mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Scott Walker, Lost In Translation”: And A Big “Kaboom” To You And The Family

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), the son of a Baptist preacher, frequently talks about his Christian faith. But his familiarity with other religions, especially in a state in which minority faiths represent a tiny percentage of the population, appears to be rather limited.

Occasionally, that can be a problem.

The Capital Times in Madison reports today, for example, on an unfortunate incident from Walker’s tenure in Milwaukee, before he was elected governor.

In an undated letter unearthed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now during the August release of documents from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor, Walker responded to a letter from Milwaukee attorney and chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Franklyn Gimbel.

Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating “The Eight Days of Chanukah” at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker’s secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.

The letter is signed, “Thank you again and Molotov.”

Oh dear.

In all likelihood, Walker intended to write, “Mazel tov,” which is a Jewish phrase used to congratulate someone or wish them well.

“Molotov,” on the other hand, is a word more commonly associated with “a variety of bottle-based improvised incendiary weapons.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 10, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Religion, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Enhanced Interviewing”: Five Questions Chuck Todd Should Ask Dick Cheney On Sunday

This Sunday, Dick Cheney will be interviewed by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. If the former vice president’s previous appearances on that program and others are any indication, he will likely say things that are untrue, and say them with that quiet yet firm Cheneyesque confidence that makes it clear that anyone who disagrees with him is either a fool or a traitor, if not both.

So I thought it would be worthwhile to offer Todd some suggestions on questions he might ask Cheney, in order to elicit the most revealing answers as we have this vital debate on our recent past.

You have long insisted that techniques like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are not torture. In order to come to that conclusion, you must have a definition of torture that those techniques do not meet. So what is your definition of torture?

This may seem like a matter of semantics, but it is an absolutely central question to this entire debate, and one that neither Cheney nor any of the other Bush administration defenders of the torture program have ever answered. When asked, Cheney has always simply insisted that we didn’t torture, and that the “enhanced” techniques we used aren’t torture Why? Because they aren’t. Unlike most sane Americans, I’ve actually read Cheney’s turgid memoir, “In My Time,” and there too he simply states flatly that “The program was safe, legal, and effective,” but not torture.

There is a common definition of torture — the infliction of extreme physical or mental suffering in order to obtain information or a confession — that is reflected in U.S. law, the UN Convention Against Torture, and in the minds of pretty much everyone around the world. Under no reasonable interpretation of the term would something like stress positions, which are designed to produce excruciating pain and which have been used as a torture technique for centuries, not qualify. But Cheney doesn’t agree. So he really ought to tell us what he thinks does constitute torture.

We’ll have a new president in two years. Would you advise him or her to restart the torture program?

Two days after taking office in 2009, Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the use of cruel and degrading techniques, and declaring that all U.S. personnel, whether in the CIA or any other agency, would have to abide by the interrogation guidelines set out in the Army Field Manual. It also revoked a 2007 order signed by President Bush, which had declared that “members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces” were outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

What I asked yesterday applies here: Since Cheney is an enthusiastic defender of the torture program in place during the Bush years, and since there are still terrorists in the world, one might presume that he believes not only that it was right to torture suspects in the past, but that we should continue to torture suspects in the future. He should have the chance to make clear whether that is in fact what he believes, and what his advice to the next president would be.

If things like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are “safe, legal, and effective,” but are not torture, would you recommend that other countries also use them on prisoners they hold?

Some liberals have noted that Cheney’s implicit position is that these techniques are not torture if we perform them, but would be torture if someone else did. Since this is obviously not something anyone would admit to believing, Cheney should be asked directly if he thinks other countries should also start using these techniques. That would apply to our allies, but it could also apply to less friendly countries like China or Russia. And of course, the natural follow-up is: If an American is captured in some conflict and is subjected to things like waterboarding and stress positions, would Cheney tell that person that not only hadn’t he been tortured, but he had been treated in a safe and legal manner?

During the run-up to the Iraq War and in its early days, you told the American people many things that were false. I know you still believe that all things considered, the war was the right thing to do. But do you think that if you and other members of the Bush administration had argued only from what you actually knew to be true, the public would have supported the war?

The Iraq War’s defenders furiously resist the idea that it was sold on false premises. Some of the things administration representatives said, like “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” were misleading bits of fear-mongering, but were technically hypothetical. However, many of the other things they said were provably false. That’s why, if and when Todd asks such a question, he should have some specifics at hand to keep Cheney from simply asserting that it was all a matter of interpretation and our judgment based on what we thought at the time. What distinguished Cheney’s remarks from those of some of his colleagues was that they were spoken without any qualification or hedging, but were stated as undeniable facts.

For instance, in an August 26, 2002, speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cheney said: “We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” That was false. He also said: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Not only was this not true, the idea that there was “no doubt” about it was also not true — it was a matter of vigorous debate within the intelligence community, a fact of which Cheney was surely aware.

In an appearance a week later on Meet the Press, Cheney said, “we do know, with absolute certainty, that [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Tim Russert then asked: “He does not have a nuclear weapon now?” And Cheney replied, “I can’t say that. I can say that I know for sure that he’s trying to acquire the capability.”

Or there’s his statement that “it’s been pretty well confirmed” that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta traveled to Prague to meet with Iraqi intelligence officials, an utterly bogus story that was nothing like “pretty well confirmed” when Cheney made the claim. I could go on, but it’s worth probing whether Cheney thinks that deceiving the public in the manner they did was necessary to achieve what he sees as a greater good.

Since the end of the recession, the economy has created over 10 million new jobs. Even if we count from the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency when hundreds of thousands of jobs were being shedded every month, he has still overseen the creation of a net of six million jobs. In its eight years in office, the Bush administration created a net of 1.3 million jobs. Why has Barack Obama done better than your administration did on job creation?

This is a non-torture-related bonus question. Perhaps Cheney would respond, as many conservatives would, that Barack Obama deserves no credit for anything good that happens with the American economy. But the follow-up would then be, does that mean George W. Bush had no effect on the economy either? The Bush administration enacted huge tax cuts which, all the administration’s representatives assured the public, would result in an explosion of job growth. That never happened. How would Cheney explain it?

One thing we should be able to agree on is that Todd shouldn’t waste his time with Cheney doing things like handicapping the 2016 presidential race. Cheney doesn’t answer questions very often, so when he does, the interviewer ought to make the most of the opportunity.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, Torture | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why They Are Dead, Horribly Wrong”: What Democrats Whine About When They Whine About ObamaCare

Democrats have reacted to crushing losses in November’s midterm elections in the usual manner: with a circular firing squad. And one of the targets has been the signature policy of the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York took the lead earlier this month, arguing that it was a mistake for Democrats to pass comprehensive health care reform. Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) has come to the same conclusion for different reasons.

While it’s not surprising that this argument has intensified after the midterm bloodbath, it isn’t a new one. Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank was saying the same things in 2012, and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel urged Obama to abandon health care reform in 2010, after the election of Scott Brown to the Senate cost Democrats their brief filibuster-proof majority.

But whether made now or at the time, whether from the left, right, or center, whether driven by policy or pragmatism, all of these arguments have one thing in common: they’re dead wrong. Horribly wrong. Wrong about the ACA, wrong about what was possible in 2010, and wrong about American political history in general.

Before analyzing each variation of the claim that Democrats were wrong to pass the ACA, it’s important to start with this: the ACA has been a remarkable policy success. It has substantially reduced the number of Americans without health insurance, and in so doing has alleviated a great deal of needless suffering, anxiety, and financial stress. It has slowed the growth in health care costs. And its medley of wonky reforms has improved health outcomes.

Furthermore, had it been allowed to work as intended, rather than having its Medicaid expansion ineptly re-written by the Supreme Court and obstructed by Republican statehouses, the scope of the achievement would be even greater.

The ACA doesn’t represent optimal health care policy by any means — to find a better one you need only throw a dart at a map of Western Europe. But it’s a success that Democrats should be very proud of, one that can stand alongside the great achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society.

Arguments that Democrats should not have done health care face a very, very high burden of proof. And they don’t even come close.

Democrats should have focused on something else.
This is a recurring theme in the anti-ACA arguments being made by Democrats. Schumer says Democrats should have focused on the “middle class” rather than health care reform, while Frank argued that the Democrats should have emphasized financial reform instead.

The main problem with these arguments is that no alternative course of action would be remotely worth trading for the ACA. As Paul Krugman points out, “focusing” on the economy in and of itself has no value, and Schumer can’t point to any concrete policy that would have passed had the Democrats not pursued comprehensive health care reform. There was not going to be a second major round of stimulus no matter what. The Obama administration didn’t do nearly enough for underwater homeowners, but this failure was independent of the ACA.

The only alternative policy course that could have arguably been preferable to the ACA would have been legislation addressing climate change. But given the Senate’s heavy tilt towards conservative fossil-fuel states, cap-and-trade legislation was always going to be stillborn. The idea that two Democratic senators from North Dakota, two Democratic senators from Montana, Mary “I’m going to my political grave defending the Keystone pipeline” Landrieu, and other relatively conservative Democrats were all going to vote for major climate change legislation is fantastical. In addition, much of what cap-and-trade would have accomplished can be addressed through regulatory action, which is not the case with health care.

Democrats should have waited for a pony.
Harkin’s argument is somewhat different — and is superficially more appealing — than Schumer’s. Instead of arguing that health care reform was a misguided priority, Harkin argues that the ACA wasn’t good enough. “We should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all,” he asserts. Democrats should have tried for “single-payer right from the get go or at least put a public option [which] would have simplified a lot.”

This is like saying that Democrats should have gotten “two weeks at the penthouse suite at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco…or at least a night at the Motel 6 in Tulsa.” It misleadingly conflates two very different policies with two different political possibilities. Single-payer would certainly have been a better policy than the ACA, but it would be hard to get 20 votes for it in the Senate, let alone 60. (It’s worth noting that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2009 single-payer bill had a grand total of zero co-sponsors.)

The question of the public option is more complicated. There are variants of the public option — most obviously a universally available Medicare buy-in — that would have been major reforms, representing a pathway to single-payer. But that is precisely why a robust public option was as DOA in Congress as single-payer itself. The public option in the House bill — which would not have been universally available or cheaper than private alternatives — was small potatoes that would not have made the ACA simpler, more popular, or significantly more progressive. And even so, there almost certainly weren’t the votes in the Senate to pass even the neutered version of the public option.

Should the Democrats have just given up then, as Harkin suggests?

No. Let’s put this in historical perspective. Harry Truman tried and failed to pass comprehensive health care reform. Lyndon Johnson, in extraordinarily favorable circumstances, failed to pass comprehensive health care reform. Ted Kennedy’s efforts under the Nixon administration failed. Bill Clinton’s efforts failed. The idea that Democrats will nationalize the health insurance industry the next chance they get is just the purest wishful thinking. And the idea that millions of people should be denied health insurance for such a long-odds gamble is not merely wrong but immoral.

Democrats would have avoided big losses in the midterms.
At the core of these arguments is the fact that the ACA is unpopular, which presumably played a major role in the Democratic Party losing big in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. This argument might be the least convincing of all.

Let’s set aside the fact that Democrats held on to the Senate in 2010 and 2012, despite the ACA’s unpopularity, as well as the presidency. The argument, at its core, is deeply problematic. It presumes that Democrats should maintain power as an end in itself. But it’s not an end in itself — the point of being elected is to do things that benefit your constituents. What’s the point of political capital if you don’t spend it?

Again, it’s worth putting things in historical perspective. The problem with waiting for the perfect, risk-free time to pass major reform legislation is that there’s never a perfect time. There have been three major periods of progressive reform legislation in Congress between the Civil War and 2008. (The fact that there have been only three should give pause to those who think that Obama, Reid, and Nancy Pelosi are worthless sellouts because they failed to completely transform the American political economy in Obama’s first two years.) In 1966, Great Society Democrats lost 47 seats in the House and three in the Senate, a preview of the crack-up of the Democratic coalition that would (with a detour created by Watergate) lead to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. In 1938, New Deal Democrats lost 72 seats in the House and seven in the Senate, and this tally doesn’t account for the failure of FDR’s efforts to defeat anti-New Deal Democrats in the primaries. In 1874, the Reconstruction-era Republicans lost 93 (out of 293) seats in the House and a net of seven seats in the Senate, effectively ending Reconstruction.

Does this mean that Lyndon Johnson shouldn’t have signed the Civil Rights Act? That FDR should have waited until he didn’t need Southern segregationists to pass New Deal legislation? That Republicans should have nominated Andrew Johnson rather than Ulysses S. Grant in 1868? Of course not.

The perfect response to these kind of arguments was made by Pelosi: “We come here to do a job, not keep a job. There are more than 14 million reasons why that’s wrong.” This is exactly right. The window for progressive reform in the United States is always narrow and treacherous — you get the best you can get when you have the chance. The unpopularity of the greatest progressive achievement passed by Congress in nearly five decades is unfortunate, but misguided Monday-morning quarterbacking isn’t the right response.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, Professor of Political Science at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y.; The Week, December 11, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Democrats, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Talk”: What If Whites Were The Minority?

In the responses to my “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” series, I’ve been struck by the lack of empathy some whites show for members of minority groups. So imagine if the world were reversed. Then “the talk” might go like this:

“Son, sit down. You’re 13, old enough to have a conversation that I’ve been dreading.”

“Oh, come on, Dad. I hope this isn’t about the birds and the bees.”

“Nope. That’d be easy. Have you seen the video of the white horticulturalist being choked to death by police?”

“All the kids have seen it. He says he can’t breathe, and black cops still kill him. [Expletive!]”

“Don’t curse. It is wrong, but it’s the way the world works. And that’s why Mom and I are scared for you. With us whites in the minority, some cops are just going to see you as a threat no matter what. You’re going to get stopped by black cops, and I want you to promise you’ll never run or mouth off. Mom and I can’t protect you out there, and white kids are 21 times as likely as black kids to be shot dead by police. So even when a cop curses you, I want you to call him Sir.”

“Anybody curses me, he won’t get away with it.”

“Yes, he will. And if he shoots you, he might get away with it, too. Especially when you keep wearing clothes all the other white boys wear like those polo shirts. Black cops see you in them and suspect trouble. Black folks make the rules, and we have to live by them. Like it or not.”

“[Expletive!] Racists!”

“Hey! I told you not to curse. And don’t hold it against all blacks. Lots have joined with whites in protesting these killings. And even for those who are unsympathetic, most aren’t evil, just clueless.”

“C’mon, Dad. When a 12-year-old white kid is shot dead because he’s holding a toy gun, when a white woman professor is thrown to the ground for jaywalking, when cops smash a car window to taser a white guy in front of kids, that’s not cluelessness. That’s evil. White lives matter.”

“It’s complicated. Remember when you were suspended in the fourth grade for being disruptive?”

“That was ridiculous.”

“Yup. White kids get suspended when black kids don’t. That’s just the way it is. But the black vice principal who suspended you — he’s the same guy who enthusiastically organizes White History Month each year. Intellectually, he believes in civil rights. But he kicks out white kids for the same reason doctors give less pain medication to white patients. Same reason that in experiments a résumé that is identifiably white gets fewer callbacks than the exact same résumé from a black person. It’s not on purpose, but people ‘otherize’ us. That’s why you’ll have to work harder to succeed in life — and even then you’ll be followed around department stores by security guys.”

“O.K., Dad. Anyway, I got to go.”

“Society cares about inequality. But the big inequality debate is about rich and poor, and some folks don’t seem to notice all the inequality that comes with race. White Americans have a per capita income that’s lower than in Equatorial Guinea, and life expectancy is roughly the same as in Sri Lanka. The system here is sometimes rigged. Cops stop and frisk whites four times as often as they do blacks. And that criminal record hurts your chance to get a good job, to marry, to vote. Everybody makes mistakes, but black kids get the benefit of the doubt. You don’t, simply because you’re white.”

“Dad, I got it. Can I go now?”

“I guess 13-year-olds aren’t made for listening. Look, this thing we call ‘race’ is such a petty thing in biological terms. A minor adaptation in the last 100,000 years. Race is a social construct. It shouldn’t be what defines us.”

“Hm. Feels pretty important to me.”

“Well, it kills, and that’s why we’re having this talk. But there is also great progress. It’s incredible that we finally have our very first white president.”

“Who lots of blacks say was born in Europe! And whose sons get dissed for embarrassing the White House for dressing like the rest of us.”

“I’m glad the news reports jumped all over those comments. But I wish everyone were as outraged by destructive policies. When our education policy is to send so many white kids to third-rate schools, that’s worse than any racial epithet.”

“OK. Later, Dad!”

“Just remember: Some blacks just don’t get it, but black privilege isn’t their fault. If things were reversed and we whites were in the majority, we might be just as oblivious.”

“Dad, we whites would never be like that!”

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 10, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Minorities, Race and Ethnicity, Whites | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Authority Crisis Roils America”: Police Abuse, Torture And Authoritarianism Run Amok

There is so much that’s horrifying about what’s now simply called “the torture report,” the redacted summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into years of unforgivable CIA abuse post-9/11. But one thing that recurs disturbingly often is anal rape imagery: examples of “rectal feeding,” of rectal exams that used “excessive force,” and “at least one instance,” according to the report, of threatened sodomy with a broomstick.

Am I the only one who thought about Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was not just threatened but actually sodomized with a broomstick by the New York Police Department’s Justin Volpe in 1997? The torture report’s release, in the wake of grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and right here in New York, where Louima was tortured, reminds us of the danger of unaccountable state power.

Yet an undercurrent of authoritarianism in American culture — and a particular American deference to authority figures who are supposed to “protect” us – threatens to let it go unchecked.

To be fair, many Americans are horrified by the torture report’s revelations. And many Americans believe police officers should be held accountable when they use excessive force and harm or kill Americans, of any race. But there’s a disturbing impulse evident lately, to excuse abuses of power on the part of those who are charged with protecting us, whether cops or the post-9/11 CIA. I don’t care what we did!former Bush flack Nicolle Wallace shrieked on “Morning Joe” Monday. And she spoke for too many Americans. (Though not for her former boss Sen. John McCain.)

I watched the debate over the torture report unfurl all day Tuesday, online, in print and on television. All the coverage focused on a few questions: whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein is right that torture didn’t work; whether the report might produce blowback by our enemies; whether the CIA is being scapegoated for Bush administration decisions. There was shockingly little emphasis on the fact that torture is illegal and a war crime, banned by the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. Convention against torture ratified under a supportive Ronald Reagan, and by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code.

So much in the torture report should appall Americans, above and beyond the many details of depravity. CIA officials lied about who they had in custody. They lied about what they were doing. They destroyed evidence. They tortured two of their own informants. At least 20 percent of the people they detained, as examined by investigators, were held wrongfully. They paid $81 million to two psychologists who knew nothing about al-Qaida, terrorism or the war against them. They didn’t fully brief President Bush until April 2006, after 38 of 39 detainees had already been interrogated.

This should be an issue that unites civil libertarians on the left and the right – as should excessive force by police — but the authoritarian impulse is stronger on the right. Libertarianism also seems overwhelmed by the prevailing resentment of President Obama, and the changing America that he represents. Still, it’s amazing: Even as wingnuts deride Obama as a fascist and a tyrant, they applaud excessive force by police officers and CIA officials.

It’s also amazing that it’s taken two years to get a redacted executive summary of the “torture report” released. Let’s remember that we’re merely talking about sharing information about the Senate’s investigation into torture, not about indicting or punishing anyone. At least grand juries considered whether to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo in the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. There has been no such process regarding CIA torturers.

Which is not to say the grand jury process in Ferguson or Staten Island delivered justice to those men’s families. Nor have the families of John Crawford and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, African-Americans killed by police while holding toy guns, even gotten a fair and clear accounting of how their sons died. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white men, yet white people’s confidence in police fairness, and doubts about cops’ racial bias, have never been higher, while African-Americans’ is understandably at a record low.

Thankfully Abner Louima’s attackers were punished; Volpe is serving 30 years in prison, and Louima won a settlement of $8.7 million – the largest police brutality settlement in New York history at the time. The Louima rape happened to take place under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has emerged as the chief defender of cops who kill in the last two weeks. Giuliani’s career is an example of how the authoritarian impulse in American politics often prevails.

I don’t know why the worst element in law enforcement – locally and globally – turns to rape when left unchecked. But since rape is about power, it may be the ultimate example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Weirdly, the incorrigible neocon Danielle Pletka made a reference to rape, or at least the botched Rolling Stone story on rape, in the New York Times, when attacking the Senate’s torture report. “It has become the norm,” she complained, “to act based on false reports; to close fraternities because of rapes that may or may not have happened; to release terrorists because it is inconvenient to keep them.”

How strange that Pletka would reference rape in this context. Or maybe not. The right-wing backlash that defends torture and police abuse also agitates to restore a culture that blames rape victims for what happened to them, and excuses all but the most violent sexual assault as boys just being boys. Human progress is marked by the rejection of all such abuses of power; it feels like we’re living in a time when such progress is stalled, temporarily.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 10, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Police Brutality, Torture | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: