State of the Union

Failure to Communications

Uh oh. “Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts announced Monday that he will chair a subcommittee hearing on the future of journalism.”

“An independent news media is vital to our democracy,” Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, said in a statement Monday evening. “The history of our Republic is inextricably linked to the narrative of our free and independent press, yet today, America’s newspapers are struggling just to stay afloat. I called this hearing to directly address a problem that for too long has had us turning the other way. Whatever the model for the future, we must do all we can to ensure a diverse and independent news media endures.”

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? When John Kerry is in charge of saving journalism, we hacks really are in trouble.

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The Apologists

For 50 minutes, Obama sat mute, as a Marxist thug from Nicaragua delivered his diatribe, charging America with a century of terrorist aggression in Central America.

After Daniel Ortega finished spitting in our face, accusing us of inhumanity toward Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Obama was asked his thoughts.

“I thought it was 50 minutes long. That’s what I thought.”

Hillary Clinton was asked to comment: “I thought the cultural performance was fascinating,” she cooed.

Pressed again on Ortega’s vitriol, Hillary replied: “To have those first-class Caribbean entertainers all on one stage and to see how much was done in such a small amount of space. I was overwhelmed.”

Thus the nation that won the Cold War, contained the cancer of Castroism in Cuba, liberated Grenada, blocked communist takeovers of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, and poured scores of billions in aid into this region was left undefended by its own leaders at the Summit of the Americas. Read More…

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Torture, Again

I don’t want a CIA that routinely waterboards, but I do think that there might arise a situation where torture might actually save some American lives and would have to be considered as an option.  That is why you have an intelligence service and why the intelligence service gives the government “plausible denial” over actions that are nearly always illegal and often immoral.  But the actions of a spy service should be proportionate to the threat, not a process of going around bumping off lots of people who might be thinking of something naughty.  We appear to have lost that sense of proportion in our misguided GWOT.

So the rare use of waterboarding turns out to be 183 times on KSM alone.  That our government authorized procedures that most of the world thinks to be war crimes is undeniable.  The question becomes what kind of accountability should there be, if any.  Should the guy who attached the electrodes be tried or the guy who ordered the electrodes to be attached?  There is no simple answer to that, but much of the information now coming out goes beyond disturbing.  The NYT article detailing how the torturers went about their work complete with visitors from CIA headquarters watching the procedure was chilling.  And the torture went on in spite of the judgment of the local station chief in Thailand that the victim had no more information to give.  Somehow the videotaping and record keeping is reminiscent of the meticulous records that the Soviets and Nazis kept on what they did to their victims.  And the article also describes how the torture did not produce any usable information.  So the whole thing was really idiotic. That we engaged in war crimes for nothing would seem to be the only possible conclusion and the senior officers and White House people who drove the process should be held accountable for being stupid if for nothing else. 

I for one would like to know how this happened.  We need to know more about the torturers, the doctors who assisted, and the senior officers who approved the procedures.  What could possibly have been going through their heads to justify what they were doing and what did they think they would achieve?  I don’t think people should be lined up against a wall and shot (with the possible exception of George Tenet), but there must be some accountability in all of this so that everyone will understand what was gained and what was lost by walking down that road.

Alternatively, the appointment of an independent investigator would enable both the government and CIA to have an opportunity to demonstrate that torturing people did save thousands of American lives, as has often been asserted without any evidence whatsoever.   If they can make that case, then we as a country can possibly start a genuine debate on what we should be doing or not doing in the name of national security.

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J.G. Ballard, RIP

Ballard, who died today age 78, was a great writer usually pigeonholed into the sic-fi genre. But as the Guardian‘s obit rightly points out, his style of science fiction was less about projecting the future than understanding the present:

The young science fiction author “wasn’t interested in the far future, spaceships and all that”, he explained; rather he was interested in “the evolving world, the world of hidden persuaders, of the communications landscape developing, of mass tourism, of the vast conformist suburbs dominated by television – that was a form of science fiction, and it was already here”.

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Military Recruitment and the Economic Crisis

Just last year, I was reporting that increasing difficulties in military recruitment and retention (particularly in the field grade officer corps), had led the Army to relax its standards and start paying unprecedented sums in incentives to both recruit and to keep men and women on the job. The Army, specifically, was giving out more waivers than in recent memory to felons who would otherwise not be eligible to serve. High school graduation rates among recruits had dropped as did scores for the Armed Forces Qualification test. In the words of one former Marine Corps officer I had interviewed, the military was hurtling dangerously towards the dark days of the post-Vietnam years, where the recruits were “probably the worst in the history of the Marine Corps.”

According to the Washington Post this morning, this ship of doom has already reversed course and the unlikely captain is the economic crisis itself. It makes sense — young people are graduating high school and entering a dismal jobs market, and the military is there, looking less like the grim reaper, then say, in 2005:

Above all, the economic crisis has increased unemployment and reduced job opportunities — particularly in sectors that tend to employ young people, said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon’s top recruiting official.

When the recession hits the service sector, “everything from McDonald’s to cutbacks at Best Buy and some of the more entry-level jobs . . . this impacts young people more. Those who are last hired tend to be first fired,” Gilroy said. “They would then view the military option more favorably.”

“Improved security in Iraq” has also made the Armed Forces more attractive, the article reads, further leading the Army to raise standards regarding previous arrests and drug use and offer less incentives. High School graduation rates are increasing — 93 percent so far this year, compared to 79 percent in 2007.

So, given the right financial desperation and better odds they’d return from a first tour of duty with a whole body and mind, recruits are lining up again. Combined with the planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq, this bodes nicely for a military in need of recuperation. But how tenuous is this narrative? With more than 20,000 new troops headed for Afghanistan and the neoconservative hawks suddenly in favor among the national security elite clamoring for more, the big question mark hovering over Pakistan and Iraq Commander Ray Odierno making noises about delaying withdrawal in key Iraqi cities because of ongoing violence, the answer seems, “pretty much.”

For the moment, however, today’s WaPo news reinforces the obvious, that a recession is good for recruitment, and that the Department of Defense will remain one of the nation’s leading employers, despite the current tempest over Pentagon cutbacks. It’s disappointing though, not necessarily because recruitment has turned around, but that there has been, until now, no consequences for the way the military has tended to its brave and dedicated servicemen and women, either in the field (putting them unnecessarily at risk) or when they return home.

It’s a pity that a economic crisis at home might forestall real reform in the Armed Forces — who can possibly hold their feet to fire when they have all the “cannon fodder” necessary to fight these unpopular but nonetheless ongoing wars abroad?

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What the Fed Has Done to the Working Man

Mish Shedlock explains:

At every crisis, the Fed stepped on the gas inflating the economy. Unions benefited as wages rose along with the price of everything. However, eventually there comes a time when no one is willing to pay those wages. That has obviously happened. Yet because or the Fed’s expansionary policy, prices of houses and goods and services continued to rise, outstripping wages.

The only people who really benefited from the Fed’s expansionary policies were the bank executives, the fat cats on Wall Street, and government bodies who taxed rising property values and took a chunk out of everything people made via sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes.

Even during the boom years, one of the dirty secrets of the economy was that middle and lower-class wages were not keeping up with inflation. If families weren’t feeling pain commensurate to the degrading economic position, it was because they kept their cash flows up by going heavily into debt with credit card and mortgages. Now that the bubble has burst, many Americans are finding out just how impoverished they really are. But what has to be kept in mind, always, is that this impoverishment is not a function of the burst, it’s a product of the original bubble, which inflated housing prices into the stratosphere and induced Americans to live by debt. The only alternative to a painful correction would be inflating a bigger bubble for a longer time, and that’s just what Obama and Bernanke want to do. But any re-inflation will ultimately burst, and the bigger the bubble, the more wrenching the return to reality will be.

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Obama-Style “Nation of Laws”

Obama proudly declared yesterday that ours is a “nation of laws” at the same time he announced that CIA torturers would not be prosecuted for their crimes.

Life in Washington is one damn paradox after another.

Kudos to the American Civil Liberties Union for their lawsuit that compelled the disclosure of the torture memos yesterday.  But these are probably only the tip of the iceberg.   Hopefully the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and supporters of disclosing Bush-era crimes will have sufficient clout to force the government to reveal far more  information on the torture scandal. Obama becomes complicit for all the crimes he covers up.

I will be curious to see if the revelations of how the Justice Department tortured the law and rationality to set loose the CIA will have any broader impact on how Americans view the federal government.    I ain’t holdin’ my breath.

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GWOT Is It Good For?

Somebody called Zac Morgan at David Frum’s New Majority site berates Rachel Maddow for daring to make jokes about the rumors that the Obama administration is trying to drop the phrase “Global War on Terror.” This is no laughing matter, says Mr Morgan:

Maddow snarked about inaccurate reports that President Obama had changed the name of the Global War on Terrorism to “overseas contingency operations”, or as she found it delightfully amusing to call it “OCO”. In all the giddiness about etymology, one almost forgot the seriousness of the threat of global terrorism.

Mr Morgan, a former Bush administration political appointee, goes on to remind his readers of the terrifyingly global nature of global terror threat, pointing to Iran, Pakistan, Somalia and North Korea. He concludes:

We remain in the Global War on Terrorism. Or the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Or the Global Battle Against Man-Made Disasters. Whatever we call it, it is real, and on the way to becoming the new majority, we should never hesitate to face this reality.

Never forget and be afraid. That’s the message of the young warriors who may well eventually build the next GOP majority. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and the price of the eternal vigilance is eternal humorlessness. Just you wait till the next 9/11, then we’ll see who is laughing.

Oh dear. Maddow’s problem, Zac, is that not that her taste in jokes is inappropriate; it’s just that she isn’t terribly funny. I’m all with her, though, when she mocks GWOT, OCO, or whatever other euphemistic misnomers the White House cooks up to justify its military misadventures.

These “New Majority” fellows are strange. For all their look-at-how-reasonable-we-are earnestness–we don’t mind gay marriage; we think global warming is real; we need to change the political Right’s tone– their outlook seems distressingly familiar to the nasty old GOP when it comes to foreign policy. Never forget and be afraid.

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Rendering Unto Caesar

At the request of the White House, Georgetown University covered up all the symbols in Gaston Hall, before the Great Man spoke, including IHS, the millennia-old monogram for the name of Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, had adopted the monogram in his seal and it became an emblem of the Jesuit order.

When it comes to rendering unto Caesar, Georgetown is not going to be outshone by Notre Dame, which stole a march by offering the nation’s avatar of abortion a doctorate of laws degree, honoris causa.

Actually, it is regrettable the IHS in Gaston Hall was not covered up in shame the first week of Lent. For that week Georgetown’s feminist and homosexual clubs, such as GU Pride, put on a Gomorrah festival about alternative lifestyles called “Sex Positive Week.” Read More…

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That Tea Is Spiked With Kool-Aid

I agree with Ross Douthat about one thing: the tea parties resemble the antiwar protests of 2002-2003. But that’s not a good thing. Douthat correctly points out that the antiwar marches were probably counterproductive, boosting support for Republican hawks in the 2002 midterms and 2004 presidential election. (The American people don’t like prolonged wars, as polling figures for the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq conflicts demonstrate. But as the ghost of Richard Nixon could tell you, one thing Americans like less than open-ended wars is disruption in the streets.) The tea parties risk ghettoizing anti-tax sentiment.

The antiwar example should give serious small government people pause for another reason as well: the highly emotional antiwar movement from the start blended its principled anti-imperialism with ideologically partisan opposition to Bush and the GOP. As a result, once the public’s antiwar sentiment came to the fore in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Democrats reaped the rewards. But the Democrats, many of whom voted for the Iraq War in the first place, have pursued policies little different from those of the Republican since coming to power in Congress and the White House. We’re still in Iraq and may be no closer to leaving Mesopotamia today than we were to leaving Indochina in 1969. Obama has escalated the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet because the antiwar movement mixed its cause with simple opposition to Bush and the Republicans, many quondam critics of the war are now staunch Obama supporters. (See Justin Raimondo for more on this.)

Already the tea party protests have begun to follow the same path, being as much anti-liberal and anti-CNN as anti-tax and anti-spending. The problem here is not that liberals and Democrats aren’t bad and shouldn’t be opposed, but that one must be careful that in opposing them one does not overlook the crimes of the Republicans and the budget-busting militarists of the conservative movement. Read More…

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