by Billionaires for Wealthcare

I've seen this several places. Billionaires for Wealthcare got creative in raising issues at a America's Health Insurance Plan (AHIP) conference:

From Sam Stein's piece on the event:

Republican pollster Bill McInturff was the keynote speaker on the final day of the America's Health Insurance Plans's state issues conference on Friday morning.

But his speech on how the health care reform debate was playing among the public was interrupted before it even began. A group of protesters began aggressively cheering McInturff for the work he has done for AHIP (he's a hired pollster for the private insurance lobby and, most infamously, was the force behind the 'Harry and Louise' ads in 1994)

McInturff, initially thinking that the cheering was legitimate, thanked the "AHIP officials" in the back of the room for giving him mental encouragement for his speech. He was not being paid for his appearance, he noted...

McInturff, who remarked earlier that he didn't have a joke to lead off with, pointed to the exiting protesters and said "there's my joke." But while his speech had been interrupted, the pollster actually admitted to being mildly impressed.

Stein also has the full lyrics. From the group's site, here's Rachel Maddow's coverage of the event:

This stunt gets major style points - all the more so because of the positive reactions from those not in on the gag. Most conferences get pretty dull, and this group performed very well. Watch out, corporate stooges! Guerilla theater is coming after ya!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

The LA Phil has a new conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, and PBS just ran a "Great Performances" featuring the inaugural concert. I enjoyed it. Over at the PBS page for this event, you can:

Watch part of Dudamel’s inaugural concert online! Here on the Great Performances Web site, watch an abridged version of the program that premiered on October 21, 2009, featuring the last movement from John Adams’ City Noir, “Boulevard Night,” and the first movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, “Langsam. Schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut,” as well as all the accompanying interviews with Dudamel and Adams. To see the full program, check your local listings for encore broadcasts or buy the DVD...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Health Care Track Meet

This is a very clever spot by MoveOn featuring Heather Graham. It comes via BAGnewsNotes, where you'll find some other thoughts.

First They Came For the Racists...

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for racism. Let's take a look, shall we?

Most of the World Consists of White Conservatives

As noted by Sadly, No and many other blogs, after Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, Erick Erickson of Red State said:

I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news. There is no way Barack Obama earned it in the nominations period.

Erickson doesn't seem to consider that the voting might have occurred after the nominations were submitted, say, fairly recently? (I don't think Obama deserves it myself, but it's hardly his fault he was named.) Erickson also seems unaware that many recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have not been white. In fact, probably the most famous American recipient was not white. Were they all "affirmative action" picks? The far right Erickson adores Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, claims that liberals hate America and love terrorists, and hates unions so much he tried to abolish his local police force. Erickson just doesn't seem to get that most people on the planet – certainly not Europeans – do not view the world the same way as he does. They do not make decisions with much consideration of the bitter, spiteful, juvenile, narcissistic grievances of American movement conservatives.

But Your Children Will Have to Deal with Bigots Like Me

This story has become pretty infamous now (I first read it via Digby).

Civil rights advocates in eastern Louisiana are calling for a justice of the peace of Tangipahoa Parish to resign after he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple.

“He’s an elected public official and one of his duties is to marry people, he doesn’t have the right to say he doesn’t believe in it,” said Patricia Morris, president of the NAACP branch of Tangipahoa Parish, located near the Mississippi line. “If he doesn’t do what his position call for him to do, he should resign from that position.”

The demands for Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish’s 8th Ward, to step down came after he wouldn’t issue a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, 30, and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond.

Bardwell and the couple didn’t immediately return calls from CNN Thursday. However, Bardwell told the Hammond’s Daily Star that he was concerned for the children who may be born of the relationship and that, in his experience, most interracial marriages don’t last.

“I’m not a racist,” Bardwell told the newspaper. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”

My first reaction was - Wow. In 2009?

Even if he were sincere - which I don't think it is - why the fuck does he not get that he does not get to make this decision for other people? It's not just racist, it's staggeringly arrogant.

C&L has the video of an interview with the man. He doesn't get what the fuss is about. As despicable as this incident was, some of the quips, from sources including the White House (hmm, who's successful and biracial there?), have been pretty satisfying.

Infringing on My Constitutional Right to Own an NFL Team

Rush Limbaugh's partners have dropped him from their group vying to buy the St. Louis Rams because of widespread opposition by NFL players and some NFL owners. Some early stories (and more recent pieces) soft-pedaled Limbaugh's racism. I remember reading this ESPN piece and thinking, Howard Kurtz and the MSM will pretend Limbaugh isn't racist, but NFL players know and aren't afraid to say so. It also reminded me of a sharp observation from commenter gorgias to an old post:

You are absolutely correct to contrast the quality of sports journalism with the quality of political journalism. Rush Limbaugh lasted all of three months as a sportscaster before getting tossed for his comments about Donavan McNabb. He must have been completely shocked because his comments about McNabb were the equivalent of the fact-free nonsense he spews about anyone else he doesn't like. Yet he got canned not just because the comments were "politically incorrect" but because they were factually incorrect and demonstrably stupid. In his political world where he is so successful, demonstrable stupidity is not only acceptable, it's considered a virtue.

This is exactly right. Most football fans didn't need to be told that Limbaugh's comments on McNabb were full of crap. Similarly, Keith Olbermann has pointed out that (good) sports journalists expect to be spun by coaches and flacks, and don't settle for it. It's a bit sad in a way, but sports fans demand a higher standard from sports reporters and coaches than most citizens do from political reporters and policitians.

However, let's not ignore that Limbaugh is racist, and that's been obvious for a long time to pretty much anyone who's listened to him over the years. Media Matters has compiled a superb list, and Adam Serwer has an excellent post on that, and the GOP's relationship with minorities.

Limbaugh wrote an op-ed about the experience in friendly territory, the Wall Street Journal. As several people noted, it was ironic to hear Limbaugh whine about being persecuted because the free market system he champions spoke out against – Rush Limbaugh. The NFL didn't ban Limbaugh; his partners chose to drop him, and wisely so. Skippy has a pretty good overview of the op-ed, and TBogg highlights a key omission.

Oh, and true to form, supposedly objective right-wing shill Howard Kurtz ignored Limbaugh's racism and tried to turn things on critics of the right-wing, as he so often does.

Racism Analogy Fail

TBogg also catches this classic from Star Parker:

DeMaurice Smith, NFL Players Association chief, urged the league to nix Rush Limbaugh’s participation in a consortium to buy the St Louis Rams.

Buying Al Sharpton’s hype that Limbaugh is a racist, Smith whined that football is at its best “when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred.”

But who are the discriminators and haters here?

Sharpton blocked Limbaugh like Governor Orval Faubus tried to block black children from entering Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.

Wow. As TBogg quips:

Yes. Keeping Rush Limbaugh from joining a bunch of rich white men attempting to buy their way into a fairly exclusive club made up of other rich white men is just like calling out the National Guard to keep black children from going to school with white children.

I'd Stab You Again, but It's Nothing Personal

Another favorite of mine comes via Thers, who passes on this gem from conservative Rick Moran:

No, Limbaugh is no racist... He’s a racial provocateur.

How is this any better? It reminds me of the people who claim Reagan wasn't personally racist, or that George W. Bush during his presidency wasn't personally homophobic. On the one hand, who the hell cares? If they pushed policies that were discriminatory or bigoted, does their motivation really matter?

On the other hand, doesn't their "personal" lack of bigotry make things even worse? That means they were cynically stoking hatred and fear for political gain. Reportedly, Karl Rove's stepfather, who raised him and with whom he was quite close, was gay, but this did not prevent Rove from exploiting homophobia in the 2004 election. If he, Reagan and Bush all knew better in their fear-mongering, I don't see how this exonerates them. That only makes sense in the shallow, jaded Beltway morality, where screwing over the rubes is always fine but pursuing members of the higher classes is unthinkable. Shockingly, many other moral codes hold that deliberately inflicting harm on others for personal gain is evil.

Opposing Racism Makes You Just Like the Nazis

Still, my favorite of all the Limbaugh defenses is this instant classic from Red State, linked at Balloon Juice and many other places (keep back-tracking through the Balloon Juice links for other fine examples). This one actually made me laugh out loud. For posterity:

Tonight… We Are All Rush Limbaugh
Posted by tsquare

Earlier this evening, as most of you now know, one of our own, Rush Hudson Limbaugh, while taking withering fire, crashed and burned.

Tonight, Rush is no longer ‘just’ a radio personality.

Tonight, Rush is no longer ‘just’ a NFL owner denied

Tonight, Rush is us. And we are him.

Tonight Rush became the metaphor for all of us… every man woman and child in this great nation of ours.

The enemy of this great nation, the enemy of you and me, Rush’s enemy… those on the left, inside and outside of this nation abhor success… and when faced with it will destroy it… by any and all means possible.

We all have our dreams in life… such as they might be. Rush dreamed of being an owner in the NFL.

Tonight the left proved that they will stop at nothing to end our dreams. Our dreams of success and happiness devastate their need to dominate and control you and me… and well everything and everyone.

Chrysler bondholders

GM dealers

Bankers and stockbrokers

Small business owners

Medical Doctors

Oppressed people wanting freedom around the world

The left can not and will not allow anyone to realize their dreams

Tonight a light went out… a dream died… it died from political correctness

Tonight we are under withering fire, we on the right those in the middle,

Tonight our values are under withering fire, those thoughts ideas and dreams that made this great nation are under withering fire

Will your light of your dreams be next?

Will my dreams be next?

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;_Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;_Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;_Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;_Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Tonight… We Are All Rush Limbaugh

This is even better than Star Parker's hilariously ironic and inept analogy. Seriously, the Onion could not have done it better. Limbaugh is a racist. He has a right to speak his opinions, but NFL players and owners, the free market, and Limbaugh's partners also have a right to speak, and they did. Limbaugh is a vile man, not a Nazi. But he sure as hell ain't persecuted or a victim, either. Invoking Niemöller's warning about hateful, authoritarian bigots - in defense of a hateful, authoritarian bigot - is a keeper for the ages.

First they came for the racists...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Equality in Maine

This is easily the coolest damn thing I've seen today. I lived in Maine for a few years, and while New England certainly has its busybodies, there's also a strong live-and-let-live contingent. This comes via DougJ at Balloon Juice, who writes, "Why does this hippie want to undermine the sanctity of marriage?"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Franken Takes on Halliburton Rape

Earlier this month, Al Franken introduced his "Defense Contractor Mandatory Arbitration Amendment." Here's the video, and his prepared remarks from Franken's website:

Remarks on Defense Contractor Mandatory Arbitration Amendment

Mr. President, the amendment I offer today is inspired by the courageous story of a young woman who has dedicated four years of her life to make sure no other woman lives through her nightmare.

Four years ago, at the age of 19, Ms. Jamie Leigh Jones signed a contract to become an employee of KBR, then a Halliburton subsidiary. That contract contained a clause which required her to arbitrate any future dispute against her employer. This means it forced her to give up her right to seek redress in court if she was wronged. At the time, Ms. Jones had no idea what implications this seemingly innocuous, fine-print clause would have.

Ms. Jones arrived in Iraq in July of 2005. Immediately, she complained to supervisors about the hostile conditions imposed by KBR—she was constantly being harassed by her male colleagues, and was housed in barracks with 400 men and only a few women. Her pleas for safer housing were ignored. Four days after her arrival, Ms. Jones was drugged and gang raped. She requested medical attention, and a doctor administered a rape kit. Parts of that rape kit have since mysteriously disappeared. After Ms. Jones reported the rape to her supervisors, she was locked in a shipping container with an armed guard and prohibited from any contact with the outside world. They locked her in a container?!? It was only after she convinced one of the guards to lend her a cell phone that she was able to talk to her father, who enlisted the help of Representative Ted Poe, a Republican congressman from Texas, to arrange for her safe return to the United States.

But, Ms. Jones’ horrific plight did not end there. Having survived this ordeal, most of us would expect that she would have her day in court to seek justice for the actions and inactions of her employer. Instead, KBR sought to enforce the arbitration clause in Ms. Jones’ contract, and tried to force her into arbitration. So, over the past three years, Ms. Jones has been fighting for her right just to bring a lawsuit. And KBR has been fighting her every step along the way. This is simply too long for a rape victim to wait, just to have her day in court.

The only thing more outrageous than KBR’s actions here is that Ms. Jones’ story is not isolated. Since Ms. Jones courageously shared her story, many more women have come out of the shadows, saying the same thing happened to them. And yes, some of these women are still waiting for their day in court, too. Others were forced into arbitration, and their outcome remains secret due to the non-disclosure clauses in the arbitration agreement.

Arbitration has its place in our justice system. For two companies haggling over the price of goods, arbitration is an efficient forum, and the arbitrator will undoubtedly have the appropriate expertise. The privacy that arbitration offers can protect their proprietary business information. But arbitration has its limits. Arbitration is conducted behind closed doors, and doesn’t bring persistent, recurring and egregious problems to the attention of the public. Arbitration doesn’t ever allow you a jury of your peers. Arbitration doesn’t establish important precedent that can be used in later causes. Many of our nation’s most cherished civil rights were established by individuals bringing claims in court, the court ruling in their favor, and then extending the protection of those rights to anyone in a similar situation. Arbitration does have its place in our system, but handling claims of sexual assault and egregious violations of civil rights is not its place.

Ms. Jones won a small but important victory just a few weeks ago. The conservative Fifth Circuit Court, encompassing Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, ruled that most of Ms. Jones’ claims do not belong in arbitration, and she is entitled to her day in court. The Fifth Circuit ruled that even when you sign an employment contract requiring arbitration, there are some rights to sue your employer that just can’t be signed away. These include assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision. But the Fifth Circuit’s ruling only applies in the Fifth’s Circuit’s jurisdiction, so it’s not settled law throughout the United States. Who can say what might happen to claims filed in other circuits? My amendment seeks to extend much of the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning to government contractors who continually subject workers to these so called “mandatory arbitration” clauses. The government shouldn’t be doing business with defense contractors like KBR as long as they continue this practice.

The amendment I’m offering today seeks to narrowly target the most egregious violations. The amendment applies to defense contracts, many of which are administered abroad, where women are the most vulnerable and least likely to have support resources. The amendment will apply to many contractors that have already demonstrated their incompetence in efficiently carrying out defense contracts, and have further demonstrated their unwillingness and their inability to protect women from sexual assault.

This seems pretty clear-cut. Here's some footage of Franken in action during a hearing on this matter (via Blue Gal):

Again, pretty clear-cut. Arbitration has its place, but also its limitations, which are painfully apparent here. Jamie Leigh Jones' treatment was horrific, and sounds like some nightmare scenario devised for a TV crime show. She should never have been put in that situation in the first place. She certainly shouldn't have been confined afterwards, and Halliburton/KBR should have punished the perpetrators and made amends to Jones, rather than using legal obstruction against her to prevent justice.

Jones has been gutsy to keep pursuing this. And Franken is doing exactly what an elected official should be doing – correcting a gross abuse of power by a mighty entity against a citizen. He gives a damn. And he sticks up for Jones, who's clearly grateful, and later said, "It means the world to me... It means that every tear shed to go public and repeat my story over and over again to make a difference for other women was worth it."

Back when he was on Air America, Franken would often bring up the Truman Committee, and how Truman went after war profiteers during WWII. When Joe Lieberman was a guest, Franken pressed him on why he wasn't doing the same thing, since Lieberman at that point (after the 2006 midterms) had oversight. Lieberman dodged the question, and (unless I missed it), didn't come back as a guest. So Franken has shown a consistent interest in fighting corruption in general. Still, allowing rape of employees is about as bad as it gets (along with contracting torture).

C&L and Think Progress have more, and this Balloon Juice thread has some legal discussion. However, I thought Franken addressed the procedural issues quite well, and all the female Republican senators voted for Franken's amendment. The only people to oppose it were Republican men. I really can't see any honorable, principled stance in opposing it after listening to Jeff Sessions' arguments and seeing the double standard practiced by the amendment's opponents. As usual, The Daily Show captures the full absurdity:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

CNN Leaves It There

I imagine most readers of liberal blogs have seen this already, but if you haven't, here's one of The Daily Show's best segments on a typical failing in the mainstream media. Fact-checking? What's that? (Most people following health care as an issue would know, roughly, the population of the United States and the number of people who are uninsured. Why don't paid journalists know this, and point it out?)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Play Senate Finance Committee

This swell game was made by Doctor Zaius and Derek the Jerk. You can play a larger version over at Zaius Nation, and also pass on your compliments.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rodrigo y Gabriela - "Buster Voodoo"

This is from their new album. They're fantastic live.

Eclectic Jukebox

Blogger Aid

Maggie Jochild of Group News Blog and Meta Watershed is in the hospital for major abdominal surgery. Any donations, and all best wishes, would be appreciated. Thanks.

Update 10/17/09: The surgery went well, and Maggie is in good spirits. Great to hear.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Memo From the Dark Side

"Jack, you want to prosecute a member of the Bush administration for assaulting suspected terrorists?"

"The word is 'torturing.' And yes — it's about time somebody did."

Law and Order's season premiere a few weeks back, "Memo From the Dark Side," deals with the torture authorized by the Bush administration. I thought it was pretty impressive overall, with some powerful moments.

Scott Horton has a good "six questions" interview with the show's excutive producer and head writer, René Balcer. If you haven't seen the episode yet, the interview doesn't give too much away. This was probably my favorite interchange, about one of my favorite moments in the show:

4. In one of the most dramatic courtroom moments, you have a defense lawyer confront an interrogation expert with the famous “ticking bomb” scenario, who answers it quite simply. Are we hearing Ali Soufan combined with Matthew Alexander?

You heard what I’ve been hearing for years from a variety of professional interrogators—torture, physical abuse, and mental abuse don’t yield reliable information. I’ve been interested in the subject of interrogations for many years, principally because of my friendship with the noted forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, who has used with consistent success an empathic approach to elicit admissions and information from the most depraved and recalcitrant offenders. Putting aside for a moment whether torture is legal or ethical or consistent with our values, if we are interested in a results-based strategy to gain actionable information, the overwhelming evidence—including the recent Trinity College neuroscience study—seems to indicate that torture isn’t the way to go.

Among the guest stars, David Alan Basche was particularly effective as Kevin Franklin, a John Yoo-like figure (but much smarter and slicker).

The show does allow - or push - one unfortunate conflation. It deals with events at Abu Ghraib, yet D.A. Michael Cutter (Linus Roache, pictured above) mentions the World Trade Center and 9/11 in a conversation with Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) about vengeance. While one can only do so much in scripted TV, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 - that was a lie and deceptive implication used by the Bush administration to sell their unnecessary Iraq War. (Alan Shore in Boston Legal would have pointed this out in court, but they're different shows.) Still, "Memo from the Dark Side" was an impressive piece of work overall, gutsy, memorable and commendable.

I'm dismayed, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, to see some comment boards decrying the episode as unpatriotic. Torture is illegal. The real events behind the episode are pretty dramatic. It's a natural for the show, and they handled the issue pretty responsibly. Law and Order actually went to lengths to try to make the episode "balanced," with a few people accusing McCoy of being a traitor and Cutter conflicted about his role in the trial. Remember when opposing torture was not attacked as a "liberal" issue?

The fact is that many law and order conservatives oppose torture as well, and did so in the Bush administration, but they were overruled, bypassed, lied to, ignored or punished. It's not surprising that military personnel would oppose torture, especially if they know how it was used against American troops in WWII and Vietnam. I understand members of the general public being confused or conflicted by horrible coverage of the issue. But I just don't think any sane, honest, honorable person who studies the subject in any depth can support torture.

Anthony Romero of the ACLU and Glenn Greenwald have more on the episode.

Unfortunately, you need to pay to see the episode online (Scott Horton provies the links for that). It's worth recording it the next time it airs.

The site All Things Law and Order has a very detailed recap, if you want to read about it in the meantime. The comments include a transcription of one exchange, and All Things Law and Order has also put together these clips:

As Romero says in his piece:

Toward the end of the episode, the assistant D.A. declares, "[I]t is not disloyal to hold our officials to the highest standards of conduct."

Indeed. In fact, it is the epitome of loyalty and patriotism to do so. Now the question is, in real life, will Attorney General Holder rise to the occasion?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

America Doesn't Care About Your Feelings

This is a few days old, but well worth checking out if you missed it. Grayson is spot on.

C&L has a transcript.

Update: Jill has more Grayson goodness.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Baaba Maal - "Television"

Here's his recent live session at KCRW.

Eclectic Jukebox

Torture Watch 10/8/09

There are several important pieces on torture from that past month or two that I haven't featured yet, so here they are.

While The New York Times news desk has been gutless in covering torture, often refusing to use the word or pretending that defining torture is some great mystery, its editorial board has been fantastic.

From 9/2/09, the short and superb "Dick Cheney’s Version":

After the C.I.A. inspector general’s report on prisoner interrogation was released last week, former Vice President Dick Cheney settled into his usual seat on Fox News to express his outrage — not at the illegal and immoral behavior laid out in the report, of course, but at the idea that anyone would object to torturing prisoners. He was especially vexed that the Obama administration was beginning an investigation.

In Mr. Cheney’s view, it is not just those who followed orders and stuck to the interrogation rules set down by President George Bush’s Justice Department who should be sheltered from accountability. He said he also had no problem with those who disobeyed their orders and exceeded the guidelines.

It’s easy to understand Mr. Cheney’s aversion to the investigation that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered last week. On Fox, Mr. Cheney said it was hard to imagine it stopping with the interrogators. He’s right.

The government owes Americans a full investigation into the orders to approve torture, abuse and illegal, secret detention, as well as the twisted legal briefs that justified those policies. Congress and the White House also need to look into illegal wiretapping and the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured.

Mr. Cheney was at the center of each of these insults to this country’s Constitution, its judicial system and its bedrock democratic values. To defend himself, he offers a twisted version of history:

• He says Mr. Bush’s Justice Department determined that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” ordered by the president were legal under American law and international treaties like the Geneva Conventions.

In reality, those opinions were based on a corrupt and widely discredited legal analysis cooked up after the White House had already decided to use long-banned practices like waterboarding. Mr. Cheney was an architect of the decision to “get tough” with prisoners, as the bureaucrats often say to soften the outrage of this policy.

• He insists the inspector general’s findings were “completely reviewed” by the Justice Department and that any follow-up investigation would be improper and unnecessary.

In reality, Mr. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, did not appoint an independent investigator after receiving the inspector general’s report, which was completed in 2004. The Justice Department decided there was only one narrow case worth pursuing, involving a civilian contractor — hardly a surprise from a thoroughly politicized department whose top officials set the very rules they were supposed to be judging. Mr. Gonzales’s team did not look into allegations that some interrogators broke those rules. Mr. Cheney may not care about that, but Mr. Holder rightly does.

• Mr. Cheney claims that waterboarding and other practices widely considered to be torture or abuse “were absolutely essential” in stopping another terrorist attack on the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Cheney is right when he says detainees who were subject to torture and abuse gave up valuable information. But the men who did the questioning flatly dispute that it was duress that moved them to do so.

Deuce Martinez, the C.I.A. officer who interrogated Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, engineer of the 9/11 mass murders, said he used traditional interrogation methods, and not the infliction of pain and panic. And, in an article on the Times Op-Ed page, Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, another high-ranking terrorist, denounced “the false claims” about harsh interrogations. Mr. Soufan said Mr. Zubaydah talked before he was subjected to waterboarding and other abuse. He also said that “using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions.”

Every week, it seems, new disclosures about this sordid history dribble out. This week, Physicians for Human Rights analyzed what the inspector general’s report said about the involvement of C.I.A. physicians and psychologists in the abuse of prisoners. It said they not only monitored torture, like waterboarding, but also kept data on the prisoners’ reaction in ways that “may amount to human experimentation.”

Getting at the truth is not going to be easy. The C.I.A. destroyed evidence — videotapes of interrogations — and is now refusing to release its records of the questioning of its prisoners. It also is asking the courts to keep secret the orders Mr. Bush gave authorizing the interrogations, and the original Justice Department memos concluding that they were legal.

Americans need much more than glimpses of the truth. They should not have to decide whether to believe former interrogators, whom they do not know, or Mr. Cheney, who did not hesitate while in office to mislead them when it suited his political aims.

I'm afraid I've quoted the whole thing, since I didn't see what I could cut. Related pieces, "The Torture Papers" (8/25/09) and "Justice Delayed" (9/12/09), are also quite good. I have to say, after all the idiocy and mendacity from most Beltway types on torture, seeing a prominent media outlet state clear facts with a clear moral position is very refreshing.

I've heard several people point out that destruction of the video tapes would normally be taken as an admission of guilt by the Justice Department or a judge, and an investigation and possible prosecution would follow accordingly. It's ridiculous no one's been called to account for their destruction (at least yet). Of course, the Beltway twits don't care.

Next up is the stellar "Fear was no excuse to condone torture" by Charles C. Krulak (commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999) and Joseph P. Hoar (commander in chief of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994).

In the fear that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Americans were told that defeating Al Qaeda would require us to ``take off the gloves.'' As a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a retired commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command, we knew that was a recipe for disaster.

But we never imagined that we would feel duty-bound to publicly denounce a vice president of the United States, a man who has served our country for many years. In light of the irresponsible statements recently made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, however, we feel we must repudiate his dangerous ideas -- and his scare tactics.

We have seen how ill-conceived policies that ignored military law on the treatment of enemy prisoners hindered our ability to defeat al Qaeda. We have seen American troops die at the hands of foreign fighters recruited with stories about tortured Muslim detainees at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. And yet Cheney and others who orchestrated America's disastrous trip to ``the dark side'' continue to assert -- against all evidence -- that torture ``worked'' and that our country is better off for having gone there.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Cheney applauded the ``enhanced interrogation techniques'' -- what we used to call ``war crimes'' because they violated the Geneva Conventions, which the United States instigated and has followed for 60 years. Cheney insisted the abusive techniques were ``absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States.'' He claimed they were ``directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States. It was good policy . . . It worked very, very well.''

Repeating these assertions doesn't make them true. We now see that the best intelligence, which led to the capture of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was produced by professional interrogations using non-coercive techniques. When the abuse began, prisoners told interrogators whatever they thought would make it stop.

Torture is as likely to produce lies as the truth. And it did.

What leaders say matters. So when it comes to light, as it did recently, that U.S. interrogators staged mock executions and held a whirling electric drill close to the body of a naked, hooded detainee, and the former vice president winks and nods, it matters.

The Bush administration had already degraded the rules of war by authorizing techniques that violated the Geneva Conventions and shocked the conscience of the world. Now Cheney has publicly condoned the abuse that went beyond even those weakened standards, leading us down a slippery slope of lawlessness. Rules about the humane treatment of prisoners exist precisely to deter those in the field from taking matters into their own hands. They protect our nation's honor.

To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed...

Do read the rest. I've featured one of their other op-eds before, "It's Our Cage, Too: Torture Betrays Us and Breeds New Enemies" (5/17/07). These pieces are extremely important because many career military personnel oppose torture and human rights abuses for moral and practical reasons, and directly contradict the bullshit Dick Cheney and the gang are trying to sell. (It was nice to see some retired generals take on the Cheneys' scaremongering on Gitmo, too.)

On 9/10/09, Andy Worthington published a lengthy interview with Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell's former chief of staff) that offers useful perspective on the climate in the Bush administration before the Iraq War. According to Wilkerson, they knew pretty early on that many of the men captured in Afghanistan were innocent or had little information (as we've covered here many times before). Remember that Senate report that found that abusive techniques were used to find an Iraq-al Qaeda link? Apparently, it's helped bring some matters into focus for Wilkerson:

[T]he regular meetings were one of my sources of knowing how chaotic the vetting was, and how chaotic the imprisonment was, and how adamant Rumsfeld was — and I’ve come to find now that Donald would not have been adamant without the Vice President’s cover — about not letting any of these guys go, for any reason whatsoever. I also know that one of the motivations for this was not just his obstreperousness, or his arrogance, which was manifested most of the time, but it was the fact that they wanted all of these people questioned vigorously, and they wanted to put together a pattern, a map, a body of evidence, if you will, from all these people, that they thought was going to tell them more and more about al-Qaeda, and increasingly more and more about the connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad.

I even think that probably, in the summer of 2002, well before Powell gave his presentation at the UN in February 2003, their priority had shifted, as their expectation of another attack went down, and that happened, I think, rather rapidly. I’ve just stumbled on this. I thought before that it had persisted all the way through 2002, but I’m convinced now, from talking to hundreds of people, literally, that that’s not the case, that their fear of another attack subsided rather rapidly after their attention turned to Iraq, and after Tommy Franks, in late November as I recall, was directed to begin planning for Iraq and to take his focus off Afghanistan...

From later on:

[T]he problem is that this is a national security issue, and there are so many more challenging issues — as one official put it to me the other day — on which the President has already shown some ankle, whether it’s about talking to Iran or whether it’s his rather pronounced silence vis-à-vis North Korea, or whether it’s something as minuscule as lifting some travel restrictions on Cuban Americans for Cuba. They don’t believe they can show another square centimeter of ankle on national security, because the Republicans will eat their lunch, and every time I’m told this I die laughing. I say, your guys are captured by the Sith Lord, Dick Cheney, you’re captured by Rush Limbaugh, whose real radio audience is about 2.2 million, and whose employer, Clear Channel, lost $3.7 billion in the second quarter of this year. I said, when are you gonna wake up? These are kooks. And Cheney is the kook leader. But [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid are such feckless leaders they haven’t got any spine. We have no leadership in the legislative branch on either side of the aisle… I become exasperated. There’s just no courage, there’s no moral courage whatsoever in the Democratic Party.

I disagree with Andrew Sullivan on some other matters, but he's done some great work on the torture beat. He wrote an Atlantic cover piece that's a letter to George W. Bush on the subject:

I have come to accept that it would be too damaging and polarizing to the American polity to launch legal prosecutions against you, and deeply unfair to solely prosecute those acting on your orders or in your name. President Obama’s decision thus far to avoid such prosecutions is a pragmatic and bipartisan one in a time of war, as is your principled refusal to criticize him publicly in his first months. But moving on without actually confronting or addressing the very grave evidence of systematic abuse and torture under your administration poses profound future dangers. It gives the impression that nothing immoral or illegal took place. Indeed, since leaving office, your own vice president has even bragged of these interrogation techniques; and many in your own party threaten to reinstate such policies in the future. Their extreme rhetoric seems likely to shape—to contaminate—history’s view of your presidency, indeed of the Bush name, and the world’s view of America. But my biggest fear is this: in the event of a future attack on the United States, another president will feel tempted, or even politically compelled, to resort to the same brutalizing policy, with the same polarizing, demoralizing, war-crippling results. I am writing you now because it is within your power—and only within your power—to prevent that from happening...

I believe that if you review the facts of your two terms of office, you will be forced to realize that, whatever your intentions, you undermined this fundamental American principle. You may not have intended that to occur. But you were the commander in chief and president, and these were presidential-level decisions. The responsibility for all of this is yours—before the American people and before the court of history. And you need finally to own these decisions, to take full responsibility for them, to account for them, to explain them, and, yes, to apologize for their scope and brutality.

I don't think this will happen, and think that Bush's vanity - the idea of him doing something great, of taking responsibility - is more likely to produce results than any 'sense of honor.' But Bush may not recognize the difference, and credit Sullivan for trying. If you haven't followed the torture story too closely, his piece, while long, provides a good overview.

Scott Horton continues to be a valuable resource, with "Seven Points on the CIA Report" (8/25/09) and "Six Questions for David Cole, Author of The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable" (8/28/09) particularly useful. Meanwhile, Torture Team Trading Cards may prove a good way to keep the spirits up for weary human rights activists.

Finally, Marcy Wheeler and Spencer Ackerman continue to track day to day developments and add to the overall picture. Bless 'em.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The McCarthyist Style in Glenn Beck's "White Culture"

Imagine if Glenn Beck were forced to defend some of his most irresponsible statements. Katie Couric gives it a go:

She could have pushed him harder, but still, it's good that she raised the question – what did you mean by "white culture"? ThinkProgress has a partial transcript. Crooks and Liars links some of the good recent articles on Beck (and their Beck category is pretty extensive).

I'd particularly recommend the Media Matters and Sidney Hillman Foundation pieces on the Time fluff piece on Beck (also this Balloon Juice commentary). Salon's series on The Making of Glenn Beck is good as well. Meanwhile, Evil Slutopia has a great roundup (from April) of Beck's most loathsome statements.

Beck's gutless dodging reminded me of that queen of political grifters, Ann Coulter. As I wrote in a long post on her, she simultaneously wants credit for being "outrageous" yet want to take no responsibility for her statements. It's a cowardly, dishonest display. Beck's doing the same thing here, and all of the new McCarthy gang have this tendency. Without irony, both Beck and Coulter have invoked McCarthy in a positive way. But their resistance to saying outright what they want to gives away the game. Beck's happy to call Obama a racist and inflame racial tensions – it's good for business – but acknowledging that what he's saying is racist is not good for business. The boycott against him might win him further fans from the lunatic fringe, but it puts off the mainstream. Some Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Beck as a result (see the C&L links above). But this is a further scam, because Beck works for conservative propaganda outlet Fox News, and he's spouting mostly standard issue, far right bullshit – even if it comes with his unique brand of crazy performance art on top.

Let's recall, we saw much of the same game from the McCain-Palin campaign, with their camp stoking bigotry, denying it only when forced to, and often blaming their own crap on the Obama camp. It was utterly despicable and shameless. Yet most media outlets hesitated to call it out, and even worse, some made excuses for it.

TBogg catches a right-wing furor over Janeane Garofalo making a similar point about the teabag crowd:

She's pretty accurate here.

These dynamics are central to coverage of Beck, from the whitewashing of his bigotry to the game of false equivalencies. From that Jamison Foser Media Matters piece (emphasis his):

Time continued:

The old American mind-set that Richard Hofstadter famously called "the paranoid style" - the sense that Masons or the railroads or the Pope or the guys in black helicopters are in league to destroy the country - is aflame again, fanned from both right and left. Between the liberal fantasies about Brownshirts at town halls and the conservative concoctions of brainwashed children goose-stepping to school, you'd think the Palm in Washington had been replaced with a Munich beer hall.

What in the world is Time talking about? This is a grotesque false equivalence. Conservatives have been yelling about President Obama being a secret Kenyan bent on sending granny to the Death Panel, comparing him to Hitler and Mao and Stalin and who-knows-who-else -- and that, apparently, is matched in intensity and paranoia by liberals pointing out this unhinged behavior? Insane.

Sadly, this is typical from the media. It's especially irresponsible because Beck is the "It" Boy of Paranoid Hatred for the moment, and it's dangerous to help sell "The Return of McCarthyism":

We know the damage these scoundrels do if they're not confronted.

Edited for typos and clarity. The final video doesn't seem to load in some browsers. If you find that's the case, you can view it here or here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Grayson Remix

Brave New Films has a nice new short cross-cutting Grayson's floor speech with other clips:

This comes via Digby, who has more on this, including Grayson being criticized for using the word "holocaust."

Update: Here's Grayson on Hardball. C&L has a partial transcript, but I agree that the best line is "I can’t decide on health care, on energy independence, on jobs, on the economy based upon dirty looks from people who throw hissy fits all the time and expect that we’re supposed to decide America’s policy on that basis."

Thursday, October 01, 2009

David Gray - "Fugitive"

It's slightly out of synch, but this is the official version from David Gray's channel. What I've heard so far of the new album is quite good.

Eclectic Jukebox

Why Baucus' Bill is Dangerous

DDay passes on a great piece, "Everything You Need To Know About The Baucus Bill In Two Minutes":

Wendell Potter at Salon and Maggie Mahar in The Boston Globe have more on the Baucus bill.

DDay also has a piece on the ridiculous decision to give millions to abstinence-only sex ed programs that don't work (as Judy Berman notes, even Texas is moving away from them because they've been disastrous). Oh, and he also offers up my favorite title of the day: "If You Take Out The People Who Die, Americans Live Forever." Vile hack Betsy McCaughey continues to be influential!

Grayson Unleashed

Republicans are outraged over this presentation by Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL):

It's pointed, but it's pretty accurate. Digby has much more on this, including video of Republican representatives lying about death panels and Democrats attacking seniors (yes, after the GOP has tried to cut Medicare for years, and opposed its creation – they have no shame).

Grayson then went on CNN:

For the most part, the CNN crew just say they're shocked, shocked! The big issue for them is that Grayson was rude. Only Republican hack Alex Castellanos really tries to challenge Grayson's accuracy. Castellanos is full of it, of course, since the Republicans don't have any sort of comprehensive plan, just a few sound bites. That plan to shop for insurance across state lines? It won't save much money and could easily lead to increased consumer costs (via Digby).

DDay and John Amato have more on Grayson's CNN performance. I found Grayson's candor very refreshing. More like this, please.

Grayson did offer an "apology" of sorts (alas, the sound drifts out of synch):

Act Blue has set up a new page to donate to Grayson and show appreciation.