'/> Uncommon Hours: April 2009
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does Arlen Specter’s defection signal a shift to the right in the Democratic Party?

By Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

You do have to wonder what the Democrats have really gained with the defection of Senator Arlen Specter today. A 59th vote? Maybe. (Don’t count it yet.) A politician whose options were running out as he faced a tough primary challenge in his home state of Pennsylvania. For sure.

Does Specter increase the strength of the Senate Democrats, or dilute it? He’s a heavy-weight, even as a newbie Democrat. In sports-trade-speak, he comes with items to be named later.

The central question raised by his defection is how far to the center (center right ?) the Democratic Party now leans.

Specter has voted with the Republicans over 65% of the time.

  • He voted for Bush’s domestic spying program.
  • He supported making it harder for people to declare bankruptcy.
  • He voted to cut nearly $40 billion from welfare, child support and student loan programs.
  • He voted against placing a timetable on ending the occupation of Iraq.
  • He voted with the Republicans to ban flag desecration (a really critical item in June 2006—when no one was burning flags but the crazy base had to be rallied for an election that didn’t turn out well for many Republican congressmen).

And while he supported President Obama’s stimulus package, he didn’t do so without first joining the mob of Republicans who criticized Obama for spending too much.

President Obama—and the Democrats—came to office in November with a resounding mandate for change and a wholesale rejection of the Bush administration and everything it stood for.

Without doubt, the Republicans have become a party of reactionaries who float on Rush Limbaugh’s tide, but is, as Howard Dean might put it, "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" now threatened by dilution? Specter isn't likely to become more than another "RepubliDem," as the Democrats save him from annihilation by his own party.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why torture a suspect 83 times? To sell the Iraq War!

Frank Rich:

"In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) 'Downing Street memo,' in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Turns out it IS “torture”—and it DOESN’T work

According to a story in today’s Washington Post, as early as July 2002 the Pentagon and CIA were advised that “torture” would result in “unreliable information.”

A memo prepared by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and sent to the Pentagon’s chief attorney and forwarded to the CIA includes an attachment stating,

"The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel."

But Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, believes the Bush administration ignored the attachment:

“It's part of a pattern of squelching dissent," he said. "They didn't want to hear the downside."

Following its standard m.o., the administration went ahead with torture but found euphemisms for marketing it to the public and providing FOX with its talking points (e.g., enhanced interrogation, enhanced coercive interrogation technique). This Orwellian doublespeak is about all Republican apologists now have as they make the rounds of talking-head TV sounding increasingly feeble, evasive, and isolated, as they defend the Bush policy of torturing prisoners.

Read more

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It’s only torture if you think it is

By Bob Sommer

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was the voice of the Republicans on Matthews last evening, rationalizing once more why “enhanced interrogation” techniques belong in the repertoire of the CIA and Defense Department and attempting to paint the Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees as partisan, though Sen. John McCain signed off on it.

While Ensign and others, from Cheney to Hannity (with background noise by the increasingly thin chorus of wingnuts who chant whatever they say), sound both desperate and extremist, the very idea that legitimate debate about the effectiveness of torture has a place in our political discourse is the most Orwellian and mind-numbing part of the current dialogue. To debate this question legitimizes it – and the point is that there’s nothing legitimate about it. We can debate whether to spend more or less money on the economic recovery or whether to recognize Cuba, but torture is not only non-negotiable, it’s simply not part of the fabric of what we are—if what we are is to reflect in any way the ideals of our founding documents.

But you get the sense, too, when you listen to anyone from Cheney on down the food chain, that there’s something sadistic beneath all of it. Even some who oppose “enhanced interrogation” often preface their remarks with a disclaimer to the effect that they don’t care what happens to some of these people, that they’re “evil” or whatever—you know, some red meat to blunt the appearance of being soft or weak.

So far, an Army private and a corporal are doing time for torture. The funnel of justice for all of these misdeeds, from the White House through the Cabinet, the government agencies, and down through the ranks, has spit out a lowly corporal and a pregnant (at the time of her trial) private. So would Ensign et al sign off on releasing these two from prison?

Read more:

Report by the Senate Armed Services Committee: Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody
NYT: Interrogations’ Effectiveness May Prove Elusive
NYT: In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Their Past Use

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama’s desire to “move forward” carries serious risks for democracy

By Bob Sommer

The effectiveness of torture is irrelevant, though you have to wonder how effective it is if one torturee alone had to be waterboarded 183 times. Kind of puts to rest the Jack Bauer scenario trumpeted by FOX and all its sycophants that suppose we had, say (just to pull a number out of the air), 24 hours to save humanity (or to save Americans, anyway, because in FOXland anyone not American--and maybe not Republican--is technically not human), wouldn’t you torture a suspect for information to prevent a catastrophe? Even JB couldn’t squeeze that many waterboardings into his weekly allotment of hours. But we know that torture is not effective—that suspects lie, give bad information, appease their torturers.

But that’s not really the point, is it?—torture's efficacy, random hypothetical TV-drama scenarios substituted for reality by right-wing radicals.

In the play A Man for All Seasons, here is Sir Thomas More’s response to William Roper, the King’s man, all too eager to set aside the law for the sake of expediency:

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

Isn’t the very essence of justice that no one gets a free pass on obeying the law? Isn’t that why we’re a nation of laws?

Given the magnitude of the crises we face, President Obama’s eagerness to “move forward,” beyond the political live wire of investigating torture (to say nothing of other potential crimes committed by the Bush administration), is understandable.

But alas, it’s not an option. There is the law. Laws were broken. Investigations must proceed. Otherwise, this administration will bear responsibility for colluding in those crimes, and the precedents set will endanger future generations of Americans—and the democracy itself.

Read more:
NYT: “Pressure Grows to Investigate Interrogations”
2 Suspects Waterboarded 266 Times
Panetta and Obama’s Speeches to C.I.A. Workers
Dick Cheney on the torture memos and pirates
Jay S. Bybee: It's Not Torture If You Use A Caterpillar
Ex CIA Official: 'This Was Torture'

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NYT: Obama deserves credit for releasing the torture memos; now it's time to hold the Bush administration accountable

To the Bush administration, the Justice Department was nothing more than a private legal counsel--and one of its duties was to immunize torturers.

"To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

"Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners."

Read more

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine

uncooked truth, beyond belief
Issue #282
April 17, 2009

By Josh Dorner

Today truly marks a turning point in the fight against global warming. After nearly a decade of foot-dragging and willful ignorance under the Bush administration -- including open defiance of the Supreme Court, President Obama is leading where Bush lagged. The Environmental Protection Agency -- freed from the chains that bound it under its previous administrator, Bush Sycophant-in-Chief Stephen Johnson -- officially acknowledged that carbon dioxide and five other gases are dangerous air pollutants that threaten public health and welfare.

(When EPA first tired to issue a watered-down version of this same finding -- an "endangerment determination" in Wonkese -- in 2007 and sent it to the Office of Management and Budget for final review, a Dick Cheney crony in the White House ordered EPA to take the email back. In an effort to hold on to the last shreds of its dignity, EPA refused. The Bush White House, conspicuously lacking in both shame and dignity, then simply refused to open the email. And no, despite all outward appearances, this Cheney crony was NOT in fact a 16 year-old girl)

In its landmark 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed that greenhouse gases were indeed pollutants under the Clean Air Act and ordered EPA to at least decide one way or the other if global warming pollution was a danger to human health or welfare. Now that President Obama's EPA has done so, EPA is now obligated to start regulating emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, etc. Now, EPA gets to decide the scope, sequence, and timing of these regulations, but there’s no longer a question of if or even when the U.S. will act on global warming.

And the response of the we'll-say-anything-no-matter-how-crazy to protect Big Oil and other polluters crowd? Quite predictable: THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT. Here's a children's treasury of my favorite responses:

American Petroleum Institute: “The proposed endangerment finding poses an endangerment to the American economy and to every American family.”

Competitive Enterprise Institute (the centerpiece of the denial machine): "a suicide note."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fond of stoking fears that this will mean even Dunkin' Donuts across our fair land will be regulated by the black hand of government. Not bloody likely, says EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: "It's a myth that we’re at a horrible fork in the road, where the EPA is going to regulate cows, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Huts, and baby bottles."

And what of the other main wingnut argument -- that Congress never meant for the Clean Air Act to be used to deal with climate change? Well, that would be ever so slightly more convincing if Congress hadn't explicitly chosen to include effects upon "weather" and "climate" in the list of things that should trigger EPA regulation of a dangerous pollutant. To wit:

Clean Air Act, Section 302(h): All language referring to effects on welfare includes, but is not limited to, effects on soils, water, crops, vegetation, manmade materials, animals, wildlife, weather, visibility, and climate, damage to and deterioration of property, and hazards to transportation, as well as effects on economic values and on personal comfort and well-being, whether caused by transformation, conversion, or combination with other pollutants.

The arguments coming from the other side are pretty weak tea if you ask me. And lord knows there was no shortage of teabagging going on this week.

You can't handle the truth

Check out what happened when some tea-baggers were confronted with reality:

One brave soul speaks the truth, and is greeted by boos, at teabagging party in Pensacola, FL

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Santelli’s Tea Party

By Bob Sommer
“I’m pretty proud of this” – that was Rick Santelli on CNBC this morning, taking credit for the faux-populist “Tea Party” movement he launched with his infamous rant on Feb. 19.

He continued, “I think from a grassroots standpoint, I’m sure some of the media out there is not going to peg it that way, but isn’t it about as American as it gets – for people to roll their strollers and make their signs and go voice their opinion about the direction of the country?”

Grassroots? Not so much.

The original spark for today’s events – Santelli’s CNBC rant – was, it turns out, the beginning of a carefully orchestrated campaign to undermine the Obama administration, sponsored by the Koch family.

The so-called “official” Tea Party website is sponsored by the American Family Association, and FOX “News” has been pounding away at promoting it for the past few days.

And let’s not neglect CNBC’s interest in pumping up the ratings once again by having Joe Kernan lob Santelli a softball this morning so he could revisit his claim to fame and sound off once more.

Maybe ranting and shouting to the traffic while they sprinkle the contents of Lipton tea bags into storm drains and ponds will help some folks vent frustration for the misery in their lives under a recession bequeathed to us all by the Bush administration. But it’s pretty certain that most of these same people fall within the income levels that qualify them for the Obama administration’s tax cuts.

How much do these "tea parties" matter? As Paul Krugman points out, "[E]verything that critics mock about these parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party." From nativism to the Second Amendment to homophobia, tea party goers can express their general rage at finding that the party of all these causes was voted out by the American public in a sweeping rejection of their vision of America.

But there’s probably more hype and hyperventilating about today’s tea parties on FOX and CNBC than there will be even by the fringe dupes who swallow their nonsense.

I just wonder if Santelli’s magnamity toward people taking to the streets to “voice their opinion about the direction of the country” also applies to those who protested the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Come back when you’re ready, Mr. President!

It can’t be more than a coincidence that President Barack Obama won’t be collecting an honorary degree in Sen. John McCain’s home state of Arizona.

Nah! Don’t even think it.

Arizona State University has decided that Obama is just too green around the ears—or maybe too Democratic.

“His body of work is yet to come,” said Sharon Keeler, a university spokeswoman (by all accounts with a straight face). “That’s why we’re not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency.”

A Phoenix newspaper editorial was quick to respond, perhaps hoping to limit the damage, and the embarrassment:

“But [other recipients] had much still to accomplish. Barry Goldwater received his honorary degree in May 1961, three years before his Republican nomination for president and only eight years into his three decades as a U.S. senator. Sandra Day O’Connor was similarly recognized just three years into her 25 years on the U.S. Supreme Court.”


Just call yourself Betty Brown

During testimony this week on voter identification, Texas state legislator Rep. Betty Brown told Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans:

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?”

Yes, she actually said that.

Barb Shelly of The Kansas City Star had a great suggestion: “Perhaps everyone with more than three syllables in their first or last names should use the alias Betty Brown when dealing with people who have trouble with their names. That should solve the problem.”

Read Shelly's blog here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Blame Game

Changing the Rules of the Blame Game


A cartoon in the Sunday comics shows that mustachioed fellow with monocle and top hat from the Monopoly game - "Rich Uncle Pennybags," he used to be called - standing along the roadside, destitute, holding a sign: "Will blame poor people for food."

Time to move the blame to where it really belongs. That means no more coddling banks with bailout billions marked "secret." no more allowing their executives lavish bonuses and new corporate jets as if they've won the megalottery and not sent the economy down the tubes. And no more apostles of Wall Street calling the shots.

Which brings us to Larry Summers. Over the weekend, the White House released financial disclosure reports revealing that Summers, director of the National Economic Council, received $5.2 million last year working for a $30 billion hedge fund. He made another $2.7 million in lecture fees, including cash from such recent beneficiaries of taxpayer generosity as Citigroup, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. The now defunct financial services giant Lehman Brothers handsomely purchased his pearls of wisdom, too.

Read more at Counterpunch

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cowardice in the Time of Torture

By Ray McGovern
April 5, 2009

(first published in Consortiumnews.com)

I used to take a certain pride by association with prominent Bronxites who have “made it.” Cancel that for Attorney General Eric Holder and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

You might think that as African-Americans, they would be especially outraged by torture, given what blacks have suffered at the hands of white torturers in this country and abroad.

Read more.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Conyers to Holder: Appoint a Special Prosecutor

Conyers Wants Holder to Appoint a Special Counsel to Probe Bush Crimes
By Jason Leopold

(published in The Public Record)

On Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers quietly released the final draft of an extensive report he first unveiled in January documenting the Bush administration’s “unreviewable war powers” and the possible crimes committed in implementing those policies.

In order to determine whether Bush officials broke laws, Conyers has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special prosecutor to launch a criminal inquiry to investigate, among other things, whether “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against alleged terrorist detainees violated international and federal laws against torture.

Read more

Sierra RAW: Boehner's Brigade of Buffoons

uncooked truth, beyond belief
Issue #280
April 3, 2009

By Josh Dorner

Some people will say literally anything to protect Big Oil, Big Coal, and the other agents of the dirty energy status quo. One of those people happens to be Representative John Boehner (pronounced as one sees fit), the leader of the embattled and increasingly unpopular House Republican Caucus.

As House Democrats, led by Sierra Club besties Henry Waxman and Markey, introduced their draft comprehensive clean energy legislation on Tuesday, Boehner and a brigade of buffoons began to spread one of the biggest whoppers about building the clean energy economy I've heard in some time. (I follow both Karl Rove and John McCain on twitter, so trust me, I hear LOTS of whoppers.) Boehner, citing a 2007 MIT study, accused Democrats of trying to impose a $3,100 "lightswitch tax" on every family in America (i.e. building the clean energy economy would drive up energy costs by that amount). The House GOP's campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, followed suit and issued press releases in dozens of districts accusing Democratic members of trying to kill jobs and hasten Armageddon, or something.

(Again, these same folks seem unconcerned by our current "energy tax" -- the one we all pay to support the corporate high-fliers of Big Oil, Big Coal, and the hostile foreign regimes that feed our addiction to oil.)

We all know rising energy prices have more to do with corporate greed than any supposed secret "energy tax" that environmentalists are reportedly so eager to impose. Well, lo and behold, one the authors of the cited study, John Reilly, was so incensed by the blatant distortions being put forth that he went to the media, telling PolitiFact "It's just wrong. It's wrong in so many ways it's hard to begin."

It turns that not only were Boehner et al wrong -- but they were told so in advance and still decided to keep spreading the blatant lie. Reilly said, "Someone from the House Republicans had called me (March 20) and asked about this. I had explained why the estimate they had was probably incorrect and what they should do to correct it, but I think this wrong number was already floating around by that time."

As more and more buffoons started repeating the false charge, Reilly then proceeded to write a personal letter to Boehner asking him to cease and desist. Boehner, being the consummate man of integrity, of course complied, right? WRONG! Just yesterday, Boehner twittered out the link to a strongly worded defense of his conduct, essentially arguing that he, John Boehner, the political hack, understood the MIT study and its economic implications better than the MIT professor who actually wrote it.

The phrase "how low can you go" seems appropriate in so many ways.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kansas City Star cartoonist recognized

Cartoonist Lee Judge has been awarded first place in the 2009 John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition, sponsored by Columbia College Chicago.

Judge’s cartoon appeared in The Kansas City Star on Feb. 17, 2008.

Good take on Republican hypocrisy from The Progressive Populist: Beware Faux Populism

Pity the Grand Old Populists. One day the Republican grandees are railing against President Obama’s Treasury secretary for standing by while AIG gave bonuses to the traders who helped to wreck the economy. Then the memo comes from GOP Central that they are opposed to the Democratic move to claw back those hateful bonuses with a 90% tax. It appears that Republicans and their ideological mentors hate tax increases a lot worse than they hate nameless greedy insurance company executives.

But Wall Streeters really resent it when we rubes stick our noses in their doings. They were alarmed when the House, with 85 Republicans joining the Democratic majority, passed a bill that would slap a 90% tax on bonuses for executives of government-rescued corporations whose family incomes exceed $250,000.

That tax rate would not be the highest in history—the record marginal tax rate was 94% during World War II. But some scholars believe the bonus tax bill could run afoul of the constitutional prohibition against Congress enacting a “bill of attainder.” Such a bill singles out an identifiable group for punishment. It’s an intriguing point of law, but the only way to find out for sure is for the Senate to go ahead and pass the bill and let the AIG bonus babies take it to court.

It would be fun to see how grandstanders like Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), would vote on the bonus tax. After all, they were insistent last year that autoworkers were overpaid when they made $57,000 a year. But when Congress in February debated limits on executive pay for bailed-out businesses, McConnell declared, “I really don’t want the government to take over these businesses and start telling them everything about what they can do.” Shelby said Congress has no role in determining corporate compensation: “It should be up to the board of directors of a private corporation to set the compensation of an executive.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cheney confesses!

An Uncommon Hours exclusive!

In a stunning turn of events former Vice President Dick Cheney advised the Attorney General that he’s ready to sign a confession for war crimes, violations of the Geneva Convention, domestic spying, and a wide range of criminal actions in exchange for leniency.

Uncommon Hours has learned that Cheney will turn state’s evidence against most of the Neocons in the Bush administration who promoted the Iraq War under false pretenses, including Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz. He also blamed Scooter Libby for blowing the cover off a plot to have former Ambassador Joe Wilson renditioned to Gitmo and force-fed yellow cake for six months.

We have further learned that Cheney feared that precedents set during his time in office, including waterboarding, would be used by the Obama administration in its zeal to bring these war criminals to justice. A high-level source who requested anonymity also revealed that Cheney requested to have his prison location blotted from Google Earth and to be supplied with a complete set of his wife’s erotic writings.
Cheney claimed that his biggest challenge in developing strategies to violate the Constitution was getting Bush to read it. Among the documents Cheney is turning over to the AG is a story-book version of the Constitution written by his wife for the former President, who Cheney said, according to our source, spent most of his days alone in the Oval Office watching reruns of Wanted, Dead or Alive.

Happy April 1st!