Archive for the ‘George Bush’ Category
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.)
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.
Through careful investigative reporting, I now have an exclusive for readers of UP@NIGHT. Here are eleven facts that the MSM is simply not reporting (yet):
1. Sarah Palin returned to Alaska from the lower forty-eight by clicking her new red Pradas together three times and repeating, “There is no place like Nome.”
2. Osama bin Laden’s code name among his compatriots is, “Joe the Plumber.” And in one of the most bizarre twists in the election, it turns out that McCain’s “Joe the Plumber” is a hairless Osama look alike.
3. John McCain will be playing Saul Tigh in the last episodes of Battlestar Gallactica, if and only if he is willing to call himself a Cylon and not a Ceylonese.
4. The software program that the Obama campaign used so effectively on its web site is called Hawaii 5.0.
5. The name of Bill O’Reilly’s show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” actually refers to the role that Bill (as a double agent) hoped to play in an Obama victory; namely, Bill hoped to become the major factor in turning voters away from four more years of Republican rule.
6. George Bush was just joshing us when he kept mispronouncing the word, “nuclear.” It turns out that George has a wicked sense of humor. The last (almost) eight years have actually been a prank that he has been playing on the country. It seems that he was never The Decider, aka, the president. (The guys up in Canada who “pranked” Palin will tell you that they learned everything they know from George.)
7. John McCain secretly divorced Cindy just before he selected Sarah Palin for his VP. As part of the settlement, she agreed to stand 20 paces behind him at every campaign rally for the next six weeks and smile. In return Cindy got to keep all of their homes. John now has no where to live. (Hence, a good reason for him to stop confusing Cylon and Ceylon, see Fact #3, because he needs the extra money that an equity acting job will bring him.)
8. Dick Cheney’s identical (and evil) twin, Clyde Cheney, has actually been VP. Dick was removed from office two weeks after the inauguration when it became clear that he simply couldn’t tolerate Rovean tactics, sweet man that he is. The real Dick Cheney has been living as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago and is known in the neighborhood as My Man DC. (That’s the real Dick below.)
9. Obama’s first name is not Barack, and it’s not even Barry. It’s “Arthur.” But ever since he decided to become president in kindergarten, he has worried that having the name Arthur might lead envious opponents to refer to him as “King Arthur.” Bad news for a black dude. Thinking ahead, as he is wont to do, he asked his school teachers to call him Barry. And then at just the right strategic moment to make his run for president, he settled on the name Barack in college.
10. Idaho, the birthplace of Sarah Palin, was never admitted to the Union. We pretended to admit Idaho because we felt sorry for it due to its name and shape, and we wanted its potatoes. So Sarah Palin couldn’t have become VP even if McCain had won. You Betcha! (If you don’t believe this fact, look it up. There’s going to be a new Wikipedia entry explaining the whole scam.)
11. Joe Lieberman’s middle name is “Loyalty,” Joe Loyalty Lieberman; and he is actually a Klingon, albeit a confused one, confusing John McCain with the Klingon Empire.
Stay tuned for more facts as they become available…..
On August 9th, The Decider spoke at the Olympics on national sovereignty:
“Georgia is a sovereign nation, and its territorial integrity must be respected….We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for the end of the Russian bombings.” “Georgia and Russia Nearing All-Out-War,” New York Times, August 9th.
Really George, territorial integrity? Mighty strong words from a man who began a war against a country that had not attacked us and was not a threat to us.
Just what are Bush’s remarks worth on the world stage given how the U.S. has behaved? Tears and laughter. But unfortunately this is not solely Bush’s issue. The American people elected him and then reelected him in 2004. In addition, it appears that Bush 3.0, the John McCain version, actually has a substantial number of Americans willing to vote for him. (How many years in Iraq, John? Did you say, 1,000? And what about Iran?) And guess what, McCain claims, “In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.” It’s just so twentieth-century.
In August of 2002, when Bush was still riding high in the popularity polls, I wrote a piece wondering about why the American people didn’t see that Bush was a lemon. Oh, I knew the answers. Of course there was the cynical use of 9/11 (but it was a year later). I knew how the Republican machine had worked since Nixon to divide the country and make so-called liberals appear to be unpatriotic and elitist. (Just as McCain is now trying to do by attacking Obama as a celebrity/elitist.) I knew about their use of racial divides to win the South, etc. But I still wondered. Why did I wonder? Because Americans typically have a pretty good nose for a lousy product. They are good consumers. And Bush was obviously a lemon.
On this theme, I offer an echo from the past, namely, a piece that I did not publish and which I did not even bother to edit for publication. I gave up in frustration. What could political humor do when things were so bleak? But now with the ease of publishing blogs, and the prospects for a real change in November, I offer it as I left it on August 20th, 2002 (except for the graphics and a fixed typo). My, how times have changed. When I wrote it I thought that I was insulting Bush. I now realize that I was in fact insulting the Edsel.
Oh, there is one other reason for offering this now. I hear that part of McCain’s new energy program will put an Edsel in every Republican’s garage. Fabulous gas millage (if you are Exxon/Mobil).
I’ve been thinking about the return of the Edsel. For those too young to remember, the Edsel was a line of cars produced by Ford in the late 1950′s. Actually I am barely old enough to remember. Although I do remember images of the Edsel: long, often two-toned, front grilled with what appeared to be a cross between a giant mouth and a nose , and generally very shiny all around. A glitzy wildebeest of a car. The Edsel was named after Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford, who served as the nominal president of Ford Motor company, seemed to be a nice enough guy, died at only 49 in 1943, graciously suffering for years under the heavy hand of Henry.
But I am not here to talk about the man Edsel Ford. It’s the idea of the car that’s gotten under my skin. The Edsel became synonymous in my youth with the word “lemon,” as in, that’s a real lemon or that’s an Edsel. It was widely ridiculed. People thought it a silly thing. No one in his right mind would buy one. Yet I don’t recall that its problems were mainly mechanical. People seemed to object to the very idea of the critter, for it was all glitter, and seemingly would not have come into existence had not a very rich and powerful man, Henry, wanted to honor the memory of his son. Its merits were few. It had not earned its place on the open road. It was an upstart. Today we might disparage it as a consumer item calculated to appeal to the tastes of omnivorous Yuppies, except that we do not frown on Yuppie longings as people might have in 1958, nor would today’s Yuppies be caught dead in something so ostentatious. It seems that one of the main problems with the Edsel was that it could not decide on what it wanted to be. It was pitched as a luxury item, yet it just might have a blue collar soul, or at least the pretense of one. People were suspicious. Its outside did not match its inner core. It was an inauthentic auto. And it didn’t take long for Americans back in the late 1950′s to realize that Ford was trying to pull off a marketing coup at their expense. The Edsel line lasted three years, but people laughed as the first models rolled off the assembly line
. For years now I have been envious of my elders because they were fortunate enough to experience and appreciate the Edsel phenomenon, namely, people collectively rising up and saying as they chuckled, “hell no, we are not so stupid as to actually buy a trophy car because corporate America and Madison Avenue tell us that we should.” I have always wanted a chance to experience the American people rallying in this fashion, laughing at the big guys, putting them in their place, bringing the house down. And just recently I came to believe that my chance was at hand. Isn’t it obvious, I thought, that George Bush is an Edsel. Can he not be likened to a car whose career was born of the right connections? Is this man not an upstart? Had this man done anything before becoming president to earn his position? Can anyone imagine that he would have gotten to where he is now if his dad had not been president? Is there not, even for a politician, an unusually transparent mismatch between the core George Bush–ill informed, self-serving, glib yet insecure, business failure, a man with little reason for holding his job except that it serves his friends well–and the image that his handlers present of an involved, well-informed, caring, active, hands-on, captain-of-industry kind of guy? Is he not like the Edsel, all presentation and an unreliable heart.
Sad to say, things have not gone according to plan. In 1958 it didn’t take long for the American people to figure out that the Edsel had to go. It was a mistake. It should never have been made. Yet in 2002 I look around and I don’t understand why people can’t see that there is an Edsel parked right there in the middle of the Oval Office. I fear that something has gone very wrong with us Americans. Have our critical faculties have abandoned us? Are we no longer as savvy as our ancestors? Has the sophistication of Madison Avenue and political consultants broken our will to resist? Do we care less about the presidency than a car? Are we just tired? Is there some sort of kryptonite lying around messing with our superpower powers? Questions come more easily than answers.
I don’t know about you, but I worry a lot about these matters. I lie awake nights and then on the days that follow I can’t take my mind off them. I try to occupy my days by doing the right thing. I try to be a good American and support the economy. I go shopping, moving from one national chain to another. But I can’t seem to buy anything that makes me understand what has happened. Unenlightened, I return home. I try to watch some TV, but there on the tube all I can see are the ever-present faces of the winsome threesome, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ashcroft, reminding me of their boss. I become discouraged. I try to sleep. I go to bed and say my prayers. Please, Lord, tomorrow when it is morning in America, let the people wake to the realization that they have been sold an Edsel. And then let them listen to what their dad and their dad’s dad taught them. Don’t hold on to a lemon. It won’t get any better. Sell it and make it someone else’s headache.
In a television interview with Bob Costas on Sunday, August 10th, 2008, George Bush told the nation, “I don’t see America having problems.” The response: People laughed. “Just what planet does this guy orbit? I mean, really, no problems, George.”
Here is the strange part. George pretty much got away with passing this sentiment off as “state of the art” for a good part of his administration. We didn’t have problems. We had adversaries. Scary ones, indeed. And once we dealt a blow to them, we wouldn’t have any problems. End of story.
The summer of 2002, after the Afghanistan War had begun, but before the war in Iraq had started, I wrote an essay focusing on how there really was something wrong in America, how we knew it, and how we wouldn’t admit it. But it was simply too out of sync with the times to bother editing for publication. I reread it a few years ago and it still seemed out of sync with the times. If we could just deal with Iraq and terrorism, it would be morning (or at least noon) in America….
But now the essay doesn’t seem so out of touch. The war in Iraq is generally acknowledged to have been a terrible mistake and the economy is tanking. And this has opened the door for more somber reflections. So I offer “The Ostrich Factor,” here and now, unedited (except for very minor corrections and photos) from August 7, 2002. Why? Because we really need a major change of direction in this country, and we have one candidate running for President who appears to believe that if only we could just do away with Islamic radicals, America would pretty much be okay (with a few band aids here and there).
I can feel It. I am sure you can too. It’s no secret. It is there in the shadows of your neighbors’ smiles. It is there behind the strained avowals that America has become a land of solidarity since 9/11. We feel that something has gone wrong with America, and whatever It is preceded the horror of 9/11 and will not disappear in a struggle against its perpetrators. Certainly It is difficult to diagnose and discuss. And in political circles virtually impossible. Jimmy Carter was the last significant political figure who was willing to take on the role of messenger regarding It, famously pronouncing that there was a “crisis of the spirit” in America and a “national malaise.” He actually used the bully pulpit to raise questions about whether the nation had lost its bearings. For his efforts he was trounced in his bid to be reelected by Ronald Reagan, a man whose handlers told us that It did not exist, and that it was really “morning in America.” Of course Carter didn’t lose the election solely because he spoke of these matters. But his attempt to address them left a footprint so deep that no politician since has been willing to engage in a sustained discussion of them.
Politicians do not discuss them. We do not discuss them. We try to bury them as we do the feelings for an ailing friend. America is just fine, thank you. And soon it will be morning again…once we take care of foreign threats and get the economy rolling.
But the economy did roll in the 1990′s, and it was a high time for many. On this we can all agree. Yet if this as good as it gets in America, just where are we? Will posterity remember that we became the promised light on the hill as the Nasdaq went into orbit? Quite the contrary. We dreamed even less than usual of vital collective undertakings during these years. Think for a moment. Just what was our last great national mission? Was it going to the moon, ridding the country of poverty, extending civil rights to all? And who in power speaks of such matters in anything but platitudes these days? We laud past deeds and mouth vacuities about glories to come. We wear little flags on our lapels. But we focus on early retirement. And we certainly don’t discuss whether we have lost our way or if our collective life is meaningful. We prefer the of pretense of “I’m ok and you’re ok.” Is this what happens when great countries enter their twilight years?
A sometimes wise individual once told me that people will buy almost anything when they are unhappy. He was referring to goods, consumer items, commodities. There is no doubt a lot of truth here. More than may be obvious at first. For as any psychologically inclined type will tell you, when there is malaise, depression, ennui, anomie, insecurity, lack of direction, alienation, etc., people will find all sorts of ways to compensate, especially when they are unwilling to confront them and acknowledge them. One way is filling up one’s time with mindless and mind numbing activities, consuming for the sake of conspicuous consumption, for instance. Another is to give oneself over to mania or frenzy–Dow 20,000. Another is to find demons to blame for whatever may be making you feel uncomfortable. The latter may be an especially congenial path if you have spent most of your adult life deeply accustomed to fending off a powerful and dangerous adversary such as the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, our attitude toward “It” appears to be coupled with our attitude toward adversaries. Allow me a seeming digression.
When was the last time that you counted the number of wars that we have been involved in over the last fifty years? There was the Korean War and the Cold War, the latter some forty years long. There was the war in Vietnam, in the Gulf, in Grenada, assorted military actions, countless proxy wars, and now a war in Afghanistan, a war on terrorism, and maybe a war in Iraq. However, it seems that foreign nationals are not our only adversaries, for we have also had wars on drugs, poverty, cancer, organized crime, etc. We have had a lot of wars. I know, some will say this comes with superpower territory. And surely many of them were necessary, you will say. But I say, we seem to have a difficult time thinking about problems and getting motivated to do something about them without framing our response in terms of war. There are surely historical and cultural explanations for this phenomenon. I will leave them to the side here. I will say that whatever else our track record shows, it shows that we have often exhibited a rather peculiar mind set since the end of the second world war. Think about it, a war on drugs, a war on poverty, a war on cancer, etc. It’s really quite a strange way to approach these problems. Yet we have come to take it for granted. If we have a problem, we throw a war at It.
This brings us back to It. We are a practical people. We like to draw the lines in the sand. We like to solve problems. We like to move on. But no one seems to know where we should be going. The frontier is dead and the New Frontier turned out to be a bust. We live from pay check to the promise of a comfortable retirement. We feel that something is deeply wrong but can’t put our finger on It. How then will we deal with It? What will be our response? To even acknowledge that we have lost our way has come to seem unpatriotic, a denial that it is morning in America. Surely there will be a temptation to handle it by moving into familiar territory. And war I am afraid is very familiar territory. If I were living in Iraq right now, I would be losing a lot of sleep, because Americans are losing a lot of sleep, and they don’t know why, and they are not discussing it. One thing is for certain, however, whatever It is will not go away with the defeat of Saddam Hussein or any other two bit villain.