Archive for the ‘Bush’ Category
Nostradamus meets the Grim Reaper
This is an actual headline from an article posted on Bloomberg (News) at 7:21 this evening, September 1st, 2010: Economy Avoids Recession Relapse as Data Can’t Get Much Worse
The first lines of the article explain:
The U.S. economy is so bad that the chance of avoiding a double dip back into recession may actually be pretty good. The sectors of the economy that traditionally drive it into recession are already so depressed it’s difficult to see them getting a lot worse, said Ethan Harris, head of developed markets economics research at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research in New York. Inventories are near record lows in proportion to sales, residential construction is less than half the level of the housing boom and vehicle sales are more than 40 percent below five years ago.
This is not from a skit on Stewart of Colbert. This is from a leading publication on business on a day that the Stock Market rallied. (I wonder what they will be writing when it retreats, again.) So, let’s get this straight. We are not going to have another recession, the dreaded double-dip, because things are already too bad to have one. How then do we characterize our current economy? Oh, I could think of a few words, but so can you, dear reader.
Things can get worse. Here’s the ticket: The Republicans win the House this fall and things completely stall out as the GOP offers (once again) the panacea of tax breaks for the wealthy as the cure for our economic ills.
(Btw, the name of the person featured on this $10,000 bill is Salmon P. Chase. If you don’t believe me, click here. He was a Secretary of the Treasury and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Coincidence. I think not.)
First, a brief reminder of how the Bush administration handled the crime of torture. Let’s call it “the few bad apples excuse.”
Yesterday, Wednesday, April 13, 2009 was a sad day for the Obama administration. The President decided to reverse his administration’s pledge to release photographs of acts of torture committed by Americans, photos that could be used as further evidence of how widespread state sanctioned torture had been under Bush. But it was not his decision to hold back the photos that was patently reprehensible. Obama argued that the release of the photographs could endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether one agrees with this assessment or not, it has to be taken seriously. What is not acceptable, and what is not worthy of this president, is to suggest that those who committed these acts were only a small number of individuals. Once again this places the onus on those who actually carried out the acts as opposed to the leaders who ordered and sanctioned them. In other words, Obama used a version of the “bad apples excuse” to support his decision, which is just what the Bush administration did when the photos of Abu Ghraib first appeared
The New York Times reported on the president’s press conference announcing his decision in an article, “Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos.” Two excerpts:
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” Mr. Obama told reporters on the South Lawn. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” (emphasis added)
The article then went on to quote a spokesman from the A.C.L.U.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the decision to fight the release of the photos was a mistake. He said officials had described them as “worse than Abu Ghraib” and said their volume, more than 2,000 images, showed that “it is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest level.”
It’s not clear what Obama’s tactics are here. He is well aware of the previous administration’s culpability. Perhaps he has decided that keeping his hands clean and letting Congress handle the torture investigation is the path of least resistance, one that will allow him to pursue more important matters. But this maneuver doesn’t require him to assert the few bad apples excuse. The question is why he decided to make this specious argument. And he made it on the very same day that he said the following during commencement at Arizona State.
“In recent years, in many ways, we’ve become enamored with our own success, lulled into complacency by our own achievements,” he said, citing the economic crisis. “We started taking shortcuts. We started living on credit, instead of building up savings. We saw businesses focus more on rebranding and repackaging than innovating and developing new ideas that improve our lives.” New York Times, May 13, 2009, “Work Is Never Done, Obama Tells Class”
Read these words and think about Obama’s actions yesterday. Read these words and think about some of the “shortcuts” that he has been taking. (See Andrew Sullivan’s article, “The Fierce Urgency Of Whenever,” on Obama’s backsliding on the treatment of gays.) Read these words and think about the Obama brand. And ask, who is Barack Obama really speaking about when he speaks about repackaging? Rhetorical flourishes are not going to provide him with cover if there is too great a disjunction between his words, his other words, and his deeds.
Yes, Obama cannot be expected to remake the U.S. in a 100 days. The question is whether there is a misguided expediency at work, one in which the shortest path is assumed to be established lines in the sand.
We cannot let this slogan become merely a slogan. As per Obama’s request, we will remind him, hound him, when his rudder may need some work.
The last two posts on UP@NIGHT have addressed the issue of torture. Today we learn, according to a New York Times article, that incompetence and ignorance led the Bush administration down the path of torture. The article is a must read. There is an excerpt below. I will say that it raises as many questions as it answers; for example. how could the moral imagination and understanding of our leaders be so impoverished that they were prepared simply to heed the words of so-called experts, without asking probing questions and paying attention to what could be called common sense? (I mean, certain actions seem like torture….it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.) Or how about, are the proposed “harsh” methods really as reliable as other methods? (Opinions from different camps were called for. But instead the advice our leaders wanted to hear, “we’ll get quick results,” was all that was needed to give the green light.)
Of course further investigation may reveal that they were not as ignorant as this article suggests. Time will tell.
By SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: April 21, 2009
WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
The New York Times reports the following comments by Cheney in reaction to Obama’s release of the Bush administration memos defending acts of torture:
As the debate escalated, Mr. Cheney weighed in, saying that if the country is to judge the methods used in the interrogations, it should have information about what was obtained from the tough tactics.
“I find it a little bit disturbing” that “they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Mr. Cheney said on Fox News. “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.” ”Pressure Grows to Investigate Interrogations,” April 20, 2009,
Leaving aside the fact that experts in the field have consistently challenged the utility of torture, leaving aside the fact that we could have gotten more information through alternative methods of interrogation, and leaving aside the fact that by torturing prisoners we increase the chances that our own soldiers will be tortured, what Cheney’s comments reveal is the poverty of the ethical imagination of the Bush administration.
Yes, there are good arguments to be made for taking into consideration consequences in judging whether acts are ethical. There is a whole philosophical tradition built around this notion, Utilitarianism. However, the idea that we can justify torture based on “the success” of the method, which presumably means the successful gathering of intelligence, is precisely what every declaration of human rights, including the Geneva Convention, repudiates. (As does every form of sophisticated Utilitarianism.)
Imagine if I said, let’s rape prisoners in order to get the information that we need. No decent human being would tolerate this as a legitimate means of gathering information. Rape is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being. It’s horrific to think that governments might write legal briefs defending rape on the grounds that it produced information that they needed. Yet, how different is torture from rape? It too is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being. If one thinks about what the act of torture does to another human being (and what it does to the torturer), it can be viewed as a form of rape, just as rape can be understood as a form of torture. Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s lawyers wrote legal opinions defending acts that time and again have been labeled torture.
So, here is my suggestion in response to Cheney. When he says, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity,” replace the last part of the sentence, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of raping human beings.” Now, tell me whether anyone who is even moderately ethical, or anyone who wants to defend the ideals for which this country stands, would be willing to utter such a sentence? But this is in fact a sentence that follows from Cheney’s crude consequentialism.
Cheney is a clever but hopelessly thoughtless man, who was part of a thoughtless administration. He still doesn’t understand how much damage he did to this country in his efforts to protect us. (And let’s not forget, his methods aren’t even good ones in terms of protecting the country.)
UPDATE, April 22: Former FBI supervisory agent discusses recent claims about the effectiveness of torture.
“My Tortured Decision” (excerpt)
By ALI SOUFAN, April 22, 2009, The New York Times
FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.
One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence….
Obama is to be commended for releasing the memos on torture from Bush administration officials. He met stiff resistance from those who thought we would be safer if we hid our dirty laundry, which in fact most of the world is already well aware of. On the other hand, Obama has been rightly challenged for his refusal to support the investigation of those who actually did the torturing. Yet it can be argued that the release of the documents will, in the end, help to create the political will to go after the Justice Department officials who lent their legal “counsel” to rationalizing torture. One can only hope that this is Obama’s strategy and that he did not actually mean what he said: we must let the past go in order to move ahead. (This could well be Obama’s Achilles heal, that is, he may actually be too future directed. There is more to be said here, and I hope to say it in future blogs.)
However, Obama’s middle ground—release the memos but let the small fry torturers go in order to sustain morale at the CIA—simply cannot be sustained in the face of today’s newspaper headlines, if they prove true. What we are talking about here is not a few isolated instances of torture. We are talking about a veritable house of horrors. Here is an excerpt from The New York Times:
By SCOTT SHANE
Published: April 19, 2009
C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported.
The C.I.A. officers used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum. Abu Zubaydah has been described as a Qaeda operative.
A former C.I.A. officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media organizations in 2007 that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.
The 2005 memo also says that the C.I.A. used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
An editorial in Sunday’s NY Times took a position that I had been willing to support, although uncomfortably, because I wanted to give the administration a chance to act. Here is an excerpt from this editorial:
At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the small fry — like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the Constitution.
That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.
We should indeed start with these characters. But we cannot take off the table the possibility that once an investigation begins, those who engaged in clearly defined acts of torture will face prosecution. For example, if it turns out that same CIA agents were involved in, say, over a 100 episodes of waterboarding of the same individual, it would defy the rule of law to simply turn our backs and repeat the mantra, he (or she) was only following orders. There are limits to the “coverage” that so-called legal authorization provides. Certain acts are beyond the pale even if your superiors appear to authorize them.
Yes, we can not live in the past. But we cannot use “moving forward” as an excuse to avoid facing criminal acts done in our name. And quite frankly, I don’t think that we want these individuals working for the CIA. No one is that irreplaceable. We can find good people whose boundaries are more properly in place. There are plenty of them altready in the CIA.
UPDATE, April 20/21. The New York Times is running a piece in today’s paper (April 21st) that addresses the issue of whether we can walk away from what has taken place.
The article begins:
WASHINGTON — Pressure mounted on President Obama on Monday for more thorough investigation into harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration, even as he tried to reassure the Central Intelligence Agency that it would not be blamed for following legal advice.
Mr. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward.” But there were signs that he might not be able to avoid a protracted inquiry into the use of interrogation techniques that the president’s top aides and many critics say crossed the line into torture.
UPDATE, April 21, 2009. The New York Times is now reporting that Obama is not closing the door on investigating the actions of the lawyers who defended Bush’s terrorism policies. He is still opposed to prosecuting CIA operatives.
The article suggests a significant change in the public face that the Obama administration is putting on the prospect of an investigation in just the last 24 hours. Let’s see how this plays out in the next few weeks (and months). If a special prosecutor is appointed or if Congress actually gets moving, it’s possible that we could see some sort of action taken against not only Bush’s lawyers, but those who committed the most outrageous acts of torture. (Although I am not holding my breath.)
[See "Update" from February 15th below.]
Quickly, which of these pictures doesn’t belong with the others? If you selected #3, the Guggenheim Museum, consider yourself smarter than most members of Congress. Seems that Congress can’t tell the difference between a casino, a golf course, and a museum.
The Senate pulled the plug on 50 million dollars for the National Endowment for the Arts that was originally in the stimulus bill, a pittance really, given the size of the stimulus package. But it then added insult to injury by attaching an amendment prohibiting the use of stimulus funds for, “any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway-beautification project.” And even Senator Schumer signed off on this one. (He claimed that it was an error. Hmmm. This is the guy who recently brought us “Annie Oakley” Gillibrand as the junior Senator from NY. ) New York Magazine, 2/12/09.
It appears that Congress, unlike the president, is willing to accept the notion that the arts are just another form of recreation or entertainment. The arts do entertain, and good entertainment is to be prized, but this is not all that they do. The Germans have a term for what that arts can help accomplish: Bildung. The word is not easily translated, and there has been much debate about how it should be understood. But what can be said here (this is a blog, after all, not a treatise) is that Bildung suggests (personal or social) growth through education, experience, and creative endeavors. Golf, for example, for all of its virtues as a sport, or casinos, for all of their character producing vices, will not generate Bildung. But spending time with (great) works of art may, if one is open to them. To put the matter succinctly, art is an individual and social good; it is educational in ways that casinos and golf courses are not.
I support the stimulus package. (As a matter of fact, I would argue that it’s too small.) I understand that there was a need to get the stimulus package through asap. I understand that the Republicans remain caught in a time warp. With tax cuts as their only mantra and the market still a god, they deserve John Boehner’s bombasts and Eric Cantor’s cant. But come on, did no Democrats read this amendment? First, the Democrats should have defended the money for the arts because of the unique role that they play in society. (Let’s not, for example, forget the role of artists in the WPA during the great depression.) Second, in practical terms, there is billions in this bill for people in all sorts of industries, but not a penny for artists, who also need jobs, and the non-profits that help support so many of them. Let us also not forget that the performing arts are economic engines in many communities, and yet we invest relatively little in them as a society. We expect them to live off private charity or outrageously priced tickets. The result: too many poor and middle class folks are cut off from the performing arts. (Are you listening Schumer?)
And yes, the package is also unfair to those who work in zoos and aquariums, typically non-profits, whose budgets surely will be cut in these hard times. While it’s not clear that zoos generate Bildung, although they might, they are certainly educational and serve the common good. (And they too employ people.) Obviously Congress can’t tell the difference between this, a non-profit educational institution,
Qualcomm Stadium (The name says it all)
UPDATE, February 15, 2009. “Saving Federal Arts Funds: Selling Culture as an Economic Force.” The New York Times reports that the 50 million for the arts was salvaged in the final bill. In addition, the offending language comparing museums to casinos was removed. Democrats, all is forgiven. Republicans, you are still in the dog house. Here is an excerpt from the Times column.
As the details of the final bill were being hammered out, tens of thousands of arts advocates around the country were calling and e-mailing legislators. Arts groups also organized an advertising blitz arguing that culture contributes 6 million jobs and $30 billion in tax revenue and $166 billion in annual economic impact.
The tide turned. In addition to preserving the $50 million allocation, the final bill eliminated part of the Senate amendment that would have excluded museums, theaters and arts centers from any recovery money.
“It’s a huge victory for the arts in America,” said Robert L. Lynch, the president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group. “It’s a signal that maybe there is after all more understanding of the value of creativity in the 21st-century economy.”
That Senate amendment, proposed by Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, had grouped museums, theaters and arts centers with implied frivolities like casinos and golf courses.
Don’t think we could have done it without you, George. And you knew way back when. Mission, indeed, Accomplished.
Okay, I thought that I was done thinking about Bush. Just two more days to go and he will be deep in the heart of Texas, reading all those “Drive Friendly” signs posted along the highways and byways of the Lone Star State. (A message that his foreign policy should have heeded more often.)
Unfortunately, it seems that this guy can’t leave us with any good news. His presidency has helped confirm that a large segment of the American populace is either deeply illiterate about American history or perhaps just plain bonkers (or both). I don’t know which hypothesis I prefer. A recent Pew poll tells us the following:
Here is what I want to know. Everyone is talking about how extraordinarily high Bush’s unfavorable ratings are as he leaves office, perhaps the highest ever, around 70% in some polls. And yet, more than one in ten Americans think that Bush was an above average or an outstanding president. And another 28% thinks that he was average. We can leave it to future historians to tell us whether he has been the worst president. (He might not have beaten out James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, or Warren G. Harding. Then again, he might have.) A survey of present-day historians tell us that he is going be at the bottom of the heap. (Yes, all of these historians could be deluded. Odds are they aren’t. And if George was even an average president, I tremble for the future of The Republic.)
I know, this might seem a small matter. However, I worry about stuff like this. 39% of Americans think that Bush was an average or above average president. Can there be any better argument for increasing the funds for the study of history and politics in our schools? We saw how much damage ignorance led to in the Oval Office, but no doubt it has repercussions in the hinterlands. Remember, we, the American people, elected George for a second term.
There is, however, some good news in all of this. Two of the worst presidents ever, Pierce and Buchanan, preceded Lincoln. Maybe we will get lucky. You know, it’s always darkest before the dawn. (And, hey, Obama doesn’t have to be a Lincoln to succeed. Just a truly above average president.)
P.S. A personal note: as a former Houstonian, and as someone married to a former Houstonian, I was very pleased to learn that when George heads back to Texas he will be splitting his time between Crawford and Dallas. Perhaps the Cowboys will make him an honorary dude.
In light of the VP’s recent comments on presidential authority and war (December. 21st), with a little help from an (originally color) photo of Cheney that appeared in The Onion in 2002, I offer the following images. (One caveat: I am not suggesting that Cheney is a Nazi. Dr. Strangelove is a fictional character. I am hoping that Cheney’s views become as strange to us as Dr. Strangelove in the not very distant future.)
UPDATE: Tom Brokaw likens Dick Cheney to “Dr. Strangelove” at inauguration
If you thought that the country might have a problem with McCain being too much like Bush, think again, and again….
Much of the attention regarding Palin has focused on her inexperience and duplicitous statements, e.g., about the Bridge to Nowhere. But as it turns out, Palin is not just your everyday inexperienced politician who happens to be a conservative. She is an ideologue and appears to be very Bush-like in her commitment to a loyalty culture. I can’t think of a worse combination for a president: ideologue and loyalty enforcer. And Palin is just a heartbeat away from the Oval Office if McCain becomes president. Obama and Biden, on the other hand, are moderately liberal pragmatists and their MO is compromise. I plan to write more about the contrast in the future, but I want to share here four striking “windows into Sarah” (directly quoted) from today’s (September 2nd) New York Times article, “Palin’s Start in Alaska: Not Politics as Usual.” Link to article
“Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff, and I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Mr. Stein [the previous mayor of Wassila-M.A.], who lost the election. “But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits and the religious born-again thing. I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’ ”
Ms. Palin also upended the town’s traditional ways with a surprise edict: No employee was to talk to the news media without her permission.
Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said. The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.
“Just as Ms. Palin terminated employees on her way into office, she also let some go on the way out, including Mr. Cramer. When Ms. Palin completed her second and final term, in 2002, her stepmother-in-law, Faye Palin, was running to succeed her. It seemed like a good idea, except that Faye Palin supported abortion rights and was registered as unaffiliated, not Republican, people who remember the race said. Sarah Palin sided instead with Dianne M. Keller, a religious conservative and an ally on the City Council. Ms. Keller won.”