Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Party of Death


Seven Points on the CIA Report

You can catch my review of the CIA Inspector General John Helgerson's report on BBC's "The World" or on MSNBC's Live with Carlos Watson today at 11 ET. Here, in the meantime, are seven points that I draw from it:

  1. The worst is yet to come. Yesterday the CIA released a fresh copy of the report with roughly half of the "case study" discussion now unmasked. But context and placement suggest that the material that remains concealed contains some of the worst discussion of abuse in the report. The heavy redactions start around page 25, and the redactions cover discussion of the origins of the program and the approval process, as well as the discussion of specific prisoners, notably Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. Although cases in which the guidelines provided by the Justice Department were exceeded have been discussed, it's likely the case that the still blacked-out passages cover instances where Justice gave a green light but the conduct was so gruesome that CIA wants to keep it under wraps. That means we haven't heard the last of the Helgerson report, and further disclosures are likely.

  2. Opposition from within. For years the CIA has said that CIA personnel would be demoralized and the reputation of the agency would be damaged by disclosure of the contents of the report. But the report documents just the opposite. The Inspector General's review was launched by complaints coming from valued senior employees who felt that the Bush Program (as John Yoo has dubbed it) was wrong. One of them actually expresses his worry that those involved will be hauled before the World Court at some point because of [and that's redacted!] This makes clear that good employees of the agency opposed the Bush Program, were vocal in their opposition, and focused concern on the program's illegality. The OLC memos were intended to silence these complaints, but they only accentuated the agency's morale problems by enmeshing it in obviously illegal and immoral conduct. By contrast, the number of CIA personnel involved in pushing it through and supporting it is tiny—probably not many more than two dozen—though their voices are heard very loudly. It's interesting that in a stream of appearances by CIA personnel on TV yesterday—Tyler Drumheller, Jack Rice, Bob Baer and others—all said that a criminal investigation was a good idea. The official spokesman of the CIA torture team remains, as for the last seven years, David Ignatius.

  3. George Tenet and Michael Hayden misled the public. Both directors from the Bush years made numerous statements in which they argued that all the procedures used were closely policed and clearly legal. Previously I discussed Hayden's appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations, in which he gave broad assurance that the law was carefully studied and enforced. But the IG report, which Tenet and Hayden read, makes clear that these claims are false. Tenet and Hayden were put on notice that internal efforts to police the process had collapsed and that there were serious legal issues surrounding what was done. We know that Tenet and Hayden vehemently opposed release of the Helgerson report. It's now evident why. This report casts them as liars.

  4. All trails lead to the Vice President's office. At several points, redactions begin just when the discussion is headed toward the supervision or direction of the program and context suggests that some figure far up the Washington food chain is intervening. Moreover, as Jane Mayer recounts in Dark Side, Helgerson's report was shut down when he was summoned, twice, to meet with Dick Cheney, who insisted that the report be stopped. Cheney had good reason to be concerned. This report shows that the vice president intervened directly in the process and ensured that the program was implemented. The OPR report likewise shows Cheney's office commissioning the torture memos and carefully supervising the process. It is increasingly clear that torture was Dick Cheney's special project and that he was personally and deeply involved in it. And the CIA report has some amazing nuggets that show Cheney's hand. In 2003, after Jay Bybee departed OLC, Cheney struggled to have John Yoo installed as his successor, but ultimately John Ashcroft's candidate, Jack Goldsmith, prevailed. Goldsmith quickly backtracked on the torture authorizations that Yoo and Bybee gave. The result? The CIA stopped taking its cue from OLC and instead turned to the White House for guidance. It is remarkably vague on the particulars, and blackouts emerge just as passages seem to be getting interesting. But there's little doubt that Dick Cheney and his staff were pushing the process from behind the scenes.

Still crazy after all these years

The perils of losing one's grip on reality

 NOT long after the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, the Senate contemplated a bill to tighten federal control over the sale of guns through the post. Three gun-lovers drove 2,500 miles from Arizona to Washington, DC, to protest. One argued that the bill was part of "a further attempt by a subversive power to make us part of one world socialistic government" and that it could "create chaos" and help "our enemies" to seize power. Not much has changed since Richard Hofstadter described this incident in a hugely influential book, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Gun-lovers still argue that the slightest curb on their right to bear arms will make America vulnerable to tyranny. And in other areas, too, the paranoid style is alive and frothing.

Some of Barack Obama's detractors content themselves with arguing that he is a bad president. Others go further. "Birthers" insist that he was not born in the United States and is therefore constitutionally barred from being president. Yet Mr. Obama's birth certificate says he was born in Hawaii, and there is not a shred of evidence to the contrary. There is even an announcement of his birth in the archive of the Honolulu Advertiser, a local newspaper. Yet the internet crackles with theories as to how all this was faked so that, 48 years later, Mr. Obama could impose a socialist state on America. And a YouGov poll for The Economist found that 26% of Republicans think Mr. Obama is probably foreign-born.

Other conspiracy theories about Mr. Obama are even loopier. For example, some Americans think he is the Antichrist. The evidence for this, apparently, is that in the Bible Jesus is quoted as predicting that Satan will come down like lightning from heaven, and the words for “lightning” and “heaven” in Hebrew sound a bit like “Barack Obama”. Plus, his presidential limo is nicknamed “The Beast”. For those who think this is too far-fetched, there is the theory that Mr. Obama is a closet Nazi. He thinks abortion should be legal. Historically, some abortion advocates have also been eugenicists. Therefore he must be one of them. Also, he wants to discourage smoking. So did Hitler!

Hofstadter, writing at the time of Barry Goldwater’s insurgency, argued that political paranoia—a mix of anger, heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy—was most evident on the extreme right. And there are plenty of examples of right-wingers peddling nutty tales. Isolationists in the 1940s accused Franklin Roosevelt of deliberately letting the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour to provide an excuse for war. Talk-radio crackpots in the 1990s accused the Clintons of having Vince Foster, a depressive friend of theirs who killed himself, murdered.

But the left is hardly immune to such fantasies. Some people, including Mr. Obama’s own former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, believe that AIDS was cooked up by the government to kill blacks. A staggering 18% of Americans think that the government of George Bush probably knew in advance about the attacks of September 11th 2001 but allowed them to proceed anyway. Some even contend that Mr. Bush orchestrated the attacks himself, to create an excuse for invading Iraq. To believe this, you have to believe that the Bushies were both wicked enough to murder thousands of Americans and brilliant enough to execute such a mind-bogglingly sophisticated plot without a single leak—in a culture where Richard Nixon could not even hush up a burglary.

Belief in conspiracy theories can be comforting. If everything that goes wrong is the fault of a secret cabal, that relieves you of the tedious necessity of trying to understand how a complex world really works. And you can feel smug that you are smart enough to “see through” the official version of events. But widespread paranoia has drawbacks. For a start, it makes calm, rational debate rather tricky. How can you discuss the trade-offs of health-care reform, for example, with someone who thinks the government is plotting to kill grandma? It does not help, either, that politicians on both sides are willing to fan the flames. Sarah Palin calls Mr. Obama’s health-care proposals “evil”. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, calls the protesters who loudly oppose them “evil-mongers”. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, calls them “un-American”.

It’s serious

In his book “Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History”, David Aaronovitch argues that conspiratorial fantasy can have dangerous real-world consequences. Hitler read and believed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a bogus account of a global Jewish conspiracy. So did the founders of Hamas. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a bomb in Oklahoma in 1995 because he thought the federal government was hatching various dastardly plots.

Some people watch the ferment at town-hall meetings in America today and worry that another Oklahoma-style atrocity is brewing. A few protesters are waving placards wishing for Mr. Obama’s death. Others are ostentatiously wearing firearms outside his rallies. A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre describes an uptick in the number of “Patriot” militia groups since Mr. Obama’s election and frets that some could turn violent.

number 9, number 9, number 9....
If you say you want a revolution, next month could (or could not) mark the milestone many of you have been either awaiting or dreading. The infamous "tipping point" in music digital delivery, where an event or series of events will trigger the proverbial nail in the coffin for physical CD's, just may be set in motion by the those darling moptops from Liverpool.

The Beatles are pretty much the last ones to allow their music to be downloaded on iTunes, Amazon or any other MP3 platform and the anticipation has been building as to when that day might occur. So on September 9th, when their entire digitally remastered physical catalog will be released to retail stores, it'll also coincide with the Beatles Rock Band video game. And the whispers about how that will effect the digital world have grown to a roar these past few days.

The folks over at Apple are pretty good at keeping things quiet, but there seems to be some sort of event planned for September 9th. This is usually the time period where they do their annual pre-holiday dog and pony show...a new Mac, app, iPhone or whatever. So be it either wishful thinking or the real deal, the buzz is that it could be the debut of iTunes 9....which will have an app for linking your social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. And along with that, there could also be an announcement that the Beatles digital download store is open for business.

Now history shows that there is a long line of legal mojo between Apple and Apple Corp, and recent quotes from Dhani Harrison in Blender would lead you to believe it's all about the Beatle's wishes not to sell single song downloads. But then there's Sir Paul who told the Guardian recently that "The last word I got back was it's stalled at the whole moment, the whole process... I really hope it will happen because I think it should".

Now if you want to look at some numbers, iTunes now sells 25% of all music sold in America. They are the number one music retailer, with Wal Mart coming in second at 14% , and followed by Best Buy. The IFPI, the international equivalent of the RIAA, has put out new stats claiming that only 5 percent of all music downloads in 2008 were legal. The group estimated that 40 billion tracks were shared illegally last year, or an average of almost 30 songs for every internet user worldwide. So in other words....say it ain't's pretty much over for CD's folks.

Another note about all this....a study released yesterday by Forrester Research states that "9 out of 10 cell phone users do not listen to music on their phones". And 60% of the people polled say they have "no interest" in ever getting their music that way. In fact, there is much more interest in streaming than cell phone music distribution.

My point...if there is one, other than that sometime in the next three weeks the Beatle's new digitized catalog will be uploaded to any number of P2P sites, as well as posted on music blogs in some way, shape or form. No law will stop it, no country can bar simply will happen. The two remaining Beatles and the family members of the two estates probably know that this would be not only the opportunity to generate a huge amount of revenue, but also the chance to lead the more time.


Reader’s Digest files for bankruptcy protection

By Agence France-Presse

Reader's Digest, publisher of the monthly magazine which claims the largest circulation in the world, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday in an agreement with its major lenders.

Reader's Digest Association said that as part of its previously announced restructuring plan it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which protects a company from its creditors while it restructures.

It said the Chapter 11 filing only applies to its US businesses and not its operations in other countries.

Reader's Digest said last week that the restructuring agreement calls for a "substantial portion" of its 1.6 billion dollars in debt to be swapped for equity and ownership of the company to be transferred to the lender group.

A total of 550 million dollars in debt will remain on Readers's Digest's books when it emerges from bankruptcy.

Web campaign calls on Americans to boycott Scotland

US citizens asked to shun Scottish and UK products as well as holidays in Scotland in protest over release of Megrahi

Whisky, Highland holidays and British Petroleum are on the list that Americans have been urged to boycott in protest against the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The BoycottScotland website wants American nationals not just to shun Scotland, but to refuse to buy anything from the whole of the UK, which it accuses of washing its hands of the entire affair.

The website states:

Unless the Scottish government rescinds this decision to release al-Megrahi, and if the British parliament continues to avoid intervening in the matter, we urge all Americans to protest this action by boycotting the United Kingdom and Scotland in full.

US tourists spend £260m a year in Scotland – and the campaign has already had an impact, with VisitScotland receiving letters of protest from Americans. So far there have been no cancellations but this comes at a bad time for Scotland's national tourism organisation, which is currently targeting American tourists with Scottish ancestry with its Homecoming campaign. The BoycottScotland website suggests Ireland as a similar holiday destination for those wanting to change their plans.

Now more than ever, bipartisanship is for suckers

Republicans want Obama to fail. He needs to stop seeking consensus, because it makes him look weak

By Joe Conason

NewsFrom the earliest moments of Barack Obama's presidency, the most perplexing question was how he would fulfill his promise to change Washington's partisan standoff – and whether that promise was ever more than a rhetorical and political campaign gambit. More than once, observers have suggested that he always knew he couldn't rely on Republicans to act in good faith, to negotiate reasonable compromises, or even to speak honestly in debate. According to that theory, Obama's commitment to bipartisan solutions was and is theater aimed at persuading independent or centrist voters to trust him.

But if seeking consensus is still his strategy, as he and his advisors insist, it may be time for a rethink. All the months of bipartisanship in talk and tactics from the White House have neither brought congressional Republicans closer to supporting Obama's objectives nor preserved Obama's early support among moderate voters. What they have done is encourage the most outrageous conduct by his opponents – including those who themselves claim the bipartisan mantle – and make the president look weak.

The simple truth is that there is nobody on the Republican side who wants to negotiate with Obama. They are no longer afraid of him, and they unanimously want to ruin his presidency, regardless of the consequences. They are in thrall to the stupid extremism that questions the president's citizenship and suspects that he is driving the country toward a socialist dictatorship – while simultaneously demanding angrily that the government be stopped from interfering with Medicare.

Whether there was ever any prospect of significant Republican support for Obama's recovery and reform agenda is a moot point. Certainly, the potential for obstruction and worse, in a party dominated by Rush Limbaugh and William Kristol, always outweighed the possibility of cooperation. Now, however, it should be clear to the president that even the supposedly reasonable Republicans scarcely pretend to want to work with him anymore. What the president must do is make that reality clear to the public.

GOP Senators: US Faces Terrorist Attack if Holder Probes Bush's Torture Program


by Jason Leopold

photoNine Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Eric Holder saying the US could face a terrorist attack if the attorney general appoints a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA's use of torture against "war on terror" suspects. (Photo: Daniel Patterson)

    Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona is one of nine senators who signed a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday urging him not to appoint a special counsel to investigate torture.

    Nine Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Eric Holder on Wednesday saying the US could face a terrorist attack if the attorney general appoints a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA's use of torture against "war on terror" suspects.

    Holder is under pressure to resist launching a criminal probe, even one limited to rogue CIA interrogators. At the same time, he is facing mounting pressure from some prominent Democrats and civil liberties and human rights groups to not only sign off on a criminal investigation, but to expand it to include top Bush administration officials.

    The latest correspondence came on Wednesday in a letter to the attorney general that said an investigation into the CIA's interrogation practices, no matter how limited in scope, would jeopardize the "security for all Americans, chill future intelligence activities," and could "leave us more vulnerable to attack."

    The senators resorted to fear-mongering, invoking the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to try and dissuade Holder

The song police


Middle-aged rockers still rule

Sonic Youth

By Tony Hicks

There's still hope.

In pictures from this year's Lollapalooza, earlier this month in Chicago, Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro were, as required by rock-guy law, throwing various rock star poses at the crowd.

They looked like a couple 25-year-olds who just walked off the beach with their surfboards. Both were sweaty. Both were shirtless and had plenty of hair. Neither had an ounce of fat on them. Navarro is 42. Farrell is 50.

I'm 42. I have my hair. I can still play. And I'm on a diet.

Next up were pictures from the same Lollapalooza, this time of Depeche Mode. You remember them. Dramatic British guys, funny hair, big at the start of MTV. When they did Jimmy Kimmel's show in April, they had to shut down Hollywood Boulevard to accommodate all the fans. They headlined Lollapalooza. Singer Dave Gahanis 47.

Three out of four members of Sonic Youth, still considered the defining art rock/noise band for millions of music snobs, and cool enough to appear this fall on the teen soap drama "Gossip Girl," are in their 50s. Bassist Kim Gordon is 56 — old enough to be my mother. Kind of.

Most members of Wilco and Radiohead — both still churning out some of the best serious rock music in the world — are in their 40s. It's hard to believe, but it won't be long until the guys in Green Day join bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica and Tool in their 40s.

My band once played on the same New Year's Eve bill as Tool. I even played their drummer's drums, which means I was practically in the band. We ended up being the only band that played that night that didn't get signed to a record deal. Which, I'm sure, was some sort of oversight. Or maybe the pen ran out of ink.

The road between musical generations seems to go both ways, as anyone who's been to a Clay Aiken show and almost been trampled by hyped-up grandmothers could tell you. While kids are listening to middle-aged rockers, middle-aged people are apparently listening to kids. Check out the most recent Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and you'll find Miley Cyrus at No. 1, followed by relative youngsters Taylor Swift, Daughtry, the Fray and Plain White T's. The geezer in the bunch is Jason Mraz, 32.

Younger acts still rule the pop charts, thanks to teens having nothing better to do with their disposable income than to buy and/or download artists shoved down their throats by cable TV. But when it comes to what's still big in rock music, especially on the live stage, middle-age is in.

There are plenty of reasons. Few new rock artists with long-term star potential have broken out the past decade. Record companies don't have the budgets to be patient with young, developing bands — which means young bands signed to record deals have to be more concerned with hits than developing artistically.

There's also the 40-is-the-new-25 syndrome. So many people in their 40s and 50s grew up with parents who loved rock music, and still do. The musical wall that kids in the 1960s and 70s erected between them and their parents isn't as cut-and-dried anymore.

A Pew Research Center study earlier this year showed people of various generations tended to like a lot of the same music.

The Beatles, The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson (who, at 50, would have set insane attendance records with his planned tour if he didn't die), The Rolling Stones and Elvis all scored high. Hip-hop is another story, although Jay-Z is 40 and still a major player. Same for R&B stars like Mariah Carey, 40, and Mary J. Blige, 38, who still sell.

But rockers of all ages seem to agree that the old stuff is the best stuff. Almost all the middle-aged bands that are successful started when they were in their 20s. By now, they're brand names, one reason it's difficult to make it in the music business if you start after 30. People are willing to take middle-aged rockers seriously as long as they have a long history with them.

Cash for Clunkers ending

WELCOME TO BARTCOP.COM A modem, a smart mouth and the truth
 They sold 457,000 cars with $1.9 billion in rebates


The $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program will shut down on Monday, the government said Thursday.
Officials decided to wind down the program, which Congress passed to spur flagging auto sales, 
after determining that it would soon run out of money. 

The program proved wildly popular, running through its initial $1 billion in its first week 
and leading lawmakers to approve an additional $2 billion in funding on Aug. 7.

So why are we ending it - is this another Democratic surrender?

The right-wing liars have been screaming about the cost of this program which may end up saving Detroit, but it also saved tens of thousands of jobs in the car industry as well as in glass plants, electronics, the tire and rubber industry, leather seats, plastics and steel, XM-Sirius Satellite Radio - the list goes on and on.

So it's a little expensive, but we should ask, "Compared to what?"

Bush gave Colgate $300M and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave his crooked Enron friends $772M and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave Ford $5.5 billion and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave GE $5.3 billion and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave IBM $2.5 billion and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave Microsteal $7.2 billion and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave the crooks at WorldCom $4 billion and who did they hire?  Nobody!

Bush gave those corporate robbers $25.5 billion and who did they hire?  Nobody!

But when Obama gives a half a million families new, fuel-efficient cars while saving tens of thousands of jobs
for $2 billion  the right-wing loons go crazy and make the president out to be some crazy, big spender.

Why won't somebody list the damn facts?


Probably a D after his name too

Missouri Senate Bans Wrong Plastic From River. Scientists Roll Their Eyes.

by Erik Deckers

Leave it to Missour-uh. Their heart was in the right place, but their understanding of science was, well, not.

The Missouri state government passed a law that would make it illegal to have polypropylene on many Missouri rivers. They meant to ban expanded polystyrene.

In effect, they banned Tupperware, but not Styrofoam, which was their original intention, says an Associated Press story.

While I understand this can by a little confusing to people, since the words almost sound the same — polypropylene, polystyrene — wait, they don't almost sound the same, unless you listen to the first two syllables and then quit paying attention.

The problem was that many people were bringing Styrofoam coolers onto the river, and then leaving them there, so they wanted to ban them. Instead, they banned the things you bring your cold fried chicken and potato salad in. Things which no right-thinking mother would abandon.

As a result, you can bring your Styrofoam coolers with impunity, but so help you, if you're caught with a single piece of plastic polypropylene, whether it's plates, cups, or utensils, you can spend up to a year in jail.

I'll take Why Didn't Anyone Double-Check This for $200, Alex.


by  Michael Hammerschlag

Well, Universal  Health Care as we know and wanted it seems to be crumbling- oh it might be near universal, but if the public option is really gone, so expensive that America's financial health will be permanently destroyed. Obama simply did not go for victory- but invited the foxes into the chicken coops to divide up 80% between them-  the remaining 20% will be additional benefits for the public- too little, too crooked, too costly. Obama's obsession with compromise and bi-partisanship is dooming his initiatives and maybe Presidency- he simply doesn't plan and mobilize for victory, but includes his deadly opponents. The idea that the totally prostituted Repubs (and a third the Dems) could be catered to and brought in to contribute on this was always crazy- they needed to be sidelined, marginalized, and overrun with a multi-pronged attack.

He knew what was coming- unless he blanked out the Clinton health plan immolation - and he should have prepared for it- barnstorming across the country demonizing the greedy insurance, hospital, and doctor associations and highlighting their Congressional payoffs (Olbermann trashes the corrupt swine of both parties) until even the bought off Reps would have been afraid to publicly oppose Obama's health care plan. All the lies that they were going to use should have been lampooned and excoriated- that's what a good lawyer does- highlight the dishonest arguments of the opposition before they can make them. Every single arm should have been twisted and the public rage at the corporate parasites feeding on their misery stoked to a steel-bending temperature.

Imagine- the insanely corrupt "no negotiation for bulk drug purchase" Medicare Drug Benefit provision is enshrined in this bill- the single greatest corporate payoff in human history, estimated to waste $65 billion a year (at a 81% bulk discount) - the whole plan could be mostly paid for if this provision to pay these arbitrary retail pie-in-the-sky prices (stemming from the usurious Viagra exploiflation) had been scuttled. In the "primitive" former Soviet Union, most drugs cost under 10% of the West and don't need any prescription. The best option that works around the world- single payer, estimated to save 60% of the wasteful spending- was never even considered because of corporate veto power.

Bob Herbert shares my disgust. "This resulted in big grins and high fives at the drug lobby. The White House was rolled."

Updated FDA Food Pyramid