On losing “our” country, those darn Republicans, etc

I blame the 2014 elections, but I’ve been seeing a lot of bitching lately about how our country is getting away from us. I seem to know a lot of semi-retired Democrats who’ve got a lot of time on their hands to write and post political shit.

Here’s the thing. 1960s America was only “our” country if the group you’re talking about is white people. Post-WW2 was a great economic time–to be white. The GI Bill? Great if you were white. Cheap homes? Great if you were white, harder to take advantage of otherwise. You felt like the system listened to “average voters” more? Sure, if they were white.

This kind of myopia is profoundly alienating to people like me, who are pretty pleased with the progress that minorities have made over the last decade or so. We’ve got a Black president, gay marriage is slowly legalizing nationwide, and right now people give more of a shit about criminal justice reform thanks to Ferguson than I’ve ever seen.

I’m not saying we don’t have problems in America. But please don’t wax nostalgic about some idyllic past that mostly existed for white people.

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Today’s big story, John Brennan’s press conference etc

The big topic of the day is John Brennan’s unusual press conference given this afternoon. I don’t get the impression that the CIA (or just CIA for those people in the know, apparently) likes to have much sunlight on its activities, so this was a bit of a rare opportunity. It was made stranger by Senator Dianne Feinstein live-Tweeting rebuttals to some of Brennan’s statements as he was making them.

I can only imagine having the Senate Intelligence Chair and CIA Director at odds does not bode particularly well for either intelligence-gathering or intelligence oversight.

The press conference itself seemed rather unremarkable to me. John Brennan is a career CIA officer, and his job is basically to defend his organization and the President. That he prefers to label torture as “EITs,” that he tried to minimize the problem to a handful of problem individuals, that he insisted on the general legality of those CIA officers’ actions, was all unsurprising to me.

I was more surprised how willing the journalists present were to go along with Brennan’s judgments. I understand Brennan has to do his job, but surely the reporters have to do theirs as well? Brennan has to do damage control, but does the press have to basically accept all of his conclusions? The lack of honestly challenging questions WAS surprising to me. I understand that reporters in Washington politics often show a lot of deference to high-ranking officials, but come on now.

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Dick Cheney’s handling of this kind of stuff. His approach is basically: yes, we tortured, it worked, and we’d do it again if similar circumstances arose.

Are his views abhorrent and wrong? Sure. Can you argue directly with them instead of spending hours arguing over what “stress positions” are legal, or exactly how many agents did what, or how many detainees were involved, or what Bush knew when? Yes. This mealy-mouthed shit about EITS just obfuscates the real debate, which should be whether this is the sort of stuff America wants its government doing. I see the torture scandal as a real challenge to America’s values–if we’re torturing people, how are we different from ISIS? Are we?

  • The Cheney view is: we’re on Team USA, and if you fuck with us we’re going to torture and kill you, regardless of the cost in money, lives, and time.
  • My view is: we’re all humans, members of one species and one planet, and there are certain ethical limits we as a country shouldn’t cross if we want to aspire to be any better than any other nation. Torture is profoundly unethical and our government shouldn’t engage in it. And it’s a fucking terrible method of gathering intelligence.
  • The EITS view is: Well we were briefed originally in 2007 maybe or was it 2009 and we had either 101 or 129 detainees but maybe it was more and um we had sites in Poland and Thailand maybe and Egypt? oh gosh what was the question um so President Bush knew what was going on and so did Congress and the American people really were OK with this anyway even if we didn’t tell them everything and 9/11 was bad and…

Unsurprising news of the day

All I’m saying is, I don’t think we were torturing these people to get usable intelligence. We were satisfying someone’s sadism, we were looking for information to connect some unconnected dots, we were just doing it for kicks. But this was not about gathering useful intelligence at any point.

CIA torture report: some good sources

You can find good coverage of the CIA torture report at https://www.emptywheel.net and www.andrewsullivan.com today. I’m not sure what to say exactly.

It seems clear that:

  1. Some CIA employees tortured people
  2. It was a terrible method of getting useful intel
  3. Some psychologists made a shitload of money
  4. The program was largely kept secret from oversight

I mean, this isn’t new information really. The specific report is new, and it’s damning to see the CIA’s own conclusions in black-and-white. I like to hope most CIA employees are horrified by this report, and do not condone torture. I imagine most CIA employees have good intentions. But damn. It’s not just the torture, but the coverup.

And I mean. I’m a liberal, I voted for Obama. Shocker I know. But he seems intent to “look forward, not backwards” on this. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say I want to see some prosecutions for this.

One of my senators, John Cornyn, is busy arguing that torture saved lives. I don’t know what to say. As far as I can tell elected Republicans are OK with literally any policy, no matter how brutal or unscientific or unethical, if it will secure them votes. I know, I know–Republican officeholders often seem to treat “getting elected” as the end goal in and of itself, instead of “governing well”–but what the hell, guys?

This isn’t about protecting the CIA, or protecting people who made bad choices after 9/11. This is about appeasing the “any means necessary” voters who don’t have the slightest fucking clue what US national security policies should be other than, apparently, as brutal as possible. Regardless of whether it’s actually good for American citizens, or the US government, or citizens of the rest of the world.

This torture defense is about satisfying the desire for revenge in some sick, sick people. Some of whom are voters. Some of whom held high office. Some of whom may currently be holding high office now.

Chris Hughes: or, liberalism isn’t just gay marriage

I read this story at Salon in light of The New Republic resignations.

Consider a troubling anecdote in a new column from the Post’s Dana Milbank. This fall, Alec MacGillis, a senior editor who resigned in last week’s mass exodus, proposed a piece on Apple’s tax avoidance schemes. MacGillis pitched the story shortly after Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, came out as gay. In an email exchange, Hughes shut down MacGillis’ idea, declaring that “Apple has acted squarely within the law” and that such a piece would be “tone deaf” after Cook’s “incredibly heroic” announcement.

And

Hughes’ statement reflects the fundamental bankruptcy of a liberal cast of mind which holds that enlightenment on social issues is the defining feature of modern liberalism; economic injustices and inequities are secondary or tertiary concerns, if they are concerns at all. This liberalism — more precisely, neoliberalism — makes its peace with the plutocracy.

See, this is why Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee makes me nervous. Per this poll it appears that most voters regard Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street as a fundamentally good thing. I do not.

Those close ties to Wall Street are good if you accept that the economic system that produced so much wealth for such a small group in New York is fundamentally fair and just. American capitalism is fundamentally OK, it just has a few minor hitches. Wealth inequality in the US is not a problem compared to say, gay marriage.

Which is to say that once whatever social issue of concern has been fixed for these Democrats (gay marriage, immigration, abortion rights, whatever) then the status quo becomes perfectly OK. Chris Hughes can marry whom he likes, so the fact that American wealth distribution is so skewed isn’t a problem. Hillary Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street are OK because, well, she’s probably more liberal on abortion than the Republican nominee will be.

So in this troubling view, liberalism only applies to social issues. Economic issues? Nope, everything is fine here. There are rich liberal people, so you can all go home now.

Fuck that.

Liberals should work towards helping the poorest in society. If we see inequality we’re supposed to say, “Gosh, I wonder WHY there’s so much inequality? Is it just?” We’re just not supposed to have one pet issue and then, once that’s fixed, pack our bags and go home. OK, we have a black president, we can ignore the problem of African-American incarceration. We can ignore the Eric Garner killing. Everything is OK now.

If you’re only a social-issues liberal, or a one-issue liberal, I’m not sure we’re really on the same side.

Ferguson, political involvement

Ferguson got me thinking. I want to be more involved, politically, in the world around me. I want to get these thoughts out of my head and into the “real” world.

I live in a red part of a red state. I have crap health. Am I SOL? Am I making excuses? Probably. Seeing people marching, getting arrested, etc. makes me think damn, at least they’re engaging with the world politically. Folks like @deray on Twitter are making their voices heard, changing the world a little bit, maybe making white folks think gosh, maybe America isn’t the post-racial harmonyland we thought it was.

A lot of changes are going on in my life lately. This is one I’d like to stick. I don’t want to look back in 10 years and think, huh, I was a hippie and I tried to support people of color and minorities and trans people and everyone, and I did in my head, but man I didn’t do a fucking thing in real life.

The sky is falling, Democrat edition

Charlie Cook has a story about why the Dems lost so hard in 2014, and Digby posted a rebuttal of sorts.

Cook:

There are many reasons for this decline in support for Democrats among certain groups. But an argument can be made that it is because Democrats have subordinated their traditional focus on helping lower- and working-class Americans move up the economic ladder in favor of other noble priorities, such as health care, the environment, and civil rights.

David Atkins at Digby, summarized:

Voter turnout was awful in 2014. People are discouraged and angry, and the economy is still only really working for the already-wealthy. This was a blow against incumbents, an unusually unfortunate set of Senate races, and was basically just going to happen. This doesn’t excuse the Dems, but does explain what happened.

I’m not sure. I’m unhappy with how poor the Democratic Party is at campaigning, in general. The Democratic Party always seems to be reeling from punch after punch, stumbling its way through elections despite representing the interests of (in my opinion) the majority of the American people. The Republican Party meanwhile manages to somehow come out a winner much of the time, despite pushing policies that often seem to me to be frankly dangerous. This is especially true for me in Texas, where I swear oil and gas could frack next to schools and houses if they found oil there.

Oh wait, that really happened in Denton until voters put a stop to it.

I don’t know what made 2008 and Obama different besides his substantial personal charisma, and GW’s poor leadership over eight years. Maybe that was all it was. Maybe the Democrats need to continue figuring out what went wrong, and maybe they need to stop beating themselves up. Time will tell, I suspect. If the Democrats go into 2016 still on the ropes, we can talk larger strategy. Until then I think we just need to calm down and see what Obama and our new Republican House and Senate do.

Suggested reading: How to win as a Democrat, Elizabeth Warren edition.