Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 11:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/22

All that, plus the sense God gave a billy goat: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: anti-science and anti-gay, and therefore a viable GOP candidate for president in 2012.

Countdown: Scott Roeder, accused murderer of Dr. George Tiller, goes on trial Jan. 11, and he’s not going to be allowed to claim that it was legal to kill Tiller to protect innocent lives. Whoever shoots down an unarmed doctor in the middle of his church, without reason or provocation, should get the spike, period.

¡Brava, Ciudad de Mexico!: Mexico City legalizes gay marriage before New York City does. Of course, that’s because the New York State Senate is run by guys I would call bucketheads except that honest walruses everywhere would take exception.

Probably crap: That’s my assessment of Reuters’ claim that its article by Matthew Goldstein on hedge-fund trader Steven Cohen was killed on “journalistic grounds.” You don’t create an investigative team, put someone like Matthew Goldstein on it, assign it a story, nurse that story through the reporting and writing and editing, all the way through the lawyering, and THEN kill it on “journalistic grounds.” Yeah, sure, anything is possible, but by far the likeliest explanation is that something else is going on here that reflects quite poorly on Reuters.

When stupidity becomes a public-health issue: Anyone who would pay Michael Steele a dime to give a speech needs to be quarantined for the public’s good.

Revisionist history: Obama claims he never campaigned on the public option. Unfortunately for him, he did. I guess pointing this out makes me a hater. Oh, well, feel the hate, peeps.

Ten worst things about the 2000s, from Juan Cole. Hint: They all had to do with George Bush.

Three of the ten worst things about this week, captured by Digby in a single post.

The best argument I’ve seen for a public option: The retiring CEO of Cigna, Ed Hanway, is getting $73.2 million. And all he had to do for it was deny a little girl a liver transplant. Forget sick people; will no one think of the poor stockholders here? You can e-mail him your best wishes at H.Edward.Hanway@CIGNA.com. Seriously. I just tried it a few minutes ago, and it worked.*

Requiring people to buy private health insurance: constitutional or not?: Some bona-fide legal scholars have it out on that issue here.

This will be fun. This will be shooting fish in a barrel, with dynamite. But I repeat myself. Andrew Breitbart, who has a long history of not being able to find a fact with both hands and a flashlight, plans to start a media fact-checking Web site soon, thus providing conclusive evidence for my hypothesis that Andrew Breitbart is a liberal plot to make conservatives look stupid.

On the other hand, Digby hates America, or at least American pundits, although given the offense she identifies here, I have to say I hate them, too: “There seems to be an unfortunate requirement in American politics that when pundits and numbers crunchers read the tea leaves and determine to their satisfaction that the contest is over, those they’ve decided are going to lose are required to immediately capitulate, admit they were wrong and join in the celebration of the winner — even if the votes haven’t been cast or the cases haven’t been decided.”

Jiujitsu: Newt Gingrich has been urging Republicans to campaign next year on a pledge to repeal HCR in 2011 if it’s enacted. But Democrats are seeing that as a bad thing for Republicans and are urging their challengers for 2010 to get the GOP incumbents on the record about whether they intend to try to repeal HCR. Interesting.

I think it is time to conclude that the people who are running the SEC are not just incompetent but are actively hostile to the agency’s mission.

For the win: Balloon Juice is having a contest tonight: Name the ten worst Washington Post columnists of the past decade. As it happens, I stumbled my personal No. 1, Charles Krauthammer, on TV earlier tonight. Sick bastard was  complaining because we hadn’t gone to war against Iran already. That’s not just stupid, that’s Evil, the kind of Evil that deserves for its paralyzed ass to wake up in a foxhole surrounded by corpses with no weapon, no comrades in sight, no way to move and the enemy advancing with bayonets fixed. If Krauthammer wants blood that badly, let him drink his own.

Colbert, also for the win: “Folks, there are some things that everybody knows, but nobody says,” one being that the health-care industry is buying the legislation it wants. (Doubt me? Hey, you don’t have to believe me. Believe the stock market.)

Michele Bachmann hates Teh Soshulizm. Sort of: Unfortunately for Michele, evidence has been uncovered that actually she’s quite the welfare queen.

Quote of the day, from Attackerman: “After all, systemic dysfunction doesn’t come from nowhere, and it usually has a constituency.” I don’t know that I’d call that a rule of investigative reporting, but it’s definitely worth remembering.

*I bet you’re wondering what I wrote. Well, I’ll tell you what I wrote. It was this: “Dear Ed: Best wishes on your retirement. I hope it’s a long one. You’re going to need a long one to think up an argument that St. Peter will buy. Love, Lex.” Really.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009 11:33 pm

Odds and ends for 12/9

The seat’s hot and he ain’t even in it yet: Bank of America’s chief risk officer, Greg Curl, considered a leading candidate to succeed Ken Lewis as CEO, is under investigation by the New York attorney general for his role in what BofA shareholders were and weren’t told about the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch.

Your incompetence. Let me show you it: Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker calls for the return of Glass-Steagall and tells the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Finance Initiative, a group of financiers and policy makers, “Your response [to the economic crisis], I can only say, is inadequate. You have not come anywhere close.”

Quote of the day, also from Volcker at this session: “I wish somebody would give me some shred of evidence linking financial innovation with a benefit to the economy.” For good measure, he said the best financial innovation of the past 25 years was the ATM. (Which actually was introduced earlier … but, hey, forget it, he’s rolling.)

Bonus quote of the day, from Gavin M. at Sadly, No!, characterizing hinky academic Stanley Fish: ” …oleoresinous of eye, exuding cheap 1970s tenure …”

Congressman Alan Grayson to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke: Dude, you’re screwing the taxpayers directly AND committing tax fraud!

Oh, snap!: Dick Cheney (laughably) claims trying terrorism suspects in New York will generate more terrorism and calls it treason, so Alan Grayson tells him to “STFU.” This will give Official Washington another case of the vapors, but when Cheney himself once told a senator on the Senate floor to “go [have sex with] yourself,” he really has no room to whine and neither does anyone else.

Crying poor: AIG’s general counsel is leaving because she can’t make it on $500,000 a year. Given her track record of driving companies into ditches, I’m sure she’ll be snapped up in no time. And, yes, I’m being snarky — twelve digits’ worth of my tax money going into AIG in one year entitles me — but, no, I’m not being snarky about her getting snapped up in no time.

“Extreme victimisation,” but not in the way he thinks: Britain slaps a 50% tax on bankers’ bonuses. Will the U.S. follow suit?

Memo to Howard Kurtz: There’s a reason we call you Howie the Putz. And you’re soaking in it.

Well, yeah, if, by “socialism,” he means “a scary word that conservative wankers scream to try to scare people”: Charles Krauthammer calls environmentalism “the new socialism.”

Well, the federal government can just rock *me* to sleep tonight: The TSA posts some of its most sensitive security information on the Internet. But let’s talk about White House party crashers. Or Tiger Woods.

Sauce for the goose other gander: Paul Wolfowitz lost his job for trying to line up a job for his girlfriend. Will Max Baucus?

Zero tolerance for zero tolerance: Confronted with indisputable evidence of an on-screen error, Fox News decides to abandon its zero-tolerance policy for on-screen errors.

Sarah Palin, Woman of the Year?: Pollak says it could happen.

Friday, May 1, 2009 10:29 pm

Torture roundup of the week

I’ve long since grown used to well-paid, highly honored national pundits spewing absolute idiocy. But David Broder’s column last weekend on torture deserves a special fisking.

If ever there were a time for President Obama to trust his instincts and stick to his guns, that time is now, when he is being pressured to change his mind about closing the books on the “torture” policies of the past.

First, Dave, take the scare quotes off “torture.” Waterboarding. Is. Torture. It has been so ruled by American courts. The president says so. The attorney general says so. Apparently the only two people left who don’t believe it are Pat Buchanan and you, and is that really the kind of company you want to keep?

Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States.

He was right to do this.

Of course he was. But … ?

But he was just as right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.

So explain to me how it’s right to end a war crime but not hold anyone accountable for it. Go on. I’ll wait.

But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more — the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps — or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability — and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.

Um, no, it actually cloaks an entirely worthy desire for accountability and deterrence. I don’t want vengeance; I want my country back.

Obama has opposed even the blandest form of investigation, a so-called truth commission, and has shown himself willing to confront this kind of populist anger. When the grass roots were stirred by the desire for vengeance against the AIG officers who received contractual bonuses from government bailout funds, Obama bought time by questioning the tactic. Quickly the patently unconstitutional 90 percent tax the House wanted to slap on those bonuses was forgotten.

The torture issue is much more serious, and Obama needs to take it on himself, as he started to do — not pass the buck to Attorney General Eric Holder, as he seemed to be suggesting in his later statements on the issue.

Leaving aside for the moment the ridiculous comparison of taxpayer-financed bonuses with war crimes, there are perfectly good political, legal and practical reasons to let the Justice Department do its job (not “pass the buck to Attorney General Eric Holder”) here. For one thing, the U.S. is required by law and treaty to investigate allegations of war crimes and, where appropriate, prosecute those responsible; Justice is the appropriate agency for those investigations. For another, political interference with the Justice Department is wrong whether it’s Karl Rove dialing up the firings of insufficiently pliable U.S. attorneys or Barack Obama killing a legally required criminal investigation.

Obama is being blamed by some for unleashing the furies with his decision to override the objections of past and current national intelligence officials and release four highly sensitive memos detailing the methods used on some “high-value” detainees.

Again, he was right to do so, because these policies were carried out in the name of the American people, and it is only just that we the people confront what we did. Squeamishness is not justified in this case.

Because these documents were legal opinions, not classified operational records, they should never have been kept from the public in the first place. And while I’m glad Broder thinks it appropriate that we “confront what we did” without “squeamishness,” he himself is full of Teh Sqeam:

But having vowed to end the practices, Obama should use all the influence of his office to stop the retroactive search for scapegoats.

I shouldn’t have to explain this to a Pulitzer winner, but “those responsible” are not “scapegoats.” Scapegoats are the ones who aren’t responsible but are being treated as if they are. That’s most definitely not what we’re looking for here.

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places — the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department — by the proper officials.

Oh, there was something deliberate, all right, but it most certainly was not an “internally well-debated policy decision.” It was an effort to justify the unjustifiable, quite possibly retroactively. Moreover, as Philip Zelikow has written, copies of a dissenting opinion he wrote were seized and destroyed, an action that might well have constituted a criminal conspiracy. (And Zelikow wasn’t the only dissenter, as that last link makes clear; State’s William Howard Taft IV and the military’s senior JAG officials were warning as well that there was good reason to think these positions wouldn’t pass judicial muster. For one thing, they didn’t mention at all the U.S. history of prosecuting waterboarding as a war crime, an omission tantamount to legal malpractice.)

One administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same offices has — thankfully — made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and investigate or indict their predecessors?

Did those predecessors commit crimes, particularly serious crimes? Then, yes, indeed, they now go back and investigate and indict their predecessors. It’s called the rule of law. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

That way, inevitably, lies endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness — and injustice.

Geez, where to begin. First of all, we’ve had endless political warfare at least since the 1960s. Secondly, the problem here isn’t the criminalization of policy differences, it’s the politicization of what ought to be a painstaking but straightforward criminal investigation. Thirdly, seeking accountability is not pursuing a vendetta. Fourthly, we’ve been having bitterness in the political system since at least the McCarthy era, and it picked up quite a bit after 1994. And, fifthly, why, David, are you so certain that an attempt to hold people accountable for their behavior will lead to injustice? Have you no confidence in our criminal-justice system?

Suppose that Obama backs down and Holder or someone else starts hauling Bush administration lawyers and operatives into hearings and courtrooms.

And, given the wealth of evidence already on the public record, that would be bad because … ?

Suppose the investigators decide that the country does not want to see the former president and vice president in the dock. Then underlings pay the price while big shots go free.

What the hell does “what the country want to see” have to do with anything? If professional investigators find information sufficient to take to a grand jury, they’re bound to take it, and if that information is any good, the grand jury will indict, and then the judicial system will determine the merits, if any, of the charges. That’s what the law requires to happen, and leaving aside for the moment the question of how you decide whether or not the country wants to see the former president and vice president in the dock, what the hell does it MATTER what the country wants? The law is the law, and either no one is above it or it’s meaningless and we have anarchy.

But at some point, if he is at all a man of honor, George W. Bush would feel bound to say: That was my policy. I was the president. If you want to indict anyone for it, indict me. Is that where we want to go? I don’t think so. Obama can prevent it by sticking to his guns.

Please point to one example at any point in his life in which George W. Bush has actually behaved as if he understood the concept of personal responsibility. He’s been leaving messes for other people to clean up his entire adult life. Now that those messes involve this country’s blood, treasure, security and honor, all of a sudden David Broder thinks we as a country are too delicate a flower to seek accountability and live with its consequences.

David Broder: legally illiterate, morally obtuse, full of Fail. Kind of like his colleague Charles Krauthammer, whom yet another Postie, Dan Froomkin, schools.

And here’s a weird twist: Americans who are relatively more religiously observant are more likely to be OK with torture than those who aren’t. And evangelicals and Roman Catholics are more likely to be OK with torture than are mainline Protestants or the unaffiliated. So, we again must ask: Whom would Jesus torture?

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