Year: 2012

Bipartisanship! Whistleblowers go to jail, torturers live comfortably in retirement

Kiriakou is expected to plead guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) for “outing” a torturer. “Outing” is quotes because the charge is not that Kiriakou’s actions resulted in a public disclosure of the name, but that through a Kevin Bacon-style chain of causation, GITMO torture victims learned the name of one of their possible torturers. Regardless, how does outing a torturer hurt the national security of the U.S.? It’s like arguing that outing a Nazi guarding a concentration camp would hurt the national security of Germany…..

The only person to be criminal[ly] prosecuted, and now likely jailed, as a result of the Bush-era torture regime is John Kiriakou, who refused to participate in torture, helped expose the program, and said on national television that torture was wrong.

Jesselyn Radack

Major changes in the kinds of people we are stuffing down holes

UPDATED  BELOW: October 19, 2012

I continue to be drawn to the headline “MAYBERRY UNDER SEIGE: Ramped-up debate security gives Danville new look, feel,”   both for its innovative spelling and for the beautiful euphemism for scary-ass security state theatrics. “A lot of people feel like they’re in prison a little bit.” But whatevs…. I just love that.

For the record, almost nobody got in the least bit worked up about the lockdown that came with the VP Debate circus. To most everyone but me, it’s part of a New Normal. A far more typical reaction was to describe close brushes with power, touching the hems of the garments of the great men of politics, or even of MSNBC. “Biden gave me the thumbs up from his limo. You can’t see it, but he did. He waved and gave me the thumbs up.” “OMG Chris Matthews!”

But the prison-worthy lockdown? The locals took it without batting an eye.

And speaking of the New Normal: Americans have gotten a bit jaded about bad things the government does to people that would have been unthinkable prior to the terror attacks of 2001. Still, many would be surprised by recent developments.

Sticking human beings down holes, or into cages–for years, decades, without charge and with no hope of due process–well, that’s just the egg-breaking component of this particular omelette. We’re safer now, don’t you know. Keep telling yourself that.

Until recently, the kinds of people our government snatches and sticks down holes have been nearly exclusively Islamist, or at least Muslim, or at least  in some way sympathetic to terrorist groups, or at least sympathetic to groups that are trying to kick an occupying army out of their homeland, or at least let themselves be talked into a cockeyed plot by a paid FBI informant, or at least have a name that sounds sort of Muslim?

But … who saw this coming? The deafening silence that greeted the post-911 civil liberties transgressions has emboldened the government to, ah, cut a corner here and there when it comes to incarcerating and/or intimidating, young American kids (I would say native Americans but that would be, you know, wrong). Anarchists, environmental extremists, as the government would have it, or even … terrorists. Or activists, as they might describe themselves.

People like Leah-Lynn Plante, the 24-year-old woman from Portland in the photo above, who is currently in federal prison, without being charged (habeus corpus: sooooo pre-911) and could remain locked up for 18 months, for keeping silent before a grand jury convened to intimidating her into talking about her associates in the anarchist movement.

Writes Natasha Lennard in Truthout:

Along with two others in the Pacific Northwest, Plante was remanded into federal custody for her refusal to provide a grand jury testimony regarding activists in the region. Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik were jailed in previous weeks for, like Plante, refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. All three are now being held in U.S. federal prison, not because they are being punished for crime, but, as the National Lawyers Guild’s executive director Heidi Boghosian told me earlier this year, “to coerce cooperation.”

Writing for Truth-Out in August about the Northwest grand juries and those resisting cooperation, I noted that grand juries “are among the blackest boxes in the federal judiciary system.” The closed-door procedures are rare instances in which an individual loses the right to remain silent. As was the case with the Northwest grand juries resistors, the grand jury can grant a subpoenaed individual personal immunity; Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination are therefore protected, but silence is not. In these instances, refusal to speak can be considered civil contempt. Non-cooperators can be jailed for the 18-month length of the grand jury.

Look at her. Am I being naive here? This girl is in federal prison???? She could be my daughter or the daughter of any of my friends, peers, college classmates. Is she guilty of some treacherous crime? No, not at all. She is not charged with any crime.

Will Potter author of Green Is the New Red, an account of “how animal rights and environmental activists are being targeted as ‘eco-terrorists’, and what that means for our safety and freedom,” writes:

Grand juries have historically been used against radical social movements as a tool to intimidate and to gather information. When activists enter a grand jury proceeding, they check their rights at the door. They are asked about what they believe, what their friends believe, who they associate with, what kinds of activism they support. If they choose to assert their First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights by refusing to speak about their political beliefs and political associations, they can be imprisoned.

In the New Normal, idealistic young Americans–not just scary foreigners–can be dropped down a hole, without charge, for 18 months for refusing to rat out their friends.

Just another facet of that “new look, feel.”


Update: Leah-Lynn Plante has apparently been released, according to this post at firedoglake, which links to a statement on the Free Leah Website, which begins

First and foremost, do not panic.

Leah wanted for us to express these points to you with this news:

  • She is extremely traumatized and experienced a lot of very, very bad things,  but she is alive. The state of her mental health is also very bad.
  • She asks that people do not jump to wild conclusions about her release because they do not apply.
  • She spent her whole time in SHU / Administrative Detention (solitary confinement) and was told that that is where she would stay for the duration of her incarceration, up to 18 months. She was classified as “different” from Matt and Kteeo.

I’m hoping that she is indeed free,  but the preliminary details of her incarceration temper any urge to celebrate.

There is a good deal of good background info on her case in this excellent Kevin Gosztola piece from last Friday, which I hadn’t consulted before writing my post.

While all the bright people on Twitter were beating Romney’s “binders” gaffe into a pulp, this case has brought to light a new willingness on the part of the state to (ab)use grand juries to intimidate people with alternative ideas. Which seems a much bigger deal than Romney’s misstatements or his argument with Obama over who loves coal more.

I can’t listen to this song again….

This week the Vice Presidential Debate is coming to my neck of the woods. I could go to watch  on a large screen with throngs of people who have submitted to humiliating security measures, and maybe hang out for the Marshall Tucker Band (well, one original member and some other guys), but in general, I prefer sifting through debates by reading snarky real-time tweets and perusing the manuscript at my leisure. To listen to any politician posture, prevaricate, lie and use hypercoached self-conscious hand gestures in real-time, well, it calls to mind the line from Adventureland:

Hey, do you have an ice-pick I can jam into my ears?

I can’t listen to this song again

Three days after its initial posting, this article on the front page of the local paper’s Web site STILL carries the headline “MAYBERRY UNDER SEIGE: Ramped-up debate security gives Danville new look, feel.”

Well, that’s one way of putting it, and that’s one way to spell siege, for that matter. Does anybody notice these things but me?

A local resident “said it’s been a bit disconcerting to watch as ‘Centre [College, the host of the Debate] is starting to look like an armed camp.'”

“A lot of people are concerned about road closures and things like that, and maybe feel like they’re in prison a little bit,” quoth the local chief of police.

It’s all about the new look and feel….

I don’t want to be totally tedious and continue to write about our choices, or lack thereof, in the upcoming national elections. To summarize: yes, Romney is one of those politicians who will say absolutely anything for a short-term advantage, and I would be incredibly sad to see him in the Oval Office.

But it is also true that in most important respects, Obama offers a slightly more incremental version of Romney’s lunacy, and shares in the collective delusion in Washington that the first thing to “fix” in a near Depression is the deficit, and that the only way to do that is to cut back “entitlements” because in an era when the rich have NEVER HAD IT SO GOOOD, it still pisses the very rich off that the parasitic 97 percent feels entitled to reassurance that they won’t starve to death.

I’m not going to SLASH social security. Just tweak it. Does that make the cat food taste better?”

As regards the deficit, I liked this tweet from Matt Stoller: “Re deficit, the US government can no more run out of dollars than a bowling alley can run out of strikes.”

Oh, and I should mention this excellent piece by Kevin Baker, written in the wake of Obama’s nonperformance in the first presidential debate. Yes, writes Baker, there will be excuses offered,

Yet all of these personalized, psychological apologetics merely underscore the essential disconnect between the leadership of the Democratic party and its base. The leadership is now filled almost exclusively with careerists, who have no real goals they want to accomplish beyond their own advancement, and who actively don’t want to pursue any of the liberal ideas they pretend to support.

They don’t sound like they believe what they’re saying . . . because they don’t believe what they’re saying.

Neither does Mitt Romney, but he was able to put on a convincing act last night, visibly gaining confidence and command with each sally. By the end of the night, he seemed to have channeled not only Ronald Reagan’s genial manner and poise but even his voice.

Romney and his advisers displayed a sleight-of-hand beyond anything I thought them capable of. In Romney’s reach back toward the center in the debate, he had to lie almost incessantly, breezily denying most of the things he has been advocating in almost two years of campaigning.

So, until the first Tuesday in November, I will try not to post anything new about politics. I encourage all to follow the esteemed voices on my blogroll, and vote for the candidate of your choice. Or not. Do what you gotta do.

And WASSUP?, something I wrote a while back, is pretty much where I’m coming from, still. Oh, yes, we do have a choice, provided we accept what the parties agree upon:


I would only add that there are a few important things I missed, and they are covered ably by Bruce Dixon in The Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On.

Dead people who haven’t died yet, or Notes on the shameful sport of golf

Saturday I had whipped myself into a keen sense of anticipation to play in the first-ever competition between the place where I play golf and another place where people play golf.

If I called them “clubs” you would think there was something exclusive about them, but they are open to all. I guess there’s a pretty lax collared shirts/no denim code, rarely enforced. Think country clubs are garbage? So do I.

I’ve played plenty of informal golf games–skins with buddies, local charity scrambles–but I had never been in a proper competition, where mulligans can’t be given or bought, and where your opponents are entitled to stand silent while you have to sweat out the slidy four-footer you ran past the hole.

This was to be modeled on Ryder Cup competition. Fourball the first day, individual matches the next. My teammates decided we would all have to buy two team shirts in different colors: yellow Saturday, green Sunday. For me that was almost a deal-breaker, but we at least were allowed our own choice of headgear.

So  … totally stoked! But on Saturday morning, while warming up, disaster struck. My back went into spasms, and I could barely bend to touch my kneecaps, let alone my toes, or swing a golf club. My partner had to load me into my car.

I drove home and watched football on TV flat on my back. I was hugely resentful of all that mobility as I lay there sucking bourbon from a sippy cup.

Was pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to play on Day Two. But lo, I awakened, and the back wasn’t too bad. Lots of stretching and ibuprofen. While still sore, the mobility had returned. I could play.

My opponent marked his balls with little blue crosses (“I’m playing the Jesus balls”). Oh here we go, I thought, but there was no follow-up proselytizing. In fact, Rick turned out to be an extremely nice guy. Super intense, he really wanted to win, as I did, and our match was entertaining.

I drove to the fringe on the short par four third, then almost chipped in. I was two-up at the turn. Rick got one back with an insane reversal birdie from nowhere on number twelve (topped drive, 210-yard three-wood to three feet!). We then had four straight tense halves, both of us playing better with each shot.

On sixteen, I had two feet straight uphill, and Rick had a four-foot slider. He said “good-good?” with a little sideways grin, and I blurted out “sure.” Which surprised him. AND me. What the hell are you doing? If I made and he missed, that’s the match! Maybe it was a stupid thing to say, or MAYBE I was enjoying the match too much and didn’t want to win or lose on a missed short putt. Perhaps that was karmically good, because on the next hole I lagged a 40-foot downhill putt with 10 feet of break to six inches, and he couldn’t get up and down.

So I won. Hat off. Shake hands. That weird southern backhanded pat on back. Our team won too. Down a point after the fourball, we got six of the eight possible points on Sunday. And there was rejoicing, of a sort. Nobody whooped it up or trash talked. We were the mature guys or at least the older ones, median age forty-eight or so, while our opponents were generally younger, more athletic, long-hitting hotshots, median age 28. (I think some of them might have whooped, given the chance).

A gang of golfers from both teams assembled above the eighteenth green to watch the final matches.

A late September afternoon in central Kentucky, in the sky a scattering of silvery sun-specked clouds, the visuals partially courtesy of the coal-burning EW Brown Generating Station just across the Dix River from the course. The shadows dappled faces wrinkled and/or reddened by a lifetime of drink and/or high blood pressure.  One opponent had a bucket hat covering a large bandage over his ear where he had a tumor removed. Another couldn’t play as he was recovering from a liver transplant. I didn’t know everyone’s story, but knew for certain more than a few of us were getting treatment for cancer.

I think it’d be safe to say the group skewed 90 percent Republican, with maybe a sprinkling of centrist Democrats. If we ever started talking politics, it would get ugly in a hurry, but we never would.

We joked about spraying each other with champagne as the real Ryder Cup team winners are wont to do, but there was nothing like that. I had brought along my bourbon sippy cup for medical reasons, in case the back really flared up, but it never did. Now my warm Old Heaven Hill was as good a celebration drink as I could muster. Others sipped on Michelob Ultras or Ale-8s. Almost everyone was smoking.

The winning team had its picture taken with a tiny cup. I am hoping that photo will still be hanging on the clubhouse wall long after I am gone from this earth.

When I got home my kids hugged me and said “Congratulations, daddy. You’re the champion,” because they felt my extreme disappointment on Saturday–and because Heather probably told them to do so. And because I am still in that sweet spot in parenthood where your children have an unwavering belief that you hung the moon.

I know we are leaving our kids to a world that will only get hungrier,  meaner, more dangerous for them, and their children. And you could make the case that instead of using every ounce of energy to make their world better, spending time on the golf course isn’t exactly helpful. I could not really make a coherent challenge to that.

Louis CK has a quip something along the lines of  “We are all dead people who haven’t died yet.” It’s kind of pathetic, but celebrating this tiny victory in a meaningless game, played by grown (and rapidly aging) men, combined with the autumnal vibe–well, it felt a little Chekhovian, the end of something.

It was also, it must be said, more than a little euphoric.  Yesterday, bathed in that golden dusk light, it really did feel amazing not to have died yet.


And then there’s Mort

It’s hard to compete with the sheer star power of the DNC attendees:

And then there’s Mort. Forgive me for this, but I did not even know Mort Sahl was still alive (he’s 85), and from the looks of his twitter feed this morning, very much kicking. He provides a welcome dissent to the USA USA Support the Troops nuttiness that just went down in Charlotte.

The Democratic Party is dead. You witnessed the execution. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Nancy Pelosi told Dennis Kucinich that impeachment of Cheney and Bush was off the table. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Biden said the Special Forces are the finest warriors of all time. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when no one in Charlotte asked Obama if he made up a kill list every Tuesday. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Biden said any place is a battlefield when our enemy is there-a dir quote frm Michael Hayden, the fmr Dir of the CIA. #DNC2012

It died a little every day when the Press never told you the truth. MSNBC, FOX; Vanilla or French Vanilla? #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when it embraced homosexuals but left Bradley Manning in solitary confinement. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Jack Kennedy’s daughter addressed the convention. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when it went from the loving arms of Jack Kennedy to an arranged marriage with Barack Obama. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Obama became an agent of the Middle Class and never mentioned the Working Class. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when the First Lady kept talking about the Troops. This President is in five wars. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Obama condemned Romney for being wealthy. So was Roosevelt and so was Adlai Stevenson. #DeathoftheDemParty

It died when Obama refinanced the auto companies and forced the workers to accept a lower wage and no health insurance. #DNC2012

It died when neither Bernie Sanders nor Howard Dean ran against Obama. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Barack Obama became a hostage to the CIA and the Pentagon. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when the first Liberal voted for the Vietnamese War. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Barack Obama ignored Congress and sent cruise missiles into Libya. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died when Kerry didn’t ask for a recount in Ohio. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

You too can be a Democrat if you have enough room in your closet for your conscience. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

I may have aroused your anger. But I can’t seem to raise your conscience. #DeathoftheDemParty #DNC2012

It died because the Liberals don’t want to do anything just– they just want to feel good. #DeathoftheDemParty


Hollywood actor judges two presidents with a single set of criteria

John Cusack has moved me to rescind my personal rule to ignore what actors  say about anything other than what they do well–which is generally speaking to look good, spend a lot of time at the gym, and learn their lines.

Unlike most of the opinionated members of his profession, Cusack has been intensely critical of both the Bush administration and the current one. He uses a single set of criteria to judge both Bush and Obama. Imagine that!

Apparently, Cusack is also an old school friend of Jonathan Turley, who blogs most expertly on legal issues, in particular those having to do with civil liberties. He has published a meaty interview with Turley which should be read in it entirety. I just wanted to excerpt this terrific little passage, which is especially appropriate this week, as we crown our emperor in the non-union Democratic stronghold of Charlotte.

CUSACK: Oscar Wilde said most journalists would fall under the category of those who couldn’t tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. But why is it that all the journalists that you see mostly on MSNBC or most of the progressives, or so-called progressives, who believe that under Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez these were great and grave constitutional crises, the wars were an ongoing moral fiasco — but now, since we have a friendly face in the White House, someone with kind of pleasing aesthetics and some new policies we like, now all of a sudden these aren’t crimes, there’s no crisis. Because he’s our guy? Go, team, go?

Read the whole thing.

Hmm.   The version of this interview published in contains a lengthy preamble by Cusack that doesn’t appear on the Turley blog.  It ends with a  provocative question that I think answers  itself.

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…

Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.

Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It all makes a terrible kind of sense and I agree completely with Garry Wills who described the Republican primaries as ” a revolting combination of con men & fanatics— “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”

True enough.

But yet…

… there are certain Rubicon lines, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed.

All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.

This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones but to ask fundamentally: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?

Three markers — the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me…

Mr. Obama, the Christian president with the Muslim-sounding name, would heed the admonitions of neither religion’s prophets about making war and do what no empire or leader, including Alexander the Great, could do: he would, he assured us “get the job done in Afghanistan.” And so we have our democratic president receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as he sends 30,000 more troops to a ten-year-old conflict in a country that’s been war-torn for 5,000 years.

Why? We’ll never fully know. Instead, we got a speech that was stone bullshit and an insult to the very idea of peace.

We can’t have it both ways. Hope means endless war? Obama has metaphorically pushed all in with the usual international and institutional killers; and in the case of war and peace, literally.

To sum it up: more war. So thousands die or are maimed; generations of families and veterans are damaged beyond imagination; sons and daughters come home in rubber bags. But he and his satellites get their four more years.

The AfPak War is more H. G. Wells than Orwell, with people blindly letting each other get fed to the barons of Wall Street and the Pentagon, themselves playing the part of the Pashtuns. The paradox is simple: he got elected on his anti-war stance during a perfect storm of the economic meltdown and McCain saying the worst thing at the worst time as we stared into the abyss. Obama beat Clinton on “I’m against the war and she is for it.” It was simple then, when he needed it to be.

Under Obama do we continue to call the thousands of mercenaries in Afghanistan “general contractors” now that Bush is gone? No, we don’t talk about them… not a story anymore.

Do we prosecute felonies like torture or spying on Americans? No, time to “move on”…

Now chaos is the norm and though the chaos is complicated, the answer is still simple. We can’t afford this morally, financially, or physically. Or in a language the financial community can digest: the wars are ideologically and spiritually bankrupt. No need to get a score from the CBO.

Drones bomb Pakistani villages across the border at an unprecedented rate. Is it legal? Does anyone care? “It begs the question,” as Daniel Berrigan asks us, “is this one a “good war” or a “dumb war”? But the question betrays the bias: it is all the same. It’s all madness.”

One is forced to asked the question: Is the President just another Ivy League Asshole shredding civil liberties and due process and sending people to die in some shithole for purely political reasons?

“squabbles around the edges about who’d get elected, but wide agreement on the rules of the game”

Bruce Dixon’s Closer Than You Think: Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On improves and expands upon the point I was trying to make in my WASSUP post a while back.

Basically, I said what is Off the Table is far more important, and more dangerous, than what the parties are arguing about.

Dixon looks back to the post-Civil War era as a comparable era of malign consensus:

Too much agreement between Republicans and Democrats has always been bad news for those at the bottom of America’s class and racial totem poles.

Back in 1875, Frederick Douglass observed that it took a war among the whites to free his people from slavery. What then, he wondered, would an era of peace among the whites bring us? He already knew the answer. Louisiana had its Colfax Massacre two years earlier. A wave of thousands upon thousands of terroristic bombings, shootings, mutilations, murders and threats had driven African Americans from courthouses, city halls, legislatures, from their own farms, businesses and private properties and from the voting rolls across the South. They didn’t get the vote back for 80 years, and they never did get the land back. But none of that mattered because on the broad and important questions of those days there was at last peace between white Republicans and white Democrats — squabbles around the edges about who’d get elected, but wide agreement on the rules of the game.

Like Douglass, the shallow talking heads who cover the 2012 presidential campaign on corporate media have noticed out loud the remarkable absence of disagreement between Republican and Democratic candidates on many matters. They usually mention what the establishment likes to call “foreign policy.” But the list of things Republicans and Democrat presidential candidates agree on, from coddling Wall Street speculators, protecting mortgage fraudsters and corporate wrongdoers to preventing Medicare For All to so-called “foreign policy,” “free trade,” “the deficit” “clean coal and safe nuclear power” and “entitlement reform,” is clearly longer and more important than the few points of mostly race and style, upon which they disagree.

Read the whole thing….

I’m going to get straight to work hammering out a clever little acronym that contains all fifteen of Dixon’s points. It might take me a while.

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