Thursday, April 30, 2009

Countdown: "Tracing torture to the top?" (video)

MSNBC-Countdown, video (07:23).

Howie P.S.: Olbermann and his guest Richard Wolfe discuss the possible paper trail (an Executive order obtained via the ACLU suit) to the White House and how it could influence the politics of this issue. Wolfe takes issue with Chris Matthews' argument in an earlier segment on Hardball, video (12:47), that torture may be a president's last resort in some instances.

Ed Schultz: Obama's "Torture stance a 'political tightrope'" (video)

MSNBC-Morning Joe, video (05:12).

Howie P.S.: Schultz frames Obama's torture position before Joe and Pat Buchanan pile on some of Obama's domestic spending plans.

Countdown: "Rice's tortured excuse" (video)

MSNBC-Countdown: Keith Olbermann rips Condi's torture lies to shreds with the assistance of ex-Nixon aide, John Dean, video (07:21). Dean suggests that Obama may be at risk for prosecution himself if he doesn't proceed with prosecution, based on international law.

Al Giordano: "How “The NAFTA Flu” Exploded"

Al Giordano:
Smithfield Farms Fled US Environmental Laws to Open a Gigantic Pig Farm in Mexico, and All We Got Was this Lousy Swine Flu--US and Mexico authorities claim that neither knew about the “swine flu” outbreak until April 24. But after hundreds of residents of a town in Veracruz, Mexico, came down with its symptoms, the story had already hit the Mexican national press by April 5. The daily La Jornada reported:
Clouds of flies emanate from the rusty lagoons where the Carroll Ranches business tosses the fecal wastes of its pig farms, and the open-air contamination is already generating an epidemic of respiratory infections in the town of La Gloria, in the Perote Valley, according to Town Administrator Bertha Crisóstomo López.

The town has 3,000 inhabitants, hundreds of whom reported severe flu symptoms in March.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting from Mexico, has identified a La Gloria child who contracted the first case of identified “swine flu” in February as “patient zero,” five-year-old Edgar Hernández, now a survivor of the disease.

By April 15 – nine days before Mexican federal authorities of the regime of President Felipe Calderon acknowledged any problem at all – the local daily newspaper, Marcha, reported that a company called Carroll Ranches was “the cause of the epidemic.”

La Jornada columnist Julio Hernández López connects the corporate dots to explain how the Virginia-based Smithfield Farms came to Mexico: In 1985, Smithfield Farms received what was, at the time, the most expensive fine in history – $12.6 million – for violating the US Clean Water Act at its pig facilities near the Pagan River in Smithfield, Virginia, a tributary that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The company, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dumped hog waste into the river.

It was a case in which US environmental law succeeded in forcing a polluter, Smithfield Farms, to construct a sewage treatment plant at that facility after decades of using the river as a mega-toilet. But “free trade” opened a path for Smithfield Farms to simply move its harmful practices next door into Mexico so that it could evade the tougher US regulators.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect on January 1, 1994. That very same year Smithfield Farms opened the “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state of Veracruz through a new subsidiary corporation, “Agroindustrias de México.”

Unlike what law enforcers forced upon Smithfield Farms in the US, the new Mexican facility – processing 800,000 pigs into bacon and other products per year – does not have a sewage treatment plant.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Smithfield slaughters an estimated 27 million hogs a year to produce more than six billion pounds of packaged pork products. (The Veracruz facility thus constitutes about three percent of its total production.)

Reporter Jeff Teitz reported in 2006 on the conditions in Smithfield’s US facilities (remember: what you are about to read describes conditions that are more sanitary and regulated than those in Mexico):

Smithfield’s pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs—anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.

Consider what happens when such forms of massive pork production move to unregulated territory where Mexican authorities allow wealthy interests to do business without adequate oversight, abusing workers and the environment both. And there it is: The violence wrought by NAFTA in clear and understandable human terms.

The so-called “swine flu” exploded because an environmental disaster simply moved (and with it, took jobs from US workers) to Mexico where environmental and worker safety laws, if they exist, are not enforced against powerful multinational corporations.

False mental constructs of borders – the kind that cause US and Mexican citizens alike to imagine a flu strain like this one invading their nations from other lands – are taking a long overdue hit by the current “swine flu” media frenzy. In this case, US-Mexico trade policy created a time bomb in Veracruz that has already murdered more than 150 Mexican citizens, and at least one child in the US, by creating a gigantic Petri dish in the form pig farms to generate bacon and ham for international sale.

None of that indicates that this flu strain was born in Mexico, but, rather, that the North American Free Trade Agreement created the optimal conditions for the flu to gestate and become, at minimum, epidemic in La Gloria and, now, Mexico City, and threatens to become international pandemic.
Welcome to the aftermath of “free trade.” Authorities now want you to grab a hospital facemask and avoid human contact until the outbreak hopefully blows over. And if you start to feel dizzy, or a flush with fever, or other symptoms begin to molest you or your children, remember this: The real name of this infirmity is “The NAFTA Flu,” the first of what may well emerge as many new illnesses to emerge internationally as the direct result of “free trade” agreements that allow companies like Smithfield Farms to escape health, safety and environmental laws.

"Impeach Jay Bybee" (video), video (00:30):
Jay Bybee is responsible for some of the worst of the Bush torture memos. And now? He's a federal judge. Jay Bybee showed no respect for our laws and isn't fit to be a judge. Can you sign our petition to Congress calling for the impeachment of Jay Bybee?

"Did Rice Just Implicate Bush For Torture?" (video)

Spencer Ackerman (firedoglake), with video (07:14):
Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and secretary of state to George W. Bush, put on something of a torture-and-responsibility clinic to a student at Stanford University. Annie Lowrey at Foreign Policy does the hard work of transcribing, so I can simply cut-n-paste Rice's recollection of her July 2002 approval of the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah:
The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against torture. So that's -- and by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. That they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did....

The United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.

My emphasis. I had intended to stop this post with a notation of Rice's rather Nixonian overtones --"When the president does it, that means it is not illegal" -- but it appears Rice has actually made some news here. Until now, Rice has been the seniormost Bush administration official known to have signed off on waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" methods for Abu Zubaydah. In an April 2008 interview with ABC News, Bush said that he knew that his top advisers had met to discuss what was acceptable for the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in the spring of 2002, but acknowledged merely that he "approved" of such meetings, but gave no indication that he specifically signed off on the interrogation plan.
But Rice is now portraying herself as merely being a conduit for approving the CIA's interrogation regime: "I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency." Well, there are only two more-senior officials than Rice in this context, and that's Bush and then-VP Dick Cheney. If she hadn't made a decision on the part of the administration for the Abu Zubaydah interrogation plan, only one of these two men would have had the authority to do so. And all of this would have happened before the Justice Department determined the interrogation techniques to be legal.
Howie P.S.: Condi is a condescending liar. It was gratifying to hear the suppressed rage in her voice. She's feeling the heat.

"The Halo Holds"

Eleanor Clift:
Obama has said repeatedly, maybe too much so, that he doesn't want to be backward-looking. "He views this not unreasonably as a diversion from his agenda," says Bill Galston, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. "He's learning what all presidents learn: there are limits to agenda control. You do what is thrust upon you."

The flip side of Obama's cool and unperturbed demeanor is that he sometimes doesn't quite get the passions that are part of politics, or would rather set them aside in service of his larger vision. It became clear this week that he has to find a way for Democrats to vent the anger built up against an administration that many feel acted illegally, perhaps criminally. Galston is among those who believe that one way or another, there will have to be a commission.

"Rachel Maddow-Professor Jonathan Turley - Bush Admin's "Dirty Harry" lawlessness" (video)

firedoglake, video (05:35).

Howie P.S.: Professor Turley can't square Obama's definition of waterboarding as torture and his reluctance to hold those responsible accountable for this "mistake." Obama never says "crime." Cenk Uygur presents video from Stanford University where students confronted Condi Rice over her participation in the torture process.

"The Off-Brand Presidency"

Timothy Egan (NY Times):
Obama’s broad support points to an old American character trait – pragmatism. It can tilt conservative or liberal, as resilient as the times.

We are said to be a center-right country. In truth, we lean to common sense. If that means tying up the banks in ropes of new regulation to keep them from running amok again, despite cries about restraining free enterprise, most people are for it. If that means firing hack public school teachers to the wails of the educational establishment, the public is there as well.
Howie P.S.: For the record, Mr. Egan is a Seattle resident.

"Jon Stewart on Specter’s switch and the 100-day countdown" (video)

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Jed Lewison, video (05:09).

Howard Dean: "What does Spector's switch say about the GOP?" (video)

MSNBC-Morning Joe, video (09:51).

Howie P.S.: Joe brings in Dr. Dean as the non-resident expert and then Joe and the in-house panel (Tina Brown and Pat Buchanan) offer their remedies to improve the health of the ailing minority party.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fineman: On torture, Obama's answers "keep the argument going" (video)

MSNBC-Countdown, video (09:54).

Howie P.S.: Olbermann conducts a "press conference analysis" with Howard Fineman. In his next segment, Olbermann follows up with David Axelrod, video-(06:17) on the torture issue. Axelrod argues, once again, that it is "time to move forward." Here's what Obama said, video (03:34).

Michelle Obama's First Hundred Days (video)

NBC Nightly News, video (02:14).

Howie P.S.:
I have written before of the privilege of having spent some time "up close" with Michelle Obama when she visited Seattle during the primary campaign. Those who know me will be surprised to learn I could not find the courage to utter a single word to her, just based on my gut reaction to her presence even as I observed her talking easily with others.

"Torture is the weapon of cowards and bullies and monsters. Cheney is all three. Prosecute him."

Andrew Sullivan:


The West has been attacked many times before by barbarians. As someone who grew up in Southern England between London and the Channel, this was perhaps more obvious to me than to some Americans. In the countryside around my home, there were still occasional concrete constructions designed to impede Nazi tanks left rotting in the woods. My high-school playground retained its air-raid shelters (we stored our dirty books there). My great aunt was blind in one eye from a bomb blast in the blitz; my grandfather lived with a brain injury when he was a prison guard in the war and was attacked by a prison inmate during an air-raid; my mother was knocked over by the impact of a rocket at the end of the war; my parents and aunts and uncles were evacuated. Most ordinary people lived through the Blitz, a random 9/11 a week, from an army poised to invade, and turn England's democratic heritage into a footnote in a Nazi empire.

As all that was happening, and as intelligence was vital, the British captured over 500 enemy spies operating in Britain and elsewhere. Most went through Camp 020, a Victorian pile crammed with interrogators. As Britain's very survival hung in the balance, as women and children were being killed on a daily basis and London turned into rubble, Churchill nonetheless knew that embracing torture was the equivalent of surrender to the barbarism he was fighting. The chief interrogator at Camp 020 was someone out of the movies:

Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens was the commander of the wartime spy prison and interrogation centre codenamed Camp 020, an ugly Victorian mansion surrounded by barbed wire on the edge of Ham Common. In the course of the war, some 500 enemy spies from 44 countries passed through Camp 020; most were interrogated, at some point, by Stephens; all but a tiny handful crumbled.

Stephens was a bristling, xenophobic martinet; in appearance, with his glinting monocle and cigarette holder, he looked exactly like the caricature Gestapo interrogator who has “vays of making you talk”.

Stephens had ways of making anyone talk. In a top secret report, recently declassified by MI5 and now in the Public Records Office, he listed the tactics needed to break down a suspect: “A breaker is born and not made . . . pressure is attained by personality, tone, and rapidity of questions, a driving attack in the nature of a blast which will scare a man out of his wits.”

The terrifying commandant of Camp 020 refined psychological intimidation to an art form.

Suspects often left the interrogation cells legless with fear after an all-night grilling. An inspired amateur psychologist, Stephens used every trick, lie and bullying tactic to get what he needed; he deployed threats, drugs, drink and deceit. But he never once resorted to violence. “Figuratively,” he said, “a spy in war should be at the point of a bayonet.” But only ever figuratively. As one colleague wrote: “The Commandant obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. It was the very basis of Camp 020 procedure that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner.”

Stephens did not eschew torture out of mercy. This was no squishy liberal: the eye was made of tin, and the rest of him out of tungsten. (Indeed, he was disappointed that only 16 spies were executed during the war.) His motives were strictly practical. “Never strike a man. It is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment. And having given a false answer, all else depends upon the false premise.”...

Torture is the weapon of cowards and bullies and monsters. Cheney is all three. Prosecute him.

Howie P.S.: Sam Stein (HuffPo) asks,"Is Obama Reading Andrew Sullivan? References Similar Torture Post During Presser."

Valerie Jarrett: "Health care, health care, health care" (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (04:20).

Howie P.S.: Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, talks with Schultz about the next 100 days. Rahmbo talks with Brian Willisms (NBC Nightly News), video (11:59).

Obama Press Conference "first impressions" (video)

MSNBC, video (04:10).

Howie P.S.: Olbermann and Maddow do some instant analysis.

"The Progressive Caucus and Obama"

Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Nation):
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) met with President Obama for one hour in the East Room of the White House yesterday.

CPC Co-Chair, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, said that 50 of the 77 Caucus members attended, and they honed in on two major issues: their commitment to only supporting a healthcare reform bill that includes a public plan option that is "more than a gesture"; and the $83 billion war supplemental.

"It was a serious meeting," Rep. Grijalva said. "It moved quickly, there was a lot of candor from both sides."

Presenting the Caucus' case for healthcare reform were Representatives Yvette Clark, Tammy Baldwin, Jan Schakowsky, and Jim McDermott.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich spoke with the President about a single-payer system.

Rep. Grijalva said members made it clear that the Caucus' support for any healthcare bill hinges on a public plan option that is "robust… [and] competitive with the private sector." President Obama called himself "an ally", but said it was up to Congress to deliver him the kind of bill to which the Caucus is committed.

With regard to the $83 billion war supplemental, Rep. Grijalva said the Caucus expressed its concern that "we're making the same mistake -- everything is going into militarization, not institutional reform, human and capital development, healthcare… those kinds of things." They pointed out to the President that the counterinsurgency strategy calls for 80 percent of the resources to be devoted to non-military/political solutions, and 20 percent to the military. But the supplemental devotes $76 billion for the military and approximately $7 billion for diplomatic efforts and foreign aid.

Obama said that the supplemental reflects the mess he inherited from his predecessor and the consequent short-term security needs. He said the Caucus should look at the FY2010 budget to see the kinds of investments that he supports.

Beyond the supplemental, the Caucus cited four other priorities with regard to Afghanistan and Iraq: no permanent bases; a timetable for exit; the aforementioned 80-20 allocation of resources; and the need to cease using drones due to civilian casualties.

Rep. Grijalva reported that President Obama said "he's not going to be caught in a quagmire. We'll be revisiting this decision every week, every month…."

Taking the lead in discussing security issues were Representatives John Tierney, Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison, and Mike Honda.

Grijalva said this wasn't a meeting where they "pinned down" the President and that "he handles tough questions very well." There was mutual respect and the meeting "helped solidify the relationship between the CPC and the White House."

The meeting was a good one for conveying the Caucus' key concerns on critical issues which will loom large in the next 100 days and beyond. It also represented an important and hopeful moment for the CPC itself. Rep. Grijalva explained, "It was good for the Caucus to be unified. There was no questioning the opinions the Caucus members gave to the President. With 50 people -- very few of us were able to speak -- and it demonstrates that members were there to support the Caucus and support each other. That's significant. Today everybody hung together and stuck to these two issues. I think that kind of discipline is very important."

Rep. Grijalva is right. At a time when the significantly smaller Blue Dog Caucusthreatens to impede passage of a much needed budget and real healthcare reform, the CPC's work as a more unified team -- allied with the work of millions of progressives across the country -- could translate to real reform at the federal level.

In the past, Caucus members have had a hard time doing their politics together.

This afternoon's meeting with President Obama may signal a new unity that bodes well for the tough fights ahead.
Howie P.S.: I'm pleased that Jim McDermott (D-Seattle) was one of the presenters for health care reform. In Seattle, some local bellydancers showed their support for single-payer in front of the Federal Building, video (09:00).

The ED Show: Meet Joe Sestak (D-PA) (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (07:43).

Howie P.S.: Sestak talks about Pennsylvania politics and says he "hasn't made up his mind" on whether to run for the U.S. Senate there in 2010. Ryan Lizza, John Feehery and Jamal Simmons join Schultz to discuss the Pennsylvania situation and its national impact. In the next segment, video (11:08), Schultz gives his view of the what Spector move means to the Obama agenda and the prospects for health care reform. He discusses this with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Thoughts on Specter"

We Democrats here in Pennsylvania know Arlen Specter's record better than anyone and you'll be hearing endless reiterations of his many sins over the next two years. I don't need to do that now. Suffice to say that most progressives in this state find Specter to be enormously frustrating. We do not dispute that he is what passes these days for a moderate Republican. We know that he has a good record on labor issues and that he is officially pro-choice. I know high level people in the teacher's unions that intended to re-register as Republicans to vote for him in the primary and then re-register as Democrats to vote against him in the general. Specter is not hated or despised by most people, but he isn't liked or respected either.
We were hoping to beat him in the 2010 election, not be asked to support him. I suspect most activists and progressives will simply refuse to work for his reelection and we'll probably get organized in the Netroots to do the best job we can financing an alternative in the primary.

This sets us up to look like the left-wing version of the Club for Growth. We look too ideologically rigid and intolerant to allow for moderates in our party. There is no doubt that this will be the dominant media narrative, especially considering that Specter will have the full support of the DNC, DSCC, Harry Reid, and President Obama. But it's not a fair characterization.

The Republicans need a moderate to win in this increasingly Democratic state. The Democrats do not need a moderate to win. We just went through a less clear case of this in 2006 when we were forced to stomach Bob Casey Jr. as our candidate against a mortally wounded Rick Santorum. Sen. Casey is good on many issues, but we deserved a chance to choose between several viable candidates, including one that supports abortion rights. We deserve the same chance in the 2010 elections. But the only way that can now happen is if the progressives really get organized and have a lot of luck raising money for a challenger to Sen. Specter. It's not easy to take on our own president's endorsement.

I don't blame the Democrats for orchestrating this move. It's a solid play that deeply demoralizes the Republicans and puts them on the defensive. We will get endless benefits in rhetoric as we explain that the GOP is too radicalized and Southern to represent the people of Pennsylvania. And I know how this is going to go down. We're going to have to take on our own party leadership including the president to make the case for an alternative to Specter. And we'll have to try to communicate that the problem isn't that we can't tolerate moderates in our party but that we want choices.

Specter is popular in this state. He's only following his voters (the 200,000 moderate Republicans that switched parties to vote in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary). He's going to be formidable. And I welcome his decision to join the Democratic Party even as I know the decision was forced on him more by our idiosyncratic election laws than any matter of principle. But, just because I welcome him into the party doesn't mean that I don't want a better Democrat representing me in the Senate. Is that unreasonable? Just give me the chance to vote for another viable candidate. That's all I ask. If Specter wins I will respect that just as I begrudgingly respected Casey's win in the primary in 2006.
We can win the 2010 senate election without Specter. The Republicans cannot. And that's the difference between our position and the position of the Club for Growth.

Nate Silver: "Specter's Switch More Insult Than Injury to GOP"

Nate Silver:
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has decided to become a Democrat.
This strikes me as being bad news for the Republican Party more than it is good news for the Democrats. Back in January, I described a process which I labeled the Republican Death Spiral:

Thus the Republicans [...] are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative [...] their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.
This defection, coming at a time when historically low numbers of Americans are identifying themselves as Republican, would seem to be a manifestation of said Death Spiral. These problems, indeed, were particularly acute in Pennsylvania, where many of the state's more moderate Republicans had re-registered as Democrats to vote in the state's extremely contentious primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Thus, given an extremely conservative Republican electorate, Specter appeared to be an underdog against his extremely conservative primary challenger, Pat Toomey, and switched parties in order to increase his odds of survival.

But this is not necessarily an unmitigated win for the Democrats. Unlike Jim Jeffords' switch in 2001, this does not affect who controls the Senate Chamber. Rather, it merely nudges the filibuster math, which has always been somewhat fuzzy. While the Democrats will have a nominal total of 60 votes once Al Franken is seated, the Senate's fortunes will still be determined by a group of about a dozen moderate senators from both parties (including Specter), just as it was before.

The real question is -- how often will Specter's vote change as a result of this? Specter was already voting with the Democrats on some issues, like the stimulus, and he said in his statement today that he will continue to vote against the Democrats on at least one other high-profile issue, the Employee Free Choice Act. If he goes from voting with the Democrats 40 percent of the time to 60 percent of the time, that is not so terrific for them, particularly if the 60th seat raises expectations and lends credence to Republican claims about the need for divided government.

But of course, Specter can't be too cute about this, or he might have primary problems on the left. The Republican nominee is probably going to be Toomey, who will be an underdog against any sentient Democrat. Why should the Democrats settle for a Liberdem when they can probably get Pennsylvanians to elect a mainline Democrat along the lines of Bob Casey? Specter's cooperation on key issues like health care and cap-and-trade would now seem all but assured -- but then again, Democrats could perhaps already have expected such cooperation to begin with.
Unless Specter becomes a fairly liberal Democrat (perhaps with one or two exceptions like EFCA) his party switch today is something which might have more symbolic than actual impact.
Howie P.S.: H/t to Mike Kato.

NBC: "Spector switching" (video)

MSNBC, video (05:19).

Howie P.S.: Obama is "thrilled" and Joe Lieberman has a new Facebook friend!

"Beyond MoveOn: Using the Internet for Real Change"

John Stauber (
Recently the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice asked me to write an article for them with my ideas of how grassroots activists could better use the internet for real change. As a member of the group, I was happy to tackle that assignment, and here are my thoughts.

Barack Obama owes his election in no small part to his brilliant use of social networking websites, email, cell phone texting and blogs, all utilized in unprecedented ways by his campaign staff to promote, organize and fund his unlikely victory. He employed techniques pioneered by online groups such as MoveOn and took them to an entirely new level. Thanks to Obama's use of the Internet, politics in America will never be the same. It's crucial that peace and social justice activists at the state and local levels understand and harness these new technologies in organizing for fundamental social change.

The grassroots movements for peace, economic justice, environmental sustainability and other fundamental reforms -- representing millions of individual political progressives who helped elect Barack Obama -- are for the most part delighted that the Bush/Cheney regime has been vanquished. However, disillusion and disappointment is rightly building among activists who are now seeing Obama and the Democratic Party cutting deals with corporate special interests and backing down on commitments to change US foreign policy.

The main online activist efforts that elected Obama -- his own Organizing for America and the liberal lobby MoveOn -- have become cheerleaders and lobbyists for his legislative agenda, policies that in many instances betray his rhetoric of change. I am referring to Obama's refusal to quickly end the war in Iraq; his military escalation in Afghanistan; his support for Wall Street bailouts; his endorsement of tax subsidies for the coal industry ("clean coal") and the nuclear power industry (saving us from global warming). Obama is about to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on health care subsidies that cater to the insurance industry and undermine the only real solution to the current crisis, the adoption of a single payer health care system such as that enjoyed by the Canadians and most other western democracies.

Yet my email box is filled with missives from MoveOn and other liberal online campaigns that spin these dismal policies as "real change," or ignore them entirely to dampen criticism from the Left of the Obama Administration.

What are grassroots activist organizations to do to avoid marginalization? Peace and justice organizations at the local and state level need to learn and adopt the new media tools of MoveOn and Obama, but use them to give birth to fundamental change that empowers people rather than seeks accommodation with powerful corporate interests. Rather than organizing for an agenda determined by a handful of partisan Democrats at the top, this new organization should work to empower and represent people from the bottom up.

Obama's Online Coup

Barack Obama is president of the United States for a number of key reasons including his political positions and image. During the Democratic primary he was able to position himself as the anti-war alternative to Hillary Clinton and this helped him beat Clinton at her own money game, raising much more in contributions from both wealthy donors and smaller contributors than she did. Polls show that during the race against John McCain he benefited from the sudden collapse of the U.S. financial system, as voters turned to the cool and calm Obama and away from the brash McCain.

But arguably the most important key to the success of President Barack Obama was his use of the Internet and his ability to harness it for publicizing his campaign, among young voters especially; mobilizing enthusiastic supporters by the millions via email, websites and text messaging; raising tens of millions of dollars from these online supporters and organizing them successfully at the grassroots level to actually turn out and vote in primaries and the general election.

In using the Internet so effectively, Obama and his campaign staff built upon the previous successes in 2004 of Howard Dean, the Vermont governor who came from nowhere and rode his wave of anti-war Internet supporters to become the leading Democratic candidate for the Presidency, until his campaign crashed and burned in the not-so-virtual reality of the Iowa Caucus. Dean was unable to translate his army of online supporters into a grassroots force that could turn out voters and win elections on the ground. Succeeding where Dean failed, Obama was able to marry his online "netroots" mobilization to an effective old-style campaign of getting out the vote.

The Obama campaign carried online and digital activism to a new level of fundraising and political organizing through its "Obama for America" campaign, which built a massive email list complete with phone numbers for simultaneous text messaging. When Obama moved into the White House this political machine was moved into the office of the Democratic National Committee to become a coordinated lobby force for the new administration, renamed Organizing for America. No previous president has ever come into office with his own electronically-networked grassroots lobby of over ten million Americans, able to be activated to support the goals of the Administration.

Obama's victory has forever changed how electoral campaigns are run and it underscores the necessity for both candidates and social change organizations to harness the power of the Web, whether to stop a war, gain national healthcare, or win electoral office.

The Rise of MoveOn

A seminal moment for online activism was in 1998 when a liberal millionaire couple from Berkeley, Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, launched MoveOn as an online petition to condemn President Clinton's White House philandering while urging the Congress to move on to other more pressing matters than the Clinton impeachment.

MoveOn's petition campaign failed to dissuade Republicans from impeaching the President, but it was wildly successful in building for MoveOn a list of contributors that has since provided tens of millions of dollars for political ads and liberal candidates. In 2002, MoveOn used and grew this list into the millions of people, becoming the most visible organizational opponent of the war on Iraq. In 2008, MoveOn's members endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, and today MoveOn claims a list of more than 5 million contributors.

It has become a powerful cheerleading force and lobby for the policies of the Obama Administration, yet it has no office, phone, or mailing address, functioning virtually online off its website while raising millions of dollars and organizing rallies, media events and launching advertising campaigns in support of President Obama.

The Blogosphere and the Rise of the Netroots Nation

"Blogging" refers to writing web logs or journals, a style of online speech and advocacy that has become a powerful political movement in its own right. The online world of liberal bloggers -- the "liberal blogosphere" -- was crucial to the resurgence of liberalism during the Bush years.

Two youngish Democratic consultants, Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas (founder of Daily Kos blog), wrote the book, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics in 2006. Armstrong earlier coined the term "netroots" to describe the liberal blogosphere. Moulitsas' popular blog has inspired an annual conference now called Netroots Nation that next occurs in Pittsburgh beginning Aug. 13, 2009. Thousands of people including Democratic Party activists, liberal think tanks, public interest organizations, lobby and PR firms, celebrities and citizen bloggers are certain to attend, and the event will receive attention in the mainstream media.

In their book, Crashing the Gates, Armstrong and Moulitsas use the term "netroots" to describe the "online grassroots community that has grown dramatically in the past five years ... By late November 2005, the top 70 or so liberal blogs, led by Daily Kos, garnered about 60 million page-views every month ...The netroots activist, much like the new generation of grassroots activist, is fiercely partisan, fiercely multi-issue, and focused on building a broader movement. It's not an ideological movement -- there is actually very little, issue-wise, that unites most modern party activists except, perhaps opposition to the Iraq war.

The rise of MoveOn, the emergence of the liberal blogosphere and the revival of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party during the darkest years of George Bush were chronicled by New York Times reporter Matt Bai in his 2007 book titled, The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. Bai's book was the first to examine the new power alliance within the Democratic Party composed of the organizations referenced in his long subtitle, an alliance that is now mostly united behind the Obama Administration. These players include billionaires such as George Soros and other wealthy members of an exclusive group of funders called the Democracy Alliance; the major liberal bloggers like Armstrong and Moulitsas; and the organization MoveOn, whose political action committee had become one of the top money contributors to Democratic candidates.

The Essentials for Netroots Organizing

The heady success of Obama and MoveOn is impressive and has created a new liberal power structure. But the power of the Internet is available not just to them, but to individual activists and thousands of small progressive organizations whose supporters have the basic computer hardware, software and Internet Technology (IT) skills to raise money, promote ideas, and launch and conduct successful online and grassroots campaigns for candidates or causes.

Indeed, it's imperative that grassroots organizations learn to better utilize the Web to become a more progressive counterweight to the slick marketing and mainstream politics of MoveOn and the Obama Administration. Grassroots organizers need to understand and adopt the new tools that propelled Obama into the presidency, that have rejuvenated the Democratic Party, and allowed the emergence of MoveOn. Below are some of the online tools that are available and should be studied, used and adopted by activists. Let me say that I am not a geek, I don't write computer code and I have no Internet technology skills. Luckily many people do and every organization of more than a few dozen people likely has within it or among its extended network people with skills to build the nucleus necessary for online activism. Here is the basic toolkit.

Interactive Websites

Many grassroots organizations already have one, and every organization needs one. If no one in your organization has ever built one, look at the websites of organizations you belong to and work with and talk with them for advice. Ideally a website should be built with using an "open source" platform made for activism and marketing, such as Drupal. "Web 2.0" is a term coined to describe making anything online as interactive and useful as possible, and is good jargon to keep in mind because interactivity and user-friendliness are crucial to successful web activism.

Email Sign Up

A website should invite, cajole and encourage visitors to sign up for email messages from the organization. Building and maintaining the email list is the key to publicizing the goals and work of the organization and to developing a paying membership of online contributors. Constantly growing and expanding this list should be an organizational objective.

Put a Big Honking Donation Button on Your Website

Organizations like Groundspring make it easy for anyone visiting an activist website to click and contribute funding. This is essential and important especially during an economic depression when foundation and major donor funding is hard to come by, or at election time when funding is often too tied to a partisan agenda. Put a prominent graphic on your site so anyone can easily click and donate.


Blogs essentially turn a website into an engaging online source for information and debate, and the more and better information that appears, the more visitors will attracted to the website. Blogs can be brief informative articles, opinion pieces, stories that point to other people's online writing or websites, or in-depth journalistic analysis. The organization should decide who within it will write articles on the website. Blogs can also be offered for free reprint on other websites such as Daily Kos, Common Dreams, AlterNet, and Counterpunch, spreading the views of the writer to a much larger audience.

Online Campaigns

Most activist organizations work on specific issues, like stopping the spread of industrial hog factories in rural communities, ending the war in Iraq, or pressuring a politician by organizing a protest at his or her office. Your website should make it easy for people to: endorse your campaigns through online petitions (which also build your email lists); download information about your campaigns; and mobilize attendance at specific events such as rallies, vigils, lobby days, and conferences that advance your work through old-fashioned grassroots activism and organizing. Obama had a great online campaign, but his real genius was in linking it to his on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote efforts. The same should be true of activist campaigns.

Citizen Journalism

The blogosphere has given rise to the citizen journalism movement. For instance, on your website you can write a factual, informative, documented article on an issue important to your group, and if you have a digital still camera you can attach a photograph. You can make an online video and upload it free to YouTube, where anyone online can see it.

At the website SourceWatch, a high-traffic online "encyclopedia of the people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda," you can easily create accurate, fair and documented articles, or edit and expand existing articles, then link to them and link them to your website. Two-thirds of the 2 million monthly visitors to SourceWatch arrive through Google searches, so SourceWatch articles on your issues are likely to drive traffic back to your website.

MySpace, Facebook and Twitter

These social network sites are now getting lots of TV media attention and are likely already used by individuals in your organization. They should be woven into your online activism. Obama used social networking sites very successfully. Some organizations have created activist networking sites such as WiserEarth, but you should also use popular existing sites.

Uniting the Grassroots with the Netroots: Beyond MoveOn

In early 2007, I began publicly criticizing MoveOn for co-opting the peace movement on behalf of the agenda of Congressional Democrats. The Democrats gained control of the U.S. Congress in the fall of 2006 based primarily on public revulsion over Bush's war in Iraq, a war that was endorsed from the start by leading Democrats including John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, and many others. In early 2007, the Democrats had an opportunity to cut off funding for the war, but blinked. MoveOn, an organization considered by the mainstream media the leader of the peace movement, sided with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an effort that marginalized the Congressional Out of Iraq caucus and gave Bush all the funding he wanted to continue the war.

The peace movement has never recovered. Although Obama was elected as the peace candidate, his Iraq withdrawal plan is anemic and would leave 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely, while he has ramped up the U.S. war in Afghanistan. MoveOn has declared Obama's Iraq strategy a success, even as the war continues, and is refusing to oppose Obama on Afghanistan. Meanwhile the grassroots peace movement that consists primarily of the scores of groups that make up the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition are disorganized and dispirited and UFPJ is in danger of going broke.

It's likely that all these groups that comprise UFPJ have among their own existing email lists a total number of peace activists in the millions. Yet they have never figured out how to mobilize these lists to create the sort of mega-list that is wielded by MoveOn. Hopefully down the road a network of non-partisan, web-based local and state activists will come together and create state and national email lists of millions of mobilized activists. Until these grassroots local and state groups learn the tricks of online activism and marry it to powerful grassroots organizing campaigns, real change will be deferred.

"Steady In Tough Times"

Andrew Sullivan:
It seems much longer than a hundred days to me. In fact, it feels quite natural now, almost part of the furniture. The thrilling change many of us campaigned for felt most intense and promising this time last year, and once the possibility of a president Obama loomed into view last fall, the thrill dissipated a little. It has certainly seemed that way watching him since he took office: he has talked less hope than sobriety. He has become an anchor of sorts, not a kite.
What has surprised me? Not much. I'm surprised by Michelle Obama's public relations success. I'm surprised by the total refusal of the Republicans to cooperate. I was surprised by the one obvious disastrous decision -- to hype Tim Geithner's first bank plan when he didn't yet have one. Other than that, Obama's first hundred days have seemed as predictable as his disciplined campaign. His instinctive small-c conservatism has led him not to reject the Bush legacy entirely, but to try, wherever he can, to make it work. Hence his attempt to rescue the fast-collapsing war in Afghanistan, and his postponement of real withdrawal from Iraq until next year. I worry that both decisions are the wrong ones -- that Afghanistan is hopeless and Pakistan worse; and that the lull in Iraq is the eye of a storm -- the one time when U.S. withdrawal might be feasible. But Obama's caution leads him in a less radical direction. And we will find out in time whether caution was merited.

The same might be said for his stimulus package and budget proposal. Both were adequate but not ground-shaking. The stimulus may well secure healthcare reform this year and prevent the recession's bottom from becoming an abyss: Not bad, but not exactly revolutionary. The budget's failure to grapple with long-term debt is equally unsurprising in a demand downdraft -- and it's no deep solution to the fiscal hole either. And since the revenues from cap and trade now look very iffy, and the growth projections for even this year look off by a mile, we're treading water, not forging ahead. In retrospect, deciding not to put the banks into swift receivership - assuming that was legally and politically an option - will probably prove to have been his most important move. Again, I cannot know if this was shrewd strategy or a missed opportunity. But it was a big decision, and Obama opted for the conservative option.

The clearest breaks with the Bush legacy have been, as expected, in foreign policy -- and all of them welcome. There have been no sudden moves, but a real and profound shift in America's attitude to the rest of the world. There is engagement and diplomacy, not grandstanding and war. The way Obama defused Chavez by actually shaking his hand was very deft. The outreach to the Iranian people through the media has helped scramble the Iranian elections and put more pressure on Ahmadinejad than Cheney ever could. The European tour was criticized for being short on substantive concessions, but I think that misses the point. Obama is laying a new groundwork for future action. The test will be how he grapples with Iraq withdrawal, and with Israel's determination to provoke an armed conflict with Iran. And neither challenge will be easy.

Has he said "goodbye to all that" with respect to the culture war, as I hoped a year and a half ago? I'd say an emphatic Yes. While the Republicans have responded to his emergence in ways that entrench their commitment to ideology and the red-blue split, Obama has somehow managed not to press the buttons they want. Americans greeted the "socialist" moniker by ramping up their disapproval of Republicans, not Obama. They see the merits of the stimulus package -- and even the kinder, gentler approach to resuscitating the banking sector -- along the same pragmatic lines Obama does. Moreover, without Obama, it's hard to see any administration, Democratic or Republican, being able to rescue the financial sector while managing the gales of populist anger out there.

The trust people still have in him is real. And he has tended to it well. His obvious reluctance to initiate criminal prosecutions for the war crimes of the Bush-Cheney era speaks to this desire to be president of all Americans and to avoid divisive and damaging battles. But the rule of law remains. It's hard to see how Holder can resist prosecuting obvious violations of the law on torture and mistreatment of prisoners. Nonetheless, Obama has shown he understands his office: to preside, not to prosecute.

My sense is that this is a subtle and auspicious start. He has built trust; he has restored a tone of responsibility; he has shown a new American face to the world; he has ended the torture program; although it may not be enough, he has done the minimum necessary to prevent a truly epochal depression; he has put science before ideology; and he has demonstrated outreach to his opponents. And he has done it with a real degree of grace and eloquence and sincerity that have rendered him more personally popular today than ever before.
We have an adult in charge. And we have civil public reasoning back in a persuasive president. Even with the fetid and somewhat desperate attempts of the far right to bring him down so soon, he dominates the stage right now. Because Obama's game is always a long one, a hundred days seems too soon to judge. But the ground has been laid. For what? We'll find out.

"Giving the Torture Judge the Boot"

The Daily Beast:

President Obama and other Democratic bigwigs may have nixed a truth commission on torture, but liberal activists are rallying around another cause: The impeachment of Jay Bybee, the federal judge who, as the head of President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel, advised that waterboarding was not torture. An impeachment of Bybee would be difficult for Congressional Republicans or conservative Senate Democrats to stop. “If the House votes for it, there’s no way the Senate can avoid it,” says a former Senate parliamentarian. The liberal establishment has been getting behind the idea: The New York Times editorialized in favor of Bybee’s impeachment, while John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress and the chief of President Obama’s transition team, also came out in favor of impeachment. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said last week “we’re coming after these guys.”

"Ruled By Their Base"

I'm so old I can remember when it was Village conventional wisdom that Democrats were too ruled by the all-powerful Left. Then in 2004 the Dems proved it by, for a moment, making it look like they were going to nominate a centrist governor from Vermont who committed the sin of opposing the stupidest fucking war ever. The point being, it was never true. More importantly, if it was the case that one politcal party was dominated by its base, one wonders why our sainted agendaless news media never bothered to actually give any kind of platform to those who apparently ran the party.

Now, of course, the Republicans are run by residents of crazy base land. Good that the media is finally starting to notice.

Fox prefers 'Lie to Me' over Obama presser

Entertainment Weekly:
The Fox network announced today that it will not air President Barack Obama's primetime news conference this Wednesday at 8pm (ET), and will air the regularly scheduled drama Lie to Me instead. It is the first time a major broadcast network has declined Obama's request to break into the primetime broadcasting schedule. Lie to Me viewers will see an on-screen graphic informing them that sister cable networks Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network will air Obama's press conference in its entirety.
Howie P.S.: Analyzing this decision, Entertainment Weekly asks "Fox drops Obama, but is that a big deal?" and concludes the network is not known by viewers for its political content, unlike its "sisters" (Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network). The "network typically comes in dead last in the ratings when it airs presidential interruptions." But what caught my eye was the name of the show that will be seen instead and how it seemed to capture so perfectly the content of the information broadcast by the network's "sisters." For a split second, I thought I was reading something in The Onion.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chuck Todd: "It's Barack Obama's town" (video)

MSNBC-Morning Joe, video (06:24);

Howie P.S.: The latest poop from inside the Beltway.

"One tortured lie: that’s all it took for war"

Andrew Sullivan (Sunday London Times):
Bush needed ‘evidence’ and used techniques designed to produce lies to get it--After the past two weeks of document-dumps – from the leaked February 2007 Red Cross report calling George W Bush’s interrogation policy unequivocally “torture”, to the Office of Legal Counsel “torture memos” released by Barack Obama 10 days ago, to the doorstopper armed services committee report, what do we know about the Bush-Dick Cheney programme for interrogating terror suspects that we did not know before?
Not much in the essentials. In fact, what’s remarkable is how solid the story has stayed from its beginnings six years ago. Nobody now disputes the following: after 9/11, President Bush secretly suspended the Geneva conventions for prisoners captured in the war on terror. The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay – under the jurisdiction of neither Havana nor Washington – was picked to find a legal loophole to permit the torture of prisoners.

The techniques included multiple beatings; total sensory deprivation; keeping suspects awake for weeks on end; keeping prisoners on the edge of medical hypo-thermia and extreme heat; stress positions that make a human being buckle under muscular distress and pain; and religious, sexual, cultural and psychological abuse. Bush and Cheney also added waterboarding, long classified as torture in American and international law.

All of this was reiterated in numbing and often disturbing bureaucratic language. Yes, this is how banal evil looks in modern America. But one small detail did leap out of the footnotes. They waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times; and they waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times. They then destroyed the tapes of these sessions.

What is it about the specificity of the number? Perhaps it helps people to see through the Orwellian language – “enhanced interrogation” – to the act itself. You immediately ask yourself: what was it like to strap a man to a waterboard and make him feel as if he is drowning for the 75th time? As soon as you are forced to understand that this act of torture was directly monitored by the president of the United States, you can’t look away. And the defenders of the policy, sensing the psychological impact of this fact, immediately shifted. Cheney segued effortlessly from saying “we don’t torture” to saying “it worked”. Karl Rove tweeted: “Precautions taken 2 guarantee compliance w/ federal prohibition on torture. U might characterise diligence as overcautious.”

Yes, they tortured and then ordered up transparently absurd legal memos to say they hadn’t. When Philip Zelikow, Condi Rice’s key aide, wrote a memo saying explicitly that this was torture and illegal, they did not just ignore him but, according to Zelikow last week, sought to collect and destroy all copies of his memo.

The second startling revelation was confirmation that Zubaydah, the first prisoner to be tortured, was judged by the CIA and FBI to have told everything he knew before Bush and Cheney ordered the 83 waterboardings. Why did they order the torture? An FBI interrogator of Zubaydah broke ranks to tell The New York Times “there was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics”.

What did the Bush administration gain from torturing Zubaydah? As David Rose reported in Vanity Fair magazine last year, the result of the torture was a confession by Zubaydah that Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda had a working relationship, the key casus belli for the Iraq war. Rose quotes a Pentagon analyst who read the transcripts from the interrogation: “Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and Al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.”

That analyst did not then know that the evidence was procured through torture. “As soon as I learnt that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done,” the analyst says.

The president used this tortured evidence to defend the war, alongside the confession of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was cited by Colin Powell at the United Nations as a first-person source of the Saddam-Al-Qaeda connection. But al-Libi was also tortured. And we know that such an operational connection did not exist. And we also now know that what Zubaydah and al-Libi provided were false confessions, procured through torture techniques designed by the communist Chinese to produce false confessions. In other words, the first act of torture authorised by Bush gave the United States part of the false evidence that it used to go to war against Saddam.

The problem with torture is the enormous damage it does to the possibility of finding the truth. Torture forces a victim to tell his interrogator anything to stop the pain. There may be some truth in the confession but there is also untruth – and no way to tell the two apart. Every experienced interrogator knows this, which is why governments that are concerned with getting at the truth do not use it.

The British government processed and interrogated more than 500 Nazi spies during the second world war in a situation in which the very existence of Britain as a free country was at stake and when Londoners endured a 9/11 every week during the blitz. But not one of the spies was physically coerced. Not just because it would have been immoral and illegal, because giving in to torture was not morally different from surrendering to Nazism, but because it would have produced false leads, dead ends and fantasies. The reason totalitarian states use the torture techniques that Bush did is to produce false confessions to create a reality that buttresses their ideology.

The Bush and Cheney ideology was that Iraq needed to be invaded because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and had an operational relationship with Al-Qaeda that put America under an intolerable risk. When the facts could not be found to defend that idée fixe, they skewed the intelligence. When there was no intelligence to skew, they tortured people to get it.

Or, to put it more simply: on March 27, 2007, when Zubaydah went before his combatant status review tribunal at Guantanamo, the judge asked him: “So I understand that, during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue. Is that correct?”
Zubaydah replied: “Yes.” This is partly how the entire war was justified: on a tortured lie. And this much we now know for sure.

ABC News (This Week)- Torture - Donna Brazile to George Will: "It's about the rule of law." (video)

ABCNews via firedoglake, video (02:21).

Krugman: "Reclaiming America’s Soul"

Paul Krugman:
Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?
No, it isn’t, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.
For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.
It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Mark Danner: "If Everyone Knew, Who's to Blame?"

Mark Danner:
The irony is that those Justice Department memos were written for just this moment: the moment when all would come to light. That they exist is a chronicle of scandal foretold.
The memos are the true offspring of the Church Commission, the mid-1970s investigation of CIA wrongdoing that looms over this scandal and that changed forever how covert actions were conducted. Before Church, "black ops" were undertaken with no explicit legal order: If wrongdoing came to light, the president denied knowledge. After Church, the president was required to sign a "finding" making approval explicit. For former Vice President Cheney and others, the findings and other reforms that followed from Church -- including FISA and other laws that limited the president's power to use the CIA -- were in essence when "the gloves went on."

And so, after 9/11, when the gloves came off, there would be no deniability: All was documented with lawyers' briefs and study group reports and official signatures. That leads to the third paradox of torture: Responsibility is spread so broadly, beginning, as they say, "at the highest level," that the political problem is not whether, eventually, to prosecute but whom, and how high. Too many are implicated: George Tenet and others at the CIA saw to that. They foresaw precisely this moment, and they were determined, when the music stopped, not to be the only ones left standing with no chair.

And now, as the great clangorous machinery of Washington scandal rumbles into life, everywhere one looks former officials stand, without chairs and without places to hide.

If justice is allowed to follow its course, then some prosecutions will eventually come, but they alone cannot lead us back to political health. For that, President Obama and Congress need to authorize an authoritative bipartisan investigation of what was done and how, for that is the only way to destroy definitively the idea that the United States must torture to defend itself.
For the moment, the president, an ambitious leader who wants to "look forward" and not back, sees only the political costs of such an inquiry, which will be considerable. But the country has already incurred those costs and the damage in not paying them now will be far greater.

mcjoan: "Finding Justice"

Here's what we know, based on the public record as represented above. A) Torture is illegal. B) The architects of the torture regime were informed that the "harsh interrogation techniques" they intended to use were torture, and that those methods were unreliable. C) Against that counsel from a military agency, torture was deployed--excessively, and it was used in part to extract information from detainees about ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, ties that the best intelligence the administration had access to had already deemed nonexistent, in order to justify the planned invasion--the chosen war--in Iraq.

Lakoff: "Torture, Empathy, and Democracy"

George Lakoff:
Torture violates empathy in the most direct way. The very neural system we use in creating inhuman, unbearable pain in someone you are looking at, hearing, and touching is the same neural system that equips us to feel the pain we are creating. It is the same neural system that creates human connections with others. And the same neural system that lies at the heart of political democracy. Turning it off is turning off humanity, and with it democracy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Progressive senators could stop "all cuts" budget in its tracks if they wanted to"

Andrew (NPI Advocate):
Last night, the Washington's House of Representatives passed EHB 1244, the 2009-2011 operating budget (PDF) that has been widely panned across the state as a failure of leadership. The House appears to have no plans to allow voters to opt to mitigate the pain of its budget by sending the people a revenue package; instead, jobs will be slashed, tuition hiked for students, aid to the vulnerable gutted, and seniors left to fend for themselves.
The House passed HB 1244 by a vote of fifty four to forty two. Democratic representatives casting a protest vote against the budget were Representatives Brendan Williams (D-22nd District), Bob Hasegawa (D-11th District), and Geoff Simpson (D-47th District). Cheers to the three of them for their courage.

There were also three Democrats who sided with the Republican caucus in voting against the budget for other reasons (Driscoll, Grant-Herriot, and Miloscia).

The budget now moves to the State Senate, where it is expected to be opposed by the entire Republican caucus, plus Senator Tim Sheldon.

And herein lies an opportunity for the chamber's progressive senators to stop this awful budget in its tracks.

If six progressive Democrats stood up together and told leadership they would not vote for the budget until the House and Senate agreed to send a revenue package to the people for a vote, they could tie up the whole process.

Such a bloc of senators could also potentially force House and Senate budget writers to allocate some of that $830 million they're "saving for later" to lessen the pain in the awful budget that's been proposed. Brendan Williams suggested doing so last night, but his Amendment 903 was voted down on a voice vote.

(Williams remarked this morning that he's "ready to vote NO on the slew of budget 'trailer' bills required to dismantle our social safety net per the no-new-taxes, all-cuts Republicrat budget that passed last night.")

Are there six senators willing to stick their necks out and do something courageous, just for the sake of the goodness of the State of Washington?

Perhaps not, but we do know that at least a couple of senators have gone on the record as saying their consciences do not sit well with the idea of passing a predictable, unconscionable all-cuts" budget. Take Senator Kohl-Welles:
When our budget is released, it likely will be an all-cuts budget. This is something I cannot support. But I will work with leadership to present a tax package to the voters who can decide for themselves if they are willing to pay a small amount more in targeted taxes to maintain crucial programs.

I strongly believe that it would be counterproductive, resulting in "unintended consequences," to do otherwise.
(Emphasis mine). Or Senator Adam Kline, who has concisely explained that passing an "all cuts" budget isn't just immoral, it makes no economic sense:
If we cut the state’s Basic Health Plan by 40% – as has been proposed – 40,000 individuals in our communities would no longer have a viable option to receiving needed medical care. That’s a crowd large enough to sell out Safeco Field.

It’s a mistake to think that the accounting savings realized from cutting this program will translate into actual savings.

After all, it’s not as if these 40,000 of our neighbors will suddenly no longer get sick or need medical attention. Many will simply wait until their situation becomes an emergency to get the care they need from hospitals – maximizing the toll taken on their health and the costs to our overall system.
Again, emphasis mine.

In the unlikely event that six Democratic senators are seriously contemplating putting the brakes on this budget (we're looking at you, Senators Kohl-Welles, Kline, Franklin, Jacobsen, Oemig, and McDermott) they can rest assured of one thing: We'd have their backs in a heartbeat.

This has been a dreadful session, marked repeatedly by Democratic spinelessness. It would be nice to see a few Democrats take a stand, bring this Sadnessville-bound train to a grinding halt, and throw the entire statehouse off balance.

At least then the session might end on an upbeat note. Even if such a move didn't win any major concessions, we'd at least be able to cheer on some Democrats for doing something courageous and sticking to their principles.

Yeah, Governor Gregoire wouldn't be pleased, but that would be a good thing: She actually thinks this budget is "responsible".

And no, I'm not kidding. She used the words "responsible budget" last night when she "congratulated" the House for passing EHB 1244.

I'm not sure what happened to the governor I knew and loved that did so much good for our state back in the good old days of 2005 and 2006.

But that governor, if she were still around today, would not accept this budget. That governor would refuse to sign off on a budget that shreds some of our most critical public services - let alone propose such a budget.

But that governor is gone. Where she went, we don't know. We at NPI would love to have her back. Washington needs her at this dire hour.

Apparently, courageous leadership at both the state and federal levels is too much to ask for. It's been missing in our nation's capitol for years. Now we finally have a President who is governing progressively. But we've lost our progressive governor and we certainly don't have a progressive Legislature.

We have a Legislature that only knows how to spend money.

That's not a criticism of where the Legislature has invested our common wealth. Last biennium, Democratic leadership bettered our state immensely by putting money into public services and infrastructure.

But now we're in a crisis and our Legislature doesn't have the guts or the wherewithal to raise money. Tax reform seems to be considered a taboo subject. A few Democrats - Senator Kohl Welles and Senator Brown - have gallantly spoken about the wisdom of switching to an income tax.

Bravo to them for starting that conversation.

And Representative Eric Pettigrew came up with a plan to stave off some of the budget cuts by raising the sales tax slightly, and offsetting that increase for working families. Unfortunately, that plan doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

In part, that's because polling has shown fairly lukewarm support for a revenue package. That's not surprising, because not everyone yet understands the magnitude of the cuts. Legislators are more familiar with the problem than their constituents, and yet it's like they're expecting voters to lead them.

Come again? That's not real leadership. Real leadership means fighting for what you believe in, adhering to your values. Not letting polls and focus groups determine your course of action. That's following.

Especially at this moment, we need leaders to be in charge. Not followers.

I was listening to Representative Kathy Haigh on the floor sometime this past week, expressing hope that the economy would recover by the 2011 legislative session (and with it, state revenues) so that the cuts made as a result of this budget can be reversed. All I could do was shake my head and sigh.

That's it? The Legislature has resorted to hoping that the economy will just get better so it won't have to pass another irresponsible budget?

I'm sorry, but that attitude reeks.

Are we not in control of our own destiny? Do legislators not realize that they have the awesome power to make laws? The duty to protect our quality of life? The authority to manage our common wealth?

The Legislature (and the Governor) ought to be acting as stewards, safeguarding the people of Washington State from the economic turmoil wrought by years of Wall Street greed and the failed right wing agenda of the Bush administration.

That would be leadership.

Instead, we've got a bunch of people mindlessly and wearily parked at their desks inside the Capitol's grand marble halls, throwing up their hands - and throwing in the towel. Democratic legislators happily accepted the federal aid that Democrats in Congress sent their way, but they've done practically nothing on their end to protect our common wealth at a time when we desperately need it to be there for us. Instead, they're going to let it deteriorate on purpose.

That's a mistake, because our common wealth is the bedrock of our economy.

There's axiom that illustrates this truth that I like (by Anne Herbert) which hangs in one of the meeting rooms of the Redmond Regional Library.

It goes: Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

If legislators truly took this to heart, perhaps they'd understand the pointlessness of passing a penny wise, pound foolish budget.

This approach is not cost effective.

People aren't going to stop getting sick. Students aren't going to teach themselves. Our environment won't magically start ridding itself of all the carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate pollution we're pumping into it.

One way or another, we're going to pay.

The question is not if, but when... and how much. Is there anyone out there who wants to make the argument that forcing people to go to emergency rooms when they're ill and dying is cheaper than investing in preventative care?

The right wing, of course, couldn't care less that we're abandoning people. In fact, jackals like Tim Eyman have had the gall to accuse legislators like Eric Pettigrew of trying to use the vulnerable as human props.

Just what we need: more shameless trash from our state's prime peddler of stupid, thoughtless right wing initiatives.

The whole point of having government, of having public services, is to do, as Abraham Lincoln said, for ourselves what we can't do individually.

We can't all afford to hire our own police force or firefighting squad, so government provides those things. Health services, which are being walloped by this budget, are no different. They're absolutely essential to our well being.

Republicans should be able to understand this.

The other day, Representative Mike Armstrong - a Republican - was on his way to the governor's mansion for a reception.

On his way up some steps, he suddenly had a heart attack. Fortunately, state troopers were nearby and they came to his aid.

They summoned paramedics, who took Representative Armstrong to Providence St. Peter's Hospital, where he is recovering.

Representative DeBolt, the Republican minority leader, later issued a statement saying Republicans were relieved that troopers and the paramedics had come to Armstrong's side immediately and given him the medical attention he needed.

It's a good thing we have public employees who have devoted their lives to selflessly serving the people of Washington.

Grievously, the people of Washington seem to be represented right now primarily by men and women who are more preoccupied about what the opposition might say about them in the next election than doing their jobs. Furthermore, the influence of big money induces their political posture rather than the public interest.

The funny thing about the Legislature - which is supposed to be an institution where majority rule prevails - is how easy it is for a small minority to throw sand in the gears of its machinery. All the Republicans are lined up, ready to oppose the budget that the Governor, Speaker Chopp and Majority Leader Brown have agreed on.

It would, again, take merely six disgusted Democratic senators to force everyone back to the table to come up with a better budget. There's no way all the cuts can be avoided. But damage could be minimized.
Does the scenario I've outlined have much of a chance of happening?

Probably not. But if it did happen... if six Democrats teamed together and splashed some cold water around the Capitol... it would sure would brighten the spirits of untold numbers of discouraged Washingtonians who are wondering: Where has the party of working families vanished to?
Howie P.S.: Only Sen. Ken Jacobsen followed Andrew's advice, as he predicted: "Wash. Legislature passes budget to bridge $9B gap" (AP).