A New Age of Liberalism?

The Republican National Conventional appears to have turned voters off. That’s the result of a CNN/ORC poll that asked, “Does what you saw or read of the Republican National Convention in Tampa make you more likely or less likely to vote for Mitt Romney?” The “less likelies” were ahead of the “more likelies” by ten percentage points.

It’s too soon to know how much post-convention bounce went to President Obama, but all indicators so far point to some kind of bounce. And the Dems put more unapologetic liberalism on display at that convention than I have seen in a long, long time. Some rightie blogger wrote that it was the most liberal convention since McGovern’s, and he may have been right. Of course, I see that as a feature, not a bug.

Yes, the 1972 convention probably hurt McGovern more than it helped him, but that was 1972. This is 2012. A lot has changed in 40 years. Most notably, 1972 was the all-time peak year for real wages for working Americans; wages have been on a long, wavering decline ever since.

Since at least the late 1970s and 1980s Republicans have been pushing the snake oil of tax cuts, deregulation, and slashing “entitlements” as the cure-all for whatever ails the economy, and it seems to me that scam has about run its course. Even people who don’t follow politics all that closely are catching on, it appears. And after years of right-wing ideology dominating our nation’s political discourse, the Dems talked about citizenship, for pity’s sake, and it was a breath of fresh air.

At Daily Kos, Laurence Lewis wrote about the Republican death spiral.

The Republicans have no future. From climate change to national security to the economy to social justice and human rights, the list of issues on which the Democrats and public opinion are moving forward while the Republicans are stagnating if not attempting to move backward is endless. They can’t win on the issues. They can’t win on their freak show personalities. They can’t win using the principles of democracy and republic. The only hope for the Republicans is to lie, cheat and steal, and they are attempting exactly that. And to a party that now is habitually and congenitally opposed to basic scientific realities, lies aren’t incidental to their political strategies, they are in fact the basis of their world view. To a party that is openly bigoted against the diverse demographics that the rest of the nation not only celebrates but has become, voter suppression and the undermining of democracy isn’t but a political means to an ends, it is the inevitable desperation of the soon-to-be extinct. Their last and only hope is that they can buy a last election or two, and encode into law, and legislate from the bench into the Constitution an end to democracy itself.

This is right, which is why we cannot be complacent. The November election could still be close. A lot of states will remain snowed under by ultra-conservative legislatures and governors. A shrinking minority of right-wingers could very well keep progress in check for several years to come.

But the Buddha said — his last words, in fact — all compounded things will decay. It’s clear to me the wave of “movement conservatism” that picked up momentum from Goldwater and Reagan is now in its decaying phase, even as its takeover of the Republican Party is complete. Were it not for the media-“think tank” infrastructure keeping it alive, it probably would be gone already.

Now the Republican Party, which has bet all its chips on “movement conservatism” living forever, is in big trouble. It is being bankrolled by a small pool of mega-wealthy cranks and led by ideologues who cannot think, see, or feel outside of a very small box. And those two factors will prevent the GOP from adapting gracefully to a changing political ecosystem.

In short, we may soon see the dinosaurs die off and be replaced by scrappy little mammals.

Again, I don’t expect wingnutism to disappear in a puff of smoke the day after the November election. But by 2022, IMO, the GOP will have either shoved “movement conservatism” back to the fringe, or it will be dissolving into history to join the Whigs. And if one of those two things hasn’t happened, it will mean that today’s Republicans were successful in scuttling democracy itself.

See also “For the Romney campaign, it’s forever 1980.”

Gitmo Files Leaked

Wikileaks has released information on Guantanamo detainees. And as a lot of us have been saying, many of the people held there were completely innocent.

An assessment of 780 people detained at Gitmo at one time or another shows that 220 really were/are dangerous terrorists. Another 380 were “foot soldiers,” low-level people with ties to various extremist or insurgent groups but who had no access to intelligence.

And at least 150 were completely innocent Aghanis and Pakistanis, some of whom were sold to security forces for a bounty. Juan Cole says, “Wearing a Casio watch could be a cause for arrest, apparently, because al-Qaeda types used them as timers.” And in many cases their documents contain no accusations against them. Yet they were held for months and years and “interrogated” just the same.

For example,

In May 2003, for example, Afghan forces captured Prisoner 1051, an Afghan named Sharbat, near the scene of a roadside bomb explosion, the documents show. He denied any involvement, saying he was a shepherd. Guantánamo debriefers and analysts agreed, citing his consistent story, his knowledge of herding animals and his ignorance of “simple military and political concepts,” according to his assessment. Yet a military tribunal declared him an “enemy combatant” anyway, and he was not sent home until 2006.

See, righties, this is why some of us have issues with military tribunals. Several other similar stories have come out of the leaks.

The 172 men remaining at Gitmo have been rated ‘high risk,” but then so were a lot of other detainees who were eventually transferred and even released.

At least some of the remaining crew really are hard-core terrorists with ties to the 9/11 perps. But the issue is that, since evidence against them was obtained through torture, they can’t be properly tried. But they really are dangerous, so neither can they be released. No one has any idea what to do with them, except keep them at Gitmo.

Around the Corner With the GOP

Michael Steele says the Republican Party has turned a corner. Is this the same corner we used to turn in Iraq? If so, all they’ll find around the corner is another corner. Anyway, among other brilliant things Steele says, in effect, that the party should move forward by being faithful to Reaganism.

I’m so not worried.

However, the Pelosi episode shows us that the bitter enders are fighting to the death. And they’re brazen as ever. They admit they created a phony controversy about Nancy Pelosi and torture to distract people from a real debate about torture, and so far it is working for them.

White Whales and Wingnuts

A lot about wingnut behavior begins to make sense if you understand that in their reality, they are Captain Ahab and we liberals and progressives are Moby Dick. They don’t all want to kill us (a disturbing number do, of course), but mostly they are driven to settle the score with us.

What score? you may ask. The score for whatever they imagine we did to them. It’s not clear to me what that is, but clearly it’s the fire burning in their bellies; their raison d’être. For the Right, life is one long, monomaniacal quest to get even with the Left.

Thus, you can count on them not quitting even when they’re ahead, because in their own minds they are never ahead, or at least never ahead enough.

Along those lines — one of the weirder aspects of the ongoing torture scandal is the way the Right has tried to make it a referendum on Nancy Pelosi. I don’t entirely agree with Matt Yglesias that the Pelosi argument is backfiring. Not yet, anyway. But neither do I think anyone who hasn’t signed up to sail on the Pequod, so to speak, cares about whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed about torture or not.

However, I also think Matt has a point that they could have just accepted President Obama’s wish to move on from the torture question and keep their mouths shut. But they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t pass it up any more than a dog can pass up a tree without saluting.

Steve Benen

Republicans were getting exactly the result they wanted, right up until they thought to go after Pelosi. Now, the liberal Democratic House Speaker and the conservative Republican RNC chairman are saying the same thing: let’s investigate and get the whole story.

Indeed, Pelosi has been using this to great effect. When the right argues that she’s lying or was somehow complicit in Bush’s alleged crimes, she always responds with the same compelling answer: “Let’s have an investigation and see who’s right.”

As far as the strategy goes, Republicans should have taken “yes” for an answer.

Think Gollum diving into the lake of fire to grab the ring.

Now, I also agree with Steve M that the Right can still control news cycles and still finesse the terrorism question. But the Right does tend to come unglued where Nancy Pelosi is concerned.

See, for example, John Feehery’s “Conditions for a coup in Congress” at The Politico. Feehery’s evidence that House Democrats are on the edge of replacing Pelosi are, um, old. Steny Hoyer ran against Pelosi for Majority Whip in 2001, so he’s a potential rival. The base must be pissed at Pelosi, because Cindy Sheehan ran against Pelosi in 2004.

Yes, a lot of lefties are disenchanted with Pelosi, but a lot of lefties are disenchanted with a lot of people. I think if the base were given the authority to replace somebody in Democratic leadership, the first on the list would be Harry Reid, not Nancy Pelosi.

David Weigel at the Washington Independent calls the Feehery piece a “curious case of media narrative-setting.” Whatever. Feehery is reason itself compared to Mike Huckabee:

Here’s a story about a lady named Nancy
A ruthless politician, but dressed very fancy
Very ambitious, she got herself elected Speaker
But as for keeping secrets, she proved quite a “leaker.”

Which, I submit, says a lot more about Mike Huckabee than it says about Nancy Pelosi. And what it says is damn pathetic. Notice the dig about a woman being “ruthless” and “ambitious.” That’s another tree the Right can’t pass up.

Regarding what needs to be investigated — see Marcy Wheeler’s “The 13 people who made torture possible.” Sorta kinda related — Gary Farber, JAVAID IQBAL.

The Unrelease

I’m about to butt heads, and not with righties. I understand there’s a lot of anger at President Obama because he changed his mind about releasing more prisoner abuse photos. I respect a difference of opinion on this matter.

But I also think the reason given for the reversal is understandable — commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops. Even if it’s only a small chance this would happen, I might have made the same decision President Obama made. If something could stir up more violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East, and doing that something isn’t absolutely imperative for the survival of the nation, I would think twice about it, too.

Thers writes, “So there will never be a “good” time to release them. Release them now and face the music.” The ones “facing the music” are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while there might never be a “good” time to release the photos, there ought to be a “better” time, which is after most troops are withdrawn.

I realize this isn’t going to happen right away. But, at the same time, it isn’t as if we don’t already know there was terrible prisoner abuse, some of which caused deaths. I don’t personally need to see any more photos. I can barely look at the ones that are in circulation already.

So, I don’t think the President’s decision necessarily means that he’s got a Dick Cheney microchip planted in his head. What’s more important is that there are investigations into who ordered what, and who knew what, and who approved what.


Greg Sargent:

The White House has decided to declassify and release a classified 2004 CIA report about the torture program that is reported to have found no proof that torture foiled any terror plots on American soil — directly contradicting Cheney’s claims. The paper cites “allies” of the White House as a source.

Dem Congressional staffers tell me this report is the “holy grail,” because it is expected to detail torture in unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture works — and its release will almost certainly trigger howls of protest from conservatives.

Of course, anything the Obama Administration does triggers howls of protest from conservatives. Nor do I think release of such a document would cause Dick Cheney to go away, because I think Dick slipped his tether to reality some time back.


First, tomorrow night I’ll be on web radio at Buzz Tok. You can participate in the show by going here. I have no idea what we’re going to talk about.

On to the topic — I’m glad Steve Chapman brought up Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s conservatives wanted to rub Solzhenitsyn in everyone’s faces. Which was aggravating, because liberals were thoroughly appalled at what Solzhenitsyn had to endure in the Soviet Union.

So now, as Chapman says, our government is doing the same awful things that were done in the gulags, and conservatives defend it. The argument seems to be that it’s OK because it’s us doing it.

Be sure to read “My Tortured Decision” by Ali Soufan.

Let’s Hear It

The argument of the week is over the alleged effectiveness of torture. Our former Veep said,

“I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was, as well as to see this debate over the legal opinions.”

… and by all means, let’s take him up on this. Show us exactly what our national disgrace bought us.

BTW, there were reports that Dick didn’t really make this request, but it turns out he made it through the National Archives, which then requested the information from the CIA.

See also: Unresolved debate in DOJ memos: Does torture work? and Banned Techniques Yielded ‘High Value Information,’ Memo Says

Prove It

We’ve learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month. This begs the question: If torture is so good at extracting information, why did it need to be applied 183 times in one month?

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Of this, CIA officials have said,

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Before he was waterboarded, Zubaida provided information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other al Qaeda operatives. Moreover, before the 83 waterboardings the Bush Administration already knew that Zubaida was not an al Qaeda insider. He wasn’t a member of al Qaeda at all. He worked directly with al Qaeda only after 9/11.

What do you want to bet that the torture of Zubaida and KSM was more about Iraq than al Qaeda? Zubaida was waterboarded in August 2002. We know that the decision to invade Iraq had been made by then, and that Bushies were busily fixing intelligence and facts around policy. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in March 2003, the same month the Iraq invasion began. The Bushies wanted more “intelligence” that gave them permission to invade Iraq. Whether the intelligence was true or not wasn’t that important.

You cannot get a wingnut or ex-Bush Administration official to admit that waterboarding doesn’t work. As Timothy Rutten writes in today’s Los Angeles Times, since leaving office many Bush officials (especially ex-Veep Dick Cheney) have publicly declared that their “enhanced” interrogation techniques “worked” to extract valuable information from terrorists that foiled real terrorist plots.

The argument that torture gets the job done was made yet again Thursday, when a person identified only as a former top official in the Bush administration told Politico that release of the memos was “damaging because these are techniques that work. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake.”

As John Cole says, “There better be a pretty damned long fuse on that ticking time bomb.”

The part about “not being able to use the techniques again” makes no sense whatsoever. What techniques were used that surprised anyone? Waterboarding goes back to the bleeping Inquisition.

There is copious testimony from people with experience in intelligence that torture is not an effective tool for extracting useful information. For example, Rear Admiral (ret.) John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General for the Navy, said,

“The United States has been a strong, unwavering advocate for human rights and the rule of law for as long as you and I have been alive. I’m not ready to throw in the towel on that just because we are in a battle with some terrible people. In fact, in a war like this, when we are tempted to respond in kind, we must hold ever more dearly to the values that make us Americans. Torture, or “cruel, inhuman or degrading” conduct, are not part of our national character. Another objection is that torture doesn’t work. All the literature and experts say that if we really want usable information, we should go exactly the opposite way and try to gain the trust and confidence of the prisoners. Torture will get you information, but it’s not reliable. Eventually, if you don’t accidentally kill them first, torture victims will tell you something just to make you stop. It may or may not be true. If you torture 100 people, you’ll get 100 different stories. If you gain the confidence of 100 people, you may get one valuable story.” (Legal Affairs “Debate Club” January 27, 2005)

However, what you get from Bushies and Bushie apologists are vague claims and ticking time bomb scenarios. Of course, the perps can always hide behind “national security,” but I would argue that allowing this chapter of our history slide by unexamined is the greater long-term threat to our national security. As Rutten says,

There will be another terrorist attack on American soil eventually. If it occurs in the absence of a clear historical record of what the Bush/Cheney torture policies did or did not accomplish, those who supported the former administration will come roaring out of the weeds to charge that Americans died because their soft-headed countrymen were preoccupied with civil liberties and human rights.

The next time the wingnuts claim torture works, ask them to prove it.


By now you’ve heard the Obama Administration released the memos used by the Bush Administration to justify torture. As Digby says,

This is the very definition of the banality of evil — a dry, legalistic series of justifications for acts of barbaric cruelty.

Many are angry that the President has promised not to prosecute CIA officials involved in torture. About the only justification for this I’ve seen is from the Anonymous Liberal, who writes,

I know many of you disagree with me on this, but I think Obama did the right thing by promising not to prosecute CIA officers who acted in accordance with the OLC’s prior advice. Given the kind of things these folks are asked to do and the important missions entrusted to them, they have to be able to rely on the legal advice they’re given by the government. If we start prosecuting people for conduct they were specifically advised was legal by the OLC, it will severely hamper our ability to conduct future intelligence work. No one will trust the advice they are given, they’ll worry that the rug will be pulled out from under them at some point down the road. That’s an untenable situation.

But also,

The people who should be punished are the people who gave the advice. The lawyers. The Jay Bybees, John Yoos, and David Addingtons of the world. Obama did the right thing by releasing these memos today. It is now up to us to make sure they generate the degree of outrage that they should.

I am uncomfortable with not prosecuting the CIA officials, since “just following orders” hasn’t been a defense since the Nuremberg Trials. However, releasing the memos themselves was the most important thing, and prosecuting the people who gave the advice is the next most important thing. However, I don’t think that what the White House says about the CIA officials necessarily ties Congress’s hands, does it?