Category Archives: Obama 44

2012: The Year Republicans Lost their Alternative Universe

Guns courage

The big political news story of 2012 was not that Obama won the presidential election or that the Republicans lost. That was fairly predictable.

Think about, if you were a strong Republican contender for the highest office of the U.S. would you rather run in 2012 against Obama and inherit a weak economy or would you wait it out until 2016 when you were facing Joe Biden? And even if Hillary had the energy to run, Americans will be too tired of eight years of a Democratic White House to vote her into office.

It’s a no-brainer:  strong contenders sit this one out. So who did we get? We go the Republican psychos Santorum and Gingrich and the unelectable Mitt Romney. Unelectable? Come on, did you ever really think that Americans would elect an elitist millionaire Mormon candidate who pays less than 14% income tax when he’s been transparent about, makes $20 million a year without having a job, hides his wealth in offshore tax havens, and has taken every position imaginable on each and every issue at some point in the last 10 years.

No. Romney’s loss was not newsworthy. What was news worthy was that the GOP’s alternative universe – the one brought to you courtesy of Fox News with the support of the mainstream media insistence on giving equal weight to each side’s viewpoint no matter how absurd – finally unraveled.

So if it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when Romney lost, then why was Romney so “shell shocked” at his defeat?

Why was it that Republicans so vehemently attacked Nate Silver (including calling him too effeminate) who was incredibly successful in 2008? I thought it was the Democrats who hated success and merit based praise?

But in the GOP alternative universe, modern science must never trump the GOP worldview on taxes, the economy, healthcare, Climate Change, marriage equality, marijuana, immigration, or even statistics.

And as Paul Krugman has described,

. . . the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

The GOP’s insularity has led them to such an isolated place that even the numbers guy Mitt was clueless of his own loss. The fact that most Americans are either living in the same isolated place is the biggest tragedy in our modern politics. We are no longer able to honestly and scientifically address the real issues that face our nation in any constructive and effective manner.

Nevertheless, the results of the elections not only validated science as practiced by little Nate Silver, they also showed that Americans were less and less susceptible to the right-wing information bubble. Same-sex marriage swept every ballot it was on as did Marijuana, and Americans didn’t buy the GOP’s argument on taxes. With Hurricane Sandy, Americans started to question the logic of digging your head in the sand on Climate Change. And everyone who bet big on Romney: Grover Norquist, Sheldon Adelson, the NRA, and even Benyamin Netanyahu all have lost big.

The jury is still out on Netanyahu – who spit in the face of comity and very publicly campaigned against the sitting President of the United States – as to whether he will pay a political price. And it appears that he has already.

So while it now seems that the GOP’s fictional tale of taxes, climate change and being in the moral majority is coming to an end, it also looks like the other shoe — guns — is also about to drop.

It’s hard to make the argument to the American people that nothing can or should be done when our kids are slaughtered in the schools when we are so quick to react to a single failed shoe bomber or in how we regulate cough medicine stronger than guns, but refuse to react after 62 mass shootings during the last 30 years with seven alone this year.

Americans may have had enough, and no matter how the GOP or the NRA want to spin it (the NRA has just called for armed guards at all schools), their days are numbered. As Timothy Egon explains:

When the Berlin Wall fell 23 years ago, what started with a couple of hammer swings against an irrational barrier quickly became an irresistible force. At such moments in history, the impossible is self-evident.

So it is in the first cracks in the two most formidable obstacles to progress on guns and taxes. Every valid poll shows that a majority of Americans favor bans on high-capacity ammunition clips and military-style assault weapons. A huge majority — 74 percent in a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey — also say it is “acceptable” to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. Yet the will of the people has been consistently thwarted. Why? Because, for a representative democracy, we’ve ceded an inordinate amount of power to a pair of unelected lobbies.

By threat and force, the gun and anti-tax extremists have been able to stop every sensible plea for reform. And by sensible, I mean a tax increase that is still less than the one Bill Clinton put through to great prosperity, and gun restrictions favored by presidents like Ronald Reagan.

Bullying is the favorite tactic of these political thugs in K Street suits, but as the last week has shown, they are also cowards. Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A. was quick to rush to the airwaves a few weeks ago after a pro football player shot his girlfriend and himself.

“The American public is disgusted,” he said. “The American public has had their fill of what happened last night.” The violence? No. He was condemning the sportscaster Bob Costas for daring to suggest that we have a conversation about what it means to live and die in the most armed society in history.

If only, he said, gun victims had weapons of their own. Sadly, Nancy Lanza was armed to the teeth, but it couldn’t save her from her own son. The Greek tragedy of Ms. Lanza’s supplying the weapon for her murder proved once again what all the empirical evidence shows: that if you have a gun at home it’s most likely to be used on a family member or someone you know.

The N.R.A. went dark in the week after the school massacre not out of some respect for the dead children, but because it could not make, with a straight face, the absurd argument that if only little kids had been armed they could have saved themselves.

It was left to the politicians owned by the gun lobby to have us view the carnage as the price of freedom. “There’s nothing you’re going to do to prevent evil from occurring,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican of North Carolina.

So the first things to go in the crumbling of these two special-interest titans are their core arguments. Newtown is wretched proof of the utter vacuity of the gun lobby’s excuses, but every comparison to other industrial nations makes the case as well.

So 2012 may go down in the history books as the year the GOP lost more than an election: they lost taxes, moral values, climate change, statistics, and even guns. Good riddance!

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Filed under Elections 2012, Essays, Obama 44, We The People

Propaganda Straight from the Hunger Games

Last month I wrote about Americans’ fascination with The Hunger Games and the cognitive dissonance between their love of the freedom fighting heroin in the book and their adoration of authority in real life.

Now after reading Glen Greenwald’s recent “Leon Panetta: macho Renaisance man” on 60Minutes‘ full-on propaganda campaign in favor of the White House’s war machine disguised as journalism, I was immediately reminded again of The Hunger Games. How can Americans, so enamored with Ms. Katniss, watch that 60Minutes segment and not immediately see clear as day that their beloved trilogy is a direct criticism of the times we are living in today. Pelley is playing the role of Caesar Flickerman in pure, unapologetic and unfettered government propaganda.

And here we are all licking it up. We get to believe we love freedom and hate totalitarianism, all while worshiping our pseudo-soldier-rulers at the same time.

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What We Now Know About Torture

Over the weekend, I watched the extremely engaging Bill Moyers Show on “Reckoning with Torture“. While the issue of the use of “Torture” by the U.S. government post-9/11 has been controversial and one could accuse Bill Moyers and his two guests as having a “liberal” bias, the interview and what it exposes are nonetheless compelling. And while torture-deniers/apologists will argue that there is “nothing new” to learn about what the government did in fact do, I believe the video very much highlights the undeniable facts of what did occur, facts that are not fully understood by the general public at large and which, once omitted, watered-downed, or spun, aid in the public’s misconception that what was done was done as an absolutely necessary defensive action in the face an extreme and imminent threat:

  1. Worst of the worst: As early as by the end of 2002, the U.S. government was fully aware and apprised of the fact that the vast majority of the Guantanamo detainees (some 80%) were not — let me repeat that, were NOT — guilty of the alleged crimes for which they were being detained. The U.S. government continued (and in some cases continues) to hold these detainees in cages, with no rights or recourse of any kind, for over a half a decade even after knowing they were not guilty.
  2. A few bad apples: When we think of the most extreme cases of torture, we think of it as having been perpetrated by a few bad apples. Nevertheless, all of the documentation — both the internal memos down the “chain of command” and the evidence from interviews by the Red Cross with the detainees — reveal perfectly well that all actions taken towards the detainees were perfectly scripted and followed very clear guidelines. Torture was not a result of “bad apples” but of clear policy coming from the highest echelons of power. Continue reading

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The King, Consequences, Actions, and a Little Justice

Today, Glenn Greenwald describes how the recent criminal conviction in civilian court of accused terrorist Ghailani, despite cries to the contrary from the Right, has proven that our justice system works. Not only does this case prove that our civilian justice system is both the best forum for trying terrorists and fully capable of doing so, it also highlights the underlying cynicism behind Bush’s false bravado.

Let me begin with a few basic facts about the case that the press, out of its love for sensationalism, largely ignores:

  • Ghailani has been convicted of conspiracy and will spend a long, long time in jail. The idea that somehow our civilian courts have given him a free ride is blatantly false. Simply, he was found guilty of only one of the accounts against him. In other words, he has not been fully absolved of all wrong doing and will do serious time.
  • The military tribunals would not necessarily have favored his prosecution. The same evidence that was excluded from trial in the civilian court would most likely have been excluded in the military forum, as the “current rules governing those military tribunals bar the use of torture-obtained evidence to roughly the same extent as real courts do.”
  • Furthermore, civilian courts to date have a better track record at prosecuting accused terrorists than the military tribunals do, and
  • The whole problem of tainted evidence would never have become an issue if President Bush and his men had not approved torture in the first place. In other words, these impediments to trying terror suspects in both military and civilian courts are the direct result of the former president’s policies. So if the argument is that Ghailani was acquitted on the other counts because of evidentiary rules, then in legalese, “but for” the Bush White House, Ghailiani would have been convicted on all accounts. In other words, the Bush Cheney policies were the direct cause of Ghailani’s acquittal on more than 280 charges.

So take a look at that last point in view of Mr. Bush’s “I gave the order and would do it again” boasting. Mr. Bush and his Republicans have a fondness for “personal responsibility”, so shouldn’t Mr. Bush and company then recognize their responsibility in light of both the acquittal of Ghailani and the difficulties that the standing president now has in trying the remaining Guantanamo detainees? “But for” the torture and illegal detention – all proud Bush policies — these “evidentiary” and constitutional issues would certainly not be hindering due process, the rule of law, and bringing to justice those who have tried to reek havoc on our nation.

Finally, let’s revisit Mr. Bush’s courage under fire:

  • When American soldiers were accused of torture at Abu Ghraib, did Mr. Bush stand up for them, say he gave the order to protect American lives and would personally accept the consequences? No, he scapegoated the few “bad apples”.
  • When CIA operatives suddenly realized that they could all go to jail for torture, did Mr. Bush stand up and say, don’t burn the evidence? I gave the order, I will take the heat? No, he let it burn, like a criminal fleeing the scene of a crime (but with the presidential presumption of innocence).
  • And when the White House realized that it had to do damage control before people learned the truth about torture, did the White House courageously tell the truth about waterboarding? No, it leaked that waterboarding had been administered twice and in each case the “worst or the worst” spilled the beans in a matter of seconds. What a great, effective, efficient and necessary tool at its disposal, we all thought. Then, later we learned the whole truth that the two detainees had been waterboarded over one hundred times each. So much for the efficacy of waterboarding.

A tough guy who takes responsibility for his actions and accepts the consequences would certainly then accept either of the following sacrifices, lest he risk nothing at all:

  • Request a full and transparent investigation into the black sites, torture regime, and other extra-judicial practices, making the argument that he took a risk in favor of the country and is willing to accept the outcome of the investigation, even if that means criminal charges (and a sympathetic presidential pardon, a la Ford-Nixon); or
  • Accept that by torturing terror suspects to gain invaluable information in the short term he took a risk that the suspects would very well be later released due to a lack of admissible evidence.

But that’s not how it went down, was it? The tough guy who lied and leaked and scapegoated, now brags once the coast is clear that he did something brave and would do it again (like the rich kid who gets away with drinking and driving). And when the moment of truth finally comes – far off his watch and in the safety of his presidential library with the presidential “stay out of jail” card in hand – all of the ex-president’s men now tell us that somehow – regardless of the fact that the difficulty in convicting terror suspects in both military tribunals and civilians courts is the direct result of the Bush White House’s actions –Obama’s failure to convict on all charges is making the country less safe and as a result Guantanamo should definitely not be closed (ignoring the multiplier effect of hindering future prosecutions).

But then again, these are the same people who insist that we must return to the pre-crisis status quo and follow the same exact economic policies that got us into this situation in the first place. Feed the cancer with another cigarette.

UPDATE: Today’s (November 19, 2010) New York Times editorial reaches the same conclusion:

The problem was never the choice of a court. The 12 civilian jurors were not too weak-minded, as Mr. King seems to think. The judge was not coddling terrorists. He was respecting the Constitution and the law.

The problem with this case was President George W. Bush’s authorizing the illegal detention, abuse and torture of detainees. Susan Hirsch, whose husband was killed in the Tanzania attack, understood that. “I can’t help but feel that the evidence in the case would have been stronger had Ghailani been brought to trial when he was captured in 2004,” she said.

And in an op-ed by Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Davis describes why the assertions about the efficacy of military commissions being made by certain Republicans are baseless and erroneous. Specifically he notes the present track record of the military commissions:

In any case, Mr. Ghailani now faces a sentence of 20 years to life. Even if he gets the minimum, his sentence will be greater than those of four of the five detainees so far convicted in military commissions. Only one defendant, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, has been sentenced to life, and this was after he boycotted his tribunal and presented no defense.

Of the four detainees who participated in their military commissions, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when arrested, is serving the longest sentence after pleading guilty to murder. Yet he will serve no more than eight years behind bars, less than half of Mr. Ghailani’s minimum incarceration. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, was sentenced to five and half years in 2008 but given credit for time served; five months later he was free. There is no reason to assume that a military commission sentence will be more severe than one from a federal court.

If Liz Cheney and the rest of her clan want to ignore the consequences that daddy’s policies have had and will continue to have on prosecuting detainees, then instead of pretending we are something we are not, she should just come out and say that the U.S. is entitled to be a rogue, human rights abusing nation whenever it feels like it. That way, we don’t even need to get into these discussions in the first place.

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Civil Liberties in the Age of Obama

Should you have the time, I recommend you watch Glenn Greenwald discussing the state of civil liberties in the Age of Obama and why the civil liberties indoctrinated in the Constitution  (and the American consciousness) were specifically crafted to be taken in the extreme, not with a grain of salt.

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Told You So

Don’t mean to say I told you so, but I predicted on the day before Obama won the election in November 2008 that Republicans would have a big victory in the November 2010 midterms. Regardless of the fact that the Obama administration has been a showcase for conventional, status quo continuity of presidents past or that the economic meltdown and government intervention happened on Republicans’ watch – as Frank Rich recently wrote,

when Mitch McConnell appeared on ABC’s “This Week” last month, he typically railed against the “extreme” government of “the last year and a half,” citing its takeover of banks as his first example. That this was utter fiction — the takeover took place two years ago, before Obama was president, with — went unchallenged by his questioner, Christiane Amanpour, and probably by many viewers inured to this big lie.

— reality aside, we are just so incredibly predictable as voters.

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Change You Used to Believe In

I suppose it was naïve to have believed in Change, to have let oneself get caught up on Hope. But it had been a tough eight years, and it wasn’t hard to think that our excitement about the cosmetic regime change would also include some real substantive policy changes to follow.

In his final post as a Washington Editor of Harper’s Magazine, Ken Silverstein does a great job of summarizing the huge disappointment that many of us have felt about the Obama presidency:

. . . I moved to Washington in 1993, when a young, new Democratic president replaced George Bush and promised to reform politics and be a transformative leader. Backed by huge majorities in Congress and with public opinion squarely in his corner, he had the opportunity to shake things up and change American politics. Instead, he and his party squandered their chance through timidity, weak leadership, a lack of any original ideas and their refusal to confront special interest groups.

Here we are seventeen years later and there’s a young, new Democratic president who replaced George Bush and promised to reform politics and be a transformative leader. Backed by huge majorities in Congress….

Well, by now you can probably guess where this is heading.

I had low expectations for Obama as I always viewed him as a fairly conventional insider. But by any measure, his presidency has been a huge disappointment. It’s true that Obama inherited a terrible economy, but his policies were timid — which is no surprise given that his economic team was composed almost entirely of the same bankers and Wall Street insiders who paved the way for and profited from our bubble economy. There are now 43.6 million Americans living in poverty and more than 15 million out of work; that’s a scandal, and when there’s a Democrat in the White House and the party has ample majorities in Congress, it’s not credible to blame everything on obstructionism by the Republicans.

Then there was the health care reform bill, that took more than a year to pass and whose primary beneficiaries were the lobbyists who got paid billions to water it down. The bill does almost nothing to control costs and left the insurance industry in charge of the system. And for that very reason, the industry will be able to contrive loopholes that minimize the impact of the few good measures left in the bill.

Joe Biden and Robert Gibbs have recently been attacking the “left” and saying that it doesn’t appreciate all the great things the administration has done. For my part, I have lived in Washington long enough to have realistic hopes; for example, given political realities, passing a single payer bill was not going to happen. But I also don’t think it’s my job, as a journalist or a citizen, to blindly repeat the mantra of the administration (and its supporters in the blogosphere), that we should “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Fine, but let’s also not treat the administration’s health care plan as a grand achievement. The bill is widely unpopular, and not only because of the hyperbolic attacks on it by Republicans and Fox News. It’s unpopular because it’s a terrible piece of legislation.

The current GOP is truly a scary party, but if not for that it would be impossible to care about the midterm elections. When you’re reduced to rooting for soulless hacks like the current Senate majority leader—and he’s typical of today’s Democrats—you’ve lost something fundamental at the core of your humanity.

Now it appears that the President is fighting back, but instead of fighting for the Change he told us to believe in, he is whining about those who are calling him out for not keeping good on his rhetoric. According to the President, voters shouldn’t judge him by his record but by how bad the alternative would be; aka, vote for me because the other guy is scary.

Unfortunately, Obama, who may speak more coherently than Bush, simply isn’t in a position to make that case. As Glenn Greenwald explains,

President Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone and actually said this:

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. . . . .If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election.

This may be one of the most audaciously hilarious political statements I’ve read in quite some time . . . for Barack Obama to cite “civil liberties” as a reason why Democratic apathy is “just irresponsible,” and to claim with a straight face that this election will determine whether we’re “the kind of country that respects” them, is so detached from basic reality that I actually had to read this three or four times to make certain I hadn’t misunderstood it. To summarize Obama’s apparent claim:  the Republicans better not win in the midterm election, otherwise we’ll have due-process-free and even preventive detention, secret assassinations of U.S. citizens, vastly expanded government surveillance of the Internet, a continuation of Guantanamo, protection of Executive branch crimes through the use of radical secrecy doctrines, escalating punishment for whistleblowers, legal immunity for war crimes, and a massively escalated drone war in Pakistan.  That’s why, as the President inspirationally warns us:  “If we want the kind of country that respects civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election.”

. . . What is notable about it is what it reveals substantively.  The country is drowning in a severe and worsening unemployment crisis.  People are losing their homes by the millions.  Income inequality continues to explode while the last vestiges of middle class security continue to erode.  The Obama civil liberties record has been nothing short of a disgrace, usually equaling and sometimes surpassing the worst of the Bush/Cheney abuses.  We have to stand by and watch the Commander-in-Chief fire one gay service member after the next for their sexual orientation.  The major bills touted by Obama supporters were the by-product of the very corporatist/lobbyist dominance which Obama the candidate repeatedly railed against.  Rather than take responsibility for any of this, they instead dismiss criticisms and objections as petulant, childish, “irresponsible whining” — signaling rather clearly that they think they’re doing the right thing and that these criticisms are fundamentally unfair.

And in the meantime I am constantly getting emails from the Obama camp asking for something or another. I am still rooting for the guy, but he needs to start coming through on more than just the ability to speak in complete sentences.

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