Friday, May 29, 2009

Poor Dick, That Hole is Getting Deeper and Deeper

General Petraeus, the man the right has proclaimed the best hope for resolving the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the man that John McCain quoted extensively during his campaign, and the man that many Republicans are floating as a possible presidential candidate for 2012, was on Fox's Live Desk today. What he had to say will not please Dick Cheney. It isn't the first time he's come out against torture, but today he was a little firmer, and a little clearer.

General Petraus made it clear he supports President Obama's plan to close Guantanamo, agreeing that it "...has inflamed anti-US hostility." He added:
“When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions we rightly have been criticized, so as we move forward I think it’s important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those,” Gen. Petraeus said on Fox News Friday afternoon.
When asked about the disposition of the detainees currently being held at Guantanamo - a subject of much controversy and a massive NIMBY (not in my backyard) campaign, he said:
“I don’t think we should be afraid of our values we’re fighting for,” he added. “What we stand for and so indeed we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we’re doing on the battle field and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in our courts of law.”

The interviewer asked him then if he was confident then that the detainees at Guantanamo would never go free, to which he replied:

"I certainly hope that's the case."

It was clear listening to General Petraeus that he is willing to take the risk, unlike the current and past administration, that like anyone else entering our judicial system, the detainees currently held at Guantanamo might be found not guilty and as a result, be required to be released.

Asked about the use of so-called enhanced interrogation during the previous administration, Petraeus said that, "...banning the more extreme techniques had taken away “a tool” employed by “our enemies” as a moral argument against the United States."

To continue the bad news for Dick Cheney, last night Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) spoke at the Foreign Policy Association. Senator Levin is Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee which recently released its 200-page bipartisan report of its 18-month investigation into Abu Ghraib. If you haven't yet read the report, it is very accessible, and damning.

In his speech last night, Levin responded specifically to Cheney's speech last week, stating that he had seen the memos Cheney had asked to be de-classified. The memos that would prove - according to Cheney - that what they did was right and necessary. The memos that would prove - according to Cheney - that what they did saved thousands of lives. Unfortunately (for Cheney), the memos show no such thing, says Senator Levin. In fact, Senator Levin said that Mr. Cheney lied.

Here's a clip from Countdown that shows clips from Senator Levin's speech.

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Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

The chattering classes on the right need to take a breath and listen to themselves. Hilzoy made an excellent point that demonstrates the circular and thus contradictory thinking in the debate over the nomination of Judge Sotomayor.

"I have read many professions of outrage about this decision, but most of them focus on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that Frank Ricci didn't get his promotion, rather than what the law requires. This puzzled me. Many of the same people who are outraged by the decision also criticize Judge Sotomayor on the grounds that she will substitute her personal preferences for the requirements of the law as written. One might therefore expect them to consider what the law required in this case, rather than simply asking whether the outcome she affirmed was the one they preferred. Oddly enough, however, they didn't."

According to Glenn Greenwald, a Constitutional lawyer who writes at Salon,

"This happens all the time where people -- mostly self-described "conservatives" -- claim to oppose an outcome-based judiciary, yet decide if they approve of judicial opinions based on their preference for the outcome rather than legal arguments. The most obvious example was Terry Schiavo, where a conservative Florida state court judge was faithfully applying clear Florida law, but since conservatives disliked the outcome on policy grounds, they viciously criticized the judge for failing to deviate from the law in order to give them the outcome they wanted. It also happens when state courts -- such as in Iowa, California and New Jersey -- reach judicial decisions about same-sex marriage based on those state's Constitutions and the precedent applying it, and immediately, people who don't have the slightest familiarity with that state's law criticize the decision: all because they don't like the policy outcome."

As I said, don't confuse me with the facts. Just give me what I want. The new Republican motto.

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Pull Back on Sotomayor?

A little disappointed that the White House is pulling back slightly on Sotomayor. Still supporting her, but responding the the noise on her 2001 comments regarding Latina women. Even though Obama in a conversation with Brian Williams explained the context and appropriately explained what she was trying to say - that the richness of her experiences as a Latina woman would help her as she makes her decisions - he still said that she could have said it better. Gibbs (White House Press Secretary) said today that she made a poor word choice according to people he had spoken to.

What's up with that? Why are they pandering to the establishment media and the right wing? They don't need to. They have the votes, and so what if there's noise? Can't they handle a little flack? All it does when they cave is tell the right that they will. Obviously Michelle is in charge of disciplining the two girls as Obama apparently has difficulty standing firm. He has taught the Republican leadership and the talking heads that if they talk loud enough and with enough disapproval, he'll throw them a bone.

Obama sure chooses some strange battles to stand and fight and stranger still to throw in the towel. Not that he's throwing in the towel on Sotomayor, I'm just suggesting that there was no need to agree with the right-wing noise machine about anything Sotomayor. To do so at all diminishes her before she even begins, diminishes him, and encourages the Rush's, Hannity's, and the rest who are out for any Democratic blood they can find.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Halliburton Shareholders Sue Cheney and Other Principals

Hmmm. I wonder who will be at the top of the news cycle this weekend. It's been looking like Judge Sotomayor has move Dick Cheney out of top place, but thinks are percolating again, and this time, I'm not sure he wants the spotlight.

Let's see. There was the full-page ad in the New York Times on May 14, supposedly a "grassroots" effort that is looking more and more like the work of Lynn (Mrs.) Cheney.


Throughout the Entire World
The Word 'Torture' means Intense,
Lasting, Brutal Physical Agony

Why is the U.S. News Media Eagerly
Spreading An Incalculably Harmful Lie
That Can Only Motivate Terrorists To
Further Attacks On America?

A Grassroots Plea To
The U.S. News Media

Stop Misleading The World
That Our Country Condones Torture

* You now know as a result of the recent release of what you
choose to call "The Torture Memos" that these are the
14 interrogation techniques permitted by the United States:

* Sleep deprivation... Dietary manipulation... Abdominal
slaps... Facial slaps... Attention grasps... Facial holds...
Forced nudity... Water dousing... Stress positions not designed
to produce pain... Cramped confinement in a dark space...
Confinement with insects such as a caterpillar... Pushing
against a wall... Wall standing... Pouring water on a person's
face to induce the feeling of drowning (waterboarding).

* As you know, waterboarding has not been used for 5 years and
was used on only 3 detainees. Our own troops are subjected to
waterboarding as part of their training.

* By your continual use of the word 'Torture' to describe these
interrogation techniques you have been misleading the world that
the United States condone techniques of barbarous cruelty. The
consequences could be horrendous.

It's Time For The Truth

We are losing the goodwill of people across the
world and you
are aiding al Qaida in recruiting
terrorists for future attack
on America.

Torture Truth Project

A project of Accuracy in Media Inc., 4455 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 / (202) 364-4401

Do I need to go line by line and explain the "inaccuracies" (lies)? Okay, I won't.

Then, the media blitz by daughter Liz, claiming that anyone who called Daddy Dick a torturer, was guilty of libel. (I'm still waiting for the lawsuits to be filed - I mean, if she's right, why haven't they filed suit?).

Now, it is becoming a little clearer why Dick is on his revisionist campaign. Remember Halliburton? KBR? Prior to becoming Vice President, Cheney was head of Halliburton. KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton. After the invasion of Iraq, Halliburton was given billions in contracts to re-build Iraq (no-bid contracts by the way). KBR is the company convicted of hiring unqualified electricians to do the wiring that resulted in the electrocutions of soldiers while they were taking showers. Despite being found guilty, KBR continues to operate in Iraq, water faucets in barracks are still "hot" (and I don't mean temperature), and recently, the shareholders of Halliburton are getting a teensy, tiny bit irate.

After having a few problems in Nigeria,

"Following a series of U.S. government investigations and lawsuits, Halliburton and KBR have paid more than $650 million in fines, penalties, and settlements — including the largest fine ever assessed by the U.S. Commerce Department and the largest settlement ever paid by U.S. companies for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

This past February, KBR pleaded guilty to bribing Nigerian officials and to violations of the FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act], while both KBR and Halliburton settled related civil suits with the Securities and Exchange Commission." KBR’s payment of some $579 million in criminal fines and penalties is believed to be the largest payment ever made by a U.S. company in settling an FCPA enforcement action.


"Former KBR Chairman Albert Stanley is serving seven years in prison for orchestrating the bribery scheme in Nigeria and receiving kickbacks. Other KBR employees pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks or attempting to defraud the U.S. government, as well as conspiracy and bribery, and several have served prison time."

"In 2006 KBR settled government contentions that it overcharged for services to peacekeeping troops in Kosovo and violated the U.S. False Claims Act by, among other things, double-billing and inflating prices of products and services."

So, a company with a long history of service to...well, it's officers? It's Board? continues to operate on government contracts. Did you notice that it was investigated for bookkeeping problems in Kosovo? And it still got contracts for Iraq? What a sweet deal. Once you get on the contractor list, apparently you're there for life.

The problem for Cheney? In a first, the Halliburton shareholders have taken action and filed suit against the company.

"In what is believed to be the first legal action brought by shareholders against oilfield services provider Halliburton Company (NYSE: HAL) and its one-time subsidiary KBR, Inc. (NYSE: KBR), a municipal pension fund has filed a lawsuit alleging that poor oversight and lack of internal controls at the two companies enabled a pervasive environment of misdeed and corruption, resulting in enforcement actions and substantial government penalties that have severely damaged investors’ holdings."

"Shareholders accuse Halliburton’s board of directors of breach of fiduciary duty in failing to rein in years of shoddy business practices and criminal activity that resulted in massive fines, penalties and settlements paid to the federal government."

"Named as defendants are 32 former and current directors of Halliburton and KBR — the majority of the companies’ two boards — including ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, and Robert Crandall, past president and chairman of American Airlines." [emphasis added]

"The complaint states, “As fiduciaries … the Halliburton defendants were required to exercise prudent supervision over the management, policies, practices, controls, and financial and corporate affairs of Halliburton and KBR, which Halliburton controlled.” The plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial and intend to seek damages."

The FBI never was able to catch Al Capone, one of the most notorious gangsters of his time. It was his finances that finally brought him down. I'm not suggesting that Dick Cheney cheated on his taxes, but he certainly cheated in his business dealings. Making sure that your ex-company in which you retain a substantial financial interest - blind trust or not - receives billions in government no-bid contracts is cheating in my book.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Race to the Bottom

What a bunch of white men (and one white woman) are saying about Judge Sotomayor.

The oppressed class, gender, or race cannot be accused of the "ism" that has been perpetrated on them. It is a fallacy and a way for the (in this case) racist to continue being a racist. By accusing Judge Sotomayor of being a racist, Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter, et. al., continue to inject race into the discussion and in fact make race the discussion and avoid any substantive conversation or having to back up any of their claims.

Fortunately, they are making a terrible mistake and (finally) the Republican leadership is beginning to realize that enough is enough. Today, John Cornyn, Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said, "I think it's terrible... This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent."

Perhaps others will begin to listen to Senator Cornyn. Or, as is more usual, we will hear Senator Cornyn begin to take that back in about 1-2 days or face attacks by Rush.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Roland Burris, Please Go Home

Why is it so difficult to make this man go home? Can we all say delusional? These are transcripts from taped calls last Dec. 2008 between Roland Burris and Rob Blagojevich, ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich's brother. Rob was manager of his brother's campaign fundraising.
BURRIS: I know I could give him a check.
BURRIS: Myself. [...]
BURRIS: Okay, okay, well we, we, I, I will personally do something, okay.
BLAGOJEVICH: Okay. Alright Roland.
BURRIS: And it'll be done before the 15th of December.
BLAGOJEVICH: Okay ... Hey, you're a good friend. I'll pass on your message.
BURRIS: Please do and ...
BURRIS: ... tell Rod to keep me in mind for that seat, would ya?
BURRIS: I know I could give him a check.
BURRIS: Myself.
BURRIS: And, and my law partner, we were gonna try to do something at the law firm. I might be able to do this in the name of Tim Wright.
BURRIS: Okay, 'cause Tim is not looking for an appointment, okay.
[emphasis added]

But it's all good. When asked why he should retain his Senate seat, why we should ignore these tapes, he replied:

BURRIS: I changed my mind after I hung up the phone.

Of course you did.

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Correction: this was taped in mid-November before Rod Blagojevich was arrested

Now It's Her Diet? Sotomayor's Platos de Arroz a Possible Hold Up to Confirmation

To borrow the words of Keith Olbermann, WTF!?!

An article in The Hill details (more) Republican concerns about Judge Sotomayor's ability to refrain from being an "activist" judge. The newest concern, apparently, is her love of rice, beans, and pork, which she states is, “For me, a very special part of my being Latina [which] is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir — rice, beans and pork — that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.”

"Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, said he wasn’t certain whether Sotomayor had claimed her palate would color her view of legal facts but he said that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee clearly touts her subjective approach to the law."

“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Levey. “It’s one thing to say that occasionally a judge will despite his or her best efforts to be impartial ... allow occasional biases to cloud impartiality."

"But it’s almost like she’s proud that her biases and personal experiences will cloud her impartiality.”

Her diet? How does he keep a straight face? How did the journalist (I say this loosely) writing this story?

"Conservative critics say that a willingness to rule on the basis of personal values instead of the law and legal precedent is at the core of judicial activism. And some Senate Republicans have said a nominee with a clear propensity toward activism would deserve a filibuster."

You should probably have considered that before confirming so many conservative jurists. The statistics show that it is the most conservative judges that "rule from the bench" or overturn legislation, the nearest measure we have of judicial activism.

"Levey, who has been in contact with other conservative activists and Republicans on Capitol Hill, predicted that the speech would be raised at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing."

“I cannot imagine that Sen. Sessions and some of the other Republicans will not bring that up,” he said in reference to Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee."

That should be a fun hearing. Sen. Sessions of the "the Ku Klux Klan isn't so bad" until he found out they smoked marijuana? Sen. Sessions that said the NAACP and ACLU were un-American for forcing civil rights down the throats of the American people? That Jeff Sessions? The Jeff Sessions who was pushed to the head of the line so as to be the minority leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee specifically for just the occasion of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing? I can hardly wait.

“It’s fine to identify with Latina heritage all she wants, just not in the courtroom,” he [Levey] said."

I mean seriously. Isn't this scraping the bottom of the (pork) barrel?

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Matthew Alexander on Cheney

I've written about Matthew Alexander in earlier posts, and wanted to share this new video from Brave New Studios featuring Matthew. In this interview, Matthew answers former Vice President Cheney's speech of last week. When Cheney states that those who say torture did not keep us safe and did not save lives are wrong, Matthew gives specific examples from his direct experience as a senior Iraq interrogator as to why, exactly, Cheney is the one who is wrong.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Intersection of Racism and Politics

Newt Gingrich is in Poland filming "9 Days that Changed the World" about Pope John Paul II's trip to Poland in 1979. I refuse to go into any more detail or discussion about anything Newt is promoting or to appear as if I am promoting him. If interested, Google him. What I find exceptionally disturbing is that Newt is in Poland to do a documentary about one of the leading religious figures of the 20th century. He is touring Auschwitz today (perhaps as he discusses the Pope's boyhood in Nazi Poland, he should include a chapter on the Catholic Church's complicity in the rise of the Nazi Party? just sayin).

Anyway. At Auschwitz, the ultimate expression of racism, Newt is twittering away and sends out this tweet:

"We just went through a gas chamber & crematorium at auschwitz. Everyone should see it and think of the evil which stalks the world today
Imagine a judicial nominee said "my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman" new racism is no better than old racis
White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw...

Ricci Was NOT Reverse Discrimination

One of the issues that is rising to the top as the issue that Sonia Sotomayor will have to address is a comment she made about how being a Latina woman will help her on the bench. She is being accused of being activist by some, racist by others because of this. The seminal case appears to be Ricci, a Title VII case in which she decided against white firefighters in a reverse discrimination suit in New Haven.

Title VII requires employers to consider the racial impact of their hiring and promotion procedures in order to prevent discrimination that's inadvertent as well as intentional. Hiring based on race alone is obviously illegal, but less obviously, so is hiring based on a process that has a disparate impact, or limits access by one group or another for reasons that have nothing to do with the job itself. In the Ricci case, the results of a firefighters promotional exam clearly showed a disparate impact - albeit unintentional - so the results had to be thrown out, resulting in the highest scoring candidate, Ricci, losing out on a promotional opportunity. He claimed reverse discrimination by the City of New Haven.

Employers are free to establish requirements for a job, as long as the requirements truly apply to the job. For example, regardless of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), an airline can disqualify persons with some disabilities from consideration for positions as airline pilots - personally, I prefer the person flying the plane I'm on to be able to see - however, they cannot refuse to consider persons with vision limitations from positions in which sight is not an essential function of the job.

The law on disparate impact, then, is designed to uncover hidden discrimination whether intentional or not. An employer could say "No women need apply" which is intentional and obvious discrimination, and would likely only be tried by Rip Van Winkle. Another employer might institute a weightlifting test as a condition of employment as most women have less upper body strength than do most men, thus creating a condition in which women are less likely to meet the conditions for employment. If there is no legitimate reason for upper body strength for the position, the requirement creates a disparate impact and thus discriminates against a group (women) in a subtle manner. Any employment screening process that tends to screen out an entire group is very likely discriminatory and must be examined to ensure that it is not. Any qualifications must be reconsidered to ensure that they truly are essential to the job and that the screening process addresses only those tasks considered essential to the position.

Judge Sotomayor was - by all legal accounts (or at least, by the accounts of many legal minds whose opinions I greatly respect) - correct in her decision in the Ricci case. I am not an attorney so cannot comment on the validity of her opinion, however, I am - professionally - an expert on the ADA and analyzing job descriptions to determine essential and nonessential functions. Although discrimination by reason of disability is different than discrimination by reason of race, they are similar enough that many of the same arguments can be made, so I personally believe Judge Sotomayor's ruling will be upheld.

There are two ways an employer can discriminate according to Title VII. He or she can intentionally discriminate by making race a factor in employment decisions—choosing a black candidate over a white candidate because he is black. Frank Ricci claims the city intentionally discriminated when it threw out the exam results because most of the people who scored high were white. An employer can also discriminate by using a selection process that has a disparate impact—in other words, that screens out a particular group for no good reason.

So, back to the issue at hand.

As a Latina woman, Judge Sotomayor then is accused of being unable to serve on the Supreme Court because of this background. Such illustrious names as Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, and Stuart Taylor of the National Review who writes quite crudely of "identity politics" in reference to Sotomayor, beat the drum against her without actually bothering to review her record. Listening to Pat Buchanan debate Joan Walsh of Salon this morning on Hardball with Chris Matthews was illustrative of the extreme right. Typically, Pat Buchanan was unable to let Joan - a woman - complete her responses as he repeatedly interrupted her. Even Chris Matthews spent most of the segment pontificating with Pat as Joan tried repeatedly to get a word in and finally had to complete her point on her website.

Have you ever noticed that the chattering classes of the far right typically do not let liberals, and especially liberal women, actually finish a statement? Probably why we all write so well (grin).

Anyhoo. The right-wing consensus appears to be that regardless of the fact that we all bring our history along with us, and view the world through the lens of our own experiences, here is someone who says out loud that she will do just that. Because President Obama has said that this is exactly what he is looking for in a Supreme Court Judge, and because this is exactly what he has found in Sonia Sotomayor (not to mention more Federal Judicial experience ever entering the Supreme Court), the right-wing cannot tolerate her expressing something that they have said all along. The only difference? She's a woman, and she's Latina.

Here's Justice Alito at his confirmation hearings several years ago.

"I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up. And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things...

Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant - and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases - I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position. And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother." They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me. And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.

When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing - the barriers that it puts up to them. So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person."

Hmmmm. Just insert Judge Sotomayor's name and you'd get a firestorm of angry (white) men shouting "empathy! empathy!" "Activism from the bench!" Yet at the time, because Judge Alito was Italian-American his diversity was valued.

Justice Alito stated quite clearly that his
experience being poor, his immigrant parents, his understanding (empathy?) of the urban, poor, immigrant experience and knowledge of persons with disability would inform his decisions.

Can we all spell hypocrisy?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Exactly is An Activist Judge?

I've been hearing a lot about Sonia Sotomayor being "activist" which from all (rational) accounts, is not supported by her record. Some are saying that when Obama cites 'empathy' as a quality he is looking for in a judicial appointment, and Sotomayor is reported as citing her Latina heritage as a factor in her decisions, that these are examples of qualities defining an "activist" judge. ''

To address the issue of empathy, it is clear that Obama is not looking for a judge who will rule on feelings, but rather on who will be empathetic in exercising their judicial role. Empathy is the ability to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" or try to see the world through someone else's eyes.

The argument that Sotomayor's Latina heritage will affect future rulings is ridiculous: we all bring our history with us wherever we go and whatever we do. It informs our thinking and shapes our decisions. In reviewing just a portion of Sotomayor's decisions, she hasn't always made the decisions one would assume based on her gender, or disability, nor is she left or right. The consensus (so far) of those whose opinions I do respect appear to be that she is more moderate and will likely vote very like Souter.

The issue of activism is interesting and historically, has been seen more on the conservative side of the bench. In an op-ed published in the NY Times on July 6, 2005, Paul Gewirtz, a Professor at Yale Law School, and Chad Golder, a graduate that year from Yale Law, wrote that "activism" could best be defined as declaring legislation passed by Congress unconstitutional. Therefore, they looked at the history of the Supreme Court and how many times they struck down legislation and said:

"In an 1867 decision, the Supreme Court itself described striking down Congressional legislation as an act "of great delicacy, and only to be performed where the repugnancy is clear." Until 1991, the court struck down an average of about one Congressional statute every two years. Between 1791 and 1858, only two such invalidations occurred."

Their research found that in the current court (2005), those considered most conservative were the most inclined to strike down legislation with Clarence Thomas, widely thought to be one of the most conservative, voting to strike down 65.63%. Below is the list of votes by justice.

  • Thomas 65.63%
  • Kennedy 64.06%
  • Scalia 56.25%
  • Rehnquist 46.88%
  • O'Connor 46.77%
  • Souter 42.19%
  • Ginsburg 39.06%
  • Breyer 28.13%

These numbers suggest that the more liberal side of the court (Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) tend to let stand Congressional legislation while the more conservative side is more likely to strike down legislation; one measure of judicial activism.

This kind of activism, however, is not a bad thing. The whole point of the Supreme Court is to ensure that all laws are administered in accordance with the Constitution. Cases that make it that far are heard because there is a Constitutional component - a right that has been violated. Laws are frequently passed (especially in this age of the voter amendments and propositions) that are unconstitutional. Laws are frequently passed by special interests (read lobbyists), after something has happened that leads to an emotional response (Meagan's Law, 9/11), or because of shifts in social movements. The beauty of our Constitution is that it is designed to (and does) protect the minority from the will of the majority - regardless of shifts in social movements, ideology, political party, religious movements, and special interests.

The courts then, are necessary to ensure that laws are not passed that take away rights that are ensured to us by right of birth in this country. The right to privacy, the right to habeas corpus, the right to a fair judicial process, etc.

Sometimes, we misunderstand our rights and the chattering classes love to debate the loss of rights that we never actually had, or feature individuals who think they've been wronged somehow (think Miss California - she had no freedom of speech during her pageant - a common misconception, and she wasn't punished for expressing it, she just lost). But I digress. So when the Supreme Court overturns a law, perhaps they are activist if you use the definition above, but that is their role. That is why we have state and federal Supreme Courts. Their function, their reason for being is to ensure that the laws that are written are not outside the boundaries of the Constitution, and to ensure that in the case being presented, that the law has been applied correctly.

Just think about some of the foolish propositions that have been approved, even some that sounded great at the time, but had disastrous unintended consequences because no one really thought through the long-term effects.

Just think of one right that you have that you value, and think about a simple majority vote taking it away from you. That is what judicial activism is all about. It is to protect you from that happening, to make sure that should you ever become the minority - and believe me, it can happen (disability anyone?) - the shifts in mood of the majority, the shifts of the economy, the shifts in political will, will not allow a simple vote, a simple "the will of the people" to take that right away from you.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Sotomayor for Supreme Court

Not a surprise that Obama chose Sotomayor, although I'm not convinced she is the best choice, although certainly not the worst. It could be that having her name out there for so long and being slammed by the right for so long made it impossible for him not to choose her, although I would hate for that to be a factor and I think Obama is wiser than that. Considering that there were better choices - still female - though, I think that is was at least a consideration.

I am surprised, however, at the reactions from the "mainstream" media as they appear, without exception, to be accepting the Rosen assessment at The New Republic. He said, some time ago,:

"I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths."

But went on to quote "anonymous" sources who didn't like her and said that she was too temperamental, vain, and stupid to sit on the Supreme Court. The article then, became the basis for a smear campaign that has been waged since it appeared on May 8, and although it settled down somewhat in the past week or so when the attention appeared to be shifting to other candidates, after Obama's announcement of Sotomayor, has been quoted extensively all day by not just Fox and Limbaugh, but by CNN and MSNBC.

It will be interesting to see how supportive Obama is of this nominee if the heat continues.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I hope you have all had a wonderful, peaceful weekend with family and friends. I have a lot to write about but took the weekend to be with my loved ones and think about those who have been left behind. See you tomorrow.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Headzup Terrorist Prison Panic

Sometimes humor says it better, and faster.

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Auto Tune the News #3 Cuba, Afghan Friendship

If you don't know about Auto Tune the News, you're in for a treat. These guys are great.

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CIA Inspector General's Report

An article published today discusses a (hopefully) soon to be declassified report done by the CIA's Inspector General John Helgerson who investigated the agency's use of torture. According to this article, former Vice President Cheney tried to interfere in the preparation of this report, completed in May of 2004, that implicates CIA employees in the deaths of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and included the referral of criminal cases to the Justice Department. Cases referred for possible prosecution included misconduct, abuse, and homicide. The article references the book, "The Dark Side," by Jane Mayer, which details detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and other information gained from the report which she states is "as thick as two Manhattan phone books" and was "sickening."

"The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized," Mayer wrote. "The source said, 'You couldn't read the documents without wondering, "Why didn't someone say, 'Stop!'""Mayer added that Cheney routinely "summoned" Inspector General Helgerson to meet with him privately about his investigation, launched in 2003, and soon thereafter the probe "was stopped in its tracks." Mayer characterized Cheney's interaction with Helgerson as highly unusual.

Mayer goes on to describe Cheney's actions as unusual, noting that the Inspector General is supposed to be independent and apolitical, but "...Cheney summoned the CIA Inspector General more than once to his office," going on to say that, "Cheney loomed over everything," a former CIA officer told Mayer. "The whole IG's office was completely politicized. They were working hand in glove with the White House."

This interference by Cheney, said Mayer, shows that, as early as 2004, "the Vice President's office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [torture] Program."

"In addition to showing the inconclusive nature of the value of intelligence gleaned through torture, the report will likely show that Helgerson warned top CIA officials that the interrogation techniques administered to detainees "might violate some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture." A November 9, 2005, report published in The New York Times said Helgerson's report "raised concern about whether the use of the [torture] techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability."

Every day that Cheney gives a speech, that daughter Liz makes another appearance to support him, another official reports his or her side. Another memorandum is released. There is a belief by many, that it is this report, that when released, that will be the one that will result in criminal prosecutions. We'll see.

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Come On Sean, DJ Waterboarded, Where Were You?

On his show today, Sean Hannity said regarding the debate about waterboarding,

"...that was the reality of what they [Bush/Cheney] faced every day...President Obama and Prince Harry and Princess they really believe that they are morally superior in their views...that they would allow tens of hundreds of innocent Americans, that they should die rather than waterboard for 40 seconds at a time Khalid Sheikh Mohamed...frankly only a moral fool would say that there are no circumstances that they would envision using enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. You'd have to be a fool."

And how many days has it been Sean, that you have refused to honor your pledge to be waterboarded because, after all, it isn't really torture?

A radio station in Chicago, whose 2 co-hosts also believed that waterboarding wasn't that bad had a contest in which their listeners voted on which of the 2 would be waterboarded. Host Mancow said, "I want to find out if it's torture," saying that he did not believe that it really was. A Marine Sergeant stated that Mancow should be able to tolerate about 14 seconds, the average, although he said he would "wriggle and scream."

With fire department personnel standing by, Mancow threw his toy cow--his signal to stop--immediately and was able to endure the waterboard for a total of 6-7 seconds. Later, Mancow stated that,

"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke,"Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face...I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.' "
A link to the article and video can be found here

Cheney said yesterday that Admiral Dennis Blair, the Intelligence Director, wrote last month that these techniques did in fact produce high-value information. Cheney just forgot to tell the rest of the story. What Blair actually said, was that had he been asked, he would not have approved the use of such techniques, saying:

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."
If you'd like to read the whole article about Admiral Blair's memo to others in the intelligence community, you can find it here. Like much of the Republican spin over the past month, Cheney forgets to point out Blair's main point--that being that use of waterboarding has made us less safe.

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The Chattering Class and False Dichotomies

What is it with the mainstream media? They set up these false dichotomies playing off Obama and Cheney as if it were a true debate. Obama is the sitting president. What he says matters. He made an extremely important policy speech yesterday that whether we liked it or not, explored the reasons behind his recent decisions regarding Guantanamo, the continued use of military tribunals, and his intention of continuing the practice of indefinite detention of some detainees. The fact that he is now referring to them as prisoners of war, the fact that he is now suggesting the creation of a new 'legal framework' designed with the cooperation of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches to ensure appropriate oversight does not change the fact that he is not only continuing the practices of the Bush Administration, but is in fact, extending them. This is important stuff.

So what does the media do? Every article and news show that discussed Obama's speech compared it to Cheney's speech right afterwards. Photos showed the two side by side. The media loves conflict and if there is none, they make some up. Cheney was on the attack, defending himself, preemptively blaming Obama for any future terrorist attacks, while Obama (rightly) explained that he was trying to clean up the messes left him by the Bush Administration. He would have been more successful if he had actually advocated a clear break and change in direction, rather than a continuation of some of its worst practices, but the media created a sense of conflict by featuring Cheney and giving him the airtime.

Cheney (and Gingrich et al) can give all the speeches they want, but the networks do not have to cater to them. Just as during the campaign they made no effort to report the veracity of what the candidates said ("...if we did not stand up and say, "This is bogus," and "You're a liar," and "Why are you doing this?" that we didn't do our job. And I respectfully disagree. It's not our role."--David Gregory) the media continue to simply act as stenographers to those they consider news makers by giving them airtime and print space. They repeat what was said, give time and space to what they consider to be an opposing point of view--their false dichotomy--and assume that the people watching will then be able to determine who is right. Not for them to provide data with which to consider those opposing points of view. Not for them to actually provide opposing points of view from unbiased sources.

Consider who is out their speaking in support of Cheney. Rush Limbaugh. Now there's an unbiased viewpoint. Newt Gingrich. Now Newt is demanding an investigation of Speaker Pelosi, not because of the truthfulness or not of the use of torture--or enhanced interrogation. No, he is demanding an investigation of the strawman that he has built. According to Newt, the Speaker is corrupt and incapable of leadership because she has impugned the integrity of the CIA. Integrity. Something Mr. Gingrich should know something about. After all, he paid a $300,000 fine for lying to Congress during an ethics investigation after which he resigned his position--as Speaker--and his position in Congress.

And who else is making the rounds--and being given airtime--in support of Cheney's position? Who is an expert commentator and qualified to speak to the veracity of his words and actions? Who have the networks decided is the best able to debate on his side when they create a left/right discussion? Why, (daughter) Liz Cheney of course.

Let's see. In the past 9 days, (and never mind print media), Liz has appeared on:

  • Morning Joe on May 12
  • Live Desk on Fox on May 12
  • On the Record on Fox on May15
  • Fox & Friends Saturday on Fox on May 16
  • This Week with George Stephanopolous on ABC on May 17
  • Your World on Fox on May 20
  • News Live on MSNBC on May 21
  • Hannity on Fox News on May 21
  • Anderson Cooper's 360 on CNN on May 21
  • America Morning on CNN on May 22
  • Morning Joe on MSNBC on May 22 (and this time, for the whole hour)
  • Good Morning America on ABC on May 22
And we continue to listen to them? We continue to give credence to these pundits and this chattering class as our village idiots tell us what is important, and who? The Bush Administration operated from fear. They created a climate of fear and continue to cultivate a sense of fear to avoid being called to account for their actions. The Republicans in Congress have a single agenda, NO. With no other plan, they spend their time building strawmen and pointing fingers away from the real issues. They hope that if they convince people that the real issue is terrorists running free in our cities, we will forget that they are the ones that created the climate that made them terrorists in the first place. Fortunately, we are smarter than that.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Becoming Commander in Chief

Oh seriously. Can you be more patronizing? David Broder in today's Washington Post suggests that Democrats are unsuited to be Commander in Chief, or at least take much longer to learn how:

"The second reason Democrats struggle more with becoming commander in chief is that they have more things than do Republicans that they want to accomplish here at home. Time and money are always in short supply. The bigger the domestic agenda, the more resistance to being "diverted" into military adventures. Obama, like all his Democratic predecessors, has set big goals. Afghanistan has to look like a distraction to him."

"And a third reason is that today's Democrats really are isolated from the military. Harry Truman had been an artillery captain; John Kennedy and Carter, Navy officers. But Bill Clinton did everything possible to avoid the draft, and Obama, motivated as he was to public service, never gave a thought to volunteering for the military." [emphasis added]

Let's see. Cheney had 5 deferments from Vietnam because he had "other priorities." Bush used his family connections and got a cushy placement into the Air National Guard, then bailed on his obligations. When documentation was found proving this, a strawman was built turning the focus on Dan Rather not verifying the documents he had, rather than the veracity of the facts -- which were actually true, he just made the mistake of accepting ginned up documents given to him for that very reason. The truth of the story itself stands to this day.

In fact, Mr. Broder, in our current Senate, there are 12 Republican Vietnam Veterans and 14 Democrat, so somehow, your statement that Democrats are "isolated" from the military is somewhat disingenuous and as usual, written to further an agenda, not to explore truth.

Mr. Broder's article can be read here

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Rush Limbaugh and his Anal Fixation

If you were to go to Google and enter the search term "anal poisoning" as I just did, it would return 587,000 hits in 0.82 seconds. To be honest, I did not check every single citation, however, I did a scan through many pages to the end of the list. Every time anal and poisoning were side by side (you know how Google will return results where the 2 search terms appear close together), the reference always includes Rush Limbaugh.

Interestingly, Rush was able to avoid Vietnam because of an anal cyst. He frequently references the risk of anal poisoning, suggesting Senator Lindsey Graham was at risk by associating with John McCain, that past DNC Chair Terry McCauliff was in danger of catching it because of his closeness to Hillary Clinton, and more recently, that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, by -- I don't know, kissing Obama's ass? -- was also at risk. More interestingly, there really is no such thing as anal poisoning per se.

Other favorite phrases Rush uses include calling people -- including women -- "butt boy," or if they do something right, saying they have avoided becoming a "butt boy," and frequently refers to women by their posterior view. Grabbing ones ankles is seen as the natural capitulation to someone else's ideas in Rushworld and that supporting someone -- especially an African-American -- means you have bent over and grabbed your ankles. He frequently states that he is afraid to bend over, especially in New York City, and along with his coining the term "Feminazi," he enjoys (too much) stories about anal rape. During one show, he played segments of victim testimony from a trial about an anal rape, and laughed, as he said "I'm trying not to laugh..."

What a guy. This week when he "resigned" as the titular head of the Republican Party, he had just realized that Michael Steele and Dick Cheney were getting a little too much attention this past week. You don't really think he was stepping down, do you? Yesterday, he demanded that MSNBC not say his name or show video of him for 30 days -- that they try to maintain their ratings without him -- somehow believing that he gets to call the shots, that he was that important to their ratings. He has been successful in forcing Republican legislators to back down and retract negative statements about him, but somehow doesn't seem to understand that his vicious and malicious comments are news, but not in the way that he wants. He demands purity in the Republican Party and tells Colin Powell and John McCain to leave, yet ignores the fact that with 20% membership and falling, the party of Rush is becoming a marginalized fringe group.

This man is a gift to President Obama and the Democratic Party. Every positive move that the Republican leadership makes to repudiate him and move the party forward is immediately retracted as soon as Rush gets on the air and demands it -- stating that whomever is at risk of anal poisoning, that they have bent over and grabbed their ankles in service to the Democrats. What is astonishing, is that they do. Immediately.

Can't they see the theme here? Rush clearly has a fixation on all things anal. In psychology, Freud would have had a field day with him. The progression through the various stages of life is important to understanding the human psyche. We have typically moved beyond the anal stage by the age of 2 or 3 and it is directly related to psychosexual development. Although Freud is now considered passe, his theories of development do inform our understanding of the processes of development. The fact that Rush appears obsessed by race, women, sex, and all things anal combined with his need to be the center of attention suggest someone with some serious issues, which should concern the leadership of the Republican Party if this is the man who is setting their agenda. Personally, I find him mean-spirited and somewhat sad, and an on-going gift to the Democratic agenda.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Not Move Detainees to U.S?

Why can't we move Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S? The Republicans have mounted an amazing campaign claiming that we will not be safe if these terrorists currently incarcerated at Guantanamo are moved to U.S. prisons. Never mind that they would be moved to supermax prisons. Never mind that any prisoners actually released would be released to their home countries, not to the U.S. Never mind that none of this will happen anytime soon, but will happen after careful deliberation and due process (an admittedly foreign concept for Guantanamo detainees) to ensure that the most dangerous prisoners are appropriately handled.

The most recent reason why we can't have these terrorists in American prisons? Conservative pundits and blogs cite an incident that took place in 2000 involving a Muslim terrorist. This article about Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, in custody for the two embassy bombings in 1998, details his attack on a prison guard. On Nov. 1, 2000, while incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, Salim's attack left the guard blinded and partially paralyzed. This example is used to explain how violent jihadists are because of their background. That because of the kind of training they receive, because they are on a holy mission, they are more dangerous, more brutal, and more willing to risk their own lives and thus, too dangerous for U.S. prisons.

This is one incident. More detainees at Guantanamo have been injured in custody than have their guards. In fact, we have an obligation beyond ending "enhanced interrogation" to remove these men fromGuantanamo. Everyday these men experience cruel and unusual punishment that exceeds stress positions and the other techniques listed in the OLC memos. The Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) teams at Guantanamo as detailed here are more brutal than one man with a homemade shiv could ever be.

The U.S. is more than capable of containing violent prisoners and doing it ethically and legally. Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, and others are in custody. Bundy, Dahmer, and other serial killers too numerous to mention are either incarcerated or were executed and all were at least as dangerous as some of the men in Guantanamo. Many of the men in Guantanamo have actually done nothing wrong and were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of the paranoia of Bush and Cheney, and the inability of the system they attempted to put in place to deal with errors, these men are still there.

Why are the Republicans so afraid of bringing these men into American prisons? Why has the Democratic leadership knuckled under and begun singing that song? We have the highest unemployment rate ever. Prisons are experiencing reductions in size, prisoners are being given early release because of over-crowding. Guards are being let go, prisons are reducing units, and some supermax prisons stand empty. Closing Guantanamo and bringing the detainees here would add jobs to the corrections system without creating any additional danger. In fact, by closing Guantanamo, a symbol of the abuse of prisoners, it would enhance our image in the world and enhance our image with potential al Qaeda recruits, thus reducing one factor leading to the reason young men join al Qaeda.

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Guantanamo Funds Denial a Reality Check

Republicans are delighted that Democrats denied Obama funding to shut down Guantanamo. They think they've somehow won something and that their campaign of NO has succeeded. Not. Senator Reid fumbled badly as he attempted to explain the reasoning behind keeping Guantanamo open, saying that no detainees would ever be moved to American prisons. The vote yesterday to deny funding was not about keeping prisoners out of U.S. prisons, but rather to demand participation in Obama's planning.

I think Harry needs to spend a little time talking to his caucus. The Senate Democrats have made it clear that they are unhappy with the Obama Administration's lack of communication with them about plans for Guantanamo and the detainees. Obama has made several policy shifts since taking office and this denial of funds is Congress's way of demanding accountability from him.

"The language reads, "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act or any prior Act may be used to transfer, release or incarcerate any individual who was detained as of May 19, 2009 at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to or within the United States."

According to Senator Inouye, last weeks amendment to place restrictions on the funding was not a strong enough message to the Administration as there was still no plan forthcoming. The strong, inflammatory objections making the rounds in the media were also a factor as he suggested that the prison must close or continue being a recruiting tool for al Qaeda, but,

"Inouye was emphatic that Democrats still believe the prison should close, and that his amendment is only a "reality check" on the administration's intent to close it without a plan for the detainees being held there... None of the options are good, but this is one resource we have," he said. "We need to keep it. We have to keep it. It is by far the best option."

The whole article, Guantanamo Funds Stripped by Senate is here.

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Journalistic Integrity

I spend quite a bit of time criticizing the mainstream media, so I think it's only fair that when they do something right, that I point it out. This video from Media Matters is a compilation of 10 examples of journalistic integrity which includes, surprisingly enough, Bill O'Reilly among others whom I would expect to see.

Anyway, it's nice to see examples of journalism done well.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GOP's Torture Tricks Backfire

I love Matthew Yglesias. He was talking to Nora O'Donnell on MSNBC about his article on the Daily Beast. Nora tried to keep the subject on Pelosi rather than what it should be by asking about Newt Gingrich's demand that Speaker Pelosi resign, to which he replied:

"YGLESIAS:You know, Newt Gingrich knows a lot about saying stupid things and being forced out of the job as Speaker."

You can catch his article GOP's Torture Tricks Backfire here

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Lanny Davis Changes His Mind

Lanny Davis, counsel to President Clinton has changed his mind. An interesting position to take, considering his history, but still, better late than never I suppose. He says in his blog, posted on "The Hill."

"An indictment, of course, is only an accusation of criminal conduct. Mr. Cheney must be presumed innocent until a jury of his peers finds him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Many people still think, and I was among them until recently, that it would be better not to put the country through the divisive and backward-looking experience of seeing a former vice president on trial for crimes committed while in office. But given Mr. Cheney's decision to publicly attack the president on the subject, perhaps we have no choice but to take Mr. Cheney up on his challenge."

And what, exactly, was seeing a sitting president on trial if not divisive? The majority of the country was not interested in seeing the President impeached. The majority were not interested in Watergate or the many other -gates, and were appalled when Kenneth Starr released his report which was written not to show wrongdoing, but rather to embarrass the President. After years and millions of dollars, President Clinton was convicted of perjury for lying about having sex--a question that we, quite frankly, had no right to ask. All of that, after all the money spent investigating every aspect of their personal and business lives, including that of their friends and associates, the Clintons were found to have committed no crime, broken no ethical code, and participated in no conspiracy to commit a crime.

On the other hand, the Bush Administration has lied us to war, violated the Geneva Conventions, U.S. Code, the Constitution, and Vice President Cheney has, since leaving office, gone on tour proclaiming the rightness of his torture program. We don't even need to investigate. Our new Attorney General in his confirmation hearings stated that yes, "waterboarding is torture." Vice President Cheney, and many others, have stated that yes, we waterboarded detainees--or in Cheney's words, "high-value detainees" which somehow makes it better.

The historical record shows that we have prosecuted--and executed--others for waterboarding. The Japanese after World War II, our own soldiers during Vietnam, and a sheriff's deputy in Texas. We have no doubt that we did then, commit torture, no matter what you decide to call it. The Republicans try to change the subject and say it's about saving lives, saving the country, although we now have evidence that is not true. We have evidence that more information is gained through standard interrogation techniques; that torture elicits lies.

We know now that torture was most likely used to justify--after the fact--going to war with Iraq. The Republicans try to change the subject and say that high-ranking Democrats knew about it. And this matters, how? It becomes less a crime, how? If it is necessary it is not criminal, why?

Keep talking Mr. Cheney. Keep talking.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

WaPo Facilitates Push Polling, Again.

Well. Can't get the American people off the subject of torture? Build a strawman. Instead of discussing whether or not Bush/Cheney were correct in their tactics, argue about who knew what, when (specifically, Speaker Pelosi). Don't like the results of the polls that say most of the American people want prosecution of those who tortured and those who approved the torture? Change the polls.

Resurgent Republic who I don't want to link to, just add the dot com yourself, has established itself as a new player in the Washington polling game. Building on the success of push polling in the 2000 election cycle, they are a group of hardcore Republicans including Hayley Barbour, Mary Matalin, and others, who seek to reframe the torture debate by returning to the use of 'enhanced interrogation' and once again providing stenography services to the mainstream media. Chris Cilliza at the Washington Post The Fix disappointingly wrote extensively of these latest poll results - claiming 53% overall felt such tactics were justified compared to 34% - without bothering to discuss the actual poll itself.

Remember, poll results are useless unless you know 1) who was polled, 2) how many were polled, and 3) the questions asked.

Consider this question.

"Congressman A says America should never use harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, because they are torture. Those techniques undermine our values, hurt our standing in the world, endanger American troops who might be taken prisoner, and yield little or no useful information that could not be obtained by other means."

"Congressman B says that, while harsh interrogation techniques of detainees should be used only rarely, they may be necessary in exceptional situations to protect the country. Those techniques are justified when they are the only way to stop the murder of another 3000 innocent Americans in another 9/11."

The first part includes the word torture. The question uses inflammatory, negative terms - undermine, hurt, endanger troops, and then goes on to tell us that they 'yield little or not useful information.'

The second part does not use the word torture. It uses words that are not inflammatory but uses words meant to make us feel good - exceptional, protect, justified, innocent, and then appeals to our emotions by referencing the lives lost on 9/11.

This is called push-polling. You are presented with 2 choices - good or bad, right or wrong that appeal to your emotions. The question is framed so that there is only one possible "right" answer if you are not a monster. Neither address the issue at hand, that being: various elected officials including Dick Cheney have acknowledged that the used of torture, sometimes called enhanced interrogation to make us feel better about it, was used. Do you believe that investigations should occur into who is responsible? Or, something along those lines.

The group at Resurgent Republican are long-term Washington insiders, experienced campaigners and experienced pollsters. They know how to write a poll to get the results they want, knowing full well that people tend to follow the polls. People don't like to take a stand on their own. If they think most of the country believes in something, they are more likely to believe that as well. If they've been uncertain, a well-designed push-poll will push them write over the edge. The above question is one used in the poll Cilliza cites and is the least toxic.

A 'good' polling question is a simple statement, usually based on something in the news that the subject is likely to know about, and is written in a way that does not appeal to the subject's emotions. Loaded words are never used in a properly prepared poll unless - as in Cheney's use of enhanced interrogation - you have a pre-determined result to achieve and must design a poll to elicit the answers that you seek.

The media, again, is not doing its job when it simply reports the results of a poll like this without questioning the methodology. The only information Cilliza included in his article is that the poll included "critically independent" voters. But how many people were polled? Where were they from? How were they selected? What stratification process (if any) was used? Remember - percentages are meaningless numbers if you don't know how large a sample was used. Sixty percent of 5 people is still 3.

Once again, the mainstream media perpetuating the serial stupidity of our fellow citizens as they swallow unquestioningly what the Republican Party wants fed to them.

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Obama's Long War Against Cheneyism?

Obama's Long War Against Cheneyism? is worth the read and presents a perspective that although is one that I'm not sure I agree with in its entirety, is one that I hope is true, that I want to be true. Andrew Sullivan has taken Obama's recent decisions - many of which I have slammed in these pages, as have many progressives - and offers a view of Obama that, "...reveals a cunning we miss at our peril."

In discussing Cheney and his supporters, and their ownership of the 'war on terror,' Sullivans says:
"They have no shame and no ethical boundaries. And so the only truly profound way to defeat them and what they represent is to show that a humane ruthlessness is still possible in the fight against al Qaeda - which remains a threat rather than a phantom."
He analyzes why he believes Obama retained Gates, co-opted Huntsman, and chose McChrystal and suggests that by keeping the best of Bush's choices,

"...Obama is coopting the best of the Bush legacy, while separating it from the callow cynicism of the Cheney-Rove-Kristol axis."

"Cheney is taking the torture bait from Obama even as Obama refuses brilliantly to take the terror bait from Cheney. Obama is resisting the red-blue reductionism of the past while forging a new and powerful center. And the more Cheney and Kristol and Limbaugh posture as the future of the GOP, the worse they will do and the more likely it is that more sane and sensible conservatives will eventually fight back."

It has been clear for some time that although Obama is clearly making decisions that appear to break campaign promises, some of which appear to go even further than those of Bush particularly in the area of the 'war on terror,' he is too smart not to have a plan. President Bush was a puppet, at least in the early days. Despite his Ivy League degree, he did not have the intellectual capacity nor the critical thinking skills to make informed decisions. He was the first to say that he made decisions based on what he felt in his heart.

Is this thesis presented by Sullivan the answer then to the choices Obama is making? I don't know. Sullivan certainly has the credentials to support this theory and it is a very comforting one. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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The Continuing Serial Stupidity of the Republican Party

Where does the Republican Party find these people? The Minority Leader (Boehner R-OH) in the Washington Post now says that Speaker Pelosi should provide proof that the CIA lied to her or apologize. Hello?!?!

How about the CIA provide proof that they did in fact brief Speaker Pelosi and Senator Graham (D-FL) when and how they say they did? The CIA has already admitted that they were 'mistaken' about 3 of the 4 briefings they claim to have given Graham about 'enhanced interrogation' practices which you can read about here. Why is it so difficult to believe they are mistaken about Speaker Pelosi? She has asked that CIA produce the briefings to support their claim.

Boehner says that lying to Congress is a crime, so of course CIA would never do that and if Pelosi is going to say that they did, then she should produce her evidence so that the Justice Department can proceed with prosecutions. Uh huh.

Let's see. CIA refuses to release briefing notes. Republicans campaigning - hard - to stop any investigation into enhanced interrogation practices; who set up the program, when, how, and what was discovered through these procedures. But, they are also demanding that President Obama continue unquestioned the intelligence policies and programs established during the Bush Administration.

Speaker Pelosi is asking for release of the CIA briefing notes. As is Senator Graham. Speaker Pelosi is suggesting a Truth Commission. Speaker Pelosi is supportive of Senator Leahy's investigations into the truth of what happened during these 'enhanced interrogation' programs.

Hmmm. Difficult decision. One asking for investigation, the other for continued stonewalling, but hey, by the way, lying to Congress is a crime so you better say you're sorry. Again, another incidence of the serial stupidity of the Republican Party.

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Liz, Give it up. The Fantasy Isn't Wilkerson's.

Oh Liz. I thought we cleared this up already. As a previous under-Secretary of State, you certainly know how to dance the dance. You cannot continue saying that we don't have all the facts just because you don't like the ones that we do have. You refer us to the Washington Post (citing anonymous sources no less), and your father's statements which are clearly self-serving, but now your resort to defaming those who disagree? Old Dick is delusional. The documents and witness statements, OCL reports, Senate reports, Red Cross reports, and individual statements are just to numerous to be ignored. We have plenty of facts.

During the run-up to the war, we all heard about dear old dad's pressuring CIA for answers - answers that supported going to war with Iraq. We all know about the manufactured yellowcake memo, the aluminum tubes, the regular visits to CIA headquarters that were unprecedented by a VP. Now we know that not only did he visit, but that he had a reading room set up for him at CIA Headquarters. Remember the 23 mistakes in Powell's speech to the UN? Again, plenty of facts.

Last week you went on the Sunday talks and said that 'we just didn't know much about al Qaeda' prior to 9/11, ignoring the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, 2 African embassy bombings, the USS Cole bombing, and the Aug. 6, 2001 daily briefing after which Bush so famously stated, "okay, you've covered your ass"? More facts.

Yesterday, on This Week with George Stephanopolous, he asked you about reports this week about pressure to find links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Evidence that a prisoner of war, an aide to Saddam Hussein was tortured to prove that link and thus justify the invasion as detailed by General Powell's Chief of Staff Colonel Wilkerson. You say:

"I think it's important for us to have all the facts out. And the first and most important fact is that the vice president has been absolutely clear that he supported this saved American lives. Now, the way this policy worked internally was once the policy was determined and decided, the CIA, you know, made the judgments about how each individual detainee would be treated. And the Vice President would not substitute his own judgment for the professional judgment of the CIA." [emphasis added]

Stephanopolous asked you if there was pressure then from anyone in the Vice President's office and you added:

"...three people were waterboarded. The people that are claims to be waterboarded in these articles are not any of those people. And I think, frankly, you've also got to look at the source of some of these allegations, and one of the big sources is you know, Colonel Wilkerson..[who] gets coverage because of his association with Colonel Powell...and has made a cottage industry out of, you know, fantasies about the vice president since he left office."
Fantasy? Judgment? "The vice-president supported the program?" I believe it was a about 2 weeks after President Obama's inauguration when your father began his infamous media blitz. He broke with all tradition and began to attack the new president's policies and decisions when past practices have been for one administration to fade quietly away and not criticize for at least a couple of years after leaving office. What is remarkable, is that President Obama has been clear from day one that he does not want to prosecute torture regardless of public will, yet the more your father stamps his feet and demands the rightness of his cause, the more likely it is that at the very least a Truth Commission will be appointed if not a Special Prosecutor.

Your father has admitted that what we did is torture, that it was necessary, and that it was successful. Forget law and convention. Forget the advice of numerous experts in the military, intelligence, and psychological communities. Your father did not "support" this program. He created it. He demanded it. He went on tour to promote it. He exhibited extremely poor judgment to not only support it, but to continue to boast that it is still necessary, forgetting that it was used briefly and not at all during the last term of his administration.

It is your father who has exhibited poor judgment and fantasy. When he did not get the answers he wanted through normal, evidence-based means from detainees and prisoners of war, he created a program using methods that are illegal, immoral, and unnecessary. Methods that are designed to produce lies. Methods designed to produce fantasy. But, that's what he wanted, isn't it? A reason to go to war.

Evidence shows that our use of torture has improved the recruitment of al Qaeda, that detainees released from Guantanamo by the Bush Administration who were not terrorists when detained, returned to their homes and became terrorists. A direct response to their treatment in a program created by your father. It was on your father's watch that the worst terrorist attack on American soil occurred.

Fantasy? Colonel Wilkerson defended his boss and himself and his country. Your father? Not so much.

Read more about Liz Cheney's interview here

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Gall Newt

Can we make him go away? Every time I think we're done, there he is.

It takes a lot of gall to attack the current Speaker. Remember when Newt shut down the government? He allowed appropriations to expire, causing the shutdown, because he felt snubbed when he was seated in the back of Airforce One on the flight back from the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin.

Ultimately, with his failed "Contract with America" and numerous ethics complaints filed against him (which in fairness, were eventually dropped but one), The House Ethics Committee found that he had provided inaccurate information during those ethics investigations in the hopes of having the complaints dismissed and was found to have "intentional or ... reckless" disregard of House rules. Eventually, his own delegation turned on him and he was forced to resign his Speakership and he left the House.

So please, go away Newt. Please.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Newt Squares Off Against Pelosi - And Loses

Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich, who left his position as Speaker of the House (in disgrace) 10 years ago said of Speaker Pelosi:

"I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry...I think this is a big deal. I don't think the Speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters."
Continuing in honorable Newtish fashion:

"I think this is the most despicable, dishonest, and vicious political effort I've seen in my lifetime."
"She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowest of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior."
Newt goes on to say:

"Speaker Pelosi's the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent, or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses. The fact is she either didn't do her job, or she did do her job and she's now afraid to tell the truth.”
The only two defenses? Really? What about maybe the CIA didn't do their job? Or maybe the White House didn't do theirs? And truly, why would we want to listen to what ex-Speaker Gingrich has to say on the subject of current-Speaker Pelosi? Remember Newt's "Contract with America?" Neither do I.

Newt left in disgrace. What he thinks is irrelevant regardless of what the Republican Party and Fox News would like the agenda to be. And consider. Speaker Pelosi is asking for a Truth Commission. She is asking for the CIA to release the briefing reports to prove whether they or she is telling the truth. Newt and everyone else on the Republican side wants no investigation of torture. They are trying to muddy the waters by demanding investigations of tangential issues such as this. Why is that do you suppose?

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Prisoner Abuse Photos

So, if releasing the new pictures of abuse will put our soldier's in harms way, shouldn't we bring them home? I mean, how much more in harms way could you be than in combat?

Just saying.

Let's Lie Our Way to War

As a counselor, I know a little bit about psychology and interviewing. I make no claims to be any kind of expert, particularly on torture or enhanced interrogation, but I do know that the essence of counseling is establishing a relationship with my client.

What is the purpose of counseling? To help the client reach the solution to whatever problem has brought them to me. It is not for me to advise them, to tell them what to do, or even to tell them what the problem is. My values are not theirs, my opinions my own. Our feelings and emotions are often buried very deep and what we identify first (or second) is often not what is really at issue.

The counselors job is to create an environment in which the client feels safe, in which they can explore feelings and experiences that are too strong to deal with alone. Perhaps to re-write the story and this time, come out on top. Perhaps to talk through a problem and explore the consequences to potential solutions. Who knows what is going to happen when a client walks through that door, but it is said, and confirmed in numerous studies, that regardless of training, the act of simply listening - truly, actively listening - is enough to facilitate healing.

Working with victims of abuse, I see clients who have shut down. People often wonder why women stay with men who abuse them, not realizing that the primary abuse is not the physical violence, but rather the assault to the sense of self. Women who are abused are often isolated, cut off from friends and family. A slow and gradual erosion of confidence has taken place that paralyzes their ability to make a decision, to take action. Women who are abused rarely have resources. They rarely have access to money, cell phones, transportation, or the will seek them out. I have met upper-middle-class women who turned over their paychecks to their husbands, who received the grocery money in cash and had to return with the receipt and change. Women who when attending a social event for other women - a Tupperware party or shower - had their husband drive them. Many said "how sweet," when it was really another facet of control. It takes, on average, at least 6 episodes before an abused woman leaves for good. The triggering factor is often when the violence is finally turned on the children.

The point to the above, is that violence and emotional isolation causes the psyche to shut down. The individual feels paralyzed, helpless, without resources, and totally incapable of making independent decisions. Of course I am generalizing with a very broad brush, however, to understand the function of waterboarding, you must first understand the process in which interrogation works.

Countless studies and testimony of experts have shown that empathy, compassion, and relationship-building are essential components to successful interrogation. The FBI is expert at this and trains their interrogators thoroughly to be interrogators. The CIA does not. Why do you suppose that the waterboarding ordered by the Bush White House was conducted by the CIA and by CIA contractors and not by the experts already well trained by the federal government? Even military intelligence officers receive more training, yet the waterboarding was conducted by two psychologists who reverse engineered the training provided in the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape SERE Program used to train military officers in survival tactics.

The fundamental problem, is that the waterboarding did exactly what it was designed to do. Unfortunately, we have two men, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who did not understand conceptually the purpose for training our soldiers in the SERE program including waterboarding under controlled, extremely brief, circumstances.

Knowing something is controlled, for training, and to help save your life should you be captured is very different emotionally than knowing that something is being done to you by your enemy. The enemy does not care about you. You know they are breaking international law by the very fact that they are engaging in the very techniques that are happening to you, so why should you feel anything except intense, overwhelming fear of death?

Because our soldiers were waterboarded during the Korean War, this training was provided so that the soldiers could learn how to respond to torture. Remember; empathy, compassion, and relationship-building build trust. Physical violence and emotional abuse cause fear and cause the individual to shut down. Soldiers who go through SERE Training are trained to shut down when tortured. When waterboarded, the goal is to become so fearful that you will say anything to make it stop, to lie.

Therefore, when a soldier is waterboarded, shuts down, and lies, he or she has accomplished the goal of the SERE training. Why then, would Bush and Cheney expect a different result? When they were receiving successful, actionable intelligence through standard, relationship-building interrogation techniques, what did they hope to accomplish by doing something designed and guaranteed to elicit false confessions? Why did they demand that these men be tortured time after time after time, sometimes 6 times in one day, when they had already cooperated and established relationships with their interrogators? Why did they bring in these outside contractors to provide "harsh enhanced interrogation" when they had everything they knew?

One reason. One reason only. We had to go to war with Iraq. We had to depose Saddam Hussein. That was the only acceptable solution. On 9/11, there was already talk of Iraqi involvement (strange considering that the highjackers were, for the most part, Saudi nationals and that the only plane allowed to fly that week was one used to pick up members of the Saudi royal family and take them out of the country. hmmmm.) Interesting. That week, and we didn't yet know for sure who was responsible. We just knew though, that it was Bin Laden and Iraq.

Doubt me? Go pick up a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report.

An aide to Saddam Hussein, captured several months after 9/11 - a prisoner of war, by the way, not a "terrorist detainee" - was very cooperative and provided a lot of good information. Unfortunately for him, he didn't say the one thing the White House needed him to say. So, he got to experience some of those non-torture, "we had to do it to keep us safe" enhanced interrogation techniques, including 17 hours in a coffin.

Want to know what he finally had to say? You betcha. Despite our intelligence services all saying it wasn't true - then and later - he said that yes, despite the enmity between Hussein's Baath Party and Bin Laden's jihadists, there was an operational link between the two.

Yay! War! Get to go avenge daddy! (Remember, Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate Bush I). The 2 men who knew nothing, absolutely nothing about service, got to send our men and women to their deaths and kill tens of thousands of others because they wanted to.

Bush joined the National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam and even then, could not fulfill his contractual obligations. Cheney received 5 deferments because he "had other priorities." What cowards. Too afraid to serve themselves, too afraid that the next attack might actually hit its target (remember all the 'undisclosed locations' and that vacant thousand-yard stare? - 'My Pet Goat'?), they could only prove their manhood by playing war. To our cost.

To our cost.

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I should perhaps have clarified that the torture of Saddam Hussein's aide occurred after we were already at war with Iraq (hence his status as a prisoner of war). The purpose therefore was a retroactive search for justification for war. No WMD's, remember?