Archive for August, 2009

A ‘truth commission’ on torture?

Like many Americans, Atlanta attorney John Chandler doesn’t want to see low-level functionaries prosecuted for torturing detainees.

“I have no interest in the government prosecuting people who were obeying orders,” he said. “I think the government should prosecute those who were giving orders.”

Chandler, a partner at King & Spalding, knows something about the subject of torture because he has represented Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been subjected to horrendous beatings and other forms of physical abuse as well as psychological abuse.

But Chandler knows that the American public probably doesn’t have any patience for prosecuting George Bush, Dick Cheney or John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote convoluted legal justifications for torture. So, the next best thing, Chandler says, might be something like a truth commission, which can get to the bottom of what exactly happened and why.

“The American people and the world deserve to know what happened and …

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Conservatives borrow a liberal’s fighting rules

The late Saul Alinsky was a leftwing community organizer extraordinaire and an early mentor  to Barack Obama. Alinsky literally wrote the book on tactics that the powerless should use against the powerful, as Noam Cohen noted in yesterday’s New York Times.

Dick Armey paid tribute to Alinsky’s methods: “What I think of Alinsky is that he was very good at what he did but what he did was not good.”

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Armey and other organizers of the town hall protests over health care have paid even higher tribute to Alinsky by adopting his tactics.

Cohen wrote:

The disruption of the town hall meetings has many Alinsky trademarks: using spectacle to make up for lack of numbers; targeting an individual to make a large point; and trying to use ridicule to persuade the undecided. Here are excerpts from “Rules for Radicals.”

Being on TV can be empowering:

A man is living in a slum tenement. He doesn’t know any body and nobody knows him. . The …

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Can Mexico fight drugs by legalizing them?

Mexico is in the midst of a real drug war — a deadly clash between law enforcement and drug lords in which more than 12,000 people have died over the last three years, many of them innocent bystanders. Given the carnage, Mexican officials decided last week to try something imaginative — or desperate, some might say: The government passed a law legalizing small amounts of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs for “personal and immediate use.”

Mexican authorities say the change will allow police to focus on drug traffickers instead of small-time addicts. The downside, of course, is that the country, which is battling increasing drug addiction among its population, could end up with an even bigger drug problem.

Either way, this is an experiment the U.S. should watch closely. While our on “war on drugs” hasn’t had the death toll of Mexico’s, it has given us one of the world’s highest rates of incarceration — without an appreciable effect on drug use. If Mexican authorities …

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Time to repeal Bob Barr’s defense of marriage

While President Obama campaigned on a pledge to repeal a noxious and divisive law called the Defense of Marriage Act,  his Justice Department submitted a pro forma defense of  the law earlier this summer. That upset many gay-rights activists, since DOMA, as it’s called, is nothing but a bit of homophobic nonsense.

Just last week, though, the Obama administration made clear that it’s still committed to getting rid of DOMA. (By longstanding tradition, Justice is obligated to defend laws when they draw legal challenge, a spokesman said.) Repealing it probably won’t be as controversial as some Democrats may fear.

The culture has changed considerably since 1996, when a few state legislatures were beginning to seriously debate the concept of extending full marriage equality to gays and lesbians. That’s when the GOP rushed to stoke its base of religious conservatives with a law that blocked that full equality. Where tradition (and law) had dictated that a marriage in New York or …

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After eight years, Americans are tired of Afghanistan

It’s been almost eight years since al-Qaida operatives struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing about 3,000 Americans. As painful as it was — and as painful as it remains for those intimately affected by the atrocity — the country has largely moved on. Given Americans’ short historical memories, eight years is a long time.

That helps explain why 51 percent of Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, don’t believe the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting. Only 24 percent believe the number of troops should be increased.

In addition to the passage of time, there is another big factor in dwindling support for the war in Afghanistan: The invasion of Iraq. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney spent much more time demonizing Saddam Hussein  than they did emphasizing the role of the Taliban and Afghanistan in the attacks. The Taliban provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and along its mountainous border with Pakistan.And it was Osama who …

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Abandon bipartisanship, all ye who enter here — Part II

Finally, the Obama administration has begun to voice what has been obvious for months now: If there is to be health care reform, it will probably pass with only Democratic votes. Perhaps one or two Republicans will vote for it. Perhaps not.

After President Obama angered liberal Democrats by wavering on a proposed public insurance plan — which Republicans have derided as a “government takeover” of health care — he still could not get the GOP on board. While moderate Democrats have proposed member-owned health care coops as acceptable alternatives to a public option, Republicans have already signaled that they won’t support coops, either.

Calling coops a “trojan horse” that’s nearly identical to the public option, GOP Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said, “It doesn’t matter what you call it, they want to accomplish something Republicans are opposed to,” according to The Washington Post.

Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, finally got the message. He told the New York Times: “The …

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The return of the vast rightwing conspiracy

Remember the vast rightwing conspiracy? It’s ba-a-a-ck, turning its considerable resources to ruining health care reform and wrecking legislation aimed at curbing climate change.

Despite the insistence of Republican leaders that the tea-party crowd and the town-hall protestors are merely concerned individuals who have spontaneously made the decision to shout and yell threats at public meetings, the protests are, in fact, prodded by networks of conservative activists. Richard Mellon Scaife, a Pittsburg billionaire who is the financial lifeblood of ultra-conservative activism, is a contributor, according to The Washington Post.

That’s not to deny the individual anger or anxiety on display on cable TV. Hardcore conservatives are quite unhappy, some over proposals for health care reform, many others over a wider range of policies and positions they associate with the Obama administration. If conservative voters weren’t already upset by cultural and political changes, they wouldn’t …

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Troy Davis will get the hearing that justice demands

I have nothing but sympathy for the family of the late Mark Allen MacPhail, a Savannah police officer who was shot dead in August 1989. His family members deserve justice.

But they will receive it only if the criminal justice system has prosecuted and convicted the man who actually murdered MacPhail. Troy Davis, who sits on death row for the murder,  may be that man. He may not be. And that’s the problem.

Many earlier witnesses have recanted their testimony since the original 1991 trial, so it’s not clear that Davis pulled the trigger. Given the recantations, the U.S. Supreme Court was right to order a lower court to give Davis a new hearing. Yesterday, in a highly unusual ruling, the nation’s highest court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to hear new testimony and decide whether it  “clearly establishes” Davis’ innocence.

That’s a very high hurdle. And, in the absence of virtually indisputable evidence such as DNA (there is none in this case), it’s unlikely that Davis can …

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Where was the outrage over Medicare prescription bill?

jconservative makes a good point:

So what did Bush 43 do? Another entitlement! He rammed through a Republican controlled congress the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (added prescription drugs to Medicare/Medicade). To top that he didn’t even pretend to pay for it.
And all you Republicans voted to re-elect the guy! (If you, in fact, voted against Bush 43, I owe you an apology).

Where was all the outrage over so-called socialism when George W. Bush and Republicans pushed through the Medicare precription drug plan, another costly entitlement? By some estimates, the prescription drug benefit will cost $1.5 trillion between 2014 and 202 . It was passed by the Republican Congress with precious few Democratic votes.

It was always a bad idea, made worse by Bush’s refusal to require Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to lower prices. So it ended up being a huge giveaway to Big Pharma. Where were all the conservative protests when that bill passed?

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Abandon bipartisanship, all ye who enter here

During the presidential campaign, many Democratic activists, especially those in Hillary Clinton’s camp, thought Barack Obama was hopelessly naive to pledge  to end the partisan wrangling that had come to characterize Washington politics. They believed that, if Obama were elected, he was setting himself up to be rolled by harshly partisan Republicans, who would reach across the aisle only with a shiv.

But Obama insisted on including Republicans in his administration, appointing them to posts major and minor. He may have named more appointees from the opposition party than any president in modern history. And he has kept his promise to try to earn GOP support for his legislation.

He compromised, for example, on the stimulus bill, reducing the amount of money for states and cities and increasing the size of the tax cuts. The stimulus bill amounted to the biggest two-year tax cut in U.S. history, according to The Wall Street Journal. What did Obama get for his trouble? Three …

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