Sunday, May 31, 2009

Richard A. Clarke: "The Trauma of 9/11 Is No Excuse"

Richard A. Clark (WaPo op-ed):
Top officials from the Bush administration have hit upon a revealing new theme as they retrospectively justify their national security policies. Call it the White House 9/11 trauma defense.
"Unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans," Condoleezza Rice said last month as she admonished a Stanford University student who questioned the Bush-era interrogation program. And in his May 21 speech on national security, Dick Cheney called the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a "defining" experience that "caused everyone to take a serious second look" at the threats to America. Critics of the administration have become more intense as memories of the attacks have faded, he argued. "Part of our responsibility, as we saw it," Cheney said, "was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America."

I remember that morning, too. Shortly after the second World Trade Center tower was hit, I burst in on Rice (then the president's national security adviser) and Cheney in the vice president's office and remember glimpsing horror on his face. Once in the bomb shelter, Cheney assembled his team while the crisis managers on the National Security Council staff coordinated the government response by video conference from the Situation Room. Many of us thought that we might not leave the White House alive. I remember the next day, too, when smoke still rose from the Pentagon as I sat in my office in the White House compound, a gas mask on my desk. The streets of Washington were empty, except for the armored vehicles, and the skies were clear, except for the F-15s on patrol. Every scene from those days is seared into my memory. I understand how it was a defining moment for Cheney, as it was for so many Americans.

Yet listening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic. "If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans drop out of eighty-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people," Rice said in her recent comments, "then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again."

I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney's admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.

Thus, when Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.

I believe this zeal stemmed in part from concerns about the 2004 presidential election. Many in the White House feared that their inaction prior to the attacks would be publicly detailed before the next vote -- which is why they resisted the 9/11 commission -- and that a second attack would eliminate any chance of a second Bush term. So they decided to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable.

The first response they discussed was invading Iraq. While the Pentagon was still burning, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was in the White House suggesting an attack against Baghdad. Somehow the administration's leaders could not believe that al-Qaeda could have mounted such a devastating operation, so Iraqi involvement became the convenient explanation. Despite being told repeatedly that Iraq was not involved in 9/11, some, like Cheney, could not abandon the idea. Charles Duelfer of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group recently revealed in his book, "Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq," that high-level U.S. officials urged him to consider waterboarding specific Iraqi prisoners of war so that they could provide evidence of an Iraqi role in the terrorist attacks -- a request Duelfer refused. (A recent report indicates that the suggestion came from the vice president's office.) Nevertheless, the lack of evidence did not deter the administration from eventually invading Iraq -- a move many senior Bush officials had wanted to make before 9/11.

On detention, the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. courts and prisons would not work. Before the terrorist attacks, the U.S. counterterrorism program of the 1990s had arrested al-Qaeda terrorists and others around the world and had a 100 percent conviction rate in the U.S. justice system. Yet the American system was abandoned, again as part of a pattern of immediately adopting the most extreme response available. Camps were established around the world, notably in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners were held without being charged or tried. They became symbols of American overreach, held up as proof that al-Qaeda's anti-American propaganda was right.

Similarly, with regard to interrogation, administration officials conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al-Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, there was the immediate and unwarranted assumption that extreme measures -- such as waterboarding one detainee 183 times -- would be the most effective.

Finally, on wiretapping, rather than beef up the procedures available under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the administration again moved to the extreme, listening in on communications here at home without legal process. FISA did need some modification, but it also allowed for the quick issuance of court orders, as when President Clinton took stepped-up defensive measures in late 1999 under the heightened threat of the new millennium.

Yes, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice may have been surprised by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- but it was because they had not listened. And their surprise led them to adopt extreme counterterrorism techniques -- but it was because they rejected, without analysis, the tactics the Clinton administration had used. The measures they uncritically adopted, which they simply assumed were the best available, were in fact unnecessary and counterproductive.
"I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities," Cheney said in his recent speech. But this defense does not stand up. The Bush administration's response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world, values that should have survived this traumatic event. The White House thought that 9/11 changed everything. It may have changed many things, but it did not change the Constitution, which the vice president, the national security adviser and all of us who were in the White House that tragic day had pledged to protect and preserve.

Richard A. Clarke, the national coordinator for security and counterterrorism under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, is the author of "Against All Enemies" and "Your Government Failed You."

"Gen. Petraeus: U.S. violated Geneva Conventions" (video)

Jed Lewison: video (00:40).

"Barack Takes Michelle To NYC For Dinner, Broadway Play" (video)

Myfoxny, video (02:22).

Howie P.S.: Ben Smith provides local details.

"Framing Issues In Terms of Jobs, Security: How Obama Made His Energy Platform 'Pop'

President Obama and Ford Chief Executive Alan R. Mulally shook hands at the White House this month as the president announced new fuel and emission standards for autos. The administration negotiated support from corporations, states and environmentalists for the new standards.

After a long day of campaigning on July 8, candidate Barack Obama arrived at his Chicago headquarters for a three-hour brainstorming session about a suddenly hot issue: energy and climate change.
He had summoned a cross section of experts, including top executives from three utilities and two oil companies, the chief energy economist of an investment bank, a climate scientist, a California energy and environment expert, an oil consultant-historian, and several campaign staffers. Despite the late hour, one participant recalled, "He walked in as if he had just gotten up after a refreshing night's sleep to lead a class. He was clearly there to harvest information and then do something with it."

While Obama had held a similar session early in his Senate career, the Chicago meeting marked a turning point in his thinking. He knew there was a moral case for addressing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels, but this time, he realized he could make a political and economic case for it. And top advisers say internal polling showed that with gasoline prices at more than $4 a gallon, the American public was open to an energy platform based on economic competitiveness and national security.

Obama went around the room asking the experts about oil prices (then days away from their all-time peak), oil drilling on public lands on and offshore, energy efficiency, and ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. As he listened to the group, his advisers said, he began to grasp how he could sell a low-carbon future to the American public.

"This stuff needs to pop more," he told his aides as he left the room. "We need to find a way to make it pop more."

Now, four months into his presidency, Obama has elevated energy and climate issues to near the top of his agenda; he's made them pop by packaging them as ways to create "green" jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on imports of foreign oil. Favoring pragmatism over moral suasion, the president is attempting to make a sharp shift in national policy on an issue that many voters have yet to embrace as a priority, advisers and lawmakers say.

His efforts, combined with those of congressional Democrats, have already pushed forward groundbreaking initiatives. February's stimulus act lavished money on projects for renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy research. This month, the White House announced that it had negotiated corporate, state and environmentalist support for higher fuel-efficiency and tailpipe-emissions standards that would clamp the first nationwide limits on greenhouse gases.

Finally, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on May 21 approved a bill that would take a cap-and-trade approach to curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, inching closer to a domestic legislative compromise that has eluded climate activists for the dozen years since the adoption of the international Kyoto accords.

"Whether or not you think that is a good idea or not depends on your perspective, but no one can deny that the fight going forward and its political implications will reshape how we look at energy issues," said Frank Maisano, an energy industry lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani.

Making climate a key issue was not an obvious decision for Obama. The political benefits are debatable. Energy and climate issues usually register low on lists of voters' concerns; climate legislation is rooted in the idea of limits; Republicans have sought to portray Obama's backing of cap-and-trade legislation as support for a giant new tax; and if legislation is adopted, it will be impossible for decades to point to specific climate trends and claim success.

In the 2004 Senate race, Obama cited his backing of climate-change legislation in seeking support for his Democratic primary bid from the League of Conservation Voters, which ultimately spent $400,000 boosting his candidacy. But energy and climate were not his specialties when he arrived in the Senate after teaching constitutional law, working as a community organizer and serving as a legislator in a state that relies heavily on coal.

But even before the late-night session in July, Obama had begun to educate himself about energy and climate and to use those issues to define himself as a politician, say people who have advised him. He read a three-part New Yorker series on climate change, for instance, and mentioned it in three speeches in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a former aide said.

Jason Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, recalled meeting Obama during the winter of 2005 as oil prices were rising. Grumet met often with members of Congress; he would tell them that doing something about oil consumption meant taking on the auto industry, raising fuel efficiency and then not seeing much benefit for a decade or so. At that point, he said, "I'd get the yawn, the glance at the clock, and was told, 'Thanks very much, I'll tell my staff person to get in touch with you.' "

But Obama was different, he said. "If it was going to take years to bear fruit, his response was, 'We'd better do something now.' I was like, 'Wow.' "

Obama asked Grumet to organize a dinner at the Hotel George with a group of people who had differing views on automobile fuel efficiency. The attendees ranged from the conservative R. James Woolsey Jr., a former CIA director and believer in fuel efficiency, to a steelworkers union leader who had long lobbied against higher fuel standards for the auto industry. Obama came away convinced that higher standards were necessary and worked with Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) to make them part of the 2007 energy bill.

During the presidential campaign, Obama stressed the fuel-efficiency failures of U.S. auto companies in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, long before the financial crisis would thrust his administration into a central role in reshaping the industry.

Obama advisers say he saw that action on climate and energy issues could be sold as boosting job creation and strengthening U.S. companies as well as a matter of economic national security, an argument that he distilled during the campaign into a criticism of how the United States was borrowing money from China to pay Saudi Arabia for fuel to move gas guzzlers down American roads.

Reaching out to Lugar on fuel efficiency was also part of Obama's use of energy issues to shape his bipartisan image. That approach landed him in trouble in early 2007 when he joined Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) on a proposal to promote the conversion of coal to liquid fuels, a process that environmental experts say creates twice as many greenhouse gases as the refining of conventional petroleum products. After he co-sponsored a proposal with Bunning, environmental leaders called to complain. Obama later said that coal-to-liquid fuels would have to meet certain greenhouse gas standards, effectively making the proposal unworkable.

Obama has remained keenly aware of the politics of energy and climate change. He has backed ambitious federal mandates for ethanol use, a position that helped him win support in the crucial Iowa caucuses, even though environmentalists criticize the production process for corn-based ethanol because of its intensive use of energy and fertilizer.

And though during the campaign he spoke against a gasoline tax holiday to offset price increases at the pump, Obama continues to oppose a higher gas tax, which could steer motorists toward purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles.

But many environmentalists and corporate executives have praised the White House for taking a pragmatic approach to negotiations over the cap-and-trade bill. Duke Energy chief executive James E. Rogers, who promoted free allowances for local electricity firms, said Obama understands the need to protect key industries, states and consumers, and he praised energy and climate czar Carol M. Browner for marshalling congressional support without dictating terms.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said that the president "is trusting us to work these things out internally, and he's not putting down markers."

"This is in keeping with how we have worked with Congress on a number of key issues," a senior administration official said, citing the stimulus and budget bills. "If the president draws a bright line and says, 'I have to have this,' the proposal is dead on arrival."
On May 5, as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) was trying to cement support for the cap-and-trade bill, Obama invited 35 lawmakers to the White House. He said that it was a difficult issue but that dealing with difficult issues was the reason they were there. As the lawmakers were getting ready to leave, Obama said, "We have to do something more than symbolic here."

"It was a personal appeal," said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who attended the meeting. "He's demonstrated . . . he's willing to put it on the line to get a bill done. You don't do heavy lifting like this without having a president who's willing to put it on the line."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Michael Eric Dyson on President Obama (video)

mrdaveyd, video (10:54):
We spoke to Michael Eric Dyson who spoke to us about Barack Obama and race.

"Baucus, Kennedy to work together on health care"

The two Senate Democrats leading the drive to overhaul health care say they will work together to come up with legislation.

Sens. Max Baucus and Edward Kennedy said in a joint statement Saturday they intend to cooperate so their committees pass similar bills that can be combined into a single piece of legislation before the Senate leaves for its August recess.

The statement appeared aimed at dispelling reports that Baucus and Kennedy were working at cross purposes in crafting legislation.

Baucus, D-Mont., heads the Finance Committee. Kennedy, D-Mass., is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Kennedy is expected to release a plan next week requiring all individuals to buy insurance and creating a a public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.

Ari Melber: "hiphop tribute video to my hometown of Seattle" (video)

TheRealRhymesayers. video (06:11):
Finally, I'm happy to present the video to my tribute to Seattle, "Home". The song features MC's Vitamin D, Note, Maneak B and Ish, who have all been big influences in my music. Sir Mix a Lot brought out his orange Lambo and Nate Burleson repped the town and the Seahawks as well. Super Director Zia did a phemomenal job creating the perfect visual for the music and now its time for the world to see it.

Charles M. Blow: "Rogues, Robes and Racists"

Charles M. Blow (NY Times op-ed):

Someone pinch me. I must be dreaming. Some of the same Republicans who have wielded the hot blade of racial divisiveness for years, are now calling Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court nominee, a racist. Oh, the hypocrisy!
The same Newt Gingrich who once said that bilingual education was like teaching “the language of living in a ghetto” tweeted that Sotomayor is a “Latina woman racist.” The same Rush Limbaugh who once told a black caller to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back” called Sotomayor a “reverse racist.” The same Tom Tancredo, a former congressman, who once called Miami, which has a mostly Hispanic population, “a third world country” said that Sotomayor “appears to be a racist.”

This is rich.

Even Michael Steele, the bungling chairman of The Willie Horton Party knows that the Republicans have no standing on this issue. In an interview published in GQ magazine in March, he was asked: “Why do you think so few nonwhite Americans support the Republican Party right now?” His response: “Cause we have offered them nothing! And the impression we’ve created is that we don’t give a damn about them or we just outright don’t like them.” Ding, ding, ding, ding.

Ironically, one of the candidates who was defeated by Steele for the chairmanship sent out Christmas CDs that included a song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.” Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

Politically, this “racist” strategy could prove disastrous. Hispanics are the largest and the fastest-growing minority group in the country. And, in recent years, they have increasingly been the victims of racial discrimination. It will be hard to paint the victims, as personified by Sotomayor, as the offenders.

A report entitled “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South” that was released last month by the Southern Poverty Law Center found “systemic discrimination against Latinos” that constituted “a civil rights crisis.”

The report noted: “And as a result of relentless vilification in the media, Latinos are targeted for harassment by racist extremist groups, some of which are directly descended from the old guardians of white supremacy. ”

This finding is borne out by the F.B.I.’s hate crimes data, which show that the number of anti-Hispanic hate crimes have increased by half since 2003, while all other hate crimes have increased by 6 percent.

Politics aside, what exactly did Sotomayor say that got everyone in a huff? In a 2001 speech she said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” She acknowledged a racial bias. That doesn’t make her a racist.

Why? Because racism exists along a spectrum. On one end is the mere existence of racial bias. Harvard’s Project Implicit, an online laboratory, has demonstrated that most of us have this bias, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are the conscious expressions of that bias in the form of prejudices. On the other end, at the extreme, are deliberate acts of racial discrimination based on those prejudices. That’s where the racists dwell. Think of it this way: You know that you could cheat on your taxes; acknowledging that you are tempted to do so reveals a frailty, but only the act of cheating is a crime.

I have yet to read or hear of Sotomayor’s acts of racial discrimination. (She is nearly 55 years old. Surely if she is a racist, and a judge to boot, there has to be some proof of it in her actions, no?)

Now let’s look at a couple of the men who have ascended to the bench.

First, there’s former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. When the Supreme Court was considering Brown v. Board of Education, Rehnquist was a law clerk for Justice Robert Jackson. Rehnquist wrote Jackson a memo in which he defended separate-but-equal policies, saying, “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by my ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.”

Furthermore, Rehnquist had been a Republican ballot protectionist in Phoenix when he was younger. As the Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen correctly noted in 1986: Rehnquist “helped challenge the voting qualifications of Arizona blacks and Hispanics. He was entitled to do so. But even if he did not personally harass potential voters, as witnesses allege, he clearly was a brass-knuckle partisan, someone who would deny the ballot to fellow citizens for trivial political reasons — and who made his selection on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

Then there’s John Roberts, who replaced Rehnquist as the chief justice in 2005. That year, Newsday reported that Roberts had made racist and sexist jokes in memos that he wrote while working in the Reagan White House. And, The New York Review of Books published a scolding article in 2005 making the case that during the same period that he was making those jokes, Roberts marshaled a crusader’s zeal in his efforts to roll back the civil rights gains of the 1960s and ’70s — everything from voting rights to women’s rights. The article began, “The most intriguing question about John Roberts is what led him as a young person whose success in life was virtually assured by family wealth and academic achievement to enlist in a political campaign designed to deny opportunities for success to those who lack his advantages.”

Gingrich tweeted that “a white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw.” Make up your own minds about where Rehnquist’s and Roberts’s words and actions should fall on the racism spectrum, but both were overwhelmingly confirmed.

Until someone can produce proof of words and actions on the part of Sotomayor that even approach the scale of Rehnquist’s and Roberts’s, all I see is men throwing skeleton bones from class closets.

Number 41!!: "Pres. Obama at Five Guys Burgers & Fries in Washington" (video)

C-SPAN, video (08:44).
President Obama traveled to a Five Guys Burgers & Fries restaurant in Washington, DC and purchased lunch for himself and members of the press.
Howie P.S.: It's amusing to watch Obama personally order a rather large burger assortment for his party complete with all the individual and various condiments. All the male members of his entourage leave their suit jackets on, while Obama is in shirtsleeves.

Howard Dean: "Give people choices of health insurance"

Howard Dean jokes with Johnie Hammond, left and Susie Petra, both of Ames, after speaking at a town-hall meeting at First Unitarian Church in Des Moines on Thursday.

Des Moines Register:
Howard Dean was stumping again in Iowa on Thursday, but this time the former presidential candidate was campaigning for public health insurance.
The former Vermont governor came to Des Moines to demand that Congress let consumers buy into a government health plan as an option to private insurance.

"Give the American people the choice of what they would like to do," he told about 200 people at First Unitarian Church.

Dean was a nearly constant presence in Iowa five years ago, when he vied for the Democratic presidential nomination. After that campaign ended, he became the party's national chairman. He said he does not intend to run for office again.

The public-insurance plan he supports is one of the most controversial ideas being debated as Congress tries to pass a sweeping health-reform bill. Opponents, including many insurance executives, predict a government plan would present unfair competition that would drive private insurers out of business.

Dean said critics are trying to scare Americans into opposing President Barack Obama's ideas.

"If you want to attack any kind of health-care reform, you're going to say things like, 'The government's going to take over your choice of doctor. The government's going to tell you what you can and can't do. The government's going to ration your care.' " Dean said. "...None of it's true. But it's effective."

Dean, who is a physician, said Obama has wisely assured people that they can keep their private insurance if they like it.

Dean said he would prefer the nation adopt a "single-payer" system, in which everyone would be covered by Medicare or a similar plan. He said that idea would not pass, but giving people the option of buying into a public plan would be a viable alternative.

Afterward, Dean said the prospect of a public plan should not scare people who work in the insurance industry. Many Americans would continue to buy private coverage, either as their sole insurance or as a supplement to public coverage, he said.

"I don't think the insurance companies are going to be put out of business anytime soon," he said. "These are smart, resourceful people that run these companies, and they're going to find ways to make money."
Dean said Democrats controlling Congress should not compromise too much in trying to pick up Republican support for health reform.

"Look, we want to work with people who want to work with us," he said. "But there are a lot of people who don't."

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Think Again: Dick Cheney's Post Presidency"

Former Vice President Dick Cheney flexes his punditry muscles on CNN's "State of the Union."

Yet Carter and Gore served up vegan fare compared to the red meat Cheney is spewing. And yet because his de facto presidency was never fully recognized or admitted by the media—many of whose members felt the need to prop up President Bush no less urgently than did the White House Communications staff—his unprecedented assault on a sitting president just weeks into his first term goes unrecognized for the breach of protocol it clearly is.

Jane Mayer recognized this during the Bush presidency, explaining in a New Yorker profile of his aide, David Addington, that “the media focuses relentless attention on the president, on the premise that he is actually the chief executive. But for all intents and purposes, Cheney is chief, and Bush is more in the ceremonial role of the queen of England.”-from the post by Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory on

The shifting GOP "plan of attack" against Sotomayor (video)

MSNBC-Countdown, video (07:59).

Howie P.S.: Howard Fineman talks with Olbermann about the GOP's "Shadow RNC" and the effort to derail the Sotomayor nomination.

"Levin: CIA Torture Documents Cheney Wants Don’t Prove Squat"

Greg Sargent: with video from Rachel Maddow (03:06):
There’s some important news about Dick Cheney and torture in a speech that Senator Carl Levin gave before the Foreign Policy Association this week.

Specifically: Levin confirmed that he’d seen the classified CIA documents that Cheney has been asking the CIA to declassify and release — and said that they don’t prove Cheney’s claim that torture worked by any stretch.

Levin’s comments are highly newsworthy because they give us the most detailed picture yet of what’s in the documents Cheney wants. You can watch Levin’s speech right here at TPM. This is what Levin said about the documents:

Mr. Cheney has also claimed that the release of classified documents would prove his view that the techniques worked. But those classified documents say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of the abusive techniques. I hope that the documents are declassified so that people can judge for themselves what is fact and what is fiction.

If this is true, it’s big. A Senator who has seen the documents Cheney claims will prove that torture saved lives says that those docs contain absolutely nothing about whether the torture techniques were actually responsible for yielding any valuable intelligence.

Networks such as MSNBC have given literally hours of airtime to Cheney and his daughter Liz to claim endlessly that these docs will prove Cheney’s torture assertions. These claims have gone almost entirely unchallenged, due to the classified nature of the documents. You’d think that a contrary claim from a well-respected Senator who has also seen the docs would merit a few passing mentions, too.
Howie P.S.: How many more of Cheney's fucking lies will need refuting before he drinks his final cup of STFU? "Protest over budget cuts at UW" (photos)
Salvador Castillo, head of Local 1488 of the Washington Federation of State Employees, holds the megaphone during a rally against budget cuts and custodial swing shift eliminations at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.
Protesters hold signs in Red Square during a rally against budget cuts and custodial swing shift eliminations at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.
Protesters walk down 15th Avenue Northeast during a rally against budget cuts and custodial swing shift eliminations at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.
Salvador Castillo holds the megaphone during a rally against budget cuts and custodial swing shift eliminations at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.

Howie P.S.: These photos by Clifford DesPeaux are not accompanied by a news story.

"Local (Seattle) Hispanic judge explains Sotomayor's comments"
With this week's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and a debate swirling around the relevance of her background to the bench, United State District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez figured he might get a few calls from local media.

Martinez is the Northwest's first Hispanic federal judge and the first Latino district judge in Washington state's history.

And yes, he said. That matters.
"We talk about how justice should be blind, and I think so, yes, absolutely. But every person that shows up in a courtroom should be able to see themselves reflected in the person up there making these calls," he said.

"If you're born to a very well to do family, go to private school your whole life, go through law school, Yale, you graduate, you come out, become a judge -- it doesn't gonna mean you're going to be a bad judge. But do you truly understand what it's like to put yourself to school? To have to work two jobs?"

Martinez moved to the United States from Mexico at 5 years old. His parents picked cotton on a Texas ranch before they moved to Washington state, where he became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, then college at the University of Washington. In 1980, he got his law degree at the UW School of Law. Twenty-four years later, he was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for Western Washington.

Like Sotomayor, Martinez has had to answer questions about how his background might impact his decisions. He understands why it's an issue with those scrutinizing Sotomayor, but objects to the "inflammatory partisanship" he said has already flooded the debate over her suitability with dishonest arguments and shallow opinions.

As for the much-cited 2001 speech in which Sotomayor said a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" -- a comment that has become a target for her critics -- Martinez thinks it's been badly misinterpreted.

"I think what people are missing is, I don't think she was saying that from racist perspective. I think she was saying it from an 'I understand what you've gone through' perspective," he said.

"Wouldn't you want your judge to have some understanding of what it is that you've gone through when he or she makes the final decision that's going to impact you tremendously?"

But what some call understanding others suspect is bias, a perception that can put judges of diverse backgrounds on the stand, so to speak, to defend their integrity.

Martinez said he's been there.

"Someone once asked me, as a Hispanic judge, was I going to go easier on Hispanics? I found that very offensive," he said.

"I said no, and not only that -- I don't think a defendant standing in front of me would think that. I do think that what that person standing in front of me would think is that I'd be more fair."

Martinez said he's met every Supreme Court Justice except for Clarence Thomas. Sotomayor, he said, is well qualified to join them, with a respectable record and a stellar educational background that leaves "nothing to complain about."

He also likes the fact that she's been a district court judge. Of the nine justices currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, only David Souter, the justice Sotomayor would replace, has that experience.
Martinez said he looks forward to a lively confirmation hearing.

"This partisan bickering -- I hope that that is kept to a minimum and you really are looking at the qualifications of the individual," he said.

"Ultimately all we want is someone who is going to make this country better."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jed Lewison exposes the Alito-Sotomayor double-standard (with video)

Jed Lewison, with video (03:12):
Via Glenn Greenwald (and one of his readers) comes a moment from Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings that will either silence Sonia Sotomayor’s conservative critics or expose their hypocrisy for what it is.

In an exchange with Sen. Tom Coburn, who had asked Alito to discuss how his personal experiences shows that "he cared for the little guy," Alito said that his family’s experience as immigrants influenced his outlook on immigration cases.

And that’s why I went into that in my opening statement. 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…

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.


So when Sam Alito said his family’s immigrant experience influenced his outlook, it was okay, but now that Sonia Sotomayor (who, like Alito, is an appeleta judge) has been nominated to the Supreme Court, she’s a "racist?"

Puhlease. The real issue for these guys isn’t what she said. They’re just pissed off about who said it.

"Sotomayor In Action" (video)

C-SPAN via Swampland, video (01:55).

Wanda Sykes on how the media covers Michelle Obama (video)

NBC-The Tonight Show, video (01:38).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Rep. Sestak (D-PA) Announces Intention to Run for Senate" (video)

TPMtv: video, (03:42).

Maddow and Robinson on Sotomayor: "A name game?' (video)

`MSNBC-Rachel Maddow, video (05:32):
Here's an exchange from the segment (H/t to mcjoan):

MADDOW: She's the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court. It's a huge deal for the country, a huge deal for Latinas and Latinos. It's a huge deal of Puerto Rico. And, yet, we are sort of looking for the racial overtones in the criticism thus far. Do you think it's fair to look into the sort of anonymous sniping about her intellect and her temperament through a racial lens or would that criticism mean the same thing regardless of her race?

ROBINSON: I think that criticism is just bizarre, given her record. It is odd to hear commentary to the effect that her opinions are undistinguished or we're not quite sure she's up to the job or you know, in the few cases, flat out saying that this is an affirmative action hire. I mean, these are among the most sterling credentials for any nominee to the Supreme Court that I can recall and the most kind of establishment credentials. It kind of doesn't get any better than this.... It is a weird sort of route of attack given who she is and what she's done. So can you look at that through a racial prism? You know, I think if it continues I think you probably have to.

Axelrod on "Joe" on Sonia isn't Clarence (video)

MSNBC-Morning Joe, video (08:37).

"Grit TV: The Sotomayor Selection, Credit Card Accountability?, and Auditing the Fed" (video)

Media Channel,video (58:00):
Jane Hamsher, Lynn Paltrow and Jose Perez on the Sotomayor selection. Then will Obama's "common sense" credit card reforms change much of anything? Danny Schechter, Jose Garcia, Anne Sullivan and Jonathan Shamis discuss the new legislation. Finally, Jane Hamsher on efforts to audit the Fed.

"Obama's Center-Left Two-Step"

E.J. Dionne Jr.:
Bill Clinton tried to create a Third Way. President Obama is doing it. This is exciting, but also disconcerting.
Over the last week, the true nature of Obama's political project has come into much clearer view. He is out to build a new and enduring political establishment, located slightly to the left of center but including everyone except the far right. That's certainly a bracing idea, since Washington has not seen a liberal establishment since the mid-1960s.

"Liberal establishment," of course, sounds terrible to many ears, and Obama would never use the term. But those who led it in its heyday accomplished a great deal, from Medicare to food stamps to Head Start to federal aid for schools. Its proudest achievements were civil rights laws that paved the way for the election of our first African American president.

But the liberal establishment was also resolutely tough-minded in its approach to foreign policy and national security. Not for nothing was the phrase "cold war liberalism" coined.

And it is no accident that the Vietnam War was that philosophy's undoing. Fearful that a communist victory in Vietnam would revive the far right's critique of alleged liberal weakness, Lyndon B. Johnson -- whose aspiration was to be a great domestic social reformer -- went into Southeast Asia with guns blazing. We know the result.

The disturbing aspect of Obama's effort to create his new political alignment is that building it requires him to send rather different messages to its component parts. Playing to several audiences at once can lead to awkward moments.

Last Thursday afternoon, for example, the White House invited in journalists, mostly opinion writers, to sell them on the substance of the president's big speech on Guantanamo and the treatment of detainees.

Unbeknown to the writers until afterward, they had been divided into two groups, one more centrist with a sprinkling of moderate conservatives, the other more liberal. (I was in the liberal group.) The president made an unscheduled appearance at each briefing. As is his way, he charmed both groups.

The idea, as far as I can determine, was to sell the liberal group on those aspects of Obama's plan that are a break from George W. Bush's policies, and to sell the centrist group on the toughness of the president's approach and the fact that it squares with Bush's more moderate moves later in his second term.

The dual selling job was helped along immensely by former vice president Dick Cheney's attacks on Obama right after the president delivered his own speech.

For the left, which is unhappy about Obama's decisions on such issues as preventive detention, Cheney's outlandish explosion was a reminder of how much better Obama is than the guys who came before. While civil libertarians grumbled about parts of Obama's speech, much of the left concentrated its fire on Cheney.

The center and near right, in the meantime, could have the satisfaction of dismissing the over-the-hill Cheney and comment knowingly on how basically "sound" and "realistic" the president's plans really were.

And in the next phase of his security efforts, Obama hopes to bring civil libertarians and moderate conservatives to the same table to work out rules on detainees. These would be more protective of their rights than Bush's were but tougher than the ACLU might have in mind.

Obama's center-left two-step is also on display in the domestic sphere. He is pushing hard for programs progressives have sought for years -- and, in the case of health care, for decades. But on the economic crisis, he has tacked carefully to the center, pushing aside calls for nationalizing the banks and working closely with the financial establishment to revive the economy.

And there's subtlety within his subtlety: Obama wants a more regulated financial market, but he would not disrupt the basic arrangements of American capitalism. If Obama has his way, investment bankers will make a bit less money and pay more in taxes, but they'll continue to be rich.
The establishment Obama is trying to build would make the country better -- more equal, more just and more conscious of the government's constitutional obligations. The far right is being isolated, and Republicans are simply lost.

But establishments have a habit of becoming too confident in their ability to manipulate people and events, and too certain of their own moral righteousness. Obama's political and substantive gifts are undeniable. What he needs to realize are the limits of his own mastery.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Rove questions Sotomayor's smarts" (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (01:36).

Howie P.S: Liar, cheater and now racist and sexist pig---Rove is the total package, of evil.

"Former Interrogator Rebukes Cheney for Torture Speech (video)

bravenewfilms, with video (03:37):
Dick Cheney says that torturing detainees has saved American lives. That claim is patently false. Cheney's torture policy was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American servicemen and women.

Matthew Alexander was the senior military interrogator for the task force that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and, at the time, a higher priority target than Osama bin Laden. Mr. Alexander has personally conducted hundreds of interrogations and supervised over a thousand of them.

"Torture does not save lives. Torture costs us lives," Mr. Alexander said in an exclusive interview at Brave New Studios. "And the reason why is that our enemies use it, number one, as a recruiting tool...These same foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight because of torture and abuse....literally cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives."

President Obama's announcement of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court (video)

MSNBC, video (25:03).

Howie P.S.:
Sam Stein covers "Where Policy Is Made: Sotomayor's Court Comment Explained" with video (00:35).


Ben Feller (AP):
President Barack Obama announces federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, right, as his nominee for the Supreme Court, Tuesday, May 26, 2009, in an East Room ceremony at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama named federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, praising her as "an inspiring woman" with both the intellect and compassion to interpret the Constitution wisely.
Obama said Sotomayor has more experience as a judge than any current member of the high court had when nominated, adding she has earned the "respect of colleagues on the bench," the admiration of lawyers who appear in her court and "the adoration of her clerks."

"My heart today is bursting with gratitude," Sotomayor said from the White House podium moments after being introduced by Obama.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama has chosen New York jurist Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.

If nominated, she would be the nation's first Hispanic justice.

Obama said he was looking for a jurist who had "a common touch and a sense of compassion." He said he had looked far and wide before settling on the 54-year-old Sotomayor, who initially was named to a federal judgeship by President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992.
Obama noted that Sotomayor would replace Souter as the only trial judge on the high court.
Howie P.S.: Jason Linkins tells us "How The Media Will Smear Sotomayor" while Sen. Patrick Leahy comments "On the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor."

Col. Wilkerson: "Cheney Kept Some Things From the President"

Cenk Uygur, with audio (17:21):

We interviewed Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, on The Young Turks and he had some very interesting things to say. Including:

"Cheney was co-president. I'd go further than that and say that for national security issues and other critical issues Cheney was the President."
"I found the incredible arrogance and lack of humility of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to be stunning almost right off the bat."

Referring to the decision to abuse detainees:

"I don't think there's any question it goes to Cheney. I'm increasingly of a mind that a lot of it goes to Cheney and stops there. Not just because of the president's disinclination to do detail, but I also think that Cheney kept some things from the president.
Lawrence Wilkerson: They should have what I would call reference authority. In other words, they should be able to turn it over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution, and a recommendation should be rendered with that if they believe laws were broken and they believe the proper authorities ought to take action.

Cenk Uygur: Dick Cheney seems to have an equivocal answer on Face the Nation when asked, "Did the president know about this abuse?" and he said, "Well I think he should have known" or something along those lines. Is there some chance that Dick Cheney just flat out gave the orders and didn't tell the president?

Lawrence Wilkerson: Absolutely! In my mind I have no problem believing that. I have no problem at all believing that.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Cheney on TV Open" (video)

NBC-SNL, video (04:10):
Cheney and GW are reunited on TV.
Howie P.S.: On this Memorial Day, keep in mind the death and destruction the real-life Cheney and Bush are responsible for.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hey Democrats!: "It's Gut-Check Time"

Politicizing national security is something everyone is supposed to be against. Naturally, it's impossible to avoid politicizing policies that you oppose and want to change, but no one really thinks it is in our interests to keep Guantanamo Bay's prison open. The Republicans know we have to close it, and they know that the president (and John McCain) campaigned on closing it. But, they don't care because they have polling data.
Armed with polling data that show a narrow majority of support for keeping the prison open and deep fear about the detainees, Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantánamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles.

Talk radio and cable news hosts warned viewers that dangerous terrorists might end up in a neighborhood jail, with Sean Hannity of Fox News even broadcasting an online video from House Republican leaders that juxtaposed the security of the detainee camps with images of the twin towers in flames. And from California and Virginia to the small town of Hardin, Mont., Democratic lawmakers began fending off questions about whether they would admit terrorism suspects into their own communities.

It stands to reason that Republicans are a bit more scared of Muslims than the Democrats are. They don't tend to live in the cities and the inner suburbs where most Muslims live. They don't ride the bus with them and they don't shop in their stores or eat in their restaurants. But even Republicans aren't as scared of the detainees in Guantanamo as they profess to be. They want to benefit off cowardice.

Anyone who has ever taught a child to ride a bike knows how you deal with trepidation. You appeal to courage. You express confidence in the child's abilities. And you shame them, if necessary, into overcoming their fear. Then you push them along and make them ride or fall. Only a fool would tell the child how dangerous bike-riding is and raise their anxiety level. When something must be done, you muster the courage to get it done. That is what leadership is all about.

The Republicans don't know how to lead. And they want to make it as difficult as possible for Obama to lead. There are a lot of Democrats out there that are allowing themselves to be bullied. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Gov. Ritter and Sens. Udall and Bennet of Colorado ought to make it crystal-clear that they welcome the detainees to the SuperMax prison in Florence. Anyone who wants to make an issue out of it should be invited to buy some Depends adult diapers. If the politicians in Colorado have no guts then the politicians in Montana should take advantage of the empty prison they have in Hardin. If Gov. Schweitzer and Sens. Baucus and Tester have no guts, then Gov. Rendell and Sens. Specter and Casey should invite the detainees to come to the great and courageous state of Pennsylvania. You can build a suitable prison right here in my hometown if everyone else is a goddamned coward.

I don't care where you put them. Just put them somewhere and be done with it. And stop letting the Republicans push you around. People ultimately respect leaders that get them to overcome their fear and accomplish something. I don't think a lot of soldiers appreciated serving in Patton's Third Army at the time. But they wore that distinction as a badge of honor for the rest of their lives because of what they managed to accomplish.

It's time to man-up. Failure to do so will lead people, including me, to believe there is something fundamentally cowardly about the Democratic Party. The Republicans, remember, are only pretending to be afraid.

Howie P.S.: Colin Powell said pretty much the same thing in his own way this morning on "Face the Nation," video (03:10).

"A dark lord comes shrieking into the light"

Andrew Sullivan (Sunday London Times):
He was for so long the invisible man. Hunkering down in an undisclosed location, poring over the bureaucratic details that made him a master of manipulating the American ship of state, appearing only for military speeches or conservative fundraisers, the former vice-president Dick Cheney loved the shade.
For him, power was best exercised indirectly — in the always confidential lunches with the president, or by sitting silently through cabinet or military meetings, letting others guess his intentions. He rarely campaigned, seldom explained and never, ever, apologised. And when he actually had to ask for votes in the 2004 re-election campaign, you could sense his Coriolanus-like contempt for the demos. All he wanted was to leave the stage for the offices where the real decisions were made.

Even war — that most public of acts — was private to him, as he said on September 16, 2001: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows, in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.”

That is Cheney’s vision of effective governance: things are done “quietly, without any discussion”; any means available are used for him to achieve his ends; and nobody knows where he is.

Now, you can’t turn on the television without seeing his leaner, tanned but still grim visage. Since Barack Obama was elected, Cheney has appeared on the big Sunday talk shows five times: that’s more than his tally from 2003 to the end of 2006. The blogosphere twitches with each of his soundbites and his daughter Liz spends hours on television and radio, backing him up.

The strangeness of this is not related entirely to his usual reticence. It is unheard of for a former vice-president to attack a succeeding president aggressively before he has assembled his full cabinet. Even Al Gore, a man who won more votes than George W Bush in the 2000 election, said nothing critical of him for years. It is particularly odd to see Cheney assail Obama on defence and security — while Obama has retained the defence secretary of the Bush administration, Robert Gates, and has bent over backwards to increase troops in Afghanistan, delay an exit from Iraq and nominate a new general for the Afghan campaign, Stanley McChrystal, whom Cheney has previously showered with praise.

Cheney, moreover, is not the best spokesman for Cheney. He has an approval rating of 30% and a disapproval rating of 63%, while he viciously attacks a president with a favourable rating of 64%. None of this is helping his political party. One Republican strategist told The Washington Post last week: “We want Bush to be a very distant memory in the next election. The more Cheney is on the front burner, the more difficult it’s going to be.”

So what on earth is going on? Here’s what’s going on. Cheney is afraid. He knows he is losing the argument about his record. The cumulative effect of leaked reports detailing the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has altered public perceptions. In the most recent poll, 71% of Americans accept the legal fact that waterboarding is torture; and Cheney has openly bragged of using it. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that 71% of Americans, even if they think torture is justified, now believe their last vice-president was a torturer. This is not a good way to go down in history. Nor is it a good way to be perceived by public prosecutors tasked with enforcing the law.

Worse, Cheney’s Bush-era colleagues are turning on him. Philip Zelikow, a key aide of Condoleezza Rice, has testified in Congress that his memo arguing against Cheney’s torture techniques was targeted for destruction. Another former government aide, Lawrence Wilkerson, responded to Cheney’s Sunday interview last week with an all too apt reference to the power-hungry “dark side” villains of Star Wars: “Let’s just say that five minutes of the Sith lord was stunningly inaccurate.”

Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who interrogated the Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah, has said publicly that all the useful information came before Cheney insisted on waterboarding the man — and that he was waterboarded to prove a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, not to prevent future terrorist attacks. In fact, the emerging pattern of the worst torture of prisoners shows it occurred not in the wake of 9/11, to prevent future attacks, but after the botched invasion of Iraq, to justify false intelligence claims.

Bush’s key weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, disclosed last week that when he was interrogating one of Saddam’s aides, Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi, in that post-invasion period, a very senior Bush official intervened to propose torturing al-Dulaymi to get evidence of a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. Nobody doubts it was Cheney.

Now, we find out that a quarter of the footnotes of the 9/11 commission report were based on “intelligence” gleaned through the torture and abuse of Al-Qaeda prisoners. As anyone can tell you, the reliability of such evidence is suspect at best — and nobody on the commission was told how the information was gathered.

What do we know about Al-Qaeda and its threat? The problem with torture is not just that it is evil, but that it destroys the possibility of knowable, testable truth. We need truth to defend ourselves.

Even Cheney knows that if he doesn’t push back hard on all of this, the weight of Washington opinion will swing against him. The capital city is a fickle, unprincipled place and, once stripped of office, he can no longer intimidate or threaten to get his way. A memoir will be too late. And so he is forced into the limelight to which he is unused. He has made unforced errors. Last Sunday he picked a fight with the former secretary of state Colin Powell, arguing that Powell was no longer a real Republican. As if Powell does not have the ammunition to fight back. And as if, in a contest for public opinion, Cheney could even begin to compete with Powell’s popularity.

Powell’s former aide Wilkerson said last week: “When will someone of stature tell Dick Cheney that enough is enough? Go home. Spend your $70m. Luxuriate in your Eastern Shore mansion. Stay out of our way as we try to repair the extensive damage you’ve done — to the country and to its Republican party.”
The only person who could really do that is Bush. And he is as silent as he is absent. Telling, don’t you think? And, from Cheney's point of view, ominous.
Howie P.S.: I don't like to give Cheney more attention than absolutely necessary but I missed this last week during my health care "vacation."

"Obama's Great Afghanistan Gamble"

Robert Dreyfuss (Mother Jones):
IF YOU CAN'T IMAGINE how President Obama intends to win the war in Afghanistan, you're not alone. The challenge is daunting: Along with a handful of war-plagued African states—Somalia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo—Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries. It's been racked by 30 years of war. Millions have fled into Pakistan and Iran; tens of thousands more have been killed since the US-backed jihad in the 1980s. "The reason we don't have moderate leaders in Afghanistan today is because we let the nuts kill them all," Cheryl Benard, Rand Corporation specialist and wife of former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, told me in 2004, during an interview for a book on political Islam.
Obama's advisers say that their plan is to surge, then negotiate—that is, beef up the US presence, stabilize the war, and then seek a deal backed by regional diplomacy. But that raises a host of questions, starting with: If negotiations are the answer, who's at the table?

President Hamid Karzai: His government is, well, mostly nonexistent. "Forty percent of the country is either partly or entirely off-limits to the government and to international aid groups," says Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group. Karzai has been derided as merely the "mayor of Kabul," but it's worse than that: "He doesn't have much influence with parliament, so you can't even say that he controls the capital," says Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department intelligence official who advised Obama's campaign. Terrorists strike fortified targets in Kabul, from the Indian Embassy to the Ministry of Justice, with impunity.

Karzai is struggling to regain control. By skillfully appointing governors and mayors, he's built a cadre of officials loyal to the regime. Still, in the provinces, the government's writ is weak. Law enforcement and the courts are virtually absent, leaving the field to criminals and drug traffickers. Corruption poisons everything: Afghanistan is ranked 176 out of 180 countries surveyed by the corruption watchdog group Transparency International; it produces more than nine-tenths of the world's illicit opium; and criminal gangs reach from the most remote districts into Karzai's own family—one of his brothers has been accused of involvement in the heroin trade.

The security forces: The pre-surge force of 13,100 US and 56,420 NATO troops (including 24,900 Americans) has been unable to secure Kabul and its environs, not to mention huge swaths of the south. Some NATO forces do little fighting, and some, like Canada's, are leaving. Afghan public opinion is turning against the coalition, partly because of rising civilian casualties caused by air strikes. Meanwhile the 80,000-strong Afghan National Army can't operate on its own, while the Afghan National Police, also numbering around 80,000, are dysfunctional, corrupt, and infiltrated by Taliban fighters; many are merely militiamen for local warlords.

The Taliban: In the 1990s, they rode to power by mobilizing armies of orphans and refugees brainwashed in Pakistani madrassas; toppled in 2001, they've come roaring back in rural areas where Karzai's feckless governors and crooked cops are viewed with disdain. They use threats, blandishments, and their cultlike ideology to expand their power base, village by village and clan by clan. Yet their hold is not as firm as it might seem. Polls indicate that 9 out of 10 Afghans disapprove of the Taliban. And, notes Seth Jones, an Afghanistan expert at Rand, "Most of the tribal, subtribe, and clan leaders don't particularly care for the central government, and they don't particularly care for the Taliban. They are willing to switch sides." The hardcore Taliban, he estimates, may be as small as just 2,000 to 3,000 fighters. They do, however, have allies—other militant factions, criminal gangs, and, of course, their own brethren beyond Afghanistan's borders. In Pakistan, the Taliban shura (council) is run by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed true believer who headed Afghanistan until 2001. Farther north, Mullah Omar's allies include the Haqqanis, heirs to one of the more violent jihadist factions from the US-sponsored war in the 1980s, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps that war's most bloodthirsty combatant, both of whom regularly dispatch fighters into contested areas surrounding Kabul. (See Your Tax Dollars at War.)

The new players: With US advice and funding, Karzai is trying to counter the Taliban through a pair of new initiatives. The Afghan Social Outreach Program is quietly building anti-Taliban local councils. A parallel program, the Afghan Public Protection Force, has a pilot project under way in Wardak province to build quasi-official militias not unlike the US-sponsored Sunni Awakening that mobilized Iraqi tribes against Al Qaeda. J Alexander Thier of the US Institute of Peace is hopeful. But, he says, "It scares the bejesus out of people because this would result in the arming of Pashtun militias. It's extremely risky."

Which gets us back to the question: What's the endgame of the surge-and-negotiate strategy? Already there is plenty of negotiating behind the scenes. Karzai has an ongoing dialogue with the Taliban, with former Taliban allies in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan mediating, and there are reports of talks involving Hekmatyar, too. But Obama's advisers are split on whether those top-down negotiations will work: Some suspect that there can be no deal as long as the Taliban think they're winning.

An alternative approach gaining favor inside the beltway is bottom-up negotiations to mirror the Taliban's village-by-village strategy. "This is a country that historically has had very little central government," General David McKiernan, the US commander, said last November. "But it's a government with a history of local autonomy and local tribal authority systems." Jones, of Rand, says the key is winning the loyalty of rural Afghans.

If it's done right—if America maintains a light footprint, if tribal leaders see improvements in security (as well as cold, hard cash), and if Afghanistan's meddling neighbors can be persuaded to help stabilize the country—then the loyalties of the Pashtun tribes may turn. If that happens, Jones says hopefully, "They can tip pretty quickly." Of course, if the surge causes more civilian deaths and further inflames anger at the United States, they could just as easily tip the other way. Therein lies the great risk of Obama's gamble.
Howie P.S.: This article lays out the policy landscape in Afghanistan as clearly and concisely as I have seen.

"Senate Votes For $91.3 Billion In War Spending"

The Senate voted last night by an 86-3 margin to approve a $91.3 billion spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The bill will now go to House-Senate negotiations, with an expected final passage some time in June. The three dissenters came from the left and right: Progressive Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, independent socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- and conservative Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Howie P.S. I'm a day late with this post (the vote was on Friday), but yesterday was mostly taken up with moving my HQ back home from my undisclosed health care location.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Obama's Detention Plans Face Scrutiny"

Wall Street Journal:
The Obama administration's efforts to craft what it calls a "preventive detention" plan for suspected terrorists will face constitutional challenges similar to those raised against the Bush administration's policies.
Some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are deemed too dangerous to release and may not be able to put on trial, creating a quandary that President Barack Obama said Thursday poses "the toughest issue we will face."

There are still many unknowns in the administration's plans. How many prisoners will fall into the thorniest category requiring indefinite detention is still unclear while detainee cases are being reviewed by government lawyers. A White House task force reviewing detention policy is set to make recommendations in late July.

The administration has floated with Congress a possible plan that would seek legislation allowing the government to hold suspected terrorists without trial indefinitely on U.S. soil. A National Security Court would oversee the cases. Administration lawyers view the congressional and court oversight of the plans as key to their argument that their approach differs significantly from the Bush administration, which tried to claim broad presidential powers to strip terror suspects of legal rights.

There's a tradition of indefinite detentions by the military in war time. However, the government's argument that the campaign against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups may be a war without end creates complications.

The government's past attempts at such detentions have a checkered legal history.

The Bush administration tested the government's indefinite detention powers in the case of Yaser Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and detained as an "illegal enemy combatant." In a 2004 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed in part with the government. But its ruling that Mr. Hamdi had the right to challenge his detention led the Bush administration to create Pentagon-run tribunals to review cases of detainees.

Administration officials acknowledge that the Hamdi case doesn't directly answer the legal questions posed by the White House's emerging indefinite detention policy. In a subsequent 2008 case, the Supreme Court backed the legal rights of foreigners held at Guantanamo, ruling in the case of Lakhdar Boumediene that he had a right to access the U.S. courts.

Civil liberties and human rights groups who criticized the Bush administration's detention policies are definitive in their opposition to Mr. Obama's plans.

"It's really crossing a constitutional Rubicon," said Jonathan Hafetz, American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented Ali al Marri. Mr. al Marri recently pleaded guilty to being an al Qaeda sleeper agent after years being held without charge as an "enemy combatant."

Mr. Hafetz says that President Obama is "taking steps that are inconsistent with our legal traditions and values. At the same, he's closing Guantanamo but he's creating a new Guantanamo in another form."

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has won court backing for important elements of the policy. District court rulings have agreed with the administration that the congressional authorization for military force following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, as well as the laws of war, give the government the right to detain indefinitely members of al Qaeda and affiliated groups at war with the U.S. Those cases will likely continue to be in litigation for months to come.

The government has tried indefinite detentions for cases unrelated to terrorism, particularly immigration and mental illness. A 2001 Supreme Court decision ruled it was illegal for the U.S. to indefinitely detain hundreds of Cuban refugees who arrived in the Mariel boatlift and who were deemed dangerous to release but whom the Cuban government refused to take back.

But the courts, including the high court in one case, have allowed state laws that require the indefinite detention of criminal sex offenders deemed to have mental issues that make them a danger to society even after they have served a prison sentence.

The administration is studying detention proposals, including one from South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who suggests a hybrid approach: applying military law to declare detainees a danger to the U.S., followed by reviews of the National Security Court to verify detainees' status.

On Wednesday, the president discussed outlines of such a plan with representatives of civil liberties and human rights groups at a meeting in the White House. These groups, including the ACLU, led the legal assault that won important court-ordered curbs on the legal underpinnings of the Bush administration's national security policy. They promise to the same to Mr. Obama's.

Rachel Maddow: "Indefinite detention? Shame on you... President Obama" (video)

firedoglake, video (07:42).

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Obama's reality-show presidency"

Ari Melber
We are now living through the first reality-show presidency.
The trends began in the early 1990s, with 24-hour cable news and reality programming, and intensified in the past few years, with the rise of celebrity culture and micro-broadcasting technology.

This is the first administration, however, to fuse iterative, real-time lifestyle coverage with the star power of a true celebrity politician. The White House is deftly serving the huge public and media interest in President Barack Obama, not only as a leader and celebrity but also as a character in a fascinating story far beyond politics.

So far, it is working.

Historically, the most favorably viewed figure in any administration is the first lady, regardless of her husband’s popularity. That is largely because first ladies avoid the political fray and are ritualistically presented as a warm, human presence in the White House. Take Laura Bush. She left the White House with a 67 percent favorable rating, according to a January CNN poll, more than double the ratings of her husband and his top officials.

So far, Obama is garnering the kind of coverage more traditionally associated with first ladies, partly because he is covered not only as a president immersed in policy but also as the star of an exciting reality show.

Sometimes the press takes the lead on the set.

This week, for example, while many wonks debated Obama’s health care objectives, the media had other goals in mind. “It’s the Weekend, So Obama Becomes a Soccer Dad,” blared an AP headline, detailing Obama’s cameo as soccer fan at his daughter’s games. “At one point, after [his daughter’s] team scored, the president shouted excitedly, ‘Go ... go ... go ... goal,’” the article recounted. Television news programs also picked up the scene, playing loops of Obama, clad in a White Sox jacket, cheering on the sidelines.

Before soccer weekends, the press salivated over plot twists like the new vegetable garden at 1600 Pennsylvania and the arrival of Bo, the first family’s puppy. Those lifestyle stories drew tons of attention. Bo netted over 3,200 hits on Google News in a single week, besting coverage for several members of Obama’s Cabinet (including Tom Vilsack, Hilda Solis, Gary Locke and Ray LaHood). The Washington Post even sought an exclusive scoop on the puppy, though the paparazzi site got there first.

And the first family’s vegetable garden was one of the biggest Obama-related stories of the week in March, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which measures topics in the national “newshole.”

Then, from the other direction, White House aides provide a steady stream of apolitical scenes from Obama’s life to the press and the public.

As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, both Obama staffers and celebrity news executives agree that celebrity-driven media coverage has reached a “new level” at the White House. To generate “personality-driven coverage,” the article explained, White House press aides now give coveted access to celebrity outlets like E! and Us Weekly. (Imagine the photo spread: “They balance a budget, just like us!”)

Beyond the media filter, the White House website has more reality-style scenes than ever before. Sports fans can find Obama’s handwritten NCAA bracket picks, along with over 400 pictures of the president’s daily routine on the official Flickr page. And the White House recently shifted those snapshots’ copyright status to “public domain,” to its credit, so anyone can download and use them.

This show would not be effective, of course, without a good subject. Obama won the presidency by running the first integrated three-screen campaign — reaching people directly via Internet, cell phones and TV — with an authentic, complex style that resonated for voters sick of dark, deceitful and divisive politics.

Michael Hirschorn, the pioneering reality television producer and Atlantic commentator, notes that candidate Obama won over people, especially young voters, by using the media to communicate with a contemporary “linguistic approach” that was “post-political in a traditional way.” Hirschorn told me that Obama has continued to apply that style effectively in office, using the shifting media environment to share his “humanness.”

It clearly isn’t hurting.

Obama’s approval ratings hold strong at about 65 percent, despite the bad economy and a series of tough issues in the spotlight, from bailouts to torture to health care. As a recent Gallup analysis concluded, Obama is not only “maintaining his ‘honeymoon’ approval ratings, but he seems to be improving on them.”
numbers would not be possible, obviously, unless people already backed Obama’s leadership and agenda. For Americans who don’t follow every policy address, however, the scenes of puppies and sports and gardening cast Obama in a positive quotidian light. After all, depressing news makes people want to change the channel. And that may be one more reason the media are working with the White House to change the news.