Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 10:20 pm

Odds and ends for 1/20

Guantanamo homicides update: Col. Michael Bumgarner, the officer at the center of Scott Horton’s article in Harper’s about the “suicides” of three Guantanamo detainees on the night of June 9, 2006, issues a non-denial denial, including denying ever knowing the same witness whose Army Commendation Medal certificate he had signed less than three weeks before the deaths. If that’s the best he can do to cover something up, he’d better get a lawyer.

And speaking of homicides, a memo to the president: Inviting Rick Warren to pray around your inaugural, misguided as it was, is one thing. But attending an event sponsored by the Christofascist anticonstitutionalists The Family is just ridiculous. And sitting down to eat At. A. Freakin’. PRAYER BREAKFAST with a guy who is trying to legislate homicide (a fact that the article in the Ugandan paper, whose Web site claims it offers “truth every day,” conveniently forgot to mention)? Completely, flatly, absolutely unacceptable.

What you don’t know can hurt you: Did you know that the EPA has not banned asbestos despite its clear causal relationship to lung cancer? Did you know that it can’t? I didn’t. But apparently the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act makes it impossible. Fortunately, some changes to the law — which endangers the health of not only consumers and chemical workers but also the medical personnel who treat the latter — are in the works.

Things you should know about Afghanistan: Bribery is 23% of GDP, and the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says that about three-fourths of its investigations involve at least one Westerner.

Things you should know about banks, courtesy of David Stockman, once Ronald Reagan’s budget director: “The baleful reality is that the big banks, the freakish offspring of the Fed’s easy money, are dangerous institutions, deeply embedded in a bull market culture of entitlement and greed. This is why the Obama tax is welcome: its underlying policy message is that big banking must get smaller because it does too little that is useful, productive or efficient.”

Things you should know about the fault line that caused the Haiti earthquake, particularly if you live in the Dominican Republic: “It is important that the world takes [Purdue seismologist Eric] Calais’ warning about the Septentrional Fault, with a great deal of Urgency. The fault, which runs through the Northern Dominican Republic is due for a quake even larger than that which occurred in Haiti. The Dominican Republic should learn all that it can from Haiti’s experience, as they are proverbially walking down a geological hallway with a large kick me sign affixed to their back.” With very cool, very scary maps.

Professionals face the threat of the amateur: This article focuses specifically on certain types of musicians, but it makes clear that the boundary delineating amateur from professional is growing thinner and grayer in a wide range of areas (including my former bidness, journalism). This tension has been manifest since the medieval rise of craft guilds and informs today everything from blogging to labor law.

And bloggers are killing journalism: Jeffrey Birnbaum, a journalist who has done more to expose the malignant effect of lobbyists on Congress than perhaps any other, is leaving journalism to become a lobbyist. This is not unlike the Mafia luring away the nation’s best FBI agent. Actually, it’s worse: Lobbyists are a bigger plague on society than the Mafia in terms of dollar value of the damage they cause, and there were already far fewer journalists of Birnbaum’s caliber and expertise than there are FBI agents. Sigh.

Opposition to gay marriage faces the threat of the McCains: Sen. John McCain’s wife Cindy has joined the “NoH8” campaign in California to repeal Prop 8, which banned gay marriage. (Their daughter Meghan joined last summer.) Good for her.

Interesting poll results you probably haven’t seen on TV: By a 3-2 margin, people who voted for Obama in 2008 AND who voted for Republican Scott Brown in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts oppose the current health-care bill — not because it goes too far, but because it doesn’t go far enough.

Marrying insight and brevity, Brad at Sadly, No! sums up the meaning of Tuesday’s election: “People will support you if they see that you’re making their lives better. If you don’t do that, then they’ll get [angry] and vote for whatever else is around. And guess what? ‘Whatever else is around’ is, sadly, the [expletive] GOP.”

And after Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing corporate contributions to politicians, the U.S. will look like Italy: Italian lawmakers have preliminarily approved a bill that would retroactively limit the length of criminal trials, which would have the entirely incidental and coincidental (I’m sure) effect of making pending corruption and tax fraud charges against prime minister Silvio Berluscone just … go away.

Great moments in editing, via my friend Alex Johnson at MSNBC.

And, finally, the Quote of the Day, from Jon Walker — it’s long, so I put it at the end:

Let me put this as simply as possible. Democrats control everything in Washington right now [except SCOTUS, but for legislative purposes, yeah — Lex]. They control the White House. They have huge margins in the House and in the Senate. Democrats have larger margins in both chambers than any party has had for decades. They have zero excuses for failing to deliver. Americans will not find some nonsense about having only 59 Senate seats as an acceptable excuse for failing to accomplish anything. If Democrats think they can win in 2010 by running against Republican obstructionism, they will lose badly.

Not only will Democrats lose badly if they adopt this strategy, but they will be laughed at. Republicans never had 59 Senate seats, and that did not stop them from passing the legislation they wanted. Trying to explain to the American people how, despite controlling everything, Democrats cannot do anything, because a mean minority of 41 Republican senators won’t let them, is a message that will go over like a lead balloon. If you try to use that excuse, people will think elected Democrats are liars, wimps, idiots, or an ineffectual combination of all three.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 10:27 pm

As others see us

This is stunning, and I’d like to think that it will leave a mark:

MILAN — An Italian court convicted 22 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force colonel on kidnapping charges Wednesday in a stern rebuke to the U.S. government’s long-standing practice of covertly seizing terrorism suspects abroad without a warrant.

The guilty verdicts are the only instance in which CIA operatives have faced a criminal trial for the controversial tactic of extraordinary rendition, under which terrorism suspects are abducted in one country and forcibly transported to another.

The CIA began carrying out renditions during the Clinton administration but intensified their frequency under orders from the Bush White House after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Obama administration said in August that it would continue the practice, but pledged to take steps to ensure that rendition targets are not tortured, either by the CIA or by foreign spy agencies.

In winning the guilty verdicts, Italian prosecutors took a contrary view, saying they were determined to enforce the law in spite of political pressure from Rome and Washington to drop the case.

Yes, I’d like to think that it will leave a mark. However, I know it won’t.

For the U.S. government to do anything other than ignore this ruling would mean it would see itself as obliged to follow the law, and as we all know, that’s just so 9/10. The most the government will do is warn these 22 folks that there are certain other countries they probably ought not visit without armed bodyguards, and let it go at that.

(Memo to wingnuts: seeing the government as obliged to follow the law DOES NOT EQUATE TO “blaming America first.” Not on any logical level. Not anywhere in this dimension or any other I’ve ever frequented.)

Aimai at No More Mr. Nice Blog has a nice little summary of my thoughts on this case:

I’ve just spent several months explaining to my anxious, enraged, Obama supporting parental unit that no one who gets elected to our imperial presidency–neither democrat, nor republican, will ever roll back the tide of illegal and immoral actions that were taken in defense of our imperial way of life. Especially not internationally. But I’d like to see more discussion of this and its implication for our country going forward. Its not, to me, a question of supporting Obama or being disappointed in him. Its just a question of whether our country will ever voluntarily stop raping, torturing, looting, and kidnapping for international gain and advantage. Or whether we will simply, like other once great powers, stop using our privileged position only once we’ve lost the privilege to other, stronger, powers.

And there will be other stronger powers, almost certainly within my remaining lifetime. Right now we’re spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, and that’s just the part that’s on-budget. It’s almost $700 billion in one year, and we’re sitting here claiming we can’t afford $90 billion a year for the same level of health care pretty much guaranteed to pretty much everyone in pretty much every other Western industrialized country.

The historian Paul Kennedy, in his 1987 book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” talked about the concept of “imperial overstretch,” the economic havoc that condition causes and the grim prognosis history suggests is in store. To his credit, he cautioned that he was not trying to predict the future; at the same time, his research suggests we must acknowledge that 1) we have become a military imperialist enterprise and that 2) in no other such case in recorded history have things ended well.

UPDATE: From ABC:

One of the 23 Americans convicted today by an Italian court says the United States “broke the law” in the CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

“And we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorized and approved this,” said former CIA officer Sabrina deSousa in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson.

Former CIA intelligence officer Sabrina deSousa says the US “abandoned and betrayed” her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

DeSousa says the U.S. “abandoned and betrayed” her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping. She was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.

Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News that the trial was a disaster for CIA officers like DeSousa on the frontline.

“I think these people have been put out there. They’ve been hung out to dry. They’re taking the fall potentially for a decision that was made by their superiors in our agencies. It’s the wrong place to go.”

Now, here’s a question: How would Americans feel if Italian spies landed on our shores, kidnapped these 23 people and took them to, say, Turkey or Syria for torture? Or just kidnapped them to Italy and put them in prison there? How do you think we would be likely to respond?

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