Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last Call

If you're going to read only one article on the CIA IG's report, make it Scott Horton's piece at Harper's, where he plainly makes the case that everything you know about the torture memos are wrong. The big section:
All trails lead to the Vice President’s office. At several points, redactions begin just when the discussion is headed toward the supervision or direction of the program and context suggests that some figure far up the Washington food chain is intervening. Moreover, as Jane Mayer recounts in Dark Side, Helgerson’s report was shut down when he was summoned, twice, to meet with Dick Cheney, who insisted that the report be stopped. Cheney had good reason to be concerned. This report shows that the vice president intervened directly in the process and ensured that the program was implemented. The OPR report likewise shows Cheney’s office commissioning the torture memos and carefully supervising the process. It is increasingly clear that torture was Dick Cheney’s special project and that he was personally and deeply involved in it. And the CIA report has some amazing nuggets that show Cheney’s hand. In 2003, after Jay Bybee departed OLC, Cheney struggled to have John Yoo installed as his successor, but ultimately John Ashcroft’s candidate, Jack Goldsmith, prevailed. Goldsmith quickly backtracked on the torture authorizations that Yoo and Bybee gave. The result? The CIA stopped taking its cue from OLC and instead turned to the White House for guidance. It is remarkably vague on the particulars, and blackouts emerge just as passages seem to be getting interesting. But there’s little doubt that Dick Cheney and his staff were pushing the process from behind the scenes.
Make no mistake, this is the Sum of All Fears for the Republican Party right here. The stakes are immense and they know it. If Dick Cheney goes down, all the GOP goes with him. They will not go without a fight for the ages.

The problem is, Obama and Holder don't have the stomach for this level of hardball. Obama's numbers continue to drop because he's getting bogged down on the defensive without any successes. That all changes should he get health care reform passed. But for now, it's a Sisyphean effort to keep rolling that boulder up the hill.

And So It Begins

And the Republican attacks on Eric Holder's patriotism begin.
A "furious" Rep. Peter King, the hawkish, maverick Long Island Republican, blasted a "disgraceful" Eric Holder for opening an investigation of CIA interrogators and chided his own party for what he described as a weak response to the move in an interview just now with POLITICO.

"It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on," he said of the attorney general's move, which he described as a "declaration of war against the CIA, and against common sense."

"It’s a total breach of faith, and either the president is intentionally caving to the left wing of his party or he’s lost control of his administration," said King, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Homeland Security and a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

King, channeling both the sense of outrage and of political opportunity felt in parts of the GOP, defended in detail the interrogation practices — threats to kill a detainee's family, and or to kill a detainee with a power drill — detailed in a CIA inspector general report released yesterday.

"You're talking about threatening to kill a guy, threatening to attack his family, threatening to use an electric drill on him — but never doing it," King said. "You have that on the one hand — and on the other you have the [interrogator's] attempt to prevent thousands of Americans from being killed."

"When Holder was talking about being 'shocked' [before the report's release], I thought they were going to have cutting guys' fingers off or something — or that they actually used the power drill," he said.

And sadly enough, our discourse over the Global War On Terror has been reduced to "We question whether or not Eric Holder is helping America's enemies because he has a problem with our interrogators saying they are going to kill a detainee's kids." And we have Republican lawmakers actually arguing that it's okay to do this because they didn't actually USE the power drill or the gun to actually kill people.

It's not terrorism if we do it.

[UPDATE 10:26 PM] BooMan rings Peter King up.

This is captured-in-Bush Era-amber rhetoric, and it is total bullshit. The Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture establish "human" rights, not just rights for people who are not suspected of terrorism. Eric Holder never said that it is okay to waterboard people. He testified at his confirmation hearing that waterboarding is torture and is prohibited by law. Eric Holder is not declaring war on the CIA. And torturing people is not something that goes to the heart of our national defense.
Just because we can do it, doesn't make it right.

And At The Door Ask For The Special

Anyone on Earth surprised by Goldman Sachs playing favorites?
Some investors are shrugging their shoulders at reports that Goldman Sachs Group Inc gives special trading advice and early access to analyst research to a select few clients, saying the practice is commonplace in the industry.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Goldman hosts a weekly meeting of its research analysts, joined by top clients, to discuss trading ideas. The story raised the issue of favoritism for top Goldman clients, prompting the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission to commence investigations, the paper said Tuesday.

FINRA, the securities industry's regulatory arm, said it was looking into the situation. The SEC declined to comment.

Investors like Marshall Front, chairman of Front Barnett Associates LLC, said Goldman Sachs is not alone among brokerage firms in "favoring their largest and most productive clients" with trading tips.

It's not a big deal so long as market-moving information is not being shared, according to this view.

Of course it's not a big deal. Everybody does it, so it must be legal, right?

If there's one real, honest complaint I have about Barack Obama, it's that his financial reform team has done all of jack squat to actually reform the system in orde to prevent another financial collapse from occurring. In fact, I'd bet we're going to hit another recession before Obama's term is over.

Of course, Goldman Sachs will keep humming along no matter what.

Secondhand Lion Of The Senate

Digby disabuses Noam Schrieber of the notion that should Teddy Kennedy not make it to the final vote on health care legislation that Republicans will magically not filibuster the hell out of his bill.
The idea that it's "politically suicidal" to filibuster Teddy's Kennedy's lifelong crusade is just hilarious to me.

Rick Perlstein, who has a slightly better understanding of how conservatives actually do things, writes in an email:
The Republican old bulls will say they're honoring EMK's memory by voting against cloture for what they'll say is a failed bill that he would never have happened had he been alive and kicking. And any bill that comes out of committee they'll say was a failed bill that never would have happened had he been alive and kicking. That's how they roll.
Of course it is. They're already doing it. When are people going to understand how these people operate?
And not only will the Republicans fight all the harder to block it, but you will actually hear complaints from some of them that they are using Ted Kennedy's memory for purely political gain to smash through a travesty of a bill.

Hell, why not go for the full Five Dragons Wingnut Special platter and start in with the rumors that Obama had Kennedy killed in order to force Republicans to pass health care legislation? I wonder how long it'll take before that little gem makes it to El Rushbo/Glennsanity.

I hope very much that Kennedy makes it to see his bill pass. If he should finally succumb to his illness however, you can bet the Republicans will still find a way to blame Obama for it.

Trial Of The Century

From the LA Times' Jim Tankersley comes this story on putting climate change science on trial.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

"It would be evolution versus creationism," said William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. "It would be the science of climate change on trial."

The goal of the chamber, which represents 3 million large and small businesses, is to fend off potential emissions regulations by undercutting the scientific consensus over climate change. If the EPA denies the request, as expected, the chamber plans to take the fight to federal court.

The EPA is having none of it, calling a hearing a "waste of time" and saying that a threatened lawsuit by the chamber would be "frivolous."

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said the agency based its proposed finding that global warming is a danger to public health "on the soundest peer-reviewed science available, which overwhelmingly indicates that climate change presents a threat to human health and welfare."

Environmentalists say the chamber's strategy is an attempt to sow political discord by challenging settled science -- and note that in the famed 1925 Scopes trial, which pitted lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in a courtroom battle over a Tennessee science teacher accused of teaching evolution illegally, the scientists won in the end.

The chamber proposal "brings to mind for me the Salem witch trials, based on myth," said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist for the environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists. "In this case, it would be ignoring decades of publicly accessible evidence."
Personally I think the Chamber of Commerce guys wouldn't be so hyped up about this if they didn't have a plan to turn the hearing into a kangaroo court and put forth the notion that politicians and judges should decide if global warming exists, and leave the science out of the mix entirely. If the issue becomes global warming is an opinion rather than a supportable scientific fact, then climate change legislation becomes the first casualty. Trying to turn this into a court case rather than a scientific body of work makes it open to manipulation, which is of course the point.

After all, attacking global warming on the fact isn't working.

What's Really Behind The Town Hall Blitzers

Amanda Marcotte nails it:

I can’t recommend enough this video of Tim Wise being interviewed on CNN about the racism underlying the right wing freakout over health care:

Watching it, you realize that the debate “is this or isn’t this racism?” is lopsided. The side arguing “is"---increasingly, most liberals are getting it and thankfully, the mainstream media is starting to accept it---has research and history on its side. The side arguing “isn’t” is basically hoping that you feel bad enough about using a loaded word like “racism” that you’ll shut up, because it isn’t polite to call a racist racist. What’s important to understand is that this isn’t a matter of awkwardness based in unexamined privilege or unintentional racism. Those are the occasions, I suspect, that make people uneasy to use the word “racist”. The people here are, as Wise explains, are working under old-fashioned, obvious prejudicial beliefs. The one he names is “hard-working whites” vs. “lazy blacks”, and again, that they’re smart enough to try to dance around the issue to the cameras doesn’t mean that this stuff doesn’t come out in research or just when you’re a white person who gets behind closed doors with these folks.

Nailed it to the wall, frankly. To a lot of Americans, health care reform is simply The Big Welfare Giveaway To Minorities We Largely Expected From A Black President. They won't admit it, of course. But that's what the logic is. All the GOP has to do is give the issue political cover, an excuse like "death panels" or "government takeover of health care" and people sign on in droves, because of the inconvenience of admitting the truth.
Since I think about this issue all the time, I’d say that you could probably even narrow down which code words are more obviously racist than others. For instance, I tend to think that flinging around the word “socialism” is a lot more intentionally racist than priding yourself on being a Real American®. It’s a narrow distinction, but the former is intended to invoke images of non-white people living on the dole that you pay for. The latter is a racist term---since non-white people are automatically excluded from Real America® 99% of the time---but it’s also about imposing an ideological test, wherein you prove that you’re not Real America® by voting for Democrats, not waving 6 million American flags around, etc. I’m sure that you get kicked out of the Real America® club for shunning the fanny pack at this point. Calling Obama a “terrorist” or “Hitler” is overtly racist---Wise explains why the “Hitler” thing is in the video. All this is hair-splitting, but that’s what blogs are for, right? But the distinctions matter to Republican politicians. If you’re John McCain, for instance, you feel comfortable suggesting that your base are the only Real Americans®, because while the term is racist, it’s not as overtly racist as terms like “socialist” or “terrorist”.
Absolutely. The goal of the Republican Party right now is neo-Atwaterism: you can't use overt racial code words, so you invent new ones and invent new political cover stories to justify it. "Real America" is certainly one of them, as is "radical liberal", etc. The right-wing obsession with Obama's birth certificate and ACORN is also part and parcel of this mess.

All of this goes back to the fact there are millions of Americans who just can't handle the fact that A) we have a Black President and B) America has fundamentally changed enough that we voted for the guy.

Change can be scary. Scary enough apparently that people at these town hall meetings are saying things like this:
“The president of the United States, that’s who you should be concerned about. Because he’s acting like a little Hitler,” said Tom Eisenhower, a World War II veteran. “I’d take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me.”
And I'm thinking there's enough of them.

Be Careful What You Wish For, Dick Cheney

...you just might get it.
For months, former Vice President Dick Cheney has said that two documents prepared by the CIA, one from 2004 and the other from 2005, would refute critics of the Bush administration’s torture program. He told Fox’s Sean Hannity in April:

“I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” Cheney said. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.”

Those documents were obtained today by The Washington Independent and are available here. Strikingly, they provide little evidence for Cheney’s claims that the “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA provided valuable information. In fact, throughout both documents, many passages — though several are incomplete and circumstantial, actually suggest the opposite of Cheney’s contention: that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA’s interrogations.

The first document, issued by the CIA in July 2004 is about the interrogation of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and whom, the newly released CIA Inspector General report on torture details, had his children’s lives threatened by an interrogator. None of that abuse is referred to in the publicly released version of the July 2004 document. Instead, we learn from the July 2004 document that not only did the man known as “KSM” largely provide intelligence about “historical plots” pulled off from al-Qaeda, a fair amount of the knowledge he imparted to his interrogators came from his “rolodex” — that is, what intelligence experts call “pocket litter,” or the telling documentation found on someone’s person when captured. As well, traditional intelligence work appears to have done wonders — including a fair amount of blundering on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s part:

In response to questions about [al-Qaeda's] efforts to acquire [weapons of mass destruction], [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] revealed that he had met three individuals involved in [al-Qaeda's] program to produce anthrax. He appears to have calculated, incorrectly, that we had this information already, given that one of the three — Yazid Sufaat — had been in foreign custody for several months.

This is a far cry from torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into revealing such information. It would be tendentious to believe that the torture didn’t have any impact on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — he himself said that he lied to interrogators in order to get the torture to stop — but the document itself doesn’t attempt to present a case that the “enhanced interrogation” program was a factor, let alone the determinant factor, in the intelligence bounty the document says he provided.

Nice. So Dick Cheney in fact gets his wish, and it turns out the documents that were supposed to prove that torture saved American lives only ended up proving that non-enhanced techniques were the ones that got us useful intel, where the torture got us lies by detainees begging us to stop torturing them.

Wasn't a total loss for Cheney, however. He got the lies he needed from tortured prisoners to help make his own false case for the invasion of Iraq. Of course the former Vice President is claiming he's now exonerated and that there's no need for Holder's investigation now, since the U.S. is fully committed to threatening to kill people's kids mock executions enhanced interrogation techniques for winning the Warren Terrah.

Oh beautiful for spacious skies...

Dear America:

"It's clear that after eight years of a Republican presidency that voters elected Barack Obama for change. However after just eight months it's clear that Obama is the worst President in the history of anything, and the only way he can save his fatally damaged administration is by allowing the Republicans to run all aspects of government like Bill Clinton did. For his troubles, Clinton was impeached by the GOP. I don't see that as an issue for this Obama guy, he won't make it to a second term at this rate, but it doesn't mean the GOP can't try."

--William McGurn, WSJ

Bonus Verbatim Stupid: "Today the lesson that President Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress take from that 1994 defeat is that they need to avoid Mr. Clinton's "mistakes." Avoiding mistakes, however, is not a winning strategy. A far more productive strategy would be to embrace Mr. Clinton's success, which was freeing himself from his party's left and returning to the centrist themes he had campaigned on."

The Right Hand Not Knowing What The Right Hand Is Doing

Michael Steele, still aiming at his own foot as Josh Marshall points out.
Michael Steele is on Fox now going on about how Medicare is a wreck, completely bankrupt, and an example of how the government has already proven it can't run a health care program.

Except didn't the "health care bill of rights" that the GOP unveiled yesterday declare preserving Medicare and protecting it against any cuts an inviolable right?

Shorter Steele: Medicare is a disaster! Long live Medicare!

Right, so Medicare is an example of a government program that has failed, but of course making any cuts to such a program is against the GOP health care reform plan, and the Republican platform is officially that of preserving the program in all of its failed glory.

And people wonder why nobody trusts the Republicans on health care.

For You Aren't A Pirate

Sweden's infamous The Pirate Bay website is off-line after the Swedish government threatened to fine the file-sharing site's internet provider.
Stockholm’s district court on Monday ordered Black Internet to stop providing bandwidth to The Pirate Bay or face a fine of 500,000 kronor (70,000 dollars, 50,000 euros).

“We received the decision about the fine shortly after lunch and shut down the capacity just before 3:00 pm,” Black Internet’s chief executive Victor Moeller told the online edition of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

“There are laws and rules in society and they should be respected,” he said.

AFP’s attempts to access the website on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

A Swedish court in April found the four men behind The Pirate Bay guilty of promoting copyright infringement by running the site, sentencing them to a year in prison.

They were also ordered to pay damages of 30 million kronor (2.72 million euros, 3.56 million dollars) to the movie and recording industry.

The four have appealed the verdict, and — prior to Monday — the site remained in operation.

However, the movie industry in July again sued The Pirate Bay over 100 movies and television series, demanding that the three men who run the site (the fourth is their financier) and Black Internet be prevented from operating the site.

The Stockholm court ruled on Monday that Black Internet had to pull The Pirate Bay off the web until the latest lawsuit has been resolved, or pay the fine, Dagens Nyheter said.

And for now, the site is down. Somehow, I don't think it's gone forever. Things on the internet have this habit of not dying.

On the other hand, it was smart of Swedish officials to go after The Pirate Bay's internet provider. On the gripping hand (my nerd flag is showing again), it sets a nasty precedent for going after internet providers rather than content providers.

The Son Of Ron Paul Rises

Here in Kentucky politics, the big news this week is Ron Paul's son Rand Paul raising about $600,000 in just three weeks for Sen. Jim Bunning's seat in 2010, deeply complicating the Republican primary race.
On Thursday, Rand Paul, an eye doctor with no professional history in politics, announced that his campaign had been given $433,509 in just 24 hours; Just an echo of the $6 million, one-day “money bomb” his father enjoyed during the 2008 presidential campaigns.

“The real-time donation counter at Dr. Paul’s website at RandPaul2010.com shows that the campaign has raised over $680,000,” Rand’s campaign Web site declares.

“Paul announced his Senate bid earlier this month, soon after Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame major league baseball pitcher, announced his decision to not seek a third term in 2010,” noted Washington, D.C. publication Congressional Quarterly.

CQ added: “Bunning said he opted against a re-election bid because of an inability to raise enough money to run a viable campaign. He had been widely considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the nation.”

Rand had originally hoped to raise $1 million on August 20.

“This online total, raised from thousands of individuals often in increments of $5 to $25, is clearly a record in Kentucky politics,” his campaign Web site notes. “Yesterday’s online raise brings Rand Paul’s fundaising to parity with the establishment candidate. No other candidate from Kentucky has raised this much money in one day online.”

According to early polls in the race, Paul still trails his opponents significantly.

Republican Trey Grayson, Kentucky’s secretary of state, currently edges out Paul 37% to 26%, according to SurveyUSA. Fellow Republican challenger Bill Johnson, a Kentucky businessman, was not included in the poll.

That's a problem for Grayson, and a serious one. Coming out of nowhere to get 26% of Republicans in this state over Grayson is a big deal, and something that makes Rand Paul a serious contender for the GOP nomination next year, at least so far. Grayson is more or less the Kentucky GOP's golden boy, the hand-picked successor for Bunning's seat. Paul just became the economy-sized monkey wrench in that plan...oh yeah, and the Democrats are still outraising both Republicans by about 5 to 1 so far.

More on Rand Paul's politics over at the Daily Beast (surprise, he sounds like his dad) while the Senate Guru runs down the Democratic challengers, KY AG Jack Conway and former Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo.

Needless to say, I'll be keeping a close eye on this 2010 race.

[UPDATE 8:55 AM] Added some good Kentucky political blogs over in the list on the side. If you have any suggestions for KY or Cincy political blogs, let me know.

Another President Odubya Moment

Naturally, when looking for analysis of yesterday's Department of Justice bombshells, we check in on the Double G to see what he has to say about it all.

In theory, Holder's announcement does not foreclose the possibility that DOJ lawyers who authored the torture memos and/or those in the White House who authorized torture will, at some point, be investigated. Strictly speaking, Holder's announced "review" concerns only those in the intelligence community who conducted interrogations. And by extending immunity only to those who both (a) acted "within the scope of the [OLC] legal guidelines" and (b) "acted in good faith," it's theoretically possible that there is some class of persons who could fall outside the scope of immunity even though they technically complied with the OLC memos: i.e. high-level White House officials and/or DOJ lawyers who had reason to believe that the conduct authorized by the memos was illegal, meaning those who wrote or requested those memos with the deliberate intent to obtain cover for what they knew was criminal behavior. In other words, there are those who complied with the memos, but in bad faith, and are thus are outside the bounds of immunity Holder today defined and ineligible for this immunity. But that's just theory.

As a practical matter, Holder is consciously establishing as the legal baseline -- he's vesting with sterling legal authority -- those warped, torture-justifying DOJ memos. Worse, his pledge of immunity today for those who complied with those memos went beyond mere interrogators and includes everyone, policymakers and lawyers alike: "the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees." Thus, as long as, say, a White House official shows that (a) the only torture methods they ordered were approved by the OLC and (b) they did not know those methods were criminal, then they would be entitled to full-scale immunity under the standard Holder announced today.

In other words, Greenwald expects the entire exercise to be nothing more than a dog and pony show where only those who went beyond the scope of the John Yoo memos will be prosecuted, the vast majority of the CIA is safe from any efforts to seek justice.

This also means those in the Bush DoJ and the Bush White House get away scot-free.

In other words, what's the point? Conservatives will object to any investigation whatsoever, and nobody on the Left is going to put up with such an obvious sham. But in the end, Obama and Holder get to sweep all this under the rug and declare Mission Accomplished.

Nice. Yet another President Odubya moment.


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